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Michael Jordan and Programming: What They Have in Common


Mike who? Never heard of a sport called basketball before? Michael Jordan was THE ultimate player in the history of the game and one of my first heroes. I still vividly remember him winning his first NBA championship when I was 10 years old. When I turned 17, he captured his last one — a career total of six.
In my early 20s, I began to work while I was still attending the University. By that time, I noticed that I often found myself trying to think of what Michael Jordan would have done if he was faced with a similar problem and the same situation. It turned out, over the last 10 years of my life, that exercise has become one of my most powerful problem-solving weapons — If you were wondering, I am in my early 30s now 😀.
Anyway, the important thing is, today, Jordan is more of a hero for me than he was when I was 10.

Let me sum up a couple of thoughts in anticipation of what follows here:

  • These are lessons Michael Jordan taught me in a kind of fictional way, as everything was a product and association of my mind. I have never talked with him, thus I have no idea if he would ever say something like what I had imagined.
  • This is a set of lessons related to a sport and most precisely Michael Jordan, but which are also tied to my story. These are lessons my mind deduced from the sport perspective.
  • Try to picture Micheal Jordan sitting in front of you, talking about these lessons. Imagine both of you having a conversation; that’s the way it worked for me.

Lesson 1

More than anything, Mike was a team player. Even if he knew he was the best to have ever played the sport, he was also aware that winning required a team effort.
What I’ve learned: You can be the best at coding, never make any mistakes, develop the features that others would dare to call impossible – literally the so-called Rockstars of the industry – but, just like Mike, you can’t win alone. It’s always the team that wins, not you alone.

Lesson 2

Micheal Jordan knew that in order to become the best, he had to train hard, with long-hours, on his own. Nobody was beside him telling what to do or how to do it.
What I’ve learned: There is simply no way around hard work! You must train while alone at home. Becoming the best demands analyzing your mistakes, learning new techniques and building your tools after work — I mean, outside the game. What I’m trying to say is, you need to become better and better outside of work.

Lesson 3

Michael Jordan was not just a regular team player, he also cared to help his teammates develop their own skills and reach their full potential. I almost picture him saying to Scottie Pippen: “Hey… let’s give it another try, let’s practice that move one more time”.
What I’ve learned: Never forget about who is right by your side. Help them become better professionals. It will not only be great for them, it will make the whole team thrive. When someone from your team becomes better at something, it increases the winning percentage for the team as a whole.

Lesson 4

Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk, and Michael knew this perfectly. He constructed a leadership that was based on setting an example. In the end, his teammates respected him not just for what he said, but because he was always sweating right next to them, training as if each game were the most important game ever.
What I’ve learned: Roll up your sleeves and commit to work 100% alongside the rest of the team. Spread the right attitude across your team by setting the example. Remember good deeds are contagious, but so are bad ones.

Lesson 5

Micheal Jordan played to win. He didn’t care about having a bigger paycheck or making his boss or the crowd any happier. He focused on winning and did whatever it took to accomplish that. He never thought about how much money he could earn if his boss was happy. Winning was the key.
What I’ve learned: Focus your energy and efforts on winning. Winning is equally important in software, which requires a focused and hard-working team. It’s as simple as that. Does it mean digging into ugly code extra hours to get things working? Then do it! Does it mean spending an entire day testing a feature for the good of the team? Then do it! Does it mean having to face a difficult customer and tell them it’s better to do “A” instead of “B”? Then do it! It doesn’t matter if you like or not, the key here is to understand what the team needs and which are the actions that can help your team to win.

Lesson 6

Jordan was well aware that staying at the top was harder than getting there. Even when he was at the peak of his game, winning championship after championship, he would go into the off-season and train harder than ever to win all over again.
What I’ve learned: It is easy to get overconfident whenever you finish a project successfully. Don’t let that happen! If you finish a project winning, the next project you start, you can’t start relaxed simply because you won your last one. You must start it knowing everybody is expecting you to win.The expectations will be higher this time, and so will be the pressure. It is once again time to deliver the goods!

Lesson 7

He had that rare ability to make people with different personalities (think of Rodman and Pippen), goals, ideas and values commit to the same purpose.
What I’ve learned: I will often find myself in all kinds of situations, with people who are different, think differently and have different personal goals, but we need to commit as a team and try to pursue a team objective. It’s never easy, but we should all put differences aside and work towards the same goal.

Lesson 8

He handled pressure better than anyone and used that to his advantage. He also absorbed team pressure to help free up others during the game.
What I’ve learned: As a team leader, you will have to cope with more pressure than the rest of your team and rise to the occasion whenever things get tough. Soaking up pressure from your more inexperienced colleagues could make a herd of difference in order to win the game.

Lesson 9

Never forget to enjoy the ride. Michael did so, even if he played to win, he embraced the moment.
What I’ve learned: I know you probably have heard this a gazillion times, but it is certainly true. There is a purpose to life and especially work that goes well beyond your paycheck. Money is not simply enough to develop your full potential. It is true that a lot of times human beings do a lot of things because we can make more money, but that works only up to a certain point. Beyond it, money is just not and enough motivation.
Think about this, imagine you are making 10 million a year. Would you push yourself to the limit just because you want to earn 30 instead of 10 million? Probably the answer is no. You probably won’t do all the effort required only to get more money. When you really care about winning, effort and money become two independent variables.
At the end of the day, Michael’s biggest lesson was encouraging me to always pursue excellence and seek consistent self improvement while trying to enjoy the ride – those are by far the sweetest wins!

What does winning mean to you?