Disclamer: This piece is my own opinion, stems from my own experience and contains several colloquial anecdotes. If you disagree or offended, you are free to leave this article at any point in time.
Many people, clients, friends, etc. have asked me this, “How good are the Vietnamese developers?”
Before I answer this, a bit of background onwhat I do. I am running a tech hiring and offshoring firm in Vietnam, Indonesia with clients all over Asia. In addition, I am the Product Lead and Project Manager for our internal Innovation Lab, managing close to 16 developers of various nationalities, skillsets, genders, etc on a daily basis. We work on innovative HR products.
Without running the risk of discriminating other nationalities, I would argue that they are one of the best in the Southeast Asia region, if not, the best (generally speaking from my own experiences).
They are technically sound
Most Vietnamese developers I encountered are good in coding and programming. Even those we hired for our clients have nothing but positive reviews from their superiors. I guess this is because of the strong mathematical and science foundations that the Vietnamese engineers have built from a young age.
According to the study done by the Program of International Student (“PISA”), Vietnam is ranked 8th in the world for Science and 22th in the world for Mathematics. Not bad given that they beat more than 75% of the countries in the world.
Through these are the test scores of 15 years old kids, I would say it’s a good first-pass view of their strong logic fundamentals.
The Vietnamese developers are strong in the coding languages of PHP, Ruby, React, Vue, Angular, Swift, Android, React Native, etc. This is also partly due to the huge number of outsourcing firms here, which specialised in general programming languages.
The only blemish on them is I haven’t seen much deep-tech languages such as Python, Tensorflow, Keras, or other data science libraries developers here. For deep-tech languages, I would recommend Indonesian developers instead.
Most are humble and work hard for the organization
It’s detrimental to a startup or company if your staffs are all glory-hunters, or solely working for themselves rather than for the organisation. Generally, most Vietnamese developers I know of so far shun fame and glory, preferring to work behind the scene to ensure smooth continuity of our tech products.
Given my low sample size, it’s presumptive to conclude on this but I do have one good analogy using the CTO of Uber, Thuan Pham. Not many people know of him outside of Uber and of Vietnam (Heck, I am not even sure most people in Vietnam know of him except those in the startup and tech communities). However, I am pretty sure most people know of or heard of Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber.
The last thing you also want is a CTO that sues you after they leave the company, as to what a former CTO of Grab did to the ride-hailing firm back in 2016. Read more here.
Most of the Vietnamese developers and even non-tech Vietnamese staffs I worked with are pretty down to earth, humble and work hard for their organisations.
One example, when I offered to credit my Vietnamese content writer for his work. He rejected me with a tinge of humor.
My Vietnamese staff then told me that he didn’t want to be credited for his work. He just want to do his task.
This is a good news for business owners and bosses as they will have less time worrying about how to massage egos and can use more time to focus on the business.
They go all the way to solve a particular issue/bug.
They will fight, think and go all the way to solve issues and bugs. For this last point, I like to use an anecdote to illustrate:
I have this one frontend React Developer and let’s name him “X”. He is based in Da Nang and curiously, he studied medicine before making the career switch to be a tech developer. When I asked him why on the latter, he mentioned he wanted to follow his passion. Interesting. Naturally, he passed the interview instantly.
I have a weakness for riveting stories.
We had this task to make certain parts of the web app responsive by creating a horizontal scroll bar and maintaining the width of the row elements.
Developer X did the task fairly quickly and deployed to the testing site. However on my screen of my Macbook, the horizontal scroll bar was displayed in the desktop user interface(“UI”) with a unsightly grey colour. This was not supposed to be, as the scroll bar should only show up for the mobile interface. No matter how we tried to debug, i.e., using Google Developer Tool amongst others, we couldnt find the root cause.
The most frustrating thing is the desktop UI looked good on Developer X’s side but not on mine. We spent some many minutes pondering why.
The next afternoon, he initiated the conversation:
Developer X: Hi. Is your browser okay? Or it’s still showing the gray scroll?
Me: Yes 🙁
Developer X: do you use the teamviewer? Can I test on your mac?
Me: I don’t use. can i show u the developer console? or teach me how to test?
At this point, to be honest, I wasn’t keen to let him ‘control’ my laptop as there were alot of confidential stuffs, but he immediately responded.
Developer X: https://www.teamviewer.com/en/. you can install it. it’s free to personal. then give me the id and password so I can check on your screen. after install, It will be like this:
Developer X: then give id and password to the one you want to share screen
Me: ok please let me see
Developer X: yep please give me the id and password when you installed
He was nice to guide me through the process of using Teamviewer. At this point, I am like “Take my ID and Password la. this guy damn ups”
Me: <ID and Password>
Unfortunately, he couldn’t login and he realised it was a different version (I last installed my teamviewer in 2016 and didn’t update since).
Developer X: please update your teamviewer too. you can click on download button to update it. can you find the help/update on it?
Me: Ok i update. Wait please.
Developer X: Yes. Maybe you need to install it again after the update package downloaded
Me: <ID and Password>
At this point I could see him taking control of my laptop and moving the mouse cursor around, doing clicks here and there.
After 6 minutes, he found the root cause. My Macbook Air was causing the issues. I previously told him I was using a Mac but not a Macbook AIR. He managed to find the issue, did some nifty coding on his side, made a pull request and deployed it.
If it were with some other developers, they would probably told me either of these reasons:
- I don’t know why
- Not sure. Maybe you can ask others to check. It looks fine.
- I think I am not good for this project. Sorry. (and they send in a resignation letter). True story.
- My computer too slow to find the bug (No kidding. I had one developer telling me these). True story.
and many other excuses that I have experienced in my project management journey which I can share another time.
This was but one of the many episodes that left me a generally good impression of the Vietnamese Developers. Vietnam is an up and coming country with a young, hungry and talented developer population. Many companies and startups in the region are setting up their tech R&D centres here. Some notable examples are:
- Carousell from Singapore
- SEA Group from Singapore
- Grab from Singapore/Malaysia
- NCS from Singapore
- Ninja Van from Singapore
- Kyber Network from Singapore
We also see quite a number of Vietnamese Developers working on-site in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.
Notwithstanding those points and examples written above, I did have a number of bad ordeals with some Vietnamese developers, though these are few and far between.
Also, not that other nationalities are poor. I had and are currently working with good ones from Indonesia (in fact, my de-facto tech lead is an Indonesian), Philippines (my ongoing wordpress developer is a Filipino), etc. but generally speaking, and based on my own personal experience, the Vietnamese developers are relatively conscientious, hardworking and focused.
To corroborate on my points above, I further asked one of my friends, who is a co-director at Topica Founder Institute, a Singaporean and has worked in Vietnam for many years. He said ad verbatim,
“Developers in Vietnam generally are above average, at least for the experienced ones. Communication may pose a slight issue in the beginning but this gets overcome over time. Overall, devs in vn are adequately skilled and are a hardworking bunch and are hungry to learn to overcome any shortcomings they may have.” — Bobby Liu, Co-Director, TFI
I couldn’t agree more.
Their Achilles Heel is their communication.
But hey, you can’t really fault them as their native language is a tonal language akin to that of the Mandarin language. Even the best English-speaking Vietnamese here can be hard to understand because of their tones.
Well, you cannot have your cake and eat it.
It’s a give and take but I would say the pros outweigh the cons. One way to mitigate their communication weakness is to have the project requirements and specifications written down clearly in Trello, Slack or any other project management tools. If it is in black and white, everything should be clear and understandable.
If you agree or disagree, let me know your thoughts below. 👇
The writer is the CEO of 9cv9, a tech hiring and offshoring firm helping clients hire Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino, Malaysia and Burmese tech developers and manage the tech teams in Vietnam and Indonesia.
- National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved on 25th Sept 2019 from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2015/pisa2015highlights_5.asp