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14,476 kmfrom home
"Even if you lose all one day, you can build all over again if you retain your calm.”
Chief Technology Officer at Uber Technologies
Current Country: 
United States
Country of Origin: 
Viet Nam

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It was in 1979 that Thuan left on a refugee boat from Vietnam, a country torn by a two-decade long war. On the 60-meter boat were 10-year old Thuan, his mother, a young brother, and about 370 other people, with no life jackets.

When they landed in Malaysia, Thuan and his family were rejected as refugees. Unwilling to go back to war-ravaged Vietnam, Thuan’s mother decided to take her two kids on another boat, to the island of Letung in Indonesia, where they spent 10 months.

The young Thuan used to swim to the nearby town to buy candies. His mother would then sell those candies in the refugee colony to earn bread for her kids.

“We used to make 10 cents of profit a day, and that would be a luxury. We could buy fresh fish,” recalls Thuan, who is now the chief technology officer of Uber. 

Going back to the story of how he made it out of Vietnam, Thuan says there was just a 50:50 chance of survival in those boat journeys across oceans. During the journeys, Thuan and his family were pirated twice.

“We would not panic. In fact we would be calm and surrender ourselves. That’s the way a startup journey is. Even if you lose all one day, you can build all over again if you retain your calm.”

After landing in Indonesia, Thuan’s mother applied for asylum in the US. The family’s application was approved and they landed in Maryland, where his mother worked as a ledger keeper at a gas station during day. In evening, she would work as a grocery packer at a supermarket.

Thuan was enrolled in a school in the US. On weekends he would work at a car wash station. He used to wear donated clothes and shoes. “I remember wearing girl socks for almost two years in oblivion, until someone pointed.”

Thuan was admitted to a bachelor’s program of computer science at MIT in 1986, and graduated in 1991, when the internet was just emerging.

“I strongly encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to educate themselves, even if they don’t wish to graduate. College education opens doors for you,” he says.


You can read the rest of Thuan's story here.

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