By SGN | 5 Sep 2022
Fresh out of Carnegie Mellon with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Kaiyuan looked forward to embarking on a career in tech, having experienced an interdisciplinary curriculum with many core classes at the renowned School of Computer Science.
“The mechanical engineering programme covered diverse areas such as robotics and automation. I got to learn everything I wanted to learn about computer science,” he recalls, “and it was just perfect that after graduation I was able to move to Silicon Valley and enter the tech industry.”
Weighing offers from various tech companies and several startups, Kaiyuan ultimately opted for the fast-moving culture and rich learning opportunities that Meta had to offer, joining in 2015 as a software engineer at the Menlo Park office. He was a founding member of a team that built a modern support system for advertisers on the Facebook platform, integrating real-time chat and phone support and streamlining the overall user experience.
Over the span of his career with Meta, Kaiyuan has enjoyed collaborating with colleagues who spark innovative ideas and working alongside managers who empower him to grow his leadership skills as his team expands.
Innovation in Asia advancing by leaps and bounds
On a trip home to China in 2018, Kaiyuan made a stop in Shenzhen to visit a friend and was surprised by how far the tech scene had advanced within just three years. Payment apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay were ubiquitous, and the sharing economy had already taken off in a big way with apps such as Meituan and Didi.
“I had always thought that Silicon Valley was setting tech trends for the whole world, and that tech companies in Asia were either copying or just trying to catch up. Reality told me otherwise,” he shares. “We were seeing innovations in Asia that we never even imagined in the Valley.”
Today, Kaiyuan observes that this wave of innovation has spread to Southeast Asia. Unicorns are being minted at a rapid rate, with 25 joining the ranks in 2021 alone, including recommerce app Carousell and payments infrastructure firm Xendit. Social apps are transforming the ways people interact, and fintech is bringing access to financial services to underserved communities.
He also notes that, due to its strategic location and robust infrastructure, Singapore is leading in areas such as Web3 and blockchain, AI and machine learning, and climate tech – which is crucial in driving solutions to help Southeast Asia (and the world) develop in a sustainable manner.
Starting a new chapter in Singapore
Inspired by the vibrant innovation taking place across Asia, Kaiyuan took the opportunity to move to Singapore in 2019 to lead the Meta engineering team here.
He adjusted to life on the island quickly. “Transportation is very convenient. The environment is very clean. Even the heat became tolerable after just a few months,” he quips. Kaiyuan liked being able to save time on his commute and take evening walks around the city, something he could not do in the States.
Workwise, the transition was smooth as well. “Traditionally, Asian culture might be more hierarchical, but at Meta we have established an open, transparent work culture where people are comfortable giving feedback to each other.”
“The Singapore office is not a satellite office tasked with minor projects, but a full-stack team working on major innovations,” Kaiyuan says. His team of engineers are innovating solutions in areas such as business messaging commerce (also known as conversational commerce), where Meta sees markets like Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines pioneering a new global trend.
As opposed to search-based marketplace commerce – think Amazon or Shopee – business messaging commerce allows users to discover a product or brand while browsing social media and start a conversation with the business organically. Kaiyuan’s team is building the infrastructure to enable such interactions within Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, applying a deep understanding of consumer and business needs to build a seamless native e-commerce experience.
Reflecting on his journey in Southeast Asia thus far, Kaiyuan says, “Singapore has been a place of personal growth for me. When I came here as a software engineer, I led a small workstream and got to mentor other engineers. Since transitioning into the role of manager two years ago, I have been growing and supporting a team of diverse backgrounds, including many local hires.
“With strong competition for tech talent locally and in the global market, it will be challenging to continue developing Singapore as Meta’s engineering hub in APAC, but I’m excited for it.”
Singapore is the place to be for tech
Having loved the experience of living and working in Singapore, Kaiyuan applied to become a permanent resident (PR) and was granted his approval last year. In the long term, he sees himself staying on because of the abundance of tech opportunities that interest him.
“Singapore is a great place for tech right now,” he remarks. “It is on a growth trajectory that’s just beginning to take off.” He says that the increasing presence of big tech companies, huge inflow of capital, and thriving ecosystem of startups and incubators are drawing a stream of top talent from around the world.
For engineers like himself, Singapore offers “lots of opportunities everywhere you look”, including at Meta.
“Joining the Asia hub of a tech giant like Meta means you’ll experience rapid expansion, encounter interesting problems and projects to work on in a startup-like environment, while learning the fundamentals of the industry in a safe environment.”
His one piece of advice for anyone looking to enter the tech world is to ensure a genuine passion for the work and not make a switch just because it’s a hot or lucrative sector. “Passion makes a big difference,” he says. “Finding joy in your work will help you to be continuously productive and be able to shape real impact.”
Kaiyuan is an engineering lead at Meta in Singapore. Before moving to Singapore in 2019, he worked at Meta’s headquarters in Silicon Valley for four years. He holds a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
Connect with him here.