“These days working as a security guard makes me appreciate my job as an IT engineer much more.”
Dung Ngoc Nguyen - Software Engineer at Wolt/ DoorDash (Japan)
Back in middle school, I was more into playing than studying. I didn’t care about my studies and spent my days in internet cafes playing games. The peak was when I failed the entrance exam to a regular high school, so I had to attend a semi-public school with tuition fees four to five times higher. That’s when I woke up, realizing my mistake and felt guilty towards my parents because my family was difficult at that time. I didn’t worry about studying and wasting my parents’ money.
So, during the summer of 9th grade, I looked for a job to help my mother pay for my tuition. I worked as a waiter on Bui Vien Street, a popular tourist spot. It was tough work, standing and serving continuously for 10 hours a day, with no proper lunch breaks. Seeing my struggles, my father found me a job as a security guard at a police checkpoint. my 2-month salary was 600,000 VND, so I gave all to mom to pay for school. I still remember those nights when I patrolled with the police officers and encountered thieves. We chased and caught them, but instead of feeling proud, I was afraid they might retaliate. Looking back, it was a mix of challenging and joyful memories.
I kept studying and working like that until the end of my high school years. During night shifts, I brought my books to read, and any knowledge from the 10th grade that I didn’t understand, I didn’t hesitate to ask my younger brother, who was an excellent student. He would teach and provide study materials for me. When I took the university entrance exam, I only applied Computer Science major at HCM University of Natural Sciences. However, I failed. It felt like the whole world was collapsing. I was disappointed after all the effort and money I had invested. I didn’t know what to do next. Disappointed after putting in so much effort and finance, I didn’t know what to do. If I went to a public school or other IT centers, the tuition fees were too high; I couldn’t afford. When I was lost, my younger brother read a newspaper and saw that HCM University of Natural Sciences was recruiting for the College of Computer Science, evaluating the university exam scores. Without hesitation, I submitted my application immediately.
For the last 3 years of college, I went through a lot. In the final three summer months, I studied like crazy for the six exams to complete my university degree and continue for another two years. The most memorable and stressful time was the last year of university. I was doing my thesis while agreeing to write a scientific article with a professor, even though I didn’t know anything and had never written in English. On top of that, I was doing an internship at a company. One month before defending my thesis, my mom was hospitalized. When I visited her, she was only concerned about financial matters. I felt helpless, thinking of dropping out to work, but my mom strongly opposed it. Fortunately, her health improved, and my article got published at an international conference. I successfully defended my thesis with honors, scoring 9.5. Needless to say, I was incredibly happy!
After graduating in 2014, I worked full-time for the company where I interned. Shortly after enjoying a salary raise, the bank sent payment notices for my university loans. Every day I only slept for 4-5 hours because besides my job, I took on additional projects to earn extra income and gain more experience. Every month when I received my salary, I planned my expenses to save an additional 2 million dong. When I saved around 10 million dong, unexpected events occurred, and I had to use the savings. At times, my phone broke, and I had to borrow 2 million dong from friends to buy a low-priced smartphone. The job wasn’t going well, with a lot of pressure. At times, I doubted myself: “Why are my friends all progressing and going far, while you, Dung, are stuck in one place?” I couldn’t let my life continue like that; I had to make a change. I wrote down what I wanted to do and started working towards it. The first step was to find a job with a better salary and clear promotion opportunities.
In early 2015, I interviewed successfully and worked for a startup, just as I wished. I worked with talented and experienced colleagues in a dynamic environment. After a smooth 6 months, the U.S. office declared bankruptcy. Everyone in the company panicked, some sought new jobs, and some waited to see what happened (including me). I persisted in waiting for three months, believing the company would recover, cutting expenses to the maximum, using the savings meant for repaying the bank. Once, I even begged the boss to advance me 5 million dong from my salary - money the company owed me - to support my family. After that I began looking for a new job. Some companies took advantage of the news about my previous company going bankrupt to negotiate lower salaries. Later, a former colleague recommended me on “Chợ Tốt”, where I received a lot of support and kindness.
Interviewing a total of 7 rounds, the day I received the email with the subject “You have been accepted,” my emotions were broken. I hugged mom and said, “I’ve got a job,” promising myself that I would do well and give it my all. During my 2 and a half years at Chợ Tốt, I accomplished a lot. I participated in rebuilding the entire product using newer technologies, had the opportunity to meet many talented engineers, and learned from their thought processes to further develop myself. I also achieved some success here, helping the company reach the top of SEO rankings before Tet 2016 with 100,000 organic visits in a week. But in the end, I never forgot to set higher goals for myself: “Working for a top global company.”
With this new goal in mind, outside of work, I spent time at home practicing algorithms, problem-solving skills, developing open-source projects, and writing an English blog to enhance my resume. After a period of perseverance, I received a lot of positive comments from the community and also developed an open source library about 9k downloads monthly. Despite failing numerous interviews with big companies in Japan and Singapore for two years, each failure became a learning opportunity. Finally, during Tet 2019, I officially received an offer from a major Japanese company, Rakuten, and embarked on a new journey.
In my first year at Rakuten, I built trust by meeting deadlines and enthusiastically assisting colleagues. I improved my English conversational skills with coworkers from the U.S. and Canada. By the second year, my supervisor assigned me to lead some major projects of the company. Despite facing various challenges, I made efforts to excel and empower other team members to operate independently. I would transition from one project to another, gaining more trust from my supervisor and being included in the core team. Together with the team, we developed tools to enhance productivity for over 50 engineers in the department. Before leaving Rakuten, I successfully completed a significant task of upgrading the web server version, eliminating all legacy code, and laying the groundwork for the core team to upgrade other libraries, allowing engineers to utilize new features of the latest versions. Although the working environment at Rakuten was very good, I decided to leave because I had a higher goal in mind: “Working for a large US company.”
During my preparation, I developed a small product, Spotit.page, which attracted over 80k downloads worldwide. I dedicated 6 months to continuous coding and improving the product based on feedback. Additionally, I supported a former colleague in developing an open-source project that receives 83k monthly downloads. Apart from building my resume, I also interviewed with many major tech companies in the US and Japan. Finally, after 3 years of effort, I landed a position at DoorDash.
Sometimes, when I look back on the challenges I faced, I realize that they have helped me grow. I really resonate with the quote, “You can’t choose where you’re born, but you can choose how to live your life.” I believe that all pain and troubles will pass, and things will come at the right time as long as you keep trying and have hope!