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Vinh Tran
Vinh Tran

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3 months into adulthood - Reflection

3 months into adulthood. It wasn’t a long time. But like usual, I’ll write a blog post to reflect (and to practice my writing skill).

For the past 3 years, I’ve had the opportunity to intern at a wide range of companies. From a 300 people startup which went public last year to the social networking tech giant Facebook. Searching for a place to join as a full-time engineer wasn’t an obvious task as getting an internship. I would stay there longer than a typical 3-month summer. This is the place where I would commit and invest myself long-term. It will change my perspective and be where I build up new habits to be an effective engineer. It will influence my career trajectory.

Here are the key points I looked for when searching for a place to join upon graduation:

  • Openness: Companies that pursue culture with curiosity, where everyone is encouraged to ask questions and try things out.
  • Fast growth: When a company is growing fast, I get the chance to witness the growth and grow with them.
  • Autonomy: The freedom to choose what to work on and how to do it. This allows me to make significant contributions to many areas of the company without much friction.
  • Talent: The most important part. Openness, fast growth, and autonomy can go wrong and turn a company into chaos if they don’t have a good foundation in place. Who I work with matter more than what I work on, in terms of career growth and happiness. I can learn a lot by just observing how they work.

During the interview process, it wasn’t easy to rank the companies against these key points when I had about 10 hours of interaction with them. 10 hours include recruiter call, technical phone interviews, and the on-site interviews. I had to use my gut more than ever.

There are upsides and downsides of joining big companies. The upside of joining big companies is, of course, brand-name recognition. People know where I work at and maybe give some admiration 😊. I will have a well-defined role. Plenty of smart people to work with. If I do a reasonable amount of work, then I’m good to go. Free shuttles to work, free food. The downside is that the development process can go slowly. I will perhaps be just another human being in the company. My existence or lack of existence won’t make any difference. The work can become uninspiring quickly. This isn’t a full picture of big companies but I think the downsides outplay the upsides (at least for me).

When I interned at a startup in SF, they trusted me to do many things. I remember pushing a new change to production within my first week. My manager encouraged me to publish a company blog post about my experience there. I discovered and fixed a major issue in API testing set up that causes inconsistency (unit tests to be flaky) in the dev tools. I contributed to an open-source Ruby gem. I teamed up with my team for HackDay and came up with a very cool feature for our product. There are many other great things about working there. On top of that, there are, of course, some downsides too. The start-up might not have as much as learning resources compared to the big tech companies. They might not have as many world-class engineers. The pay might be less (or more). Less free food. No free shuttle to work.

Interning in the Bay Area for 3 semesters, I witnessed the good and bad about the industry. I know engineers who already earn big money complain about their pay. They want to optimize for the best base salary, the highest number of stocks, and sign-on bonus. They don’t often talk about whether they are passionate about the projects/teams they work on. They don’t often talk about happiness quality at their workplace. I’m saddened to say this but I think the major output is the cash instead of well-rounded happiness through creativity and legitimate human contact. New grads compare their offers and aren’t happy if someone gets a better offer than theirs. They interview at companies they have no interest to work for just to get a better offer and then use that to negotiate with the place they want to work for. This trend unconsciously builds up greed and crave for money in these young people. The quality of life is bad but the big money holds them back. This isn’t everyone. My point is that there are more to consider other than just money. Perhaps, these trends might be completely normal with society nowadays. Growing up poor in Vietnam, I learned that people can be happy with little money. I want to drive my life more holistically than just looking at the concrete numbers.

I care less about the brand name. I care less about making big money at this stage in my life. Regardless of where I end up, I’ll make more than enough for my living standard. I’m the lucky one because I don’t have to worry about visa sponsorship like many of my friends do. Job searching was an easier game for me. I dreamed to be surrounded by kind and low-ego people who nurture me as I grow in these early years in my career. I wanted to come to work lifeful every day. I don’t want to sell my soul for money. Youth is too precious to be sold for money, right? At this phase in my career, my #1 priority is to optimize for learning. I’m willing to take less pay as long as I know I would learn and grow more going that path. I always tend to go against the crowd.

Through the past 2 months, I feel blessed to finally have decided to stay in Atlanta to work for a startup with a stellar engineering team. First of all, I get to see my parents and brother every day. Secondly, I feel energized coming to work every day. The perk of working at a startup with full of talents is that there is just so much knowledge I can pull from anyone. It is a blessing to work in the same room with engineers who are veteran in the industry. The team is super talented and low-ego that I can’t describe them with words. Empathy is one of the key concepts the team cultivate. Empathy is caring to understand how others feel. This makes such a huge impact on my life recently. Not only this shifts how I work with my colleagues, but my behaviors toward family, friends, and life started to shift. Spending 8 hours in the office surrounded by kind people and work with them, I come home with so much positive energy to have a life after work. I feel like I am in paradise to explore and grow as high as possible. It will take quite some time for me to absorb and to write about what I learn here. So maybe in another blog post.

This post is aimed to capture my thoughts and my journey. My goal for this and next year is to improve my writing skill. It isn’t to advise anyone whether they should join a big or small company. It isn’t to say you suck if you’re chasing after the big money. It isn’t to promote my company is the best out there. Everyone optimizes for different things at different points of their life.

Until next time!

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