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Can A Professional Ice Skater Make the Leap from the Rink to a Career in Tech?

Office of the CTO – Guest Blog from: Danny Seymour of the Extreme Elevate team

If you had asked me what the Infinite Enterprise was ten years ago, chances are I would have said, “What? Please leave me alone; I have to go train!” This hyper-focused and cocky attitude was a trademark of my teenage athlete self. Just ask my parents.

I was a competitive figure skater until my final National Championship competition in 2016. An ice dancer, to be more specific. During peak competition season, my skating partner and I would spend more time training together in a day than my parents spent together. Skating was essentially a full-time job.

Photograph courtesy of Danielle Earl Photography

That meant early mornings at the arena, long afternoons at the gym, and evenings spent watching skating, scouting the competition, and studying the greats like Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. These athletes were my heroes, just as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Susan Wojcickis have been to many in the tech world.

Photograph courtesy of Danielle Earl Photography

Like working in tech, it’s important to be focused and determined to succeed in competitive skating. You need to look into the future – be it weeks, months, years, or even decades – to stay ahead of the curve.

It takes years of training to master both the physical and mental aspects of our sport. There are people at Extreme who have spent their entire careers developing the tech we make; likewise, there are athletes who began their journey at two years old in small hometown arenas.

I’ve been working in tech for almost a year now. It feels like I am still “learning to skate” in this world. Luckily, many brilliant people have held my hand (not literally, as we all work virtually) to guide me through my tech journey. In this whirlwind of a year, I have noticed three similarities between life as an internationally ranked figure skater, and an employee at a billion-dollar tech company. Here’s what I’ve seen:

No matter how good you are, “they” will always ask for more.

This statement is a no-brainer. It’s the basis of advancement, technological and otherwise. If Apple stopped at the first generation of the iPhone, dusted their hands off, and said, “That’s good enough,” the company probably wouldn’t be around today.

If you say to a figure skater, “That performance was perfect,” after a perfect-looking routine, they’ll likely be polite, thank you for the kind sentiment, and then immediately think of all the things that went wrong and what could have been better. I know I did!

If we were still using the earliest iterations of Wi-Fi, people would throw their access points like pairs skaters throw their partners – just with less graceful and less expensive landings.

Extreme was collectively thrilled to be the first to market with indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi 6E access points, and I was happy to be here when that happened. That celebration, however, was short-lived because the big-brained experts in Extreme’s product department were hyper-fixated on making the next solution faster, more secure, more user-friendly, and more reliable. The lesson I learned here is that what we have now is good, but there are always room for improvement.

If the experience is good, you won’t notice

After years of training, competing, and watching skating, I’d wager that if I sat down next to you and watched a world-championship-worthy routine, I could identify half a dozen components that could have gone better. Tech experts do the same thing. They know the limitations of their tech, and they know it can be better, but figuring out how can be a long journey.

Every day, I wake up, check my phone, get dressed, and walk 30 feet to my desk to start my workday. I open my laptop and begin working via the Wi-Fi connection. A networking expert may have questions about the SNR and RSSI metrics of the Wi-Fi connection as well as the channel utilization. However, I am perfectly content if I can send my emails, do my research, and create content.

IT works the same way. If nobody’s complaining, things are working and life is good, nobody rushes to management to sing the praise of the network administrator. It just works. Skaters and IT Pros alike strive to perfect the quality of experience (QoE).

It’s a team sport – more than I ever imagined

When a skater is on the ice with a few thousand people watching, you might think they’re on an island. They’re out there alone, with no protection and nowhere to hide. That’s true, but every skater has parents, coaches, training mates, athletic therapists, psychologists, dieticians, friends, extended family, fans, teachers, and others. All these actors contribute to making the skater or the team who they are.

Since joining Extreme Networks, I’ve asked our brightest minds how they create the technology that we sell. From cloud applications to the wired and wireless networking solutions of tomorrow, how do they do it? The answer is always the same, “it’s a team effort.”

While it’s possible for any player to learn how to code and eventually create something valuable enough to sell, it takes a team to consistently create award-winning and innovative products. Between futurists and thought leaders, engineers, user experience developers, product line managers, marketers, technical writers, and executives, hundreds or even thousands of people might work together to bring big ideas to life.

My North Star as a figure skater was these mottos to live by, “onwards and upwards” and “discipline, determination, desire.” Those never left. Now, however, I (along with a globally distributed company of a few thousand others) am working towards realizing Extreme’s vision of the Infinite Enterprise. I’m excited to see where this journey takes me next.

So, much to my surprise, there are shared qualities of pursuing world championships on the ice and working for a big tech company. However, one difference I now appreciate is the cozy temperature of my new office as opposed to the bitter cold of an arena.

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