#84: Vinh Tran

“Conquering the American dream, working at Google and Meta without a College Degree”

Astro Vinh, Founder & CEO at Murror; ex-Google; ex-Meta

At the age of 7, I started learning to draw by myself, tinkering with Microsoft Paint on my dad’s computer. Gradually, I learned to draw in Illustrator and Photoshop. When I was 8 years old, I had a family incident; my parents divorced, and I lived with my mother. It’s also the time to start withdrawing into your own world, not wanting to interact with anyone.

At 15 years old, my world collapsed once again. My mother remarried, and my younger brother went to study abroad, so I had to live and be independent, including financially. I started doing some freelance jobs, making money to take care of myself, so after high school I didn’t go to university but went straight to work. At this time, I was working as a freelance graphic designer for a brand-maker company with a salary of $1,500 per month, which was quite high at the time. After 4 years of working, my family advised me a lot about going to university because, living in Vietnam, a degree is very important. In the end, I chose to study at RMIT. Going to school is fun, has many friends, and has a sharing community even though they are 4 years younger than me, but the content is not very suitable for me. Basic knowledge is a bit boring for me because I’ve been working for more than 4 years. At that time, the world of technology was also undergoing change with the emergence of the iPhone 3 and iPad. I tinker with these products and create my own projects, working with engineers to build the app together. The first accomplishment came when Apple featured the application on the App Store and there were hundreds of thousands of downloads.

In 2011, thanks to those products, the CEO of Misfit Wearables noticed me and invited me to join Misfit when the company returned to Vietnam. After starting as a consultant, I was quickly promoted to head of design after a few months. At that time, I was still in school, so studying and working were also difficult. One day I talked to the dean, a teacher I admired very much. He told me to just follow the path I choose because there is no right or wrong path, so I decided to drop out of RMIT to focus on work.

In 2013, Misfit brought me to America to start a new journey. Ironically, as soon as we arrived, the company canceled the contract. The first two weeks, I was very confused. I only had $8000 in my pocket, and my rent was $800/month, so I had to go to the Chinese market to eat $5 food and 2 meals per day. Fortunately, thanks to my relationship with former American colleagues when I was working in Vietnam, I was introduced to the director of a tech company. After 8 hours of interviewing, I finally received the Head of Design position, my first job in the US with a six-digit salary. At that moment, my emotions broke down, and the rock on my shoulder was removed.

After 2 years of working, my company was acquired, and I moved to work for Bulletproof, a very famous coffee startup company in Los Angeles, with the position of Leader Design and participating in product branding. My time working and studying in the US has helped me develop my design skills, create high-quality products, and build a diverse portfolio. I used all the projects I had done to build a personal website, which helped me attract the attention of many large technology companies such as Google, Meta, Uber, Airbnb, Sony, etc. After refusing Google twice, I decided to choose Google as the next destination in my career. I still clearly remember that during the interview, they asked me about my lack of a degree, and I confidently answered, “The world is changing so fast; how can any books be printed to keep up?” There is no way to learn that will last longer than by failing and overcoming your own difficulties.” And so I became the first Vietnamese designer on Google’s Product Global team. Its products have reached up to 3 billion users.

At the age of 35, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to take on a new challenge, moving to work at Meta after refusing Meta’s invitations seven times. I want to explore more about AI, join the New Product Experiment (NPE) team to generate new ideas, and take a leadership role in artificial intelligence design. After nearly 10 years of “selling myself” in America, in 2022 I decided to create my own project, Murror, using artificial intelligence to support depressed people. Looking back on the journey I have gone through, it is clear that the working environment in the US is very competitive. In America, people show off their experiences and personal values a lot so that others can pay attention to them. An important skill is story-telling. Before, I used to be very afraid of communication and didn’t believe in myself, but thanks to the environment in America, I was trained to be more bold in expressing myself. A personal website (portfolio) is only part of creating a first impression, but during the interview process, you have to tell about your journey. As an immigrant, I faced many difficulties, but I was willing to overcome them all to “fit in” with the company. Thanks to that, I was able to work at leading technology companies such as Google and Meta. I convinced the recruiters with my own story and dream of loving graphics.

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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