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Why Every Athlete Should Become a Software Engineer

Oct 1, 2013

Until I was about 19 years old, basketball was my entire life. When I say entire, I mean it was just about all I thought about and all I ever wanted to do. In my yearbook for senior year I still laugh when I see the ‘description’ I put for myself under my name. I quote, ‘uhh…basketball?’. To me, basketball had three great assets. First, I could become as good as I wanted to become. The only thing holding me back was my personal dedication to improving myself. Second, people admire those things that you can do but they think they can’t do themselves. And third, you’re only as good as the team you’re on. Like all kids growing up, I had big dreams of where basketball would take me. I understood that in order to play at a collegiate level, I needed to sacrifice things others wouldn’t. I was known for being the kid who was always in the gym and always improving. Going into my senior year of basketball all my plans came to a screeching halt. While playing a pick-up game I tore my meniscus. Long story short, after a few months on crutches I ended up recovering for the first game of the season but I was never the same. Once you have a knee surgery it’s hard to tell your body that your knee is fine and to trust it. I had a pretty good season but not one of a future collegiate player. Junior year my team won state but senior year we came up short. It was a terrible way to end a ‘career’ and I had dreams about that last game for over a year when I was done. I spent a few years as a missionary and getting lost in helping others and learning Spanish was an amazing experience, but I still missed basketball and I still felt a weird void in my life.

I’m still not sure what really got me into creating software, but the idea of being able to create an emotional experience for people using nothing more than a text editor and an internet connection really fascinated me. When I started programming, I was convinced I would never find a pursuit that I could really lose myself in as much as I did basketball. I was wrong.

Basketball, and sports in general, give you the ability to become as good as you want to be. The barrier to entry is pretty low with basketball. You need a hoop, and a ball. Hoops are everywhere and basketballs are cheap. You’re the only one standing in your way from becoming a great basketball player. Software is the same. Now more than ever there are so many tutorials, video lectures, and just awesome resources for learning how to develop. To quote a favorite line of mine about the power of knowledge vs education, “ See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don’t do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f&$^%#* education you could of got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” This quote directly applies to the state of online resources that exist. Education is expensive, but knowledge is free. You’re the only one holding yourself back from becoming an amazing developer.

There is something very gratifying in doing something that other people think you’re not capable of doing. Basketball players and athletes in general are absolutely amazing to someone who has never picked up a ball or tried to do anything athletic. Watch some professional snowboarders then try to ride down the hill for the first time and you’ll instantly gain a huge respect and admiration for them. The same is true with Software Engineers. To those who don’t code, what we do is absolutely amazing. One of the biggest websites in our day was made from a basic PHP form in a University dorm room. It’s obviously scaled quite a bit from there but in it’s basic form Facebook is something that an entry level developer can create in a few weeks. Software Engineering made me feel admired and almost magical in what I could create.

Last, but not least, as an individual athlete, you’re nothing without your team. Throughout all of sports, this is the main thing everyone has learned. Now, can you imagine where our industry would be without the emergence of open source projects? No jQuery, no Angular, no Backbone, no Node, no Rails. This industry is so amazing because of those people who didn’t care about pulling a profit. That’s what I love about Software Engineering. I find pure joy and satisfaction from creating an app that those developers I look up to can enjoy. That someone I’ve never met before can find joy and have an emotional experience with something I built in my spare time is so exciting to me. Although I still love basketball and play it from time to time, becoming the best Software Engineer I can become is perhaps the most fulfilling pursuit I’ve come across in my life and I think every athlete who experiences the same void I did should consider following the path I took.