Late last week, several news agencies announced the upcoming visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States. Though this story has all the trappings of a “dog bites man” headline, the twist came when it was disclosed that the welcome to the United States would not be hosted by President Bush, or Secretary Rice, or other government officials. The host is Bill Gates at his home in Washington State, not Washington D.C.
This is not surprising given the significance accorded to technology, growth, and opportunity in China today. Thomas Friedman in his book, The World Is Flat, gives extensive treatment to Microsoft in China. Microsoft has established a research facility in Bejing that is mining talent from the best and brightest of Chinese students. Its other two research facilities are located in in Redmond, Washington and in Cambridge, England.
Friedman explains how Microsoft started out the program by administering math, IQ, and programming tests to PhD students in China. Out of 2000 takers, they chose 20. Subsequently, the number of applicants grew so rapidly that they dispensed with the test and just chose the 20 by reputation from recommendations by the top scientists in the country. Microsoft became known as the best place to work, which presented the greatest opportunity for progress among these students.
Going to China for intellectual talent should be a wake-up call to U.S. students. Friedman wryly concludes: “In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears – and that is our problem.” (p. 265).
So, watch for coverage of this visit, which is scheduled for April 18.