20 July 2012

Jerome Gotango: Wanted Law; Got IT

Well, we all know what they say about the best-laid plans. Sometimes they can go completely awry. Other times, fate just gives us a little nudge to take us someplace a little different from where we originally wanted to go. That is the joy of the ride, I guess; a.k.a. the twists and turns that life can sometimes bring.

Jerome Gotangco of the high school class of 1991 is now an innovative I.T. practitioner. He was, in 2007, one of the co-founding members of Morphlabs, a company that develops I.T. solutions for private entities using the principles of cloud computing.

In non-geek terms, cloud computing is the delivery of I.T. services, whether software or hardware, which need not be physically located within the confines of an organization that avails of these services.

About Morphlabs, Jerome says, “We started the company in Cebu, but eventually moved it to the United States. The company is now headquartered in beautiful Manhattan Beach CA, with development offices in Tokyo, Manila and Cebu and operations in Singapore. We’ve just announced our latest product called “Helix” during OSCON (open source conference) in Portland along with Media Temple as a key client and Core Site as a strategic partner.”

He adds, “We have some well known industry names in our client list in the US in media and finance; but we’re in strict non-disclosure terms so we’ll leave it at that. In the Philippines, we are partnered exclusively with Globe Telecom. We also have a partner in Indonesia. Most of our clients are enterprises with very high computing requirements, data centers looking to offer on-demand computing ala Amazon Web Services and telephone companies looking into the same market.”

At present, Jerome occupies the position of Sales Engineer. “I bridge the gap between technology requirements and closing a deal,” he says. In other words, he uses his computer savvy to show to prospective clients the viability of software and hardware solutions that will convince them to avail of Morphlab’s services.

He still writes codes; although not as often as he once used to. “Mostly utilities (light software) that I use to prove a point… Let’s say a benchmark or an automated process that would result into usable software; say a blog or a content management system that runs in a distributed application environment.”

How Jerome ended up in the I.T. business is all due to those wicked twists of fate that visits each and every one of us once in a while. He was, as everyone else in this series, in my History class. He was an excellent and well-motivated student; and unlike many of his peers, he thought logically and was not intimidated by the essay type quizzes that I so loved to give his class ever so often.

After high school, he enrolled in San Beda College’s Bachelor of Arts Economics program. “I didn’t plan for Economics; but I did want to take a course related to social science because I felt I wanted to be a lawyer in the future,” Jerome says. “What struck me as a bit odd back then was that even though I was in a Liberal Arts program, I had a ton of Mathematics and Statistics courses because Economics was based on such. By the end of my junior year, a scientific calculator and a statistics/database program were my best friends.”

So, how did he end up becoming interested in I.T.? “When I was doing my thesis, I discovered a programming language called R and used it in my thesis. I guess that was the time when I discovered how powerful computers were becoming. So, after graduation, I took a job and enrolled at the same time in a lot of I.T. and programming short courses that led me to a career in technology.”

Months after securing his Economics degree from San Beda, Jerome took a job doing legal research for Cityland Development Corporation. “I was still pondering taking up law a year after but I got tasked to evaluate a system for legal management that pretty much got me convinced to go into I.T. rather than law.”

Having finally made up his mind about what he wanted to do with his life, Jerome left Cityland and enrolled in various short courses to study about I.T. and software development. “The training was OK; but I had to do a lot of research on my own. The Internet just started to become main-stream, so I got a lot of learning materials online and studied web development and server administration online.”

In 1997, he got his first I.T. job when he was hired as software developer by a Sta. Rosa-based company called Pycon Technology Philippines, a subsidiary of a semi-conductor firm based in Santa Clara, California.

“Exposure to technology was tremendous,” Jerome describes the experience. “I learned a lot about semi-conductors, manufacturing, B2B (business-to-business) and supply chain management and got trained abroad as well. On the side, I got to do a lot of work on free and open source software which we got to use in the facility. I went up the ranks and managed the IT department until 2005.”

In 2005, Jerome joined a start-up company called Gametel as Systems Infrastructure Architect. The company provided mobile content for the Australian market and built back-end server systems that gave content to customers.

At the same time, he was also doing consultancies on open source software development and implementation. This enabled him to meet other people in the I.T. industry who were involved in programs such as Ubuntu, Edubuntu, One-Laptop-Per-Child, Sugarlabs and others.

“Exposure to globally distributed projects,” Jerome says, “such as Ubuntu got me exposed to a lot technologies and methodologies that would prove to be useful for my career, even if I got involved with those projects as a volunteer.”

In 2007, he entered into a consultancy with the ABS-CBN Foundation and reported directly to Gina Lopez, the foundation’s Managing Director. “It was a pretty good experience,” Jerome describes his brief association with ABS-CBN, “considering I hadn’t worked with a non-profit (corporation) before. I took on managing the I.T. department afterwards; but I felt my initiatives were either too advanced or didn’t fit at all with the programs and the overall direction of the ABS-CBN family. I left there early 2007.”

Where does Jerome think the Philippines stand in the world of I.T.? “We’re seeing a lot of technology start-up initiatives; but local venture funding still needs a bit of work. Schools are now catching up, but the government has yet to do its own initiatives. Singapore has been accelerating on this path the last two years after the global recession and seems to be dominating in the region.”

Despite the competitiveness of the industry, Jerome thinks a career in I.T. is still something worth pursuing for the young. “I.T. is a broad space,” he explains, “Right now the hottest ticket is mobile; but there is also I.T. in healthcare, education, consumer, etc. Technology is even changing our social behaviour. So, even if you are not pursuing a technology course, you will most likely encounter a situation where technology becomes part of a social or philosophical enquiry.”

So, what are the rewards and challenges that a bright-eyed fresh college graduate can expect upon entering the I.T. industry? “It entirely depends on the field you want to be in,” Jerome says. Then he adds, “If you want to play it safe, join a big technology firm and be a role player, get paid and excel in the field. Or, you can also build or join a start-up with a very high risk of operations but with the promise of extremely high reward when successful. You know what’s cooler than having a million dollar company? Having a billion dollar company! Innovation matters.”

Jerome is the son of Lilioso and Lydia Gotangco, originally from the municipality of Sto. Tomas in Batangas. Both are currently living in Chicago in the United States with Jerome’s siblings Joseph and Joshua.

Jerome is also a doting husband to wife Gigi and father to his 10-year old daughter Veronica. He once worked alone in LA and still gets offers to work in Singapore from time to time. He has stayed in the Philippines, however, for the sake of his family. “My daughter is growing up so fast I'd rather be with her in the years she needs me and my wife most. My wife and I discovered we’d rather live and move together.”

He collects Legos but also thinks that they have become expensive and somewhat boring. “I listen to philosophy subjects I’m subscribed to with iTunes U. I wish I could find time for basketball or football though; but work, school and family life have been very hectic lately.”

He has travelled a lot; although mostly for business reasons, he says. “The cities I love the most are Seoul, Ho Chi Minh, Sydney, Paris and LA.” All the travelling has enabled him to look at the troubles of his home country in perspective. “I’ve learned that a lot of the countries perceived to provide everything have problems no different from ours. A bum in Quiapo is no different from a bum in San Diego.”

Even in his spare time, however, his mind still sometimes wanders to things related to I.T. “I’m also learning Dashcode in my own pace.” Dashcode is a software application developed by Apple used for creating widgets (a small software application) for Dashboard, a Macintosh operating system.

Hardly surprising, when you come to think about it, because Jerome has been so blessed by the choices in life that he has made, foremost of which was deciding on a career in I.T. His parting shot says it all for him, excerpts from an essay by Paul Graham:

“Don’t ignore your dreams. Don’t work too much. Say what you think. Cultivate friendships. Be happy.”








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