The Feast of Life

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

| This is the 101st story of Our Life Logs |

My childhood was spent in the small city of Manizales, Colombia. As the youngest in the family, my parents were quite overprotective of me. They didn’t let me go outside and play with other kids very often because they would worry about me. The isolation made me shy and socially awkward. My older brother and sister were my only friends for a while.

Despite the isolation, I had a happy childhood because I found fun things to do inside the house. When I was 5, my uncle bought me a laptop, an IBM ThinkPad. I was intrigued by this new technology and liked playing around on it to learn more. My parents did restrict my laptop usage, though. I could only use it for half an hour each day until I got older. When I wasn’t using the laptop, I would play video games most of the time to keep me occupied. In 2000, when I was 7, my laptop got an Internet connection. I upgraded from preloaded games to flash video games on the Cartoon Cartoons website. Playing with computers became one of my favorite hobbies.

Me (middle with my front teeth missing) experiencing a computer for the first time at age 5, 1998.

My shyness made my social life a bit depressing. As a guy that loved computers and video games, I was also quite nerdy. I preferred spending time alone. I remember during breaks in school, I would go off alone to a high place, so I could just observe everyone and eat my snacks. That all changed when I went to a science summer camp at age 14. I joined the International Park of Creativity, a program designed to teach kids about Synthetic Biology. It was my first social event where I felt like I was finally around like-minded people. I could talk about computers, philosophy and science, and my peers were contributing to the conversation, and were enjoying it as much as me! It was like a switch had been flipped. Because of that camp, I became more social and had an easier time making friends. From that moment on, socializing seemed to come naturally to me.

My computer skills improved over time. By age 13, I had built my first computer program with the help of my brother. That same year, I also began to learn how to make video games through GameMaker, and some of my first games won at science fairs I competed in. Through it, I met a hacker who thought I had potential, and offered to teach me how to code for free. We coded in Turbo C++ and made several programs. Together, I discovered how to use Linux, open source ideology, Augmented Reality, basic electronics, and many more. I owe him much.

At MIT in Boston with the science summer camp after presenting a project for a competition (I’m in the direct middle with glasses), 2009.

In high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. I was torn between becoming a psychologist, philosopher, or a software engineer. I went to my parents for advice. They told me I wouldn’t make much money in psychology or philosophy. I knew that was true which was part of why I was hesitant. I threw out the third option: software engineering. They liked that idea, and when I said it out loud to them, I knew it was the right path for me. My love of computers began at five years old and nurtured over time.

I began at a local university, majoring in computer science. My outgoing personality I had developed carried into college, and I was well liked. I picked up the lessons quickly and my classmates began calling me “el tigre” (the tiger) because of my quick, efficient performances in programming development. I enjoyed university, but I was a bit disappointed with my classes. A lot of the stuff I was being taught, I could have learned from a YouTube video at home. I still kept with the program. My parents had paid for my schooling, and I didn’t want their money to go to waste.

I enjoyed the college life. I joined many clubs and tried to enhance my social skills even more, especially with women. When I was 18, I met my first girlfriend through a university choir group I joined. We didn’t last longer than six months, but I had least gained some experience with dating, and I felt less awkward. While in school, I also worked as an English/Spanish translator for a year on top of my studies. I created another game with other students from the university that were in a game jam with me. The Game Jam is a competition where participants are challenged to develop a video game from scratch in less than 48 hours. My team and I won the first place. I kept myself busy through college and didn’t give myself much down time. I wanted to try as many experiences as possible.

My full schedule kept me from spending as much time with my family, which I wasn’t happy with. I decided to free up a whole day, so I could spend it with my parents and take them out for lunch. I knew I hadn’t been appreciating them enough. I wanted to give them this lunch to make sure they knew I cared. I took them to one of their favorite restaurants and told them how much I loved and appreciated them. They were delighted that I had done this.

My parents on the day that I took them out for the appreciation lunch, 2014.

In 2014, my father had a stroke that paralyzed half of his side. He was rushed into special treatment and sent to a hospital in Medellín, almost five hours away. He was there for three months in Medellin, and my mother was there to support him. This left me alone in our house while I was going to school. My mother called and kept me updated. She told me that the doctors were planning a procedure that could finally help him get well enough to come home.

One day after class, I was surprised to get a call, not from my mother, but from my father. I was so happy to hear his voice. He told me the procedure had gone well and that he should be home in a week. What fantastic news! I was thrilled to hear that he was recovering and coming home soon. I missed both of my parents. I went to sleep that night contented, awaiting the return of my father.

The next morning, I received a call from my sister while I was in class. I walked into the hallway to take it, expecting her to want to talk about the good news of my father’s procedure. When she began to speak, I knew something was wrong. The softness to her voice was firing off warnings in my head.

She said, “Juan, our father’s in heaven.”

What was she talking about? I had just spoken to my father yesterday and he was fine! I was in shock! She told me he died in his sleep at 3 am that morning. It felt like the world had collapsed in on me. How could this be? Just yesterday, there was hope of recovery! I didn’t want to accept that he was gone. On the phone, my sister and I cried together and mourned the loss of our beloved patriarch.

With the return of my grieving mother, I knew that someone in the family was going to have to step up and be strong for the rest of us. I took it upon my shoulders to be that person. I did what I could to be there for everyone in my family. I think it was easier for me to fall into the role. After some reflection on his death, I felt inner peace about it because I had gotten to speak to him before he died.

Six months passed, and the hole left by my father’s death was slowly closing. It was still difficult to wake up each day knowing he was gone, but I took comfort in knowing that he knew that I loved and appreciated him. I looked back on the lunch I took my parents out for to show my gratitude and was happy with the timing. I had a chance to show my admiration before I lost him. Then I had an epiphany. I got to let my father know how much I appreciated him, but there are many people that don’t get that chance before losing a loved one. I was lucky, but not everyone is so lucky. The wheels in my head started turning. I wanted to create something that could give people a chance to show gratitude to their loved ones before it’s too late.

At age 22, I came up with “The Compliment Project.” It’s a website that has a form you can fill out with a compliment you wish to pay to someone. Then it’s sent to the person’s email. It’s better to show your gratitude in person, but this is an extra sentiment that lets people know that you’re thinking of them. I used the project to provide an outlet for people to use so that more love will be spread, one message at a time. This project was like an open letter from me to the world. We must not take life for granted. We must tell people we care about them while we still have the chance. At least 70 people have used it since it was launched in 2015, which was more than I expected. I’m happy that some people have found it and have found use for it.

The front page of The Compliment Project website. It reads: “Give a compliment! Think of someone special and write a compliment.”

The desire to help others was ignited from The Compliment Project, so I continued to kickstart other projects. One other I created was “The RAK Project” which stands for “random acts of kindness.” It was another project used to help spread positivity. It aimed to remind people that the others they see around them are human beings too. If they took the challenge, a random act of kindness would be given for them to do within 24 hours. This project became a bit more popular, and I was recognized in the media as a humanitarian.

The death of my father was a true turning point for me. I believe that since he’s passed, he has been positively interceding in my life. Losing him brought my family together and closer than ever. The circumstances were unfortunate, but the outcome was beautiful to see. Both my siblings are older with their own lives, it was great to see them make time to spend with my mother and me after his passing. I think we’re all a lot closer today because of it. After his death, things also began strangely working for me. My grades never faltered in school through my grieving process, and I continued thriving in the programming classes. In the years after his death, my social life also continued to improve. I was even able to find a serious girlfriend.

Not only did my personal life improve, but my professional life did too. I grew from a software engineering student to a more well-renowned, mature, goal-oriented person. Before his death, I’d find myself losing focus. After losing him, I was determined to move up in my professional life. In 2016, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and began getting experience within small companies. I was lucky to have an opportunity to work for a well-respected global technology company not long after graduating. They took me under their wing, impressed by my past experiences with coding and creating other technological things. It was my dream job, and I was honored to be given the opportunity. The catch was that the job was in Medellín, meaning that for the first time in my life, I’d have to leave home. Determined to begin a promising career, I made the move even though it hurt to move from my hometown. Once I began at the company, I knew it was the right choice. The company embraced me and helped me move up and improve my skills. I gained a lot of experience over a short period of time.

The company has given me incredible opportunities. Just four months ago, I was awarded one of the most prestigious worldwide honors that Google can give. I was named a Google Developer Expert in Angular, an honor that only about 70 people have and only 2 others in Latin America have been awarded. That was my proudest moment. I improved my computer skills over time, but I don’t think I would have found so much success without my dad watching over me. I think he’s the reason I’ve found such happiness in my life. He has helped me get this far.

Though it hurt to lose my father, his death helped me define a purpose in life. You must thank everyone and everything in your life. Life is a feast. There’s so much to experience, but we must share with others so that everyone can enjoy it. The best way to do so is to help others and share positivity all through life.

This is the story of Juan Herrera

Juan currently works and lives in Medellín, Colombia. As a child, Juan grew up shy and a bit nerdy with an interest in computers that developed over time. With the death of his father, Juan had an epiphany about his purpose in life which was to thank what he’s been given by helping others. In his free time, Juan loves to listen to rock and indie music. A few of his favorite artists include Radiohead, Coldplay, and The Strokes. Through his life, Juan became a jack of all trades. He created his own YouTube channel, has learned to play chess, guitar, and ping-pong. He even played ping-pong professionally at one point. He loves to sing, especially opera-style singing. Juan loves to help people in any way that he can. Today, he creates technologies to help others and continues to work through social projects to spread positivity.

Juan playing chess at age 11.

This story first touched our hearts on June 19, 2018.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editors: Adam Savage; Colleen Walker |

#Colombia #dream #technology #computer #programming #purpose #service #kindness #socialrevolution #positivity

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