A Start-up Environment: With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

As I mentioned earlier, I am interning at AhaMove, an e-commerce delivery service startup in Hanoi, Vietnam. Our company is specialized in last-mile delivery with a smartphone app through which customers can make orders for their packages to be delivered – just like booking an Uber for a box. The company is still at its very early age – it was only recently founded in 2015. Even the employees are young as well –  most of my coworkers are around my age and our CEO is only in his early 30s. A new company in  a developing service type and filled with young people, AhaMove has a unique business culture with extremely great level of freedom that I have not seen anywhere else.

By freedom I mean flexibility. In everything. We do have a 9-to-5 working time range (actually 8:30 to 6), but people are not required to be present in the office at exactly that time. If we come late, we leave late. We can even work at home in case the weather is terrible with heavy rain and storm (which happen a lot during summer in Vietnam). There is no dress code, no suit and tie. There is no boss going around checking if we are coding or are i-messaging.

Yes that sounds like an easy job and all and AhaMove is a disordered company, but it’s not. We can go to work late, dress in sweatpants and t-shirt, and even i-message all day if we want, but at the end of the month we still have to deliver the work we were assigned earlier. We still have to make presentations for our boss (yes we also have a boss), submit reports, and, in my position, provide useful and crucial business insights through several projects.

What distinguishes AhaMove as a tech startup from other traditional companies is its work culture. As long as the working results are guaranteed, we don’t pay much attention to the process. Such great working freedom allows any quality employees with any working habit to adjust, work and strive in the company. In fact, it is even more difficult than the traditional rigid working culture, because we have to control our constant temptation to procrastinate and slack off and to focus on our job.

I personally love this working culture at AhaMove. Thanks to it I have had chances to work better (since I can adjust my schedule to my habit), develop more skills, and deliver higher quality of work. I have also learned how to control my mind and have better concentration, since I am constantly surrounded by distraction and have no supervisor around. Surely this has been one of the biggest benefits I have had working here, at a young startup like AhaMove.

Company trip

I have recently returned from a three-day-four-night trip with the whole company. It was the second trip I had chances to enjoy as a member of AhaMove – the first time was three weeks ago with my Business Intelligence team, and this time the whole company joined with us.

Our destination was Danang, one of the most famous and tourist attracted cities in Central Vietnam. Our company’s limited budget put us on a sixteen hour-long train, but instead of inconvenience and discomfort we had amazing time together to play cards, board games, and watch the World Cup which was getting to the final stages at that time.

Us on the train enjoying our company-wide board game “Werewolf”

We spent the next three days and two nights with sand, beach, delicious local food, and shopping around the near-by local markets. It was a super relaxing getaway where we could all take a break from the data and number and the stressful work before getting back refreshed and ready. Our company and team are both young and full of people around my age, so rather than a formal company thing it was more like an enjoyable trip with friends.

Bonding time by the beach

Having said that, I feel very grateful having been able to join the trip. The whole trip’s cost was personally very high for me, around four-fifth of my as well as other interns’ monthly salary. Therefore our team’s other members each decided to make a small donation in order for us all to be able to enjoy this opportunity. Words cannot describe how thankful I am and how strong the bonds within our team have become.

This trip also made me think about the important of a break and when to have it. It is crucial to be focused and submerge yourself in the work to have the best understanding and deliver the highest quality of work, but when needed a break is important. A fresh and relaxed mind, after a break, will obviously benefit you and your work more than a constantly stressed and tired one.

Hoi An Old Street – one of the destinations during our trip in Danang

Choosing Career In A Different Academic Field

If you have read my previous posts, you will know more or less about my job in this internship at AhaMove. Data Analyst Collaborator – that’s my title. Everyday I manage, extract and analyze data – hundreds of millions of data points – to build analytical models and seek for useful business insights. Having said that, my job is very heavy on coding and involves a lot with math.

On the other hand, I am not a Math major. I don’t study computer science (or comp-sci as we often call) that much either in college – all I have taken is the very first intro to comp-sci class. What I do – Economics and Business Management, which are mostly about how businesses run and individuals interact in economies, apparently cannot provide a strong technical background for me and my aspired career path in data science. As a rising senior who has only realized his passion recently, I cannot change my academic major either.  I’m risking into the field I have not been prepared, and possibly wasting my years of studying in college. Uncertain and worried, therefore, are the obvious feelings.

Bringing up this topic, I received various reactions. My parents, who are worried about the future of their son more than anyone, suggested trying other options beside data science. My close friend who has always been supportive to me cheered me up, saying persistence and hard work will always pay off.

I have realized that only I can make a decision for myself. Maybe data science is the right choice, maybe not. One way or another, I can only know once I have tried my best and put in everything. To do so, I decided to overload and take more classes in order to be a math minor while at the same time self-studying online courses and coding. Before summer, I tried to apply for various data science-related internship, and got an offer from AhaMove.

When I first came here, it surprised me that none of the analysts at AhaMove studied math or comp-sci in college. In fact most of them were like me, economics or business management majors, with one or two mechanical engineers. They all self studied and took online courses in coding, math, algorithm, machine learning… both in college and even when working at AhaMove.

Seeing people who have similar challenges and, more importantly, have overcome those obstacles, I became more confident.Obviously their successes do not guarantee mine, but they do show me that if data science is what I really want, if I work truly hard and put everything into it, there’re still chances for me. That’s one of the first and foremost things I have learned here at AhaMove, and I guess also one of the most important.

Team trip

We had our first trip together as a team last weekend. We went to Sapa, a famous tourist area up in the northern part of Vietnam. Among the mountains and forests, we spent two days and two nights to climb Fanxipan – the highest spot in Southeast Asia, visit villages, enjoy delicious local food, and sometimes just simply stay in our hotel rooms and play board games until morning.

Sounds more like a fun trip with friends rather than a company trip, isn’t it? I guess it’s because of the culture of our company,  a tech startup composed of mostly young people – even the oldest member, our CEO, has only been in his early 30s. Working with like-minded people of similar ages makes everyday at work seem more like a day hanging out with friends than a regular rigid 9 to 5 office day.

This is the same feeling I had when I was working in the Operations team last summer. Such relaxing and connecting atmosphere, one of the reasons I decide to come back here, has been a unique characteristic of AhaMove, creating strong bonds between individuals of the company. We have our second trip – the real company trip –  coming in two weeks in which members of both Northern and Southern branches are going join together on a two-and-a-half day in Danang. “Excited” surely is not enough to describe how I’m looking forward to this. Should be a fun and memorable time of me in this internship.

“Vote Kill” (with the thumb down) is a popular phrase in the Werewolf board game and has become our team’s motto after the Sapa trip