This is the second episode of the “Remarkable Podcast” with host Mark and guest Minh Nguyen.
Minh is an IT manager focused on making organizations more efficient.
We talk about how Minh got into IT, from his experience starting from the bottom to becoming an IT manager today.
We also share our thoughts on IT and where it is in the present to where it is heading towards in the future.
- Hobbies can lead to careers
- You can learn a lot by building something from scratch
- Focus on learning early in your career (experience > salary)
- There are some things you can only learn on the job and not in school
- When starting out, hustling and having humility (being willing to do anything) can open doors to opportunities
- IT is about how to make the end user more effective
- IT is no longer about fixing computers (since you can send it back to the manufacturer), but about improving tooling and processes
- It’s hard to please everybody so focus on the big picture
- Plan your IT based on scale and growth
- The future of IT is the cloud as we move from in-person/in-office to remote/virtual
- Security is the #1 concern and challenge for IT
MARK: Welcome to another remarkable podcast. I’m your host Mark and today we’re joined by Minh Nguyen. Welcome to the show and thank you for joining me.
MINH: Thank you, thank you. I’m happy to be here.
MARK: Awesome. For the listeners out there who don’t know who you are, can you briefly introduce yourself?
MINH: Of course. I’m often referred to as “Dr. Love,” but that’s another conversation for another day. I’m an IT manager for a software company. I work in Manhattan and I manage internal IT operations—just internally for our company.
MARK: Interesting. So tell me a bit about your background and how you got into IT.
MINH: Yeah so I think this is one of those stories where some people can relate to when they say I went to school and I ended up not doing what I studied at school. I didn’t start out in IT. I went to college for mechanical engineering because I have an interest in machinery and technology in general. It was also at the time where I barely spoke any English so I didn’t know what major in college would fit me. So I just picked a major I could really understand, which is mechanical engineering, because I like machinery and stuff like that. But then I went through college and suffered a bad boy’s fate and got lazy and didn’t go through with it. It wasn’t until I started to build my very first own computer that I knew I had a thing for computer technology. So I went back to school to get a network, communication, and management degree and my IT career just took off from there.
MARK: Interesting. So you actually built your own computer first and then that’s how you knew. How did that kind of happen and how did that get you the motivation to go back to get your degree in IT?
MINH: Well, it all started from gaming. I love gaming and being able to build your own computer and then be able to play your game is awesome. Back in the day, building your computer was the thing to do when you’re a gamer because buying out of the box is expensive and you don’t get the specs you want. So [by] understanding how the computer works, the components, and being able to put it together, that gave me a really good interest in how everything works behind the scenes and [helped me] learn how to troubleshoot things myself as well. When you start doing things yourself, you’re going to start learning how to troubleshoot it. Then I realized that hey I’m actually good at this stuff.
MARK: Nice, nice. And that’s where you went back to get your degree. So then from that point on, did you face any hardships or obstacles when you were getting into IT for real or was it just smooth sailing after you graduated?
MINH: It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing after I graduated. Getting into it wasn’t an issue at all for me. Once I realized that’s what I wanted to do, then I would look for a good school, sign up, try to study, and get my degree from there. Aside from that, getting my career started really wasn’t smooth because getting out of school with very little experience was the real issue because in IT you actually have to know what you’re doing. Nobody’s going to call you and ask you a question if you don’t know the answer. They’re not going to hire you [then]. That was the obstacle for me. I went to a lot of interviews after I graduated. I used to live in South Jersey where there were no jobs so I had to travel roughly 80 miles plus north to be able to get an interview and I would interview at a lot of different companies up in the same area. I took the first job that was offered to me as an associate help desk. I made no money after [deducting] my commute cost because traveling, gas, and all that stuff were super expensive. But I duked it out for almost 3 years to learn and to get all the experience. I spent an average of 3.5 hours each day driving from and to work and most days were 13+ hours days for me. The only smooth part was that I got to learn a lot and I kept growing. I was working for an MSP, which stands for Managed Service Provider, and it provides IT services for small businesses. I think I got lucky because this type of job put me in many positions and it put me in many different environments that enabled me to learn more. I can explain a little bit about what I’m doing now versus Managed Service Providers. If you hire an MSP to manage your IT, it means that most of the time you don’t have any internal IT. Or you have someone who’s on a lower level like a help desk. Managed Service Providers are supposed to provide all IT services for you whether they provide you with software they manage or software licensing and all things like that. But particularly for me, it’s different [because] I manage the internal IT itself. So I don’t really use an MSP at all.
MARK: That definitely sounds like commitment from your part—especially trying to get the job and then getting your internship and then building up from there. What were your day-to-day responsibilities like back then?
MINH: Back then I started out as a help desk and picking up calls [like] “Hey, I have an issue with my computer.” Just like what people see IT nowaday. If you say you’re an IT guy, they expect you [to] know how to fix their computer or “Hey, I can’t launch my Microsoft Office. What’d I do? Can you fix it?” That kind of stuff when you start out. But then you have to branch out into different areas of IT and obviously your responsibility grows as your career progresses. So as a manager, I’m pretty much the go-to IT person for all IT related issues. I manage IT procedures and processes, corporate applications, accounts and access, internal network and securities, help desk, [etc.] All technology related stuff that’s within the office is under my responsibility as well. Like what meeting room technology are we going to use? Determining whether we should use Hangout Meet or Zoom or other other software and web apps. How do we determine what’s the best [tools] for our company to use?
MARK: That’s definitely a lot to carry on your shoulders. What would you say would be the hardest things that you have to do nowadays as an IT manager?
MINH: I’m going to speak in a broad way that I think there’s a lot of common things and challenges that most IT organizations encounter. There are challenges that all of us encounter and have to deal with. The hardest thing is to be consistent with the demands by our user. Making the right decisions for the bigger picture rather than one small group and getting everyone else to be onboard is difficult. There will always be someone who wants to break the rules and how to go about that is very challenging because you don’t want to upset people. While we want to provide the best services, we won’t make everyone happy and that’s just the reality. To me that’s hard but it’s not impossible. Personally, the hardest thing for me in a job was disabling user accounts when a close friend or friends got let go. I do my job, but at the same time, it’s never a good feeling when someone gets let go unless something happened or they deserved to get let go. I think that for me is hard but I still have to do it because it’s part of my job—to see people get let go and stuff like that. In terms of technical stuff, there are challenges out there that all IT organizations have to face [like] keeping up with being secure and maintaining the efficiency and operations within the company. It’s always a challenge.
MARK: Yeah that definitely makes sense and I feel like the IT job itself is a very professional one so I can definitely relate to you there. Regarding your job history and your experiences, do you have any interesting stories you can share?
MINH: [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot of stories. There are so many stories throughout my career but a good one would be discovering that someone has naughty pictures on their computer by accident while troubleshooting their computer. I remember how embarrassing it was for that user and [the person] straight up lied to me and said, “I have no idea how these pictures got here, oh my God can you delete them?” I was dying inside, but a good thing about me is when I work, I always keep a straight face and stay very professional and go along with it. You know, I just do my job. Those are some of the things that surprise me but at the same time if you think about it, it’s not very surprising. Some people just don’t realize that it’s your work laptop and you shouldn’t be doing that. This is crazy but do you think 112 Chrome tabs is a lot? That person (different person) actually told me that all those tabs are needed and important that they’re opened. 112 Chrome tabs? That is completely unnecessary. That’s the most I’ve ever seen in my entire career.
MARK: I think in every profession, we see people who are trying to test the limits in a sense, right? Like 112 Chrome tabs. I myself open a lot of Chrome tabs, but that number is insane. I wonder how the guy deals with when his computer freezes or crashes. He just loses all those tabs then.
MINH: Exactly. Chrome keeps a history so that’s how I found out how many tabs that person had opened because it was slow. You can’t tell an IT guy “Why is my computer so slow?” when you have 112 Chrome tabs opened.
MARK: Yeah, that’s definitely a good point.
MINH: Yeah and I presented the issue but then the person came back and told me, “I need all of them. They’re all important to me.”
MINH: So you get stuck at that point where you’ll have to break the news to them and say, “There are limitations in software and hardware.”
MARK: Exactly and I think in IT and in work in general, a lot of people—especially employees—need to know the differentiation between what you can do on your work laptop versus what you can do on your personal laptop. And like what you mentioned before about having a lot of “naughty” pictures on their machines, they need to handle it better themselves and to make sure that they don’t browse such things. I remember I worked at a media company once and there was this whole thing because it’s a media company and the journalists need to do their own investigation and they were covering a topic on the dark web. We literally had a whole IT and legal team to ensure that if somehow they downloaded something illegal that they follow proper procedures and don’t go to jail.
MINH: Yeah, I 100% agree with you and that’s also my point, to answer your question from before that, is that one of the challenges is working with the end user. When you work with machinery and you work with applications, there is always a solution. If there’s a bug, you find the bug and you fix it. If there’s an error, you find out what the error is and you try to troubleshoot the error and find out what caused it and then you fix it. But when you’re dealing with the end user, everyone is different in the way they see the issue and the way they approach the issue. And how they trigger it is another thing. I think [in order] to deliver a good service, you have to understand how to approach the end user and what’s the best method to provide the service and the solution to the end user because this person might not be easy to work with or doesn’t have a lot of time so you have to work around their schedule to provide the service.
MARK: I think you totally make a good point here. I feel like many people think that IT is just dealing with machines or servers or infrastructure, but IT definitely deals with the human element. And I think the human element being the most unpredictable one, is the one that you probably have the most headaches or the most issues dealing with.
MINH: I agree. I 100% agree and it’s definitely not just machinery, it’s because you have to support the people you work with. The machine and the applications come with it. So it’s a combo that you have to deal with.
MARK: Makes sense. So transitioning from that, how do you think IT has changed today?
MINH: I think there can be many answers to this question. But in my personal opinion, the core of it is obviously not going to change. You’re going to deal with computer issues, software issues, and security related issues. And you’re going to deal with networking issues so that’s always going to be around. What really changes is how we approach these problems and we’re constantly being challenged with what is the most efficient, cost effective, and the best way to solve a problem. And it always depends on the organization you work for—whether it’s a fast pace or slow pace—then that will dictate how you want to scale your projects within the limited resources you have. It’s always changing and you’re going to have to stay on top of it to give the best IT services and to operate in the most efficient and optimal way that you can.
MARK: That’s interesting. So could you dive in a bit deeper about the differences between how IT is different between a fast place or a slow place?
MINH: Right, so a fast paced environment is usually from a startup point of view. A startup point of view is constantly changing and you and I have worked at startups so we know how fast things can change. That’s a fast paced environment. Today we have a lot of money because we have investors but tomorrow they could be like, “Oh, we’re not hitting our goals and we don’t have a lot of money anymore. What can we do to cut or reduce the cost without damaging the level of services we have now?” When you work with a particular company and it’s a fast paced company, you have to not only scale out but you also have a contingency plan—a more strict plan—to be able to scale back. And you also have to look at if the cost is worth the investment you put in—what if it changes in the future? The scaling for a fast paced environment is very different because it’s more unpredictable. It can have a very fast growth or it can just stop. It’s a little bit more unpredictable than a slow paced environment. A slow paced environment is basically an already established company that has structures in place and everything where you have policy, procedure, and guidelines already set up for you. You go in there to continue to work on it and see how you can improve things rather than building out new things and scaling out new things.
MARK: Gotcha. So it’s literally the difference between small companies versus large companies or building things from the ground up versus improving already existing and working processes.
MINH: Right, exactly.
MARK: So then regarding IT as an industry, what are your predictions of where IT is heading in the future?
MINH: IT is no longer what some people think it’s like, ”Oh, I have a computer issue, can you fix it?” In general, for most people that’s not familiar with the term IT, they just assume that that’s the case. Now we have computer manufacturers that will fix these things under warranty. You have an Apple laptop and you have a problem? You’re not going to sit there and fix the Apple laptop anymore. You ship it back, they fix it, and they ship it back to you. How do you take care of the time when the laptop’s gone? Do you have a spare machine for example? The future of IT is very focused on security and operations, at least in my opinion. Stay on top of securities and keep moving with new technology offerings like cloud computing—less hardware support, but more software. A simple example would be the work from home (WFH) culture and having virtual meetings, etc. As you can see, we’re shifting from [in office to] how to support people remotely and how to get people to be able to work remotely and efficiently and deliver the help that they need rather than [being] in the office and sitting next to someone and they’re working on a computer. The future is the cloud and a lot of software and when you have to deal with a lot of software, you’re dealing with a lot of security issues, access, and all that stuff. Security is the number 1 concern and always a challenge for IT. That’s where our focus is going to be very heavily on and it’s not just hardware anymore that we have to be worried about or computers and stuff like that.
MARK: Definitely, definitely. I feel like with the speed of virtualization, it’s definitely going from a physical and in-person space to a more cloud transition and I feel like [the current events are] going to accelerate that even more.
MINH: I agree, I agree.
MARK: Sweet, so for those who are interested in getting into IT, what kind of advice would you give them?
MINH: Well, I will tell them that if they like it, go to school, learn as much as they can, get their foot in the door first. Don’t be picky about what jobs you got or how much you’re being paid and that sort of stuff. Ultimately, it’s the experience that you need that will put you where you want to be. Take myself as an example, I started out with a very low end job. I literally crawled under the desk to dust the computer. I literally opened a computer and sprayed dust and sniffed dust at my face all the time. I was working from the very bottom of just cleaning computers. But how you proceed with that is entirely up to you. If you’re interested in IT, [then] you have to start learning as much as you can because that’s going to open up a door for you [and] it’s going to open up more opportunities. There’s a whole world out there [with] so many different areas that you can go into like networking, help desk, planning out procedures and processes, and stuff like that. So there are many ways for someone to go into IT, but the first thing is to go to school and learn as much as you can.
MARK: That’s definitely sound advice. I do want to circle back to the different areas of IT that you mentioned, like the help desk or the network. What are some of the more popular things that are happening in the job or that you can take as classes in school?
MINH: You can’t really go to a school and say, “Hey, I want to be a help desk person.” You have to pick a trade. Usually you start out with networking [or] learning some sort of computer technology like how computers work. But a lot of times, I think the networking term is a very common and popular term in school. And when you talk about learning about networking for example, they teach you every component that has to do with networking and how networking works. You’re talking about firewalls, switches, internet, IP address, and all that stuff. But then they also teach you how to build your own computer—understanding the computer hardware. So you start from one end and grow to a different end. You can see yourself where you want to branch off to. You can be a specialist in terms of networking where you troubleshoot core issues of computer routing, networking, firewalls, switches, configuring them and setting them up with the right settings and stuff like that. Helpdesk-wise, you want to work with the end user more, where you’re going to support and troubleshoot their issues, work with their computer hardware issues, and deal with software issues. Then there’s the management side of it where you have to really think about [what needs to be in place]. You’re not just going into work and waiting for someone to have an issue to help them anymore. You want to do something more. You want to see how you can make your company or organization better because you have to see whether what people are doing is efficient or not. For example, if you have someone who has a meeting and they walk into a meeting room and they want to launch their meeting and it takes them 5-10 minutes to get into the meeting, then that is a problem that you need to solve. You think about what’s the best way to go about solving that problem because a person, in theory, should go into a meeting room and spend about 30 seconds to a minute, get online, connect to the meeting, and start that meeting right away. So there are different areas you can focus on but what’s most interesting for me are the processes, the procedures, determining what the best course of action and the best software and hardware for an organization and stuff like that.
MARK: I can definitely see the progression from getting good at the nitty-gritty to the high-level of shaping not just the process but also the culture of what IT should be for the organization as a whole.
MARK: That sounds really fun and really exciting. And a quick question. If you were to go back in time, what kind of advice would you give to your younger self?
MINH: [Laughs] I’ll probably tell myself to play a little less games and [go to] less parties. I would want to start my IT career earlier than I had. That’s pretty much it. I don’t see any necessary changes that I need to make because if I make some changes I might not be where I am today and I’m pretty happy where I am today. But definitely play a little less games, [go to] a little less parties, and try to think about your career as early as you can.
MARK: That’s a very good philosophical point, but if you didn’t get into gaming in the first place, then you wouldn’t have built your first computer and then that wouldn’t have led you to IT.
MINH: Yes, but that’s why I said a little less games and parties. [Laughs] Just a little bit less.
MARK: Definitely, I hear you and I can say the same for all of us—me included. For those who want to know what Minh is up to, how can they do that?
MINH: They can always hit me up at www.doctorlove4ever.com. Just kidding, don’t go there, that’s not a real website actually. I’m not sure if it’s real or not so don’t go there. I’m back in Manhattan finishing up my new office project so if you’re my friend and have my contact, text me for some lunch. In general, if anybody has any questions—IT related questions—just try to get my contact through one of my friends. And then we’ll talk. I’m extroverted but at the same time I don’t like to engage with strangers that much.
MARK: Yeah I think that’s a fair policy.
MINH: Yeah. [Laughs]
MARK: Yeah for sure. I definitely want to say thank you for joining the podcast and thank you for also sharing your experiences, your insight, and your knowledge on IT with us.
MINH: Thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me, Mark. I hope you send me a new t-shirt soon because I got your first t-shirt and I love it and hopefully I can get a second t-shirt.
MARK: That’s a good reminder, I’ll send you the next remarkablemark t-shirt.
MINH: Thank you, thank you.
MARK: Thank you very much for joining us, I wish you luck and stay remarkable!
Check out the previous episode “How I Got Started in Tech with Seamus Martin” and the next episode “How to Build High-Performance Teams with Alberto Silveira”.