#MakingFilipinxAmericanHistory: 14 Filipinas in Tech
Compiled by Lea Coligado
This October, we’re proud to revive our second installment of #MakingFilipinxAmericanHistory, a celebration of Filipinas who are “making it” in tech despite systemic underrepresentation.
A quick history re-cap: the Filipinx narrative of this past half-millennium is one of violent imperialism, and subsequent displacement. The Philippines were colonized by Spain for more than 300 years, then occupied by the States for another century; Filipinxs consequently comprise one of the largest immigrant groups around the world, and the second largest immigrant group in the US alone. (Filipinxs were actually the first documented Asians to arrive in the US, with the landing of the Manila galleon ship in Morro Bay, 1587!)
And yet, despite a long fabric of American integration, Filipinxs experience systemic underrepresentation in industries like tech, Filipinas in particular experiencing sexism (American patriarchy / Filipino machismo), racism, and intraracial structural barriers like colorism. (According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, Filipinas make 83 cents to every white man’s dollar, while Chinese and Taiwanese women make 103 and 116 cents respectively.)
So with no further ado, we take this special time of year to share 14 Filipinas in tech who are making history here, be that repp’ing us in places we’ve never been before or decolonizing our own beliefs about ourselves.
Lea, Founder of Women of Silicon Valley and proud Filipina (Cebuana/Parañaqueña) American
IT Resident, Google
“Like many Filipino-Americans, I was pigeon-holed by family and peers into pursuing medicine without a thought as to whether or not it was right for me. I struggled in my life science courses and pushed through by blaming my own lack of ability rather than a lack of interest. I constantly tried to convince myself that I enjoyed my coursework, despite my declining grades and increasing apathy.
It wasn’t until I worked in a UCLA computer lab that I discovered my interest in technology. Tinkering with computers guided me toward honest introspection, which led me to pursue a complete switch into tech late in my junior year. It took an immense amount of work and dedication to learn everything that I could about IT, while finishing strong in my classes, but it allowed me to land a great job at Zscaler. From there, I was able to leverage my experience within a fast-paced environment to secure an offer from Google as an IT Resident. I’m currently pursuing yet another transition from IT to UX Engineering and these experiences continue to give me confidence that I can make that next step!”
Product Designer, NEOGOV
“When I was growing up in Japan, my mom took care of me and my siblings while my dad was away on military duty. Some of my happiest memories as a child were when my dad would come back home and some of my most painful ones were when he had to leave again on duty. As I was about to leave for college, my dad received military orders and my family had to move to Guam. It was really difficult being separated from my family during such a tumultuous period of life. I had to learn quickly how to be on my own and the importance of asking for help. Evenutally, I started to feel less alone as the communities that I was involved in became my support system. Through this experience, I learned the value and importance of giving back to the communities that supported me.
Later, when I graduated from college with a Psychobio degree, I struggled with finding my purpose in society. I loved to help people but I wasn’t sure if being in the medical field was truly the right fit for me. As I became more involved in the LA tech community, I felt ignited by the possibilities of product design and decided to take a risk by quitting my job, using all my savings, and attending a design bootcamp. It’s one of the scariest and exciting decisions that I’ve ever made but I’m proud that I trusted my instinct. My experiences as an immigrant, a Filipino woman, and a military child have shaped and influenced the designer I am today. When I design, I think about the voices that aren’t being heard and my responsibility to be their advocate.”
Software Engineer, Google
“In college, my grades weren’t great, and learning new material really did take time. I hated studying with others because I was never comfortable to admit that I didn’t understand something and I didn’t want anyone to notice that I was actually an impostor. I studied by myself and then got poor grades because I didn’t reach out for help. However, when things did click, I absolutely loved it! I loved making things work using ideas that I had come up with on my own. I loved applying things that I had learned to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.
Looking back, I recognize the internalized misogyny that I was harboring. When I was offered an internship at Google, some people said that it was because I was a diversity hire — and I believed them. I thought that there was someone more deserving of my spot, but I had the “upper hand” as a woman of color. I even started to agree out loud with those people, and I hate that I did. This feeling of being an impostor carried into my first few years of working professionally, but what helped send it away were mentors and allies who helped me re-frame my perspective: I saw a person struggling because she felt that she wasn’t supposed to be there, but in reality, I am a person who is adjusting to a new style of work. I can succeed when I think that I can succeed. Today, I overcome my impostor syndrome by remembering that I pave the way for others who might come after me, who also fear that they are impostors. I want to achieve my goals so that one day, I’m in a position to pay forward the mentorship that I was privileged enough to receive.”
Studio Business Affairs, Square
“At an early age, I was fascinated with stories. I loved how books came to life in my head, how movies transported me into alternate lives, how song lyrics somehow knew what I was feeling inside. I knew that I wanted to tell stories, but I wasn’t sure what that might look like. As the daughter of a Filipino Immigrant, I didn’t have permission to follow far-fetched dreams. Instead, my mother drilled into me the idea that having a safe, stable, well-paying career was not only an opportunity but a duty.
Fast forward twelve or so years into said safe, stable, well-paying career and I found myself working in the legal field, an unhappy but dutiful worker-bee. Eventually, I had had enough. I knew that I needed to protect and nurture what little identity I had left — take back my narrative. The first challenge was coming to that realization. The second was figuring out what to do with it. Had I already missed the boat? Was I too old? Did I have a story to tell? What could that look like? I had already wasted so much time that I couldn’t imagine going back to school, which felt like a big step back. I looked at the resources around me and started from there. I took screenwriting classes, worked at film festivals on the side, made friends and found mentors within the filmmaking community, and volunteered on film sets. As I slowly built a different set of skills, I discovered my strengths (and weaknesses). I made it my mission to break out of my legal career and move into filmmaking.
A few years ago, I left my paralegal job at a prestigious law firm and joined the legal team at a fintech company. Fortunately for me, that company not only had a video team but also a strong culture of internal mobility. Within a year, I moved into the creative team, where I was given the opportunity to produce content and learn on the job. I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go as a storyteller, but my new sense of duty to my mother and to my father is to perpetuate my Filipino and Hawaiian cultures through story. I’ve found that my way of honoring my ancestors and seizing the opportunities that my parents worked so hard for, is to follow my dreams.”
Global Solutions Manager, Google
“Losing my dad at the beginning of my career was one of the toughest challenges I’ve overcome. I simply admired him. He was a hard-working immigrant, a cancer survivor, and a proud Filipino-American who retired from long posts with both the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Postal Service. Beyond that, he was a funny guy. I looked to his wisdom and humor for guidance so much that I spoke to him on a daily basis during my lunch break. When I lost him, I found myself in a rut. I was thankful to be employed out of college, but became unhappy at my job. I felt stagnant, and I was living paycheck-to-paycheck. I accepted the routine.
Prior to this, I had continuously (maybe obsessively) aimed for success. My mom is also an immigrant, and the Filipino work ethic is something I inherited from both parents. But when I lost my dad, I lost my motivation. I got through his death with two things: time and a support system. I had to trust that time would help me heal. I had to find strength from the people around me. Through them, I found the motivation to take baby steps. I started applying for jobs, eventually getting hired at Google. Today, years later, I can honestly say my resilience is a product of my friends, my family, and my culture.”
Public Sector Partnerships for Waze, Google
“Having grown up in the Philippines, I learned from a very early age to respect authority, tenure, and position — oftentimes without question. When I started working, I worked in male-dominated industries and it was very easy for me to get overpowered or even ignored in meetings. Back then, I never said “no”. I hardly raised my concerns and I didn’t have enough confidence to ask for what I was “worth”, whether that took the form of a raise, an early promotion, or even just taking a vacation.
While I still consider myself a work-in-progress, I’ve managed to overcome some of these hurdles. I eventually managed to build and lead a cross-functional strategy team, start my own business, and complete projects across several different continents, including Africa. I learned to cope the hard way, by going through moments of intense dissatisfaction (sometimes even anxiety), writing about those thoughts and feelings (I journal), and researching ways to mitigate or remedy the situation (for me this involves a lot of books), before finally discussing my thoughts and ideas with a small trusted circle of family and friends. The last step is particularly important for sustaining efforts around behavior or mindset change — I can’t stress enough how my parents, brother, and best friends have helped me stay the course and not give up.”
Kate F. Magbitang
Student studying Information Systems
“One thing that I have done that I’m really proud of was running for the Vice President position of my batch (class) government. It was something that I never saw myself doing, as I had very little experience in leadership. I’m proud that I ran, as doing so boosted my confidence around people, especially my batch-mates. The experience also helped me become a team player and trust in the people who guided me throughout my campaign. This experience also demonstrated that someone who is just a normal, service-oriented person, can make a difference, through unity in collective effort.”
Lauren Grace Gonzales
User Experience Researcher, 2U
“I was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2016. In retrospect, I was going through tumultuous transitions in my life, most of which involved me not acknowledging personal relationships or circumstances that were not conducive to my happiness and personal well-being.
Mental health was not a topic of conversation at home, “anxiety” was not a word that I associated my likeness to, nor was my self-talk usually positive. Over the course of a year, I explored medical treatment, I practiced mindfulness meditation, I began exercising, and most importantly, I learned to prioritize myself. Success means nothing if you don’t have your health.”
UI/UX Designer, WorkWell Technologies
“I was 17 years old when my family hopped on a plane to California with a one-way ticket. The transition was challenging to say the least. I had to get to know extended relatives with whom I hadn’t grow up. I had to make new friends, speak English instead of my native tongue, and learn to navigate this new life that I was suddenly living. There were a lot of moments when I felt so lost and alone that I thought about moving back to the Philippines.
However, things got better with time. I was lucky to have a great support system around me. I got closer to my extended relatives and they helped my family start our new life. I made amazing friendships, which I know will last a lifetime. Best of all, I had my family with me the whole time and they never failed to make me feel loved. Slowly and surely, everything fell into place and now I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a home in both the Philippines and the USA.”
Hannah J. Nicdao
Product Designer, Google
“Five years ago, I picked up my life and moved across the world to Sydney, Australia. I had an incredible work opportunity to go down under and start up a studio. As enthusiastic as I was to do this, the challenge of starting a new life wasn’t a walk in the park. In a country where I had no friends or family, the culture shock, loneliness, vastly different work culture, and the stresses of setting up a startup all really piled on.
There were two things that really helped me get through this period. The first was realizing that my parents had done literally the same thing, moving from the Philippines to the US. Seeing that they had done it — with TWO young babies in tow — gave some context to my struggle. It worked out well for them in the end, and if it worked out for them, it can work out for me too. The second thing that helped me was an attitude shift. In moments of frustration, exhaustion, and loneliness, I challenged myself to reflect on why I felt the way I did and to think about what I was learning from it. I’d think, “when I get through this and can look back and laugh, what do I want to have taken away from the experience?”
Five years later, I feel much more confident in who I am as a person and I have a better understanding of what my strengths and weaknesses are, where my boundaries are, what I want to get out of the work that I do, and what kind of environment I function best in!”
Business Intelligence Lead, IBM Cloud
“When my family moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, I went from being surrounded by my cousins every day to having no Filipino, and very few Asian friends, at all. In elementary school, I cried and agonized regularly. I thought my brown skin wasn’t normal and asked God why I didn’t look more like my white classmates. I remember pinching my nose in an attempt to make it less flat and using “whitening” face products from the Philippines. It all deeply affected my self-confidence.
When I was in the eighth grade, my parents joined the Filipino-American Community of the Carolinas (FACC). I started attending youth group meetings, where we learned dances to perform at local events. At first, I was extremely shy and usually brought a book along with me, but eventually I started embracing these opportunities. It was my first exposure to learning about the Philippines, and where I met many of my now close friends. Finding that community was a huge influence in my life: it helped me navigate what it means to be Filipino American.”
Noel Francis Bautista
Recruiting Specialist, Menlo Security
“Like many millennials, I had this idea that soon after I graduated, I would find my dream job, but it was a rude awakening to find out that this career thing was a journey, and not a destination that could easily be driven to. I applied for a few positions at major companies, which I didn’t get.
Eventually I landed a job at a startup, which became the foundation for my career. However, up until that point I had had everything planned out for me. Go to school, sign up for classes and within those classes you have a syllabus that maps out the semester. The startup company was the complete opposite. Not much was in place, the training was vague, and the team drastically changed within my first few weeks. There were many revolving pieces that I couldn’t wrap my head wrapped around and the long hours had me feeling mentally drained.
You never know how strong you are until strong is the only option. I learned to be vocal, independent, and how to delegate my time. In retrospect, I was a leader in my own right; the leader of my own situation. From that point, I looked at my career differently. I didn’t need a dream job to define my career, I just needed an opportunity to create a career for myself.”
Graphic Designer, YR Media
“I finished my undergrad degree in 2018 and, like many others in my shoes, I’ve felt quite lost. It’s become difficult to feel worthy or qualified for jobs that I went to school for, in an industry that is heavily populated with whiteness. The need to work harder in order to “prove myself” has taken a toll on my psyche.
At some point, I no longer did or learned things because I actually wanted to, but rather as a means to “boost” my resume — all just to land me a job that probably wouldn’t have fulfilled me. Speaking of resumes, I actually seriously considered about taking on my father’s name, Jerry, as my professional name. The general idea was it would make my full name appear less ethnic and/or more ambiguous to employers, and give me a greater potential for callback; realistically, people un/consciously gravitate towards whiter-sounding names. It didn’t make me uncomfortable since many of my close friends already called me “Jerrie” as a nickname. But taking on “Jerry” ultimately didn’t feel authentic to the identity of “Marjerrie” I’ve been building for 23 years. And, what does it say about the tech industry, if I was thinking about changing my name to “fit in” when I already have so much to offer?
As I’m hustling and working three different jobs, I acknowledge the privilege I have in having a degree, living in California, and having multiple sources of income — how could I want more, when many others would wish to be in my position? I suppose it’s not about wanting more, but rather wanting to recover from toxic thoughts. I want to work on creating safe spaces, fostering community, and being kind to myself.”
Hana Gabrielle Rubio Bidon
Student of Information Science, Systems, and Technology, Cornell University
“After taking my first computer science course with Professor Walker White, I immediately became interested in computer science. I enjoyed coding for my class projects, but I developed imposter syndrome after feeling intimidated by the fact that many of my peers had been coding since high school. As a Filipino-American woman with multiple mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, it became an endless cycle of beating myself up for not doing better, and questioning how I could have done better on that exam.
While I’m still in the process of learning, I am letting go of saving face and opening up about my vulnerabilities around mental health in women in tech Facebook groups, such as “Women of Rewriting the Code” and “Ladies Storm Hackathons”. To deal with the imposter syndrome, I mentor first year and second year students at WICC and share my personal experience of being a Filipino-American woman in tech. Furthermore, I am going to therapy to improve my execution functioning (a set of cognitive processes that control managing oneself and one’s resources to achieve a goal) and to learn how to healthily deal with my emotions.”