Meet Vanessa Le: How MongoDB Has Helped Me Embrace My Differences
January 5, 2021
#Diversity & Inclusion#Culture#General & Admin
As a global company, MongoDB has so many amazing employees with interesting backgrounds and stories. I recently sat down with Vanessa Le, Senior Commissions Analyst, to learn more about her journey from Vietnam to Ireland, what inclusion and belonging means to her, and how she feels supported at MongoDB.
Ashley Perez: Thank you for sharing your story, Vanessa. I’d love to hear what it was like growing up in Vietnam and how your love for travel helped you move to Ireland.
Vanessa Le: I was born in Vietnam to a middle-income family. When I started high school, my parents separated and my family experienced financial problems. Growing up, I always had a dream of going abroad to study and see the world, but at that point, we couldn’t afford it.
I set that dream aside and went to college in Vietnam while working different part-time jobs to support my family and pay my tuition fee. During my second year, I found out a friend from college received a fully funded scholarship from an NGO to study abroad. This sparked my dream of studying abroad again. I knew it was hard to afford going to school overseas, but I also knew that it was no longer impossible, so I set my first big life goal: get a scholarship that would pay for me to study in another country.
I spent months researching all available scholarships. After going through many rounds of applications over the course of two years, I got into the interview round for some. But I ended up being rejected by all of them, one by one.
I was really disappointed with myself and almost gave up before I decided to give it one last attempt. With persistence and experience, two of the applications were successful! Between the two choices, I selected Irish Aid and became one of 20 Vietnamese people who got a fully funded scholarship from the Irish government to pursue a master’s degree in management consulting (my degree choice) in Ireland.
Having no idea about the country beforehand, I quit my job in Vietnam and flew to Ireland with the flight, accommodation, and tuition fully paid.
AP: That’s such an amazing story. How was it moving to Dublin, especially since you knew very little about Ireland?
VL: Realizing my dream, I had the best year of my life studying, traveling, learning new things, discovering new cultures, and making new friends. I didn’t experience too much of a culture shock until I graduated and started searching for a job in Ireland.
Being the only Asian in the first company I worked for was a tough experience and drastically destroyed my confidence. I was proud of where I was from, but at the same time, I felt isolated because I was different from others around me.
Being Vietnamese became a barrier to me for blending in. Although I had worked hard, got promoted, made friends, and tried to expose myself to different social activities, I still never felt as if I belonged. I constantly doubted myself and questioned whether I made the right decision coming to Ireland and if it was the right place for me to settle.
AP: That sounds really hard. Can you tell me what happened from there and how you ended up at MongoDB?
VL: I joined MongoDB in 2018 as the only person on the Commissions team — which is primarily based in Palo Alto, California — who was located in Ireland. I work cross-functionally with Sales Ops, Accounting, HR, and Payroll to oversee commissions payout for the Sales team in EMEA and APAC.
I am very fortunate to be part of the Commissions team, and at the same time, also a part of the International Finance team in Dublin. Commissions is still a small team of five, so whenever we get a chance to meet, I always get such a warm feeling — as if we are a family. Coincidentally, all the team members are Asian Americans, so from the very first moment when I met the team, I naturally felt connected, even though I’m remote from the rest of them.
From day one when I joined the Dublin team, I was amazed at how diverse the team was. On the International Finance team of less than 20 people, we have as many as 10 different nationalities. This allows us to blend together, learn from each other, and embrace our differences. We’re excited to share and learn about each other’s cultures. When we’re in a group discussion, I no longer feel embarrassed about my accent because all the team members have their own accents. That is unique and should be appreciated.
On the team, my differences no longer felt like a barrier. In fact, our differences were what made us all alike. That has helped me to regain my confidence, and for the first time since I started working in Ireland, I now feel as if I belong.
AP: It’s great that you feel that connection. What is your favorite part about working at MongoDB?
VL: Joining MongoDB has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my career. I love the opportunity to interact with different teams, the career progression, the constant challenges, and the impact I can make.
As the company grew, I witnessed the size of the international Sales team almost tripling in the last two years, which made my role challenging and interesting at the same time. The challenges I tackle at work have motivated me to upskill myself everyday. For example, I learned to code and applied my VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) skill to automate the Excel-based processes within the Commissions team — and within the Accounting team, too. The opportunities to work with the Business Systems team on system configuration and automation projects have also inspired me to extend my knowledge and skills into data analytics, which is something I’m very passionate about.
Looking back at the last two years, I’ve grown so much with MongoDB. On a personal level, the opportunity to work in a multinational company and team has taught me to be more open-minded, and to welcome and respect people from different backgrounds, with their own unique life stories. As someone who originally was shy, I’ve overcome the fear of speaking in public and of being judged. Now, I’m more confident and assertive when expressing myself, amplifying my voice when needed and protecting my perspective on things I believe in.
The excellent training and growth opportunities aside, the reason I stay is because of the culture and the people. MongoDB’s core values are not just there as a formalistic slogan. Ever since I joined the company, I can see that every single person I’ve worked with has really lived the company’s values.
From the top executives to all of my peers, everyone has set great examples for me to learn from. I’m thankful for having such great leaders, including my managers, Derek Lowry and Prev Dole, and my VPs, Jillian Gillespie and Shalena O’Connell, who have always given me tons of support and inspiration. They have encouraged me to live these core values, which has empowered me to push my limits, challenge the status quo, and become a better version of myself.
AP: From what you’ve said, a sense of belonging and inclusion is really important to you. Can you share more about that?
VL: It is indeed. Feeling fully accepted within a company, being proud of who you are, and feeling safe to express yourself authentically is very important to me. If benefits attract talents, I think the sense of belonging is what retains them at MongoDB. It’s a crucial factor for employee engagement and for the company’s success.
AP: That’s powerful. What does inclusion and belonging look like at MongoDB?
VL: One day, I had a virtual coffee chat with MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria and a small group of people, where he casually talked about his childhood and the books he loved, and answered personal questions. To me, that is inclusion.
When we worked in the office pre-COVID, the CFO, Michael Gordon, joined us for a team lunch. He talked about his weekend and what he and his wife were up to. To me, that is inclusion.
Someone on the team felt safe enough to share with everyone that she just started a language course to improve her English without being afraid of being judged. To me, that is inclusion.
My boss came across an article on the change of Irish immigration law and forwarded it to me to make sure I wasn’t missing the news. That is inclusion.
My team ordered sushi and they included veggie sushi because one of the team members was vegetarian. That is inclusion.
My colleague proudly and bravely shared his coming out story to the whole company and saw that MongoDBers embraced, celebrated, and supported it. Again, that is inclusion, and it is so amazing.
I love the fact that MongoDB is so diverse. However, its diversity isn’t simply about hiring many people of different nationalities, but about clearing the barriers, amplifying everyone’s voices, and appreciating everyone’s unique backgrounds.
Interested in pursuing a career at MongoDB? We have several open roles on our teams across the globe, and would love for you to build your career with us!