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I’m Changing My Mind, The Word is

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Programming | Posted on 27-03-2008

I’ve said for years that I always wanted to work with people that were passionate about technology.  After countless blog comments, a podcast that will never air, tons of discussions and numerous interviews this week I am changing my mind. 

I’ve said it and have heard others say it.  The word passion comes up a lot in technology.  I went to the dictionary and looked up passion.  Here are the relative points in relation to technology.


  • intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction
  • a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept

I am passionate about a lot  of things, for example fishing.  I have a very strong liking or desire for that activity.  I really do.  The problem with using passion to differentiate one person over another is passion is an emotion.  It can’t be measured.  This hit me this week while I was interviewing.  I want someone that has a desire or devotion to technology.  The problem is I can’t measure it, it is an emotion.  Anyone that responds to a question about their passion will provide a really strong argument as to why they think they are passionate.

From this moment forward (or until I change my mind ) I am going to stop looking for passion.  From this point on, I am looking for initiative.


  • The power or ability to begin or to follow through energetically with a plan or task; enterprise and determination.
  • A beginning or introductory step; an opening move

Initiative is key.  One can have all the passion in the world about technology or fishing, but the separating factor between someone that is good or great at either of them is initiative.  At some point that first step has to be taken.  And then another.  And another.  It is the act of doing something of one’s own free will that is the difference.  This I can measure. 

So it is written, so it shall be.

Comments (5)

I agree completely. But I would have to wrap initiative in the cloak of either teachability or action to pursue knowledge.

There are many people that are passionate and have initiative, but their initiative stops beyond what they are currently working on at the moment (whether on or off the job).

Their skills are limited to what experience can teach, and we know that experience is a very poor teacher (as it only tells you what is painful–not what is best).

Asking a developer how they acquire new knowlege reveals quite a bit about them.

I’m always amazed at the people that spend the first 10 years of their career learning the how/why of OOP from experience when they could have picked up the condensed expertise of an expert (aka a book) and made the same transition in 6 months.

Of course, I use OOP as an example, you could apply the same logic to any other core topic of our industry (design, process, technology, etc).


Passion doesn’t always control initiative. We’d like it to though, that’s the point. I want someone to be so passionate they have no choice but o respond physically. But I can think of a lot of instances where initiative is or can be invoked without passion. Example.

Let’s say your boss says. “We need this thing built to solve problem X. We know everyone is busy so the first developer that gets it built on their own time, gets a free iPod, or Zune, or $100.”

If I am the developer that does that task do I have passion? No, I have motivation that was inspired by someone else. I did take the initiative to do the task though. The key difference about the type of initiative we are looking for is initiative driven from within through passion.

Indeed, I was about to reply that one does not have initiative if one is not passionate. Passion is the heart and soul, Initiative is the body. Passion controls and drives Initiative, not the other way around.

There is a correllation of passion and initiative. I didn’t feel like putting all of that in the artcle and getting all long winded. I’ll just let you the reader come up with all of those and discuss.

Passion’s still important, but *evidence* of the passion will be shown in whatever initiatives people take up. Most people don’t initiate much when they’re not passionate. You can still look for passion, but it’s gotta be backed up with something else.

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