Investing in the Probabilities

Steven Eno March 20, 2022 • 4 min read

A UPS driver, who works the same hours that a doctor does, earns more than the doctor over the 27 years since high school.

I'm certainly not suggesting that students should drop out of high school and drive a UPS truck instead of pursuing further education to become a doctor, but the above statistics reminded me of another one that I see playing out every day, and it is heartbreaking.

UPS Truck Driver vs Doctor Salary

Growing up with two siblings playing multiple sports meant my parents were always juggling schedules and driving to a practice, game or tournament. I remember multiple times changing out of my soccer uniform and into my basketball jersey in the back seat of our Toyota minivan while my parents raced across Los Angeles. My sister played travel softball all over Southern CA while my older brother was traversing the west coast pursuing his dream of playing baseball for as long as possible. Our family invested hundreds of thousands of hours in athletics over the years and a lot of money knowing full well I was more likely to get struck by lightning than make a professional career out of it.

I was more likely to get struck by lightning than make a professional career out of baseball. (source)

I ended up studying engineering at John Hopkins University, worked at a number of reputable companies that built software systems and sent rockets in space, and finally found my calling as a computer science and engineering teacher. I have been teaching computer science to high school students for over a decade now.

Baseball player

I also coached baseball as the head coach at a storied high school that was built by the winningest coach in the history of CA. When I took that job, an administrator and friend asked me — Are you sure you want to do this? You are very well liked in the community after building an engineering program. Once you take this position you will be hated by everyone in town except for maybe the family of the starting pitcher and the number 3 hitter.” In my naivety I shrugged and told him it can't be that bad. I quickly realized that the state of youth sports made his prediction spot on. Because families were spending thousands of dollars every year on travel baseball, they expected their sons to be high school baseball stars on their way to a college scholarship. When that didn't happen, the best person to blame was the head baseball coach. One family came into my office crying when their son didn't make the varsity team explaining that they sold their house and moved their family just to play baseball at this particular school. This is when I realized that the narrative around youth sports was far from reality. A lot of the club players are told they will get a college scholarship as long as they pay the high annual fees to stay with their club, but the data shows only the elite are able to even play in college let alone get a scholarship.

Students who invest their time learning modern skills such as computer programming will have a hard time not finding a job that pays a 6 figure salary right out of college.

There are over 500,000 current open positions in the US for computing jobs today and the pace of growth of computing jobs is accelerating at the expense of traditional jobs.

Computer Programmer

These statistics remind me that sports is about learning lessons of grit, confidence, and collaboration, not about buying a lottery ticket for a scholarship or professional career. The probability weighted outcome is clearly in favor of investing in learning technology skills for most families. My parents had an intuition about this even when the data didn't readily exist. I am now embarking on a similar journey with my three boys along with so many other families ( 38% of kids aged 6 to 12 participated in team sports in 2018, down from 45% in 2008 ). I am a huge supporter of youth sports and the countless benefits that come from them. I also want to do my best to take a data driven approach to big parenting decisions when I can. This is one area where I can look at the numbers, the risks, and the anecdotal stories to attempt to guide my boys down the right path and steer clear of the sunk cost fallacy that left families crying in my office as a young high school baseball coach.

Baseball player

I won't be pulling my kids out of sports, but I will be investing time and money into giving them technology and computer science opportunities. We are setting up a Raspberry Pi in their room as their first computing device and loading it with Minecraft Pi . I will be searching for any connection I can make between computer science and their interest in video games. If I wasn't immersed in the field of computer science education myself, I would find someone who is, in order to guide my kids through the rapidly changing world of technology. I hope to help my boys build confidence, grit, and collaboration through computer science to make these skills even more transferable to whatever they decide to pursue. Whether or not my boys will listen is a whole other story.