WILLY BRIONES Class 64
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Like many of us, my last year of high school was plagued with fears of what the future may bring. I knew I would surely miss my classmates and best friends of at least four years, but deep within I was more concerned with what to do with my life, let alone figure out the grueling task of deciding what career path to take. My parents made the first step for me: "You are going to college!" Yes, I had to go to college because my parents said so. Is this what growing up meant? I was barely sixteen, unaware of my potentials and aptitude. To make matters worse, I had no guidance or suggestions from anyone. My older brother and cousin of the same age were similarly lost, so they were no help. I did not know what my parents had in mind – it must have been a leap of faith or an unfounded trust that I could make the right decision. After all, it seemed to have been a natural progression in a kid’s life since I, largely on my own efforts and without any seeming failure, had gone through kindergarten, primary school, elementary school, high school – and now, college!
Decisions, decisions – what now, what to do, where to go from here!
There was no one to turn to for help. We had a guidance counselor in high school whom I had never met but often saw walking up and down the hallways. He was seemingly more concerned with those overstaying in the bathrooms, sneaking out of school, or sneaking in late into classrooms. Oddly enough, I found it interesting that he was also checking if the hemlines of the girls’ skirts were above the knees. Oh my, such moral virtues during my youth! My greatest fear of him would have been banning the girls P.E. bloomers since they were way above the knees! It would have been devastating to the boys’ favorite past time of ogling at the girls during P.E.Nonetheless, it was up to me to miraculously devise my path for the future. And what would have been the basis of this enormous task? Why, of course it would have been my thorough ignorance of potential careers out there, preferred universities and their specialties, the demands of the economy, the trends and emerging demands in various sectors in society, etc. Oh, who was I kidding, a naïve boy like me who just barely survived life and was still struggling hard to hang on to my mother’s hemline! How the heck did the previous graduates do it?
Decisions, decisions, decisions!
And the best approach then available to me – obviously, simple osmotic pressure from my classmates who were in the same state of limbo. We listened to the suggestions of anyone who talked the loudest and, to our lazy and timid senses, the most sensible. Many of us decided to take the entrance exams to Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines. Ateneo, for the first time, opened its doors for the possibility of downtrodden rascals like us to utilize the educational opportunities of the bourgeoisie. The last few months at Arellano must have been spent on reading encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines, history books, and any other materials we could lay our hands on to prepare ourselves for the entrance exams. Our parents would have been proud of our spending more time in the library than the previous three and a half years of high school.Finally, the first entrance exam came at Ateneo. On an early morning, after a hearty breakfast, I met up with friends and took the bus to Ateneo. I felt my stomach churning from the unfamiliar environment where I felt somewhat out of place. There must have been hundreds of us, which made me wonder of my odds in getting accepted and if this was a useless effort. A week or so later, the same scenario was replayed at the University of the Philippines, although I felt a little more at ease after experiencing the grueling tension at Ateneo.As time passed waiting for the exam results, I began to think how I would have managed to go to school in either university. The first thing that bothered me was waking up at 5 or 6am to get to an 8am class. It seemed like a lot more efforts compared to what I was used to – playful walks to schools that were less than two miles away as I spent half the time window shopping or looking at the advertisement photos of movies currently shown in theaters. There were at least five theaters, depending on the route I took to Arellano – Pearl, Scala, Galaxy, Odeon, and Cinerama; or stopped by the bookstore and browsed through the Classic Illustrated comics! This time I had to wake up early to take a bus ride! Before then, the only time I had taken the bus was the La Mallorca Pambusco to go home to Pampanga. And why was I just looking at these two universities when there was FEU, UE, PSBA, UST, FEATI, Mapua, Normal, etc. - many of which were within two miles from where we lived. I did not know any better! For heaven’s sake, we lived within the university belt of Manila! The osmotic pressure from my classmates did not specify these other colleges and universities; instead, I was set up to wear blinders and not see beyond what we talked about or heard – so how would I have known to have chosen these options? I was just flowing with the tide – more of a tidal wave!And before I can agonize any more on my college future, the test results came – and yahooooo! I passed both exams and got accepted at both Ateneo and UP! I showed the letter to my parents with pride and glee, flaunting my seeming accomplishment. But somehow this only reinforced their "confidence" in me that I knew what I was doing in preparing for college. Now I dug myself deeper in the mire!Suddenly I was faced with burning questions. What courses should I take? What were the course offerings in the first place at these universities? How could I find out? And suddenly an intense bright idea came from one of my classmates – he heard about the book-like prospectus! It should show all the courses and corresponding classes! And so we made prospectus runs! And the next burning question was what else to do? How does one chose a course?I mentioned to my dad in passing that I wanted to take medicine. Immediately, I was shut down: "That will take ten or twelve years." Hmmmm, a few days later, I mentioned, "How about architecture? I seemed to have some talent in the graphic arts." The response was a resounding "no!" And the basis of this "no" – my aunt, the youngest in their family, took architecture at Mapua only to end up a nun!"But dad – I don’t see myself becoming a nun!" I murmured under my breath. It was a crime to talk back to parents under threat of a severe lashing (although I had never been lashed!). I failed to see the relevance of his justification when suddenly my dad blurted, "It is very expensive, you have to buy a lot of supplies! And I do not know about Ateneo or UP – they are very far, you can find another school close by. Your Coya Danny attends UE, which is not too far from here!" Hmmm, there must be some criterion in choosing a school – so far: expenses, distance, waking up early, parents view, and universities that friends or relatives go to – what else?A few days later, my father called my older brother (who just graduated from the Manila Science High School at the same time) and me and sat us down. "I want you two to become engineers. You will take it at Mapua, which is nearby."
"What? Engineer? What does an engineer do – and what field?" But it was too late, the ‘die had been cast.’Dad arrested the agony of making a decision, as he threw me into a spin and a quiet submission to his will. Now I was dazed, unsure of what that meant. I was immediately confronted with what specific field in engineering to take. "I don’t know – how about mining engineering?" Thinking of an uncle who actually taught at Mapua and was a successful mining engineer, luck was slightly on my side for the first two years in Mapua, with my taking general courses geared towards engineering. I did not have to make a firm commitment to any the field of study.
Agony of saying goodbye to our youth
That summer before the college enrollment I spent an evening in Luneta chatting with my best friend. We talked of what the future held for us, our college plans, whether we would still see each other as often as before. His college choice was easier; he was offered full scholarship at Ateneo, which included board and lodging. So he did not go through as much agony in figuring out his future. But much of the time we just laid on the ground watching the vast skies and the moon, both of us struggling with the fear and uncertainty of our future. We also quietly said our goodbyes to a phase in our life – our youth. At sixteen, we were now "men" who had to take an unknown path to our future.The next day, like many summers before, I went to our hometown in Pampanga where I spent the time in deep introspection, trying to sort through what was ahead of me and what I wanted or had to confront. Unable to find a quiet place away from noisy and nosy cousins, I spent a lot of time in the Catholic cathedral of San Fernando. I was actually raised a Methodist, but the Methodist church across the street from the cathedral was often closed. I had to go to the Catholic church instead; after all, I was not in some religious quest. I just needed a quiet place. Almost daily, I was somewhere between the pews either on my knees or sitting, with the sinking feeling of uncertainty. After several weeks, the solace of the church setting engulfed me. I was now entertaining becoming a monk instead! Or maybe I was thinking of an easier way out to my predicament – being a monk would have removed me from all the pressures of these decisions. I must have been clinically depressed. Is this what becoming a "man" was all about? In some form of relief, while in this deep introspection, I was thinking about the beautiful girl next door. I wondered if I could visit to start courting her! Oh no, there were more pressing issues than romance and issues of the heart!
Bottom line- college by hook or by crook
As we grow up, we seem to get fast tracked through the school system. We just sort of surf through until a juncture for certain major decisions have to be made. However, at sixteen we have not matured enough to have a thorough sense of our abilities and aptitudes. Neither do we have access to college planning and counseling or aptitude testing to help us appreciate potential career choices. But still, we had to wrestle with the reality of making the decision – an obvious choice would be college by hook or by crook. That has to be the base line.My son still kids me, asking, "What do you want to be when you grow up dad?" He knew well that after engineering, I took Psychology, then English/Journalism, then started graduate school. I even attempted to get into the ministry. Soon after, I immigrated to the US, with immediate plans of continuing graduate studies. But other more important things overtook my life. Twenty years later, I enrolled in nursing but gave up three years later without finishing. My formal schooling and career path had been a roller coaster and took many turns along the way.But the life lesson I can share is simply: take the grand step forward. Go to college even with the uncertainties of what exactly you want for a career. Careers are made and busted; they get directed and redirected as demands of employment and opportunities are presented. What is important is to have the additional skills and knowledge base that will give you an edge over others. Also, college provides a certain world outlook and social retraining that may be impossible to acquire somewhere else.
My first job in the Philippines was as a psychometrician and later a college guidance counselor (must have been to compensate for the lack of guidance in high school). But when I came to the U.S., I worked as a farm hand (just to survive) harvesting celery in California; after the harvest season, I moved to Chicago and grabbed the first available job - packing merchandise. While doing so, I saw an opportunity in the same company to work on their gift catalog and utilized my graphics and writing skills. There, I learned about printing operations and got exposed to large printing companies that ran Life and Time magazines. I was amazed by the printing technology and the gigantic roles of paper so huge they had to be loaded on the second floor. I was exposed to retouching black and white paper photos and chrome films. I also spent time watching film retouchers do their work while waiting for my turn at the press mill. Two years later, I grabbed an opportunity to work at the Technical Publications of Bechtel (then the largest engineering and construction company in the world). While there, I noticed there was no corporate identity program, which I volunteered to draft. I also noticed that design engineers needed more than just graphic artists or editors to prepare their government-required reports. I volunteered to do their flow and instrumentation diagrams (which consisted more than 50% of the work volume), thereby bringing additional sets of work to the group. I trained other graphic artists on the new tasks. My manager appreciated my efforts to add value to the department.Simultaneously, I was also taking company-offered classes in computers. When I saw the opportunity, I joined the Piping and Instrumentation Group to form the Computer-Aided Design and Drafting Group, where we pioneered integrating computers in designing oil refineries and nuclear reactor facilities. After a while, I was managing the CADDS group and later formed subgroups in other locations.Ten years later, I noticed some uncertainties in the company and heard about FMC Defense Group wanting to form a similar CADDS group, but with applications towards developmental design and production of combat military vehicles. I was hired for upgrading and retraining engineers and system administrators towards enhanced computer systems, a multi-million dollar project. That job exposed me to the designer and producer of the computer systems, Sun Microsystems, which was then sought after for advanced computer systems. They had a very large customer base of mostly Fortune 500 companies. Four years later at FMC, I decided to join Sun Microsystems and stayed with them for 18 years. While learning from the job and taking related classes, I progressed from system administration, system testing, software testing, software validation and internal distribution (through the network), system auditing, and lastly network security. The job also provided the opportunity to get deployed to other countries and I experienced working as an expatriate.
Life lessons to share
Be conscious of the opportunities in your work place. Take available classes at the local community college or internally-offered courses – these will always enhance your skills. Your company management will also see these as a reflection of your interest in your job and the company, and will eventually provide you opportunities not available to others. Many times, I had been offered positions never offered to others.After three years, the dictum says one essentially "conquers" their current job and, thus, gets bored and ceases to gainfully contribute. Look around; there are opportunities abound. Do not be afraid to chase them.Also, never hesitate to perform tasks outside of your job description. Many times, when work was "slow," I walked into the stock room and supply room, rolled up my sleeves, and cleaned and organized. One time, our VP walked in on me and was shocked to find me dirty and sweaty. But that moment got etched into his mind, in that I was willing to do anything to help out, a valuable work attitude. I also found time to help my co-workers out – and when performance reviews that included peer reviews were due, these were brought up and casted me as a team worker.Be aware of trends in the industry and the shifts in the directions of the company you work for. Make sure you are attuned to the requirements of the work environments and necessary changes. Be a resource for others. During my time. I sensed that technological advances in computers were catching on, and I had to find ways to ride through it.Moreover, upgrade your skills constantly. Grasp emerging technologies and skill sets; get the training and jump into it without hesitation. Think of it this way – you do not want to do the same thing over and over, day in and day out!In all the "growing up," do not despair over what did not fully materialize from you set out to be initially. I realized that it did not matter whether I had a diploma in engineering, psychology, English, or nursing – what potential employers looked for is your experience in higher education and the skills you bring in. Most of all, they look at attitude. Bottom line – finishing college is a must. It places you in a higher level of desirability and value from the additional skills and background it prepares in you. And – news bulletin! - graduate school is now becoming a necessity for even more advanced opportunities. Find time to go to graduate school.