How Does a Retired NFL Athlete End Up At a Coding Boot Camp?
Will Rackley is a former NFL athlete, a current professional artist, and a boot camp-educated coder. In other words, there isn’t much that he hasn’t tackled.
Born in Athens, Greece to a military family, Will moved around a lot growing up. He graduated from Lehigh University, then got drafted to the NFL in 2011 as a left guard, playing offense for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2015, he retired due to a persistent injury and started painting.
Will started learning coding on his own. He didn’t get very far—he knew he needed to find a more structured, hands-on approach.
That’s when he found Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp. He read the reviews and talked to his wife—a Georgia Tech grad. He decided to enroll.
How coding is like pro football
Originally a computer science major, Will had found that discipline “a little bland.” Coding taps into his creative juices—something that he loves to cultivate now that he’s an artist.
Despite Will’s early computer science background, nearly everything in the boot camp was new to him. He spent hours outside class working and researching, just to get a handle on the material.
“While my wife was in school for her PhD, I took care of our 13-month-old son,” he said. “During boot camp, I was really only able to do homework and work on projects at night or while he was napping, so it got tough trying to cram things in and do my research with such little time. Sometimes I’d be up until 5 am trying to get things done. Those were tough times, but I’m proud of myself for putting that effort in.”
For Will, time management was admittedly a challenge. But his time at the NFL had instilled the discipline of 12- to 13-hour days, seven days a week, for months on end.
Will shared a few other parallels with his football career.
“At the end of the day, I enjoy coding because it’s problem solving—just like football,” said Will. “They’re more similar than people might think: it’s just that one is physical and one is mental. They both take a lot of work, and the more you work at them, the better you’ll get.”
Producing rewarding work
Will’s project team built Easy Eats, an app that allows you to use your cell phone to scan a code on a restaurant menu and place your order at the table—even before the server arrives. They also created a location-based platform for people to get help for simple jobs, like cleaning the porch, watering plants, and washing dishes. Anyone within a 15-mile radius of the posting could sign up—and either find helpers or perform an odd job. Will enjoyed the support of his fellow boot camp learners and considered them teammates.
Now that the boot camp is over, Will has been meeting with companies that are looking to contract out their programming. After his wife earns her doctorate, he’ll look for something more permanent. He definitely sees himself coding, and he wants to move toward focusing on mobile applications.
Will feels confident he now has both the hard and soft skills he’ll need in the field. “Going to a boot camp like this you learn a lot about how to really hunker down and focus on one thing,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself—how to tackle tasks, put the hard work in, and then be able to see the fruits of your labor. You learn a lot about how much you can endure and how hard you can actually work. I think that’s a pretty good life skill to have.”