If you’ve seen the movie “Hidden Figures” — and if you haven’t I highly recommend you do, and not just because IBM is a central character — you’ve seen how the race to get a man into space was profoundly affected at the 11th hour by one courageous woman, and the help her boss, her friends, her teachers, and her family gave her to get to that one minute in time when she made a difference.
People first. To build rockets to the stars and machines that think, people need to dream things up, and work with sustained, supported effort to make them real.
We have many talented people in IBM Private Cloud. This year, I’ll continue to meet and talk to as many of you as I can and I’ll post our conversations here every two weeks. My hope is we’ll get to know each other, and feel even more connected and supported in our work.
This week, I was able to lure Phu Truong away from coding on the IBM data platform to meet at IBM Silicon Valley Laboratories, San Jose, CA.
You were an intern with us until just a few months ago. Why did you choose to come to IBM full time, out of all the choices in Silicon Valley?
The appeal of IBM is the opportunity to work on new technologies, specifically, new technologies on the back end. A few weeks into my internship the senior engineer I worked with set me to work on learning Node.js® and React. I want to be a full stack engineer so now I’m working on UI, but to be really great there you need a feel for art, and I don’t have that. The back end is pure logic. I loved it, so much so that I started staying very late at night to work.
Some people love their jobs because of people, or culture, but clearly, you love the technical work. How did you decide on computer programming as a profession?
I come from Vietnam, and I had no programming background there, to be honest. I studied mathematics at university and planned to go into it professionally, but I’m very bad at calculations. I make mistakes all the time! What I love about mathematics is logic — the feeling I get when I solve a problem using logical thinking is intensely satisfying to me. I feel very good about myself. So when I came to the U.S., I had a fresh start. I asked my friends to help me find a field that uses logical thinking to solve problems, and they recommended computer science. One week into my first CS class, Data Structures and Algorithms, I knew I’d found my profession.
So now you’re at IBM, you worked on the Data Science Experience (DSX) and now you’re working on the IBM data platform. Are you thinking of following the full path from engineer to Senior Technical Staff Member (STSM) to Distinguished Engineer (DE) to IBM Fellow?
I don’t know, that may be too much!
I hear great things about you so maybe not! You’re already mentoring others in your team on Node.js, after being here only a few months.
I consider it more like sharing knowledge. When a colleague comes to me with a question, I might know something they don’t and they might know something I don’t. I might say something wrong when we’re working together and that’s an opportunity for them to correct me and for me to learn. Growing up, I helped my younger brother with his schoolwork, so I guess it’s natural for me to help. But it benefits everyone.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to play Ping Pong with my friends from San Jose State, or go with them to the beach. And I love to travel—I want to go to Cancun, because of all the natural landscapes the beach is my favorite and I’ve heard it’s spectacular there. After that, Paris and London. I love eating out, so much so that I tell my friends I want to marry a chef!
You have an adventurous spirit! IBM is an international company so, I don’t know about Cancun, but travel to Europe is likely. What’s it like living in the heart of Silicon Valley after growing up in Vietnam?
I grew up in Saigon, in a very tall, very thin town house: Saigon is famous for thin houses. Here, being surrounded by rolling green hills and close to the beach is wonderful. I think my family worried about me when I moved here, not that it was dangerous, but that I might just chase money and give up on my education: I worked as a waiter, a data entry clerk and a school bus driver, any job I could get, I took. But I never gave up on my education. I think now they don’t worry about me anymore. I think they might be proud of me.
You’ve achieved a great deal here in a very short period of time, making a significant contribution to two products that customers like. It’s tremendous, and I’m happy you’re here.
I am as well. I think the biggest difference between Vietnam and here is in education and learning. In Vietnam, education was driven by memorizing things and was not interesting to me. And, we are taught to do exactly what teachers tell us to do; they don’t give students a chance to explore their interests. So to be first at San Jose State and now at IBM where it’s part of my job to learn new skills—well, I like it very much.
Name: Phu Truong
Hometown: Saigon, Vietnam
Currently Working On: IBM Data Platform
Favorite Programming Language: Node.js
Top 3 travel destinations: Cancun, Paris, London
Best Vietnamese Food in Silicon Valley: Pho Y 1 on the Capitol Expressway, San Jose
Dinesh Nirmal – Vice President, IBM Analytics Development
Follow me on Twitter: @dineshknirmal
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