Ride The Horse

As a leader, it is important to not lose sight of the skills that got you to where you are today. The quote “don’t be a cavalry captain who can’t ride a horse” highlights the importance of staying grounded in practical skills, even as you take on new responsibilities. This is especially true in the constantly evolving field of technology, where it is easy to get caught up in high-level strategic thinking and forget the nuts and bolts of actually writing code.

For myself, I have found it helpful to make a conscious effort to stay hands-on and maintain my technical skills. One way I have done this is by regularly sharing short videos introducing sample python code with the public through a YouTube playlist.

Not only does this help me stay up-to-date with new developments in the field, but it also allows me to stay creative and challenge myself to think about problems in new ways.

In addition to the personal benefits of keeping my technical skills sharp, there are also practical advantages to being able to “ride the horse” as a leader. Having a strong foundation in the technical aspects of my work allows me to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing my team, and to effectively communicate with and support them. It also allows me to be a more credible and effective leader, as I am able to directly contribute to the work being done rather than just overseeing it from a distance.

In conclusion, it is important for leaders to remember the importance of maintaining hands-on skills and not becoming too removed from the practical aspects of their work. As the saying goes, “don’t be a cavalry captain who can’t ride a horse.” By staying grounded in the technical skills that got us to where we are today, we can better understand and support our teams, and continue to be effective and credible leaders in our field.

Taekwondo and me

I started learning Taekwondo (a Korean martial art) at an early age. Taekwondo had taught me numerous amount of lessons as a competitive athlete but also those applicable to my life in general. And now that I look back - as I celebrated my 40th last week - it wasn't the gold medals that helped mold and shape me into the person I am today.

In 1992, I received an invitation to the USA Taekwondo Junior State Championship held in Ohio. Even before arriving at the arena, I felt confident that my competitions were no match for me. My games were in Sparring and Poomsae (also referred to as "forms") during the event. Without a doubt, Sparring was my thing even though I was a light kid back then. So I competed in the FIN weight class, which is for those not exceeding 54kg. As one can imagine, height and reach are crucial in Sparring matches. Unfortunately, I was not only light but also very small in stature. That didn't bother me because I knew I had speed. 

Then came the gold medal match. My final opponent was a tall skinny white kid. From the beginning of the gold medal match, my opponent was utilizing his long legs to block and cut away most of my attacks. I was frustrated and felt the opponent was playing dirty. I eventually lost the match due to the mercy rule. I cried my way home and cried even more after returning. I ended up taking two silver medals that year, but I was neither satisfied nor happy with my results. What made it even sadder was the fact that I didn't realize who my real opponent was.

The following year, I was fortunate enough to receive yet another invitation to the same event. Long story short - I took home two gold medals during the 1993 USA Taekwondo Junior State Championship. What was the difference? Ego. I destroyed my ego before getting killed by my opponent on the other side of the floor. I was more self-aware. I knew what I was able to do, but more importantly, I didn't guess what I did not know.

Most of my repeated mistakes or failures probably occurred due to my ego and lack of self-awareness, which applies to my entrepreneurial journey. In 2013, when I moved to Austin Texas to start my next startup company, a mentor and now a good friend had asked me an important question which I will carry with me for the rest of my life on this planet.

"Why are you here?"

I ask myself this question even today. Do I know why I am doing the thing that I am about to do? Am I going to regret my decision today when I look back after another 40 years?

Keeping myself self-aware has brought me more joy, happiness, and satisfaction than any success on the surface. And I believe as long as I can continue to ask myself that simple question, I should be good to go.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, a competitive sport, and a method of maintaining all-around fitness, including mental well-being. And this sport has not only disciplined me physically but also brought me down to earth to keep my ego at bay.

Be the humble beast.