ID : 10101
Name: Stephen Tran
Location: California, USA
Domain: Data Science & Analytics
Job Profile: Data Scientist, Competitive PowerLifter, Mentor
There is a famous Vietnamese proverb that has its variations across different languages and culture.
‘Thất bại là mẹ thành công.’
Failure is the mother of success.
Getting up each day after a rough patch is tough for anyone. But this one person’s journey has shown us how sometimes the rough patches are exactly what leads us to our destination. We have all heard now and again to follow our passion and trust the process. But very few of us actually make that transition into following our dreams. This is a story of a person who embodies what it means to transform in its truest sense.
So here’s introducing the multifaceted data architect, Stephen Tran, from the golden state of California, who is not just a data engineer by profession but also a professional powerlifting champion. He is a mentor to many data enthusiasts in the industry and has been weaving a story about how one’s passion can be turned into a reality by combining his love for data and powerlifting.
Growing up in the Golden State
Stephen proudly recounts his upbringing in a multicultural immigrant family in a small town called Tracy in California.
He narrates, ‘I grew up in a really small town and it’s not this typical town that you would think of when you think of California which is known for its sandy beaches and palm trees. If you were to visit my town you would think you were right in the middle of Central America. It’s a little farm land. We’re known as the Cow Town because you can smell the cows.’
His parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s and started a new life for themselves. He expresses how incredibly proud he is of his heritage and all the hard work and sacrifices his family made to enable him and his brothers to have the life they have.
He reveals, ‘My parents are both immigrants. My father is Vietnamese. My mother is Thai. During the Vietnam War, they were forced to flee their home countries and seek refuge in the United States, and they had to find sponsors so that they could live here. My heritage has been something I’ve always been proud of.’
He recalls instances when he was picked on in school for being different and he didn’t truly understand what it meant to be an Asian-American.
‘Growing up, I didn’t value being Asian-American because I was picked on for being different, and I went to schools that were mostly European or Hispanic, so I didn’t grow up with many people who look like me. So when I was younger, I had no desire to learn Vietnamese or Thai. I don’t speak it very well. I truly value it now but looking back I wish I had learned more about my culture and what it is to be an Asian-American.’, he reflects.
Being brought up by Asian parents, he remembers how the values of hard work were instilled in him from a young age. He’d seen his parents start from nothing and work their way up by persevering in the midst of setbacks and hardships.
He remembers, ‘My parents met in a high school in Nebraska. They were both in an AP English class. My dad went on to be the valedictorian of his school so it just goes to show that immigrants can make something of themselves. They truly came from nothing and build themselves up.’
He recalls his maternal grandfather being in the military and his mother frequently changing schools, while his paternal grandfather had to work multiple jobs to support his family of seven children. As one of the older siblings, his father had to work odd jobs in high school to support the family.
‘There’s one thing my dad would tell me as a disciplinary thing, but it definitely rings true with me today. It’s “do it right the first time”. If you don’t put your whole heart into it, some people say the term of half-assing things. So I like to say that I whole-ass things.’, he gleefully explains.
The biggest lesson he has learned from his family is the importance of persevering through life and never giving up in spite of the hurdles life throws at you. The quiet resilience he has seen in his family’s journey is something that motivates him everyday.
‘As immigrants, they have shown me how hard work and a little luck can go a long way toward achieving your dreams…‘, he reflects.
Transitioning into tech
The first person who introduced him to tech was his father. He had majored in Chemistry and later on graduated from ITT Tech. The Senior Tran passed on his love of tech to Stephen.
‘My dad was really into tech. His jobs revolve around tech and it has always been a part of our household. He taught me everything I knew- how to build and fix computers, how to delete viruses and how to download songs over the internet. That interest has always been a part of me and it has carried on.‘, he reminisces.
Building computers was something he learned at a young age and still remains a hobby of his.
‘I was around 13 or 14 when I asked for computer parts for my birthday because I wanted to build myself a new gaming computer. I was having so many issues assembling it and I just didn’t want to ask for help. After hours of trying, I finally gave in and ask my dad to help me out. That was my first lesson in realising how much value there is in asking for help.’, he recollects.
His favorite teachers at school also happened to be his programming instructors. They encouraged him to ask questions and piqued his curiosity about the subject.
‘Python was my first programming language, and it is still my favorite. It gave me a foundation to learn other languages like C++ and Java.‘, he reveals.
However, the path to technology was not always smooth. Math was not always his strong suit, and as a computer science major, he had picked the subject solely because he fell in love with programming.
‘I wasn’t particularly fond of math but I loved programming. So I had taken computer science as my major back in 2014. But somewhere I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore. Sometimes you can’t force a puzzle piece to fit.‘, he remembers.
That decision would change the course of his life.
‘I have this mindset that if I work hard enough, I can get through anything. Sometimes that doesn’t ring true. And I failed in calculus four times in three different colleges. It didn’t make sense to continue to pursue computer science.‘, he confesses.
That’s when he decided to transition into business studies and implement his love for programming by getting into analytics.
‘So I transitioned to major in business administration in computer information system in 2019. I wanted to use the technical knowledge I have gained over the years and learn a little bit more about the business aspect as well.‘, he explains.
For him, the transition was a new beginning.. He acknowledges how learning subjects like accounting and finance, combined with database knowledge, brought him closer to figuring out how he could apply the skills he has in his career.
He explains, ‘I realised how data analytics was something close to what I did before, and the projects I’ve worked on over the last year have really helped me grow in the field. ‘.
His first project as a data analyst taught him how to create dashboards, which he then used to track his own powerlifting journey, which he found to be a great way to combine his passion for fitness and health.
‘Wouldn’t it be really cool if I made a dashboard about my weight loss transition and the weight gains as my lifts went up. That was something that I was able to show to people in my interviews and they really loved it.’, he reveals.
He remembers how his first internship was in the city of Stockton as an IT intern whose roles include wiping out computers of employees who no longer work in the department.
‘After that role, I switch to ERP which is Enterprise Resource Planning where they analyze the city funds and their allocation. It involved a lot of Excel, which is a strong knowledge base for any data analyst.’, he recalls.
One of his favourite classes in college was information systems which dealt heavily with Excel and he remembers being able to apply the skill sets he learned in class to his job.
He reflects, ‘Those 15 months were one of the best experiences I ever had. It taught me how to prioritise things like a job, relationships and family – all at a very young age.’
That wasn’t his only stint in the food industry. He recalls his time at Hometown Buffet and how it made him realize his potential to deliver and perform tasks. Doing the bare minimum was never on his agenda.
‘I was that guy who always wanted to over-deliver. If food was getting low, I would swap it with fresh food. I was just a line server but sometimes if a cook was required, I would help out in the back. I was not required to do it or was I getting extra pay for it. ‘, he explains.
The most valuable message he has taken away from his various jobs is to not be afraid of bumps in the road and to find something that motivates you every day.
‘My advice would be to just go for your dreams. Even though my journey was delayed, I see people in their 40s and 50s heading back to colleges, our journeys are our own. Everyone’s on their own path, in their own time. Things will eventually work out in the end.’, he advices.
A New Chapter
The motivating factors for Stephen is linked to the American dream.
‘As I transitioned into the world of data science, I definitely wanted to become a very good data analyst. I am really looking forward to the future, buying a home, becoming a house owner, getting married and all that good stuff.’, he describes.
For the longest time, he had found it hard to believe in himself and his capabilities. He had to build his self esteem from the ground up.
‘When it comes to jobs, it’s easy to just get lost in the sea of rejections. It’s really hard to get the confidence to keep applying. All you need is that one ‘Yes’ and it will completely change your future.’, he reveals.
He recalls how his own data journey began with a bootcamp led by his now-mentor Avery Smith, the creator of Data Career Jumpstart. Inspiration also came from his cousin, a data scientist by profession, who recommended him to a coworker, who then introduced Stephen to the bootcamp.
He explains, ‘So I took the plunge, enrolled in the bootcamp, and was ready to apply for jobs within two months. And I did bag a job after that experience. I owe a lot to Avery, he has definitely been an instrumental person in my career.’
But statistics and data aren’t his only passions. Stephen is a competitive powerlifter who has undergone a personal transformation on his path to fitness and health.
‘In 2019, I weighed about 262 pounds. I was depressed. I was unhappy with my weight. I was on a strict diet for the next 9 months. I was going to the gym seven days a week. I lost 70 pounds in 9 months and tried to maintain a healthy 192 pounds. I developed an interest in lifting as a result of this. I love seeing my lifts go up and I was wondering where I could go from here.’, he recalls.
That’s when he realized his passion for powerlifting, and found a community of people who would become his support system.
‘I discovered powerlifting, a competitive sport in which you try to lift as much as you can in the squad bench deadlift. And I discovered a community, as well as friends who share my passion, and it all comes down to this today.’ , he admits.
He has been saving his health and fitness data for the past six months and building dashboards that have blend his love for data and powerlifting. This has been quite a conversation starter for his interviews.
‘It was definitely during the time I was at my boot camp, doing some of the projects that I had to do, I always wondered about how to apply the things I am learning in my everyday life. So that’s how the dashboard I was talking about, the fitness one, was born because I’m really interested in seeing these things. Now I have the skills to tangibly create something, to show it and that was really cool for me.’, he reveals.
Now he mentors many aspiring techies looking to break into the data world. He has indeed come a long way from feeling lost about his next career step to becoming a passionate mentor for many people looking to transition in their career.
‘I have to state again that its never too late to go for the goals that you strive for. There’s people out there that believe in you and you gotta trust those people. Trust in what they see. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, there’s a good reason that these people believe in you.‘, he describes.
Chậm mà chắc
Growing up in a multicultural atmosphere has greatly influenced his perception of the world around him.
“I visited both grandparents very often, as much as I could and hearing my mom speak Thai and my dad speak Vietnamese. I was always aware of the fact that I was non-traditional. I also gained a love for food because my mom cooked a lot and she learned to cook a lot Vietnamese cuisines for my dad. “, he reveals.
His passion for food and cooking was instilled in him at a young age by his mother, who encouraged him to learn the valuable skill.
“And I still remember her making me help her in the kitchen like chopping vegetables. I remember thinking to myself that I’m never gonna like this. I hate chopping vegetables. I’m never gonna like this. Fast forward today, I love cooking, I love making new recipes. It’s obviously a big part of staying fit also.“, he admits.
The past is something that is not lost to Stephen; he accepts the barriers that exist between the older generation in his family and how they have learned to respect the sacrifices made by their elders.
“With my grandparents, there was always a language barrier. They mainly spoke their native languages, which was always tough when trying to relate to them but I understand my parents would not be who they were if it weren’t for my grandparent. So I have always respected them for that. They have always been there for me.,” he describes.
He recalls how the older generation diluted their struggles to make them more acceptable for the younger generation, but now that he is aware of the historical facts, he understands his family’s history better than before.
“You could only second-hand relate to the stories but I remember my dad telling me about how they had to struggle to get on boats to sail here. My grandmother had to stifle his mouth so he wouldn’t cry even though he was a baby. So the soldiers wouldn’t know where they were, stuff like that. I can’t imagine going through it now…’, his voice trailing off.
Each generation have had their own share of adversities to overcome and he reveals how he and his father had followed a similar path when it comes to their respective careers.
“I remember how he use to tell us about my grandma wanting him to go to medical school. He figured it wasn’t for him. Then he made the transition to chemistry and then to tech. That’s also one thing that we have in common. And I think a lot of people think that if they are stuck in one track then they have to stay in it. But my dad has shown me that you can transition at any time, whenever you want, wherever you want.“, he explains.
The best advice he has received from his family is to never give up in spite of all the challenges that life throws at you.
“Sometimes it may seem like it’s impossible, it may seem like it’s a lot to learn but just take it day by day. Take it bite by bite. You know what they say about how to eat an elephant. It is bite by bite. Take it day by day, learn little by little. Don’t overwhelmed yourself.“, he advises.
And patience to work for the things we desire is something life has recently taught him.
He suggests, “So take your time. Learn your skills. Don’t let those rejections get to you. Just keep trying.”
Stephen has taught us the value of believing in ourselves and our abilities to change the world around us. And to have faith in the process, no matter how long it takes.
As the Vietnamese would say, ‘Chậm mà chắc’.
Slowly, but surely.
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