Find Your Passion – Grow Your Passion

2 03 2014

Not so long ago I attended a speed mentoring session at a tech conference. I was in a transition period of my career path. I told one of the mentors, “I’m unemployed, I need a job.” She was a well known force in the local tech community whom I found to be slightly intimidating, but I trusted her advice and took it to heart. What she told me was, “You don’t need a job. You need to find your passion.” I just stared at her agape. All I could think was, “I’m unemployed, of course I need a job.” Later that night and over the next few days, I pondered what she’d said, and wondered how I could find my passion.

How does one go about finding one’s passion? I know my passion is in software. But the positions I was applying for were not just software, they were programming in language X, using tool Y. What was my passion? Language X? Tool Y? Of course I had my favorite language and tool, but what was it I liked about them? I can learn any language and any tool. I guess I like my preferred tools because I am comfortable with them and they make sense for the problems I solve. Problem solving, I like that. But what do I tell an employer? How do I define my passion?

So how did I start seeking definition for my passion? Somehow I found and I searched for “hackathon”. I found one and signed myself up. I joined a group, we worked hard, we won first place and got some money. That was thoroughly enjoyable, and it would have been a wonderful experience even without the money. I enjoyed the problem solving, and I enjoyed the teamwork. But I still didn’t have definition. So I found and went to several local techie meetup groups. The people were wonderful. They wanted to share information, and I as seeking knowledge. It was a win-win situation. I persevered, continuing to attend hackathons and meetups, at every point analyzing, trying to pinpoint that definition.

Still with undefined passion I had interview after interview, and always found myself at a loss when asked what I like to do. I knew I liked problem solving and teamwork. I was then hired into a leadership role. I enjoyed being a key player in the discussion of who would do which pieces and found that having input in the product roadmap was exciting. This taught me that I have good ideas and I want them to be heard. As that project fizzled (small startups sometimes run out of money), a colleague whom I’d met at outreach events and hackathons asked if I’d be interested in writing some code to implement his idea for a project with a new SDK that Intel had developed. I said, “sure.”

So I embarked on a new mission and found that this “new SDK” was new. Most folks know that if they want to learn something, they can google it. Developers do that. We google things like “how do I delete elements from an array in iOS” if we are new to iOS. Guess what? When you are using a new SDK, there are no answers. No one has asked the question yet. And if someone has, no one has figured out how to answer it yet, or if someone has responded, their answer doesn’t quite answer your question. Well, through reading and re-reading the rudimentary documentation and through lots of trial and error, I succeeded in implementing the project. That was exciting and empowering, reinforcing that I like to solve challenging problems.

What I discovered on this journey is that I cannot pinpoint my passion. That is, it cannot be defined in a single pinpoint. It is not a single term, X. My passion cannot be defined as a programming language or a tool. My passion needs several sentences to express itself.

I am passionate about solving challenging problems for interesting products. I want to work with a team whose members have mutual respect for each other and who are engaged in and excited about what we are doing. And though I don’t necessarily want to be in control of the product or company roadmap, I do want the power to be heard when I have an idea.

My other passion is computer science outreach. I love sharing my excitement about my passion with others. That is why I co-chair this amazing conference.

Seek your passion.

– Pamela Harrison