Perhaps the best talk of the entire conference was Kathy Sierra giving her talk about passion. It was about marketing. It was about documentation. It was about getting people interested in our open source work, not for the sake of the project itself, but for the sake of what they can do with it.

She talked about the Nikon website, which shows you the amazingly cool pictures you can take with their camera, and how you can do that. Then she contrasted this with the documentation that comes with the camera which is all about the camera itself, and doesn’t at all speak to the passion of the person.

Passion is something that you spend your time, money, emotions and energy on. And it’s something that frequently looks completely irrational to anyone that doesn’t share your passion.

She asked us each to turn to our neighbor and tell that person what we are passionate about, but we weren’t allowed to mention anything to do with programming, computers, or Open Source development. Unsurprisingly, a number of people had a really hard time coming up with anything at first, given these restrictions. But after a moment, most people (it seemed) thought of something that they indeed spend a lot of time and energy on, that might not be considered rational by the rest of us.

It’s important to step back and consider why we do the things we do. Why they’re important to us. Whether they really matter in the grand scheme of things.

I find that an enormous amount of my identity is tied up in Apache-related things, and I sometimes wonder if what I do with Apache really makes any difference in the world, or if it’s just something that I do in order that people will know who I am. While Hubris is one of the Three Virtues, it’s not particularly sustainable in the long haul. But passion, on the other hand, is sustainable, even if it’s not particularly rational, at least from the external view.

I have a passion for teaching beginners how to use stuff. I’m not entirely sure why, since they are only infrequently grateful. But the few folks that seem genuinely grateful make it all worth it. I think it also has a lot to do with how folks helped me when I was beginning, and the time that they invested in me.

So, once again, a big thank you to the folks who helped me figure stuff out when this was all so new to me. I imagine that most of you don’t even remember helping me. But you never know what impact your actions are going to have.