Friday, April 30, 2004

Off the beaten track, part 2

A Rational Technology repost.

If you're suddenly taken by the urge to become a work-at-home medical transcriptionist, based on the experiences of the heroine Andie whom I wrote about last week, I'd encourage you to survey the whole breadth of opportunities first. Bringing in $1,500 per month may sound great, but there's the long working hours and the air of uncertainty of when the next job will come in.

Still, medical transcription isn't the only available option when it comes to the new class of independent outsourcing work. There are other alternatives, and perhaps far more lucrative ones, as well.

Take, for instance, the world of superhero comicbooks. Browse through the titles from Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse comics and you'll find that some of the artists have Filipino-sounding surnames: Pagulayan, Monsanto, Portacio, Dazo, and Perez. Surprising? There are about two dozen Filipino artists drawing, inking, and coloring American comics, and almost all of them work from the Philippines.

Just as with medical transcription, technology has lifted the barriers of distance between employer and employee. Finding work in the field of comics is no longer an accident of location but is distilled into talent and professionalism.

Breaking into the field of comics, though, is even more difficult than becoming a medical transcriptionist. You have to be able to draw, naturally; you have to be able to tell a story; you have to have a distinctive style; and you still have to sell yourself and meet deadlines.

Assuming that you have all of the aforementioned characteristics, the easiest way to enter the field is to find an agent. A month ago, I attended one such seminar organized by art agency Glass House Graphics (http://www.glasshousegraphics.com). Yes, they have an office here and they are actively looking for talent in the Philippines.

The comics market is not nearly as big as it was a few years ago, but the demand is still there, and it's not likely to go away. If this is your passion, there's still money to be made.

How much money? Take the story of one of the artists I met at the seminar. He currently does a regular monthly title. Working from home, he draws one page per day; a month's work fits nicely into the average comicbook length of 22 pages per issue.

He gets paid around $200 per page, or roughly $4400 per month. Last year, he reeled in P2.8 million.

Not bad for a 24-year old kid working from home, doing what he loves.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Off the beaten track, part 1

I've been back in Metro Manila for over a year now, but I still profess no great love for it. I'm here because my work demands it. In reality, I'd rather be enjoying the light summer breeze in the Dumaguete boulevard and the soothing rustle of the waves against the breakwater.

This is the same quandary that faces most young people breaking away from student life and jumping into their career of choice. Dumaguete is a fine city to live in, but she isn't exactly rife with employment opportunities -- at least, not yet. If you want to fulfill your financial ambitions, you'll have to venture out to Cebu, Manila, or even outside the country. Thus goes conventional wisdom.

Let's turn conventional wisdom on its head: Wouldn't it be just dandy if you could be earning dollar rates without leaving the homey comforts of the City of Gentle People? It sounds fanciful but it's not impossible. Following the principles of outsourcing, work from US companies is landing on our shores, perhaps in search of cheaper labor or better talent, or both. And surprisingly, they don't all involve employment with a call center.

Over the past year, I've made some independent-minded people who are travelling off the beaten track of corporate life and the life of an overseas foreign worker, and yet are still managing to bring in greenbacks.

Take, for instance, the story of Andie, now working as a freelance medical transcriptionist. Though she had some medical training under her belt, Andie was disappointed by the opportunities available to her locally. Family responsibilities demanded that she stay in-country, thus closing off avenues of employment outside the country.

By chance, she attended a seminar by a school offering medical transcription courses. She was intrigued by the possibilities, but put off by the exorbitant rates of the school. "I have the medical training," she thought, "maybe I can strike out on my own."

Armed with nothing but gumption, Andie scoured the Internet bulletin boards for medical transcriptionists, making contacts and seeking out opportunities. This would otherwise be a chancy approach for a complete novice, but Andie fortunately made some online friends who showed her the ropes of the business.

How does medical transcription work? In the US, medical diagnoses must be encoded and stored in databases. Since doctors are too busy to be bothered to type in the data, they normally dictate patient data as they go, leaving the work of encoding it to transcriptionists like Andie. It doesn't matter that Andie is not in the US; files are simply exchanged through the magic of the Internet.

Andie's hours are killer, running from noontime till 8:00AM of the following day. All in all, Andie only puts in four hours of sleep per day. Being an independent makes the job even tougher: Andie has to chase after opportunities and deadbeat agents herself, and she's forever wary of letting up, lest the work go to other transcriptionists.

On the upside, though, Andie makes a tidy sum, taking in upwards of $1,500 per month. That's all from working from home.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Mass

A Rational Technology repost.

We all have minor achievements that we're proud of, achievements of no earth-shattering importance which only our close friends and family know (and sometimes joke) about. The minor achievement I'm proudest of: in over nine years of travelling, I have never missed Sunday Mass.

If you think it's important, and if you set your mind to it, it's really not that difficult at all. But it isn't all that easy, either. It takes a bit of planning and audacity, especially when in another country for the first time. Concierges have information on local churches handy, and if it's too far to walk, there's always the taxi or the bus.

Sometimes, though, it may mean giving up time to take in tourist attractions. In New Delhi, I forewent a four-hour trip to the Taj Mahal so I could fulfill my Sunday obligation. Ah, well, there'll be a next time. I hope.

This fastidious allegiance to a weekly ritual has not been without its rewards. It opens up new dimensions of culture and faith when you partake in something so familiar in an entirely different setting. There you are, thousands of miles away from home, sitting in a pew; though the language may be different, you know it's the same Mass you go to at home. And suddenly, you feel kinship with strangers and the power of your own Faith.

Some similarities I met with mild surprise and amusement. In Karachi, I saw an old woman reverently touching the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as many old women do here. In New Delhi, they have a shrine to the Infant Jesus of Prague, dressed in the same fashion as our Sto. Nino.

The superficial differences are also interesting. In Seoul, all the women, young and old, wear the small white veils, regardless of whether they are in traditional Korean dress or in sleeveless blouses and pedal pushers. And Koreans bow, rather than kneel, during Consecration.

Sometimes you might feel like you never really left home at all. Filipinos congregate in St. Joseph's Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur and chat up a storm after Mass. In Singapore, they sometimes have special Masses in Filipino. And in Hong Kong, I was one of ten Filipino men surrounded by three hundred Filipino women; the priest was Filipino, and the Mass was in Tagalog.

Proselytistic zeal, though, is always refreshing. In a country where eighty percent are Christians, we sometimes take our own faith for granted. Yet when you visit a Church where Christians are the minority, as in St. Francis-Xavier in Kuala Lumpur, the exhortation to go win new converts rings forcefully.

But these cultural observations are only a side benefit: after all, I am there not as a tourist but as a Catholic. I go to Sunday Mass because it is a visible and real expression of my Faith, and through it, I commune with Jesus Christ in a way that surpasses all other forms of prayer.

That's why Sunday Mass is so important to me, and that's why I've tried never to miss one.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Modern working

A Rational Technology repost.

With graduation ceremonies and the long final Easter vacation behind them, starry-eyed hopefuls fresh from college will begin their job hunts in earnest. Resumes will be sent out, interviews will be scheduled, exams will be taken, and nails will be bitten in nervous anticipation. The real world beckons. The cycle continues.

Despite the fashionably dire predictions about the state of the economy and the climate of political uncertainty, there's never been a better time to be stepping out of school and into the labor force. Opportunities beckon both here and abroad.

Take, for instance, the booming call center industry, just starving for qualified agents to fill their seats. Manila leads the trend in call centers, and nearby Cebu is not far behind. Companies are evaluating Bacolod, Iloilo, and Dumaguete as potential alternates. A single call center takes in their agents in bulk, running to as high as a thousand agents in a single hiring bloc.

Next in line will be business process outsourcing (BPO), a step up from the customer support provided by call center agents. BPO follows the trend by companies in the US and Europe to send process-oriented jobs such as accounting and human resources to India and the Philippines. IBM Business Services, for instance, has 200 openings for accountants and IT support staff to service multinationals across the region. (Interested applicants can send their resumes to ibmhire-at-ph-dot-ibm-dot-com).

A recent trip to Cebu also showed small application development groups setting up shop in the city. These companies do everything from web site development, Java programming, and remote support for customers outside the country. Again, another welcome trend, providing potential employment for fresh graduates.

Not all jobs are aimed at servicing the offshore market. With the rapid growth in value added services for mobile phones, telecommunications companies are taking in programmers in greater numbers. These programmers may either be direct hires or contract workers hired from a small development shop.

Let's not forget some of the staples, though. Nursing is still very much in-demand. It's not uncommon for nursing students to be optioned for employment abroad while they are still undergraduates.

Locally, the service industry is growing along with increased affluence -- and so you have demand in food, travel, entertainment, and retail areas. These are not just avenues for employment but also, more importantly for entrepreneurship.

So let the naysayers and the prophets of doom bewail the fate of the nation. In the Philippines, it's always in vogue to be contrarian. In the meantime, industry moves on, and so does modern working.