What would you rather do? 1) Spend six to eight hours a day doing physical activity, pushing your body to the limit and beyond and sacrificing your private life to enjoy the short-term feeling of winning a sports event? Or 2) Live the comfortable life of an employee, getting your salary each month working in a classic nine-to-five regime and being able to have a drink with friends or colleagues every other day?
From my experience, there’s something special about both. So how are these career paths connected, and what do they have in common? In this post, I’m going to share the story of my career switch from a professional badminton player to a QA engineer at Mews and how this unique background helped me succeed in tech.
Life after sports
Being a professional athlete isn’t for everyone. It’s an incredibly tough but exciting job, as you are more or less the only one responsible for the outcome of your effort. It’s as good as it gets but tricky at the same time, especially in an individual sport. But sooner or later, an athlete’s active career will come to an end, and they will eventually need to start thinking about what the future holds. Do you stay in sports, just in a different role, such as coaching, mentoring, or managing younger players? Or do you switch to a completely different life, environment, and field? To a daily job, where you work in a team, where you can hide your laziness (to a certain extent), and where the entire team is responsible for their success or failure?
I had to make this tough decision back in 2019 when I started to feel like I didn’t want to be around badminton courts anymore. The culture, people, and relationships were some of the main reasons that made me think: “Dude, how about trying something different?” On the other hand, it was also the feeling that I had never reached the level I had the potential for. And even today, I still believe I could have done much better.
From professional athlete to QA engineer
So how did a professional athlete find a job in tech as a Quality Assurance engineer? In a similar way to many other career switchers. You all know the stories that start with someone telling you something. Well, a good friend who worked as a QA at the time told me: “I think you’re going to like it, and you’re going to be good at it. You’re the kind of person who keeps digging into a problem until you find the solution.” And he was right. Even in sports, I always wanted to come up with a smoother, easier, and more efficient solution. But tech? How could I do that? My only experience was being a daily user of a computer, phone, and TV. So how could I get a job? Who would be the brave one to hire me? Those questions were popping into my head quite often. But there was this very important detail, thanks to which I felt I might have an advantage over other applicants – being a professional athlete.
Why professional athletes make good employees
You can find numerous articles outlining all the reasons for this, but let me share my four points:
- A growth mindset
If there’s one thing professional athletes have in common, it’s the ability to put everything aside and focus on a goal. To bite and not let go. Whether it’s a clear goal such as winning a tournament or an unmeasurable skill like mastering a particular shot. Nobody will ever hit a perfect shot because there’s always the possibility of hitting it just a bit better, and they will always want to do so. Does this ring a bell for developers? Now be honest with yourself. How many times have you felt like you just wrote the best set of code ever, only to realize minutes or days later that it could be polished or neatened? That’s why I believe professional athletes can be great employees regardless of the job type. They never settle on their current state and always want to take it to the next level.
- Winning is a reward for losing
Everyone probably knows Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, and Martina Navratilova, some of the greatest athletes of all time who won everything possible in their sport. But even these champions lost a lot of matches. What made the difference for them was the ability to learn from their mistakes – to accept that losing is part of the process, and without all their losses, they would never identify their weak points. In the early stages of my career, I had difficulty accepting those losses and it cost me a great deal. Every athlete wants to win. But unless you accept your opponent’s strengths, you having a bad game, or simply the fact that winning isn’t always the outcome, you will never improve. But you must always want to do your best. If you don’t, it means you don’t care, and professional athletes always care.
- Individuality is nothing without a team
Think about the greats again. How many of Federer’s or Jordan’s matches have you seen? Everyone talks about them being the greatest (I am a big Federer fan, so he’s way above Djokovic or Nadal in my eyes 😊). I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single broadcasted match where they were alone, without their coaches, physiotherapists, sparring partners, relatives, or whoever else they needed. Even in individual sports, team effort is something you can never substitute. Athletes are very much aware of the importance of their teams. I struggled a lot during some parts of my career managing many things on my own. And that takes so much of your attention away from your goal: to perform as well as you can. Once you have it, you can’t get enough of it. Having a functional team is crucial.
- It takes time to master a skill
Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule? Put simply, if you want to master a certain skill, you need to spend 10,000 hours practising it. And while this can vary considerably, the overall message is pretty obvious. Athletes understand that there’s no winning without practice. Can you imagine performing an appendectomy now? I guess not. But with specific knowledge and experience, it would become more realistic. And when it comes to practice and gaining experience, you usually have a coach or mentor to learn from. Professional athletes know the importance of their coach and similarly, a manager.
There are definitely many more valuable qualities that pro athletes can possess. Why not check out some of the articles available online? I really like this one.
Wanna work with Jakub or have a badminton spiel together?Check out the opportunities!
My path to Mews
I learned about Mews from none other than our former CTO, Honza. Our high school reunion brought obvious topics like: “What do you do?”, “Where do you work?” etc. He told me to check their website, and as there were open positions, I applied for the Junior QA Engineer role. My interview with Mews was only the second ever in my life. And it went pretty much the same as the previous one, except for the fact that this time I had the feeling I wasn’t just some random guy who wanted a job. Renat Kulalov and one former colleague were the “lucky” ones, and I still remember it as if it were only yesterday. I soon realized I was overdressed. The usual topics like “Tell us something about yourself” or “Why should we hire you?” were over in about two minutes, and because my resume didn’t have much to offer, we spent the next fifteen minutes chatting about totally unrelated themes. It took three weeks from my first contact with Mews until I was caught off guard skiing in Italy with the news that I’d been hired.
The beginnings definitely weren’t easy. There were so many new things to learn from day one. A tsunami of information was coming my way every day, and if I wanted to prove that hiring me was the right choice, I had no other option but to accept all of it. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Luckily the skill of working under pressure is another benefit an athlete can transfer to the job. The need to step outside of my comfort zone became a daily routine, but it was necessary.
It’s been almost two and a half years since I officially joined Mews, and I’ve never felt like it was the wrong move. I’m super grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. The habits built during my career as a pro athlete have been an amazing asset. They helped me get hired in the first place (or were at least very likely a major deciding factor) and have kept helping me do my job properly and responsibly. And what about successfully?
It’s important to recognize that mistakes are part of our development and something we can (and should) learn from. Today, I don’t remember how many matches I won or lost due to good or bad decisions. At Mews, I don’t know how many bugs I’ve missed or tests I’ve written. What I do know is that I work in a great team full of committed and supportive people who are willing to do their best and improve every day. Not just the product but themselves as well. And as you know, you’ll never hit a perfect shot.
My hope is that I do my job well and am a valuable member of the team. I still have the athlete mindset, so obviously, there’s so much space for improvement. But being recently promoted to Senior QA Engineer helps me truly believe the work I do is acknowledged by my teammates. And it all happened in less than two and a half years, which still feels crazy to me.
If you’re someone looking to switch careers from an unconventional background to tech, my advice would be to go for it. Your unique story and skill set can help you stand out from the crowd and add value in ways you might not realize. Thankfully, there are companies like Mews that embrace diversity and understand how varied backgrounds can make us both stronger and more innovative.
© Featured image by Flickr Czech Badminton