If you sat beside Cris Nagandang as he designed his latest project, he might have asked you which color was which.
"He pioneered our PayMongo dashboard. He's a great developer even though he's color blind. Saan ka pa, frontend developer na color blind? Sir Cris lang malakas!" said Jam Frigillana, his fellow software engineer. Despite his difficulty seeing colors, Cris's drive to improve as a designer was, according to her, "one way to challenge himself."
Cris and the rest of the engineering team looked forward to 2021, knowing that it would be a year where – with the steady growth of PayMongo – their lean but mean group will be able to showcase their talents even more.
But on January 12, Cris Matias Nagandang passed away. He was 28. Cris left behind his parents, Cristito and Beheldes, and his brother, Crisnags. His friends at PayMongo were stunned.
"Yesterday we received the shocking and sad news that Cris Nagandang, a gifted young software engineer in the team and one that I call a personal friend, passed away. With this tragedy, his family, friends and many of us here suffer an inexpressible loss with his untimely passing, and we offer our most profound condolences," wrote Francis Plaza, PayMongo's CEO, in the company's group chat. "I want to express that all of us are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many."
To many, Cris was a mentor, a teammate, and most all, a dear friend.
"Cris will also be remembered as one of the pillars who built PayMongo from the ground up. Without him, I don’t think PayMongo would be where we are now," Ced Custodio, PayMongo's anti-fraud chief, said.
It's unfortunate that many new PayMongo employees had not been able to meet Cris because everyone's been working from home since the pandemic. For Kevin, Cris was a "very outspoken, sociable, and funny" colleague and friend.
"I would even consider him to be PayMongo's class clown with his antics and personality," Kevin added.
Cris spent his formative years in Cagayan De Oro City, graduating high school and college there before transferring to Manila to pursue a career in software engineering.
He worked for different companies including Accenture, Concentrix, and Resorts World before moving to Olelo, a social media analytics company where he met Francis, Jam, Kevin, and Ced, as well as Jaime Hing III and Alex De Ocampo.
From Olelo, the same group transitioned to another software house, 22 Delta. Then Francis and Jaime, along with Luis Sia and Edwin Lacierda, eventually founded PayMongo. Cris, Alex, Jam, Kevin, and Ced were PayMongo's first engineers.
Cris was mostly a backend engineer until switching over to frontend projects starting from his time at Olelo. Since then, he had specialized more in frontend projects, including the development of the dashboard at PayMongo.
"Si Sir Cris all-around yan eh. He can juggle back and then frontend. I can say na equipped siya sa kahit saang project mo siya ibato," said Jaime, PayMongo's Chief Technology Officer.
But a must for Cris when doing a project was to hear sounds. Literally.
"Si Sir Cris, uncomfortable sa kanya iyong walang sound, so nagme-make sounds siya ... sometimes, drum sounds or maybe [he would] try to imitate some animal effects," Jaime said. "Ang first impression ko rin talaga sa kanya tahimik, tapos deep inside, maloko din pala eh."
(From left to right) Cris Nagandang, Zoren Gallogo, Jaime Hing III, CB Ablan, Alex De Ocampo, and Reyn Rance dining together in a company outing in 2019.
"I look up to him as he was the type of person who was willing to get the job done, while trying to understand the bigger picture altogether."
Those who had worked with Cris in their previous jobs said that he was crucial in helping his teams overcome sticky situations.
"There was this project back in Olelo where we had to revamp our dashboard app, as in from the ground up. Everything. We had to reskin iyong buong app na iyon, tapos we had to do it in a month," said Kevin. "So around the 2nd half of the 3rd week noong time na iyon, nag-step-in na si Jaime tsaka si Cris."
"Ang nangyari noon, kaming tatlo, iyon lang ginawa namin for a whole week. We had to sleep —well, kaming dalawa ni Cris at least — we had to sleep sa office para lang tuloy-tuloy kami makapagtrabaho for 7 days." On their sleeping arrangements, Kevin added, "Buti na lang may bean bag. Doon na lang kami nag-share."
In another instance, the team had to complete one final project for a former software engineering company before moving on to PayMongo. Cris, of course, wanted to work at PayMongo right away and be part of the company's initial software development.
Instead, Cris worked closely with Jaime for several months to close the final project with their previous company so that the rest of the team could begin to work on PayMongo's software. At the time, Jaime explained, investors had not yet come in and PayMongo's founding team only consisted of 9 people.
"One of the most crucial sacrifices that (Cris) did was to actually not be involved with PayMongo's software development for the first few months," Kevin remembered.
By the time Cris was able to shift his focus to the PayMongo dashboard, "ang dami na rin niyang na-contribute, even if it took him around 9 months para lang makabalik na ulit sa PayMongo," said Kevin.
Cris was "very intelligent and critical," said Miggy Mercado, a fellow software engineer. "He takes ownership over the work he has been assigned to - whether it's something he has mastery on or something he has no experience on. I look up to him as he was the type of person who was willing to get the job done, while trying to understand the bigger picture altogether."
The PayMongo team on vacation in Leyte, 2019. Many in the team have been friends and colleagues years before they started work in PayMongo.
To many, Cris was a mentor, a teammate, and most all, a dear friend. At PayMongo however, he is also known for starring in a vlog that he and Kevin made during a company trip to Leyte in 2019.
Your browser does not support the video tag.
"Siya yung talent, ako yung director," explained Kevin, chuckling as he shared that he only edited the video on his phone. "Buti na lang nag-enjoy yung mga tao. I think yun naman yung point ni Cris with it, na tumawa yung mga tao with him. Baka sumikat din daw siya," Kevin added. "Cris was one of the people who made everyone very comfortable."
Cris was both funny and quiet, but to his friends, he expressed himself when he had to show empathy. "Ganun siya. Tahimik siya pero alam niya. Nafi-feel niya kung may something iyong isang tao," said Jam.
Cris wouldn't likely initiate conversations but, as Jaime shared, "for those naman na ka-close, siyempre, 'di na yan mahiya-hiya kapag kayo lang."
Cris was that friend who always gave quiet, sincere support especially on rough days.
"I still remember that time na we only had one month left para magpasahod sa kanila, and kita sa akin na 'di ako okay noon. So, nag-reach out siya sa akin at that time and sabi niya, kahit ano'ng maging plan namin ni Kiko (Francis), susuportahan niya kami. Cris said, 'Kung wala nang pera, hanap tayo ng ibang project. Hanap tayo ng ibang venture.' "
In his short Facebook bio, Cris wrote: "In an open-ended world, how do you want your story to end?"
For PayMongo and his friends, Cris's story does not end. It stays with them always.