Published by Accelerance
Almost 200 years ago, the first person to be what we would now call a ‘coder’ was, in fact, a woman: Lady Ada Lovelace. Lovelace wrote what is often regarded as the first computer program in history, an algorithm with which the Analytical Engine would calculate the Bernoulli sequence of numbers. Lovelace, who died of cancer at 36, never saw her code executed.
Women in Technology have a deeper background than one would imagine, but the stories of these influential women who drove (and continue to drive) technical innovation go unheard. What about the woman who created the Palm Pilot (Donna Dubinsky), the woman who advanced human space exploration (Katherine Johnson), or the woman who conceptualized frequency hopping which led to more secure military communication during World War II and played a part in the creation of modern wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Code Division Multiple Access, all while being a highly regarded film star (Hedy Lamarr)?
Women’s contributions to technology are frequently left out of the history books- one woman Accelerance does not want to be left out is ThanhVan Dang. Dang is the CEO of Savvycom, a Global App Developer & Tech Co-Founder, delivering innovative software services/mobile solutions in Healthcare, Retail, Automotive, and Fintech worldwide to businesses including large enterprises, SMEs and Startups. She was named by Forbes magazine as one of 15 Global Leaders To Watch In 2017. She is also a TedX Speaker on Women, Entrepreneurship and Technologies, and her company Savvycom was recognized as one of Top 30 Global Mobile App Developers in 2017 by Clutch.
As an entrepreneur who is passionate and believes in a beautiful life enabled by technology, Dang enjoys sharing and adding value to society. She’s had the role of Vice President of Vietnam Digital Technology Organization VNITO, Mentor of Cherie Blair Mentoring Program, and received awards such as 2020 Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentee, ASEAN Women Entrepreneur of 2017, 1st Winner of Mekong Women’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, The Hanoi 2016 Most Distinguished Entrepreneurs and Top 100 Outstanding Start-up Entrepreneurs. Dang is also the most recent guest of the Software Outsourcing Show. Join Bobby Dewrell this week as they discuss navigating the technical landscape as the CEO/Founder of Savvycom and how Dang is leading her company with technical innovation, strong leadership and a resilient mindset. Plus, we take a look into the effect of the 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic on business practices and morale.
As more women pursue STEM careers and technical female role models, like ThanhVan Dang, receive notoriety and pave the pathway for future generations of technical women, we anticipate a higher rate of reacceptance and the (hopeful) disappearance of the perennial glass ceiling in what has been a male dominated field since the 1980’s.
Bobby: Hello, and welcome to “The Software Outsourcing Show.” My name is Bobby Dewrell and I am happy to have you here on another episode with us. Now, I know things are going crazy in the world today as we look at the COVID-19 pandemic and you’ve heard a lot about it, so we thought we would talk about a different type of perseverance this week and, actually, we probably have a couple of episodes coming forward to you on it. But we’ve been talking about women in tech and really, my eyes were really open with some of the research that was brought out with our producers and some of the things that we learned along the way, so I hope that you will find the same.
Now, today I am talking to a person that is probably one of the most awarded and accoladed people that we’ve had on the show and her name is Van Dang. Now, Van is the CEO of a company called SavvyCom, a global app developer and tech co-founder. She delivers innovative software services and mobile solutions in healthcare, retail, automotive, and fintech worldwide to businesses including large enterprises, small to medium enterprises, and startups. Van Dang was named by “Forbes Magazine” as one of 15 global leaders to watch in 2017. She is a TEDx speaker on women entrepreneurship and technologies and her company, SavvyCom, was recognized as one of the top 30 global mobile app developers in 2017.
As an entrepreneur who is passionate and believes in a beautiful life enabled by technology, Van enjoys sharing and adding value to society. She’s had the role of vice president of Vietnam Digital Technology Organization, VNITO, mentor of Cherie Blair Mentoring Program, and received awards such as 2020’s Fortune – U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentee, the ASEAN Women Entrepreneur of 2017, the first winner of Mekong Women’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, the Hanoi 2016 Most Distinguished Entrepreneurs or top 100 Outstanding Startup Entrepreneurs. Hi, Van, welcome to the show, welcome to the virtual studio. I appreciate you joining me today.
Van: Yeah, hi, Bobby, how are you?
Bobby: I am doing wonderful, I’m doing great. How’s everything for you over in Vietnam?
Van: Yeah, it’s going great now and even with Corona, I was afraid but it’s still okay in Vietnam at the moment.
Bobby: Okay, good, good, I’m glad everybody there is safe and still doing well. I know, you know, this global pandemic continues to kind of grow on us especially here in the United States, we’re getting close to what they’re calling our peak season for the virus so I know y’all are kind of a little past that. But, hey, listen, Van, I have to say, you know, I think congratulations are in order. You know, going through your bio, doing a little bit of our research here like we do, I think you’re the most accoladed person that we’ve had on the show so far.
Van: Oh, thank you.
Bobby: So, I am definitely, definitely impressed and I really appreciate you joining here and kind of, you know, talking with us about this journey with women in technology, certainly something I can’t personally speak to, I can do research on but I don’t know what the road is like to try to go down it. But to that point, you know, I know from your background and some of the research that we’ve done, I know you grew up in a small village and you really started working to earn an income as a child.
And I know that that kind of led you toward finding a full scholarship and I know you got your IT degree at University of Sydney and you spent, you know, four years kind of studying and living abroad and I know that exposed you to a lot of cultures and nourished your dreams and passions. So, I want to talk a little bit about that and I’d like to start by talking a little bit about your childhood and upbringing. Can you talk a little more about kind of that growing up in those early ages?
Van: Well, thank you, Bobby, for the words. And, yeah, a little bit about me, I was born in a small province in Vietnam and probably looking back to it now, it was a wonderful experience growing up in a small village where most of the people know each other and you can walk to school with friends and play traditional games together. And you can see something very different now, it’s every family watching the same movie every evening, so normally, we got one channel to see and everyone got that and it was so peaceful for me at the time when it was warm. But however, when you stay in one place and you never got a chance to go to any other place outside, then you will see the way that most people around you do.
Bobby: True. Yeah, that is a good point, sort of that, you know, when everybody’s kind of in the same place, it becomes very homogenous type thing. So, with that, though, and the way you…you know, with your growing up, was university an expectation for you and if not, then how did you kind of prepare to get that full scholarship and then go study in Australia, coming from a small province like that?
Van: Well, when I grew up a little bit, I understand that without going to university I could not get an opportunity to get a better job. So, going to university was my expectation when I was in high school but actually, it was not supposed to be outside of Vietnam, especially in Australia and it was too expensive and out of expectation for normal Vietnamese family back then. The cost for my four-year study in Australia equates to 50 times of my parents’ annual income. Yeah, so it’s impossible without a scholarship that my family can afford me to do that. And so, I just took a try to apply when I saw a notice in the bulletin in the university and I was lucky to be one of 50 students in Vietnam at the time to be granted that kind of scholarship from Australian government.
Bobby: Wow, wow. So, it was really…it wasn’t an expectation from parents or family, it was an internal drive that really kind of pushed you toward university, is that what it was?
Van: No, it was not the expectation of my parents at that time so I just took the risk and I also have to try to do it because the fee to apply took me about one month’s…the cost of one month living in Vietnam at the town that I had to spend to apply, but I just tried to do it because I’ll go into Australia.
Bobby: Yeah, yeah, that is definitely a dedication. Now, I have to ask, so when you looked at university there in Australia and you had everything kind of before you of what to pick, what led you to technology? Why technology? Where did that come from?
Van: Yes, actually, I fell in love with math since I was small but something changed when I was in Grade 7, I got an opportunity to write a book programming in Pascal and it was very small program to make a clock run and that’s how…yeah, I just imagined, “Wow, a wonderful thing that a computer can bring.” And I did not really understand what computer science is but I just want…so I just decided to go with computer science because I can see we can do many new thing, many interesting or exciting with IT.
Bobby: Yeah. Now, I noticed in some of the research and stuff that I’ve done, I’ve heard you make the statement before that you wanted to build a better Vietnam. Can you tell us a little more about technology and this dream of building a better Vietnam? Like, how did this all come together?
Van: Actually, that dream came with me when I was in Australia. When it came there, I met with many different people from different culture and I had experienced with modern technology and very good service, so I just dream that one day we can have all that in Vietnam. And I also see a huge potential from Vietnamese people, like my friends, they work very hard, they are quite smart but they don’t have the opportunities to upskill or experience with more complex projects.
And I also see that they need an open environment where they can learn and they can get themselves equipped with some more knowledge and I see that IT is quite a key for them to open the door to the world. And Vietnamese government also have a nationwide policy to encourage people to learning IT from primary school to high school and we all together with other IT companies in Vietnam want to show to the world that Vietnam is an emerging destination for innovation.
Bobby: Wow. Yeah, yeah, you know, it’s certainly true, Vietnam is coming along and doing quite well and, you know, it’s always fun to talk to someone kind of at the forefront of that and really driving it. Now, I know you’ve done a lot, right? I think researcher, coder, developer, project manager, business development, you’ve done some consulting, you’ve been a country representative. How did all these roles kind of shape you for being a CEO and starting a company?
Van: I must say it was an excellent opportunity for me to be a great foundation to become a CEO later with those different positions that I have been taking. And by taking different roles, I believe that I was able to understand what is happening from different point of view in a big picture and how a business is operating and I was so proud of myself about what I really wanted to do. I could see what the market need after the world economic recession in 2008 and from what I could see at that time, I believe that there is still a better way to provide high-quality software service to our clients and I decided to start SavvyCom just in 2009.
Bobby: And so, about 11 years ago. So, when you started SavvyCom, how was that born? How many people were there? Was it you or did you have a couple of compatriots or…?
Van: Yeah, that was 11 years ago, in 2009, and we have a team of four people. We thought about what had happened after the world economic crisis in 2008 and many people lose their job and I think it’s better for us to find our job or provide a better service than what we have done before. So, we just decided to open SavvyCom and we have four people working in a small room, I think just about 20 square meters at that time.
Bobby: Wow, not very large at all, right? So, we’ve talked a little bit of about your background from childhood and growing up and then the technical background and the roles that you had, can you talk about some of the values that you’ve brought from that upbringing and that background into SavvyCom and to it?
Van: When we just founded SavvyCom, we sit together and we set the vision to become a global company, not just limited providing service in Vietnam. And from the early beginning, we create the culture of being innovative, continuous learning, and nurturing trust, as I believe that without being innovative, we can’t get to nowhere or we got to learn every new thing every day and we have partner and customer from different place in the world, so nurturing trust is very important to maintain and keep our business going. So, I encourage people to never stop learning and engaging time to time in this world. We also give our team opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and try new thing, yeah, and we also consider technology can drive success and we apply technology in every first step to give our customer better experience and also within our internal team, to have better communication and better performance.
Bobby: Oh, wow. Okay. So, with that and kind of, you know, coming along the way, what advice would you have for future CEOs or actually, for women starting their own companies, what have you kind of learned along the way that you’d be willing to pass along?
Van: When I first founded SavvyCom, I felt that it’s very difficult and I have to find many different ways to survive and now I see that they have many new opportunity but also, they are more challenging as well. I see now more and more people are confident to start their own company or becoming CEO, they provide different products in different industry but they also might face different challenges. From being an entrepreneur for more than 10 years, I may have two take away advice. First, for people who just start their own company, I think I want to say to them that let’s start with that person and value the way that they can bring to the market.
Once they find them, they got to stick with that, to live and breathe with their dream. And, of course, they will be facing with many challenges that they might never think of and sometimes they might want to give up like I did sometimes. They also might…I’m sure that they will feel very lonely in their journey sometimes but let’s think that everyone is the same and if I can do that or many people can do, then they can do it even better. And the second one, I think I want to say to them that, “Let’s learn, learn, and learn,” so we need to learn every day to keep up with the world that is constantly changing and there are many ways for them to learn at the moment.
Bobby: Yeah, and I think that’s interesting and I appreciate you talking about the struggle that sometimes exists. You know, I had a quote the other day that I actually had posted out on LinkedIn that said, you know, “We always see the person standing in public success but we never see the private sacrifice that happens,” right? And that’s definitely, you know, kind of the same thing that you’re saying here is, “Hey, sometimes it gets a little lonely and sometimes it’s hard but look around, other people have done it, you can do it too.” It’s just a matter of willpower, right?
Bobby: So, I know you talked a little bit about some of those obstacles so I don’t want to push too hard on it, but what were some of the obstacles in particular that you found that you faced?
Van: When talking about obstacles, I think I have experienced many common obstacle like other startup founder can face such as customer did not pay, cash flow is running out, employee resign, or even our co-founder give up after a few years, yes. And many times, I also have been facing challenges as a woman CEO and, you know, at the beginning, many people couldn’t believe that a woman like me could be a founder or a CEO of a tech company, they just thought that it was a title only or I might have someone behind. Well, many people think that. And also, running SavvyCom takes me a lot of times.
Besides SavvyCom, I also have a family with two small daughters at home that I need to take care of. Most of our customer based in North America, so the time zone, you know, that 12-hour difference, so sometimes, many times, actually, I have to work at night when I send them to bed. Yeah, and some people think that a female CEO cannot be a good wife or a good mother, she spend so much time on work and she cannot have enough time to take care of family. And I feel it’s a very lonely journey as well, I’ve heard it so many times, yeah, but I just try to find what I really wanted to and then find a way to set it out.
Bobby: Yeah, and that’s a really interesting point that I don’t think that we all often think of is that it’s hard for anyone but it’s hard when you need to take care of children at home in addition to that and move on to these different things and maybe cultures or thoughts don’t exactly line up with what you’re doing because you are breaking the mold and you’ve definitely broken the mold. I have to tell you, for people that thought that you had it in title only, I think you’ve really showed them. But how did you overcome some of these obstacles? What is it that you…I know you said it’s still lonely at times, but what do you do? How do you get past these things?
Van: Well, first, I believe that I’m so confident and really believe in myself, so I just ignore what others think about me and I want to show them that time will answer. And for me, family or business are what’s important for me, so what I had done to try and manage my time, to set priorities for each period of time and I also seek support from family and colleagues. I also join and share experience with other women entrepreneurs and I found that we got many things in common, that was how I learned how to balance work life and personal life.
I always think there is a solution for any problem but I just need to solve one by one, step by step. And at the end of the day, I feel very lucky to be a woman in tech and I have a lot of support from community where most of them are men and there are many programs at the moment from different organizations to promote women, so from being like it seems hard but I feel very lucky to be a woman in this tech industry.
Bobby: Yeah. Well, and I tell you, again, I can’t say enough that I really think you’re pushing forward and really doing it. So, listen, how can other people, and let’s think women in particular, managed to overcome these same challenges? I know you talked about how you did it, what advice would you give to other women or, you know, anybody facing these kind of same challenges of work-life balance and startup and cash flow and customers and all of that?
Van: Still, the ratio of women being CEO is still very low compared to men at the moment in many places in the world. However, I see very clearly that any woman who chose this way as their career, they are very strong and resilient. And I see there are many different ways to cope with the problem that are used by different people at a certain time and some of the way people do, like finding mentors for them, so it’s very good for them to find a mentor where they can be coached, they can share experience so the experienced mentor could help them how to solve the problem. And I also see that, actually, no difference between men and women in the tech industry once we put that everyone is the same and success as a woman in tech is less about gender but more about education, about self-confidence, and hardworking.
Bobby: Yeah, I think that’s a wonderful point, right? Let’s look beyond the gender and let’s all be good citizens, all be, you know, willing to learn and grab some self-confidence and put some hard work and I love the way you stated that there, that’s really good. So, let’s talk a little bit about SavvyCom and what’s going on there to kind of change this. What’s kind of, you know, SavvyCom’s current stance on equal employment? You know, how many women do you have working in technical roles there?
Van: Well, in SavvyCom, in talking about technical roles, we don’t have many, I think we have about less than 20% of women in technical roles like software engineers, project manager, graphic designer, business analyst, testers, or QA engineers. And for 10 years of operation, I try to hire female developers but the number is still low and some people after they go into work, they also try to change their paths, sometimes they feel it’s very hard. Yep.
Bobby: So, do you have any particular programs in place or things that you’re doing there to kind of, you know, encourage?
Van: At SavvyCom, actually, we don’t have a special program designed for women but we provide equal opportunities for most, men and women, and we get them opportunity to delegate, empower them to try on different roles, and encourage them to do the work. And for women who has some difficulty, we also arranged suitable and flexible workload or working time for them, they can work from home, especially for women after maternity leave. Yeah, but I think the important point here is we trust that woman can do and we empower them to do the good work.
Bobby: Right, right, and that is definitely something that I have really taken away as a message here of empowerment and I get the feeling and I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth, but I think you want me to see you as “Van Dang, CEO of SavvyCom,” not “Van Dang, female CEO,” right?
Van: Yeah. Thank you, you got my point.
Bobby: Well, good. Well, listen, Van, I really appreciate you coming by and spending the time to talk with us today and again, I just really appreciate what you have to offer and really what you’ve done as a woman in technology and I know it wasn’t necessarily easy. And I know coronavirus or COVID-19, I know it’s kind of hitting Vietnam pretty hard but I want you to stay safe, stay well out there. I’m assuming there’s been no interruption in operations, have y’all been able to kind of stay solid there?
Van: Well, I cannot say about the future but so far, Vietnam is doing very well to slowing down the outbreak and currently, there are only about 150 active case at the moment without any death. So, I can see some very good way that they are doing at the moment. First, they communicate well with all the people in Vietnam about the disease and we started wearing masks, washing hands up to Lunar New Year.
And government also do people tracking, very strict quarantine, and social distancing at early steps and the next two weeks is the key period of time to stop the virus spreading in a large size, therefore, government has banned all social gathering, non-substantial business operation, including international flights from and to Vietnam. And many business also donates money, it’s a good news that they donate money to have the government use more hospital, produce ventilator, that was very the feel in Vietnam at the moment and it’s good that we can slow it down and we have more time for preparation.
Bobby: Yeah, okay. And was SavvyCom impacted at all by the current pandemic? Did it disrupt operations or anything like that?
Van: Yeah, currently, we still very okay with that because of our working model, we are a tech company so we are very familiar with the way of remote working. But I think maybe if the pandemic take a long time that our customers are affected, so SavvyCom might be affected too but I believe that there’s still a lot of new opportunity coming from this pandemic.
Bobby: Well, good, that’s good to hear, it is really good to hear that everyone is safe and has stayed well. I really appreciate your time today. I know you’re a busy woman between home and work and keeping that balance and I also know, you know, with that 12-hour offset that while it’s morning for me, it’s nighttime for you, so I really appreciate you stopping in and joining us today and having this conversation and I hope to have you back at some point in the future and talk more.
Van: Okay, thank you very much, Bobby. It’s very nice to talk to you today, I hope that we have more opportunity to talk together and I appreciate you spend your time with us to say about my journey. And, you know, I’m very happy to have other people, especially women in tech, to be more exposed to the world and bring value to the society.
Bobby: Thank you for listening to “The Software Outsourcing Show” brought to you by Accelerance, the global software outsourcing authority. Do you have a topic you’d like covered in the future show? Then send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Show notes, links, and materials discussed on today’s show may be found on our website at softwareoutsourcingshow.com, that’s softwareoutsourcingshow.com.
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- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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