Design Yourself

Bio

I'm not sure who cares enough to read this, but I go on other personal sites wanting to know more about how someone became who they are, what makes them tick, and what gets them going—things that aren't found on a social bio, a LinkedIn profile, or even in most interviews.

Rarely do people share their stories. This is my attempt at that.

For more on how I think, check out my beliefs, my library, and my core values.


Early Days

Born and raised in Metro Manila, Philippines.

Extremely curious and always wondering about the future, I grew up drawing space rockets, cellular phones (back when there were hundreds of models in the market), futuristic basketball shoes, and architectural blueprints as a past-time.

I went to Don Bosco Technical College from 5th to 8th grade, studying information technology, mechanical & electrical engineering, and industrial drafting. This is where tinkering with technology became not just a hobby but an everyday thing we did for school.

From an early age, we learned woodworking, designed and cut our own metal with machinery, built our own power supply boxes, assembled electric fans from its smallest disparate parts, coded with MS-DOS, learned functions in Excel, drew engineering diagrams, and a lot of other things that got our hands dirty and our minds working. This instilled an early builder and inventor mindset: we started every project with nothing else but some parts, some tools, and some imagination and we would have something fully functioning at the end that we built ourselves.

I still find that “aha” moment magical (even if it can be frustrating on the way to get there).

High School in America

My family moved to Yonkers, New York when I was 14. High school in Yonkers is where I grew my passion for the arts, dance, theater, and design. I was a pretty advanced student coming from the Philippines but I wanted to explore my capabilities more. Not wanting to stick to just academics, I started a hip-hop dance group with my friends that ended up winning the talent show. As a kid new to America but was in love with New York culture, to get this respect and recognition was way more fulfilling.

I started dabbling in web design heavily, designing and coding hundreds of MySpace layouts in a few years using mostly open source software, selling my services online to musicians, rappers, school clubs, and nonprofit orgs around the country. This helped finance my sneaker obsession at the time.

My love for writing grew having studied 11th Grade English under Mr. Christopher Vicari, previously a National Teacher of the Year. This class expanded my horizons, imagination, and philosophical bent at a transformative phase in my life. I owe much of the development of my worldview thanks to this class and his tutelage. Many of my peers feel the same way to this day.

I also designed the class homecoming banner every year, was in student government 3 out of 4 years, won Best Actor for playing Macbeth (“Out, out, brief candle!”) and graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma, one of the most rigorous high school curricula in the world. I was voted Most Talented and Most Creative (but ranked 3rd in Most Likely to Succeed, which I’m grateful for because it gave me a chip on my shoulder, which may or may not still exist to this day).

My best accomplishment in high school, however, was a successful guerrilla campaign to get all of the five public high schools in Yonkers to wear black for one day to protest for cleaner bathrooms. I used print & digital media, disseminating mysterious posters around all five high schools with the help of the other student governments about “PROJECT B14CK” (because it was to be held on November 14th), and set up a website describing the plan. It ended up being on the local TV station Channel 12 where students were interviewed about the issue. It created a cultural ripple effect because schools didn't want to be known as dirty, and students didn't want to be shamed for making schools dirty. More than anything, I understood the power of incentives a lot better after that.

Spending my teens in Yonkers and going to Yonkers High is and will always be a big part of who I am. I was able to have a global perspective, felt the tribulations from a local perspective, but was also next door to the greatest city in the world in New York City. It fueled an underdog mentality but also an appreciation for hardship, struggle, and perseverance.

College in Upstate New York

I later went to the University at Albany to study English and journalism with a focus on digital media. (Fun fact: I'm the youngest RA in the history of the school, having my own floor of fellow freshmen two months into college.)

Some of the most influential classes I took were: studying epics and the concept of “The Chosen One” critical philosophy studying the Frankfurt School, studying cities through the lens of cinema, identity through literature (some standouts are One Hundred Years of Solitude and Song of Solomon), and a class on the future of media where we dabbled with new digital tools used in a newsrooms (my professor was an adjunct who ran the Times Union tech staff).

I joined an Asian-interest social fraternity which allowed me to have a leadership role on a national level shortly after I crossed, something that was highly uncommon. I created the first national blog, updated the expansion packet, and later helped strategize and expand a new chapter at Rutgers University before I turned 21. I was also its first national public relations chair helping set the foundation of its initial online social presence and email marketing, boosting pride, membership, and the overall brand amongst Brothers and non-members alike.

Career in Technology

I was trying to establish a career in advertising when I came across Andrew Yang’s Smart People Should Build Things (long before he was a presidential candidate) and read it in a single sitting at the Barnes & Noble on E86th Street which convinced me to join startups. Soon after, I helped launch a mobile app for creative professionals with an early-stage startup, then later joined a hiring startup working on the full redesign of its consumer and enterprise applications for both web and mobile.

Afterwards, I joined Condé Nast (my actual dream company growing up being that I wanted to write for GQ and The New Yorker) as a designer during the early stages of building out their cross-brand design team, which would eventually be called Co/Lab. With the help of many talented designers, engineers, product managers, and editors, I was able to work on numerous major projects, which include:

  • BRIDES redesign and wedding inspiration gallery,
  • Creating the initial proposal for a global design system,
  • Golf World redesign,
  • GQ Galleries (which later became the basis for all galleries across all portfolio brands)
  • GQ Best Stuff Newsletter (Digiday article↗)
  • Golf Digest Schools (the Masterclass for golf instruction),
  • Creating a framework for the distribution and engagement funnel of our owned & operated digital products,
  • Helping architect the universal design system that would power the entire company’s portfolio of brands, starting as the lead designer for homepages & channels (Cheddar TV segment↗), and later leading the pattern work for all of its components,
  • Leading the engineering team to build the front-end for AD Pro (premium membership publication for professional interior designers) using the aforementioned design system (WSJ feature↗)

The best part of working at Condé was the privilege to work with some of the best in the world. I am and will always be a big fan of everyone I've worked with because of the sheer talent and intellectual horsepower that I was able to build with side-by-side.

Also, for some reason only the universe knows, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, became my mentor.

I also got to host a panel for inner city elementary students on how I got into technology (by making stuff!) and was a guest lecturer for an interaction design class in NYU's Master of Science in Publishing: Digital & Print Media program. Both were extremely gratifying because it felt like it was just yesterday when I was one of these students. These experiences make me want to speak and teach more in the future.


Theme

If there’s one theme I've been following so far, it would be this:

Dare to create new exciting things that didn’t exist before with your own style, voice, and conviction.

Be proud of your individuality, develop it internally, and use it externally to liberate others and create new paths for progress. Creativity comes from having a strong perspective built from openness and having multiple sources of inspiration, and most importantly, the courage to try. Use whatever suits you with the focus of a monk and the fury of a madman.

If it's not already obvious, I care about building great products with smart, curious, high-integrity people—products with beautiful design, deep product thinking, and change the landscape of software.

Lastly, I live by the mantra Build Tomorrow Today™ and its five rules:

  1. Do what you are meant to do. Be of service to others.
  2. Always play the long game.
  3. Be focused. Be disciplined. Be patient.
  4. Seek difficulty. Love the challenge.
  5. Never cheat yourself. Ever.

Remember that sometimes believing in certain things can feel lonely. If you want people to care about something you're passionate about, be that person who really gives a damn. That's how movements start.


Today

I am currently on sabbatical studying new disciplines, exploring new frontiers, and learning new skills (especially in engineering and data) in order to refine my perspective and knowledge base.

In my spare time, I do athletic training, watch my sports teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Michigan Wolverines, Seattle Seahawks), explore cities, read books, listen to old school R&B, dance hip-hop, play board games with friends, and write essays and poetry.

I’m always looking for interesting people building the software of tomorrow. If that description fits you, feel free to reach out.

PS. To the people who believed in a young hungry Jomi and gave him a shot: Sam Tran, Michele & Frank Spiezia, Tom Gebauer, Georgina Claos, and Brooke Ellis, I’m indebted to you. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I’m hungrier than I have ever been.

PPS. Shout outs to everyone I've ever worked with! The products we shipped come and go, but the bonds we built are eternal.

* And if you didn't already know, the quote from the image is from JAY-Z's song “A Dream” where he narrates a dream in which the late The Notorious B.I.G. came to him and said, “Hov, remind yourself: Nobody built like you, you design yourself.”