In a not so distant past, I was one ambitious monkey attempting to dive into cyberspace at the dawn of the Web. By the time I was officially enrolled in the industry, the unraveling of dotcom bust already took place a dozen timezones behind. But I was glad it happened that way. Otherwise, I could be cultivating a career quite different from what I have now.
After finishing Computer Engineering at UIC, working there wasn’t exactly my plan. However, maybe because I thought it was the safest route to start a career, I’d further my learning by doing BOTH teaching and programming. I was eager to recoup the educational investment I made with my alma mater (yes, I thought about it), it wasn’t a difficult decision to extend my stay at the University.
But after three years, I thought it was enough. So by June 2000, I left UIC at the time when the new school year is starting. (School calendar in the Philippine education system starts in June.) I remembered talking to the school president S. Ma Assumpta David, and trying to be firm with my decision. I thought she respected it and didn’t offer to persuade me to stay.
Two weeks of homestay and curtailed income passed before I got a confirmation I was offered a job in Cagayan de Oro City, an excellent six-hour bus ride from Davao City — along the way passing by the house of my future wife. I have relatives in the city where I could stay. And I thought that my journey of hundreds (or thousands of miles) should begin with this step, no matter if it’s more than just a single one.
Thanks to Rizza Rizada, a childhood friend and neighbor who referred me to the job and an employee leaving the company, I got in. Interestingly, I realized that this reunion marks another milestone between Rizza and me. We went to the same grade school together. We were classmates in high school. And we took the same course in UIC. Now, we’re colleagues. I also came to know a few more in the office.
Candice Joan Cruz, Shelley Santiago, Roy Yap, Meg Viado, Kent, Dabatian, Chui Odulio, Edward Neri, and Jimmar Ripolido. Our office was at Fr. Masterson Avenue, on the third floor of a building called White House because of its immaculate white painting that stands out of the neighborhood.
We’re only about ten people in the office, so it was an intimate group. We shared lunch. My aunt Flora prepares packed lunch, so I had no problem waking up early and cooking my food. But at times, I want to try what colleagues want to have for lunch. I remember buying mongo at a house located near the office. At work, it’s not unusual to play MP3 from a PC with Winamp; we only got to play what we want to hear. During this time, downloading music through Napster was still prevalent.
In my effort to be with the family every week, I take the Rural Transit bus on Friday nights and arrive in Davao at about 7 in the morning the following day. As I get home, I hit the bed immediately and wake up at about 11, just in time for lunch. I know I had only a few hours left before I pack my things and make the return trip to Cagayan de Oro. By Sunday afternoon, I am already at Ecoland terminal, waiting for my bus to leave Davao.
After work, we sometimes hang out at a friend’s house, or we ate dinner together. We played Starcraft a lot! I guess we had a lot of plans at that time, like going to the beach or another type of adventure. Unfortunately, they didn’t materialize because I was summoned to the Manila office. I thought the request was a killjoy. But I realized this was the reason I left UIC.
Cagayan de Oro was a favorite city of mine. As a kid, we go for summer vacation prelude to the exciting Bohol adventure. For some reason, I remember urging my mother if I could study high school there. But the idea was frowned upon, and now I can’t imagine why I made that absurd request. Apart from meeting my relatives (mother’s side), my job in Cagayan de Oro also allowed me to meet my aunt Sylvia a few years before she died of breast cancer.
In the office, we built this e-commerce suite called e-Padala. I thought the system was promising (Oracle database and competent Meg as DBA), but the execution was poor. Procedures were lax at best (not scalable, no strict coding practice, and a nightmare system to take over, from an incoming I was asked to move to Manila to finish things up.
While it wasn’t my first time to go to Manila, I was still mesmerized by its size. I was with Meg, and our manager Deck Pantia reassigned in Philweb in the posh Enterprise Tower in Makati. Staring at tall buildings was overwhelming — not that they’re taller than Hong Kong skyscrapers — and you’d feel you’re a small dot in a big organization. No longer the comfortable going lifestyle I enjoyed at the White House. In Manila, you have to hurry up. Even if our office is just one jeepney — or a tricycle if you wake up a bit late — ride away.
Our staff house was located along Estrella Avenue, near Rockwell. It wasn’t big (in fact we were crowding in the rooms), but good enough for newcomers in the city. It has an air conditioning unit that’s loud enough to wake you up at night. (I have to say many of my housemates snore in their sleep, so if you’re among last to hit the bed, good luck.)
My stay at the Estrella staff house also revealed Metro Manila’s disadvantages. It made me miss Davao City more. One of the strongest typhoons in the year left Manila flooded and us unable to leave the staff house. Ironically, as the water was everywhere down the street, our faucet couldn’t produce a drop of water. We had to rely on bottled water as tap water has become an unreliable source. This reminds me of Davao City, where water flowing out of our tap is safe for drinking, and buying bottled water was considered a crazy idea. And we seldom experience waterless faucets too.
In the morning, colleagues rush to the bathroom and head to work in a hurry. Many of us take our breakfast on the road, or at the fast-food area (notably Jollibee) of The Enterprise Tower. For dinner, I usually eat at the fast-food at Landmark on my own. This made me miss my mother’s cooking. I was always told that in Manila, every move you make costs money. I guess having this dinner instead of enjoying the company of family members and homemade cooking is part of it. A predictable life at the UIC campus in May turned to a new layer of freedom in CDO in July. Then settling in chaotic Manila in September, this could be the break I’ve been waiting for.
If I accomplished something, it did not see the beta version of e-Padala but in landing another job at Zurich Insurance at nearby Citibank Tower. When I told my boss via instant messaging that I have something to share by the time I return to Cagayan de Oro in October, he already understood I was leaving the job. I not only bid farewell to colleagues whom I only got to work with for just two and a half months. I also had to offer goodbye to my aunt Flora and uncle Lito as I packed my clothes and take the evening bus trip to Davao.
March 2019 update: I have reunited again with Rizza here in Sydney. From spending our grade school days at Mintal Elementary School to sharing the same classroom for four years at Holy Cross of Mintal. And from taking up the same course at the University of the Immaculate Conception to working in Philweb, the long and winding road took us 5,474 kilometers to live just ten minutes’ drive from each other.