My Life Story
Welcome to my site. My name is Dana Aft and I am an amateur pool player and web developer. I decided to combine my two passions by creating this website, where I hope to not only learn and develop as a player and programmer, but where I can also share this beautiful sport with the world, and maybe help give it some of the light it deserves.
I can't say that I'm necessarily cut out for this game. It's not really the pool game itself - that's just physics and geometry really. It's everything else that comes along with it. There's the hustling side, where people would literally sell their best friend down the river for fifty bucks. The moves people play on each other just to get in their pocket. The rude comments people feel compelled to make in order to get in each other's heads. The disrespect people show each other by flailing wildly in front of each other's shots. I've always thought to myself - that's not pool. And it's not - but it's a part of the game that you have to deal with when you play in a pool hall.
Then there's the whole spectator part. I have to admit - I really hate this aspect of the game. I've never been one to enjoy the spotlight, and I know it's held my game back. When I first started competing on the WPBA, I never even played close to my actual speed because of the fans. The first time I ever played Allison Fisher on a real stage, I was scared I was literally going to fall over because I was shaking so badly. Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with the game itself, but it's a part of the game I know I have to overcome or I will never excel at it.
So, among everything else, this is what this website is about - me, putting myself out there in a way that I've never felt comfortable with before, because I know that in order to excel in this sport, I need to get rid of all my concerns that have little or nothing to do with the physics and geometry of it all, and turn my weaknesses into strengths.
On top of that, I know that outside of the hustling nature of people, pool is probably one of the most beautiful and highly skilled sports in the entire world. It's one of the few sports where you don't actually compete against an opponent, only against yourself. It doesn't matter how much you can bench, or how fast you can run. It's truly a game that intertwines intelligence, creativity, and physical execution in a way that you just don't see in any other sport.
I can't even recall how old I was when I first picked up a cue. I had one of those baby pool tables - not because my parents were pool enthusiasts, but just one of those random toys they decided to pick up. I wasn't particularly good at the game. I didn't grow up around the sport. Occasionally, I would go to my grandparent's condo in Ft. Lauderdale, and play in the game room on the top of the building against my brother. He was pretty good at it, and always showed me how horrible I was. It wasn't fun to play when I was that bad, and I really had no particular interest in it.
Then, when I was 16 years old, I was working at The Atlanta Bread Company. After close, a few of us decided to make our way to a bar across the street, and I showed myself again why I hated the sport so much. I didn't even know how to hold the cue right - I was right-handed but played left-handed. I was such a mess. Then one of my coworkers whispered in my ear - "Try hitting them soft", and suddenly, I made three balls in a row. Wow - I was hooked. I started playing with my friends every day after school and even on the weekend. Now, you are probably wondering what my parents did letting me spend all my free time in bars, but I assure you, I was a pretty good kid and I wasn't getting into any trouble. I actually appreciate them accepting my newfound love for the game, and as long as they knew where to find me when they needed to (cell phones were just coming into existence at that time, and my parents weren't exactly on the cutting edge of technology), they let me explore my new passion.
It wasn't until I got to college (UGA) that I learned there was much more to pool than what you see on a bar table. I was introduced to 9 foot tables, spin, and tournament play. UGA had a game room that housed about 12 tables and even a small snooker table in the Tate student center. It has since been demolished, which seems unfortunate to me, since that's really how I got started. They had two weekly tournaments, one in 9 ball and one in 8 ball. I definitely wasn't the best in the room, those honors would go to either Felipe Flores or Chris Avino, depending which way the wind was blowing, but I was the best girl, and really thought I was something serious…until Charlie Williams brought his tour (I believe it was called UPT) to Murphy's Brass Rail…then I learned that I still had a lot to learn. The only name I even knew on the list was Johnny Archer, and I chalk that up to the fact that I'm from Atlanta.
Although I really enjoyed playing, I didn't start taking the game seriously until after I graduated from college…and got a real job. I remember walking into the corporate office at UPS my very first day, looking up at the Ivory Towers, and thinking to myself - why can't I just play pool?? I didn't take any steps towards actually making it happen, though. In fact, I did the worst thing I could possibly do for my game…I joined an MBA program. So while working fulltime for UPS, and going to school part-time, my game did nothing but suffer. And then, to make matters worse, I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up - become a programmer. Since I hadn't studied anything involving programming in school, and had no actual experience with it, my free time (the little that I already had) was spent towards learning how to get the computer to do what I wanted it to…
Knee deep in my MBA program, demanding hours from UPS, and my own personal desires for a career change all drained any energy I had…my pool game had just turned pathetic, my social life was nearly non-existent, and my health was starting to suffer as fast food and lack of exercise weighed heavily on me…I knew something had to change, if not for my own mental well-being. So I did what any sane person would do. I quit my job. The way I figured it, the MBA would be over eventually, and I already knew that I wanted a different career path - it really was the only intelligent solution.
I remember walking into my boss's office. The IE (industrial engineering) department had just had its yearly review, so he was slightly stressed out already. Shaking, nervous, all I could think was - am I really about to quit this lucrative job that I somehow landed with a psychology degree to just…go at it on my own? Yup - I did…he was shocked…I was shocked..then I walked away…and driving home that day…I couldn't help but smile. In fact, I didn't stop smiling until the first day I was actually on my own. I woke up and felt only one thing - fear. I was so scared. I was pretty smart with my finances, and knew I had enough saved for at least a year, but I really had no idea how I would go about getting business. And beyond that - I quit my job to build websites, but I had yet to actually build one…no wonder I was so scared…
I remember the first client that I landed. He already had a site built, he just needed someone to maintain it, and add things to it. This seemed simple enough - all the hard stuff was already done! It was written in PHP, so that became the backend language that I would learn. He handed me his site, and gave me a simple project. And within a few hours, I had broken his site - literally, I tried to pull it up and it was gone. My heart dropped - maybe I wasn't cut out for this? After quite a few undos, I finally got it working again. My heart raised just a bit…but I still had a sinking feeling in my chest. I had a lot to learn…so that's what I did…I just learned. I took his website and learned every piece of code - turned to the internet and learned everything I could. Nearly every project I took on that year, I pretended I knew what I was talking about. I had it in my head that if I didn't know how to do something, I would just learn it. If it was possible - I would just figure it out. And suddenly, I actually became a programmer.
Meanwhile, my pool game started taking a jump. With a little more free time, I could now take on opportunities to compete and travel a little more. I took every opportunity I could to play in WPBA events, and even travelled to the Philippines to compete in a World Event. I learned pretty fast that unless I could actually do well in these events, it was probably the worst thing I could do for my pocket book. The experience was priceless, but it did have a hefty price tag. I told myself that I would not compete in pro events anymore unless I earned it through qualifiers or rankings, instead of just accepting last minute invites.
After a little over a year of programming on my own, I was nearing the end of my MBA program. At the same time, I learned one of the greatest lessons you can learn in the business world…I had been working on a project for a few months, logging my hours. And when it came time to pay, there was no money. I had wasted my time and trusted somebody that I thought was a friend…and now, I had to actually dip into my savings a lot more than I was comfortable with. Of course, I would never give anybody that much leeway now, but at the time, I was just relying on wishful thinking. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to get a job. I had actually tried to get a job when I first quit UPS. For some reason nobody wanted to hire me when I had no experience and had a simple B.S. in Psychology. The tables had turned though - I had plenty of experience and now with an MBA (almost) under my belt, the phone literally started ringing off the hook (for anybody needing a job, become a PHP developer - I have recruiters calling me to this day, and even asking if I happen to know ANYBODY who does PHP work). Within one day I had an interview, and started working four days later for my new company, Smith & Carson.
Smith & Carson was an interesting position. They were looking for somebody to start full-time, but since I was still in school, and had taken a heavy load to ensure I finished as soon as possible, I was not in a position to start immediately. I agreed to do contract work for them for the first three months until I received my degree, then I would go full-time. During the contract period, I did not have any vacation time, and I found out that I would get two weeks of vacation my first year. The catch was I was on a 6 month "probation" period (forget that I had already spent three months working for them), so technically only received one week of vacation for the first 15 months of employment. There went my pool schedule. In fact, I was so worried about saving my vacation that I ended up with three extra days at the end of the year that I used to sit around my house…what a waste. So needless to say, I did not compete much during that year.
While working for S&C, I tried to keep my programming business going, but it became such a headache that I just turned down all my business and closed shop. Except for a few close clients that had been with me since the beginning, I had officially wiped my hands clean of running my own business…and then I started getting approached for websites time and time again. At first I started turning them down…but eventually caved, and started agreeing to do some work. At this same time, my roommate and best friend approached me with an offer for me to go back to doing programming fulltime, but this time I wouldn't be on my own - I would have a partner in the process. I was getting excited about the prospect. On top of that, I would get my vacation time back (one week for that 15 month period admittedly drove me a little insane), so I said, "Let's Do It". Web Management Solutions was born.
Before I even quit, my game began to sky rocket. It's like somehow everything was starting to come together - I was excited about life, my future prospects, everything. And so I began to compete a lot more. I even snapped off a Simonis Cloth Tour's Handicapped 10-ball event, and was feeling really confident. And then something happened…
I had always said that pool was my one true love. It was my passion, my hobby, and everything in between. But I was never sure why, or what that really meant. For a while, I believed it was the camaraderie that drove my passion for the sport. I loved taking road trips with my friends, and enjoyed the social atmosphere in the pool hall. But slowly, my friends began to move away, or quit playing pool, or just stopped being my friends…yet I still stayed with the sport. Perhaps it was about winning or the money (ok, we all know it's not the money that drives anybody to play this sport). But I still wasn't sure what it was. Then, in May 2013, I caught wind of a ladies tournament in Florida. It was almost a 6 hour drive, and a tight one at that since I would have to be back in Atlanta by Sunday morning to catch a buddy's competition in the GBA's Strikeout Billiards Event (I had made a promise). So with very little convincing, I hopped in the car and drove myself down to Florida, and took second place. On the way back, I realized what I had just done. It wasn't about the friends, or the money, or even winning…it was purely for the love of the sport.
I finally realized that I was in love with pool…for no other reason than the game itself.