Interview: Work-Related Project as a Hobby, Willy Tchi-Yuan Ha

Willy Tchi-Yuan Ha

As I wrote before, a work-related topic can be a great choice for a hobby project. That’s what Willy Tchi-Yuan Ha from Montreal did. Unfortunately, Willy cannot disclose too many details about the project so far, but he can share his experience with finding the time and organizing the work.

The project deals with system integration and is implemented in Java. It borrows a few best practices that Willy learned from .NET development and brings it to the system integration world. Willy came up with some ideas combining his experience with Software AG webMethods, .NET and Java.

What motivated you to work on this, despite being busy with other tasks?

I wasn’t good at school, from elementary school to university. No matter how much I studied, I’d always get “C” grades. It was quite depressing for me to see how easy it was for other people to succeed. I hated myself for being so mediocre. With all the bad grades I had, I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to compete with others and that I would end up working at McDonald’s forever. When I finally got my Bachelor degree in Computer Science I decided that I wouldn’t leave it to faith or God (who made me how I am) or anyone to decide what I can and can’t do. Psychologically it all had turned into a matter of fighting for survival against destiny that seemed to have condemned me to mediocrity.

So, my motivation stems from my fear of mediocrity.

I realized later that school grades don’t define the person that you are, and that working requires entirely different skill sets. Despite this realization, the feeling of needing to be better (and not mediocre) has sticked with me.

I didn’t want to drive you into my psyche but this is where my motivation comes from. I actually have several different projects on my mind and/or in the works and what drives all that is my need to prove to myself that I’m not mediocre and that I can be great. For me, being great means that I was successful at creating something unique that will enable me to distinguish myself.

Apologies if it all sounds corny. I feel broken. My hobby might not be a hobby as much as an attempt to fix myself.

What were your qualifications? Did you use your experience, or learn new skills?

I used my experience and learned new skills. As described, I used my .NET experience to fuel my system integration ideas. I also had to self teach new skills in order to accomplish my objectives. Nowadays, it’s so easy to learn things you need, you just need to google it. Google is much more fun than school.

What was your time budget? How did you allocate it and plan the tasks? What schedule worked best for you?

Before my baby arrived, I had plenty of time in the evening and during the weekend to work on my project. However, working during unproductive hours is quite hard. My project wasn’t progressing as fast as I would have liked. My most productive hours are during the day. I also used my paid vacation to work on my project. I can get quite obsessed.

Once my baby was born, I had no free time left. I was depressed and went through some kind of baby blues (the funny thing is that my wife didn’t get any baby blues).

I got really frustrated and I decided to share my idea with my boss and convince him that the company had everything to gain by working on this project. He was sold on the idea — and that’s how I was able to keep working on my project at work.
System integration. Image credit:
Did you do everything by yourself, or did you hire help, paid or volunteer? Any advice on this for others?

I have a mortgage and a family with a baby to support. There’s no way I can find the money to pay for help. True volunteer help with no strings attached is even harder to find.
Therefore, it was important for me to convince my boss to financially help me. Being on good terms with your boss comes with benefits, especially if your boss is the company owner.
When he agreed, I worked on the prototype mostly on my own, and self learned what I needed. I eventually had some help of a colleague for a short time.

The only advice I have is pretty basic. If you don’t have the time then you need to find the money. If you don’t have the money then you need to find the time. As I explained, with everything that’s going on in my life, I don’t have much time, so I knocked on the only door that I could think of that had money and that was my boss.

How did you manage the project? Any specific tools and techniques that others can use?

I have an Agile/Scrum background but I failed at maintaining the discipline required to apply the Scrum principles. It’s not the same when you are a team of one person. You are not forced to communicate with anyone, so you don’t have to be thoroughly organized. You don’t have the peers to help you keep yourself in check.

So, I don’t really use any tools. It’s all in my head because I only have myself to manage. A great part of the project is research and learning. It’s really hard to set deadlines. Most of the times, I don’t really know if I’ll be able to achieve the feature I want.

I simply use the meetings I have with my boss as deadlines. So that every time we meet I have something new to show.

Up to now, my boss is happy with what he sees and that’s really important for me.

What were the biggest benefits for you from this project, what brings you the most joy?

It brings me joy to be able to bring something useful to this world that completely comes from me. It screams greatness. It proves to myself that I’m not mediocre and that I can be great.

Career wise, this project has extended my skills, and my broad skill set is something that I’m really proud of.

What lessons did you learn while working on this?

Learn to know your boss. He might be the best financial partner you’ll ever be able to find.

Most of the people I know try to keep their ideas to themselves, or only share it to personal friends. Sadly, friends might be trustworthy but they have no money.

I understand that it’s risky to share your ideas with your boss, but then again with no money your idea will probably never grow.

Don’t share your idea with any boss. Learn to know him first, then decide later if he is trustworthy enough to share your ideas with him.

Anything else you would like to add?

It’s not because you suck at school that you will fail at life or in your career. Most important thing is to always work hard.

Be curious about everything and don’t hold back.

Don’t be comfortable working the same job, using the same tools for years.

The best job in the world is the one that you manage to create.

I love technologies, and life is way too short to limit myself to one specific technology. There’s so much more out there to discover.

Feel free to ask Willy about more details, or share your own experience in the comments below.

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This post was written by Valentyn Danylchuk, the editor of Five-Hour Projects. You can also publish guest posts here, suggest projects to write about, or get interviewed – contact



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