#44 - Chan Le

“They use the term career path because that’s what a career should look like. We have a destination to reach and must figure out how to get there. But unlike using Google Map - where we can type in the location and retrieve the route, life is way more complicated.”

Chan Le - Engineer Manager at Truera (Ex Snap, Meta & Asana)

“Fun fact to get started? I failed the university entrance exam back in Vietnam. I was in the selective IT class in middle school & high school, and also won a seat in the excellent team, just to end up failing the national contest. Many things happened after that, and I found myself packing for KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology). It’s a decision I’ve always felt regret. I wish I would have happened the other way: Staying in Vietnam for about 1 or 2 more years & equipping myself for America. Korean is undoubtedly an amazing place to nurture & accelerate an expertise foundation. But things would have been easier if I had started in America.

And why is that? Perhaps Korean and I can’t find a mutual click. The social life, the acquaintance, the language. Anything but the splendid nature was a completely cramped experience. It’s about a culture of social stratification, and the elder gets more respect despite their social behaviour. It bugs me to see that social class works that way. And I got no choice but to live with it. I’m more of a social butterfly who wants to taste life through exploration. Meeting new people. Working on side projects. Doing side businesses. Korean can’t offer me all of that. I mean, it’s an ideal place to accelerate your academic level, but it also refrains you from building individual growth.

I am an ambitious person. A resolute one, I would say. To try & to experience is how I know life is great. It’s the same thing I tend to tell the juniors to get out there and get their hands on as many things as they can. University is perfect because we both have the time and the audacity. And Internship, summer and winter breaks. I also dived into the path of PM, Researcher, Startups, Designer (and it was horrible, fyi.) I even wanted to pursue an academic career path and achieve a Master’s or Ph.D. So I signed up for a Lab as a Researcher. It was winter, I got to work at 9 am and heading back home at 9 pm. Until one day, out of the blue, I was watching those first snowflakes when I realized: I don’t want my life to look like this for the next 7 years. So I returned to what I did best: Being a software engineer.

If you asked me if certificates matter, my answer is a solid no. I got an American internship thanks to the prior experiences. I stand by my so true statement, that University, or academic certificate in general can’t be proof of how we will perform as a person. There are high school students who joined me as interns at Facebook. They earned that will skills and proper direction. But for the record: Experience gets illustrated in different forms. I tried out new things, a lot. That pushes me further, and in the end, it all comes back to building a better me. I went from a job with only 1 VND million / month at school, to a research internship in Korea and obtained a tech internship in India. Those experiences are how I earned my first internship in the US.

My American internship was another fun story. It was an interview for a full-time role. After a full day of implementing BST, BFS then DFS, everyone got their result. Everyone excepted me. I happened to be followed up with another round with Recruiters. Just to come to the final classic results: You’re a great asset, but we’re sorry to inform and ABC.” I did a quick round-up and realized, I’ve got nothing to lose here. This could be the only chance to tie me with a US full-time role. They must have considered me for some reason. So I headed back to the HQ and asked for an internship instead. The interviewer, obviously, stood dumbfounded. Long story short, I landed my first US internship. It opened and paved the way to many doors and fantastic fellas I’ve always felt grateful to meet later on.

So what’s the moral story here? If you need something, just simply ask for it! There are always people willing to help, especially when you have put a lot of effort trying to get there. The same thing happened when I first started in the real estate industry. I passed by a favorite random house and jumped in to see if the seller was thinking of selling it. And they did! Or the story of how my girlfriend eventually became my wife. I just simply state and ask for what I desire. Most people are afraid to ask, probably because of criticism or judgment. But it’s normal to ask what you want, and it’s okay if people don’t give it. This should be my one and only superpower - having the guts to ask what I want.

They use the term “career path” because that’s how a career should look like. We have a destination to reach and must figure out how to get there. But unlike using Google Map - where we can type in the location and retrieve the route, life is way more complicated. People might have the same destination. They all focus on the biggest road and somehow forget there are many alleys to reach it. It’s the same example when you think it’s a must to have a US degree for a role at FAANG. It’s not even written in the job description. It might be the easiest way, but it’s definitely not the only way.

Well that was a long and perhaps an enthusiastic sharing. You must have thought I’m ready to settle for Software from now on? Heck no. When most guys out there are driven by the idea of attaching their names into some real and impactful success, I just want to be Chan, an absolutely normal human being. Chan Le doesn’t tie himself with tech. It just happened to be a part of my life, for a 14 years time frame. We might share our path together for a while, but someday I might be ready to pursue another direction.A real-estate expert, or a full-time dad. I never meant to talk you into quitting your job. If you choose to go with technology and you love it, go with all you have. But don’t forget the big picture - a promising career will be based on what you do best, and for that - it should be something you enjoy doing in the long run. We shouldn’t, and might as well, don’t need to attach ourselves to any label.”

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