Startup- life is not for everyone

Ngo Anh Khoa -  CTO Wee Digital

Ngo Anh Khoa - CTO Wee Digital


Start-ups have limited resources, so problems may seem infinite. This is why efficiency should be maximized and employees of startups must be willing wear many hats.

For example, if one owns a car repair shop, there must an understanding of electrical workings and knowledge to repair other parts of a car. One can’t say he/she knows how to change car tires, therefore they are an auto repair shop, right? The saying, “Mastery of craft,” shouldn’t be an excuse to not learn other aspects that are relevant to your field. It probably means you shouldn’t be fixing houses if you’re into auto repair, but does not constitute for not trying to learn how to fix other parts of a car.

To be frank, coders looking for 8- hour work days with two days a week off, 12 vacation days a year, including holidays then startup life is not for you. Instead, apply at foreign companies or large corporations in the country. In those companies, your jobs have a clear description where engineers do the same things. Start-ups, like us, operating in such ways and stay that way, would eventually run dry and shut down.

Innovation disguised in change

Clearly, without money you can’t survive. However, I believe money and professional passion must balance one another. Programming is a profession that requires a breadth of understanding, as well as deep knowledge (if you want to be a superstar engineer). To pursue valuable knowledge, it requires intrinsic passion in what you do. Only then, with valuable knowledge would you be able to create new solutions for real problems. That’s when the real money starts rolling in.

Working for a large corporation on the other hand, you would most likely be doing the same thing- every day on replay. With tasks rigidly defined, there’s little room for you to explore and develop skills surrounding the work you do. This is where many start to feel bored. In this boredom is where you’re start to lose your passion for programming. Getting used to the lost of passion means losing interest in learning new things. Then you’ll start to fear and oppose change. This change is called innovation.

I’ve met many software engineers in big corporations- very few are adept to change. This is a result of having more work without incentive. To not complete the new and difficult tasks wouldn’t be acceptable. You’ll immediately bump into problems with management. Programmers with such attitudes, will respond to change with, "OK, if the boss wants change, then I must be paid more. If not, I’ll work for another company with the same salary, not requiring me to adapt to change."

Attitudes of Vietnamese programmers today

Recently, the heads of a Japanese bank stated, “Vietnamese programmers are quick to change jobs. Once they find something too difficult they leave instead of devoting to the team to solve problems to create products and solutions they can take pride in.” This is why we see many coders jump from one company to another, seeking jobs fitting to their unwillingness to change.

For this reason, it’s very difficult to hire and retain engineers with the right attitude. New employees with basic level skills usually demand a salary above $ 1,000USD before even demonstrating value. Here is where I truly know I no longer understand the labor market. Many engineers on probation, breakdown midway, then quit.

How we survived startup life

Twelve years ago, just graduating from college, I started work for Christian Nguyen with a salary of 2.5 million per month. Just the two of us writing software on the floor of his rented space. When our team grew, a long power outage prevented us from working. With 100,000VND in our pockets, our team of 4 went to a street coffee vendor, stressed about what to do next. Now THOSE were tough times.

So I find it truly incredible, one could even call it a miracle, how our small company has been able to maintain a team of engineers for over 13 years. We’ve been challenging one another while staying close during tough times to create new companies with successful exits. Now, after demonstrated success, have other companies try to poach me? No doubt. However, I'm not going anywhere. To experience the most trying and extreme days of uncertainty and then succeeding together. What else is there to be afraid of?

Even during the hardest days Christian kept morale intact, explaining how life will be better. In pivotal moments, he’d ingrained in us the belief that if foreigners innovate, so can we, Vietnamese people. That belief is now a reality.