ThoughtWorks China

8 October 2005

ThoughtWorks has come to China. It's been a long-held ambition for several people to open a China office. Roy has always held it as part of RoysSocialExperiment. In addition Xiao Guo, who's given me so many good experiences and ideas in software development, has long wanted to start ThoughtWorks in China.

We looked at several options as to where to open an office. We settled on Xi'an, the ancient capital of China. Although it's not seen as much of an economic center as Beijing and Shanghai, it's a sizable city with a large student population and a rapidly growing economy. The folks at the software park were particularly welcoming, in particular wanting to learn about our ideas for agile development and help spread their usage.

Our intention with ThoughtWorks China is to have the office set up to sell into the Chinese economy (in contrast to India, which is used for offshore development). China's economy is growing very fast, which provides a lot of opportunity for us in the long term. It's also a place with a lot of desire for technological experiment. One of our hopes is that we'll be able to work with technologies in China before people in the west are ready to work with them.

I was out in China a few months ago (before my accident). It was the usual difficult trip - I'm finding travel and speaking less and less fun as I get older. I'm also reluctant to say I can learn too much from such a limited experience. But I do have a few thoughts, most of which are indirect from those on the ground.

  • Software isn't valued much yet. The attitude is that software is something that comes with hardware - rather like it was in the west a couple of decades ago.
  • People want things built fast - which means there's a lot of package development. That's alright as far as it goes, but there's going to be a lot of integration work to make these fit together. There's also opportunity for firms to get a competitive advantage by using custom software in strategic areas - that's a market we're particularly interested in.
  • There is some desire to copy India with its use of CMM, but there's also a realization that that kind of approach isn't necessarily the best. I see China's big strength as the fact that it's a more diverse economy which means that the Chinese software industry can mostly work onshore. Competing with India for off-shoring ends up playing on a field where India is naturally strong. So (possibly except Japan) the big opportunity is for customers inside China.
  • The 'great firewall' was a pain. I missed the BBC and couldn't read many blogs. With information such a driving force these days, these kinds of barriers are only going to hurt.

I must also apologise to those who came to meet me in Shanghai. Sadly I caught a stomach bug and spent that day in hospital. I hope to get to Shanghai on my next trip.

It's still an open question as to what kind of operation we can have in China - particularly since software is not yet valued as much as it should be. I look at this as a long term exercise. It will take time to figure out where the opportunities are, and if we aren't there we won't be able to find them.