My first job out of college

The first job holds a special place in every professional’s career.

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My ego took a blow right after finishing my undergrad back in 2004. I graduated at the top of my class at a top university and expected employers to come racing and tearing down my door with a contract, as if I were a first draft pick star athlete waiting for my multi-million dollar offer. But all I got after two months was a job I hustled to get via email, which I quit after working for two weeks without a contract. My boss was a lawyer by the way. I sent scores of job applications, worked my contacts, and got a couple of job interviews to various organizations: government agencies, NGOs, and an urban planning firm. The only thing they had in common were the rejections and unreturned email inquiries.

Six months later I managed to get a research assistant job for a UNDP-funded sustainable agriculture project, “Enhancing Capacities on Sustainable Agriculture for Poverty Reduction”. I got wind of the job posting from my university organization’s e-group, sent by an alumna who also happened to work for the NGO hosting the project. I was invited for an interview, and reported to work a week or two later.

My commute was more than an hour going to work in Quezon City north of Metro Manila (we lived in the south), which included taking a tricycle (like a tuk-tuk), bus, jeep, train, jeep, and another tricycle. Our office was located in the NGO hub of the country close to the University of the Philippines, not too far from what’s now a popular foodie destination. It took a half-hour longer to travel back home. It was also hotter and sweatier. But those didn’t matter. At last I was a productive part of society; I was employed.

As my title suggested, I was responsible for doing research on the sustainable agriculture in the Philippines. Our project helped train farmers to produce their own organic fertilizers, and eventually assist them shift to sustainable agriculture and link them to the national and even international market. It was challenging work not only because of the complexity of the sector, but more so as it was my first job and specialized in environmental planning, and not agriculture. It turned out to be the first of my many future jobs working on agriculture and agriculturists, from policy, markets, and later on directly with farmers.

When not doing online research, I tagged along with our project manager to attend meetings outside the office. We met with other NGOs to identify any common areas we can jointly work on, or complement each other’s activities. There were also the occasional donors’ meetings to report on progress and issues of our project, and writing news articles for our newsletter.

Perhaps the highlight of my stint with the NGO was flying down south, in Cotabato, where we organized a three-day training for farmers to help them shift to biodynamic farming. I remember eating a lean but just-as-good bacon, and visiting the demo-site where it came from- a pig pen that, believe it or not, doesn’t stink. On our last day I joined some farmers for a hike and took a dip at a hot spring.

I never got to see the end of the project, but surprisingly I found a publication about it online. I handed in my resignation letter after three months to work for the government. It was a short three-month gig. But it was my first job where I received my first salary. It was an exciting first taste of the real world, just like with life’s many firsts.

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This is the first of a series of blog posts where I will write about my previous jobs. If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments section! Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter

Update: This blog post was featured in the online publication The Ascent.

Official homecoming

What was supposed to be an “unofficial” business meeting yesterday afternoon turned out to be a memorable one. I had set a meeting with my former officemate, Grace, to discuss together with my ex-boss, Sir Roel, some developments with a project which I used to work for. This project was, in fact, my first honest-to-goodness job after graduating from college. I asked permission from my division chief to allow me to leave earlier than I’m supposed to in order to make it to a coffee shop in Tomas Morato where we’ll be meeting.

I knew I arrived early although we didn’t agree on meeting at an exact time, and good thing I was accompanied by a geisha, err, at least the memoirs of one distilled in a paperback. I haven’t gone past the foreword of the book yet when they arrived arrived.

My previous job was with a project of an NGO advocating sustainable agriculture in order to achieve the Millenium Development Goals on food security and reducing the incidence of poverty by 2015. I only lasted all of three months in that work, after getting in accepted in what I thought was my ideal job, as a technocrat with the planning body of the government (but that’s another story). After quitting from my NGO job, I still got in touch with Grace from time to time through writing and submitting articles for the e-newsletter of the project.

The kumustahan touched into the goings on in our professional lives, where I learned much later that Sir Roel is already the dean of a college of agriculture in a university in down south. Afterwhich we went down to business and brainstormed on the next steps of the project in the near future. Another writer for the newsletter, Allan, arrived later and joined us in our discussion. We spent almost two hours huddled in the round table, and I could say it was a fruitful meeting. Having been exposed to project planning and evaluation and to some extent to the agriculture sector, I was able to share my thoughts on the conceptualization of a project which isn’t really an easy task to do when you think of solving the woes of the world.

Sir Roel, Allan, and I decided to drop by Grace’s office a couple of blocks away to tie some things up. On my way to use the toilet, I was teleported back to 2004 as I got a glimpse of a makeshift cubicle strewn with some papers on the desk, and got a whiff of brewing coffee, inevitably reminding me of my NGO stint then. For your education, most NGOs in the Philippines make do renting a big house which serves as their office, a far cry from the confines of the corporate cubicle, which is somehow a good thing. I was impressed with this particular office though, because it’s computer network is already “wirelessly interconnected” via a router. I overheard Sir Roel talking to a former colleague on the phone, and said that he’ll be going there later. I thought, why not go with him to see some old faces I haven’t seen in almost two years?

Allan decided to go back to Olongapo, and so Sir Roel and I went off to the other side of Edsa, and was in UP Village after Php67.50 worth of taxi fare. The office has relocated to another house though still in the same village, which I remembered we once visited during our house-hunting sessions then. (The “we” includes everyone from the Executive Director to the Administrative Assistant, and all ten or so of us would cram in the “company vehicle.”). Even if I didn’t establish that much of a relationship with my former colleagues, the reunion with the those present in the office was one of those times that makes one genuinely blurt out “nice seeing you again!” This must be coming from present “official issues” hounding our staff right now, which have become a cause for detachment and some resignation– literally and figuratively.

We made our rounds of personal and professional updates. One who just gave birth a few days before I left them, is now pregnant again with her second baby, while another is resigning to do volunteer work and finish her graduate thesis, and later pursue her dream of studying in the United Kingdom. They have a couple of new recruits who have been with other NGOs as well. They teased me to treat them for dinner which I obliged though we still ended up going Dutch. We had home-delivered chicken and veggies from a restaurant, while we just steamed our own rice like how we have always used to do it during our lunch breaks together. We wrapped up some time past eight in the evening.

The meeting and my unplanned side trip to my previous office was a satisfying way to cap off the week. It may not be your typical Friday night out of drinking and partying, yet seeing familiar faces and reestablishing old ties with those in the development work, provided some temporary foothold and leverage from that slow yet growing pull of confusion and disillusionment.