Co-Founder of TechMeAbroad and while42, Sylvain Kalache is a SUPINFO alumnus from the 2011 class. After two years of studies at SUPINFO France, he joined SUPINFO China Tianjin campus and stayed there two years, before finally graduating at SUPINFO San Francisco Campus.
Hello Sylvain, can you introduce yourself?
I am 26 and have been living in San Francisco since 2009. I was working at SlideShare since 2011 as a SRE, we got acquired by LinkedIn in 2012. I recently quit my job to create my startup: TechMeAbroad. We help students and job seekers find the internship or job of their dreams in the country of their dreams. We do this by only listing job or internship opportunities from Tech companies that want to recruit abroad and sponsor a working visa if necessary.
It has been 5 years that you’ve been living in San Francisco. As you studied two years in SUPINFO China, do you miss China? Are there any interesting experiences of your life in China you want to share with us?
I miss China, my time there was just life-changing. When I got there I could not: read, speak, behave politely, I did not even know what I was eating for the first weeks as I could not read a restaurant menu. China made me feel like I was on another planet, my curiosity was constantly awake. The Chinese are very nice people, they were always very kind and welcoming to me.
Fun fact: taxi drivers like to chat. As soon as I was saying I was French, they would try to discuss with me (even if my Chinese is terrible) everything they knew about France:
- Chirac was a good president
- Sarkozy was a terrible president
- Zidane is a great football player and they like his head kick
That’s everytime fun to see what foreigner know about France.
Was it difficult to find your first job in San Francisco? How did you make the job hunting?
It was quite difficult. It took me 4 months to find an internship, my plan B was China/Hong-Kong.
Why was it so hard? Because all companies would not even give me the chance to interview, as I was on a F1 visa. I was literally contacting every company that had an opening for an internship or job in my field.
Clearly having TechMeAbroad at this time would have been great. That is also why I am doing this startup, I want to make sure candidates don’t face the same issue.
You worked for several famous companies, as LinkedIn, SlideShare, Carrefour… According to your point of view, what are the qualities of IT engineers that companies require the most?
Carrefour is a huge company, lots of processes and restrictions because you work can impact (at least in my case) hundreds of supermarkets at a time. You need to be very careful about what you are doing and perform on technologies big corporations use (Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft…).
SlideShare, at the time I started, was still a startup: we were less than 10 employees in the San Francisco office. In a startup, you need to be versatile, able to take initiative, learn and deliver fast. The pace is quick and so your work must follow, often it’s not perfect but something done is better than perfect.
LinkedIn is in between, not a startup anymore but still not a big corporate machine. When we got acquired, my job gradually went from managing everything (server, network, security, configuration) to mainly focus on working with developers to design and build the infrastructures they needed and make sure they are reliable.
The rest of the work was done by other LinkedIn teams. In that type of job you need to be sharp on topics you are working on, organized so you plan the work that needs to be done by other teams ahead of time and accurate with the work you produce as any mistake can cause huge impact (few minutes of outage can cause huge losses in revenue).
As you lived in France, China and US, what are the most significant differences between China, French and US business cultures?
The French are pessimistic and have a developed sense of criticism that is actually very valuable. They have a very direct communication style, hard workers and efficient.
The Americans (at least for what I experienced in California) are positive and have a low criticism style: “everything is awesome”. They are very open-minded and very easy to approach.
I did not have the chance to work in China, but my feeling is that the Chinese are hard workers, embrace change and can adapt very quick to the market.
Why create while42 and TechMeAbroad? Can they really help students develop an international career?
While42 is connecting French or French-speaking Tech Talents all over the world. Engineers are usually introvert, shy people who do not have great networking skills. Through while42, our members meet once a month in more than 40 cities in the world.
While42 can help our members find a job because network is very important. If you can get a referral from someone at a company you are applying to, you have a greater chance to be hired than if you came over through the regular interview process.
We are living in a global economy, a global market. Companies and therefore countries need to operate at an international level if they want to compete, survive and succeed. In this context, students or graduates must have experiences overseas.
SUPINFO understood that by opening schools all over the world, and allowing any student to go study where they want. See how it works! I am one of the many SUPINFO students who are working abroad! We have the exact same vision and we think that in a global market, it’s a nonsense to only look for talents locally.
Thanks to TechMeAbroad, you will find jobs from companies who want to recruit abroad, so that you can start your international career.
Any suggestion or advice for French students who want to study and then work abroad?
Choose a university that allows you to study abroad, and the best would be in the country you want to work in. SUPINFO is a great choice for that. Once you are there, grow your network: go to meetups, conferences, hackathons. This network will be very important when you’ll be looking for an internship or a job.
If you want to work abroad in a country you’ve never been to, start by looking on TechMeAbroad if you see any job openings, it will already give you a sense of the job market, and learn a bit about the visa situation to know what is possible when you starting speaking with companies. From this you’ll be able to craft a strategy, which you just need to execute.
I wrote a longer article about how to find a job overseas.
And for Chinese students?
Same advice applies. I would add that if you, as a Chinese student, have trouble finding a job abroad: do not give up. China is hosting a lot of great Tech companies that can be compared to Silicon Valley ones. Get a professional experience by working for one of these companies and that will give you the skills and prestige to easily find a job overseas.