Staff interview #33 Miguel N. Galace

Building things is my passion

I’m a Software Engineer working on developing and maintaining features for the Quipper School LMS in the Philippines. I’ve always been drawn to building things, which eventually led me to pursue a degree in Computer Science. Through my education, I learned foundational engineering principles which guided me as I began to write software for several personal and client projects.


Naturally, that progressed over to product work as I began my formal career, first as a Software Engineer intern, and now as a full-time Software Engineer at Quipper. I was drawn to Quipper because I personally value a good education. To get to work on a product to promote learning for teachers and students is a big draw for me. I continue to stay because I see how much Quipper values the product team and respects engineering as a discipline.

The Philippines needs more companies like Quipper

One of the main reasons I joined Quipper was that the company is trying to build a product for the Philippines. Personally, I feel there are not enough product-based companies doing work catered to this market, and I find that quite sad. For us to grow as a nation, we really should be working on products that can grow our economy, communities, and individuals.


I would like to be part of a movement that can help elevate the standard of web development in the Philippines and help us be more competitive globally. For me, that would mean putting in time as a developer evangelist and helping the community learn and grow. My goal is not to brand myself as an expert, but just to help other people learn.


There’s still a stereotype that the Philippines is a place to go for cheap labor. I don’t want people to think that the quality of work is proportionate to what it costs. I really believe that our work can be every bit as good, if not better, than in other countries. It’s really just about opportunity, and Quipper has given us that.

Developing products for our specific market

Quipper recently underwent a code split. We used to share one gigantic codebase, so whatever product was being developed, the Japan team would consult with us if we needed it, and vice versa. But we found that the different branches had started to diverge too far, so we decided to split it. We reached the point where our specific needs had become too divergent and we were holding each other back. We still have the core, but we now have more freedom to develop products for our specific market.


I’ve worked on two smaller apps called Parent and Essays that were developed primarily with the Philippines in mind. We built Parent from the ground up in a team of three: myself, my manager, and another developer. The app allows parents to check in with their kids to see if they are doing the assignments. That style of parenting is very ingrained in our culture. Essays is an app that allows students to submit essay-type answers. While Learn allows a limited range of answer types, Essays lets teachers set essay-type questions which students can answer directly within the app.


Overall, I’m very involved in the product development process. I’m not the kind of developer who gets told what to do and then does it. I try to fight them, in a good way, but all with the goal of improving the product.

Real development takes time, and that’s what Quipper gives us

In some developer environments, everyone is a slave to the deadline. At Quipper, we understand how long the product development process takes. We don’t impose unreasonable deadlines because that would compromise quality. I feel like Quipper prioritizes engineering as a discipline and gives us the time we need to make our product as good as it can be.


I think the toughest problem I had to solve so far as a Quipper engineer was figuring out how to optimize the performance of a script we used to generate monthly usage reports for our schools. I was very new at Quipper at the time and not yet very adept with our back-end code or database work in general. I worked on the problem for weeks and little by little, I was able to chip away at the issue and eventually get the script to work reliably. I wouldn't have been able to fix it had it not been for my fellow engineers who gave me pointers on how to approach the problem whenever I would get stuck.

The MVP award inspires me to set learning as a priority

It's an honor to receive the MVP award at Quipper. I work hard because I want to deliver the best possible product for our users and I consider everything that comes after to just be a bonus!


It’s great to know that we're making a positive difference in the lives of teachers and students. Quality education isn't easy to come by in the Philippines and I'm really glad to be part of—and contributing to—a company whose mission is to make learning within our formal education system better. I just want to thank all my colleagues and managers who continue to believe in me!


The bottom line for me is to improve my technical skills as a developer. I actually try to spend an hour every work day on professional development. As for soft skills, I want to continue to learn how to best work with others—listening, collaborating, managing conflict, giving and receiving feedback, etc.—great products are built by teams after all.             


Ironically, I don’t feel that the learning environment is strong enough yet at Quipper, given that we’re a learning platform. But Quipper also has this culture—almost a motto—that if you want something done, you should be the person to initiate it. My manager is encouraging me to take on this role of improving our learning and knowledge-sharing. We now have regular sessions in our team where we share experiences of problems we’ve solved and technologies we’ve learned. It’s something that I want to grow outside our team and even expand to other markets.

Working through Covid-19

There are around fifteen of us in the developer team in Manila, but we’re spread across different product teams. Before Covid-19 we were all in the same office, but since then we’ve been working remotely. There are definitely fewer distractions when working from home. As much as I love other people’s company, sometimes you need to be closed off from the world in order to get things done.


Funnily enough, I feel like our communication has actually improved since we started working remotely. It forces you to document something in a place where it’s universally accessible. But if I’m in the office, I might just keep it in my brain and if somebody needs it they would come to me and retrieve it. Now I do more of my thinking out loud by writing my thoughts in GitHub threads or on Slack where it’s more visible to other people. When you’re writing for others, it has to be more carefully structured.

I hope we can take on even bigger challenges in the future

There’s a huge disparity between the quality of education you can get in private schools and public schools in the Philippines, especially in the provinces. I don’t necessarily mean the quality of teachers. Poverty and infrastructure are major factors too. What Quipper tries to do is level the playing field as much as we can. We provide the same learning materials regardless of which school you’re in.


If you’re in Manila, internet access is as good as anywhere in the world. But as you go further out, a lot of things start to degrade. That’s something I felt Quipper could do more to solve. The philosophy has been that the Philippines will catch up eventually, but my personal feeling is that we need a solution for the problem right now, rather than wait for the problem to solve itself. Now that we’ve gone through the code split, I’m hoping that we can do something to address this issue of unequal access to the internet in our country.


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