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Love of the fiddle brought software giant to west Donegal

Software leader, Howard Chu gave up the Los Angeles rat race for the beauty of west Donegal. Picture by Donegal.ie
Seamus McKinney

A LOVE of fiddle music and Donegal super-group Altan was enough to persuade one of the world’s top software developers to quit the rat race of LA for the laid-back lifestyle of Gweedore.

Howard Chu came to west Donegal in 2012 for the annual Frankie Kennedy music school (established in honour of the late Belfast flute player, Frankie Kennedy) and simply stayed.

Realising he could run his global business from Ireland’s west coast as easily as he could from Los Angeles, he decided to swap the twice-daily commute to his office for the hills and mountains of west Donegal.

In 1999, Mr Chu established Symas Corp along with five partners. As chief technical officer, he helped grow the company to become a world leader in the development of database management. In the years up to 2012, the computer genius accepted the pressures of life in Los Angeles, including that 90-minute commute.

“People called it rush-hour traffic but it actually spanned most of the day and well into the night. Life in a big city is a constant assault of air and noise pollution, along with the constant threat of time lost in travelling from place to place.

“In Gaoth Dobhair, instead of being surrounded by miles of concrete, there are beautiful beaches, forest parks and mountain hike all just a few minutes away,” he said.

Mr Chu’s first visit to Donegal was in 1996 when he had a stop-over in Ireland while meeting European clients. He spent time visiting the west coast and attending music sessions. He made his first trip to the Frankie Kennedy school in December 1999, when he also got to meet his musical idols, Altan. But it wasn’t until 2012 that he eventually decided enough was enough and it was time to move.

“I was over again for the Frankie Kennedy school. But after the festival was over, I just stayed, cancelling my return flight.”

Running a global software operation from the hills of Donegal was not easy at first as the lack of broadband proved challenging. However, as technology improved, Howard’s work-life got easier to the point where data transfer is now even faster in Gweedore than it was through his cable internet service back in LA.

Since 2012, Mr Chu has thrown himself into Gaeltacht life, embracing all elements of the local culture and traditions.

“I’m already deeply involved in the music and wanting to have a better understanding of the culture that spawned it. Music and language go together just as music and dance,” he explained.

Now armed with a fiddle in one hand and a laptop in the other, the US software maestro says he has no regrets about his decision to up sticks and move.

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