The six things I've learnt from Michael Jordan as a software engineer

SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020    

Over the month, the Netflix’s show “The Last Dance” featuring Michael Jordan’s last year in the bull’s NBA team helped to shine light of his victory and success in his time to the public. Personally as a basketball lover, I’ve always followed him and his amazing story since the beginning of the internet era (I’m serious!). However, getting to 2 years into my software engineering journey helped me see different principles from his life that I could apply into my tech journey. In this post, I’ve decided to share with you all 6 lessons for the 6 championships that MJ has gotten in his career.

1. Competitive: there is this need for him to win!

Here’s this short video that simply puts this competitive aspect of him across clearly!

As we can see from his life and the especially in the most recent show that came out “The Last Dance”, we could see how he is competitive on almost every aspect of life. From the game of basketball to the game of golf and to tossing coin that is the nearest to the wall.

“Mike will compete with anything, though. If we’re drinking water, Mike will be like, ‘I’ll race you!’”
Source: Jimmy Kimmel Live

Here’s the lesson I’ve learnt from him to apply into my software engineer journey: Apart from short once-off games such as a casual golf match, or one-on-one basketball matches, many times in technology, the way to show success over another company or implementation is long term. It isn’t a short fight, every technology solution requires time and effort to implement. But the key take away isn’t to compete with companies, more often than not, you can find yourself collaborating such there both parties can win. I guess the key takeaway is that sense of self confidence. When you first start off your blogging venture like I did, you look into the industry and you start seeing all the successful blogs with million views and high passive income. And you wonder how can you even compare? The message we can take away from Michael Jordan is that attitude that never backs down. You may be the under-dog today but you do not have to stay this way, and you can deliberately choose to be better than what you are now.

2. Passion was his fuel. Pour your love into everything you do.

Michael Jordan crying as he won his first championship

Here’s a short video that managed to capture the emotions that was building in that locker room after the victory that night.

There’s just so much emotions, energy, and heart placed into this game. From the story of him being cut from his high school basketball team that hurt him over the summer. He decided to pour his heart and do his absolute best to get back onto the team. It has been 7 years since he entered NBA and to finally be able to reach to the top through the many years. Even as Michael cried holding that trophy, there was just so much passion and emotions put into whatever he did.

”I’ve been waiting seven years for this and I thank God for blessing us to make it possible,”

”This is the happiest moment of my life,” Jordan said. “We did it. We did it as a team. I’ve been fighting to hold back my emotions all week. But I knew we would win it tonight and I knew my emotions would get the best of me. I’m just happy.”
Jordan said.

Heart is what separates the great from the good.

Interestingly, I do see parallel behaviors among the giants even in the technology scene as well. We can see that from the life of Steve Jobs. Here’s an article that briefly talked about his stroy.

Why Steve Jobs cried

The main point isn’t to cry over every thing that happened but to talk about that deep sense of passion and heart in what you do. I guess such a level of passion in any tasks or goal speaks more of the dedication that person has as an individual than about the seriousness of the task.

If you want to excel into any industry, you got to have that passion that pushes you beyond the boundaries to explore what could be beyond this limit. This is all the more true in the technology industry where all these technologies advancing with new updates or releases. In order to keep up, you got to have that sense of curiosity to find out what the industry has done to solve all the different problems you have. Only when you have that sense of curiosity then can you want to go out there to find out what are these technology giants doing. Let me give you an illustration:

Here’s a Roadmap for devops engineer. It basically charts out for you the set of learnings or knowledge you should know or master if you ever chooses to walk down this path of being a devOps engineer.

Just look at the amount of technology in one single page. And each box properly takes an individual years to master, and some even pursue just one box their entire career. If you did not have any interest or deep passion for the tools out there, you will probably just ignore most of that because you could just make do with the tools you already know to ‘hack’ your way to a solution.

The successful techies are not always the oldest, but more often than not, you find in these people a deep sense of curiosity and passion for the technology. The way they describe technology almost always sound like they are describing a friend you have to got to know on a daily basis. And one day, I aspire to be like one of them as well (:

3. Focused on what he wants to do. And actually go get it

One common trait among all great players or individuals that we know of, Warran buffet, Steve jobs, and Michael Jordan: They had laser sharp focus on what they want to do.

The focus to improve is not found on the court. What you see on the court in public’s view was merely the outcome of the grind behind closed doors in the gym. The focus to improve starts in the gym behind closed doors and far from media. He made sure to practice harder than that he played. That intensity of personal practice allowed him to create that familiarity and comfort zone during game time, and all he had to do was the react to what his body was already accustomed to do. He focused on getting his fundamentals right. Focused to perfect the small things that noone seem to notice. People only saw the outcome of that focus to little details.

Doing the little things until perfection becomes a habit

Many times people chase after the shiniest objects in the technology space - AI, Automation, Machine Learning. In the act of chasing, people lose sight of the fundamentals - understanding the business problem or creating product and services that business actually need or even simply just focusing on writing clean, testable, and readable code. While articles about AI and Machine learning may create some wows, it is the seemingly dull and ‘boring’ habits of consistently writing code, learning about good coding practices that sharpens your fundamentals. When it is crunch time, you will find yourself well equipped to shine in your work. These little act of grinding can be attending online courses to learn more about courses that does hands-on projects with you.

One such course is Plural sight. They have really detailed courses with instructors that will guide you through the fundamentals of what you are learning, impart the best practices and share their learning in a walkthrough guide that you can do alongside them. Another will be udemy. Check those out.

When you practice daily and deliberately, you will find yourself ready when the next challenge or problem comes your way.

4. Together we can do more: he has a close group of people to keep him grounded

People do not usually see this aspect of him when we hear of the great Michael Jordan. Many instances, I’ve noticed from all the videos, he always had the support of his parents and siblings when he hits rock bottom. Even during the first championship, his dad was present there alongside him. And was also there to deal with backlashes about MJ’s gambling habits.

Imagine the devastation to know that your strong support was taken away just like that.

If you want to go far, you have to go together as a team. Over the years, I’ve came to understand that if we want to solve problems that are bigger than ourselves - societal issues, you have to have a team alongside you. You have your strength to offer to the table, but rarely do we see how our strengths alone is able to bring a holistic solution. Yes, you may be an amazing god-like engineer that can replicate another google. Even with all the knowledge in the world, you lack the one resource you cannot buy - time. Everyone of us needs one another. In technology, the ability to come together with our different skills and collaborate opens up door of opportunities.

5. Know how to respond to failure: failure is the only way to success

Michael Jordan did not fear the spot light. He did not shy away from the crunch time. When it was time for the bulls team to take the final score, it goes to him without a question. But that illusion of ‘success since birth’ did not start that way. He was not always a winner. There is this famous quote from him:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

It is always easy to make sense of all these failures on hindsight - this is called the hindsight bias, where the decisions and circumstances you faced seems like an invisible ink before the good outcome, but plain as day after the outcome as if a fool would have missed it.

Similarly in technology, as you start off, you will find yourself deep into the unknown; overwhelmed with unfamiliarity regarding the technology you have to deal with in order to deliver the solution. You make mistakes in your earlier days and thus causing scalability issues when the solution starts to scale to hundreds of people. Since that feature is implemented by you, these mistakes and bugs are starting to reflect poorly on your competency to deliver high performance features. What’s next? Just like Mike, you just got to bite the bullet, own up to the mistake, fix the problem and move forward. Such an incident may amplify a mistake, but the way I see it, that mistake provided a lesson of character and lesson of skill. The mistake gave you the opportunity to own up to your mistake and that takes courage. Second is a technical lesson that you can avoid in your implementation the next time round.

6. Hard work, hard work, hard work: he practiced daily

To understand the impact of his excellence work ethic, we will go back to his high school days when he was just an average boy. From there, we can see the amount of hard work and learning he had set himself for, that got him from average to the player of the year in national college before he starts his career in the NBA as the Rookie of the year in 1985.

In his college days in 1982, his college UNC teammate James worthy recalled: “After about 2.5 hours of hard practice, I’m walking off the floor, like, drenched [in] sweat, tired. And, here comes Michael pushing me back on the floor, wanting to play a little one-on-one, wanting to see where his game was,”. Michael intentional challenged Worthy as he was UNC’s best player in 1982, and helped lead the team to a national championship.

Jordan refused to settle for anything less than the best, using his attitude, determination and faith to propel him toward a work ethic that is known around the world today.

This mindset of faith is one that truly represents confidence at its best. While some interpreted Jordan’s confidence as arrogance, he knew that the cultivation of this mindset and the permanence of this attitude was essential to his becoming the best in the world.

Here is an article of how Michael Jordan became great.

In the realm of technology, the level of competition might not parallel as that of basketball. Technology space is more of a collaboration space where different talents often come together as a single force to deal with different problems of society; transportation problem, logistics automation problems, scalability problems. One key trait that set the great engineers apart is their work ethics as well. They work at their craft every single day, pushing their limits and understanding of a domain further and wider. They put in the daily work to read about new technology every day, toy around with new technologies that are out in the market to learn the different design patterns and frameworks in their domain. These little nuggets of knowledge and understand adds up; but more importantly, it is that consistent work they are willing to put in that sets them apart. If you too want to grow in technology, I challenge you to read just one tech article everyday. Attempt to read an article that you do not understand, take that 1min to just google briefly a little more. One day, you will be breeze through these topics with great understanding. That attitude to learn and embrace the discomfort of not knowing, as we all learnt from Michael Jordan, will set you apart in the technology space in the long haul.


In the competitive game of basketball, we see ego clash, we see teamwork overcoming adversaries. I guess the fundamentals of success is universal across all domains.

Hardwork + faith + focus + team + stubbornness to give up = a chance to success.

Success is never certain even in the case of Michael Jordan. Many things that are out of our control could have turned on him - in the case of sports is commonly injury. Luck has quite a role to play but i believe that hardwork and sharp focus to success in your own private space is the key to prepare you for the stage in public. You stand for what you believe in, not for the audience. The audience may one day leave, but your belief is solely yours to guard. Soldier on my fellow learners. There are many lessons awaiting for your grab!