Viet Nguyen Blog

My Career Thus Far

March 20, 2019


I have often thought about the ‘what if’ about multiple things in my life but my career seems to be one that I think about the most. For those who don’t know, I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering (took me about 6 years, I know all about slacking) but I do software for my day job. Before graduating at all and maybe even before entering college, I did not have the faintest idea of what I wanted to do in regards to my career or finding a way to earn money to survive. I was quite stupid back then. I had a ton of interest in making video games but did not do any research into that career field.

The greatest driving force that brought me into programming and software development was my Senior Design Course. This class was like the final boss at the end of the tunnel, but you didn’t have to slay the boss, more like present a culmination of all that you have learned into a small tidy project with a group of your peers and hope you smile big enough and have enough pages of big words in your research paper/thesis that you hand over and pray a year plus of work does not get thrown down the dumpster and you can finally graduate. High pressure makes diamonds, they say.

See, that course taught me that working with others is fun, if they are super capable and know their role in the project well. I was put in the programming lead of the project and it basically was the first real world experience of making things and breaking things to see if they worked. And you weren’t penalized for breaking the thing, you learned from it. No failing a whole course because your program did not run on the twentieth try or you fried a capacitor because you ran a crapton of voltage through and did not do the math first. Consequence-free learning was pretty blissful.

So why was I not an electrical engineer right now? Well, programming on my own was fun and also not a danger to my physical being. I finally learned how to learn and also how to Google (writing the perfect search query is a skill). I also found out that websites can be made through programming. I always had an interest in design or artsy stuff but did not have the creative chops to make/draw/design things from pure nothing. So making code into artsy stuff, amazed me quite a bit.

To keep the software movement I had going, I looked around job boards for something, anything that can keep this going. Should have been looking for EE jobs lol I implemented the shotgun-resume method of job application. After a week, I had an interview request, my first as a prospective programmer, for an internship position at Riptide Software. The interview was nerve-wracking. I finally realized what I was experiencing back then was anxiety, my heart was beating so fast that I thought it was going to jump out of my body and run a marathon outside. I remember they asked me questions about what coursework I did, if I knew some of the technologies they were using and some other standard interview stuff I got to hear over the years. I lied my ass off. I said ‘yes’ to everything. I probably heard of some of the technology they used (JavaScript, HTML, databases) but look, I was fresh off graduating from Electrical Engineering courses that taught nothing close to those technologies.

To this day, I am still not sure why I was hired. It could have been my enthusiasm for programming (I was honest in saying that I liked how code turned words into artsy stuff). It could have been that I was a convincing liar. Who knows? I am eternally grateful that they gave me a chance and I learned a whole bunch and it started me down the path that leads to my here and now.

So after Riptide Software (I was let go), I scrambled because no one plans on being let go. Shotgun all the resumes into all the job boards. I got an interview with I went through a grueling (at the time, I thought it was long and arduous, but it was standard for the software industry) three hour interview complete with online quiz, whiteboard programming questions and grilling from three developers. First time doing something like that, but by then I had some experience in the field and could lie better and be even more convincing. To my surprise (really big imposter syndrome stuff right here), I got the job.

So BookIt taught me a lot of the principles that go into software development. BookIt also had some of the most awesome people that I had the pleasure of working with. I took on some of the more difficult tasks (for me at the time) and finally felt comfortable experimenting with some side projects. BookIt also had a good work culture. It was a great time and I had planned to stay there a while but there were other plans in store. I was one of the couple of people that had to be let go because of budget cuts. It was pretty unfortunate, and the day they delivered the news was pretty upsetting (the whole scene as you would imagine it in the movies: called into superior’s office, told the news, rushed to desk to pack things up, said goodbyes and left the building forever). At the time, I tried to rationalize their decision, probably a mix of “It’s a business” and I was probably an easy cut because I was last one in (no seniority).

Alright so back to scrambling because no one plans to be the victim of budget cuts. Shotgun all the resumes into all the job boards once again. For whatever reason, I caught the eye of a startup by the name of Listing Power Tools (LPT). Interview was not to industry standard so I got through just fine. Since LPT was in its early days, there were a lot of open positions and I was able to refer some people * cough * cough * from early budget cuts company * cough * cough * and it was like I was back at BookIt again. Startup life was nice but different. LPT was where I expanded my knowledge base immensely and wore many different hats. Basically a level up. It was all going so well. And then one day, we were all rounded up for an impromptu meeting in the morning by our HR person and we were all told that operations have been shut down and we were all out of the job. This one was a heartbreaker. There were signs but no immediate red flags so the blindside was a tsunami. At least some scathing Glassdoor reviews were made in the aftermath.

And on cue once again was scrambling and shotgunning resumes because no one plans to be at a failed startup when it actually goes down. This one took a while to come back from. I cast a wide net. I had many interviews at many different companies and not one offer for a while. It was disheartening. Finally, I accepted an offer from a company called Veristream. The company was almost fully remote and that was a first for me. No commuting for the first time in my career was truly awesome. My poor 12 year old car can take a break. It was nice for a while.

Even though I was employed by Veristream, I was still accepting interviews. The wide net worked a little too well. One company that just had an insanely long process (probably due to startup reasons) was eMindful. I had to go through a few separate interviews and a take home project in the span of 2 months. The take home project was nerve wracking because it was in a new technology that I wasn’t too familiar with but I worked at it hard because eMindful had a former LPT alumni at the helm and I was super interested in working with him again. By a miracle, I was offered a position at eMindful.

For the first time, I did not have to scramble or grab my resume shotgun. I actually had a choice and a plan. I decided to leave Veristream (first time putting in a two week notice, that conversation was awkward) for eMindful. Similar to LPT, eMindful was a startup that was just starting to build out their software development department. No referrals this time though but I did end up working with someone else from my BookIt days. Also, another similarity to LPT, I was tasked with building a product from scratch and delivering it on a deadline. I have to say that this final product that me and the dev team built is one of my crowning achievements as I wrote a lot of the code in a crunch and it works (this matters the most) and it looks good (matters second most).

So after said crowning achievement has been achieved, comes my present job. A rather pesky recruiter presented a rather lucrative opportunity that I could not pass up. Here is where I had my second time putting in my 2 week notice and the conversation was the same amount of awkward (at least for me, I think). I said my farewells to eMindful and went over to Fortress Information Security. Still getting a feel for this new job but I think I am going to like it.

And that is my career thus far. A lot of scrambling and resume shotgunning to mask all the scrambling. The ups and downs has taught me a lot and I am looking forward to what else my career will throw at me (hoping for no more surprises, please!). Now ‘what if’ that first opportunity never accepted me, where would I be? Electrical engineering for the government or NASA or an electric company? I’m just glad someone took a chance on me.

Written by Viet Nguyen. Full Stack Web Developer residing in Charlotte, NC.What I'm Doing Now