Quyen Tien, product recruiter and Okta for Good ambassador, is a daughter of immigrants and the first female college graduate in her family. In this edition of Your Story Inspires, Quyen shares how her background gave her the strength to embrace her ever-changing identity, and even write about her experiences in her personal memoir, Don’t Pinch.
Where did you grow up? What are the most memorable experiences from your early childhood?
I was born and raised in Deer Park, a small suburb in Melbourne, Australia, but my family is originally from Vietnam. My parents are Vietnamese refugees who escaped the communist regime and ended up on a boat to Australia. When they got to Melbourne, they didn’t know English, so I grew up speaking Vietnamese at home. Early on, the tradition was to learn English during the weekdays at school and Vietnamese on Saturdays, so I could both keep up in class and better communicate with my family at home.
What did you like studying in school? How did your education influence your future career?
I loved math during primary school, but in high school, I transitioned my curiosity to reading and writing. I was one of the students who actually enjoyed reading out loud to the class, and I was the copy editor for our school newspaper.
In college, I majored in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. My first core class was Human Communications 101, where I learned speaking and listening skills that are essential to my current role as a recruiter. When speaking with candidates, I’m able to better articulate Okta’s story and actively listen to their story and career path.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I went through several phases. First, I wanted to be an orthodontist because I was curious about teeth. Next, I wanted to play in the NBA because I love basketball. Finally, I wanted to be a sports journalist because I realized I wasn’t athletic enough for the big leagues, but I loved storytelling.
Today, I tell many stories, especially as a recruiter. For example, when I’m speaking with candidates, I’m often asked, “Why is Okta a great place to work?” My favorite answer to share is our Okta for Good initiative because corporate philanthropy is incredibly important to me. I always talk about how we ditched traditional conference swag from Oktane19, our annual customer conference, and used that money to fulfill the wish lists for ten schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. Candidates care a lot about the vision and culture of an organization, so it’s important to paint them stories that can help them understand what type of impact they can make with Okta and our community.
Do you have any mentors or individuals you feel grateful for? What is your advice on how to find good mentors?
The mentor that comes to mind immediately is Jeff, my manager during my first internship at CBS. Jeff believed that I could do anything I put my mind to and instilled the confidence that I was missing. If you ever meet someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, it’s important to develop that relationship because they will help catapult your personal and professional development.
My advice on how to find an inspiring mentor like Jeff is to put yourself out there. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to come to you, go out and grab it yourself! People won’t know your interests unless you actively show your enthusiasm to learn about them, too. To that end, it’s important to reach out and pick people’s brains on what you’re passionate about. You never know where it can lead!
What are personal or professional accomplishments you feel proud of?
I have two that stand out. The first is when I was part of the Future Business Leaders of America organization in college. During my first state competition, I got first place, then went to nationals and placed fifth in my category. I’d like to think that my desire to read out loud in class helped me with my public speaking and presentation skills!
The second is writing a short memoir when I turned a quarter of a century. I was inspired to write my memoir after reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pasuch, and wanted to similarly share a little piece of myself to the world. I love the idea that you can read any story and bond with the author. This feeling of connection is the beauty of writing, which is why writing will always be a part of me.
What is your mantra for dealing with difficult challenges?
A good friend once said, “Remain poised in the face of stupidity.” While this isn’t the natural instinct, I try to focus on staying grounded, rather than reacting right away. I also try to have a sense of humor when things don’t go according to plan. Stay cool, calm, and collected; when in doubt, laugh it off!
How do you think your gender, ethnic, or racial identity has impacted your professional experiences? How do you respond to the presence or absence of privileges that come with your identity?
I’m the first female college graduate in my family, and knowing that I’d be the first always motivated me to work hard. My parents came a long way—geographically and mentally—to give me opportunities that others in my family didn’t have, so I’m appreciative of their sacrifices and use them as strength to constantly progress. As I reflect back on where I started, I’m proud of where I am today, but I also know that I have a long and exciting way to go!
As a woman in tech, it’s interesting to live in an era where the headlines are, “First woman to…” or “First woman appointed…” but there’s a first for everything. All of the “firsts” we’re seeing today only signal the beginning of what we have to offer, regardless of gender, ethnic, or racial identity. In fact, I think the ability to build our identity and be different is one of the most powerful parts about us. There’s a constant societal pressure to have a plan and know who you are, but at the end of the day, change is inevitable; we can grow and mold ourselves into who we want to be at any time. To quote Kevin Garnett, “Anything is Possible!”