Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Redhuan Oon's inspirational story

Oon’s story starts with the dotcom bust in 2001 when he became a “burned-out chief ­technology ­officer in the city.” Married and a father of two, he had just lost his high-flying, five-figure-salary job.

In despair, he searched his ­feelings and realised that “I actually hated my job. It was meeting after meeting, day in and day out, and I felt straitjacketed in a coat and tie,” said the 47-year-old.

His worsening financial situation brought on by the loss of his job eventually drove him to move his family to the two-acre farm in Kuang. He rented the place to hide and recover financially, and to regain his heart and soul.

He found it a pleasant change from his previous time in the city and his family soon embraced the idyllic lifestyle of living in the ­countryside.

“I learned how to catch fish from the pond, plant taugeh (bean sprouts) and did my own plumbing and wiring for the house,” Oon said.

He and his wife Fatimah, and their his two young kids Naguib and Mira (who are now 14 and 18 years respectively), lived on a shoestring budget.

“Money was so tight my kids had to sell nasi lemak in school to help us get by,” said Oon.

Oon couldn’t get another job after the dotcom bust. “There was no demand for technology workers at that time,” he said.

He started his 20-year career as a programmer, writing in Cobol, or Common Business-Oriented Language. “But I ended up giving tuition in Maths and English to secondary school students to eke out a living,” he said.

“And then I also began breeding tilapia fish.”

But Oon was just as unlucky with fish breeding. A mud slide wiped out his pond and any dreams he had of becoming a successful commercial fish breeder about a year into the endeavour.


OPEN-SOURCE evangelists seem to be everywhere these days. But you’d still never expect to find one on a farm in Kuang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Redhuan Oon certainly looks the part of an evangelist, working intently on his notebook amidst fruit trees swaying to a cacophony of goats, cows and chickens.

But don’t let the rustic simplicity fool you. Oon is a giant in the open-source community and proof that the Internet enables people to work from anywhere.

He leads some of the most savvy and cutting-edge open-source ­practitioners in the world as they push the envelope of distributed collaboration and the concept of software designed and supported by volunteers.

“Not just an evangelist. He’s better, he’s also an open-source expert,” said Datuk Badlisham Ghazali, chief executive officer of the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), singing Oon’s praises.

“He has helped put Malaysia on the world technology map thanks to his community developed and supported enterprise resource ­planning (ERP) open-source effort,” he said.

“This proves to the world that Malaysians can not only embrace technology but also lead in ­improving, even building new ­technology.”


I have actually only posted swatches of the report. Read the whole piece here.

Redhuan Oon is well and truly one of MDeC's greatest success stories. His tale is intriguing and inspiring at so many levels that I really needed to put this post up.

First, this is someone who went into very adverse conditions and stuck it out.

Then, it's about innovating on open source technology to become a world leader in the field.

It's also got a wonderful work-life balance angle. Working from a farm and, yet, imposing a presence globally.

Let's not forget the private-public collaboration between MDeC and Redhuan's team.

It's the stuff that we need to ingest. It's Malaysia Boleh free from any cynicism.


Mr. X said...

Here is something not very inspiring ..

mamasita said...

Thank you de minimis.
A very awe-inspiring story of success..a heroic tale of Oon's adversity turned into success..never give up hope to grab excellence!
Another true example to persuade us never to give up on our dreams.

flyer168 said...

De minimis,

This is a great article on what every "Anak Bangsa Malaysia" must strive towards.

My heartiest congratulations to Redhuan Oon for his inspirational experience & struggle to achieve his "Malaysian Dreams"

In these days of predatory capitalism and money politics, altruism and personal sacrifice for larger goals are rare commodities.

It is the same for a community or a nation: we look for our heroes, people who can propel us to greater heights.

If it is true that the search for such towering Malay figures has so far been futile, it is probably because the people concerned have been looking in the wrong places.

We perhaps will have to look beyond UMNO and the Malay community as well - for, after all, there are towering figures among many ordinary Malaysians, irrespective of ethnic origin, if we care to look closely.

Indeed, the attributes and values that we speak of and cherish are universal: high intellect, a high value system, successful careers, good economic standing, and well-respected culture and religion.

In multiethnic and multicultural Malaysia, one can and must draw valuable lessons from the experiences and important values of each of the ethnic communities.

In doing so, one is nudging society in the direction of the once much-touted ideal of Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian race).

There are hardworking people, for instance, in all of the ethnic communities in Malaysia just as there are intelligent people in these communities who can be a source of human capital and an inspiring example to all Malaysians.

These are important attributes especially if they involve people who STRIVE and PERSEVERE in a situation where they eventually prevail and succeed with no (or little) state assistance such as scholarships and other facilities.

Other equally important values and attributes are moral uprightness, critical-thinking and a principle-centred life.

A towering figure - whether in industry and academia, as an example again - is someone who is not only intelligent, resourceful and creative, but also sticks to his/her beliefs and principles even though these may go against the mainstream or status quo.

These industrious people should in fact be given recognition by the powers-that-be so that, firstly, they become a shining example for other Malaysians (not just Malays) to emulate and, secondly, their hard work and intelligence is given due recognition, which would encourage them to propel themselves further in the quest for excellence.

More importantly, this kind of recognition can help stem the brain drain out of this country.

This effort could involve industry and academia, for example, where talent needs to be nurtured, recognised and duly rewarded and where academic and professional excellence is crucial.

The country as a whole would benefit from such people who make principled decisions and take carefully considered actions.

Giving views and ideas that are different from the management of a factory or a university should not be erroneously perceived as undermining its authority.

If anything, they should be considered as a very useful contribution to knowledge building.

If the search for towering Malaysians were to be "liberalised", then we would be able to appreciate the good in many of us Malaysians.

De minimis we need more of these great articles of our "True Grit" Towering Malaysians...

In this 21st century context of Malaysian Nation Building & the creation of the "New Breed of High Yield Technocrats".

Despite the ravages of modern capitalistic living and rapacious politics, there is still a pool of Malaysians who are altruistic, disciplined, principled and loving and whose actions and beliefs can easily leave us humbled and inspired.


Kama said...

I like this story; it's very inspiring. My fall, as it were, came much earlier, with the 1997 crash. It left me with nothing, not even the roof on my head which had to be sold to pay off debts. It's true what they say, when you've reached rock-bottom, there's nowhere else to go but up. thanks for making my day with this one.

walla said...

True grit. Intelligence, too. But, except for the goats, one has to note what he's doing in a farm most would be doing in an office if they can help it. It's the same process; only the environment is different. Especially important are things like lighting, high connectivity, air-conditioning to cool the processors and print out lines of codes, and most importantly, the absence of distractions. Like mozzies.

Having said that, the notion of doing high-tech work in virtual worlds while surrounded by an earthy environment can be quite appealing, especially in these fast-paced, rat-raced times which can tax the last vestiges of one's emotional bank account that constantly yearns for some undefined real value beyond the dictates of the mainstream and its corporate conformism; after all, it has been said real CEOs don't wear socks.

But, sad to say, unless one is retrenched, one should not be hasty to drop a job which will result in a high probability of the wives silently trying to milk the best buys from ultra-tight budgets or the offspring having to work when they should be focused on their education.

Because without education, he would not have been able to be an expert in something. Even the fix-it skills that one improvises because necessity is the mother of invention has to be learned.

So it remains to say living on the buoyancy of personal convictions is fine but the east is not like the west. Like the stock market, every success story is preceded by nine knock-out failures which remain buried from the fancies of journalists. All the more so these days when economists are saying 'things seem to be getting worse more slowly'. That's so cool, creative even.

Open source may work as well as the commercial applications but it has to overcome the hurdle of how customers have been educated before using huge advertising budgets by the commercial concerns that developing, evaluating, buying and using software must be defined only in some commercial ways. Indeed those are mind-traps. That's why you won't hear them saying they had developed SAP BusinessObjects in a crowd-sourcing forum. They could actually have done that in SAP Labs, India, but it will appear otherwise in nice brochures out of the Walldorf lab complex in Dietmar-Hopp-Allee.

Having given food for thought, try creating an open source business model for the Li & Fung extended SCM application that can orchestrate supplier-customer matchings. MDec and Smidec under the aegis of Miti could provide the collaborative support using lessons learned from the RosettaStone program for the support industries of the electronics sector up north.

Lastly, something about balance of life. True, when we yearn for materialism, things can get distorted pretty quick. We come to this earth with nothing but kind and supportive folks; likewise we leave hoping we would have led a life that equally engendered those qualities bestowed upon us - being kind and supportive to others.

Yet from cradle to crypt, we are individually assailed and bombarded by demands and dictates that are artificial at best, designed and created by institutions and organizations, none of which having had any direct role in our coming to this planet, but taking a monopoly of our attention for the most of our lifetimes.

So you analyze those demands and dictates, those rules, protocols, procedures, norms, and best practices. How hollow they look when all have come crashing down.

walla said...

As has been said, Man doesn't live on bread alone. But these days when the world has gotten more integrated, he does live on bread alone. Bread as in dough. Dough as in that paper with a bank governor portrait.

It's all about freedom and mobility. That's what money buys. Freedom from the chains of worry, mobility to do what your heart yearns to do.

The nice thing about the Oon story is that it breaks that belief. But one asks, for how long? The children will be growing up soon, the folks growing old, the bills piling up, the evangelical fervor dependent as much on luck as all great enterprises ultimately do.

Most will be in that rail, going on but because there is nothing else over the horizon. In such a situation, the only thing to do is to stay healthy and be constantly alert for openings and opportunities. For the world owes us a living but we will have to work hard to collect it.

Yet for too many of the nameless and faceless amongst us, the middle-aged crisis can strike like a burst of lightning on a hot afternoon. Duly frying the modem. Sometimes, middle-aged crises continue ad nauseum into senior age. Ask those who sit on benches in shopping malls, holding their cloth bags looking into outer space waiting for time to dinner. Or what's called of that.

So it is not entirely dull to say that a five-figure take-home job should not be scoffed at, even if it destabilizes the balance one seeks. For if anything life teaches, it is effort maximized, reward minimized, and that little will fritter away too as if telling of a message best left unsaid.

A bigger take-home also means more statutory savings. That is important when you have to draw out account II to pay for the children's education so that the poor youngsters won't have to be disappointed so young by the listing on the web of the university that doesn't equate to success, a seat, a sense of belonging, and some tiresome future. A bigger take-home also means more income tax paid. Isn't that nice to be a salt of the earth, a statistic of one's income tax department? Even if some of the politically motivated public spending on an array of useless activities can make blood boil that bereft are brains?

A bigger take-home means you can pay off the mortgage of that small and hot house, the only symbol that stakes you belong somewhere on this crowded planet, and give some to the folks for all the sacrifices they have made, and give some to the siblings to show one remembers how all had grown up together under trying times, extended now in technicolor, and give most to the wife(ves) for their silent support, their unspoken tripwire balancing of budgets so small a magnifying glass is needed to read the extraordinary items, even to afford a new dress for them that you see, finally at eighty percent discount after waiting a full year.

And will there be anything left after all these? A ticket to HongKong, perhaps, with enough to take the ferry from the airport to Shenzhen, then shuttle to its airport to buy a local ticket to fly to Shanghai, or Beijing if the heart still fancies. Whence one can walk the boulevards, soak in the culture, and watch the world go by while seated outside a starbucks, drinking piping hot coffee, with a fast laptop open to this blog, ciggie in one hand, and the business column of the IHT in the other...while the mind hums back to that sight of a balinesque garden with its earthen pot tilted to pour pure water out onto a gurgling pond full of colorful fish swimming amongst the reeds as the shadow of a cloud creeps up to lend a comforting greenish hue that soaks up the tired soul which yearns to see her for all those memories long washed away.


Zendra said...

Syabas Redhuan!

red1 said...

I am not sure if its improper decorum to comment as the subject of the topic here. Just want to humbly say 'thank you' to your kind remarks and your followers' too. I deeply appreciate the invaluable moral support.

To clarify, the goat is not mine, but a neighbour's. However i did actively pursue the 'fall-back plan of a farm in case of armagedon but i learnt humbly that you need focus in everything even to grow serai. I spent now countless hours inside the house online in sheer unlimited cyberspace. Proven even more true when i google just now for my Star article and i hit your blog! To receive such grandeur words of praise require but my most unqualified response - 'Thank you' :)

Redhuan D. Oon
resident on Lot 2906,
Lorong Beringin,
48050 Kuang

de minimis said...

Dear Redhuan

I am so chuffed that you left a reply at my humble blog. It is such a treat to have you drop a note. And, as you have read, you are a source of inspiration for many Malaysians. If I have added even an iota of positivity into your life by the post I feel I have made a great achievement. Keep going, bro.

rvergara said...

Judging people through the internet is not easy. Saw in Red1 what it takes to be a leader of a community. Now knowing Red1 a bit better is not a surprise how good a leader he has been.
Ramiro Vergara

lime said...

Achieving much and not lossing the touch of the common is achieving real Greatness. Thou art a great inspirational all over the world. Especially in the Adempiere Empiere

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