The Collins Dictionary defines the word passion as:  A strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept, etc.

Last week I was reading an article in Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) regarding the naming of professor of computer science Judea Pearl of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as the winner of the Turing Award for 2011 for his contributions to Artificial Intelligence.  A link on an article led me to an hour and a half interview (sound only) of Judea Pearl.

Professor Pearl is quite accomplished.  Most of his achievements are far beyond my technical understanding and interests.  What called my attention for this blog were his comments regarding his childhood, which he believes helped him mold the person he is today.

Judea Pearl was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1936.  In May 14, 1948 Israel declared its independence.  At the time Judea Pearl was about twelve (12) years old.  He should have started attending what we refer to in the USA as Middle School in the K-12 education system.  Due to political and social reasons many individuals of Jewish believes were forced to leave their countries of birth and seek refuge in Israel.  Many people with advanced degrees found their way as middle and high school teachers.

At that time Israel faced the challenge of starting an independent nation and felt the need to succeed or perish.  The passion that resulted thanks to the state of mind of the population and the over educated teachers provided students like Judea Pearl with a unique environment in which to develop their intellect.

Judea Pearl believes that the education from K-12 all the way up to higher degrees leaves a lot to be desired in the USA.  Both students and teachers have lost their passion for learning and teaching.  This has considerably slowed down the potential for success as technical professionals and scientists.  In other words, it appears that for the most part, teachers and students have lost their passion to succeed and make a difference.

By no means I am at the technical level or have the accomplishments of professor Pearl.  That said; I was born in Peru from Italian parents that migrated to South America in the 1930’s in an attempt to escape the Italy of Benito Mussolini.  My parents waited years before they started a family.  My parents considered education extremely important.  My sisters attended a private French school while I went to an American one.  The teachers in both schools were quite capable and most of them had advanced degrees.  In the equivalent of High School years I had Physics and Math classes every day.  I was lucky to have the same Physics teacher for four years.  He had a PhD in Nuclear Physics.  The lab facilities, higher education and passion of the teachers helped most students understand and become quite comfortable with the subjects being taught.  In several occasions, which at the time I did not fully understand, teachers showed passion in what they did.  I recall that some teachers would make themselves available for one or two students Sunday mornings taking several hours from their personal time to help students understand a specific topic on a specific subject.  That is a behavior completely foreign to us in the USA.  Teachers, parents and students getting together on a weekend to help students succeed.  That is the passion that Judea Pearl saw when he was growing up.

Today I work developing software.  I play different roles depending on what is needed.  Sometimes I wear the hat of the principal software architect, others of a programmer and sometimes that of a tester.  I have always been fascinated by software engineering.  It seems that no matter how much you may know about the programming language being used for a project or the ins and outs of the operating system at hand, how software is developed plays a big role in the success of the project.  By following and improving on software engineering principles success tends to be a norm.  Of course just reading about a couple books on software engineering regarding in vogue methodologies (i.e., Agile) is not enough.  Success appears to be associated with the level of passion put into software development by all members in the development team.

I want to note that passion for the sake of passion would not lead to success.  Some of the members of a team may exhibit passion for recognition, high pay, overtime, etc.  In general passion for such goals does little for the success of the project and quality of the software product.  Passion needs to be applied to the development process, learning and teaching, talking and listening, directing and following, reading and writing among other tasks to help the developers become better as a team than the sum of their parts.  I believe that is the passion that professor Judea Pearl is referring too.

In the past few weeks I have been talking with my two sons, which happen to work in computer software development.  The idea that I came up with is to put up a web site with articles that relate to good software development practices.  Some entries might be related to software engineering while others may touch specific problems encountered during a regular day at work.  The idea is to post them and be open for comments.

My ability in coming up with attractive (and most important not taken) web domains is limited.  Because of this Giancarlo came up and has already registered the domain:  Currently the web site is under development.  Hope to have it up and running and with an initial post by the end of May 2012.  Hopefully we will be able to show the passion for software development we have on the entries and software that we will be posting.  Hope you bookmark it, stop by and provide feedback.

A passionate Naïve American

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