Connecting Tech Hubs between Mexico & Vietnam: Lessons from my 10,000 Mile Adventure

The past eight months have been a whirlwind. In June of last year, I joined Wizeline, a fast-growing technology startup with its primary engineering office located in Guadalajara, Mexico. Being from Jalisco, where Guadalajara is located, I loved the idea of contributing to the local tech scene while helping to provide innovative products and services for clients all over the world. Little did I know when I accepted the job offer: two months later, I’d be on a plane bound for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Getting There

To support a growing list of customers, Wizeline had decided to open new offices somewhere in APAC. After researching different options, the team determined that Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was the preferred location. For good reason: like Guadalajara, Ho Chi Minh City is a growing market with an emerging entrepreneur scene and a large pool of highly talented engineers. It’s also strategically located, enabling us to provide nearshore support for our customers in APAC.

At that point, I didn’t know much about Vietnam — but I did have a passion for getting to know other cultures, something I’ve held since I was young. I’ve been fortunate enough to study and work abroad in Germany and the U.S., so I felt excited about the challenge.

The timeline for opening the office was tight. After hearing about the opportunity, I and several of my teammates from the Mexico office accepted the challenge. Two weeks later, we packed our stuff and flew to Ho Chi Minh City — formerly named, and still also referred to, as Saigon. Despite all the uncertainty, we all shared the same passion and goals: open a new office from scratch, build a strong team and local culture, support our strategic customers, do phenomenal work and share new experiences with an entirely new group of people.

(Almost there… Hong Kong International Airport)

Our New Home

Ho Chi Minh is a huge and active city. Adapting was not easy, but we knew from the beginning that we needed to be open-minded and make efforts to learn about the city and culture. As anyone who has traveled or lived abroad knows, simple things like going to the supermarket or getting across town can be a real challenge in a new culture. Keeping an open mind and staying flexible made our arrival in Vietnam easier.

Our first big challenge: we had to find some really talented engineers, fast. We sought engineers who had a passion for helping customers win through technology, who were fun to work with, and who were comfortable with some of the challenges presented by hyper-growth.

It took us some time, but we had the good fortune to find some incredible new team members: Hien, our first engineer — then Nhi, Kim, Hien, Hong, Tam, Cong and Trac. Without the contributions from these and other local teammates, we simply would not have been able to succeed — and this post would likely be a piece on “lessons learned from failure.” I’m really thankful for our team, as they’ve helped build an incredible mix of talent and culture in our Vietnam office.

During my stay, I also attended to several meetups on tech and innovation. I was heartened to see such active local communities coming together to shared knowledge and best practices. The tech scene in Ho Chi Minh City is alive and well, and it’s growing far faster that you might imagine.

(Having Phở at the Floating Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam)

Communication in King

Communication can be a challenge, but if you keep the right mindset, it’s also an opportunity to learn new things. You may struggle to communicate in English at times, but inside the big cities it’s easier to find people who speak English — and most importantly, people are always willing to help.

Vietnamese is not an easy language to learn, which it also makes it interesting. I’ve always been passionate about learning new languages and cultures, so that pushed me to learn some Vietnamese sentences, like “nice to meet you” and “I am allergic to shrimp!” When you keep an open mind and are friendly, you’ll be amazed at the people you’ll get to meet.

Making 10,000 Miles Feel Close

One thing I didn’t fully anticipate was all the cultural similarities between Mexico and Vietnam. Both cultures value hard work, family and delicious — and often spicy! — cuisine. I met amazingly talented and passionate people. We shared about our cultures, professional experiences and life in general. I found that, if you share openly about your own perspectives, Vietnamese people do so in kind. Reciprocity really is the foundation for strong relationships.

Another amazing surprise was Ho Chi Minh City’s big Salsa-dancing community. Every day of the week, you can find a place to dance Latin Music — I can’t tell you how many great people I’ve met through dancing.

These and other friends were warm and welcoming. They showed me some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. We went hiking in Mt. Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina, and visited Hội An, a World Heritage site. My friends and co-workers in Vietnam were so warm, culturally inclusive and open-minded — they made me feel welcome in the city. I also felt the same way when I met new local people in the city and during my trips in the countryside of Vietnam. This was key to adapt to the city and the culture.

(Mt. Fansipan.. The highest peak in Indochina)

I’ve been so fortunate for being part of this experience, met new great people, worked and learned from such a talented team in Wizeline, people that are willing to take risks, embrace changes and uncertainty with so much passion. I want to thank all my family for supporting in my crazy adventures, to all the Wizeline crew, my friends in Vietnam, and our amazing clients. Thanks to all of them, this has been an enriching personal and professional lifetime experience.

(Wizeline crew in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)