#46 - Chau Vu

“The scariest encounter for me was mental health. I’ve never been in a place where I needed so much help. So much that I felt embarrassed, …”

Châu Vũ - Software Engineer at Gantry (Ex Cruise, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Oracle)

Unlike other folks that majored in CS, I had spent my uni time in Biochemistry for 3 years straight at MIT(Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Mathematics and Chemistry were what I was fond of, among the rest. That passion granted me 2 Gold Medals at the International Chemistry Olympiad. My naive high-school version fell for an understanding: If I love Chemistry and want to bring good impact to people, maybe it’s best to utilize these in medicine research & modulation.

My next 2 years transpired within the lab. Being a part of a bigger thing, working with researchers and even professors. It hit me to notice: “Following this path can’t even remotely close to helping people, let alone illustrating who I am.” It takes years of research to finally produce a medicine that works and comes with a high ratio of failure. I’m not equipped with that kind of patience to go that long. But the decision to move to another major was not easy at all. I was backed mostly by sponsorship as financial support, plus a good amount of time to dig in and grab what the concept of Computing really was.”

“I’ve been here long enough to realize it’s not for me. Should I keep hanging on? And if I choose a new major, what could it possibly be?”

There were very few of us Chemistry students that went for CS. A notable thing happened at MIT back then: The booth ratio of Computer Science significantly outweighed the ones for Chemistry. That means the demand for the tech industry is in the leading position, so be it, I’m in! I had no idea about computing then, but a good foundation in Mathematics gave me confidence. For some basic entrance course, at first. The struggle began with CS-tailored classes. My inception was way behind my classmates. I still didn’t know how I crammed to finish the essential credits in only 3 semesters. A huge thanks to the process of giving 110% between being a Lab chemist and a student.”

I gained an internship at a Health Insurance System company right before my graduation. Do you know what the downside of being an individual researcher is? You get used to working on your own. The workplace, in contrast, requires a commitment to team-wise communication. To raise up your idea and ask for others’ opinions. It was my first lesson on the adulting journey.

Moving on to Cruise, the exciting challenge came up with the autonomous car sector. Some projects introduced me to a broad knowledge range that I’ve never touched before, such as operating and hardware systems. I’ve always felt lucky for having what I had at that moment: 6 years of seniority and perfect teammates to lean on. Once again, life is tricky and unpredictable. The COVID-19 pandemic spread after my first month at Cruise. And most importantly, I had a baby. As a new employee who witnessed multiple layoffs for cost optimization, I’m trapped under anxiety. My husband and I are on our own. The blockade refrains us from having someone over to help. I still remember how bad it was grinding my teeth to sleep.

So I worked, welcomed and learned to take care of my newborn. It’s a total of 135 hours/ week running on a hamster wheel: Getting up, cooking, working & meeting, and trying to have a proper meal in the gap time between those tasks. Multitasking was my top priority. My husband was an amazing backup as he took care of the housework. And I was fortunate to have a woman manager willing to support me at all costs.

The scariest encounter for me was mental health. I’ve never been in a situation where I needed so much help. So much that I felt embarrassed. I was a tech lead back then. If I had spent enough time and effort on work, I could have helped the team and developed the project better. But that’s life: You can’t have a double standard.

And of course, the postpartum depression. There were so many events, and I can’t remember all of them. I just knew that it kept piling up.

I’ve managed to overcome them all, but it leaves me with a conclusion: When you’re about to face a crucial change, and it’s not just about having a baby: Gain a comprehension of the relevant grasp, and prepare a stable mentality. Name your feelings, and I meant every word. When we’re able to identify our emotions, we’re capable of controlling them. Or at least, we’d know what stage we are going through. Learn to understand our feelings and stay away from negativity. Rumours and dramas, for instance.

As a woman in tech - a sector where the guys dominate, I place a heavy concern on diversifying culture before jumping into any companies. Thanks to that, I hardly have any problem with gender discrimination. However, I’ve experienced mansplaining. When I first entered a new team, a guy tried to explain to me a quite basic term, regardless of knowing my background. I felt uncomfortable, as people assume women are all beginners in tech. Thus, they tend to clarify fundamental concepts that everyone has already known. I don’t find it too serious. Perhaps the person who explained it to me didn’t mean anything bad. But for some women out there, this might cause disrespect. Hence, people should do background checks to avoid these kinds of incidents. For example, asking us if we had heard of this, or what our background is before jumping to any conclusion.

Time seems to shrink off ever since I had the baby. Apart from looking after the baby and handling housework, I’ve left with little time to enjoy life with what I want. That’s why I want to spend that tiny amount on what I haven’t had a chance to do before.

I left Cruise and joined Gantry - a small start-up in a new industry. Meanwhile, I partnered with friends to build up a service that prepares youngsters for their interviews in big companies, training and CS in general through the TIPS (Tech Interview Prep Support) group. If my life didn’t turn out as a software engineer, I would probably become a teacher, or a career consultant.”

If you’re about to go through the same things I’ve met, whether it’s a career switch, interviewing tips, or overcoming postpartum depression, just know that I’m here: Ready to hear you out and pat you on the back”.

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