What It Really Means to Work as a Field and Research Engineer under the Government

I am nothing else but living outside my comfort zone since I started working as a field and research engineer three years ago. I am living a life very far from what I imagined to live. I always saw myself on high heels and power dressing, attending meetings with big people on elegant conference rooms, presenting reports on my work’s progress, speaking in English. But also, I always saw myself touching lives and changing the world.

In my job I wear trekking sandals or all terrain shoes, rash guard or sleeves you usually see tricycle drivers have on their arms to keep their skin from burning, leggings and cap. I’ve never been into an elegant conference room but I’ve been to beaches no tourists have ever set foot on, to islands and mountains that give us the most breathtaking views we never knew existed, to rivers with possibly the clearest and cleanest water. I do get to present reports, and sometimes hold seminars, but it is under a Mango tree where my audience are locals who are learning a new technology. And certainly it isn’t done in English.

i always say that my job is the best an engineer could get. I still attest to that. You do your designs and simulations, you coordinate with manufacturers, you characterize your prototypes’ parameters and you install them yourself on the field. The moment I mounted my antenna on a 16 meter high pole was for me like giving birth, or sending out my first born to preschool. It was a milestone a mother lives for, an achievement I’m sure most engineers crave for.

When you are in the field you get to live the life our countrymen live. You sleep where they sleep. You eat what they eat. You breath the salty air they breath. You take baths on wells they take theirs. You open yourself to experiences far from yours and you get amazed how diverse our cultures are even if we are just one race.

One lesson our friend from the island taught us is that in this kind of community you get what you give. You will be treated how you treat others. And it isn’t like in the city where we have the impression that no one can be trusted. It is true. Everyone smiles back, everyone offers a helping hand. They sure know how to treat people well.

When we do field works, time isn’t an issue. Eating isn’t an issue. Rain isn’t an issue. We start when the sun has just shown itself and ends when the moon and flashlights are our light. We eat only after the testing may that be having lunch at 4 in the afternoon. And the rain? Our caps do the work. We get things done. Well. That’s number one in the priority list. Even if it means only 6 people do the work meant for 30 men.

Others’ first impression is that it is okay for us to actually work our asses off because we get paid well. But the fact is that we know no bonuses, double pays, 13th month pays, no any form of benefits, no health cards, no over time pays even if you have your four year old hand-me-down laptop (from a previous government project staff) anywhere you go for 24/7. You even have to file, and sometimes pay, your own taxes. There are two good things about this though. One, you learn to save up by your own because nothing is expected to cover your shopping in Christmas season. :)) Two, you see for yourself what happens in government offices, how twisted some procedures are, how some efforts are actually being effective, and how much more there is to be improved. See being in a third world country, everything still has to be improved and it would dawn on you that you have to do something.

Being sent for overseas training, you do not only embody a company’s name, but your country’s. And you have all the pressure on your shoulder to prove to the world that your race is a race of intelligence, exceptional capabilities and competence. You impress the world not for yourself but for your countrymen who would soon enjoy the opportunities you should open for them.

We don’t work in an office. We work at a “home”. What we sometimes call our office in reality is a 5 x 5 m air-conditioned white room filled with lots of equipment, and people we consider as brothers and sisters. You work with people you share the same passion with and, in one way or another, treats you as family.

And oh, at first, we didn’t have insurance even if we need to cross the Pacific Ocean using a 15 seater boat, travel for 16 long hours through land, do mountain climb for 5 hours, mingle with sometimes we believe are “rebels”. My sister once told me she could never see my salary being big. And she asked me, “Is it worth it?”

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Oh yes it is. When you speak with our countrymen and they express how technology can introduce change in their lives by helping them contact rescuers from mainland after disasters to decrease harmful after effects, or giving them the chance to once in a while speak with their children who study in town, or by enabling students learn how to use computers and surf the internet, you’ll know it certainly is.

I do not entirely believe that technology is the answer for our country to fully stand on her feet, I believe harmony is. When every Filipino start prioritizing harmony over everything else we’ll all begin to live in a better land. But technology will take big part in spreading communication that promotes harmony.

What I learned most after fully accepting that I wont do any power dressing in my work ( :P) is that we, my team, were not placed in this job for no reason. We weren’t chosen randomly nor chosen blindly. We are nourished to become somebody.

I sure saw myself changing the world, I need not become a nun or a business tycoon nor a politician to do that. I just  need to start with myself and where I am right now. Being a research and field engineer means you let go of your personal comforts and go out there to cater for the needs of your countrymen.

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