I’m done with software development. It feels like this to say that.
To be honest, I’ve been fighting this for years. The first few classes in my undergraduate should have indicated that this would have been the natural end to it all – taking Computer Science 101 with Professor Molmen, while really quite interesting, made it clear that I would never sit in front of a computer and bang out code for a living. Sure, I really liked the class layout – competitive programming with timed exercises and separate written theory portions – but despite the fact I can be asocial for long periods of time, I just didn’t identify with the CS lifestyle.
I switched into CIS/MIS and took Information Theory I, which ended up being a COBOL class (yeah, I’m 29 years old). Then I took the Discrete Mathematics branch of classes and found out that it wasn’t just 16 year old me that hated geometry; 19 year old me really hated writing board-length proofs, too.
So, I switched into Economics, since I had a passing interest in monetarism and civil libertarian theory. While I enjoyed it enough (classes were the standard neo-Keynesian stuff), the standard 20-something college-age depression kicked in before I could complete my degree, and so I ended up rushing myself into Philosophy courses in hopes of graduating with something to show for my four years in the system. I failed miserably.
Laying the groundwork to misery
I could only find work as a server, since I hadn’t had too many marketable skills (being “good with computers” didn’t mean anything since I never received adequate tutelage, and Cleveland isn’t exactly a booming employment market). Eventually, I began gambling for a living, and then applied to PokerStars via email while high out of my mind on Ambien (for legitimate use, not recreational use – his time, anyway). Somehow, they thought something of me and sent me some employment tests, all of which I passed. They instructed me to get my passport expedited, and I flew down to San Jose, Costa Rica to train as a poker specialist – mostly investigating collusion, possibly money laundering, and responding to bad beat “your site is rigged” emails.
After a year, I quit to pursue gambling full-time, which was both an exciting period of my life and really stupid. The amount of money I lit on fire on meals and entertainment makes me want to vomit; though I lost very little to degenerate gambling in the pit (hard to when you count cards on a regular basis and the only guilty pleasure you have is shooting dice, which has low churn).
I actually felt I could gamble for the rest of my life, but the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed, which sounded the death knell for U.S. based online gamblers. I somehow lucked into a job as a Systems Analyst at Microsoft (after applying to about 150 jobs with a giant black hole in my resume), and worked graveyards for a year. I enjoyed the work, which is to say we didn’t do anything in your typical 10 hour shift except play a lot of unreleased video games for the XBox. Shockingly, our department underwent layoffs, and my contracting firm was the first to get axed, which meant collecting unemployment until I landed somewhere else.
The bad road
My father-in-law shot me a job under his command, where I was exposed to PHP for more or less the first time in my life, writing a lot of translation/posting scripts for lead generation. I eventually got fed up with the stupidity of the tools we had to use, and this was the genesis of a bad road. I attempted to learn how to use CakePHP (a massive failure) and switched into CodeIgniter to develop some front-end tools that utilized a read-only MySQL replication. My father-in-law blessed my efforts, and I was learning at a breakneck pace – hacking stuff together was a lot of fun! It was way more engaging than my C++ and Turing Machine classes in college (though I enjoyed those as academic exercises), but I still knew I didn’t want to do it for a living.
However, the only full-time position that I could move into was in development. When I was told that I would be getting a FTE offer, I said “FUCK” while standing outside for a bus in the winter. I remember it vividly, actually – standing there in the bitter cold with my father-in-law and our co-worker Steve. He was surprised and asked why I was unhappy; I told him that I knew I didn’t want to do it for a living and that the development team at this company was full of idiots (choosing to go to Java over PHP5 on their legacy PHP4 platform, bad caching ideas, no concept of DB architecture/maintenance, etc – I didn’t even know these problems specifically existed, but I could ascertain them from simply interacting with the other devs). Still, I needed the money, so I took the job, which lasted all of a few months.
From there, “I needed the money” dominated my life. I took contract after contract, making more and more money, hating life at every stop despite saying: “This is going to be the one. It’s going to be good. We have free lunch, free beer, and free dinner three times per week. I get a free MacBook. This is awesome.”
It wasn’t. It never was. These companies lacked purpose, lacked soul. At the end of the day, I would go home and think: “What am I doing with my life?” I was working on Web 2.0 bullshit portal sites that I was not proud of. When I ventured into fields that I actually enjoyed, like data analysis or machine learning, I was rebuffed at all corners.
I wasn’t a developer. I was a bad hacker – one with a handful of good skills in social engineering and data analysis (a holdover from my professional gambling career), but nothing very strong in tech.
I found company after company who professed to want “hackers.” They couldn’t adequate interview me; I crushed all interviews because I steered them into the answers I wanted to give, not the answers they should have been looking for. Only one or two companies could see through my shit and quashed me early in the processes; the rest were more than willing to fork out a lot of money to acquire this statistics/economics/developer genius. (In hindsight, this should have been the first sign things were wrong.)
A firm grip on reality
What I knew then – and what I know now – is that I wanted to work in baseball. I always did, ever since I shared a shitty apartment with my best friend Chris and our mutual friend Dave when I was 21 years old. What I needed then was a tutor – I needed Coursera, or a hacker space – to show me what I needed to learn to succeed as a data analyst. I wouldn’t get this training until I was well past my mid-twenties.
I started training pitchers after having a little success working with youth athletes. I poured my heart, soul, and brain into understanding pitching mechanics. I thought that if I could build a biomechanics lab that was capable of performing inverse dynamics to get the kinetic loads on a pitcher’s shoulder and elbow that I would be swimming in money and fame. I spent four years doing this and completed my seminal work in 2011.
No one gave a shit. (take note, Lean Startup followers)
I have still yet to sell a kinetic analysis package, not that I am even offering it anymore. I have brilliant ideas on how to fold it into a pro team’s stadiums – I call it BIOf/x – but no one is interested.
Oh, they say they are, and I tell them how much it will cost – two orders of magnitude less than the competition, no less – but no one is willing to pull the trigger.
I turn my focus to training pitchers. My guys strap on 10 pound wrist weights like Dr. Mike Marshall’s pitchers; they are seen as pariahs. But they believe in me, for whatever reason.
They throw weighted baseballs. Their coaches tell them they will screw their arms up, that Kyle never played professional baseball – what could he possibly know? He was fired as a high school freshman coach, for god’s sake.
Now, they hit boxing bags – like Dylan Bundy does. “Are they preparing for a fight, or are we training pitchers?” They snicker. Former first round draft picks and pro ball players look down on my training methods – “Why are guys squatting below parallel? That’s bad for your knees.”
I used to pick fights with these people. But you learn to accept it – and eventually, love it. I know now what Bill James (the father of sabermetrics) went through. A guy who was a security guard at a pork and beans factory, some moron who played roto baseball. His work would take 20+ years to gain even the slightest traction until it was popularized by Moneyball.
The training methods have solid ground in both research and development. The list of clients I have successfully rehabilitated and trained is extensive and getting larger by the passing week. Kids with chronic pain in their elbows throw five days per week at maximum intensity. They can’t believe it. Sometimes, neither can I – seeing a kid go from 77 MPH to 90 MPH in five months made me question a lot about what I believe when it comes to the upper limit of human physical achievement.
My work will not be accepted until I “produce” some first round picks, or a slew of college scholarship guys who are willing to defend me in front of my harshest critics. Most won’t go to bat for me. That’s OK. It’s not their fight; they should not be unfairly persecuted. Some don’t tell their parent organizations that they are ignoring their pitching coach in AA and are instead listening to an overweight kid with a bad back who cracks 79 MPH on a good day with his fastball. Some do champion the banner, because they believe. They want me to have some notoriety, despite my assertions that I really don’t care about getting fame and recognition through a logically flawed chain of events.
I am fortunate enough to get out of the software development industry alive, and am happy to report that I’ve found someone willing to employ me who doesn’t care about what others think. At his yearly scout night, where 30+ college and pro scouts will show up, his best pitchers will throw in the mid-eighties. It doesn’t take much for him to understand that he needs to find someone else. A mutual friend pairs us, despite my apprehension of working with a select team, and we hit it off on the first meeting.
Aaron and I speak for hours and hours on end about training. He doesn’t understand any of it, but it fascinates him all the same. He loves to talk about all the guys he coached through Area Code games, through his organization, and through other teams he’s been with. He always wants to talk about a kid’s work ethic first; never his ability. His favorite player to date remains a kid who was drafted in the third round out of high school – a kid who just a year prior was thought to be a “midget” with no hands, no bat, no tools.
He says “Anybody can play them. Let’s see who can develop them.” He loves seeing the kids struggle with wrist weight exercises, loves hearing the crack of the heavy bags as guys throw straight punches into it, and watches with interest as the kids throw 9 ounce baseballs into a net from a crow-hop. Not because he believes in the methods; he has no idea if they work. And not that he believes in me, either. He believes in his judgment of me. He knows I’m a weird guy and that I don’t care what others say about my training programs, my ideas. That’s the bond we share.
His kids are already throwing harder; already getting stronger. They self-report that their arms feel tired the day after the strenuous exercises and protocols – “Kyle had us doing over 120 reps of baseball throws!” – but they never quit. The radar gun doesn’t lie to them.
Our 2014 draft class promises to have a few guys who will go in the top five rounds as well as others who will sign large scholarship deals. Despite their lofty statuses, they still strap on wrist weights and do unorthodox exercises to strengthen their arms, since a strong arm plays at any position. The kid with the most ability is expected to do the same weird stuff as the kid with the least.
The kids like me, from what I can tell. They start to believe. I tell them: “Never put your blind faith in me – or anyone. Always question me if you feel the need. I don’t want your trust because of my status. I want your trust because you believe in the product.”
I really do love scouting and player development. I hope to do it with a professional organization in some capacity, but I’m not married to the idea of working in professional baseball just to put it on my resume. I think that I have a lot to give to pro ball, and with each passing week, I learn more and more about how to apply what I’ve learned. (I keep up with research journals, too.)
But most of all, I’m no longer a full-time software developer.
And that’s truly something to celebrate.