#53: Tung Quan

“The biggest fear of developers now: being laid off”

Tung Quan - Senior Software Engineer at PayPay Corporation

In 2009, I went to Singapore to study in a polytechnic program, similar to studying at a college in Vietnam. I majored in Computer Engineering. I still remember the interview for my first job at a networking company, where the boss asked me, “Our company is currently hiring programmers. Would you like to try?” I replied, “Sure, but I don’t know anything about coding. If you are willing to hire me, I am willing to learn. I don’t know anything at all.” So he gave me a test to try out, and I passed it. That’s how I started my programming career from scratch.

While working in Singapore, I realized that degrees are highly valued here, and salaries are usually based on degrees. For example, even if I had a lot of experience and high skills, if I only had a polytechnic degree, my salary would be limited, it couldn’t be higher. If I wanted a higher salary, I decided to go to university to get a bachelor’s degree. When I was working, I only focused on completing tasks and solving the company’s problems. I didn’t have the time to study systematically. So I always felt like something was missing, and I didn’t fully understand the essence of the problem. In general, I wasn’t satisfied with my curiosity. When I went to university, I learned the fundamentals of computer science. I discovered many things that I had never known before. I realized the principles of many things, such as “oh, so the principle is like this, and because of X, it leads to Y.” It opened my mind a lot more. Looking back, it was an interesting experience. I studied in a polytechnic program in Singapore for three years, then worked there for two years before starting to work and study for a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the same time. It was a tough and stressful time, but it was worth it.

I also had a period of time when I returned to Vietnam and worked in Hanoi for about 2 years, but I eventually got bored and decided to apply for a job in Japan. I brought my wife and child here to live with me. At that time, my baby was just under a year old. Looking back, I am very grateful to my wife. She left her stable job in Vietnam to follow me to a new country. She stayed at home to take care of our young child without any support from friends, family, or neighbors like in Vietnam. As for me, I faced pressure from the new environment, new job, and I was still not fluent in Japanese… It was a difficult period for us because we both had our own pressures, and along with taking care of our young child. When I came to Japan to work, if I failed probation or got laid off, honestly I wouldn’t know where to take my family. I’m not sure if it was a bold decision or just confidence in myself, but I sincerely believed that I wouldn’t fail probation and could do this job. I wanted our family to have a better living environment, so I had to take this job. Everything would be okay.

That’s just the pressure of a life with a family. As for the pressure of being a developer, it’s drastically different. There’s pressure to meet deadlines, pressure to release to production and then finding bugs that affect users, peer pressure, fear of falling behind younger developers… There are so many things. But I think the common fear of developers nowadays is the fear of being laid off. There have been a lot of layoffs recently. Compared to the waves of layoffs in the US, Europe, and Singapore, there is a lot more room to breathe in Japan because the Japanese government has policies that make it difficult for companies to lay off their employees. My company hasn’t been affected much, but the tech industry in general has been. While the number of open positions is lower than before, companies are laying off people in large numbers, so more candidates are applying for the same position, making the competition even fiercer. But in general, this is something I can’t control. If I’m unlucky enough to get laid off, I’ll have to interview for another job, that’s life 😄

I think the most reasonable way to minimize risks in the current situation is to save personal funds, so that if you get laid off, you still have money to buy food haha. Just kidding, but actually having a backup plan is pretty important.

In fact, the tech industry is very competitive, not only recently due to the wave of layoffs, but also because new technologies are constantly being introduced. To adapt to the rapidly changing market, we have to become early adopters. For instance, when Vue was introduced in 2016, I started using it in 2017. The same goes for React. When it was first introduced, I immediately started learning how to use it. My approach is to focus on learning the foundations (like computer science) first, so that it will be much easier to learn other things like understanding sitemaps, frameworks, etc. I update my knowledge on technology every 1-2 months. For example, last year, people talked a lot about blockchain, and this year, it’s AI, LLMs, etc. I update my knowledge from tech communities, Twitter, and my close friends in the industry who work at different companies. When I find useful information, I compile it into my tech radar, classify the technologies into different criteria, and keep some of them in my radar for future reference.

In terms of technical skills, I think it’s important to understand the layer of abstraction immediately below your code and to understand it as well as possible. Many new developers only know how to use libraries and frameworks. When there are errors or things don’t work as expected, they get stuck. For example, if I’m building a website using Vue, I know how Vue works, including internally. I also need to understand how the browser renders the website and how the network transfers data back and forth. In summary, that’s the secret to making our dev life easier, haha.

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