Experience Beijing as a software engineer

10 April 2024    

Recently I’ve been to china for the 1st time, and given how terrible I am to detach my engineering work from enjoyment, I decide to embrace it. In this article, I wish to share with you all some observations and my thoughts behind the capabilities required for Beijing to make it happen.

A) Technology observed

1. QR code scanning

  • transports
  • Di di
  • Bike

1.1 QR code for metro transit

Having your phone QR code scanned, you receive the info of the location real time on your phone.

Is that data transmitted to you via bluetooth or internet? If its internet, then how do the server get and revert back that information to you so promptly? It was practically real time update. Perhaps it has to do with the 5g network that China has heavily invested in.

2. Transport with traffic light details

When you are first time in Beijing, you may find yourself being in an uncomfortable spot without the ability to use google maps.

That uncertainty quickly faded away when I started exploring the use of baidu map. Even then I thought I would have to deal with whatever quality/standard that Baidu map may provide.

Little did I know, the user experience of baidu map was more superior than google maps itself.

Aside from the language, and beside the usual accurate location on the map, the map shows 2 additional & interesting details:

  1. journey in a simpler format
    1. This is basically a line that reflects the condition of traffic in the form of colors
  2. Traffic light timing and duration

The map actually indicates for you that the traffic light is going to turn red in how many seconds. And it will start red for how many seconds, same for green light.

Now that seems cool, but it’s even mind-blowing to wonder how does Beijing even manage to coordinate and incorporate these details into a ‘regular’ map application.

Now let’s hypothesise the possibility of that service.

The data and services you will require:

  1. Every traffic transmits data on how long their lights will stay red, orange and green.
  2. There is a server that stores that for fast reading
  3. There are APIs available on the map servers to call them and transmit these information to them.
  4. In a journey, the map fetches the list of traffic lights that will need to enquire for their traffic details - in sequential order.
  5. Based on the % of journey, the application will reflect the appropriate (next) traffic light to present that details with.

The complexity comes with the timeliness of the application

  1. There is a per second API call or poll.
  2. The server load that comes that that amount of information

Man this is exciting and whoever that group of project managers to deal with this projects at such size are impressive.

3. Bills and order done on app

3.1. In the context of a restaurant

There are 2 set of interesting technology setup here.

Firstly, all apps are integrated with either WeChat or Alipay. Use these apps to scan a QR code, that QR code will open another application (for e.g. the restaurant’s application) within WeChat. You are now authenticated to access those applications using your WeChat identity.

Authentication is done between WeChat and those applications on your behalf - which is a high level of trust we put on Tencent (WeChat owners) to handle our identity.

Secondly, now you are in the restaurant’s application, you have been identified based on the table’s QR code that you have scanned on. These information are typically hardcoded into the table QR code, it wouldn’t change. What is impressive is the ability for WeChat and restaurants app to communicate these information while handling the authentication and identity check.

You can order your menu of items however you wish although I do find out that when items are out of stock, they are not reflected on the app’s menu - which could be painfully disappointing if you are hungry.

Now in the event you happen to order an item that is out of stock, which happened to me once. The restaurant was able to refund you immediately through their POS system. Now we are talking about heavy inventory level integrations.

  • Minds are currently blowing to imagine how these level of integrations can be done across a POS system, WeChat - a super app, a restaurant application.

You have ordered and wish to pay, needless to say, the payment is done on the app and your orders are registered, sent to the kitchen which are notified (another application?) and you can await for your food.

Let’s talk about user experience.

  1. You and your family enter into a restaurant
  2. You get your seat
  3. Scan the QR code
  4. Make your order via the app
  5. Make your payment via the app
    1. Get a refund if needed
  6. Wait for your food
  7. Eat
  8. Greetings and leave

Unless you have questions you wish to enquire with the restaurant staff, you don’t even need to talk to anyone throughout the process. Payment processes are covered, authentications are dealt with within the QR code scanning process.

This is diamond standard integrations (beyond gold standard)

3.2. In the context of a bread shop

You will take your food and let’s jump straight into the payment experience.

There are options in which you scan their QR or the merchant scans your QR.

Either way, it’s highly efficient and makes the experience much easier. The readily available machines executes seamlessly. When your QR gets scanned, the price are indicated by the merchant, there are no loading pages required. It is not a bank application which your savings amount are shown to the world (referring to my experience in SG regarding payNow services)

B) Product philosophy

  • china: Let users leave after using the product, and delivered utility and value. Using utility
  • Western: Lets get users hooked as much as possible, as easily as possible. While effective, much time are wasted with no real value added.

For example of China’s product philosophy at play:

  1. Wechat has max of 2 ads, no push notifications .
  2. Each video is only 9mb large, max of 9 photos to be sent.
  • focusing on quality over quantity
  1. Delivery of red packet via group chats.

Utility and user efficiency first can be understood more in this article.


Beijing’s transport experience has been great. No cash is needed (I did not even have the chance to look at the notes I changed at the airport); high convenience and ease of use.

Beijing’s food ordering experience is seamless, allowing you to experience technology’s value add into your life and day-to-day experience.

Beijing’s infrastructure to facilitate inventory/menu level integrations is a work of art, and I was thankful to experience it. I wish my readers will took experience them in time as well.