Finding Developers in China

Michael MicheliniBlog, Corporate, HR and Legal9 Comments

I’m excited to share with you today. So often I get messages from all kinds of people scrambling to hire Chinese developers and other technical talent. Chinese programmers now are a hot commodity, everyone on both sides of the world wants them!

Today I’ll first give some input and mindset you should have before even starting your recruitment process. As we go along, get some tactical tips on finding and attracting top Chinese technical talent for your startup or tech company.

First, Get In The Right Mindset

Frame of mind is important. As this is an English post (and in Mainland China it may inaccessible sometimes) – I’m assuming you’re a non-Chinese local looking for Chinese tech talent. So get your head in the zone.

First. While it is still attractive to work for an international company, domestic Chinese tech companies are catching up. They are growing in size, speed, and revenue to overseas rivals. And they are investing in marketing and branding. This creates a big demand for talented Chinese developers to want to work for these companies.

So show some respect. Don’t try to sell them the foreign company experience story. Understand if you’re in China – you need to be accommodating to the local culture.

Programming Is a Language In Itself

I think people would accept the idea that learning to program is like learning a new language. I’ve been working on my Chinese language skills this year and it is a lot of effort!

With this fact in mind, many foreign companies want to hire a talented Chinese developer with perfect spoken English! It is already challenging enough to find talented developers in China! Adding spoken English as an additional requirement you just shrunk the pool of candidates by a ton.


Think about it, a person in school studying to be a developer will be dedicating a lot of their resources of time and networking with learning to program. Not to speak English.

If you want a great English speaking person in China, you will need to look for someone with a Business English college degree and other certificates. But not too often will you find a developer who also has a dual degree in Business English.

So what should you do? I think there is a middle road here. Written English is more common with programmers. This is because they need to read a lot of English tutorials online to learn how to debug and improve their programming skills. But don’t expect them to be able to speak to you fluently.

Update your job description to have written English in the requirements, and there will be a much broader selection to choose from. Plus Chinese developers are introverted and shy. You don’t want discourage qualified developers from applying.

Realize They Can Read Basic English

To continue from the last section, they probably can read at least some basic English if they are a decent programmer.


Because the internet was invented in USA. The basic foundation of the internet and command prompts need English words.

I have the pleasure to have been able to peek over the shoulder of many Chinese programmers. To see them constantly on Stack Overflow reading about answers on how to do certain functions in a code.

Sure, there are books in the Chinese language on programming concepts. But like any skill, if you want to learn the newest and greatest in code – it will be most likely first in English.

Finding Chinese Developers

Yes, this is the main point today – and you are starving for the magic Chinese developer to build you killer app in China! Here are some pointers I would have you get started.

But before we go to the points, how long have you yourself been in China? Do you understand the culture, the mindset, the perspective of the Chinese people? This will be critical if you sincerely want to find a quality and long term Chinese programmer on your team.

Now, let’s dig in.

Attending Technical Events in China

Probably the case for finding people to join your team in any country – but especially in China. Chinese love to meet face to face and get to know people in a similar industry or interest group.

If your Chinese language skills aren’t so good, it will be a bit of a challenge. But don’t let that discourage you. For many years when I was first in China I would attend these kinds of events (more for internet marketing than heavy tech) and be the only foreigner in the room.

Yes, it was painful to not be able to understand 95% of what is happening. Yet so many times at breaks I would meet someone during the networking session who was interested to know more foreigners. Or, maybe they just wanted to practice their English. Going through this process and trading lots of name cards I would build up a quality network of technical talent.

And maybe these people you meet there might not be the people you hire. It is a process where they meet you a few days later for coffee or tea. Meet some people in their network. Tell them your story, who you are as a person, why you’re doing business in China. What your goals are.

Basically **build trust** and **build a relationship** with them. I always hesitate before using the word “guanxi” but it does mean relationships. And having these connections will help speed up the process of finding quality people to join your team.

I know some of you reading are saying “this is a lot of work and time”. Yes, it is.

It will be the most surefire way to build a long term relationship in China with the technical community.

Hire a Headhunter

There are agencies and individuals that have the previously mentioned network of developers. Hiring them will definitely speed up the process.

Yet they will also want to vet you. Are you serious about a long term technical team in China? Will you “take care” of these developers, and have a stable environment for them to work in.

Are you funded to stick around through the good times and the bad.

So it isn’t just paying the headhunter for their services, if they are good they will want to make sure you are a good and qualified employer.

How much does a technical headhunter in China cost? I believe it is at least one month salary, but believe it is more. Normally if the employee leaves before six months, the headhunter will recruit a new developer as part of the fee for the first programmer.

This might not be the cheapest way, but this is the fastest and most effective.

Spending Time At Chinese Tech Companies

More and more Westerners are coming to China to work at a Chinese tech company. I think is all the limelight that China is getting in Western press, and it is somewhat true – the internet space in China is growing so rapidly.

Many Westerners I know have now decided it is best for their career to work at Chinese internet and technology companies. This is a new phenomena! I think maybe only a few years old now I have seen this start to develop. In 2012, I had so many Chinese companies looking to hire Western talent with no idea how to get them. But nowadays it is more and more common to see a Westerner working in a domestic Chinese company.

Why the new change?

As Chinese business gets more mature and competitive with slimmer margins, they need every advantage they can get. Marketing and sales is something these Chinese companies need to break into the International market. It makes sense to have Westerners on the inside to help with this.

Why would a Westerner want to take this job opportunity? It could be an upfront investment to:

1. Break into the Chinese market
2. Get some experience with Chinese companies
3. Build their future team of Chinese developers.
4. Get a unique insider’s perspective of the operations of a Chinese company.

Point 3 is perking your ears if you have the dream of building up the next Facebook inside of China. Coming over here, sucking it up for a few years with a small salary in exchange to build your experience and network might be a fair trade. Depends on your circumstances.

Hiring College Interns & Fresh Graduates

I’ve had some great luck finding amazing talent from local universities. Similar to the tradeoff above with your working at a Chinese company, this college student is trading a low (or unpaid) internship in exchange for relevant on the job experience. They can put this on their resume to step up.

The best with this situation is that you can vet the best people and hopefully attract the to stay with your firm full time once they graduate. I have done that a few times, and they are some of my best contacts for technical skills in China.

A piece of advice here, don’t base your core technology on a college intern or fresh graduate. They are young and still figuring what they want to do when they grow up. So there is a high chance of turnover. They can support your technical team, or at least a very detailed and skilled project manager with a rigid specification document and version control.

You may even want to spend some time to get to know the local universities. Building “guanxi” by doing some free workshops, networking, or letting them tour you company’s office will get inroads with the faculty. This can pay dividends for years to come, as you can get access to top talent who are looking for opportunities.

Host Events Targeting Programmers

In the past I was volunteering for Startup Weekend in China, and we always thought of strategies to get more programmers to come to the event. Many brainstorming sessions lead us to targeting events where programmers attended. Experiment by having raffles and drawing for free tickets.

Once you get some in-roads with either the organizer of a programmer meetup, or at least a member who is fairly active, you can potentially “advertise”. This is tricky as you don’t want to get blacklisted as a spammer just there to recruit. Be strategic. Add value.

One way is to find pain points in their membership community. Maybe even build their community more in your own networking and referring them to this meetup group.

Key point – add value before trying to take value from these groups.

Sponsor Programmer Events

A more direct way is to straight sponsor the events. I have organized events in China for many years, and one of the biggest sponsors requests is to target programmers.

Whether it is to attract programmers to use their developer’s tools, or to apply to work for the company – companies want to brand and attract technical talent to their brand.

You can do the same.

If you’re a smaller company or a startup, you can also be creative. Similar to the section above – find pain points and add value. Maybe your company is about food delivery – why not sponsor the event with free food? It doesn’t have to be only cash sponsorships.

As an event organizer, I know the struggles these people face. Take some pressure off of them – study their events and see what things your company can do to add value.

It could be as simple as having you and your team volunteer at the event for the check in booth, taking photographs, audience control, etc. Be open and honest with the event organizer, and then get the exchange of attracting developers to your company and your brand.

Create a Standard Wechat Message For Friends To Share

In China, we live on Wechat. I’m guessing soon it will become its own mobile operating system and skip Android and Apple totally.

So since we’re in China – there is no way to avoid Wechat!

Make a paragraph, 2 max, explaining your job details and who you are looking for. Also make it attractive to them to apply, talk about how awesome your company is!

Have it translated to Chinese, professionally (Please skip the Google translate, ha!). Put that translation in the standard text, and make it so you can simply copy/paste it easily.

What I normally do is put the notes into Evernote, and then when I’m on my mobile, go to the note, copy all, and then paste into Wechat.

Go into Wechat groups, and share the news you’re looking for a technical team member on your amazing tech startup.

**Note** For proper Wechat etiquette, please ask the administrator of that wechat group before posting. You can see who the admin is by checking the top left corner of the members in the group. Send that person a direct personal message explaining your needs and 95% they will allow it.

Keep in mind, Wechat is getting more and more noisy (nice way of saying spammy), so try your best to look genuine and unique in the post. Another idea is to have the job ad turned into a nice graphic image with the text on top of it.

Be creative! The job ad can also help with the marketing and exposure of your company at the same time.

Attracting Programmers To Your Tech Company

This is the second phase – how to actually get them interested to work for you! You’re going to the events as mentioned above, and you’re on the ground in China. You have set word out on the street and in the local startup community that you’re hiring.

Probably you also have a job advertisement getting spread out through wechat in various tech groups.

Cultural Differences with Home Based Work

I know a lot of Western companies who contact me who want to have their new Chinese staff work remote, or from home. I also enjoy working remotely and from home. But for the vast majority of Chinese staff, they prefer to work from an office.

Crazy I know!

Why is this? Well, for the most part they don’t have big apartments that has the space to have a home office. Sure, this is rapidly developing and the average household income of Chinese continues to rise – but also if they are young and single – they are saving. So they do not want to spend a lot of their income on a big and expensive apartment.

So just realize that if you want to attract top technical talent, you will need an impressive fixed office.

Money Matters – They Have Financial Pressures

Just like many things in life, money matters. If you’re willing to pay top dollar, you’ll be able to attract top technical talent.

How much is much?

Later in this guide I’ll share some ranges as of 2015 based on my own personal network and word of mouth.

Sure, a Chinese programmer may also care about the quality of their work and challenging projects and a good boss. But only to a certain point.

Before I’m called a racist or ignorant guy – let me explain why. In Eastern culture, the man has to earn enough money to show his future spouse, and spouse’s family, to buy a home. This shows he is financially stable and a provider. He will be able to support their future family.

So many times I have had the chance to hire good programmers I have known, but they simply can’t take a pay cut from the larger IT companies in Shenzhen. Maybe you’ll think it is a polite way to make an excuse, but I believe it. They apologize to me, explain they would like to work with me, but they make X at (insert big IT company in China) and need to at least match it. They’ll explain because they need to save money to buy a house. That this is how China is.

I get it now.

Hope you do too.

Sure, things are changing, Chinese entrepreneurship is on the rise. But still a lot of the entrepreneurship is venture backed early on as the developers explain they need a basic salary to support themselves. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Company’s Brand Name & Image Matters

Similar to anywhere in the world, many employee’s mindset is they want to have big and famous company’s listed on their resumes. I had that goal too in my first job.

So get it – you got to make your company seem exciting to work for, but also to put on their resume.

It comes down to brand, and how you portray your brand image. I’ve seen Chinese staff come back to my company and others looking for letters of recommendation, and a lot of times they will prefer if I put my Hong Kong or USA company address on the letterhead. They will also sometimes ask me to write the company bio in a certain way, or focus on a specific product that they think is the most exciting for their new potential employer to see on their job application.

Keep this in mind as you build your company brand and image. Make it something “sexy” and “international” when in China and something that your new hires will be proud to list on their resume and online social media platforms.

How Much Salary To Offer?

Yes, I know, maybe you scanned this whole post and focused on this section. Everyone always wants to know how much salary should they offer in China.

The tricky part about this is that it is steadily increasing every year and there aren’t public census statistics we can go on. Plus each city, even each district within a particular city varies so greatly.

But I don’t want to let you down and just leave it as “it depends” but instead I will list some ranges. Hopefully if you have some feedback for me I can update it in the comment section.

To make this interesting, I will go year by year from my own experience and word of mouth:

2007 – 2009 Timeframe Salary Ranges in China

Let’s keep this in the 1 – 3 years experience range. Also at 2008 USD/RMB exchange rate of 7.3 RMB/ 1 USD.

  • Beijing / Shanghai:

    * Chinese Programmer – 6,000 – 8,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 4,000 – 6,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 2500 – 4,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Shenzhen / Guangzhou

    * Chinese Programmer – 5,000 – 7,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 3,000 – 5,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 2000 – 3,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Other Chinese Cities

    * Chinese Programmer – 3,500 – 5,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 2,000 – 3,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 1500 – 2,200 Chinese Yuan / Month

2010 – 2012 Timeframe Salary Ranges in China

This is when China started to become “expensive” with inflation starting. Let’s keep this in the 1 – 3 years experience range. Also at 2011 USD/RMB exchange rate 6.4.

  • Beijing / Shanghai:

    * Chinese Programmer – 10,000 – 13,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 7,000 – 9,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 4500 – 7,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Shenzhen / Guangzhou

    * Chinese Programmer – 8,000 – 10,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 5,000 – 8,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 3,300 – 4,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Other Chinese Cities

    * Chinese Programmer – 5,500 – 7,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 3,500 – 5,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 2500 – 3,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

2013 – 2015 Timeframe Salary Ranges in China

Let’s keep this in the 1 – 3 years experience range. Also at 2014 USD/RMB exchange rate 6.2.

  • Beijing / Shanghai:

    * Chinese Programmer – 13,000 – 20,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 9,000 – 12,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 5000 – 7,000 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Shenzhen / Guangzhou

    * Chinese Programmer – 10,000 – 16,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 7,000 – 9,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 4500 – 5,500 Chinese Yuan / Month

  • Other Chinese Cities

    * Chinese Programmer – 6,500 – 8,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * English Speaking Sourcing, Trading Assistant – 4,000 – 6,000 Chinese Yuan / Month
    * Chinese-Language Admin / Marketing Assistant – 3000 – 4,000 Chinese Yuan / Month

Equity Isn’t Normally Important to the Chinese Developer

We all know the game, the hustle, to get your team and everyone around you to buy into your startup idea. As a startup CEO, you need to do your best to align everyone to the company’s long term vision.

How to best get your team to buy into that vision?

To get them to take a lower cash salary in exchange for equity, in the form of straight shares or as stock options.

This is a good proposition for many – but in China it is much more difficult to sell.


Well, unfortunately for many Chinese in the past – there aren’t many friendly mergers and acquisitions. That means, most startups will fail without any exit and the shares become worthless. Compared to the West, many startups got acquired and at least a decent cash and new equity payout from the buying company.

While you may say, this is changing in China. It is true, there is more merger and acquisition activity in China these days, but it takes time to trickle down to developers.

By definition most Chinese developers are risk averse. And they hear the stories, the bloodbaths, of previous startups floundering, running out of cash and being anhilated by the competition. This doesn’t get them excited about betting on the long term future of any small tech startup and opting in for shares.

In my experience working with tech startups, and being a founder of a few, almost always the Chinese developers are not interested in shares. Maybe me and those around me aren’t good sales people – but this is not just about foreigners and miscommunication – Chinese local founders have told me the same.

Maybe in today’s hotter tech startup scene in China you can convince a tech developer to take some stock options to make up for a lower salary from IBM or Tencent. If you are able to do that, I would really love to hear from you!

Good Luck Finding Tech Talent in China – Share With Us Your Developments

Thanks so much for reading this short guide. I sincerely wish you the best in your journey to build a quality technical development team in Mainland China!

Keep us posted with your story and developments by leaving a comment below. I will also work to update this post as time goes on.

Remember, China is changing so fast. And amazingly, the majority of people are keeping up with these changes and rapidly sharing information. We cannot get comfortable with a specific hiring process.

Yet really, at the core of recruiting is company culture and vision. Have passion for what you’re building, and surround yourself with others who share that passion. It will be a natural magnet for developers, marketers, clients, and investors.

That is true in any culture!

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Tags: asia, china, corporate, entrepreneur, guide, programmers, tech, tips

9 Comments on “Finding Developers in China”

  1. 朱子

    A Chinese partner with solid technical background and culture awareness is more helpful. Software engineers in 2-tier or 3-tier cities are far less expensive but you’re not good at managing them because they are far away from you. In Beijing or Shanghai you can cut the cost greatly by moving office out of downtown. It’s suggested for startups to hire only one or two fulltimes and the rest can be part-times or freelancers from the rural suburb with the managerial help of a senior Chinese tech leader, which could solve most, if not all, of your problems. I have more than 20 years of IT experience, and can be reached at rainee.zhu at

  2. 朱子

    I’m also a developer, and interested in helping people hiring freelancers or setting-up efficient R&D teams with low cost. You seems to be at Shenzhen. I’m in Beijing, and familiar tie-2 and tie-3 cities near Shanghai.

    1. Deleted999

      hi brother ineed u dev for me bypass for pubg mobile every month. if u want job with me please msg me

    2. Boris

      Are you still active in the developer space since this post was 3yrs ago. I am looking to start the development team in China to further enhance my product.

  3. Paul_Verest

    Welcome to Shenzhen Java User Group meetings. There is also supportive (it is not reliable service in mainland China)
    Talks about all things Java: JVM and JMV languages, Android(modile), Hadoop(big data), web frameworks, IoT.

    If you are technical start-up using Java, you are greatly welcome to give a talk about technical side, or just thing you learned or care to know more.

    As for me, I am Java Architect and Technical Lead/Manager 6 years in China (5 of those in Beijing).
    Connect by skype pverest or
    Or meet in person on the SZJUG meetings and Cross Border Summit

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