Venture For America Fellow Experience

Uncharted Waters: Creating My Own Path

The Fall of my Senior year of college, I was offered an engineering job I felt I had been working my whole life towards: stable, high-paying, and enough to provide for my family. But, I had to be true to myself. So I turned down the job.

Duc-Quy Nguyen

The Fall of my Senior year of college, I was offered an engineering job I felt I had been working my whole life towards: stable, high-paying, and enough to provide for my family. It was the job that would have validated all the sacrifices my immigrant parents made to get me to this point, but I had to be true to myself. So I turned down the job.

What happens when you’re 22 and you’ve achieved the so-called “American Dream”?

Shouldn’t I be happy?

I wasn’t.

Shouldn’t I feel fulfilled?

I felt empty.

I recognized that I would be unhappy if I took the job. I wouldn’t be excited to wake up in the morning to go to work. The pace of the work was slow, days were uneventful, and bureaucracy prevented any real progress from ever being made. The idea of waking up one day filled with regret terrifies me.  All the financial benefits that came with the job were simply not worth it. I wanted to find something I would be excited to work on. 

Why a Startup?

After I realized I didn’t want a career in Academia or industry, I spent a majority of my senior year of college reading everything from biographies to philosophy and business. The conclusion I came to after reading so many books was that your 20's should be a time to embrace exploration. You should try to do all the things you might fail at or have ever been curious about, and you should spend as much time with people who you one day aspire to be like. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the best path forward for me was to join a startup.

Startups are the polar opposite of the academia and industry environments I was so used to. The lifestyle is chaotic and fast. You're trying to solve problems that nobody else has figured out yet and the results will have a real tangible impact. There's an adrenaline rush that comes from not knowing what might happen tomorrow and having added responsibilities that you don’t always know how to handle. I also never pictured myself doing one thing for my entire life so the flexibility to partake in a range of activities was very appealing. 

Why VFA?

Late one night while browsing Facebook, an advertisement for the book Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang popped up. I read his book and resonated with the ultimate message of taking a non-traditional career path. He discusses what a tragedy it is to have a college graduate with so much talent building algorithms to help investors on Wall Street pick stocks and maximize ROI instead of really building something you care about using your skills. It made me think long and deep about how sometimes we take jobs working on projects we don’t actually care about. I, myself am guilty of this. I was confident that post college, I didn’t want a life full of success in things that wouldn't matter in the end. 

I learned about Venture for America from Yang's book and how it connects recent college graduates with jobs at startups in cities around the country. What are the odds that a Facebook advertisement would guide me toward what I wanted out of a job? What I knew at the time was:

1. I wanted to work at a startup.

2. I needed a job. 

3. I was ready to start a new adventure. 

With the only real entrepreneurship experience I had at this point being recycling aluminum soda cans, flipping Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and a brief stint of selling Doritos during lunch in middle school, I took a leap of faith and sent in an application. After four rounds of interviews, I was accepted into the Venture for America 2019 cohort. To this day, I still can’t fully explain why, but VFA and the VFA community just felt right to me. Everybody I've met through selection day, training camp, and in Charm City has been truly authentic. 

What Attracted Me to Leverege?

When VFA Match opened I knew I still wanted a career in engineering. From building a free-space laser communicator to a mobility aid for the blind, I've always found joy in making things that people would use and benefit from. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to work on building next. When I came across Leverege on VFA's matching system I clicked on their profile (mostly due to curiosity). From my high school days of growing lima bean plants to majoring in Photonic Sciences & Engineering because I think lasers are pretty cool, everything I have chosen to do seems very random. I attribute many decisions in my life to scratching an itch of curiosity and, for the most part, it usually ends well. 

I learned that Leverege focused on “IoT” and if I'm being completely honest, I didn’t know what “IoT” stood for. I did some quick Googling and came across IoTForAll.com and the IFA Podcast. As I immersed myself in learning more about IoT, I came to love the space and what it could mean for the future. I spent a lot of time imagining all the verticals it was going to come to shape in my lifetime from agriculture, smart cities, and even parking. I feared missing out on the opportunity to shape the world and before I knew it, I was interviewing at the company. Leverege was working on something that would matter.  

The Interview

First, Leverege sent me an email introducing themselves and setting up an introductory phone call. There was no pressure on my end to say yes (although I did). 

After the phone interview, I was sent a Google form with a list of questions to get a feel for the company. I was then introduced to the team. We discussed everything from how I found out about VFA, what my life goals were, what the company was working on, and what things I liked to do outside of work. Leverege wanted me to get to know them as much as they wanted to get to know me. 

After getting to know the team, I had a third interview at the VFA Baltimore Job Fair where I met with Leverege's CEO, Eric Conn. The job fair was pretty hectic for me as I flew in at 3 AM following graduation. I was interviewing at so many companies and catching up with people from VFA that the entire day was a blur. One of the moments that sticks out from the job fair was how the team at Leverege responded when I asked them the following question:

If you could only teach a child one value for the basis of a good life, what value would you choose to teach them and why?

The two values they chose to answer with were hard work and empathy. They explained to me that working towards something gives us excitement in our lives. Setting goals, tackling challenging and ambiguous questions, and achieving things you didn't know are even possible are fulfilling. I felt that. They also spoke extensively about empathy. They talked about how important it is to understand that your view of the world is just yours. You need to learn to meet, embrace, and care for people who are different than you. 

During my final interview with Leverege's CTO, Steven Lee, we talked about where I wanted my career to go and how the areas I wanted to grow in aligned with the direction the company was headed in. Leverege recognized that my experience was different, but they still saw the potential of who I could one day be. Leverege, in my eyes, wanted to see how we could grow together.

What's It Like to Work at Leverege?

Unpredictable

I don’t even know where to start on the list of topics I've been exposed to since I started working at Leverege. Everyday, I learn something new from my coworkers. I'm also given the opportunity to take on many roles on a daily basis. Here's a short list of a few things I've been able to do:

- Learn how to be a MAC User

- Set up a Server + Switch

- Program in SQL 

- Data Visualization using Tableau

- Tabling and talking about the company at a local event, BetaCity 2019

Energizing

Everybody at Leverege is “all-in” on building something remarkable and making the company successful. The people who work at Leverege are all really smart and talented. On top of this, they bring a commitment that surrounds the environment. We hold each other accountable and watch out for one another. I often find myself inspired and constantly asking myself “how can I be better or what can I learn to help my team out?”. My coworkers challenge me to think about the business implications of what I'm doing. Whether it's data analysis or building a prototype. My managers are constantly asking me how they can be of help. People are patient when I don’t know the answer and they're always willing to teach me. These ongoing conversations create a growth minded culture.

Fun

On a recent work trip, the CTO, Steven and I were driving to Macon, Georgia to pick up networking hardware. On the drive, we saw a Dairy Queen and I mentioned that I had never been to one. Steven immediately pulled into the lot despite us being on a tight schedule. We ordered chocolate-dipped cones and it was easily one of the best ice-cream experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Despite the hectic nature of work, we took time to pause, live in the moment, and enjoy each other's company.

Challenging, Unique, and Rewarding

Work at Leverege is challenging, unique, and rewarding. You'll be asked to solve problems you might not know how or where to start. As I finish up my first few months, I'm starting to realize that the ability to perform meaningful work with people who support you and whose company you enjoy is a special feeling that should be cherished. All the past jobs I've taken had parts of what I was searching for, but I never felt like they checked off all the boxes. In this moment, I know and feel that I'm right where I need to be: helping build the future of IoT and creating my own path.

Duc-Quy Nguyen

Systems Engineer

A former Laser Engineer, Quy loves to design and handle products & complex systems. His interest in technology began from his experience as a kid building a solar powered toy car. Outside of work, he enjoys learning, reading, and playing competitive Ultimate Frisbee.

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