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Thiago Pacheco
Thiago Pacheco

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From Skatepark to Software: The Unconventional Lessons Behind My Rise to Staff Software Engineer

Life often throws us on paths we least expect, and mine has been a journey from mastering kickflips to coding keystrokes. As a kid, skateboarding was my world; it taught me more than just tricks—it sculpted a mindset that later became the cornerstone of my software engineering career. In this article, I'm excited to share how the lessons from my days as a skateboarder and experiences in various jobs have been instrumental in my journey to becoming a Staff Software Engineer. It's a story of persistence, adaptability, and the power of transferable skills.

From kickflips to code: my skateboard saga

I started skateboarding as a young kid in Brazil. It was more than a hobby for me—it was a way of life. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but my love for skateboarding kept me going. I worked hard and got really good at it. This hard work paid off when a skate shop in my hometown decided to sponsor me. That was a big deal for me. I thought maybe I could make a career out of skateboarding and help my family out.

But things didn’t go as planned. The money from the sponsorships wasn’t enough to live on. I had to work to help my family and keep up with school. So, skateboarding took a back seat. I couldn’t practice as much, and slowly, my dream of becoming a pro skater started to fade away.

Even though I didn’t become a professional skateboarder, those years spent skateboarding weren’t wasted. They taught me some really important lessons. Little did I know, those lessons would one day help me a lot in my career as a software engineer.

Learning Beyond the Skatepark

In my skateboarding days, the biggest lessons I learned were persistence and consistency, and they've been super important in my software engineering career. Every time I got back on my skateboard after a fall, it wasn't just about getting back up; it was about persistently pushing myself to do better and consistently practicing no matter how hard it seemed. This habit of not giving up, of doing something regularly even when it’s tough, has been crucial in my tech work. Whether I’m tackling a difficult coding problem or learning a new software tool, I always remember how persistence and consistency in skateboarding helped me improve. These are the skills that have really made a difference in my journey as a software engineer, showing me that the dedication I learned on my skateboard is just as valuable when I’m in front of my computer.

My skateboarding days taught me one vital lesson: some skills work everywhere. Balance and focus on a skateboard? They turned into problem-solving and attention to detail in the tech world. This was a game-changer. It made me see that it’s not just about coding skills. It’s about learning things that help you in all sorts of situations.

This understanding of transferable skills was a lightbulb moment. It made me look at my abilities differently, not just in skateboarding or tech, but in life. I started asking myself: What other skills can I use in different areas?

As I moved from skateboarding into tech, this lesson stayed with me. It guided me to pick up and improve skills that were useful no matter where I worked.

A Journey Through Varied Tech Roles

Embracing the lessons from skateboarding days, I’ve come to understand that every experience is a repository of knowledge, and much of what we learn is transferable across different spheres of life. Here are some of these career lessons that I cultivate and polish in my day-to-day work.

  1. Embracing Communication:
    At the beginning of my tech journey, I underestimated the power of communication. I soon realized that no matter how skilled you are technically, if you can’t convey your ideas effectively, your expertise can be overlooked. Learning to communicate well was a game-changer, enhancing how I collaborated and led teams.

  2. Discovering Empathy in Collaboration:
    In various roles, I learned the value of empathy. Putting myself in others’ shoes, especially during project collaborations and code reviews, not only improved my relationships but also made me a better problem solver. It’s a skill that helped me connect with my team and understand their perspectives better.

  3. The Importance of Sharing Knowledge:
    One of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been sharing knowledge. Teaching others solidified my understanding and skills. It also improved my communication and empathy, making me a more effective team member and leader.

  4. Mastery of Development Tools:
    Throughout my career, I’ve seen many peers use only the basics of their tools. I learned the importance of mastering these tools, as it significantly boosts productivity. From customizing my IDE to embracing powerful tools like vim, this mastery has been a key factor in my efficiency.

  5. The Power of a Development Journal:
    Maintaining a development journal has been a cornerstone of my career growth. It helped me keep track of my learning and daily decisions, ensuring I retained and understood my experiences deeply. This practice has been invaluable during evaluations and in 1:1s, allowing me to effectively showcase my growth and achievements.

A Career-centric philosophy

In my professional journey, adopting a career-first approach has been pivotal. It's about seeing beyond the immediate tasks and roles, envisioning a path that leads to long-term growth and fulfillment. This perspective has been instrumental in guiding my decisions, whether it's selecting projects, taking on new challenges, or pursuing further education.

The emphasis on transferrable skills has been a cornerstone of this approach. Skills like effective communication, empathetic teamwork, and adaptive problem-solving are not bound by job titles or specific roles; they are assets that enhance value and versatility in any professional setting.

Continuous learning has been another key element. In an industry as dynamic as tech, staying updated and expanding one’s skill set is not just an advantage — it’s a necessity. This ongoing learning journey has kept me agile, ready to adapt to new technologies and methodologies.

Lastly, the power of networking cannot be overstated. Building meaningful professional relationships has opened doors to new opportunities, provided valuable insights, and created a support network that has been essential in navigating my career path.

Looking back at my journey from skateboarding in Brazil to being a staff dev, I see how each part of my life taught me something valuable. What really ties everything together is learning skills that are useful in many areas, not just in one job. Things like not giving up, talking well with others, understanding their feelings, and always learning new things have helped me a lot.

These skills weren't just important for my jobs; they changed how I see things and helped me grow. My career isn't just about the jobs I've had; it's about all the useful things I've learned along the way. It's these skills that have really helped me get to where I am today.

Top comments (3)

michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Cool to hear that you're a skater, Thiago! Also nice to hear how you applied various lessons you learned from skating to the work you're doing now. 🙌

I'm curious if you ever had a sorta "punk" ethos and attitude as I know the skating and punk scenes often have some cross-over. If your curious what I mean by this, here's what Wikipedia says about punk subculture:

The punk ethos is primarily made up of beliefs such as non-conformity, anti-authoritarianism, anti-corporatism, a do-it-yourself ethic, anti-consumerist, anti-corporate greed, direct action, and not "selling out".

Does any of this resonate with you? And if so, how might you have applied this to your approach as a software engineer?

pacheco profile image
Thiago Pacheco

Yes Michael, this punk ethos was definitely present on those years.
I would say that the non-conformity aspect might be the strongest belief that I still have to this day and it translates to the idea of not being afraid to speak up when I see things that are wrong in the workplace. I am always the advocate for change even if it is not the most comfortable place to be at sometimes.
Another important aspect is always having the interest of my colleagues and employees in general in mind, trying to help shape the company’s culture towards that. That is very challenging given the way most companies are organized but there is always a place to improve from time to time.

michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

This is awesome, Thiago! I can def relate to that... it's good to be able to speak your truth openly. Also, I like how you tie being empathetic and having others' interests in mind to the punk scene... I do feel like punk is a very community-oriented and accessible scene. Punk is for the people! ✊