Brandon graduated from the U of M with a degree in IT Infrastructure Security in Dec 2020
He secured a job at TCF Bank as an Associate Engineer before graduation
Brandon is a second-generation Vietnamese immigrant
He lives in Brooklyn Park
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised here in Minnesota. I was born in Robbinsdale in 1997 but moved to Brooklyn Park when I was a child, and that’s been home for me. Currently, I live in Brooklyn Park in my childhood home, but I plan to move out.
In December, 2020, I graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a degree in IT Infrastructure Security. I recently secured a full-time job at TCF Bank as an Associate Engineer. So that’s pretty awesome! Before I graduated too, and I didn’t think it was possible. It is possible, but not without the help of other organizations in Minnesota.
One of my desires was a job in Minnesota. I don’t want to leave Minnesota because of all the organizations and people that have helped me. I want to work in Minnesota, put my efforts and ideas towards Minnesota, to see how I can better Minnesota.
Now it’s my turn to give back. I’m on the Alumni Council of an organization called Genesys Works. I’m going to reach out to College Possible, which is another college and career readiness program that helped me throughout high school and college. I’m waiting to be part of their Alumni Council to give back, because I wouldn’t have gone this far if it wasn’t for their support and their belief in me.
Why do you think you would not have gone this far without these organizations?
English isn’t my first language, my first language is Vietnamese. I went to Woodland Elementary and I was in English Second Language (ESL). I remember one time I had to go to the bathroom and I asked the teacher: “Can I go to the bathroom?” She asked me: “Is this an emergency?” And I didn’t know what “emergency” meant, so I said: “No. Can I go?” She said “No.” I didn’t put two and two together. Then, the third time I asked her, I said it was an emergency, and she said: “Oh, you can go.” And I thought: “Oh, that’s what ‘emergency’ means, I can do what I need to do.”
My parents came to Minnesota in 1970s because of the Vietnam War. So, we grew up without a lot of resources, without a lot of help. After fourth and fifth grade, my parents couldn’t help me with homework anymore. I remember my dad would help me with spelling tests but I couldn’t understand the words he was saying because it wasn’t the correct pronunciation. With stuff like math homework also, I was limited to my parents, and they didn’t know how to help me. So in fifth grade, I was in a program called Read 180, which is an advanced program for English as a secondary language. I passed that, and then in high school I went to Honors English.
I thought high school was kind of easy. I did a lot of Honors stuff and also my counselor told me about the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) which allowed me to take classes at the University of Minnesota for both high school and college credit. The main reason I did PSEO is because you can save money for college credits. I was like, “save money, yeah!” I didn’t care about anything else, saving money was my number one priority.
I am kind of thankful, because not having a lot of resources made my dad very creative in his solutions. He had to figure out how to make things work instead of buying something new. And he passed that down to me, so I’ve been creative with coming up with solutions. If there’s a problem, you start with an idea.
What are your favorite things about life in MSP?
It’s home. I grew up here. I think all the seasons are fun. In the summer, I can hang out with my friends outside and bike around. Well, I used to do that, now it’s golfing. In wintertime, I snowboard with my cousins.
What I find fun about Minnesota is that all my family’s here. I have a lot of cousins – over 20. Family gatherings were always be so funny because we came up with random games and would just be creative and have fun. And then, College Possible made High School and college easier for me, and all the organizations like Genesys Works, York Solutions, CONNEXT MSP, GREATER MSP. These organizations are there to help you grow as an individual.
My mom doesn’t live in Minnesota anymore. She says: “Hey, come to Florida!” I’m like: “Mom. Minnesota is where it’s at!” And for when it’s too cold, we have blankets. We got jackets. Wintertime, we just snowboard.
How are you able to find community in MSP?
I find a sense of community through talking to other people, while also putting myself out there and giving my time to others. In elementary school, middle school and even high school, I was a shy person and a shy student. And I didn’t know how to talk to a lot of people. I didn’t know how to connect with them, the emotional intelligence wasn’t there.
When college came, in my freshman year, I wanted to reinvent myself. The number one feeling I hate is regret. So, I told myself I’m going to reach out to all these people in my dorm. I’m just going to talk to them and hang out. So by the end of freshman year, I knew everybody in my dorm. Snapchat was huge at the time and I was always on my phone. My roommates were like: “Brandon, you are on your phone a lot.” I said: “Yeah. I gotta stay connected with these friends!” So that’s when I started building a sense of community. College is a time for a fresh start, a new mindset, a new person. They don’t know who the old Brandon is, they only know the Brandon that I show. I somehow became extroverted. I used to search on Google how to talk to people, how to make friends. But now look at me! I have a lot of friends. I know how to talk to people.
And then it just escalated. In my senior year, because of the friends I’ve made throughout the years, I created my own student group called SUITE – Student Union of Information Technology Enthusiasts – and I’m the president, with six other Board Members. It is a formal thing, but it’s also just a group of friends coming together for a common goal.
In junior year, I took all online classes, while still attending the U. This was my time to network and volunteer. I volunteered with Big Brother Big Sister as a mentor. That was so fun! My little bro’s name was Elijah and he really liked the musician Marshmello. And then I volunteered with Students Today Leaders Forever, where we went on a volunteer trip to five different states for spring break. There’s another student group, Meals from Minneapolis. One time we went to Coffman Union and put sandwiches together, and later that day, for Students Today Leaders Forever, I volunteered at the IDS Tower ringing for the Salvation Army.
Does MSP hold good career opportunities?
Absolutely. There are so many organizations that have your back here, specifically for me it was College Possible and Genesys Works. And now, York Solutions. These organizations have helped me get to where I am. In High School, I did a program called Genesys Works, which is an eight week training program where we learned soft skills like presentations and thinking on your feet, technical skills like Excel spreadsheets, and also the professionalism of working in a corporate office. After I completed the eight week training, I got an internship during my senior year of High School at Data Recognition Corporation. That was the beginning of my career journey, because I’d never had a real job. That was my first job ever. And it was an internship, and at the time was like: “What’s an internship?”
So that was cool. I excelled at that and they called me back for the following two summers, and I interned there from 2015 to 2018. Then from there I interned at a different place called Egan Company, Egan Company, a construction firm, and CHS Inc., a medical device company. So the career prospects in Minnesota are endless. When I was in search of a full time job, I went to a golf invitational called Think IT. It was a whole network of strong leaders in Minnesota. I thought about my school, the U of M, and all my friends. In 15, 20, 30 years, we could be executives and we could be the next wave of leadership!
The University of Minnesota, great school! It’s the best college ever! I’ve had such a great time, so many growth moments and leadership moments. And as for career projections in Minnesota, there are so many great organizations. You don’t have to leave Minnesota, if anything, come to Minnesota, work in Minnesota! We will treat you well.
My dream job used to be Chief Information Security Officer. I do want to go down the information security route because I like information security. I find it so fun. You always learn, you have to learn. If you don’t learn, you fall behind. If you fall behind, your organization falls into risk. So I’m majoring in IT infrastructure security.
Externally, I graduated high school, I went to college. I graduated college. But internally, in high school, I was scared. I went to college, I cried during finals week, I failed a couple classes. I bombed so many interviews. Not a lot of people know these internal things unless you ask. We only see the external stuff. On LinkedIn, you only see the accomplishments. You don’t see the hard work, the behind-the scenes stuff.
How has the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed impact you?
I spoke with my cousins and my friends about it. It was really tough talking about that. First, how could that happen? And second, that happened in Minnesota! Minnesota is my home. I’m proud to be a Minnesotan and to see that was so messed up. It was disheartening, why did that have to happen? I felt sad. That hurt. And then I thought to myself, how much do I know about racial injustice in the United States? It turns out, I didn’t know a lot of stuff. So I spoke to my friends about it and they educated me. And I said to myself, Brandon, you need to speak up about racial injustice.
Whenever somebody says something racist, I’m going to speak up and say, hey, that’s not cool, man. It’s not funny. And just call them out on it, because you can make an impact by talking to your circles and impacting your circles, who will impact their circles and eventually, there will be a community of good, anti-racist, people.
What is your call to action for somebody reading this?
Bring back the curiosity! As a kid, you’re curious, but as you grow up, society makes you limit your curiosity. You adhere to the school agenda, for exams, you adhere to whatever you’re supposed to study. Take moments to not be on your phone, to just take in the world, and that will help your curiosity. Ask a lot of questions. Just bring back the curiosity. Because that’s your inner child, everybody starts off curious.