Having made his television debut with ‘Nguoi Ay La Ai’ (NALA — Is He The One), Vietnam’s hit matchmaking show, Billy Pham is known to the nation as the heartthrob from episode 12. His charm and good looks have gone down a storm on social media too, yet there is more than meets the eye with Billy.
Unbeknownst to many, apart from being an eligible bachelor, Billy is also a tech enthusiast. Growing up in the US in a typical Asian American household with plenty of expectations to live up to, Billy didn’t stop at getting a degree in criminal justice from San Francisco State University, but went on to landing a job at Lyft, one of Silicon Valley’s tech unicorns, where he has worked for the past 7 years.
The fact that he is now stuck in Vietnam due to COVID-induced travel restrictions doesn’t inconvenience him in the least. If anything, Billy sees this extended sabbatical as a blessing in disguise and an opportunity to live out his best life as a digital nomad while rekindling his relationship with Vietnam’s heritage.
And while on the show he didn’t get the girl, Billy’s unusual story certainly has our attention. Join Vietcetera as we interview Billy about his changing perspective of Vietnam, his work in tech and his thoughts on the local startup scene.
You arrived in Vietnam just before the borders closed. What has your experience been like coming to Vietnam for the second time as a tourist, and now living here?
It has been a wild roller coaster ride! I originally came here on sabbatical to travel around Southeast Asia and learn more about my roots, go rock climbing and scuba diving. Because of Covid-19, I had to change my original plans and stayed in Vietnam under lockdown for much longer than expected. I got to see how Vietnam was able to unite and became one of the first countries to defeat the coronavirus and be able to safely open up all businesses, which is super impressive for a developing country with limited resources.
When we were allowed to travel again, the free spirit in me bought the next flight out to pursue my dreams of rock climbing over the waters of Cat Ba. Since then, I’ve visited so many cities, beaches, countryside and had the pleasure of interacting with the beautiful people of Vietnam.
Vietnam is a very social society. I love how the streets are filled up at night with everyone getting together to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company sitting on those little stools and tables. I realize now where I learned all that from with my family back home in the US – we’re always together during weekends and holidays to be with each other.
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Tell us about your work and what you do.
I work for a technology company in America, called Lyft, and have been there for almost 7 years. We are a transportation service, like Grab, and our mission is to “improve people's lives with the world’s best transportation.”
My role is Technical Program Manager – this means I lead large programs that span multiple teams to accomplish a company initiative. It involves a lot of communication, technical knowledge, and working with every department from engineering, operations, marketing, legal, and executives to make sure we are aligned and focused on the same goal. A few things I’ve done included launching the company in new markets, building out our customer support team, data analytics, managing our iOS and Android apps, compliance, fraud and identity.
Coming from a non-traditional background, I learned a lot of my skills on the job and with mentors. As long as you have curiosity, persistence and an open mind, you can learn anything.
Coming from the startup world in California, how does Vietnam compare?
I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world, and to learn from intelligent people who came from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Amazon.
I’m still learning a lot about the tech scene here and hope to meet more people in the industry but so far I can see that everyone is always connected to their mobile devices, wifi is literally everywhere, and the country is largely working on Fintech and blockchain. The next 5-10 years will be interesting as Vietnam builds out it’s own tech hub – I’m calling it Saigon Valley for now!
As I’ve been meeting a lot of people here, I’ve learned that the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. The cost of living is low so it is not expensive to start your own business and experiment. I’ve made friends who have their own fashion brands, boutique stores, bars, coffee shops, and kombucha.
As one of the fastest growing countries in the world, I believe Vietnam has so much potential to become the next Singapore. It has similar socioeconomic factors, governance and flexibility to move quickly – which are essential to keep up with the rest of the world.
To work in the startup scene, it takes a lot of scrappiness. That is something that I’ve learned in my various jobs and see a lot in the Vietnamese people. You do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it’s not within your title description. Considering the limited amount of resources Vietnam has, there’s no other option but to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
Why join the show? What did you learn through the experience, from your own identity and view on relationships and modern love?
I knew nothing about the show until my good friend, Stephen Turban (Season 3, Episode 8), invited me to join. My goal coming to Vietnam was to have new and interesting experiences so this was right up my alley.
I had so much fun participating in Nguoi Ay La Ai and met a lot of amazing people. The incredible team at NALA work hard to make the show successful. Everyone has a beautiful story to tell – whether it is heartbreak, overcoming struggles, or finding each other through love. It is my belief that people become stronger through pain and suffering. In addition, I love how NALA is a platform to promote LGBT awareness.
With regards to love and relationships, I have learned a lot through my own experiences and have developed the following philosophy. You need to love the other person in a way they feel free. The purpose of all relationships is that you go there to give, help each other grow and become more. If you seek to possess, control or manipulate the object of your desire, they will no longer feel free to be themselves.
To keep the magic alive long-term, you need to remember to have fun and not take yourself too seriously – be playful and silly, laugh, dance. Think of it as though you are two children, always wanting to have fun. The couple that plays together stays together.