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Student Spotlight: Barry Nguyen

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Barry Nguyen

By Academy Xi

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Startup Founder, Entrepreneur, Advisor — and now Physiotherapist turned Software Engineer — Barry Nguyen proves that curiosity, passion and continuous learning can help you get ahead of the curve.

Student Spotlight: Barry Nguyen

We caught up with Barry, one of our recent Software Engineering Transform graduates. He’s kindly taken the time to share his adventures and career transition in the ‘tech world’ as a learner and startup founder. We’ll also talk about why he recommends this course to other startup founders and entrepreneurs.

Hi Barry! Thanks for taking the time to share your Xi experience with us.  How did your career in Software Engineering take shape?

After I completed my health sciences degree at the University of Melbourne, I began working in a private practice and also ran my own physiotherapy clinic in the spareroom of a local GP on saturdays. The room was small and needed to be a functional physio space, so storage was an issue. Around this time, I caught up with my high school mate and in response to my workspace problem we developed web-based software to eliminate the paper trail. That’s the point at which I realised that software engineering could be put to good use in healthcare. Following 15 years of working as a physiotherapist, I decided to enter the healthtech space. 

The Australian tech startup environment is not as developed as Silicon Valley. This means it’s normally not enough to have a plan on a piece of paper and an Ivy League education to get funding, even if it’s a really good idea. Investors want to know beforehand that new concepts will solve problems and lead to something that sells. You need to have an MVP or a tested prototype to show investors that what you’re working with is basically tried-and-true. 

I quickly realised I was spending a lot of my own money paying other people to develop working prototypes. At the same time, it was tricky to find technical co-founders. There’s a general shortage of software engineers and developers in Australia, but they’re even more scarce in the startup environment. I eventually thought to myself, “I’m not going to do this anymore. I can’t keep moving back-and-forth, it’s just too expensive and time consuming”. That’s when I realised that I needed to write code for myself. I made a positive decision to get the skills and know-how needed to realise my own MVP. 

Having made the decision to upskill, I looked at what was on offer and decided to join Academy Xi. The choice really paid off – Albert’s been a great instructor and given me the confidence to think critically about my own software designs. I test the architecture for any strengths and weaknesses, and then make simple but effective decisions about what needs to be added or subtracted.    

It’s been a few months since I graduated and I’m now fully equipped to create my own MVPs. It’s honestly been life changing – the fact that I can now call myself a qualified software engineer. It means I’m less reliant on other people’s skills and as a result, my career’s become much more streamlined. 

What were the biggest challenges and rewards that came with the course?

The prospect of studying online represented one of the biggest obstacles for me. You encounter a lot of stories about software developers and engineers self-learning on platforms such as YouTube and Udemy. There’s this question in your mind, “could I learn all this for free on YouTube?” Honestly, the answer is no, you probably can’t. YouTube videos ‘show and tell’, but the relationship ends there. This course distinguishes itself through its involvement with real people. There’s a supportive peer-to-peer network, and you also get unlimited 1:1 mentoring sessions.

Student Spotlight: Barry Nguyen Quote1

The time I spent with my mentor Albert was critical. It’s not a very content rich course – it’s more like a process of problem solving. Albert did a great job of guiding me through that.
My mentor sessions with Albert helped me fix problems before they grew, which meant I could confidently move on to the next thing.

I didn’t know initially that you could book time with your mentor every day, but when I realised this, Albert made himself available to answer my questions as they arose. At this point, my progress accelerated rapidly. This training is distinguished from other courses through its immediate feedback, if you choose to get it. I think that’s what really sets it apart – having that high level of support.

Because modern industries are prone to transformation, I think lots of people need to be prepared to reset themselves at some stage in their career. I would guess that this is one of the key traits that Academy Xi looks for in course participants – that willingness to take on the responsibilities that enable them to effect change in their careers. It’s a hard thing to pull-off, especially when you have other big responsibilities, but as Elon Musk puts it, sometimes you just need to ‘chew broken glass’.

Even with children and a full-time job, I actually completed the whole full-time course in five months. Factoring in my situation, I was really pleased with this timeline. Definitely one of the biggest rewards was being able to enhance my career and not neglect all my other life commitments. The course delivery is considerately designed for people who have lots going on. There’s also a part-time 10 month version of the same course. This might be a better option for anyone who wants that balance of career development and lifestyle. If you’ve got the drive and you’re willing to plan your time, everything you need to succeed is available.

This training is distinguished from other courses through its immediate feedback, if you choose to get it. I think that’s what really sets it apart – having that high level of support.”  – Barry Nguyen

 Why did you choose Academy Xi and what about the course experience did you value most?

We had worked with Academy Xi in the UI/UX space at my old startup and the projects really impressed me. That’s the main reason why I picked you guys over others – I’d already  collaborated with your students and the work was of a really high standard. It made the decision very easy to make. 

This whole experience has given me greater appreciation for the people giving others the opportunity to learn and develop. I started the course with a well-established career but was keen to diversify. My time with Academy Xi not only enabled me to build the tech skills I needed, but also helped me coordinate a roadmap that made diversification a reachable goal. Funnily enough, I’m back as an intern now. Sometimes I feel like I’ve taken three steps back to go ten steps forward! It’s very humbling and I don’t take anything for granted. I’m adding to my skills and network daily with experienced professionals who are also more than happy to mentor. 

These days, my approach is to always keep a beginner’s mindset. The need to remain open to new ideas and possibilities never goes away. It seems to me that too many people gather a bit of knowledge or skill and then call themselves an expert. Whenever I hear someone describe themselves as an expert, alarm bells start ringing! I think a true expert realises that expertise is not something you arrive at. It’s an ongoing process – you can never know too much. 

I’m now noticing that companies in startup environments are struggling to find Software Engineers. Mostly because they’re demanding more and more money. Experienced engineers are often ridiculously well paid and enjoy the added luxury of a remote nine-to-five job. Luckily, the investment is growing and there are plenty of lower and medium tier roles available, which means anyone with the right skills can get their foot on the ladder. My situation is a big opportunity. Hopefully I can show others that you can make the leap from seemingly unrelated roles, like mine as a clinician, into tech.

Do you have any advice on course content and how you approached your work?

I think it takes a very clear, logical mind, and grit to complete this course. Maybe people who have been exposed to this type of learning before are more likely to succeed. They begin with a clearer understanding of what the course is going to be.

My experience on the course taught me that you can’t afford to work in an environment where you’ll be easily distracted. You really have to block-out your schedule, set-up the right conditions and keep a strong sense of how and when you work best. For those periods when you’re studying, it needs to be undistracted, deep, high-value work. This course requires an advanced level of critical analysis, problem solving and lateral thinking, so make sure you give yourself the time and space to perform these tasks to the best of your abilities.

The course is also pretty condensed – there’s a lot of learning crammed into five months. What you’re doing is really important and you can’t afford to take it lightly. Other than that, I would say, “don’t be limiting in your beliefs, just do it!”

How did you get on with your mentor and cohort?

Albert has a strong and sincere desire for all in his cohort to succeed. You guys did a great job finding him! Everybody wants a mentor who is available and willing to commit time outside of scheduled classes. Everyone needs feedback to progress in their learning. Albert was always happy to discuss my work and assist me with any problems that I had throughout the course. He’s not only knowledgeable, but also passionate. These characteristics really made the difference – it was obvious that he genuinely enjoyed working with the cohort and helping everybody produce their best work. He’s also a very holistic person and encouraged us to manage our wellbeing. Balancing hard work, health and happiness is probably the key to long-term success, and Albert made sure we kept that balance a priority.

Albert believes in long-term relationships that last beyond the five months. He’s still in contact today and pleased to help with my career as it’s unfolding. It’s like being part of a good school alumni where you make lasting friendships. The whole cohort collaborated on so many interesting projects together – we worked through hardships and brought things to fruition together. In the end, you walk away with connections that couldn’t be made at a networking event. The relationships are formed over time and really are built to last.

In the end, you walk away with connections that couldn’t be made at a networking event. The relationships are formed over time and really are built to last. ”  – Barry Nguyen

Why would you recommend the Software Engineering Transform course to startup founders and entrepreneurs?

For me, the course made a lot of financial sense. It cost close to $15,000, which was tax deductible, but gave me the knowledge and skills to develop new MVPs for the rest of my career. Gone are the days when I’ll be paying someone $50,000 to design one MVP without any guarantee that their work will match my initial ideas. For that reason alone, I believe most startup entrepreneurs will get real value for money with this course.

Student Spotlight: Barry Nguyen Quote2

If you’re serious about creating a startup that succeeds, you need to have the tools to at least begin building it from the ground up. This doesn’t mean that a CTO or technical co-founder will do all the coding alone – it’s more about making sure that you have more than just soft skills. People always talk about soft skills, but they won’t always be enough to get the job done.

As Sam Altman, former President of Y Combinator advises in his blog post to aspiring tech founders, “Non-technical founder? Learn to hack.”

My qualification with Academy Xi has left me feeling less at risk – upskilling is one of the best ways to keep your tech contribution relevant and valuable. It’s also given me the confidence to follow through with my own software designs. I’ve found that having the ability to do certain things changes the conversations I have with people. I spoke to a venture capitalist the other day and he said, “You learned that? You created that?”. It has the potential to completely change what you’re working on and who you’re working with.

What’s next for you, Barry? 

Well, I’m finishing my internship and planning on doing everything I can to help my company succeed. The ultimate goal is to be an inspiration to others and create a notable Aussie company in health technology of a similar impact to the local startup ecosystem like Canva and Atlassian. I’m already building out my MVP and steadily getting that ready to launch. 

As I go, I’ll also be raising money for the project and drumming-up support through skilled partnerships. It would be great to involve Academy Xi at some stage, so watch this space!