Baidu: Behind The Scenes At The Number One Chinese Search Engine
The number one search engine in China is easily Baidu. But what are the people at Baidu really like and what would it be like to work there? Is this a typical Chinese or Beijing company? Or does Baidu more comfortably sit in an Extended Silicon Valley -- influenced by Californian attitudes but based a long way from the 101? And how does Baidu compare with both Google and Yandex?
For my second visit of the year to Baidu in Beijing, I was granted access to look behind the scenes and meet some key Baidu staff such as Kaiser Kuo, the company’s director of international communications, Alex Cheng, senior director in charge of monetization, Wang Mengqiu, VP in charge of search R&D and consumer products, and Jennifer Li, CFO as well as others.
I was also allowed to tour one of the most spectacular and hi-tech office buildings in our industry, designed by architects who were also part of the team which put together the famous “Bird’s Nest” sports stadium which was centre stage for the Beijing Olympics.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast the world’s three leading search engines, namely Google, Baidu and Yandex and to look at how they work and live. Most striking are the similarities. All three headquarter offices are modern, featuring open spaces and lots and lots of glass.
Google has the largest reception area, just a little ahead of Baidu whose reception area is vast. Both are capable of housing a rock concert in the foyer. Baidu, however, wins for the largest internal illuminated logo I have seen.
Baidu also wins for the largest single staff cafeteria I have seen — so large it was impossible for me to successfully photograph, running nearly the full length of the building and having a seating capacity of 1200. Baidu has 5,000+ staff who are housed in this particular building – the company’s 13,000 employees are spread across several buildings in Beijing and in other major cities of China.
It’s clear that the building design choices have been influenced by Silicon Valley architectural styles for all of the world’s major search engines, which is not surprising since all have close links with the Californian birthplace of this particular technology — an influence which is apparent in the technologies themselves too.
Of the three, Yandex wins for the most interesting location. The executive seventh floor team at Yandex have fabulous views over the golden cupolas of central Moscow and the Kremlin.
Curiously, the Baidu building also has seven floors, but I place it second but not because it is in central Beijing — it isn’t.
In fact, it lies outside Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road but that also means it’s not so very far away from the Great Wall of China.
On this measure, I’m afraid Google loses. It might have the most pleasant of climates — thanks to being in California — but the nearest sights are other hi-tech offices, famous universities and NASA’s airfield which couldn’t be described as cultural high spots.
(I’m happy for Google to show me the sights and prove me wrong!)
In terms of living, music seems to play a bigger role at Yandex, food at Google and the Baidu folks have a total obsession with basketball — the nearest thing to China’s national sport.
There’s a complete basketball league structure at Baidu and the basketball courts are never empty no matter what the time of day.
The least open plan office would be Yandex’s — but that is partly due to its construction in a re-constructed warehouse building — though not much of that is visible any longer.
One difference between Yandex and Baidu is that the senior management at Yandex sit more or less together on the top floor, whereas Baidu’s senior managers sit in the relatively few enclosed offices located next to their particular teams. This is probably as much to do with building size as anything as in the end, none of the managers are inaccessible.
Of course, these are all my personal impressions noting that I have not actually “worked” at any of these organisations. However, what follows in my next two columns are some fascinating insights into how Baidu thinks and sees the world.
Next time, we’ll be considering the five myths about Baidu which the company would love to see dispelled!