By April 12, 2017

What Developers Can Learn From Michael Jordan

When you think of Michael Jordan, software development probably doesn’t come to mind.

Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP. He’s a 14-time NBA All-Star, was the NBA scoring champion 10 times, and NBA steals leader three times. And you can’t forget his two gold medals from the Olympic Games.

He’s arguably the best person to ever play the game of basketball.

Experience has taught me that we can learn from anyone. Michael Jordan didn’t rely on pure talent. Though talent played a big part, he wouldn’t be an iconic athlete without his principles of hard work, drive, and confidence. This led me to search for a few things Software Developers can pick up from Michael Jordan.

Put In The Work

Jordan's competitiveness was visible in every game he played. His work ethic is well-known throughout the sports world, leading the Chicago Bulls to build a team around Jordan. During the process, they had to trade away players who weren’t tough enough to compete with him in practice.

Jordan played better than everyone else because he was better at practicing. He’s been quoted as saying, “I've always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.” Until the end of his career, Michael was the first person to get to the gym and the last one to leave. To help improve his defense, he spent extra hours studying film of opponents.

He didn't stop learning or trying to improve because of his past achievements. This allowed him to continue his impressive record-breaking performances.

There’s no world-class Software Developer who’s achieved success without putting in the work. There are plenty of things we can do to improve as coders.

  • We can work on open source projects or code projects that stretch our abilities.
  • We can take the time to add unit tests.
  • We can attempt to learn new programming languages.
  • We can even tackle coding challenges during free time.

When done consistently, working to improve yourself leads to success.

Jordan makes playing basketball look easy, but it isn’t. His success comes not only from talent, but from hours and hours of work in the gym. As Software Developers, we need to also spend that kind of time working on our craft.

Find Something That Drives You

Jordan loved basketball so much, he once said it was his wife. “It demands loyalty and responsibility, and it gives me back fulfillment and peace.” He used this love of the game to drive him to be one of the best ever.

This drive led him to iconic performances, like the game he played while fighting through the flu. Even while sick, he led the Bulls to defeat the Utah Jazz in game five of the 1997 NBA finals.

When you have something that drives you like Jordan did, it will come through in your work.

What motivates you to do your work?

We should all find something that drives us to success. Being driven can fuel confidence and create excitement in our work.

As a Software Developer, being driven might push you to master a particular technology. This will allow you to focus on solve bigger and more interesting problems using those skills.

Meet Challenges Head On

Jordan was known throughout his career for being strong during clutch moments. In the last 30 seconds of 25 games with the Bulls, Jordan hit game-winning shots or free throws. This includes two NBA Finals games and five other playoff contests.

He didn’t let the pressure of the moment stop him from taking game-winning shots. His drive and self-confidence pushed him during these challenging moments. It’s important for Software Developers to have a similar sense of self-confidence. When faced with difficult bugs or high-pressure release cycles, it can be the difference between success and failure.

Take a moment now and think about what you want to achieve as a Software Developer.

  • Do you want to learn a new coding language or get a promotion?
  • Do you want to become a freelancer or start your own business?
  • Do you fully expect yourself to make it happen one day?

If the answer is no, it might be time to start building some self-confidence.

John Sonmez has great videos on building confidence while coding and in your personal life that can help get you started.

Have faith in yourself that with enough time and effort you can achieve your goals. Remember that every time Jordan pulled up for a jumper, he was expecting the ball to go in.

Fail Your Way To Success

Jordan wasn’t always a winner. Early failure came when he didn’t make it on his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore. But that wasn’t the only failure.

The first time he got to the NBA playoffs, his team, the Bulls, were knocked out in the first round. The next two years, the Bulls were swept by the Boston Celtics. For the following three years in a row, they were beat by the Detroit Pistons.

At that stage, all Jordan knew was failure. But it only made him want to be better. He would say, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”

Failure has a way of making people want to give up. But it had the opposite effect on Jordan. You might find it helpful to start using failure as fuel to work harder.

We can all learn through failure. How did you learn to code? Most Software Developers start with a “Hello World” program. Then we learn basic syntax, and start creating a few functions.

We all run into different issues along the way. It could be challenging to understand new algorithms. Or we could run into unanticipated errors while trying to install a new application.

But if we keep at it, one day we find ourselves writing programs that solve problems.

Keep learning from your failures and you will move in the right direction.

“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.”— Michael Jordan

Want To Be Like Mike?

I’m not saying this because I love playing pickup basketball or can recite lines from Space Jam. Michael Jordan is great because he is arguably the best player to ever play the game. His accomplishments on the court are more than enough to back it up, but it’s how he got there that continues to inspire us.

As Software Developers, it’s good to remember that talent is important, but hard work is still needed to truly become great. We should all strive to be the best coders that we can be.

Most of these life anecdotes come from Jordan’s biography Michael Jordan: The Life, by Roland Lazenby. If you enjoyed this article and haven’t read that book, I would check it out. It’s a solid read, even if you’re not a basketball fan.

If you’re looking for similar articles drawing inspiration from successful public figures, I can recommend one about Arnold Schwarzenegger and another about Naruto Uzumaki.
How might you change your processes now that you know some of the techniques that helped make Michael Jordan a household name?

About the author

Saeed Gatson

Saeed currently works as a Software Developer In Test remotely from Eugene, Oregon. You can find him thinking out loud at or on Twitter @SaeedGatson.