Welcome to the second of our ‘Life at Transcend’ stories, where we spend a couple of minutes getting to know members of the Transcend family, and their respective journeys to getting here. In our second post, meet Minh Nguyen.
Minh is a Staff Software Engineer at Transcend, working primarily on our backend security infrastructure. In just a few short months Transcend, she’s become a cornerstone of our engineering team, and an esteemed music critic in our #tunes Slack channel.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I spent my early childhood in the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (population 8.9M). When I was 11, I moved with my family to the US, to a tiny town called Americus, Georgia (population 17,000), where my parents found work as poultry farmers. In school I learned to speak English with a thick southern accent, and in my freetime I helped out my parents at the farm—not without many complaints, mind you. The farm was hot and dirty, and the work was repetitive and mind-numbingly boring.
But there’s not a lot of things to do in Americus if you don’t want to do farm work. I mean, there’s not a lot of things to do in Americus, period (or so I thought at the time). So I knew early on that I wanted to get out—go to college elsewhere, find work elsewhere, live elsewhere. And I knew my family couldn’t afford college, so I’d have to figure that out myself. Long story short, that’s how I found my source of motivation for academic pursuits and ended up at Yale.
If you’re a poor kid at an elite institution you’re bound to wind up with a chip on your shoulder, and I think I was always trying to prove to everyone that I belonged there. I studied Philosophy. I worked really hard and graduated in the top 10% of the class. I’m happy with that result, but sometimes I think back and feel some FOMO about all the things that I could’ve been doing instead of trying to turn an A- into an A.
“But what do you do with a Philosophy degree?” my parents kept asking me. My original plan was to go into academia, but the reality of my family’s financial situation eventually sank in and I decided against it. Senior year, I began looking at other career paths and found myself very drawn to software engineering. My introduction to programming/computer science was actually through philosophy classes (on Mathematical Logic and Computability), so I knew that I enjoyed the type of analytical thinking that came with the work. After graduation, I attended a coding bootcamp (App Academy) in SF.
I learned so much during that 3 month period. A few months after finishing the program, I accepted a job offer as an entry-level Software Engineer at Zendesk. There, I had great mentors who helped me grow quickly through the ranks, and I’m forever grateful for them. In 3 years, I was leading my own team there.
Describe your path to Transcend. How did you end up here?
After my experience with Zendesk, which was a relatively big company, I was excited to try working at a startup, where I could hit the ground running, wear many hats, and have fun with all the growth and chaos that comes with working at a small company. Transcend stood out to me because I really believe in our mission — to give everyone data rights.
I was first introduced to the world of data privacy at Zendesk. There I managed a team that built and maintained in-house applications for fulfilling data privacy requests for Zendesk customers. I quickly realized just how technically challenging it was to actually fulfill these data requests if you didn’t build for it from the start. At Transcend, I think we’re taking the right approach to solve this problem for all companies and all users, not just for one company, and that’s pretty cool.
What do you work on at Transcend?
I’m primarily a backend engineer. My first project at Transcend was to introduce multi-tenancy to Sombra, which allows us to use a single cryptographic proxy application to encrypt the data of many different customers. This saves a lot of engineering time because it removes the need for us to deploy a new Sombra instance every time a new customer signs up.
Right now I’m working on a number of different projects, including improving the onboarding experience of new customers, building out the configuration management of an upcoming product (more on this soon!), and tackling the inevitable tech stack scaling challenges that come with ever-increasing customer growth.
What’s your favorite part of working at Transcend?
There’s such a great variety of interesting technical challenges that come up, and with our company size comes the freedom to experiment and solve them. Plus, you’re not alone. There are many talented and passionate teammates who are more than happy to collaborate and provide feedback on your work.
What does being a Transcend team member mean to you?
It means being cognizant of my role within the team, whether I am blocking or enabling others to do their job better, whether we’re being productive with our work and inclusive in our culture. It means being flexible and taking on whatever roles that will help us achieve our mission of providing data rights to everyone.
Where can we find you when you’re not logged on?
I oscillate between being a digital hermit and an outdoors enthusiast, so you can either find me at my computer playing video games for hours on end, or in the forest looking for birds and mushrooms. I’m also vegan (it’s easy to be when you grew up working on a chicken farm) so I end up cooking a lot, in an attempt to recreate many meat-based dishes that I miss. My latest obsession is with making vegan ramen.