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I've been doing a lot of traveling for nerdy reasons lately. A month ago it was BarCamp Yangon. This past weekend it was FOSSASIA in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I'll get back to writing about living in Vietnam soon, since I'll be traveling around the country.

What is FOSSASIA?

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BarCamp Yangon

Submitted by tomo on February 26, 2014 - 12:12pm

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Summary

Size matters. Size doesn't matter.

Yangon, Myanmar holds the largest BarCamp in the world. Or so they say, but who's counting? I can confirm that it's a two day affair, like BarCamp Phnom Penh (where a few of my compatriots were from) and of similar size to Cambodia's main and largest BarCamp. Even our homely one-day BarCamp Saigon is roughly the same in crowd size according to my eyeball count. The number of sessions, at around 160 over two days, is also about the same per day as are the popularity and attendance in the classrooms in which they are held. There were even many sparsely attended talks (such as my own!) But size isn't everything.

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My Vietnam Startup Report

Submitted by tomo on September 6, 2013 - 3:43pm

Last Wednesday night, @Bowei Gai of the World Startup Report made his stop on his year-long globetrotting tour to the center of the Vietnamese startup scene at Saigon Hub in Ho Chi Minh City. He gave a talk that had been honed over many months and included lots of interesting bits from startup scenes around the world, from the amazing size (trillions!) of Chinese e-commerce companies, to the equally impressive adoption of mobile payment in Sub-Saharan African countries (30%!). Later, in private, we heard of the incredible arrogance of French startup people and corruption around the world. But we were also humbled by the recent multiple-hundreds of million dollar exits of Nepalese technology companies. And perhaps secretly identified with the conditions of economic crisis under which Argentinean entrepreneurs had to run their businesses - 20+% annual inflation driving up business costs, a local currency constantly losing value leading locals to buy dollars when they could...

Bowei has been flying to a new country every few days to study a brand new local startup scene. Originally with the intention of writing up the local report as he was traveling, that was clearly impossible. And so it'll be at least a few months before we see his Vietnam Startup Report. So let me share my own thoughts while they're still fresh.

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On Vietnam banning chat apps

Submitted by tomo on August 28, 2013 - 5:30pm

Here are some random thoughts on the news of Vietnamese ISPs/ministries colluding to ban mobile chat apps like Line/KakaoTalk/Viber/Whatsapp. The story so far has been that Vietnam's mobile networks, losing more and more money from people using free chat apps instead of SMS (which senders pay a little money for in Vietnam) which is pure profit for them, would like to put a stop to this trend.

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Learning Spanish in Ho Chi Minh City

Submitted by tomo on August 28, 2013 - 11:23am

I've had several friends ask me where they can learn Spanish in Ho Chi Minh City, especially since the University of Social Sciences and Humanities canceled their Spanish language course. There aren't that many people who want to learn or speak Spanish in Vietnam since there is less trade between Vietnam and Spanish-speaking countries (compared to Japanese, Korean, Chinese) but it's a hobby for some.

My friend let me know about an open course at her Spanish school:

The school is called Jaleo (Escuela de Espanol) in Phu Nhuan district at 38 Hoa Su Street, Ward 12, Phu Nhuan - near Phan Xich Long street. Telephone: 08 3517 1288 or you can call 01649922169.

They have a basic class starting September 5th on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30-8:00PM. The 8 week course is 2.4 million. Other courses are listed on their website.

The teachers are native Spanish speakers.

Besides Spanish language they also have courses on Spanish/Latin American culture and also do private tutoring. Basically, it's a small operation from people who want to make Spanish teaching possible in Vietnam, not a big corporate language center. Open to both Vietnamese and expats.

Hacking Your First Hackathon

Submitted by tomo on June 8, 2013 - 2:13pm

Today I'll be speaking, mentoring, then judging at Keewi's Hack Day event.

Over a decade ago I joined a group of "hackers" in developing an open source ultra-secure UNIX operating system called OpenBSD. As the most secure OS in the world, it was designed to keep out hackers, as in crackers, those seeking unauthorized access to computer systems. But we were also hackers, a type of "artisanal" programmer. OpenBSD hackers are spread across the world and they gather themselves together periodically into one place to be super productive on a common goal over the course of several days. OpenBSD invented the hackathon, even coining the word itself.

I attended my first hackathon back when I was still in school, which I graduated from over 10 years ago. It was organized by our university's open source club, the only extracurricular activity I was involved in. We got permission to use one of the classrooms overnight and even got funding to buy a couple pizzas and pop. That was it. There were no corporate sponsors. There were no spectators watching us code except for our confused girlfriends. There were no headhunters or suits looking for geeks they could make use of. And there was no prize money because we were just there to see what hacks we could pull off in a night and then show each other.

Nowadays, hackathons are more and more common and are seen by corporations as something they can take advantage of.

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There is debate over the term 10x developer which is the idea that some developers are ten times as productive as other average programmers. This was popularized by some research which was subsequently refuted but the idea lives on. And if true, how can we all become "10x developers"? From the time I began taking programming classes in school, which is when I was first exposed to other people's programming abilities, I knew that skill level varied and varied greatly. In an arithmetics class, the best student might score 20 or 30 percent higher than the average. But there's no way to score 100 times the average as that level of ability isn't measured in class. But in a programming class, there will be a number of students who can't complete a working program in a given amount of time, and a student who is a slow coder but eventually gets something functioning is infinitely better than the student who doesn't. Those who can't typically don't go on to become career programmers, but they might need to pass the class for some IT-related business management degree and go on to become Excel wizards.

But among profressional programmers what is a good standard deviation in productivity levels?

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[Are you an investor interested in investing in Vietnam, especially in startups? This blog post comes from conversations with visiting investors from other countries and answering a lot of questions they had in common.]

For years, tech startups in Vietnam operated in a sort of vacuum, with no local ecosystem to help them.

Of course, this didn't stop them. Maybe there were even benefits with less scene distractions.

Now there is something we can call a scene, like a subculture of startup. There are wannabe entrepreneurs (wantrepreneurs), kids who dream of startups or want to experience working for one. There are serial events (Startup Weekend Ho Chi Minh City, the Start Me Up series, even Barcamp Saigon which I'm most personally attached to) as well as larger traditional conferences with international involvement. There are hackathons. There are training programs. There are incubators. There are angels and venture capitalists, although so few that finding appropriate investment among them is challenging for many reasons. There are online forums (in Vietnamese) and there is now coverage of the country in the three largest regional tech news journals out of Singapore (e27, SGE, TechInAsia) as well as local PR mouthpiece Action.vn.

And there are even some startups within Vietnam's startup scene!

(Though there is confusion about what is or isn't a startup)

What kind of startups you'll find in Vietnam

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Boulder's big VC investor dude Brad Feld has a house in Kansas City now. He doesn't live there, even for just part of the year, but he owns it. He's letting YOU live there. For free. FREE!!! But should you live in Kansas City (a mid-sized town in the American southwest midwestern state of Missouri) to bootstrap your startup? If the rent is free?

Awhile back I talked about bootstrapping your startup in Ho Chi Minh City on the cheap. And what's better than cheap besides free?

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A Foreigner in Vietnam During Tet

Submitted by tomo on February 1, 2013 - 1:52pm

A Quiet American in a Quiet Vietnam

About two weeks after I first arrived in Saigon, it began: Tet. What a horrible mistake, being in Vietnam right at that time! Tet, being the single Vietnamese holiday that is equivalent to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year in one long week that often stretches to a month for many students as well as laborours. While pre-Tet is a time of high commercial activity, it all comes to a full stop at midnight of the Lunar New Year. Vietnamese people go home. And for Saigon's 10 million or so population, this mostly means going back to places far from metropolitan Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese cities are full of economic migrants, young people coming as students or looking for jobs so they can earn money to send home. And Tet is the time of the year, for most economic migrants it's the one and only time of the year, when they return home to their families.

As a company or factory, you don't expect anyone to work during the days of Tet. It doesn't matter if you're a foreign company with orders from foreign countries that need to be filled, by customers that neither know nor care that a "Tet" is happening. If you're lucky, your employees will come back to work after a week, after you've paid them a "13th month" Tet bonus, often equivalent to one month's salary.

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