| life, passion, reflection

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My dad: As far as I can remember, I’ve always been surrounded by examples of passion. My father’s passion for making things happen drove him to become a legend in the Philippines (no, seriously, there’s a mountain tribe that’s woven him into their tribal stories), and his passion for advertising photography helped both our family and the business grow.

My dad works long hours and invests a lot of time and energy in learning, but it’s almost like play for him. From his example, I learned that passion is an amazing thing that can infect other people and make big things happen. I also learned that it can be difficult to find other people who are as passionate as you are, and you need to be strong so that you can weather the ups and downs of passion. I learned from how my mom supported and enabled my dad’s passions, and how they drew people together to help create opportunities.

I learned how passion can lead to success and prosperity, although the road may be long and difficult. But in the grips of your passion, you can’t help but follow it.

One of my dad’s favourite pieces of advice for beginning photographers is this:

Passion and Profit – nice to hear, di ba? Pero sa totoo lang – passion muna bago profit, and then hopefully later, they go together. Sometimes, matagal ka munang magpapasyon bago ka magka-profit.


Papa’s Talk, as recorded by Harvey Chua

Passion and profit – nice to hear, isn’t it? But the truth is, passion comes before profit, and then hopefully later, they go together. Sometimes, you have to suffer a long time before you can profit.

My mom: Compared with the clarity of my dad’s drive, my mom sometimes struggles to define her passions. She played a supporting role in building the family business, managing it and keeping it on an even keel. But I remember how she had shelves and shelves of books on parenting, education, advertising, and marketing, and how she was always learning. She told us a story of how she taught herself calculus so that she could help us prepare for exams. If that’s not passion for us, what is?

Grade school: My sisters and I went to St. Scholastica’s College for grade school, and there were many great role models for passion there as well. I have fond memories of many of my teachers, who showed their everyday dedication in the classroom. Mrs. Castillo (the principal) was clearly passionate about education, and she shared her enthusiasm with us in weekly speeches and newsletters. She was passionate about the role of drama in education, too, and we put on school plays with the help of Tita Naty Crame-Rogers—another powerhouse of passion.

I discovered the first of my great passions when I was in grade school, too. My eldest sister was learning Turbo Pascal in high school. I loved imitating whatever she did, and she hated it when I did that, so I wanted to learn how to program and she refused to teach me. I taught myself by reading the manual when she wasn’t around, and I found that I really enjoyed being able to get the computer to do what I wanted it to do. (Perhaps being the youngest had something to do with that too – I had no one to order around but the computer! ;) )

I loved working on the computer so much that my mom had to set up a much-contested schedule for computer time. The more I learned, the more I enjoyed learning. By the time I was in grade 6, I was helping my teachers learn how to use the new applications they had at school.

High school: Studying at Philippine Science High School meant being surrounded by geeks of all persuasions. I met people who were passionate about physics or chemistry or mathematics or biology. I saw how people could be incredibly talented at arts or drama or sports. My niche was computer programming, and I was very good at it. Being around so many people who were passionate about something or another was fantastic, and I learned a lot from our multiplicity of talents.

The only downside of this, I suppose, was that I let the abundance of talent convince me to focus on only a few things. In grade school, for example, everyone acted in the plays and everyone was involved in production. Everyone drew and everyone danced. In high school – especially in a high school that drew the best students from all over the Philippines – the differences in talent and experience meant that it became easy to think of writing or drawing or acting as things that other, more talented people did.

I had gotten to know my first year computer teacher through bulletin-board systems even before high school, and he knew that I was very interested in computers. While the rest of my classmates learned how to use MS-DOS Edit and Microsoft Windows, he challenged me by giving me administrator access to a Linux machine, telling me how to find the documentation, and asking me to set up a Linux-based BBS. I loved the way there was so much to learn about this unfamiliar operating system.

Programming contests: My first-year high school teacher also encouraged me to try out for programming competitions. I solved five of the problems they set for us, and I made it into the team. We trained during summers and the school year, and we participated in international competitions.

It was incredible being among so many computer geeks! I loved figuring out algorithms and discussing data structures with other people who enjoyed programming as much as I did. I learned how to work under time pressure and how to take advantage of other people’s strengths in our team.

I also learned about mismanagement. The international programming competitions we participated in high school were part of a regional computing conference. One year, the organization raised enough funds to make sure that the Philippines could send a team the next year. When the next year came around, the funds were missing, and we had to raise funds again. It taught me that passion is good, but you still need to keep an eye out for people who might take advantage of it.

University: I continued participating in programming competitions throughout university. I took computer science and had tons of fun learning. Because my entrance exam results had placed me in advanced classes and I took extra classes during summer, I had room to either do a double-major in math or take a lighter load in my fourth year of university. I took a few extra courses in math before deciding that path wasn’t for me, so I scaled down to 12 units a semester – about four classes – in my final year. This was also around the time that I got into open source development and wearable computing, and I put the extra time to great use. I discovered the joys of working on software that other people would actually use, and I had tons of fun experimenting with new technology.

I learned that time—particularly long blocks of unstructured time—can be really useful for pursuing passion, and that I loved working on things that made people’s lives easier. Working with about 200 passionate users of Planner (a Emacs-based personal information manager), I learned how I could help people work better by building tools that fit the way they work.

Blogging: Working on that personal information manager also got me into blogging. When I started working on the project, it already had a way to store quick notes and publish web pages. I figured out how to produce a feed based on those notes, and I tested it by publishing my own website. I used the site to share my class notes and programming ideas. I was surprised to find that people were reading it, and even more surprised to find that people thought it was valuable. So I got into the habit of writing about what I was learning, and that helped me learn so much more along the way.

Reading people’s blogs also taught me a lot about passion. When I learned about the skill/joy learning curve, I realized that passion doesn’t come immediately. As you learn more, you develop your ability to enjoy what you’re doing, and you learn even more, and you enjoy even more.

Work – must add to diagram: In fact, blogging helped me find an opportunity to follow my passion at work, too. While doing my thesis on social computing, I posted my thoughts, questions, and results on my internal blog. I got to know so many amazing people who were also passionate about what they were doing, and I wanted to continue working with them. After lots of exciting interest interviews with people all over the world, I chose a job role that had been created for me – Web 2.0 consulting and application development with IBM’s Global Business Services. Since I joined IBM in 2007, not a week has gone by without a wow! moment related to following my passion.

Hobbies – must add to diagram: I’ve also finally shaken off that hang-up I had from high school about other people being more talented than I was at particular things. I’m happily exploring writing and drawing. I’m even making my peace with subjects I’d disliked in school, like sewing and woodworking. It’s a lot of fun, and who knows which of these interests might develop into passions in the future?

What have I learned about passion?

  • Passion is my responsibility, not that of my company or of people around me.
  • There are different kinds of passion. Most people think of fiery enthusiasm, but slow-and-steady passion is also very useful.
  • Passion can be infectious.
  • Enthusiasm may come and go. Be prepared. Hang on to the fundamentals, and have ways to recharge.
  • Having multiple interests means having many seeds for future passions.
  • Passion can start small.
  • Passions that work together multiply your benefits.
  • Sharing your passion helps you learn more and make a bigger difference.
  • There are people who try to diminish or take advantage of your passion. Stay focused and don’t get discouraged. Find and help people who make good use of your passion.
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