The story of Mr. Diosdado Banatao, his Cagayan Valley to Silicon Valley saga, is truly an amazing and inspiring one. And the chroniclers of Filipino success stories have not been lacking in appreciating his feats. But many think that even Mr. Banatao is clearly getting lonelier (or attacked by boredom) after every article and commentary on his canonization as a technology wunderkind.
Maybe he is asking this question: Why only me? I am a decade-old story, and my story, despite its obvious merits, becomes tiring at some point. Maybe it’s time to shift the alleluias.
Many of us know the answer to the question “Why only me?” The answer is all too clear. Filipinos have a pigmy role in the tech stage and there are very few success stories of Pinoys in Silicon Valley. So when a Dado Banatao story comes along, we hold on to it and mark it as Exhibit A of our Silicon Valley success because we can’t have a sustained narrative of tech greatness. Indeed, the story of Mr. Banatao has been our only Silicon Valley story — for ages.
The never-ending stories of the amazing Mr. Banatao actually reveal an ugly side. That despite the self-proclaimed humbug on how great and talented we are, we are marginal figures in a special enclave where truly talented and disciplined people can shine.
In a place where anyone with computational powers and entrepreneurial creativity can succeed and fulfill the ideals of meritocracy big-time, we are a mediocre presence. In a sense, this has been a crushing blow to the confidence in our ability to compete globally.
Why can’t we compete in a place where only talent, drive and creativity matter? And we can’t even offer excuses for that miserable – and very distinct – failure.
The paeans to Mr. Batano at Silicon Valley juxtapose with two technology milestones that recently made headlines in the US and across the world. These two major development, sadly, further highlighted the pigmy role Filipinos play in the technology universe. These are the leadership shakeup at Microsoft and the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook for $19 billion.
The retirement of Steve Ballmer as chief executive officer of Microsoft led to the appointment of Satya Nadella as the firm’s CEO. Nadella, this is suggested by his name, was born in Andhra Pradesh and was trained at the Manipal Institute of Technology, one of the many versions in India of Dadao Banatao’s Mapua Institute of Technology. Nadella joins other India-born technology wizards that occupy top posts at the most prestigious and iconic technology companies in the US.
It is clear that for every Dado Banatao that our country produces, India’s university system turns out dozens or even hundreds of technology overachievers. US technology hubs have cafeterias that cater to many regional cuisines of India – the curry for example – the sheer demonstration of India’s powerful presence in these hubs.
Nadella is not an outlier like Dado Banatao. He is just one of the many high achieving India-born technology leaders in the US. If we were to include the other India-born overachiever in business – think of Indra Nooyi and Vikram Pandit – the more will we bury our heads in the sand in envy.
WhatsApp was co-founded by Jan Koum, who was born and raised just outside of Kiev, one of the main cities of now troubled Ukraine. He worked as janitor at a grocery store and his mother was a babysitter. It is worth pointing out that Koum will get the lion’s share of the $19 billion Facebook paid for WhatsApp.
The truth is the Philippines is one of the countries supposedly teeming with talented people that are underrepresented in the giant technology hubs across the US – but which claim Silicon Valley and the Bay Area as the thriving center. No offense meant, but this lack of movers and shakers in the heart of the technology industry is an affront to our pride – well, if we have real pride.
Yet no one is asking this question. Why is Dado Banatao alone at his lonely perch?
Come to think of this. Neither India nor Ukraine is an ideal training ground for would be masters of the technology universe. India is a populous and tumultuous democracy like us, with its dynastic impulses worse than us. And one country where inequality – and the caste system – is deeply rooted.
Ukraine was violent once and is in a state of violence now as Russia, its former patron in the old USSR, has invaded Crimea. But it keeps on molding people from obscurity to prominence.
We can hazard a guess. We are a country obsessed with success, but not the kind of success that will turn out Filipinos for leadership roles in the great universities of the world, or in the greatest technology hubs, or in the largest financial centers.
We obsess over triumphs in boxing, the production of beauty queens, and oddities such as ice skating.
Preparing the university system and providing the context and environment to turn out masters of the universe at the financial centers and masters of the technology hubs are far less important than having gangling Filipino hoop dreamers who can barely dunk get into the D-League of the NBA.