The Grokking team, in the words of the company’s co-founder Loc Vo, “believes that Vietnam has a potential to become a true technology hub”. And not just in Southeast Asia but Asia at large, or even globally.
To that end, Grokking, one of the first non-profit organizations in Vietnam to work with technology talent, is committed to supporting local engineers and companies every step of the way.
Since its launch in 2014, Grokking has built an infrastructure for Vietnamese engineers to engage and share knowledge, as well as learn from a team of experts who have years of experience working in multicultural environments. The program of activities on offer at Grokking runs the gamut from webinars and conferences to interviews, blogs and magazine features. Leading by example, the company strives to set a clear direction for technology engineers in Vietnam.
In this interview, we ask Grokking’s co-founder Loc Voc about the company’s business model and its mission.
Can you introduce yourself and the team at Grokking?
I’m Loc, the co-founder and one of the operating members of Grokking. Before Grokking, I co-founded a mobile technology and education startup for the Singapore market, and was an organizing member of JSMeetup community in Ho Chi Minh City. I currently work as an engineer for a major shipping and financial company in Southeast Asia.
Grokking is a non-profit organization established in 2014, co-founded by Vietnamese software engineers working in Vietnam and Singapore. We’ve been operating for more than five years with a team of more than 30 members of which 90% are software engineers at technology companies such as Grab, Tiki, VNG and FPT, among others.
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Before Grokking, what challenges did you face when recruiting and developing talent in Vietnam’s technology market?
In those early days , the founding team realized that engineers in Vietnam had great potential but lacked direction and critical thinking skills. Problem-solving skills were also rudimentary. Many were industry veterans, very experienced, yet their way of thinking wasn’t focused on finding groundbreaking solutions. Instead, they would just home in on available technology and trendy solutions.
In terms of Vietnam’s market and ecosystem, at that time there was a marked lack of knowledge exchange or any sort of a professional playground for engineers. Contests and conferences were mostly organized by companies who had their own an agenda, while discussion groups such as JS Meetup, C ++ and PHP focused on specific technology instead of exploring in-depth topics such as system architecture, computer science platforms or algorithmic data structures.
What differentiates Grokking’s business model from other models in the market?
Aiming to build an ecosystem for the Vietnamese engineering community, Grokking operates as a part-time, non-profit organization.
Compared to companies operating as for-profit businesses, Grokking’s part-time model has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is a shortage of human resources when it comes to deploying projects and realizing ideas.
But there is a crucial advantage specific to our business model too. Because the members of Grokking team work as engineers in other companies and organizations, our activities and projects are driven by the immediate needs of the industry. As a result, content created by Grokking is timely, practical and geared towards sharing essential knowledge that is not intended as a clickbait to drive profit.
What are Grokking’s solutions to some of the industry’s problems?
- Building activities to enhance interaction in the community such as technology talks, webinars and interview days.
- Giving students an opportunity to learn from industry experts and peers.
- Building offline and online publishing channels to share and encourage more reading and writing in the community. Grokking currently has two channels, the Newsletter and the Dijkstra paper, for this purpose.
- Encouraging group discussions and in-depth research on such topics as database management, operating systems, distributed system, etc.
- Holding skill-enhancing training courses, short and long term, offline and online.
How does Grokking connect with technology experts and plans for relevant content?
In the beginning, experts invited by Grokking came from the personal relationships of the founding members. Gradually, technology companies became the primary source of speaker referrals.
Content planning is not an issue, because at Grokking we all come from the same field and share a common understanding of what’s relevant to all. Currently, our content is industry-specific and tailored to the needs and interests of those who possess expert knowledge of technology.
What operational challenges has Grokking encountered?
Grokking’s first challenge was to keep the team motivated and committed. Most of our team members work here part-time and are not paid a salary, so there is no monetary motivation, only professional development. For that reason, the turnover is quite high, which is understandable. Maintaining the life-work balance is also an issue that members need to solve in order to participate in Grokking’s activities in a sustainable manner.
The second challenge is stable operating funding. Most of Grokking’s activities are free to join, or we charge a symbolic fee to support the community, so most of our (uneven) funding comes from companies and from the personal contributions of the founding members.
What are some of Grokking’s milestones?
- Organized 34 techtalks with 50-150 attendees each.
- Organized three webinars attended by 500 Vietnamese engineers working at large technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Published a sold-out Dijkstra paper. 1500 copies sold in three weeks.
- 100+ issues of the weekly newsletter — a collection of original content on the subject of software engineering.
- Organized more than 20 discussion sessions for 10-20 people on various software engineering topics.
- Organized more than 15 workshops focusing on in-depth topics related to software engineering.
What is Grokking’s 2-5 year development plan?
We hope to continue growing the team (currently we have 30+ members in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and New York) and increase our presence in Hanoi, Da Nang and overseas — in countries where Vietnamese engineers live and work. Next is maintaining and improving the quality of current projects. Then expand new projects to serve the four core needs of the community: interact and share, read and write, train, practice.
Finally, what advice would you give to young people who want to work in technology engineering?
Focus on continuous learning and targeted knowledge acquisition. With so many sources of information available to us today, it’s crucial to be selective about what you read and study and who you follow on social media.
The next step is to try to deepen fundamental knowledge instead of following technology trends. Trendy tech can help you land a temporary job, but in the long run, the lack of foundational knowledge will prevent engineers from growing.
Finally, outside of work, take the time to deepen your knowledge: read, do side-projects, join discussion groups and continuously hone your expertise. Technology moves quickly and if you do not build the habit of staying up to date with the latest developments in the field, outside your work environment, sooner or later you will reach your limit and become obsolete.