#81: Khang Nguyen

“The most stressful thing is being laid off right when my wife just gave birth a few months ago.”

Khang Nguyen, Senior Software Engineer at SAIC (US)

In 2011, I moved to the US to be with my family after leaving Saigon, where I studied information systems in college and intended to earn a CCNA certification. However, due to circumstances, I ended up abandoning both plans and worked as an Uber driver to make ends meet. In 2018, by chance, I saw an advertisement for Bootcamp Thinkful about Computer Science with very attractive promises. After 6 months, I would have a job with a salary of up to $60,000, so I was interested and have signed up to study. Because, at least compared to running Uber, becoming a real developer has always been my dream. However, the content of this bootcamp was not what I expected, but it was an opportunity for me to learn about other events and then get to know Chau Tran, the person who officially guided me into the IT industry. During the 6 months of the bootcamp, I also took project-based courses on Udemy. I remember I was still driving at that time, so I had to code and practice while driving. Chau encouraged me to participate in a Hackathon, saying it would open up many opportunities for me. I decided to give it a try. Luckily, the topic I got in the Hackathon was something I had studied on Udemy, so I performed well. I even connected with an Indian guy who later introduced me to work at Ameren - the largest company in Missouri at that time. I can’t express how happy I was to secure my first IT job, especially as someone with no tech background like me.

I think one of the reasons I’ve always had “luck” is because I’m very open-minded. When participating in courses, events, or competitions, I always try to connect with many people to find opportunities for myself, of course, with sincerity. Additionally, my determination and refusal to give up also helped me win the job at Ameren, as the application process was not easy.

During the interview, I thought it was over and I would probably fail. The company used Angular, but my demo project was built with React. Since I was determined to get the job, I proposed various solutions to deal with the recruiter. I convinced them that I would learn on my own, accept a minimum salary, or even work as an unpaid intern. As long as I had the opportunity to join the company and work. In the end, I was hired as a Junior SWE, not entry-level anymore. I was also surprised because the company was looking for someone who was eager to learn, knew how to find solutions, and didn’t get stuck on any particular problem for too long, and I demonstrated that well during the project demo.

After joining the company, to perform well, I continued to learn intensively. If something was difficult or unclear, I didn’t let it go. I would continue to study at home. So during the first few months of my job, every weekend evening, I would bring my laptop to Chau’s house for additional guidance (haha). Maybe that’s why my skills improved quickly.

After 7 months, I wanted to work on real client projects rather than building apps for internal company use. Moreover, at that time, I was single and didn’t have the responsibilities or financial pressure, so I wanted to gain more experience, which led me to switch jobs. I tried working at startups like Big Club Digital and OneSpace. Unfortunately, both companies had limited budgets, so I had to switch jobs again. Currently, I’m working at SAIC, a company ranked in the top 500 in the US, on a project for the US Air Force. Although I don’t have a formal degree in computer science, I have 3 years of experience and have worked on projects closely aligned with the company’s requirements, so I have some advantages over other candidates.

Listening to my job transition journey might seem smooth sailing, but I also faced many setbacks. I had many rejections when applying for jobs, and the most pressure came when my wife gave birth, I was laid off for exactly one month in 2023. Although it wasn’t a long period, it was a challenging time, and I had to go back to driving Uber to earn money and take care of my family. Fortunately, SAIC had a dedicated website for laid-off employees to find other projects and jobs. At that time, I found suitable projects, working under the name of SAIC on Project 2 at NASA and Project 3 in the US Defense Team.

During job interviews, there were times when I kept failing, and I felt discouraged, didn’t think I would pass and then I passed. So, I don’t encourage you to stay up all night to prepare for interviews. Get enough rest so that you can naturally present yourself in the best way during the interview, focus on saying what the interviewer wants to hear. And if you fail multiple times, don’t be too sad or put too much pressure on yourself. Instead, focus on finding solutions. Like me, I encourage myself: It’s okay, if I fail, there’s still Uber. The important thing is to think about how to perform better for the next interview rounds :D

Techie Story is a digital magazine about inspiring tech people who have contributed continuously to Science, Technology, and Innovation. Please contact us at team@techiestory.net if you want to contribute your inspiring story.
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