Skip to content

From Undervalued to Advocating: My Journey as a Filipino Software Engineer Fighting for Fair Pay

Published: at 03:19 AM

As a Filipino freelance software engineer, negotiating fair compensation and managing client expectations poses unique challenges. Given the bargain labor stigma attached to our talent pool, I constantly battle assumptions that my rates should be a fraction of American engineers. But through strategic communication and conviction in my abilities, I’ve made progress advocating for appropriate pay.

When I first started freelancing, I admittedly undervalued my skills just to get any work. Hearing things like “Your code is so clean for someone from the Philippines” always stung. But without proven experience on my resume, I accepted unreasonably low offers, hoping to quickly build up my portfolio. This became a problematic cycle – the more projects I bid on the cheap, the more I reinforced unfairly low pay as the norm for Filipino engineers.

In hindsight, chronically undercharging was counterproductive to my goals and damaging to the reputation of Filipino developers overall. It only validated the unfair biases that our engineering skills merit significant pay cuts compared to Western counterparts with the same capabilities. And it took away opportunities from other Filipino coders trying to support themselves by setting unlivable precedents on rates. I realized that uplifting our talent pool meant first taking a stand on my own worth, even if it meant losing some contracts.

As an experienced freelance software engineer, I deliver a range of solutions for clients worldwide. I have worked on machine learning projects, developing models using libraries like scikit-learn and TensorFlow for tasks like prediction and classification. On the engineering side, my expertise spans languages like Python and JavaScript, web frameworks like Django and React, and tools like Docker and AWS. I have experience building custom web and mobile applications, integrating machine learning models via REST APIs, and deploying systems to production. Though not an ML expert, I enjoy continuing to learn and apply machine learning alongside my core software engineering skills. I’m able to develop proof-of-concept ML prototypes and work collaboratively with data scientists on production model development and deployment.

Now when new clients make assumptions that I should work for less pay as a Filipino engineer, I aim to redirect the conversation. I provide examples of my proven track record delivering quality work for satisfied clients, as well as testimonials that speak directly to my expertise. When I’m met with unrealistic expectations, I also take time to clarify which project needs their proposed budget can realistically support versus the full capabilities I can deliver with adequate compensation.

For instance, a recent client needed both a website redesign and a custom web application built. Their initial budget was only sufficient for the website portion. By having an open discussion on requirements, timelines, and fair rates, we found a phased approach that worked for both of us. I completed the website first within their budget, allowing them to launch on time. And now we’re scoping the web app as Phase 2 once additional funding is secured.

Occasionally some prospects still insist on U.S. caliber work at developing world prices no matter how much I demonstrate my value. At that point, I politely disengage after reiterating why those unreasonable terms don’t match up with the skills I bring to the table. Though often difficult to walk away from potential business, I know accepting unfair pay would only further disincentivize investment in Filipino talent.

I charge USD60/hour or Php 3,400.00 for my services, which is reasonable compared to US freelance developer rates. This allows me to deliver quality while still providing cost savings compared to hiring locally for many international clients.

Setting such expectations attracts clients who already appreciate the quality Filipino coders can deliver. Those just seeking cut-rate labor are naturally deterred from even reaching out. Being firm and consistent from the start about my value has proven the most effective filter against unfair biases.

When discounts on my rates alone won’t suffice, I’m happy to redirect prospects to other Filipino coders who may offer lower rates. Avoiding a race to the bottom strengthens our collective leverage in price negotiations. Connecting budget-conscious clients with up-and-coming freelancers can pay shared dividends for Filipino developers long-term.

Beyond negotiations, I’m proactive about showcasing international caliber work in my portfolio that demonstrates expertise building solutions for global brands and audiences. This positioning reiterates why my rates should be on par with American contractors of similar skill levels, not discounted to Philippine wages.

Setting such expectations attracts clients who already appreciate the quality Filipino coders can deliver. Those just seeking cut-rate labor are naturally deterred from even reaching out. Being firm and consistent from the start about my value has proven the most effective filter against unfair biases.

Price negotiation remains an uphill battle as a Filipino engineer, but small wins where I stand my ground give me hope and fuel my persistence. With each unfair assumption challenged, every biased mind changed, I raise my head a little higher.

I know many talented Filipino developers face this same daily struggle. My willingness to advocate for fair compensation lifts us all incrementally. There is still much work needed to fundamentally shift perceptions of our worth and abilities worldwide. But I press on, empowered by the progress I’ve seen and the purpose yet ahead. We are so much more than cheap labor – and soon that truth will be common knowledge.

But this fight can’t be mine alone. Lasting change requires a critical mass willing to say “No” to unfair treatment. The more Filipino coders insist on equitable compensation, the harder it becomes for clients to take advantage of anyone.

Unity is power in negotiations. I actively share my experiences and strategies with other Filipino developers. The collective knowledge we gain, through both wins and losses, is invaluable. I mentor new freelancers on valuing their skills and navigating biased assumptions. And I amplify the voices of fellow coders advocating for the community.

Online forums have also been invaluable for connecting with fellow Filipino freelancers worldwide. The sense of community and support empowers me to keep fighting when discrimination gets exhausting. No one should have to take this stand alone.

I know we still have a long way to go before Filipino developers are universally valued on par with American and European counterparts. But the rising tide of coders speaking out makes me optimistic about the future.

When international clients realize the unique value we offer – not just cost savings but world-class skills and work ethic – perceptions will shift exponentially. My small contribution is ensuring outstanding work and fair rates are the standard I set.

The path to progress has highs and lows. Occasional breakthroughs with enlightened clients keep me hopeful. But there are still just as many demoralizing encounters mired in outdated biases. Self-doubt inevitably creeps in, asking if this fight is fruitless.

But then I remember how far I’ve come already. I recall the first time I convinced a client to pay my full rate, recognizing I was worth the investment. Or helped open doors for another Filipino coder by connecting them with an appreciative client. Each win, however small, is worth celebrating.

On difficult days, I re-read positive feedback from clients. Their words reaffirm why I can’t give up when progress seems impossible. “You went above and beyond expectations. Your work was top notch – we’ll hire you again in a heartbeat.” Their appreciation validates my abilities, even when others still see me as undeserving.

I know my skills speak for themselves through my work. So when my worth is questioned, I take a deep breath and remember my passion. I focus on the vision that inspires me – a future where all Filipino coders are respected as the experts we are.

The path is long, but I’m determined to keep climbing. For myself, for upcoming freelancers, and for the reputation of Filipino developers everywhere. Each small step brings us closer to the summit.

I encourage others to also advocate for fair pay and value their skills. Together we can reshape perceptions and create lasting positive change.