The Unspoken Rules

So many times in my life, I was affected by the “unspoken rules”, and didn’t get what I deserved. But to look on the bright side, I wouldn’t have been my current self if those things didn’t happen…

The first time was during the last year I was in elementary school, which I already mentioned in another post (see “Being a Leader, My School Years and After“). I was demoted from a higher ranked student leader position to a lower and non-important one, just because I didn’t have Beijing “Hukou” (See Hukou“), so I had to give the position to another student who could benefit from it.

When I was in high school, there was a “Genius Class” in my grade. At the end of each semester, there was an exam that all the students had to take, then we would be ranked by our scores from the highest to the lowest, and those who from that class usually took over the top 20. I was one of the best from other “regular” classes, and my rank was usually between 20 and 40. However, I did exceptionally good in one of those exams. As soon as my total score came out, a classmate of mine checked with other classes, and I was the number one. I was so excited, as being number one in one of the best high schools in Beijing was a great honor. However, when they made the formal announcement, I became number two. A student from the “Genius Class” just got one more point than me. It turned out that one of his teachers changed his score and added two points for him after he learned mine. So the “unspoken rule” here was that no one from a regular class could be the number one… The guy who changed his score even came to me and said I was “a fish that slipped through the net”, meaning that I should have been put in that “Genius Class”. To be honest, I still hate that guy, because he took away the greatest honor I could have in high school.

The third time was when I entered college, which I also talked about it in the post “Being a Leader, My School Years and After“. Some of my classmates’ parents bribed someone in my school, and took the student leadership position which was supposed to be mine. To be honest, I didn’t really care about it, as I did not have a plan to pursue a higher degree abroad after college, and not being a student leader wouldn’t stop me from getting a good job.

I experienced more such rules when I entered the corporate world, especially in Ericsson. I guess there’s a “glass ceiling” for Chinese people working in either American or European companies in China, but at least this ceiling is higher in an American company than a European one, especially in the Research and Development sections of an IT company. It is common to see top level R&D Chinese managers in an American company, but in Ericsson, at least when I was there, there were almost none. Ericsson tended to put only insignificant R&D jobs in China, i.e. people in Sweden or the USA (as Ericsson acquired several American companies over the years) make decisions on the products, while Chinese employees just had to do the implementation and most of times, maintenance only. They wanted the higher level managers to have a “root” in Sweden or the USA, so they will not try to move those important jobs to China.

I have gone through several reorganizations over the nine years I worked for Ericsson. Sometimes, a reorganization didn’t mean people would be laid off. On the contrary, it could add jobs because of new opportunities. We had a big change during one of these reorganizations. Several new teams were created and there were vacancies of first level managers. I volunteered to be one of them, and my manager thought I was a good candidate. However, during that “tricky” time, all the existing first level Chinese managers were also seeking for promotions, and they needed support from other managers, so they wanted to make sure only their allies would get those positions. My boss was in competition with a female manager (I will refer her as “this lady” in this post) who was so good at playing politics. So when he promoted the idea of having me as one of the new managers on a management team meeting, this lady convinced our Swedish boss that I was an impeccable technical leader, so a System Architect job would be more suitable for me. Later, she successfully had some of her friends filling in those positions, and she, herself, was promoted to be a second level manager.

I was a technical leader before this reorganization, and one of the new teams were mainly comprised of my former team members. This lady had a talk with these people and told them what to expect during the reorganization. However, she made it so harsh and two of my former team members (They were the best. Both left Ericsson later. One became a CTO of a startup, and the other one is now a senior technical program manager in Amazon) were extremely upset. They told me this lady was so rude and said they had to follow her directions and work overtime without additional payment. They felt helpless and asked me for advice. I recommended them to speak out, but they hesitated to do so. I finally wrote an email to the Swedish boss on their behalf, which made him really upset. He called for a management team meeting and asked this lady what was going on. She played innocent, and tried to convince her boss that I shouldn’t have bypassed “her level” and reported to her boss directly. What a jerk!

I can go on and on about this type of “unspoken rules” stories, and I’m sure they are everywhere in this world. If I’m unable to break them, I would choose to step away, as I do not want to be controlled by these rules…


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