Podcast: Van Tran: Embracing the Pivot

In today’s episode, I sit down with Van Tran, co-founder of API Rising, and delve into the intersection of art and technology, her pivotal career transitions in corporations, and the importance of trusting oneself in navigating diverse career paths. Join us for a conversation that inspires embracing purpose-driven career pivots and making a meaningful impact.

Resources here:
API Rising Website
API Rising Linkedin 

Access free resources and learn more about Sheila and her team at Signet Education at signeteducation.com or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheilaakbar/.

TRANSCRIPT

Van Tran: 

It matters to some extent because you’re building a lot of patterns for how you’re going to work. But after you’ve had five years under your belt, 10 years under your belt, that degree and what you chose, the fact that you completed it is important, but what you chose is less important because all of the experience is going to outweigh your college degree.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hi, everybody, and welcome back to the podcast, I’m going to jump right into it. Because I’m so excited about my guest today. This is a really good friend of mine, I mean, literally one of my best friends. And she wasn’t even sure what she would have to offer to all of you. But I just knew she would have some amazing knowledge and wisdom and experiences to share. And I was right. So Van Tran is a multi talented entrepreneur and founder with deep marketing and operational expertise in some very large, impressive companies. And now she’s running her own small business. And she’s doing a great job. And I’m so impressed by this woman. The other thing that I’m so impressed by is that she’s got skills. And she knows that she has those skills, she’s confident and will take risks, because she knows that she can handle whatever she says yes to. And that kind of confidence, I think is rare. And it’s often hard for students to wrap their heads around that. But Van is such a great example of someone who knows themselves well knows what they’re capable of, and trust themselves to take certain types of risks. You’ll hear in our interview, she talks a lot about her kind of career pivots, and the things that she took on even in college, that a lot of people would say What are you doing, but she crushed it. And she’s so much better off for having taken those risks. So I’ll let you listen to the interview. And I’ll see you on the other side. Okay. Hi, Van, thank you for joining me.

Van Tran: 

I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, I’m really excited to talk with you about your career trajectory and what you’re doing now. But I’ll start with just a basic context here. So your child of immigrant, refugees actually, and in, I can say, our Asian community, we have some stereotypical careers that we like to encourage our kids to pursue, because we think it’ll bring them you know, respect and financial stability in a place where, you know, that’s why we came here. And the listeners know, my journey on this path. But I would love to hear a little bit more about yours, and how it led you to art school.

Van Tran: 

Education was something that was not on the table to even be argued about, like it was just assumed. And if there was any question about education, it’s what level of degree you’re going to get. So my parents, like you said, are immigrants, refugees, they absolutely understood the value of education. I’m pretty sure and this is sad that I don’t know this. But this is also part of my reconnecting journey with my parents and getting to know them better than fairly sure they went to college in Vietnam, came to the States and got their AAA because nothing translates from another country to the US. And there was in electronics, so they were already getting into tech early on. And for my brother, my sister, and I, it was really a matter of like, Okay, now we’re here and you have all the opportunities to do amazing things. So please do amazing things. For some reason. Myself as the middle child, and this is where I find a fence. Like, your typical Asian parent is lawyer or doctor, maybe engineer, and for whatever reason, it has like maybe you can be like a dentist or an accountant and I found like, so much offense so that I just took that too. mean, he didn’t really believe in my capabilities, he’s like, okay, way to aim for the middle dad, like, I don’t know, you’ve told me all the time to really, really pursue a higher education to do amazing things. And they’ve always treated me that way. There was never a question that I couldn’t achieve anything that I wanted. And it was a matter of like making sure that I wanted something big. So that bit of information from my dad was very jarring for me. And maybe on a subconscious level, somewhat fraying where I was like, Oh, well, if that’s what you want, for me, I, I can do whatever. In any case, coming into that age where I was thinking about college, I had always been an artists from in as early childhood memory, I was always drawing, it was trying the cartoons that were on TV, I had collected any comics that I could collect, and I would draw the characters in the comic books. And so when it came to college, I actually didn’t even think about that. I was like, That is not something that is acceptable, because it is risky. And it’s not something that I would consider. I’m from San Jose, San Jose State University is nearby, all of my aunt’s went to San Jose State. And I didn’t even think about the program, specifically, maybe a few things. I mean, San Jose State is known for their engineering. They’re also known for their art, school, and science. So some thoughts there was like, I can go to San Jose State and get a biology degree as like a pre med type thing. And I totally bought into that, went, started taking some biology classes, took all of those classes, and on the side decided to take some art classes, because it’s something that I love. And I thought I can do that on the side. Well, I think after a year, I realized this is not what I want to do. I didn’t want to go into the medical field, mostly because the idea of blood and all of that was not something that I was interested in. And so I actually went and pursued an art degree. And even then there’s like that, that part of me that thought, like, how can I make art also practical. And so I looked at a couple different art degrees that would allow me to do that, which is graphic design, and illustration, and animation. San Jose State has an extremely strong program. And some of the best artists who are working in the industry on Star Wars on whatever have come from San Jose State. I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew it was hard. I think they allowed, I don’t know, 20 to 40 students in every year. And so I went and just started taking all of the prerequisite classes and decided, okay, let fate decide if I can get in then great. I’m going to do this. And I got in and didn’t tell my parents

Sheila Akbar: 

Really like that was the thought in my mind. What what were what were your parents that gay while this was happening, while you were even just taking the prereqs that they know about it.

Van Tran: 

I was raised in a household where you listen to your parents, and I decided that if I were to ask them for permission, I would be leaving the decision in their hands. And I wanted to fully own my decision. And I also was very confident that whatever I did, I’m going to make it. So it really didn’t matter to me, it was just, I knew I was capable. Even if, let’s say I get out of college, and I don’t pursue art. I didn’t care I was doing this for myself. And it was something that I loved and something that I absolutely valued and still value to this day because it actually does lend itself which we’ll talk about this to kind of my journey, my career and where it’s led me today. So I went and got this art degree and I didn’t tell them until probably right before I

Sheila Akbar: 

It’s just so amazing and knowing you personally I’m sensing a theme, but I love that you were able to listen to yourself, you know at the risk of displeasing your parents. I think that That is one of the biggest struggles for teenagers and young adults is to learn how to listen to themselves. So how did you learn how to do that? How did you learn how to trust yourself like that?

Van Tran: 

Well, I employed that asked for forgiveness rather than permission. And I said, this is my life. And at the end of the day, I actually understood what my parents fears were and their fears, were just making sure that I had a degree that would allow me to support myself. So being self sufficient is also a value that I have. So while I was in college, taking my classes, and I ended up somehow, I don’t even know how this happened. But I got a junior web engineering job in the middle of art school, how I rationalized it is that if I could marry the tech, and the art together and work on websites, web design, digital, then it would allow me to have a career that I was passionate about, it would give me a creative outlet while also being able to earn a decent living. And so this is where it all kind of falls apart a little bit is that I really got into it. Like I went to boot camp, I got really into the web development. And for a moment, I was like, Do I need a degree? Yes, yes, you do, because it does open doors. And so I actually did take a semester off because my grades were impacted. And fortunately, I wasn’t kicked out of the program. I got an arts degree, my parents were just like, oh, I have one aunt who’s a lawyer. And she’s like, Van, how are you going to make a living? What are you going to do? And honestly, at this point, 20 years, after graduating, it really doesn’t matter. I mean, it matters to some extent, because you’re building a lot of patterns for how you’re going to work. But after you’ve had five years under your belt, 10 years under your belt, that degree and what you chose, the fact that you completed it is important, but what you chose is less important, because all of the experience is going to outweigh your college degree.

Sheila Akbar: 

This is so great. And I love that I love that you said that, because you’re so right, you learn so much more on the job. And that defines your path going forward much more than what major you choose. Of course, there are some exceptions, you’ve got to build some skill sets, and then get into the next grad program, whatever it is, but I think for the majority of jobs, it really doesn’t matter. You know, speaking as a person who got a degree in Near Eastern languages, and now I’m an entrepreneur, and all sorts of other things. Yeah, the thing that I chose to study really has had no effect on my career path ever since. So let’s jump head to today.

Van Tran: 

Yeah, so today, it’s kind of a winding path mean, I think I just gave you a little bit of insight into how I actually got into tech. And so the coding actually did help me I learned a lot about databases, and a lot about programming, which led me into digital marketing, I went into database marketing, email, marketing, CRM, which is Customer Relationship marketing. So all of that actually leveraged my art skills and my art knowledge because it gave me kind of the tools and the framework to be able to look at something and understand how the human mind breaks down content and information. So in any sort of design class or illustration class, you think about composition, you think about hierarchy of information, which surprisingly, lends itself to a lot of things, including data taxonomy, all of that becomes useful pieces of information from art school, and it. It definitely allowed me to think a bit differently and high level. So Sheila, you and I have talked about the fact that I’m able to go into detail and move all the way up to high level thinking, and that’s why because I’m always thinking about infrastructure, and how to categorize information in order to package it up and communicate effectively. So yeah, I went through lots of different roles, both on the kind of I have at corporate side working at startups like StubHub and working for large organizations like Oracle and Westfield, which is global, and then went into agency world, which, definitely my art degree was leveraged for that. But you’re getting into strategy at that point in time. And today, well, I made yet another pivot. And the pivot is something that I feel very passionately about, which is people development, and leadership and career development. And I ended up starting my own business with a co founder last year, and I will tell you starting a business, you will use every single skill that you have acquired from maybe even before college, but I’ve used every bit of art, I’m doing it myself, I’m I am literally creating all of the art assets, all of the things that I learned in corporate America, being efficient thinking through processes, thinking through efficiencies, all of the measurements, all of that comes into play. And I get to use it with a deep sense of purpose. So hopefully, my story, the takeaway is that you can start and ended up in such different places. And that’s okay, like you can pivot. And I enjoyed every pivot that I’ve made.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love that. I think that’s such a good life model, like just embrace the pivot, because you will have to because life throws curveballs at you. But also, it seems that you have maybe not every single pivot, but your major pivots have been towards purpose towards meaning. And I think that’s so admirable, close this out with giving us a description of API rising and what you’re hoping to do with with people now.

Van Tran: 

Sure, thank you for that API rising is the organization that I co founded, on API rising is focused on moving the needle in terms of getting more Asians and Pacific Islanders into leadership roles. And as an executive at an organization, when I looked around to the left into the array, and above me, there just weren’t very many people that looked like me. And I felt like I needed to make a difference. I wanted to spend my time and my energy, trying to make a change using every single skill, piece of knowledge wisdom that I’ve acquired over time in order to help other people.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, if people want to learn more about what you do, then where can they find you?

Van Tran: 

Thank you, you can find us at www.apirising.com. We’re also on LinkedIn, hit us up, send us a message on LinkedIn. It’s also API rising.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thank you, Van. It was really fun to talk with you. Thanks for your time.

Van Tran: 

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Sheila Akbar: 

So even though I know Van so well, I felt like I learned a lot more about her in the course of this interview. There’s something so beautiful, when people can tell you their story from their education forward, and it opens up something vulnerable. And of course, you know, we’re all in middle age looking back now with so much more clarity and maybe some nostalgia. But I do think these stories are really important to tell because with almost every guest, you’ve heard on this podcast, we talk about that journey. And we talk about the pivots that they had to make and how they transferred skills from one area to another how they thought they were going to do this thing. And then they ended up somewhere they didn’t even expect. And I think it’s so important for our kids to hear these kinds of stories, but also for all of us to hear them to know that we’re in good company. This is kind of the way things go. And there are many roads to success. Success looks different for everybody. All right. Well, that’s it for today. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you next time.

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