Sun Ying: From the First Job Interview to CEO of the NASDAQ Company

Q1: Thank you for your time. Could you share your professional journey briefly?

In my 20-year career since graduating from college, I’ve experienced just one job interview, which opened the doors to a seven-year tenure at a prestigious Fortune 500 company. During this period, I held various managerial roles within the Sales and Marketing division, primarily focused on marketing. My dedication and hard work led to steady promotions, ultimately culminating in my appointment as the Group HR Director for a subsidiary of this Fortune 500 corporation.

My time in HR management exposed me to the diverse career trajectories of young professionals. Some flourished while others faced stagnation. This led me to ponder the factors contributing to such disparities. Equipped with seven years of professional management experience, I embarked on a decade-long entrepreneurial journey. I joined the founding team of Tarena Technologies Inc., China’s first high-end IT training company, and took on roles as General Manager for the Northern Region and Senior Vice President. Since April 8, 2021, I’ve had the privilege of serving as CEO of Tarena Technologies Inc.

During this transformative decade, Tarena Technologies evolved from its inception to become China’s first publicly listed IT training company on NASDAQ in 2014. We provided comprehensive career planning services to university students across various campuses, including career counseling and four to five months of technical training.

Tarena Technologies Inc. has a rich history of empowering over a million Chinese university students, facilitating their placement in reputable IT companies and securing rewarding employment opportunities. Through this journey, we closely observed and studied the experiences of these one million young individuals, seeking to understand the keys to their career progression, job satisfaction, and happiness.

This exploration led me to realize that while vocational training equips individuals with essential skills for initial employment, the foundation for long-term sustainability and life contentment is laid during one’s formative years. With this revelation, I embarked on a five-year journey, gaining expertise in international education systems, including IB, A-LEVEL, IGCSE, and AP. I became convinced that education should nurture curiosity about the future.

During this period, I introduced international experts in youth robotics education to IT61, Tarena Technologies Inc.’s youth programming and robotics training brand. With over 200 learning centers across 53 Chinese cities, IT61 has attracted over 200,000 long-term paying users from high-net-worth families, with each child studying for an average of 45.5 months.

In 2020, amidst the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I returned to China, resuming my central role in operations and management, and assumed the position of CEO in 2021. By the end of 2022, Tarena Technologies Inc. had achieved profitability after a period of losses.

Q2: Can you provide an overview of Tarena Technologies Inc.’s primary business model and services?

Tarena Technologies Inc. is committed to providing comprehensive IT training solutions to university students and high-quality education for young learners. Our core business comprises three academies: the “IT Academy,” “Design Academy,” and “Operation Academy.” These academies offer short-term courses designed to enhance students’ IT skills and pan-IT competencies. We deliver training through both on-site and online modes, featuring our innovative “Dual Teacher Classroom” concept introduced in December 2015.

This pioneering approach, the first of its kind in China, enables us to extend our reach and share our exceptional instructors and courses with a broader audience through remote internet access. Our key focus is to transition students seamlessly from being “job seekers” to “job holders,” ensuring their success in securing “high-quality employment” opportunities.

For enterprises, we offer a range of services, including talent recommendation, tailored talent solutions, specialized job fairs, IT technical talent recruitment, and more. We also support colleges and universities by providing integrated project procurement services, including hardware, teaching systems, and talent training programs. This collaboration aims to foster industry-education integration and offer customized talent development and job placement solutions.

These business models began taking shape in 2007 when we initiated collaboration between Tarena Technologies and Chinese higher education institutions to facilitate industry-education integration. In 2009, I established the “Software Talent Center,” a vital asset in ensuring students’ employment prospects. In 2010, we introduced the “Tarena One-Stop Software Talent Center,” transforming us into a conduit connecting IT companies, colleges, and universities for IT talent training and employment. This efficient job placement mechanism has since become widely adopted by the industry.

In 2015, we launched “IT61,” our comprehensive programming and robotics training program for young learners aged 3-18. The curriculum covers graphic programming, artificial intelligence programming, algorithmic programming, and robotics programming. We employ both offline and online small class teaching methods, enhancing computational thinking, problem-solving skills, and innovative thinking in young students.

We also actively supported the “Hour of Code” campaign initiated by Code.org in 2013, advocating early exposure to artificial intelligence and programming for children.

Q3: As a business leader in EdTech, what’s been your biggest challenge in the past two decades, and what are your future expectations?

The most significant challenge in my 20-year journey has been navigating intense market competition and the ever-evolving technology landscape. The internet industry has undergone profound transformations, requiring constant adaptation to stay ahead. Creating sustainable and profitable business models in the dynamic online environment has been a substantial obstacle.

The 2008 financial crisis presented a significant challenge to the internet industry, impacting the demand for IT talent and the growth of IT training businesses. At that time, in 2009, we established the “Software Talent Centre” to ensure the quality of employment opportunities for our trainees. Building upon this foundation, we developed an industry ecosystem connecting universities, students, and enterprises, setting a benchmark for China’s IT training and vocational training industries.

Following the crisis, the capital market emphasized profitability, and we responded impressively by showcasing profitability across all 60 centers nationwide from 2010 to 2012. In April 2014, we achieved a significant milestone by being listed on NASDAQ.

Looking ahead, I see immense potential in technology-enabled education. My aspiration is to provide personalized learning experiences facilitated by artificial intelligence to every student. I also aim to expand access to high-quality IT and programming education in underdeveloped areas of China and establish partnerships with global educational institutions and tech companies for worldwide educational innovation.

I believe future education should prioritize skills like creative thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability to changing times, fostering lifelong learning and perpetual advancement for every student.

Q4: Why do you want to expand your business internationally, especially in the United States, and what’s your preparation for this expansion?

Expanding internationally, particularly into the United States, aligns with our goal to compete globally and diversify risks. The US remains a hub for new technologies and innovations, making it essential to be close to these developments.

Establishing a presence in the US allows us to find high-tech partners, engage with entrepreneurs and experts, and foster innovation in education technology. It positions us to respond swiftly to market shifts and seize new opportunities.

We recognize the differences in US culture and education systems, which is why we’re forming partnerships with US institutions to align our curricula and teaching methods with US market demands.

To prepare for this expansion, we’re conducting thorough research on the US education market, recruiting local experts, establishing a dedicated management team, ensuring legal compliance, and setting up a data center and technical team for reliable service delivery to US students.

Our expansion is not just about growth; it’s about bridging the gap between China and the US in education, fostering international educational collaboration.

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