Our journey as a species is intertwined with our ability to communicate with each other. From the hieroglyphs of Egypt and the Cuneiform writings of Mesopotamia to the lightspeed technology that we are harnessing in the form of data exchange between computers and computer networks with the ability to access information and communication channels through a graphical user interface using what we now call the World Wide Web.
Websites. I can still clearly remember the first time I published my very first website on the internet. Back then our city and perhaps even our country; the Philippines was at its peak when it comes to making money from the technology we called the internet. In fact, our entire nation was infected with what I would like to call the internet cafe golden era.
In almost every block of every major city of the Philippines, you will be able to spot an internet cafe fit for every kind of socio-economic class. Every kid from each corner of the city in several instances would have stayed inside an internet renting shop for educational purposes but more often than not, for entertainment.
Whether it was to watch videos, listen to music, connect on social media, speak to a relative, or chat with friends from different places; everybody was there to pass whatever time they had inside these internet hubs.
It was quite a revolution. But for years, there was quite a dominant movement inside these shops. One where loud noises; of thuds, clicks, laughter, and screaming voices. Of beeps, dings, blurps, and swooshes.
In my beginning
My fascination for computers started when I was 8 years old. My mom’s first computer was a 386 DOS PC and my Dad just bought a gaming console called “The Family Computer”.
My mother was a programmer for a company called Pilipinas Kao. So early on, I knew how to operate a computer even without the use of Windows as an operating system. I loved the idea and feeling of being able to write stuff by pressing keys and seeing the letters instantly appearing on the screen and yet when you make a mistake, you are able to just press the delete key and just redo everything.
While on the gaming console, you can play a game and when you use up your life, usually in threes; you can just restart and do it all over again by making sure you do not do the same mistakes. I never knew how much significance that would bring to my character and values in life. Whether for better or worst; it will always be a part of me.
I always loved the feeling of starting fresh or the excitement of doing something again and again until you master it enough that you move to the next level or perhaps finish what the platform has to offer as a challenge. Even the idea of starting and learning anything that is new would excite me.
When I discovered save codes within some of these gaming systems; I then realized you could save your progress and go and continue when you are ready. Quite remarkable I must have thought to myself.
I could stay in front of a screen for hours upon hours either playing a game from a console or some sort of typing game where the letters, words, and sentences would fall from the sky and you stop them from hitting the ground by shooting them with some sort of a gun by typing them on your keyboard.
Hooked I was from the very start! Even the activities I would get from computer books and classes teaching an application called Wordstar would glue my end on a chair for long moments at a time. It was something that made me feel somewhat… Happy.
Addiction causing Addiction
Our house was never what I would call normal for several reasons. But aside from being a family in a third-world country, we were your typical Filipino family. A hardworking father, a loving resourceful mother, and 3 siblings who are in school.
But I guess it is not as simple as how it sounded. There was a rift inside our household that is caused by something way darker, and dare I say vividly too familiar among a lot of families no matter where you are from.
I am not blaming anybody but rather, for myself and my readers to understand the why’s of my story it was worth mentioning. I believe the circumstances of each person’s life are somehow a result of what their environment was when they were growing up and how they could either use it to improve their character and somehow learn not to spill their toxic behaviors onto the next generation, being their children.
But for some reason, my love for computers and computer games became an addiction when I started deliberately missing school because I wanted to just spend the entire afternoon on a computer. Forgetting anything that was happening around me at that time.
Like all types of addiction. I felt it was an escape from reality. But because I was a kid, I did not know better and I had no inkling that the root of my addiction was my unconscious desire to train my brain not to think about what was going on in real life.
Not Finishing High School
I was always one of the best in my class when it comes to computer subjects and honestly, it was a great feeling. Most of my classmates would ask for help once I was done with an activity and during quizzes, I was one of the 1st ones to finish first and get good grades.
From elementary to high school, the computer class was my favorite. Not only because I found it easy but because I already had a passion for it. In my opinion, excelling only came naturally when you like what you are doing.
But my addiction to that feeling of being one of the best, paired with the travesties that were going on at home with my parents would almost cause me not to finish high school. For months on end, I would pretend I was going to school but in reality, I was going to internet shops and spending my entire day’s allowance playing.
Sometimes I would not even have money to eat or even pay for transportation to go home. Come to think of it, I am amazed that I could stay from 8 am-4 pm and actually play more than I could even afford to. Most of the time I would even flee a computer shop without paying and the attendant will not notice it. This would go on for weeks sometimes even a month.
Then I would go attend school again, make a fake excuse letter with a forged signature from my mother, give it to our school’s prefect of discipline, and get punished by cleaning around the school, then attending classes again to the surprise of my classmates and teachers.
I was nearly expelled from my high school when they all found out I was skipping classes during my cousin’s party. It was probably around late march 2001. My aunt, her mother; used to teach at the same school and all her former colleagues attended the party.
One of the teachers saw my mom go inside the women’s room, followed her, and asked her why I was no longer going to school.
That was all she wrote.
I graduated high school during the summer taking Physics as a summer class to officially pass all the other subjects that I flunked because of missing a total of 2 months during my senior year.
6 Unfinished Courses, 3 Universities & A Final One More Chance
Funny enough, I was able to enroll in one of the best if not the best private university in our city. I got in and would take up a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. During the first 2 months, I attended classes, studied, learned, passed assignments, took exams and basically was a good student or at least tried to be one. All seem to be going well in school but life at home was almost in total contrast.
My memory fails me, it seems to have been a different lifetime now that I am writing this. I cannot recall what exactly was going on or what significant moments happened when. But what I am sure about is that several of these occasions were celebrations; either a birthday, Christmas, or New Year, and the gods of alcohol will take over ruining the night and making the ordeal seemingly worst than it usually was the day after.
This would go on almost forever from my perspective. I would get back into the habit of not attending classes right after midterms when I had already gotten good enough grades. Perhaps to prove to myself that I could get them and then disappear into the abyss of gaming addiction.
So year after year I struggled in showing up to school and if I did show up most of the time my mind was elsewhere.
After the 6th course that I failed due to absences, I decided to go back to a computer-related one. The year was 2008. So here I was in my 7th year of being in college. Already 23, had gone to 3 universities and now I was back to square 1.
Perhaps motivation has dawned on me from time to time but I guess the damage caused by addiction and the familiar echoes of shattered fragments in our family overshadowed any light that I thought was inside me.
Learn to love what I learn
I am lucky. I am thankful. I was cured.
Well, for the most part of it.
The last college I was in was probably the one that I learned from the most. Perhaps it was because of the interesting characteristics the professors had. Or maybe it was because most of the students were similarly on the same road that I was; coming from different colleges and courses that they did not finish themselves.
Whatever it was, I finally did start finishing entire semesters and did not fail all the subjects due to absences. The school was different. It had 3 trimesters that run for 3 months each and almost no minor subjects that did not involve computers.
Even when we were out drinking during breaks in between classes, me and my closest classmates would go back to school, finish that one last subject, and then go back to drinking again after it was done.
During one of our classes, the teacher told a side story about one of the best alumni from the past graduates of the school. He told us that this guy was earning around twenty thousand philippine pesos for every website he developed for a client and he could finish it in 1-2 weeks’ time depending on the number of pages or bells/whistles the website would have.
In my head, that story stuck like glue on paper.
Weeks perhaps months pass going to school and I was now learning or had already learned basic HTML, a little CSS, and some Photoshop because I was interested and was already somehow curious about building websites by that time. I knew that after learning these, I was ready to learn PHP programming to completely understand and learn how to build a dynamic website when the cousin of my girlfriend during that time said to both of us: “When you got the time please visit my blog and just look around, perhaps click on one of the ads on the sidebar to help me earn some money from Google Ads.”.
I was honestly stunned and perhaps baffled. I was stunned because I did not know you could earn money through ads from a blog. I was baffled for this guy was only in his 1st year as a computer student, although he was also my age, and he was earning money from a website!?
I asked him: “How did you do it?”.
I can still hear him say the words in my head.
He shouted: “WordPress!”.
WordPress was the word and it was good
As clear as the text editor that I am writing these words on; I can still see myself on my uncle’s old office computer researching what the nucking futs is WordPress, what exactly could it do and where can I learn how to build dynamic websites using it.
I also asked a lot of questions that night to the guy who told me about it.
How do you earn from the ads?
How do you make sure people visit your website?
How do you increase your earnings from the ads?
That was my introduction to Search Engine Optimization or SEO and Pay Per Click or PPC. Well, at least the concept of both that is. It was early 2010.
With this newfound interest in building websites, I dove deeper and deeper into learning just how to do it from designing a mock-up in Photoshop, slicing it up using HTML and CSS, and all the way to developing a custom theme in WordPress by creating PHP templates where API hooks would control the algorithm within the back-end and display whatever data or information on the browser. I downloaded pirated copies of full courses from learning websites and focused as much as my ADD brain could.
By this time I was still playing computer games every once in a while and going out with my classmates to drink in bars every weekend. But because I was also dedicated to really becoming a web designer/developer, those times of spending hours upon hours playing games on the computer was slowly but surely getting replaced with hours upon hours of learning and applying what I learn in trying to build my first ever website.
I was on the verge of convincing myself that I am going to be a web designer/developer to earn money for a living and perhaps secure a future for myself and start a family of my own.
A Mother’s Heart
Here I was 25 years old still in college and was just starting to find out that I could become a web designer/developer and build websites to earn some dough when I decided I wanted to write a blog about the journey I was currently taking. Somewhat premature in my opinion but it took a lot of guts, dedication, and support from my mother to take what I consider the first step of becoming a beginner Web Designer and Developer.
Launching my very own website/blog on the web!
I convinced my mother to loan me some money so I can buy a free domain that came along when you bought a shared hosting account on JustHost.com. I told her that I could write blogs about web design and development while still learning how to build websites. She said yes even when she knew I was still a beginner without hesitation because I guess she saw that I finally got something that I am very passionate about aside from computer games, that is.
You can still read my first (cheezy) blog post on Wayback Machine from 2010 and see how I sucked at writing and definitely at building websites back then but we all start as beginners in virtually everything we try to learn. Guts, dedication, willingness to learn and support from the people who care for us are what it takes to improve on anything.
So in a sense, I started writing even before I truly became a web designer/developer. I felt like its a way for me to express myself and let my creative juices flow through writing about this new passion for website creation. But my limiting beliefs included the question of if my fellow students would perceive me as trying to impress the teachers which I really did not intend to do.
I even wrote and perhaps inadvertently coined a quote about it: “Design to Express, Not to Impress” on Chris Coyier’s Quotesfordesign.com website. For some reason, it stuck, and other designers in different industries started sharing it. Maybe they felt the same way I did.
As soon as I launched the website that I designed from scratch using Photoshop, HTML, CSS, and WordPress, and wrote a few blog posts I began to feel really good about myself. It really felt like a genuine accomplishment at that time when I was still in school. I was moving away and breaking free from my game addictions and finally starting to see some hope of a promising career.
Finally, I began to mention my blog on Facebook showing it to my upperclassmen who by that time, were already teaching classes in school subjects such as PHP and Photoshop for graphic design while doing part-time side jobs online for a Danish SAP Programmer.
Just a few weeks after they saw my blog, they recommended me to their Danish boss as a Web Designer/Developer. I was contacted, and we spoke over Skype I showed him my blog and I got hired!
Talk about how fast things could happen when everything aligns for you.
Gigs and Pays
The first email I ever created with the purpose of using it for a job was a Gmail account with my last name and first name as the username, and I am still using it now! 12-year emails. Talk about the sentimental historic messages I must still have in there, haha!
This first gig I got as an online worker paid me 250 US dollars to work for a maximum of 30 hours a week without time tracking. So for me, it was the best first job ever! In all honesty, I did not have to clock in the entire 30 hours and I would still get paid the same compensation while I was still a beginner learning things around the web development space.
It was like getting paid while you were still in school, which I was I guess… still in school at that time trying to balance everything that was going on. Having to attend classes and at the same time work on websites while honing my skills doing it. Come to think of it, the majority of online jobs start out that way.
After 6 months or so, the guy who hired me started running out of websites that he could assign me to work on. So we parted ways and I started joining job portals like Onlinejobs, Odesk, and Elance with just a few websites on my belt, and less than a year of experience I was at the infancy of my web design and development career timeline.
Perhaps in more or less a month, I then got hired for a full-time work-from-home job via the Onlinejobs.ph platform. Worked tirelessly for several months and once I saw that I could earn more by quitting my current job and applying for a new one that is offering a higher pay rate for the same kind/amount of work, I began to do just that. I mean how can you blame me I was grinding hard, learning new skills, and needed more to improve my lifestyle.
I finally got my first Odesk job offer from an Australian digital marketing company that offered me USD6/hour working 30-40 hours a week which drastically improved my earnings and got me to a place where I could say that my life is getting better financially and I could start to afford to regularly buy groceries and basic necessities for our household and even afford clothes that I couldn’t buy before and go to places I never dreamt of being able to go. That was when I really started to call myself a web designer/developer.
Building websites for hours, days, and weeks over months.
By the near end of my 2-and-a-half-year stint as a web designer/developer for a company in Australia, I was already earning USD 10/hour and working full-time when everything started to fall apart. I was no longer as motivated as I was, I started having anxious thoughts and underwent depression.
Not just because I was living alone most of those days, or the disoriented family I came from but because less than a year before I quit that job, I lost someone dear to me and that knocked the wind out of my tank.
Dealing with Darkness & Career Challenges
I felt lost yet again. The next few years were full of ups and downs. Trying to recover from my seemingly growing depressive disorder only to get back into it time and time again. Even when I started dating again, I still felt that emptiness inside me.
It is still there scratching at the back of my mind. A gut-wrenching feeling that is gnawing at my existence. Perhaps I have grown to accept it.
Like a deep dark well, I was struggling to crawl out of that familiar sensation that dwells inside me. I realize now that I might be forever in a dance with depression only to deal with it over and over again. But the most frightening thought is the tendency of reflecting the darkness onto someone else, unconsciously and unintended. To my life partner, to my daughters.
During those type of days, I was still working as a Web Designer/Developer for a few clients I met along the way from different platforms. Sometimes I felt like I could do this forever, and sometimes I thought of giving it all up.
The challenges that I was facing did not only involve the long and tedious task of designing websites from scratch but also the hours of coding that would require me to finish a project with the fear of getting too long out looking at a project, getting bored and the possibility of dropping the ball any time.
But then Divi was launched. A WordPress page builder from Elegant Themes. It made my process of designing to developing a website much faster, easier, and more efficient. I fell in love all over again. I joined the Divi Facebook groups, bought a lifetime license, and started putting out websites like a madman.
Freelancing for Freedom
Once I got more and more projects and clients coming in, it became evident that I had to become a full-time freelancer. I believe it was the 20th of April 2018 when I started. I had 2-3 agencies sending me regular monthly white-label projects and businesses contacting me from referrals who are direct messaging me for businesses either through social media or emails.
Around that time, I built my third website for my portfolio/ digital marketing collaboration idea. For any client who needed services that were above my pay grade, I would collaborate with friends who are specialists and deliver the project under my “agency”. Everything was going well for me and had a good profit for a few years which included the 1st year of the dreaded pandemic.
As a freelancer who had an entire team of collaborators helping me fulfill projects from graphic design, logos, videos, animations, copywriting, social media, and SEO; I was able to help out more clients and provide services that were far above my skill set. All I had to really do was communicate, strategize, and conceptualize with the clients while still working on websites myself. Together with an apprentice to who I was teaching web design and WordPress, we built dozens of websites and managed the projects working with the team members who specialize in the other services I offered.
I got to refine my own skills in copywriting, strategy, conceptualization, design, storyboarding, social media, and SEO but the skill that I really wanted to learn the most was Brand Strategy. So I started following the best of breed in that area. I knew I was going somewhere.
I grossed 6 digits in Philippine money every month in sales. Went on to buy me a car, and could now afford to live in a better & safer community. Was able to go to more places that I wanted to visit within the country with the people I cared for. This was the result of my hard work, dedication, and years of struggle.
I really thought I was up for it.
But then my inexperience in managing teams, inability to manage project timelines, the overwhelming amount of projects that were coming in, and my unfocused, misguided, unchecked, unmentored, and uninspired work were bound to cause one of the greatest mishaps if not the worst failures of my entire career.
Failing but always learning
Because I was doing so well, I forgot a few of the most important things you need to keep in mind when it comes to the industry of information technology. And that is to :
- always learn new skills so you can evolve,
- find a mentor who can help you learn faster,
- find a community that can give you support, motivation, and direction,
- and perhaps join a group that could act as accountability buddies.
Gradually I started losing clients by the end of the lockdowns. Some of them from my own shortcomings and some of them decided to hire in-house, but all of them I take full responsibility for and realize that all the mistakes that I have done as a freelancer, as a service provider, as a manager, as a team leader, as a creative and as someone who was trusted to fulfill a promise has come biting me back in the buttocks. I failed once again.
By the end of the 3rd quarter of 2022, I decided to reassess my journey as an online worker and as a freelancer. This was the only job I knew. This was my first job and most of my days, I thought I could do this until I retire.
Maybe I needed to take a break from building websites and perhaps try a new career, but what would it be? I really had to look inside myself and ask what I want to do for the rest of my life or at least while I am re-igniting, and reforming my love for web design and development.
I also thought perhaps I could teach beginners how to build websites even without coding. Because ever since the invention of page builders such as Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Divi, which I have been using since its launch at the end of 2013; I knew that anybody can build an aesthetically sound and effective website with the right guidance and mentorship even without learning how to code. So I enrolled in an online course that teaches you how to create an e-learning course and how to coach people online.
Perhaps another form of media that I am also excited about and have a great depth of passion for would motivate me even further. With that, I will be creating a YT channel that aims to help Filipinos learn how to build websites with perhaps little to no coding at all and perhaps how to become better online workers or freelancers. Guide them so that they will not make the same mistakes I made.
With that spark of motivation, I pushed myself to also start reading and for the first time in my entire life, I finished a book. A small feat for anyone, but for me who probably has ADD, it is quite a milestone accomplishment. The book was about Branding called “The Brand Gap” written by Marty Neumeier; who is one of the pioneering Brand Strategists in Silicon Valley with clients such as Apple, Netscape, HP, Adobe, and Google. That was when it dawned on me that perhaps I could start giving back to the community.
Learn from my mistakes, carry on, and just start writing.
Having started my own family during the pandemic and just November last year, my second daughter was born. This gave new meaning to what my purpose is on this Earth. I had to dig deep and look at the mistakes I have done, learn from them, move forward, and become a better version of myself, once again.
As I was going through job posts on Onlinejobs Philippines, I saw a post looking for content-writing virtual assistant experts and stumbled upon the videos of Dennis Yu, the founder of Blitzmetrics. As I watched his videos, I began to feel something in my gut. Something that I haven’t felt for a very long time.
Probably the most significant and resonating statement that Dennis said in that video was the argument about the need for universities. When his guest talked about Google replacing universities as learning institutions, he politely said that: “You need universities not for the information, but for the mentorship, the accountability, and the structure.”
Bravo! I slowly clapped because although I never finished college, my desire to understand and know the causes of my flaws, shortcomings, failures, and my fluctuating work ethic as a Web Designer/Developer has come to fruition. Dennis with that single statement; validated the fact that I never did have a mentor, I never learned accountability and how to have structure, and this is all because I did not understand what the school system’s true purpose is and what’s it about! Thank you, Dennis!
I got very curious and wanted to learn more about him. Wondered if I could learn from him so that he can mentor me and perhaps help me become the best that I could be in relation to the industry we are both in. I did not care if it was for SEO, writing, or digital marketing as a whole. So I challenged myself, I said “I have to write an article about my 12-year career as a Web Designer/Developer and perhaps show that article to him along with my application.”.
Focusing on that goal, I decided right then and there that I should write it in one go. I don’t care if it would take me the entire night and honestly it did take me until 6 am in the morning. But I felt it was all worth it.
Writing helped me put my thoughts into reality and express my feelings in words. Lastly, similar to the first time I published a website that I created, seeing it live on the internet; I was immensely passionate again about something that involves creative thinking.
Good morning Philippines!
Now I am exhausted in this attempt to write a long-form article about my career and life experiences in a nutshell.