Global Tech Jobs

Vietnam’s IT Workers Value Passion Over Pay

In Ho Chi Minh and elsewhere in Vietnam, some IT workers are seeking passion over profit.

In Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese tech hubs, some IT workers are seeking passion over profit. (Image via Shutterstock)

As Vietnam emerges as a global hotspot for offshore IT services, the country’s tech workers have more employment opportunities than ever before. With IT talent in high demand, job seekers can be selective. Many want more than just good pay. Increasingly, they also want jobs that allow them to learn and to build products that make a difference.

Outside of IT, few Vietnamese workers have the luxury to pursue their passions. Despite solid economic growth in recent years, Vietnam remains an emerging market with income per capita of just $1,740 in 2013. IT workers on average make more than double that amount, but many still face financial pressures. Especially in expensive locales like Ho Chi Minh City, one might expect pragmatic considerations about income and job stability to trump loftier goals.

Yet a new survey by ITViec, a jobs platform for Vietnam’s tech industry, suggests that Vietnam’s IT workers are driven as much by passion as by profit. In a poll of 500 skilled IT workers, more than four-fifths said they chose the field because they love computers. Approximately half said working on an interesting product is more important than anything else. Less than 12 percent ranked money and job stability as their primary job motivation.

As Vietnam’s IT services sector continues to grow, those seeking self-actualization through their work have an increasing array of options. At outsourcing companies, they can work on a range of projects and gain exposure to different industries, programming languages, and client segments. At product companies, they can achieve a sense of ownership and a deeper personal stake in what they build.

Unfortunately, some outsourcing and product companies do not provide such opportunities. A few operate as little more than digital sweatshops, funneling workers into narrow practice areas and subjecting them to repetitive, unrewarding tasks. Likewise, some product companies lack supportive cultures and fail to make workers feel invested in their products.

Product companies in Vietnam typically have a better reputation than outsourcing ones. Roughly a third of respondents in outsourcing said they wanted to switch to product companies, while only 3 percent working on products wanted to switch to outsourcing.

So outsourcing companies can probably only win the talent race by offering great culture and taking on complex, high-value projects that challenge and inspire their people. Quodisys, a web and mobile development company based in Ho Chi Minh City, does this by offering the chance to work with state-of-the-art technologies. Employees get to develop their skills and take on new challenges.

At both outsourcing and product companies, the majority of workers said they prefer to work with foreigners. Many believe foreign firms offer more open and creative environments better suited to learning and personal growth. Although plenty of Vietnamese companies provide similar advantages, some have a reputation for being rigid and hierarchical.

Many of the most successful Vietnamese tech companies combine elements of local and foreign culture. They’re often led by Vietnamese founders and managers who spent substantial time abroad gaining access to foreign ideas, talent, and capital. They speak the language, understand local customs, and have the ability to bridge the cultural spectrum.

Clearly the Vietnam tech employment market is getting more dynamic. Half the survey respondents plan to switch jobs in the next six months. Competition for the most skilled workers will be intense.

But will Vietnam’s IT workers continue seeing new opportunities to pursue their passions? Most IT outsourcing and product companies have plans to expand in 2015, but some believe that regulatory uncertainties loom over the industry. Officials have yet to take a clear position on many tech-related policies, such as those related to social networks, over-the-top applications, and cross-border IT commerce. Until these issues are resolved, some companies may be more cautious in their expansion efforts.

Despite these concerns, many of Vietnam’s IT workers remain optimistic. More so than ever before, they are choosing jobs that let them follow their passions, even if this might also mean a pay cut in the short term. In this respect, they’ve adopted traits more common to their Silicon Valley counterparts than their peers in Vietnam.

Enrick Bui is Business Development Manager at Quodisys, a web and mobile development company based in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Will Greene is a technology researcher and entrepreneur based in Vietnam. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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  • Will Greene

    After discussing this article with some local IT executives, one thing I should add is that there’s probably a bit of selection bias at work in the survey results presented. People posting resumes to the ITviec site might not be perfectly representative of all IT workers. They probably skew towards younger workers and fresh grads, as well as people actively seeking jobs. This might drive up the % of people who are planning to change jobs, as well as the % of people who prefer product companies to outsourcing.

    One IT executive also pointed out that he believes “the number of engineers currently working for product companies is still small.” He also took issue with the concern about uncertain regulations stifling the industry. In an email, he wrote: “Most tech policies so far are incentives. There’re some restrictions in online media, social networks but mostly to control online publishing and trading more than technology matters. So these policies are not really impact much to tech companies except for online media/trading firms.”

    • Hey guys I’ll chime in here. I run ITviec.com, the company that did the survey.

      Our data is somewhat skewed since we drew many respondents from people who visit our site. We drew a lot of respondents from our blog too, though, and many of them are not necessarily looking for a job right now.

      Even so, 50% of people planning to look for a new job in 6 months is probably higher than the IT worker population, fair enough. But anyone with experience hiring IT folks knows they jump plenty. My guess is this figure is >30%.

      We did exclude students from the analysis. We got respondents from all age groups, although they did skew younger (which I think is accurate — there are more younger devs than old ones). We found that as developers age they tend to stay in jobs longer. Older workers also value a good working environment more than younger workers, who put more value on opportunity to learn and go abroad.

      Some outsourcing companies we’ve talked to tend to get a bit defensive about the survey conclusion that many devs prefer product over outsourcing. One CEO of a big outsourcing company here refused to provide a quote for our media kit because he was offended by the idea — “We do outsourcing and we have 400 happy workers, so your conclusions are not accurate.” I understand why he reacted that way. But it doesn’t mean that outsourcing companies cannot give IT people great employment experience. His company actually is a great example of an outsourcing firm where people love to work.

      I thought article above did a pretty good job of pointing out that outsourcing companies can fill the desire to work on a product quite well if they do high-level work, rotate positions and manage well.

      It’s true that in Vietnam outsourcing jobs outnumber product jobs. That likely will remain the case as outsourcing companies grow and new ones spring up. That said, product jobs ARE increasing. It’s just that outsourcing job growth likely will continue to outpace product jobs. I see a TON of 5-10 person outsourcing niche shops popping up. It’s usually a foreign or foreign-educated Vietnamese founder who has some relationships abroad. They start small, then grow through word of mouth.

      I agree that the online restrictions really don’t impact outsourcing companies. They DO impact local product companies though, but not that much. The govt just cares about policing online political opinions. Sometimes there’s collateral damage for businesses, but my sense is that’s not the intent.

  • Tony M.

    Although there are a few large outsourcing firms in Vietnam, there are more companies like state banks, insurance agencies, advertising/marketing agencies, and tech firms that employ large teams of in-house IT staff.

    We’ve seen an increase of CVs after Tet of people coming from small-mid size companies. I spoke with CEO of ITViec and those polled were not mostly junior developers. They included seniors, current students were removed, and not all were looking for a job.