January 15, 2006

Leilanie G. Adriano
Staff writer

Up-close and personal with a savvy Webmaster


Proudly claiming that he is a full-blooded Ilocano, Andy Barroga, founder of the most frequently accessed Ilocano web portal in the Internet and a database engineer of the famous Microsoft company owned by the world’s richest man Bill Gates has magnetized a multitude of Filipinos across the globe—interacting and intermingling with each other by just a click of the mouse made faster and easier anytime and anywhere.

Uniquely designed for Ilocanos, the www.iluko.com with a catchy adage dubbed as “Magustoan a pagpalpallailangan dagiti pada a nangisit ti sikona” has created an invaluable avenue of entertainment and learning particularly for Filipino immigrants and overseas workers missing their homeland.

Barely a year after its creation, my attention was caught by this great Ilocano web portal. Unknowingly the founder was a fellow provincemate from Apayao. I never thought I could find a means to communicate with him until I found myself addicted in visiting one of website’s famous threads—the Dap-ayan forum where I have a chance to meet old and new friends mostly from Hawaii and mainland USA. God must have created a small world that amidst the miles we came across with each other and we eventually became good friends though we have yet to meet in person. Perhaps in his next vacation to the Philippines.

Manong Andy, as I fondly call him relayed this information to me when I requested him to answer several questions, of which I am certain every true Filipino would like to read and to ponder with.

Can you tell us how the website Iluko.com came into existence?

My passion for creating websites began in late 1990s. I was inspired by the website of Roy Aragon named “Burnay.” I think it was the first Ilocano website on the Internet. I made my personal website in early 1996 where I uploaded my collections of Ilocano jokes, riddles and puzzles as well as my literary works which appeared in Bannawag Magazine. The site became a hit among Ilocanos here in the US, back in the Philippines and other countries where overseas Filipino workers reside. They filled my guestbook with messages showing how they loved my website. My cousin Maricel B. Balboa, who was studying in Honolulu, and my cousin Edward F. Barroga, who was taking up his Ph.D. in Japan, suggested that I should make a web portal for all Ilocanos where they can read literary writings as well as Ilocano recipes and other stuff craved by homesick Filipinos. I then registered a new domain which is no other than what is now widely known as Iluko.com.

It was March in 2002 when Iluko.com began walking on the worldwide web with one major purpose: to become a center of modern communication among Ilocanos in the whole world - a place to greet families and friends, spread news, share talents and so forth. It has now become a place or hub where Ilocanos everywhere can congregate virtually. With such purpose, Ilocano identity will be preserved and enriched especially with those who have left the Philippines.

During the first three months of Iluko.com’s existence, I was surprised when it reached the mark of 10,000 unique hits. Its scope widened as I accommodated several suggestions from known as well as anonymous visitors. The dap-ayan (forum) section became the most dynamic message board of any Filipino portal. During that time, I was renting web space from various web-hosting companies. Since I couldn’t find any dependable web host, I self-studied how to build my own web server. Today, I’m proud to inform you that I’m now hosting Iluko.com from my house. All scripts and programs of Iluko.com are homegrown. I neither copy from nor rely on other websites.

 Who is Andy Barroga as a Microsoft engineer and founder of Iluko.com?

 My birth name is Andel. Close friends call me Bong while relatives call me Bongbong. My wife Jossie and I have two children—Joanne, 8, and Ethan, 2. I came from a simple middle-class family in remote Luna, Apayao. My dad, Amado Barroga, was a postman and my mom, Dionisia Barroga y Bullaoit was a school teacher.

 I love mingling with people from remote places—whether old men and old women or young men and young women. I love how barrio folks have conducted those simple birthday celebrations in my hometown. I also love conversing with folks pounding cassava for lubi-lubi (Ilocano dessert) in a mortar in a cool moonlit night. I also miss holding the waist of the boondocks lasses on the barrio hall’s dance floor.

 After high school, I started to study electrical engineering in St. Louis University in Baguio City. Since Hawaii’s force was more magnetic than my becoming one engineer, my mind couldn’t concentrate on those thick math books. My young mind was telling me that I wouldn’t be able to finish that course anyway before going to Hawaii. So, I dropped that course and while waiting for my immigration papers, I enrolled in short courses in computer programming in Baguio. Because of a delay in the processing of my papers in migrating to Honolulu, I again enrolled some computer courses in Manila—courses that I had already finished to kill boredom while waiting for my immigration papers.

 I finally flew to Hawaii in 1988. As I expected, my first job included yard work—that is, cleaning lawns of wealthy Hawaii residents. I also got employed as a fish- and meat-cutter in a Japanese-owned supermarket. One time I saw in downtown Honolulu a bunch of fellow Filipinos wearing nice clothes walking toward their offices in those tall buildings. I began to feel envious and so I inquired on how they got hired in those air-conditioned offices.

 I was able to convince my Dad to send me back to school. I enrolled in Hawaii Business College to take computer programming. He also bought me a secondhand car so that I can immediately go to my part time job after my classes. I had to attend school from 8 am to 2 pm and then go to my part time job until the evening. During weekends, I would go yard work. Life was so hard in Hawaii especially that I only had part time job and with the sky-high cost of living over there. I used to order “mini” instead of “full sized” lunch plate when my classmates (including my wife as she was also one of my classmates) and I go to lunch. After couple of days in school, I realized that the car we bought was for old folks—an old full sized Chrysler Le Baron. I thought it didn’t matter as long as it is a car, but my friends in school were teasing me for I should have a sports car like them.

 I re-studied what I earlier studied in the Philippines—computer programming. Wide eyes and smiles of admiration came from my classmates—white and other races—because I was the best in my class! I just kept to myself the secret that I had already taken those classes multiple times back in the Philippines. When I graduated, I worked in a financial bank in Honolulu as a data entry clerk. My first salary was spent to the last cent just for clothing since formal attire was to be worn by all employees in downtown Honolulu. No jeans are accepted. Because the salary was not enough, I also worked part-time as a parking attendant in another company. After a year or so, I could buy all clothes I wanted, I was able to loan a brand new sports car, and it was easy to buy a “full” size lunch plate everyday! Ever since my wife discovered that I can eat a lot, she always laughed when she remembers my “mini” lunch plate trick in school just to save money.

As a data entry clerk in the said bank, I was assigned many jobs, including computer jobs that I never encountered in school. After two years, I transferred to a Mortgage company as a system administrator. After a year, I was hired by Hawaii’s largest bank, the Bank of Hawaii. I learned how to program and manage many modern software made by Microsoft, such as Microsoft SQL Server.

I wanted to paddle in another river where the fish was bigger. After five years of working with Bank of Hawaii, I wanted to work for another company. Upon the advice of my sister, a registered nurse in Seattle, I cast my net on Microsoft, the world largest Software Company owned by Bill Gates, the world’s richest man. I sent in my application to Microsoft several times via the Internet but I did not receive any call back from the company. With thousands of applicants monthly wanting to be employed in this great company, you’re very lucky if you are called for an interview. Especially, I did not know anybody working inside Microsoft.

When I visited my sister in Washington, I went straight to Microsoft to apply for a job position. Because of my experiences, I was finally called for an interview. I didn’t pass the first interview but God must have helped me during the second one. My wife and I resigned from our jobs in Hawaii and moved with our little girl to the US Mainland. I will be celebrating my fifth year anniversary with Microsoft soon and I plan to retire in this great company.

 How would you consider your achievement in creating a website which is selling like a hot cupcake in the worldwide web?

 Having a website with thousands of hits daily, a website that Ilocanos around the world come to visit everyday is something to be proud of. A lot of Ilocanos are capable of building a more sophisticated website, but most of them focus in making their website good-looking. They don’t realize the fact that web surfers are looking for the most interesting and accurate information, not the best looking website.

You said once that Iluko.com was created for Ilocanos across the globe to hang out with. Had it given you any satisfaction (from net surfers with positive remarks) or even much of regrets (from net surfers with negative responses)?

Of course, I’m satisfied with the number of visitors and repeat visitors coming back to visit my site everyday. I always get emails with positive feedback about the site. I only remember one negative feedback, when I conducted a riddle contest. One contestant didn’t like the result but, as they say, you can’t please everybody all the time. That makes life more interesting and colorful!

Being the brainchild of Iluko.com, what do you expect more in the coming years ahead?

 Many people including my cousins were instrumental in the birth of this website. I don’t want to take all the credits (smiles) but to answer your question, Iluko.com has already established its identity as the No. 1 website for Ilocanos in the worldwide web, and I want to maintain that identity.

I also plan to make Iluko.com even bigger by expanding Iluko.com Radio by webcasting or even pod casting those radio soap opera (drama) programs coming from the Ilocos region.

Iluko.com may also possibly sponsor or host the grandest, the most honorable and the best Ilocano literary writing contest in the whole universe. My plan is to use a completely new judging system to eliminate doubts and prevent the “kumpadre” system. Ilocano writers, Iluko.com visitors, or contestants themselves will have the opportunity to read all the entries and provide comments anonymously. On this stage, the true name of the author will not be revealed. The Judges will then read not only the stories but also the comments/observations/criticisms before declaring the winners. That way, they can see all the strengths and weaknesses of each entry. It is just like the “Justice system” here in the US—there are jurors and a judge. I believe this is the best method to discover a truly great writer.

 What are the things you treasure most as your belonging?

 I treasure gifts, and pictures of my family, my friends and me more than anything else. When I see pictures taken from years back, they usually make me smile and feel very good.

Would you mind to share some of your life lessons and what’s keeping this savvy Webmaster close to lady luck?

 One thing I learned here in the USA is the value of being compassionate and forgiving. When I was living in the Philippines, I would always seek retribution whenever I felt slighted by others. Here in America, I just ignore petty things. Instead of dwelling on negativities, I would rather use my time smartly because life is too short not to enjoy the positive things. Time is gold so don’t make it rust!

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