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EPAM without Borders: From Minsk to Shenzhen

Ivan Kirkorau, Solution Architect, has been at EPAM for over 11 years and spent the last two years living in Shenzhen, China after relocating there from Minsk. We’ve talked with Ivan about how he finds a balance between multiple projects and life outside of EPAM in an exciting and technology-driven city.

What was your biggest professional change/challenge adjusting to life in Shenzhen?

Over two years ago, I was invited to come to Shenzhen as a mobile expert. However when I arrived, it took some time to build a mobile team from scratch and find opportunities. Eventually, I explored content management, received a Sitecore certification and led one of our financial projects.

Right now, I am working on three projects as a Delivery Manager (only one of the projects is mobile) and we are constantly hiring. I would say my biggest challenge right now is staffing the projects.

The language barrier was a challenge in China as well. Being in China helped my wife overcome her fear of speaking English and her language skills grew substantially. I have learned some Chinese and use the Baidu Translate app that translates texts and pictures for me.

How have you achieved a healthy work/life balance? And what do you enjoy the most about Shenzhen?

Since I have a family and two kids, it’s all about creating a comfortable environment for them. My younger child is in preschool and she loves the education centers here. For us as parents, it is an opportunity for our children learn both Chinese and English in Shenzhen. My older child just turned six when we decided to relocate but had already started school in Belarus. Even though Shenzhen offers a number of international schools, we decided that we wanted our children to go to school in our home country. This is making things difficult to manage, but for preschool kids the environment here is perfect. The feeling that I got here on my first business trip was one of the reasons we decided to move here.

People mainly live in Gardens, which is a group of buildings in a secure community that has a large green space with trees, grass, playgrounds and other facilities like swimming pools or ponds with fish. People who relocated here in the past recommended a real estate agent who made it easier to find an apartment.

Hong Kong is only two hours away from my home in Shenzhen and we often visit it to go to Disneyland, as well as sightsee and shop. Shenzhen is a wonderful modern city that was built from nothing 30 years ago. It has wide roads, is very green and full of modern technology. It is a city with a number of great activities and parks and is only about an hour and a half away from the beach. The climate is also quite enjoyable with only one uncomfortable month (January) when temperatures can drop below +10 C. During the rest of the year, it is warm and humid, which is very good for your health and wellbeing and is quite comfortable.

Shenzhen is full of great places to visit. OCT Loft is another great area to visit with artists, galleries and small restaurants. There are also a number of parks in Shenzhen including the Window of the World (park of miniatures), Splendid China Park, amusement parks, Shenzhen Safari Park and others. Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Zhuhai are quite close and you can find nice Ocean Parks there and other places to visit. Since the city was only built about 30 years ago, it is very well planned and managed – it doesn’t feel crowded even though there are more than 15 million people living there.

Can you tell us about WeChat and how you engage with the app on a daily basis?

I don’t work with WeChat development directly but I use it in my everyday life. It is used by everyone. It’s primarily a messenger app but it has a number of technologies and services, including shopping, payment, games, social media, transportation services, banking, etc. EPAM has WeChat expertise in Suzhou, and we invest into exploring its capabilities, building accelerators and promoting it to clients. WeChat is a hot topic, which is very much a requirement for the Chinese audience.

Besides WeChat, what other exciting solutions and apps are growing in Shenzhen?

China has the biggest delivery network in the world. Since so many people shop online, there are countless companies that deliver. There are also a number of grocery delivery apps and others apps that deliver within one or two hours. With such a huge market, the largest online store TaoBao operates in China and allows users to register their stores and services. Delivery is often free or very cheap.

There are two types of online shopping: immediate (food) order and shopping. Through immediate ordering, we are used to local restaurants delivering food within an hour or two. Through online shopping, there are many nationwide platforms where you can find anything from small personal sellers to official big brand shops. Delivery is very convenient, always tracked and inexpensive. On the street, you will see lots of delivery people riding on their electric scooters with lots of packages. A lot of the personal shopping takes place through WeChat.

I hear that Shenzhen is known as the Silicon Valley of China, because there is a growing technology market. What are the most exciting aspects of Shenzhen from a technology or business perspective?

In Shenzhen, there are many hardware production factories. As a result, many people who are interested in developing new devices come to Shenzhen with their startup ideas. These people often work in free labs and co-working spaces. However, it’s not only about the hardware, there is also a big market for software and there are many events for people interested in technology.

What sort of technology trends do you see happening in Shenzhen that are not evident anywhere else in the world? What impresses you about some of the technology there?

Some of the most exciting technologies currently taking place include mobile share and automation. Online trade and purchasing is very fast and automated and with the rise of WeChat, there is now one app that can do everything. China isn’t mobile-first, it is mobile only.