How is studying Information Technology Infrastructure like playing college basketball? You might say that both require a certain level of focus, dedication, and follow-through in order to succeed. You might say that the patience required to understand how operating systems work is the same patience needed to position yourself for snatching a rebound or making a drive for the hoop. Or, you might say that the two are alike in that your work is never done—you must always be learning, striving, stretching in order to stay on top of your game.
Taiye Bello divides her time between these two spaces—the classroom, where she studies IT Infrastructure, and the court, where she plays center, and sometimes power forward, for the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball team. One thing is certain: Her discipline as an athlete has served her well as a student, and so for Taiye, the overlap between her Information Technology Infrastructure (ITI) major and her NCAA basketball career has everything to do with a drive to excel.
A History of Basketball
Taiye comes from an extremely athletic family. Her older brother played basketball for the Nigerian Olympic Team, and her twin sister Kehinde plays for the Gophers with Taiye. The two sisters were recruited to play for the U of M, leaving their native Southfield, Michigan, to move to the Twin Cities. For Taiye, who is now a senior, her dedication to the sport has paid off big time. She ended the 2018−19 season ranked fourth in team history for offensive rebounds and tenth for career rebounds. The Gophers coach Lindsey Whalen says of Taiye, “A player like that wins games for you.”
The player she is today is the player she’s been becoming since she was just a kid playing basketball in middle school, hustling in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) to hone her skills. Those years of commitment to basketball meant that Taiye had to make sacrifices, though. All the basketball practices and games meant her schedule was always jam-packed. She didn’t have time to take on a part-time job to earn extra cash the way most kids do in high school. Instead, Taiye figured she’d channel her love of computer science into a side hustle, making websites for small businesses in her hometown.
“I did more research into computer science, coding and stuff, and taught myself more about that,” Taiye says. “My interest grew, and I decided to study it in college.”
Doubling Down on IT
As a freshman at the U of M, Taiye thought she had already identified her major: computer science. But after a couple of semesters, she began to change her mind.
“By my sophomore year, I realized that computer science was too theoretical for me,” she says. “I wasn’t applying myself the way I wanted to. I started researching other majors that were similar or related to it, and that’s when I found ITI.”
Taiye appreciated that the coursework in the ITI program was applied and professional in nature, with instructors teaching from their real-world experience in the field. Plus, the courses were scheduled in the evenings, which worked well with Taiye’s rigorous basketball schedule. During the playing season, this means four hours of practice and strength training a day, with games on the weekends.
She cites her favorite courses as the ones that stoke her interest in data and software development. Currently, Taiye’s area of focus within the major is security and systems. She had an opportunity to apply what she’s learned so far through an internship she had last summer with Best Buy.
“Working in IT, you can’t be so focused on the technical part that you forget about the business aspect. You’re more valuable as an employee if you understand how technology and business mesh together. It’s really important, so I really like that the ITI major teaches that.”
That 12-week internship was the first full-time job Taiye has ever had. Since it was off-season for basketball, she was able to make it work with her basketball schedule, though it was still a struggle to balance work, sports, and a social life. The payoff was huge, though.
“Being able to see my ITI courses translate into the real world was really cool,” Taiye says.
She chose to focus on security in her internship, drilling down on phishing scams, in particular. She spent a significant amount of time at Best Buy creating a digital “sandbox” in which to test malicious links that employees might receive via email. Since phishing is so common these days, businesses are cracking down on data security, hiring individuals with expertise in the area, like Taiye.
As she reflects on that internship—her taste of applying her ITI degree in a professional environment—Taiye says she’s come to understand the value of learning about business in tandem with technology. You need both in order to succeed on the job, she says.
“Working in IT, you can’t be so focused on the technical part that you forget about the business aspect. You’re more valuable as an employee if you understand how technology and business mesh together,” Taiye says. “Because you’re not just working with your technology team: you also have to appeal to the business side of things, meeting with your CEO and explaining the value of the work you’re doing. It’s really important, so I really like that the ITI major teaches that.”
With graduation around the corner, Taiye hasn’t decided what she plans to do after she’s officially completed her degree. The skills she’s honed on the basketball court have caught the attention of pro teams, and she’s not ruling out the possibility of continuing her basketball career post-graduation. At the same time, Taiye is striving to make professional connections in the technology sector, hoping to gain more experience through a full-time job in IT.
It’s inevitable that Taiye’s basketball skills influence her work in IT, and perhaps she applies the precision of technology on the court, too. Whatever she chooses to pursue, she’s prepared for a slam-dunk of a future.