Thu. Nov 14th, 2019

How this college student and e-sports pro caught the attention of Shopify’s CEO — and got a job offer

6 min read

The shrug emoticon on his shirt became Kevin Ryoo’s trademark. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Ryoo)

Look, mom, a life of video games really does provide a resume boost.

Certainly there are countless numbers of people making a living around games, with even more these days who have risen to the ranks of professional players, competing in leagues and tournaments. Kevin Kyeonghyun Ryoo is one such player.

But while the longtime e-sports gamer, known by the handle SeleCT and through his achievements playing “StarCraft II,” isn’t resting on his gaming credentials as he pursues a computer science degree at the University of Washington, those credentials did spark a job offer that went viral recently.

Ryoo, our latest Geek of the Week, posted on Twitter last month that he was looking for an internship for next summer. He caught the attention of Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke, who offered him a place at the Canadian e-commerce company on the spot, based on Ryoo’s “StarCraft” accomplishments. The exchange ended up on Reddit .

Ryoo told GeekWire the offer was a total suprise.

“I maybe expected to get a referral, but I totally did not expect to receive a straight offer from someone, and it wasn’t just someone it was from the CEO of an established company,” Ryoo said. “I really appreciate there are people who respect my career and see the potential in it. … I haven’t accepted the offer yet, since I still have some companies I am talking to, and final rounds of interviews, too.”

Ryoo started playing video games when he was 5 years old in Korea. He loved playing games over anything else — to the objection of his parents. At 14, he was playing “Warcraft III,” another real-tie strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. He got so good that he rose to No. 16 on the game’s player ranking page. Pro teams reached out and his career began.

At 16 he was a two-time World Cyber Games champion, reaching the pinnacle of e-sports and gaining induction into the WCG Hall of Fame. At 17, he moved to the United States and traveled the world as a “StarCraft II” professional gamer. He’s even known for the Sup Son shrug ¯_(ツ)_/¯, a pose he did after winning a match which went on to become his trademark.

On the streaming platform Twitch he’d attract thousands of viewers to his channel.

“I really enjoyed these sessions because, in addition to showcasing my craft, I could communicate with people from other countries, share opinions, and develop an appreciation for the things that make different groups unique and wonderful,” Ryoo said. “Through this, I naturally became a much more personable, social, optimistic, and open-minded person.”

Ryoo hopes to become a software engineer after finishing at the UW — and he has a dreamy idea of how that could all play out.

“I am not particularly looking to work in a gaming company, but it would be awesome if I do because then I can enjoy both my interests in gaming and developing,” he said. “I sometimes imagine myself working in a gaming company, and every day after work we play games together and have a competition. However, my ultimate goal is to have my own company that builds something which makes people’s lives convenient.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Kevin Ryoo, whose answers have been edited slightly for brevity and clarity:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I am a full-time student who is studying computer science. I love technology and solving problems. Technology makes people’s lives convenient, and I was inspired from it. This also gave me ambition to make the world a better place. I can’t even imagine how the world will look in the future — we are probably going to see ourselves living in a place that we often see in science fiction movies. I am so glad that I could be part of this new, exciting epoch.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? As a computer scientist, I think the important thing that people should know about is the fundamentals of computer science. It is used all over the world, but we don’t really think about or appreciate it. Even 20 years ago, we did not have cellphones. This is all possible because of great computer scientists who studied and developed our field. I think the most important aspect of computer science is problem solving with better design. How to manage memory efficiency? How to come up with better algorithms? How do we make it faster? What are the trade offs? And eventually coming up with a solution.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find my inspiration from technology. Studying in this field and learning new things makes me happy. I imagine myself applying all those things I learned, and eventually building something to make the world a better place.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? I would say internet access. I can’t imagine myself living in this world without it. I always feel connected with all people in the world, and without this I think I would feel so isolated, and bored.

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Ryoo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My workspace has a desktop with two 24-inch monitors, one is for gaming and main tasks, and the other one is a rotational monitor for coding. There is a speaker with RGB lightning and a nice LED desk lamp. There is also a laptop as an extra resource.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I try to be productive every day. I check emails often, and make sure I don’t miss anything. If anything comes up, I add it to the to-do list. When I am resting, I often think about something that I can make, and put a note for it. Most importantly, I try staying away from being lazy.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Sorry.. who are they? I only know about computer games.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? ALL IN for Time machine. I have so many questions about the universe. I want to know how the universe was born, and how the future will look.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … save it for now, and once I have enough skill, I would start a business with the smart people who are motivated by making a better world.

I once waited in line for … Burberry store in an outlet shopping mall for five hours on a Black Friday. The temperature outside was -3 degrees Celsius.

Your role models: My role model is Elon Musk. I like how he always come up with something that people need. Now he is planning on planet revolution. I think it will ultimately lead human lives to the next step in a universe scale.

Greatest game in history: Although I was professional gamer for some of the games, I would pick “Diablo 2” over these games. I enjoyed the most playing “Diablo 2” in my childhood.

Best gadget ever: Smartphone. This device makes people’s lives so convenient. I think it provides all of the applications we need at any time. I can’t really think of anything that smartphones do not provide.

First computer: Intel i386.

Current phone: Samsung Note 9.

Favorite app: YouTube.

Favorite cause: Cancer research. We must conquer cancer.

Most important technology of 2019: 5G technology. We just invented the first step to the next era. With this technology, we will be able to have many kinds of automation such as robot cleaners, driverless vehicles, and hologram videoconferencing.

Most important technology of 2021: Automated driverless vehicles and holograms.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Try to find your passion and motivation. Always be productive and diligent. Most importantly, take care of your health!!

Website: Kevin Ryoo

Twitter: @SeleCTKR

LinkedIn: Kevin Ryoo

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