Detours column

[DETOURS] For the love of government work

Gervin Domingo

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[DETOURS] For the love of government work

Art by David Castuciano

‘Our work matters because it ultimately affects people. I take comfort and draw inspiration from the fact that it has a real, tangible impact on lives.’

Editor’s note: While most of his batchmates were quickly getting hired by local private banks, Gervin waited around – for 5 months to be exact – before he got a job at Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. In this essay, he shares how the wait was all worth it. You, too, can share your life’s greatest detours. Here’s how. 

Fresh from going down the hill of Ateneo, I found myself sitting across seasoned central bankers for a job interview. 

Following careful scrutiny of my credentials as an applied mathematics major and science high school graduate, an inquiry regarding a credit risk project for a microfinance company, and a brief discussion on my weight loss journey (I was asked about a personal challenge I have overcome), I was told that my application is promising, but was warned that the entire hiring process would take at least months. My first taste of bureaucracy, I said to myself.

It would actually take 5 long months of waiting before I received an entry-level job offer at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). While my classmates quickly got positions in local and international commercial banks, and others started careers in data or advisory services, I was among the few in the batch who chose and dared to join the civil service.

I can say that I am fortunate enough to join an agency that deals with highly technical and specialized work. In more than four years of being part of managing the Philippines’ international reserves (which just hit a record-high $100 billion mark last year), I have learned some lessons that challenged my preconceived notions about government work.        

First, I have been working with professional, hardworking colleagues and bosses. They include people who would burn the midnight oil to finish a policy proposal, who would sacrifice weekends to conceptualize and build crucial risk reports, who would take grueling certification exams. Interestingly, these are the same people whom I can have a chat with about wide-ranging topics, from career growth, family, politics to the latest gadgets and that disappointing ending of Game of Thrones.

Second, the job can be tough and stressful, but it can also be, as my boss would say, exciting and challenging. Like many other fields, the realm of central banking and reserve management is filled with changes and innovations such as negative interest rates, digital currencies, and climate risks, to name a few. Through my work, I was also introduced to and was fascinated by interesting sociopolitical phenomena like Brexit and the 2020 U.S elections. The experience I am slowly building has somehow given me confidence in my skills, but more importantly, it has taught me the humility to admit that I have so much more to learn.     

Third, government work can be fulfilling. During instances of self-reflection and blows of impostor syndrome, I always have a moment fairly similar to that scene in Disney and Pixar’s movie Soul of what appears to be a distressed banker inside a financial trading room, who said, “What have I been doing with my life?” Bombarded with all the macroeconomic and financial analyses, I used to consider my work as “too distant” to the everyday struggles of Filipinos, or in the words of my college philosophy professor, “malayo sa talagang nangyayari.”

But as I gradually learned about the bigger picture: how our work in the central bank affects public and investor confidence, how it contributes to the overall strength of the financial system, and how it supports the BSP’s mission of creating an environment that is “conducive to a sustainable and inclusive growth of the economy,” I was reminded that our work matters. My work matters. 

Price stability and financial stability are not just abstract concepts spewed out by economic managers, policymakers, and investment analysts. They are also about whether a small business can have a chance to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, whether a parent can afford to enroll her kids next school year, or pay next month’s rent, or put food on the table. Our work matters because it ultimately affects people. I take comfort and draw inspiration from the fact that it has a real, tangible impact on lives.

Quite fittingly, in my messy office desk, below the Bloomberg terminal screens my eyes could stare at all day, I display a bookmark I got way back in college, which bears a famous quote attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ: “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” I am grateful to have endured those five months of anxious waiting, as I would not have had the opportunity and privilege to be in the work I have come to appreciate and love. –

Gervin Domingo is a financial market research specialist at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. He holds a master’s degree in applied mathematics and aims to pursue further studies in economics in the near future. Between review sessions for certification exams, he obsesses on television series such as Grey’s Anatomy, Homeland, Modern Family, and Normal People. The views expressed in the piece are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the BSP.

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