19 August 2012

Darell Macatangay: A Life of Passion at Microsoft


There was a time when Vilma Santos was Mayor of Lipa City when the Bore Question of the Year that we Lipeños invariably had to answer whenever we visited other cities was. “Kamusta si Ate Vi?” (How is Ate Vi?) Yes, as though everyone in the city rubbed shoulders with her just to pass the time.

And of course, knowing as I did that my former student Darell Macatangay is at Microsoft, despite knowing that I was asking another Bore Question of the Year, I could not resist the temptation to ask if he has met Bill Gates.

“I have not met Bill Gates personally,” Darell confesses. Oh. Pity! Albeit, this was exactly how they would react whenever we said that we were not exactly in Ate Vi’s circle of confidantes.

Darell continues, “The closest that I got to him was back in 2008. I was probably about thirty feet away during one of the employee town hall meetings. This was when he announced his retirement as a Chief Software Architect for Microsoft to focus on his charity work. I remember feeling gloomy that day along with a ton of fellow employees.”

But I have jumped ahead of the plot like a Jason Bourne story. Allow me to properly introduce you to Darell Macatangay, currently managing a team of Software Developer Engineers in Test or SDET’s for MS Office’s online offerings at Microsoft’s Headquarters at Redmond in the State of Washington.

Darell is from the high school class of 1991 and was also in my History class. I also vaguely recall that he tried out for my team but only stayed for a couple of weeks; probably even less. With his dark good looks and debonair charm unusual for a high school kid, it was perhaps best that he chased after ladies rather than footballs.

After high school, Darell enrolled at DLSU to pursue a degree in Computer Science, a quota program at the university. “This was the hot trend at that time,” he explains. “I can still remember Mrs. (Marcia) Guevarra, our guidance counsellor, preaching to us that anything in computers was in such high-demand.”

As a college student, Darell was not far different from how I remembered him to be when he was in high school – a young man who took life seriously; but not too seriously. “I was neither the nerdy nor the blackball type,” he recalls his student days. “I shared an apartment with nine other guys, mostly classmates from high school and close friends. Suffice it to say that we had our own share of drinking sessions, girlfriends, cutting classes and cramming during our four years in college.”

This is not to say that those four years passed by with nothing but mad rushes of testosterone. On the contrary, Darell even as a young man believed in the wisdom of the Biblical quote “There is a time for everything.” He says, “When I had a major quiz, I studied seriously. From my board-mates, I mastered the skills of selective hearing and nuisance blocking.”

In 1995, with his degree in Computer Science secured, Darell went to work for Unisys, an American company that delivers IT solutions to both the private and public sectors. “I started as a Consultant,” Darell recalls, “which was a nice title for a programmer to have.”

He also recalls the Y2K scare that companies the world over had to contend with and how it ensured that there would be no scarcity of computing projects. “My major project was automating the Disability and Retirement Claims process of the Social Security System,” Darell says. His reminiscing is also accompanied by a bit of irony.

“I can still remember the dinner take-outs and late nights coding inside the server room where all of us were freezing because there were like three standing airconditioners cooling a huge mainframe computer that was most likely less powerful than the laptop that I have now.”

All the hard work and self-sacrifice would eventually pay dividends, however. “After two years, I became a Team Leader and managed about twenty developers,” Darell recalls. “I was responsible for the design and development of a computerisation project for the Land Transportation Office (LTO) called the Law Enforcement and Ticket Adjudication System (LETAS). My team back then also was involved in delivering the initial technical designs for a major government bid for the National ID project. The latter, I believe, never came into fruition because it was blocked by Congress.”

Despite a promising career at Unisys, at the turn of the millennium Darell decided to seek greener pastures by migrating to the United States. The Internet was becoming a truly global phenomenon and American companies were in a mad rush to hire tech-savvy employees from abroad to take advantage of this.

“I remember recruiting agencies from the US having full-paged ads in major dailies to attract local talents,” Darell says of the era. “After attending a few talks and doing personal soul-searching, I finally made the decision to pursue a career in the States. After a few interviews both locally and through overseas calls, I got hired by a Company called Cotelligent.”

Darell moved to the United States in April 2000. He was initially based in San Ramon, half-an-hour’s drive from San Francisco in the Bay Area. Cotelligent shouldered his living expenses until he got his first client, which did not take long.

His first client, however, was something of a baptism of fire. “The manager in this client of mine was horrendously micro-managing her employees!” Darell now laughs off the experience. “To be more specific, she did not want her employees to use the phone or a programming book and even at one point asked her employees to log the time when we had to go for bathroom breaks!”

Fortunately for Darell, Cotelligent pulled him from off the account because of non-payment. The experience was three months too long, but it also taught Darell a thing or two about himself and life in a different country.

“This experience taught me so much about being strong and how to stand up for myself,” Darell recalls. “I think that that this also sparked a culture-shift for me, having lived as I did in a traditionally hierarchical culture where whatever was said upstairs was most often the way taken even when it was not necessarily the right one.”

“I wanted to make sure that I gave a good account of myself to the company and not be labelled as whiny or picky with clients,” he continues. “Although I was having misgivings about my decision to move to the States, I stood ground and made sure that I delivered on the project. I remained focused and channelled my energies into my tasks, not on the non-essentials that the manager was asking me to do.”


Other than this three-month glitch, Darell says that he had a relatively easy time adjusting to the American culture. “Having an American-based education and all the Hollywood movies and books that I was exposed to really helped,” he explains. “Actually, I am really proud of this because at Cotelligent, there were also Brazilian, Mexican and European programmers. Our written and spoken English really stood out! Some of my former co-workers envied us.”

In 2003, Darell moved to Bank of America; but this time as a full-time employee. He was hired as a developer and worked on the bank’s Loan Applications System using Microsoft’s emerging technologies like C-Sharp, WebServices and Dot-Net. He only stayed with the bank for a mere two years; but the financial rewards and the work environment were more than what he hoped for that he actually felt secure in the job.

“I remember telling my wife that I would not switch jobs unless it was Microsoft,” Darell recalls. He had taken four exams to become a Microsoft Certified Developer and was obviously enamoured with the technology of the world-renowned company; but little did he know that his own words would be prophetic.

The ultimate challenge to becoming a Microsoftee – as employees of the company call themselves – was, however, in trying to get in. Hundreds of résumés were being screened by the company for each job opening and only the best were called in for interviews.

“The interview loop was gruelling,” Darell elaborates. “I had to go through a Q&A with five managers and developers and I was asked to write code on a whiteboard. It was pretty intimidating knowing that these same people in front of me were experts in programming”


But get in, Darell did! In 2005, he was officially inducted into the exciting and glamorous world of Microsoft Corporation. He went straight into an engineering team that shipped Microsoft Office. Yes, the very same software suite that you probably use to type your documents, send your e-mails or prepare presentations.

As mentioned earlier, Darell is now manager of a development team working on the collaboration software MS Sharepoint; but as it runs in the cloud. “My team’s responsibility is ensuring that when customers sign-up for Sharepoint, that their services will be up and running as soon as possible,” he says. “We develop tools, alerts and probes to ensure that this sign-up ‘pipeline’ is up and running 99.99% of the time worldwide! If that pipeline is broken in any part of the world, you can bet your money that my team will be on it and debugging the issue. Hence, pressure is never in scarcity nowadays for my team.”


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