How Much Does a Toga Cost, Actually?

… Sorry, this isn’t about toga prices. Not literally. But I hope it’ll give you a hint on the price tag of education…

Date of Writing: 2015 April 02

Lots of people wonder why I only graduated today. It was because I could not afford a toga rent in 2013…

Okay, that’s the short version. Here’s the long one:

After high school, I had to wait for 4 years before I could step into college. During the first two years of “waiting”, I was in Manila, working on any job available… housemaid, yaya, sales girl, seafood plant worker, and a beer house waitress (yes, you read it right ).

It was during those years that my eyes opened at how harsh life can be for a mere high school graduate. I would ride jeepneys along with lively uniformed college students, and my eyes would pop out with yearning, my heart green with envy of the opportunity they have.

And then I found a nice man, 18 years my senior, who agreed to send me to college in exchange for an engagement. And so I got engaged and left Manila with a promise: that I’ll never go back there unless I hold a diploma in my hand.

But then my nice man failed to mention that schooling will have to wait (again) until we build a farm for ourselves out of his 10-hectare land. So I became a farmer’s “unmarried wife” for another two years, in the remotest part of Bukidnon province. For the first time in my life, I learned to use the farmer’s tools… plant, care for, harvest, and sell crops and vegetables. I even learned the ways of the wives of local native tribes. We would wait until a harvest is done, and then forage through what’s left in the corn fields, or rice straws after threshing… all under the unforgiving heat of the sun.

The calendar announced 2008 and my “inner monster” refused to wait any longer.

Not even our constant failure of rice and corn harvests or the disapproval of my fiance’s cousins could stop me from enrolling to college. Stepping into the gates of Bukidnon State University for the first time to take up my entrance exam felt like a fairy tale to me. I drank everything in, hungry and thirsty of the scent of school and everything it offers.

But first year was hardly a fairy tale. I would go home to the farm every other week, my little pocket hoping for some allowances, but sometimes there was not enough.

There were days that I’d have to harvest what’s left of the vegetable garden, or catch one or two chickens, carry them with me to the “barrio” (about 4 kilometers walk from our farm) and sell them from house to house, just so I’d have enough fare for a bus going back to the city. Sometimes, a whole week would pass by with only salt and plain rice for meals, but I was just too happy to go back to school that I just shrugged off every hardship thrown at me. Expenses on school projects seemed like a nightmare, but I managed to comply with the help of my then best friend, Kim Delfin, who’s always ready to lend me money.

For my first required summer OJT, I was fortunate enough to have it at “our” municipal hall. Though it meant I won’t need to spend on rent in the city, there was still the challenge of having to walk up to 8 kilometers everyday just to get to the municipal’s Human Resource Office where I was admitted as Computer Operator intern. Sometimes, there would be “little” adventures on the side when it rains hard and I’d have to cross angry rivers (with the aid of that little flashlight at the butt of a lighter) just to get home.

And since floods and “heat stroke” and occasional rice field cobras failed to kill me, I completed my first year in college… but was forced to stop for a year after that because finances were just not enough. I spent that year with my mom, whose employer opened a plant branch in Surigao City, and so I worked again as a seafood piece-rate worker.

After a year, “inner monster” woke up again and refused to stay any longer with the lobsters and frozen octopus…

When I came back in 2010, I faced the challenge of adjusting to a new batch of “alien” classmates, getting envious with my former batch mates who were already a year ahead of me… and still struggling with tuition fees. My pockets almost gave up again by just the end of first semester. Making things worse, I became a victim to robbery that left a minor knife scar on my neck.

But I refused to get crushed by circumstances and converted them to stepping stones. As soon as the culprit was caught, the native “Datu” who settled the crime demanded a sort of “damage fee” from the culprit’s family. And that damage fee became my tuition fee for the second semester! What better way to end a “tragedy”, don’t you think?

By the end of 2nd semester, It all seemed to me that two years is all I could afford to complete… until one of my classmates stopped schooling, and I became her successor to a scholarship (all thanks to Ma’am Marilou Ondap Espina who recommended me, and to then VPAA Dr. Cornelia T. Partosa who admitted me to the scholarship program).

I managed to pursue my two remaining years through the big help of Negros Navigation Scholarship.

Then came my Internship in OXIOR Inc. (formerly Doworth Corp.) in Cebu City. Because I could not afford to take my two required summer OJTs during my 2nd and 3rd year, I had to take all three of them in OXIOR, including the 490-hour internship. I finished after 8 months (by the end of August, 2013), the reason why I could not graduate together with my classmates in March that year.

A hard work rewarded, the company hired me immediately after my internship. I grabbed the offer, since I didn’t have any money to come back to Bukidnon anyway, which became the reason why I could not graduate in 2014, either.

Then came my regularization at work. With my supervisors, Sir Kenworth Sicsic and Ma’am Nympha Espanueva in all-out support, and with my ever instant “credit card” mom and all-time hero, Rachel Descalso, I managed to earn my keep and finally able to squeeze this day into my schedule… and budget.

Then there’s still the battle with INCs that greeted me as I stepped back into Bukidnon – unreconciled responsibilities caused by my 2-year absence. But all thanks to my understanding mentors, and with the ultimate support of my amazing chairperson Ma’am Rozanne Tuesday Gonzales-Flores, my name has finally joined the list of candidates for graduation… literally, in the nick of time!

And… that’s it.

I am 7 years late in wearing this toga. It’s been a long wait, but it’s all worth it, because now I can officially claim that I am Rose Eden S. Descalso, a graduate of BS Information Technology.

… and now that everything’s said and done, you may now forget my real name and go back to calling me Flame Denise! Thanks for reading 🙂

IT Career: From Highest to Lowest Peak

I was at the highest peak of my IT career. In just a span of three years, I rose from being a lowly intern to an IT department head. From merely accepting tasks assigned by project managers under my first job, I was called by another company. It offered a much more promising mission. I was designated to spearhead the establishment of their pioneering IT Department. I transitioned from being a developer to managing other developers. My carefully-invested patience in building my portfolio was finally starting to pay off. My ultimate IT career goal (or so I thought, then) was finally starting to take shape. Until, it all had to be put to an end.

When I started with the new company, I really believed I was, at last, headed to where I was always meant to go. But then complications, one by one started to reveal themselves. The environment proved to be less conducive for us programmers to perform at our best. No, I’m not blaming the company for it. It was only proving itself true to its nature – a call center company by roots.

What Kills an IT Programmer?

Rules and more rules sprouted like mushrooms one after another. I’m not saying that rules are bad, but with the best programmers, they’re like devil’s snare vines coiling into our necks, choking all creativity out of us. You know what devil’s snares are? The more you struggle, the more it strangles you. Programmers will never be “friends” with devil’s snares. That’s because the more we conform and “stay still”, the less effective we get. Freedom is not just a capricious demand of IT programmers, as what most ill-informed managers claim. Freedom is vital to our survival. It’s an irreplaceable booster to the healthy growth of our IT skills. And with our skills growth comes company growth, to put it simply.

As the then member of the leadership team, I attempted at my best in contributing some “programmer’s blood” to the company’s veins. But its “call center DNA” proved to be stronger, and prevailed. It was then that I have realized, it’s time to open the exit door, to let the light shine in. Devil’s snare hates light, after all…

The Fall of the Great and Mighty IT Witch

Okay, enough with the Harry Potter metaphors. What I mean was, as much of a waste it may seemed, I had to throw it all away. You know, to make room for the right things, if not better ones. I’ve come that far, yes, and believe me, it was not easy reaching that level of my IT career. But I knew I had to let go of everything. I had to stop, retrace a few steps, take another route. This, and mixed with all other factors (which I no longer have the pleasure of putting into words), I quit my second IT job.

It felt like hitting rough, solid ground. It felt like clipping my own wings while on the top of a flight, and not having any other choice. It was a very painful descent, and I “bled” terribly, not to mention a great sense of loss clouding over me. But again, I had no other sensible choice.

It was my first taste of a “career death”.

How an IT Career is Revived

Luckily, there’s reincarnation in the IT career world, or so I claim for myself. As dead as it made me feel, I was determined to get it over with, fast. So I treated my “fall” as a go-signal, to start on my long overdue plan of finally trying out freelancing. During my previous jobs, I was exposed to finding, negotiating, and communicating with clients online. It was so much like freelancing, only with a company in between who receives the client payment and allocates a fixed salary for me. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from it and intended to use that learning on my now lone IT career path.

I was already on my second week of finding clients – browsing on Craigslist, OnlineJobs, LinkedIn, and sending applications via email and Skype. I got my first client who gave me some short, part-time projects. But despite that, some hints of frustration were starting to crawl up on me. Two weeks, and I still haven’t got at least half of what I owe my mom for buying me a brand new laptop and LTE connection.

And TopTal Comes Into the Picture

It seemed that my online sources were not big enough on freelance job listings, so I searched further. Then, I came across this article about The 15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs. Some websites I’ve used way back on my employed days were there, which was not a surprise, really. What caught my attention was Toptal on rank 2. I mean, it’s the first time ever that I’ve heard (or in this case, read) such a name, and it’s ranked second on that list?! Was I really that outdated, or what?

In other words, it made me plain curious, so I checked it out. I found an application form on their website, completed it, and then got this some kind of a tip that writing a blog (like this one) would actually increase my chance of getting hired (or was that ‘getting approved’?).

Anyway, this happens to be in my favor, since I’m into blogging, so I thought “Why not?”. Besides, I was impressed by Toptal’s line of featured clients in their website. My, all those big names! Only a laid-back programmer would not drool over the thought of working with them! And I am, after all, as ambitious as it gets when it comes to furthering my  IT career. Well, given that I don’t end up in another environment packed with Devil’s Snares, of course.

And Now to Prepare for My Own Rebirth…

I may have fallen hard, but I believe it was all worth it. There’s just so many online opportunities out there. Glittering like fireflies, they’re waiting to be caught by freelancers and freelance wannabes. Some of those are offered by Toptal, big time! And oh, it doesn’t really matter if I don’t have wings right now. I’m certain I can still catch the right “fireflies”. All I need is a sturdy net made out of strong skills, perseverance, and the right attitude.

One of these days, I shall claim my own name in the freelancing world, and my wings will grow back, once more. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to that TopTal interview, and that glorious day when I can finally be a part of the Toptal Web engineers network.

And if it doesn’t happen, well, I’d still have this article added to my writing portfolio. Nothing’s wasted.