LONG PHAM – A Successful Risk Taker

A story about a guy who was drunk and did not even wear a pant during his job interview. But that is the guy who was also brave (or crazy) enough to turn down offers from F500 companies to work for a no-name startup. Meet my friend, the guy I just mentioned above: Long Pham.

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It will be harder to summarize what sort of life connects the boy to the man.” – Richard Rodriguez

When Toan asked me to write about how I got a job in the U.S., I was baffled. I guess I never thought about the journey that I went through, since everything that has happened to me felt like a dream. Not an entirely beautiful one, however.

To begin, I work for a startup. That means no certainty. I don’t have a work visa yet, since my visa application never came through last year. My company’s growing alright, but who knows how the market can turn out. Today I have a job, but tomorrow I can very well be out of it if my company goes under. To add to that, working for a startup also means no discipline. I can be up till 2-3am coding, then sleep in till 11 and wake up and do it all over again. I can go run in the middle of the day if i’m stuck at a piece of code that keeps failing; but then sometimes I have to get out of a get-together with friends to dive straight back to work because something just failed in our code.

So, why did I choose this life? It has everything to do with how I got this job in the first place.

I have always been somewhat an outcast. An average student in school with mildly anti-social personality, I have always found myself struggling to fit into wherever I went. In college, I tried hard to learn new things and make new friends, or even went out of my way to do things that I normally would have never done, like abusing alcohol and going out to parties. In summer, I joined a bunch of organizations and got several summer internships, with the hope to expand my professional horizons, extend my network and perhaps look for some sort of relationship.

To a certain extent, I did achieve those goals. I met a lot of great people and gained some very memorable experience working for those places. The people I worked with were passionate, ambitious, and very energetic in whatever they did. The people I hung out with were fun to be around, joyous, and definitely quite wild when it came to partying and having fun. Still, something was missing. I felt that hole in my soul that at the time seemed unfulfillable, but I could never really figured out what it was.

I went into my junior year with that same lingering sense of emptiness. I went to Germany for a while, traveled around Europe while applying for several summer internships. To my surprise, two Fortune 500 companies actually gave me internship offers, along with several other opportunities that also would guarantee a solid future career. But then I received an interview offer from this tiny company based in Boston area, named FASTPORT. The company doesn’t have much. Hell, they didn’t even have a website back then. But I was curious by their mission, so I decided to give it a shot anyway.

Now, looking back at it, I guess I can say that the interview was fateful. I almost missed it because I was still in Europe at the time, just getting back from a trip to Lisbon and still half drunk. I rushed to the shower, put on a shirt and a blazer, and sat down right on time for the interview (yes, no pants whatsoever). My interviewer was the two co-founders, and they definitely recognized that I was still drunk. Still, they were pretty chill about it, and started by asking me all these questions about nightlife in Europe and what I had been doing over there. Then it got to the main part, and as I was answering their questions, I started realizing that these guys were offering me the chance to find out the missing piece in my life. Their philosophy fitted mine perfectly, not just professionally, but also personally. More importantly, for the first time in my life, I realized that I had a chance to contribute to something bigger than just myself.

Two weeks later, I received the offer from FASTPORT. I accepted it, without even considering the other offers. After my time in Europe, I flew back to Boston to start my internship, expecting an interesting experience ahead. Little did I know that those 3 months were the best time of my life. I was stacked with a mountain of work, things that no ordinary interns at an ordinary firm would even have the chance to lay their hands on. I barely slept, skipped lunches and dinners all the time, and lost about 20 pounds over the summer, but it was totally worth it. I learned more about startups, web development, and my own self than I did for the past 21 years of my life.

I left Boston with a mindful of vast, invaluable amount of experience. And a part-time job. The founders were so impressed with my performance that they offered me a chance to work remotely from school during my senior year, and I gladly took it. During that year, besides learning more from them about what I’ve already started learning since summer, I figured out how to work independently and take charge of my own work without much (sometime any) instructions from my boss. My friends were all having fun and enjoying my senior year, while I was busting out 30-40 hours/week coding things up faster than anyone could test or roll out. They even wanted to fly me back out to Boston for both Fall and Spring breaks because some new features needed rolling out, and I agreed.

Now, you can probably guess the rest of the story. I received a full-time offer, moved out here to Boston for good, and started working on even cooler stuff, like building a mobile app or completely redesigning our web app. I also had a chance to meet other entrepreneurs and technopreneurs, expanding my horizons and making some valuable relationships.

Are there downsides? Yes. As much as I have learned and gained from this wonderful opportunity, I also practically destroyed another part of me. To become who I am today and get the best out of my life, I have burned more bridges and parted ways with many friends, some of them I once thought were irreplaceable. For a very long time, I became consumed with my own work that I forgot that other people existed. I ended up hurting people either by phasing them out of my life, or by pushing them away unintentionally. I also ended up getting hurt myself, because to a certain level, I was so obsessed with doing great things to others that I sometimes forget that my own life matters too.

In realization of that, I have decided that it’s time to do things differently from now on. Two days from now, I will have my first annual review, to go over everything I’ve achieved since I started working full-time, and ask for more from the company that I have dedicated so much into. I have also started working on another startup projects of my own with several friends / fellow entrepreneurs that I’ve made here in Boston. Plus, I am finally taking up some other hobbies (besides startups, obviously), like swimming and boxing. This job has given me a lot and turned me from party-loving, carefree boy into a man with hopes, visions and missions, but it’s also time to look beyond just this job and start exploring new horizons again.

Finally, I know a lot in this article has nothing to do with finding a job in the U.S., but I think those details are an important and worth-sharing part of my story. I hope that if there’s anything you can learn from my story, it’s this: Don’t be hesitant to or afraid of grabbing that life-changing opportunity when you perceive it, because it might not ever occur again.

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