Software Engineer Translates Skills to Personal Finance


- Tom Nguyen

Term : May, 2015
Department : Business and Management
Program : Financial Planning

Tom Nguyen is passionate about financial literacy—not just for himself and his clients, but for the next generation. One summer, in an effort to teach his four kids the value of creating a small business, he showed them how to buy candy at wholesale price, calculate a fair price, and sell it door-to-door in the neighborhood. This entrepreneurial spirit and passion for educating others is clear in his career path. After a successful tenure as a senior manager in software engineering at Cisco, Nguyen decided to put his financial and business skills to the test, and opened his own commercial real estate investments firm, which now has more than $4M assets under management. His desire to keep learning took him to UCSC Extension’s Personal Financial Planning program, where he is on track to complete a certificate in 2015.

What attracted you to the PFP program?

Initially I was attracted by the “Employment Benefits and Retirement Planning in Personal and Financial Planning” and “Estate Planning” courses, because I’m interested in wealth preservation and management. When a person works for a lifetime and accumulates wealth, it’s usually with the intention of helping their family and loved ones, from one generation to the next. That’s what I find to be really attractive—showing others how we can help the next generation do better. As I took courses, I soon realized that I was close to completing the program, so I thought, why not get the certificate?

What did you enjoy about your courses?

The good thing about UCSC Extension’s program is that all the instructors are working professionals. When we discuss a topic from a book, they inject their own real-life scenarios. Whether we are talking about investments, risk management, retirement or employment benefits, the instructors bring in real-life scenarios that they have encountered. That’s the difference between an academic and a professional: while it’s important to get knowledge from your textbook, the greatest benefit is learning from people who are actually practicing in the profession. The majority of people taking courses have full-time jobs; we formed a study group that helped move us along. We learned as much from our study-group as we learned from the professor.

What additional skills do financial planners need?

Regardless of how technically savvy or knowledgeable you are with investments and or other areas of personal financial planning, to be successful in this business, you have to be able to communicate well and create lasting relationship with your clients. Interpersonal communication skills are essential. The other tangible success attributes are fiduciary, service-attitude (your client first), honesty and integrity. These are cornerstones for earning and maintaining trust from your clients, which is required for having a lasting relationship.

How have you applied new skills to your work?

As a managing partner for my investments firm, I constantly look at investment opportunities and try to find the right partners to expand our business. I seek out people that I can have long-term, successful relationships with. Finance is a really interesting world; people behave and act very rational when things do not involve money; the minute money is involved, people can get really crazy. What I’ve learned is that when I work with partners, I try to explain that making an investment is similar to owning part of a business and as such, there are risks involved. I operate my business with complete transparency, so they know exactly what they are getting and how things are going.

UCSC Extension’s courses are very comprehensive; they cover all aspects of the financial industry. A lot of people in the workforce now—not just financial planners—do not realize how to maximize the benefits they are given, from 401k to retirement. There are a number of things that they can take advantage of in terms of financial planning. These courses cover topics that 90 percent of working professionals need to know.

Visit our Personal Financial Planning program page to learn more about Extension’s unique offerings. Browse upcoming Personal Financial Planning courses.
Return to UCSC Extension Student Stories.
Share your Extension story.