How a Homeless Son of Vietnamese Immigrants Landed a $100K Job in Silicon Valley

Armed with a dream, determination and only $250 in his bank account, Preston Phan left his home in Seattle to give in to the allure of Silicon Valley in late 2016.

Phan, who was born in Texas, ended up living on the streets of San Francisco, where he experienced being homeless for the first time in his life.

Three months after struggling to survive in the expensive city, he got a job at LinkedIn, earning over $100,000.

Phan said he turned his life around with the help of an employment program called Code Tenderloin, which focuses on assisting homeless people to get jobs at Silicon Valley tech firms.

In an interview with SFGate, Phan revealed that he had researched about the Tenderloin-based organization, which offered assistance in scoring connections and interviews with tech companies.

Without any place to stay or even store his belongings, Phan had to make the most of what he could find.

“My first three days I actually slept under a stairwell on upper Market Street,” Phan told SFGate.

He said that he used a 24-Hour Fitness locker to keep his things and sought the help of a local shelter to find a place to sleep.

In the shelter, he explained how he would wait in line for three hours and had to win a lottery to earn a bed, but ended up making himself comfortable sleeping in a chair the following nights.

Phan shared an unforgettable point in his life when he used FaceTime to call his family on Christmas Day just outside of the homeless shelter.

Ashamed of his living condition, he kept the building where he was staying away from his family’s view.

“I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of my family finding out I was homeless,” Phan said.

By mid-January, Phan began taking afternoon classes from 5-8 p.m at Code Tenderloin, which gave soft skills training on job interviews and resume creation.

He then developed a daily routine, which started by being forced out of the homeless shelter at 5:30 a.m., followed by some coffee at a place called Peet’s where he would also use his laptop for an hour.

He got a temporary job as a security monitor at Ross, which helped to tide him over in the following weeks, working from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“I was doing store protection, like protecting their assets, and the people I often got were homeless people that I would have to lie down and sleep next to, so that was kind of like an awkward thing,” Phan said.

Phan even utilized his time after classes delivering Postmates on his skateboard before spending another 2-3 hours waiting in line to be able to sleep at a shelter.

One night, an idea struck Phan as he was waiting for his shelter bed.

He realized how complicated the process was for finding a bed at a shelter, which involved making a reservation by phone or in person. When calls go unanswered, it becomes a huge problem.

Since most of the people who were waiting for beds had cheap Android phones, he figured an app would be a very useful tool for such a service.

“I started developing an application where you can make the bed reservation through your phone and walk to the nearest location,” Phan said. “I think that was the start of my career, actually.”

He began developing his app, which he later showed Code Tenderloin Director Del Seymour.

With Seymour’s encouragement, he presented his app at SF City Hall during a Local Homeless Coordinating Board meeting.

While his idea was not received as warmly as he expected, Phan remained unperturbed.

He became even more driven, dedicating more time and effort in improving his app before going to work.

Phan continued working on the app until he graduated from Code Tenderloin in February, and with the help of Code Tenderloin, he received a job offer from LinkedIn as an apprentice software engineer.

He accepted the job offer, which guaranteed him a $115,000 salary and corporate housing in Silicon Valley.

“I was actually on my lunch at Ross when they gave me the call,” he said. “Then I ran outside the break room and said, ‘I quit! I quit!’ But not right away. I wanted to be nice and I gave my two weeks.”

Phan moved out of the homeless shelter in March and began his job at LinkedIn in April.

“I felt great,” he said. “I told them I was moving out to Sunnyvale, but I didn’t want to give too many details.”

Phan is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. Along with his brother, he was raised by a single mother who moved them to Seattle when he was a toddler.

Phan is currently living his dream and finally moving ahead with his life, but he does consider pushing through with the project he started back at the homeless shelter.

“I do want to come back to the app. I feel like that [City Hall] rebuttal just wasn’t really thought through,” he said. “It would help people immensely. It would help them get back on their feet.”

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