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Sacha Chua: Geek Goddess |

Young Star

Sacha Chua: Geek Goddess

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
She’s a self-confessed computer "geekette" — and proud of it. You would be too if you were 19 years old, the only girl in the Bayanihan Computing Group (an all-student Ateneo group led by Dr. Luis Sarmenta) that won the US$125,000 Best Academic solution award at the Microsoft ".Net Best" international competition, and already a teaching assistant at the Ateneo de Manila Computer Science Department. Her thesis project is about finding free software alternatives for eyes-free computing, which can be used by the blind.

Sandra Jane Chua, or Sacha, is busting stereotypes, all because she simply loves what she does. Her fascination with computers began when her father took home an Apple clone for the family business — and she was playing with it even before she could read! This was later developed when she was accepted at the prestigious Philippine Science High School, where, she claims, "it wasn’t unusual to have long geeky conversations about (computers)."

The victory of her team at a worldwide competition has taught her that there is still so much more to learn, and so much more to give. And this victory has taught us about the potential of the Filipino in making inroads in the realm of computers. Globally.

Sacha is dreaming, and she’s dreaming big. The thing she likes most about computing is that it presents her with endless possibilities. She says, "I can simply sit down, research, experiment, and write something that will help make people’s lives a little bit easier, a little bit better. For me, computer science is less about computers than it is about making a difference."

This girl may be tomorrow’s Bill Gates. But for now, we’re proud to call her our Bright Young Thing.

Who are your heroes/icons?

There are quite a few people I admire, and I don’t have enough space to enumerate them all. Here’s a short list: Richard Stallman, for his unwavering commitment to free software. Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux. My parents, who showed me that I can do whatever I put my mind to and that I should follow my dreams. My teachers, my friends... I owe so much to so many people!

What’s wrong with your generation?

I see nothing wrong with my generation; in fact, a generation is hard to define. However, I know that all too many people have not yet discovered their passion — what drives them, what fulfills them. This is a problem that is certainly not limited to one generation, and may indeed never be solved.

What’s the best thing about your generation?

Again, same disclaimer about generations. Let me talk instead of the best thing about ourselves — about you, me, and all the other people in this world. We can learn so much. We can do so much. There is so much potential that can be developed, that can be tapped — let’s do what we can to realize our potential and help others realize theirs.

Given the chance, what would you like to
do for your country?

The same thing as I have always done — learn more and find ways of using computer science to make people’s lives better. I have that chance, and I am doing it. I don’t need to wait for an opportunity to do grand, heroic deeds!

What’s the most important thing you learned from older people?

I don’t know; I’m always learning something new. I suppose that’s it — the knowledge that there is always something more to be learned, and that I should use what I learn to make life better.

What’s your concept of success?

Success isn’t a goal I can aim for. Success isn’t a moving target that changes as I grow older. Success... Success isn’t the end I pursue; it is something nice, something extra that comes when I do what I really love doing.

What are your most decadent pleasures?

Oooh. Chocolate, fresh strawberries, and ice cream. And staying on the computer all day, free to do anything I want to do. And seeing people smile, or even just knowing that I’ve helped someone somewhere.

What advice would you give the elder generation?

To never think they’re too old, of course. To dare. To dream. And to never stifle other people’s dreams, but rather to help people achieve them.

Finish the sentence: Life is...

Nifty. Funky. Cool. Wonderful.

What inspires you?

Life! Potential! Opportunity! That, and chocolates. And strawberries. And, well, pretty much everything else.

Is youth wasted on the young?

Nope. Not a single bit. Neither is age wasted on the old.

What keeps you going — passion or discipline?

Passion, definitely — for passion makes discipline passion as well. That’s one of the coolest things about it, really... Work becomes so much fun!

What’s the biggest problem/challenge in the computer sector right now?

I think that one of the largest problems that faces the computer sector today is the hype that has grown up around it. See, when there’s a lot of hype, then people will try to get into computer science — or anything, for that matter — for some perceived benefit that might not really be there. It’s not enough to be into it for the money — you have to have passion. You have to really love the field. You have to want to make a difference.

What’s your dream project?

Wearable computing, definitely. Wearable computing is about being able to bring a computer with you anytime, anywhere. This computer can do more than your personal digital assistant or cellphone — instead of just reminding you about events or organizing your address book, a wearable computer can "listen," try to relate what’s going on with what it knows about, and provide helpful suggestions or reminders. I’m looking forward to the day when computers will become so small and convenient that we will bring one around everywhere we go, and we will be able to use the unique strengths of computers to augment ourselves.

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