What Software Developers Can Learn From Arnold Schwarzenegger
When you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, software development probably doesn’t come to mind.
Ok, I’m one hundred percent sure Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t come up during a normal discussion about software development.
Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped from the bodybuilding stage to the silver screen, becoming one of the most prolific movie stars in history. He redefined the idea of what it meant to be an action hero.
His muscles were only part of the reason for his success. Arnold rose to the top because of his sheer force of will and extreme work ethic. He’s as a 7-time Mr. Olympia, and even became the governor of California.
Experience has taught me to believe that we can learn from anyone. This lead me to distill a few things that I’ve picked up from this remarkable person, which are especially useful for Software Developers.
Snowball your way to success
Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t wake up being one of the most recognized people on the planet. His life is a long series of small decisions that added up to huge impact.
In his pursuit for the Mr. Olympia championship, every extra rep helped him become more defined and each meal choice was visible on performance day. He has used this championship mindset to build multiple businesses. He then chose to pursue financial independence before making the move into the uncertainties of an acting career. This choice allowed him to wait for lead roles. His popularity as an actor lead to more opportunities, which landed him his appointment as the Governor of California.
As software developers, we can follow Arnold’s example by exercising foresight and valuing incremental improvement to help us in our careers.
Taking your time to add unit tests, refactoring code to make it clear, taking more than a few seconds to think about Class and Method names, reviewing sample interview questions before you even think about changing jobs, learning a new programming language, sharing your findings with others, and reading blogs like Simple Programmer all add up. When done consistently over time, things like these can help get your snowball rolling.
Let’s say you improve by 1% every day for a year. By the end of the year you would have improved by 365%, and it’s all because the little things add up. Start rolling your snowball today.
“I do the same exercises I did 50 years ago and they still work. I eat the same food I ate 50 years ago and it still works.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Devote all of your energy to doing one thing
Arnold has set and achieved many goals. Just to name a few: Won Mr. Olympia, gained financial freedom, became the highest paid actor in Hollywood, acquired American citizenship, married a Kennedy, and became governor of California. These are all goals that Arnold set for himself at one point. As you can tell, these goals are all specific and measurable.
“I didn't leave bodybuilding until I felt that I had gone as far as I could go. It will be the same with my film career.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
The key takeaway is that he didn’t try to do them all at once. He devoted all of his creative energies to one purpose at a time. Become a master of one niche at a time, not a mediocre jack of all trades.
Success means different things to different people. Some people define it by material things and others by status. Some take love as a benchmark and others value experience. Whatever the case, it’s important to know what success means to you and how to define or quantify it. Before you can reach a goal, you must first know the goal.
As Software Developers, we also need to set goals for ourselves. You could try to take on more senior developer roles, or move into management. If the nine to five isn’t your thing, the goal might be entrepreneurial. Goals around soft skills can also be a good choice. And let’s not forget the hundreds of technical skills you could hope to master.
Attempting to take on multiple goals at once is a recipe for disaster. By focusing on one at a time, we’ll avoid wandering through our careers aimlessly.
If you haven’t already set a goal today, find one thing, big or small, commit to it, then become a finisher.
Turn your weakness into assets
When Arnold was in body building, his strength was his big arms. One weakness he had was small calf muscles. He started wearing baggy hoodies and sweatpants cut off just below the knee. This hid his strength but made his weakness visible. Every time he looked in the mirror his weakness was all he saw. This motivated him to do more calf exercises.
Schwarzenegger also had a weakness in acting. If you’ve ever heard Arnold speak English, you can tell that he has a very thick accent. This typically wasn't a problem for him, until he set a goal to become the highest paid actor in America. So what did Arnold do? He embraced it. He turned his heavy accent, unique last name, huge size, and quirky personality into strengths. These are now all things that make Arnold Schwarzenegger memorable.
As software developers we need to be true to ourselves. Maybe you’re not good at verbal conversations, so write detailed reports instead. You might have trouble with abstract concepts, so build rapid prototypes to understand new ideas.
In time, your “weirdness” will become your greatest strength, because what you stop trying to hide can make you remarkable. If you keep at it, this may just make you world-renowned. Don’t be afraid of your weakness.
“Expose your weaknesses and work on them.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Believe in yourself
“Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith there is no anxiety and no doubt – just absolute confidence in yourself.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold was the product of a strict, conservative upbringing in Austria. He was regularly punished for wanting to stand out from the crowd. He would see bodybuilders and movie stars in magazines from the US and dreamed of being successful. Others put him down, but he believed in himself enough to keep working towards his dream.
You might want to develop world changing software, or just start doing more of what you love. Either way, if you want to move forward, you have to believe in yourself.
You could be feeling pressure from a fast approaching release date, or dealing with conflicts of opinion during a routine code review. People might call you crazy for joining a startup, or for “selling out” to work for a big firm. When you face resistance, hold on to your dream. Believe in yourself and use that faith to get through rough times.
“Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Develop your discipline
Arnold Schwarzenegger always made the sacrifices necessary to be the best. Naturally, he became the best. He wasn’t afraid to fail, and ended up doing what it took to fund his dream.
Arnold gives a lot of credit to his father, who always insisted that he and his brother earn their meals by doing chores and exercises. His father was a former soldier in the Austrian army during WWII, a policeman, and a very stern man. He began instilling the idea that you have to earn everything through hard work. This shaped Arnold at a very early age.
No matter how uncomfortable you feel, write code. Making things is freeing, but it’s a bit unpleasant at times. You’ll find that when you dive into uncomfortable areas you’ll start removing limiting beliefs.
Don’t give up when times are tough. We’ve all struggled with technical problems and tricky runtime errors that drive us up the wall. The people who turn pro simply knew why they wanted to succeed and held on through all of the resistance.
Stretch. Reach a bit further. Attempt technical interview questions. Tweak others’ code. Submit pull requests to open source projects. Try to answer difficult questions on Stackoverflow or Quora. Push yourself.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Enjoy the process
The journey to success is usually a long one. Now, goals are extremely important, and there’s great satisfaction in achieving them. On the flip side, if the only happiness you get is from accomplishing your task, chances are you aren’t going to be happy that often.
Arnold Schwarzenegger knew this. He thrived on success and worked to achieve each goal, but he also enjoyed the journey. Arnold found ways to enjoy the process of transforming his body into a champion’s physique. The best evidence is from the documentary Pumping Iron, where Arnold famously compares training and getting a pump to having an orgasm.
You should enjoy the process, maybe not as much as Arnold, but you should still enjoy it. Learning new skills, solving technical problems, writing code, and building stuff should all be things you enjoy doing. You don’t have to love every minute of every day, but the process should be your oxygen. When you enjoy the process, the results are just better. Focusing on a goal is what gets you to the finish line. Loving the process helps you run with a smile on your face.
Thanks to Arnold, I never forget the importance of stepping back and simply appreciating where I am. I just wish the same thing for you. Enjoy the moments that will add up to a successful life and career.
“The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnolds achievements are great
I’m not saying this because I’m some former bodybuilder or can recite lines from any of his movies. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s great because he reached multiple ridiculously ambitious goals, which few people on earth ever reach.
Most of these life anecdotes come from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story”. If you enjoyed this and haven’t read that book, I would check it out. It’s a solid read and I recommend it.
If you’re a die-hard Arnold fan, who’s also looking for some software development fun, you might want to look at ArnoldC. ArnoldC is a programming language based on Arnold Schwarzenegger one liners. There’s even a syntax highlighting plugin for it with the Sublime editor.
How will you change your process now that you know a few things that have helped make the Terminator a household name?
Until next time, I’ll be back.