Fencing is a family thing. My father and my mother were both fencers and met because of it. My dad was the Italian Champion in 1970 and participated in several world championships. My brother and his wife are also into fencing – it’s in the DNA of the family! My favourite thing about fencing is the power of the emotions that you get while competing, and especially when winning. I can tell you that I never got such strong feelings anywhere else in my life. A normal profession doesn’t give you anything like this.
I’m Andrea Cipriani, a 30-year-old Italian guy with many passions, and I work as a Software Engineer at SoundCloud. I was born in Italy and lived there most of my life. I moved to Berlin exactly three years ago because I wanted to work on a product used by a lot of users. I wanted a better job than the ones I could have gotten in Italy and I was lucky enough to get hired by SoundCloud, an amazing company.
The first line of code I wrote was a script for the very famous messaging client mIRC. I still remember the amazing feeling I had when that line of code was sending a message to new people joining a channel. It was a great feeling because I thought I had more “control” than others. I never stopped liking that feeling.
Before I became a software engineer, I was a professional fencer. My coach Andrea Candiani was a role model for me. In fencing, a coach is teaching you much more than the technique – Andrea is a very wise man and has taught me a lot. I’m also happy to name Paolo Milanoli as an inspiration, since he has been the best Italian fencer with the “French grip” (a special grip used by the minority of fencers in epee). Many people were telling me to try to imitate his style. But his style was pretty unique.
I started training in Legnano, a small city close to where I was born. I then moved to Milan to follow my coach when it was getting more serious. I now live in Berlin and I go to the “Fechtzentrum Berlin”, but just for fun. I think I learned a lot of things from fencing, such as being lucid and being able to make quick decisions in situations with high stress.
I do epee, with the French grip. I like this classic defensive style, one that is always provoking the attack of the opponent and then doing a counter-attack at the right moment. For epee, you need a very good technique and a powerful, fast, balanced body. Being tall usually helps in epee. But at a professional level, I think the mental attitude makes the difference. I’ve seen a lot of great fencers getting lost on their path, while the most persevering and focused ones succeeded.
For me, the key thing to becoming a professional fencer was having a great coach from the beginning (Andrea Candiani). At one of my first junior world cup competitions in 2008, I got the second position and started thinking this could be something more than a hobby. In 2009, I won the Junior World Championships with the Italian team and got a professional contract right after it.
I have two particularly memorable fencing experiences – one good and one bad. The bad one happened during a match of a competition. It was the last point to win the match. The opponent touched me on the foot and immediately removed their mask to scream for celebrating the victory. I didn’t realize he hit me my foot, and I was still doing my counter-attack – I hit him on the face that wasn’t covered by his mask, exactly while he was throwing the mask. Everything happened in a fraction of a second. Luckily enough, nothing bad happened to him. But if the tip of my epee was a couple of centimetres more close to his eye, it could have been a tragedy.
The good story is the first competition I made after coming back from a bad injury – unfortunately, I broke the ligament of my knee while fencing. It was a national competition, I had no expectations and started the day very badly; after the first round, I was qualified with a very low number, something like 250 out of 300 in the main table. I wasn’t in shape, my legs were just recovering from 6 months of physiotherapy, and I could only fence for 3/4 weeks before the competition. But after I won my first match, something triggered on my mind – I knew I was not in shape, so and I had to use different skills. I was super focused on not making mistakes and my tactic was extremely defensive. I did my best and I surprisingly won a lot of matches and ended up going in the top 8.
On paper, my greatest fencing achievement was the two gold medals (World Championships and European Championships) that we won in the Juniors with the Italian team – these Championships were the peak of my career. But I’m more proud of other stuff, such as winning a national competition or just putting in trouble some of the best fencers in the world. All in all, the best achievement was the adventure itself: I travelled a lot because of fencing, I met many friends, and I’ll always have great memories of this experience.
Perseverance is a shared quality that is needed in both worlds of fencing and software engineering. You can only master things you practice every day for a long time – that’s true for computer science as well as for sports. If you want to be a good software engineer, you have to go deep and understand what happens under the hood of a computer or a program, always digging to learn more. Similarly in sports, to make the difference, you need to work on the details of your body, your actions, and your mind.
My advice to anyone starting fencing as an adult is to be patient! The first year is going to be a bit boring because, in order to do a proper match, you need to learn the basic technique very well. But once you get it will be a lot of fun!
Doing a sport is a very healthy habit, and is a fun and social way of using your time. Sports give you a lot of confidence and this is very important for your life and your career. Together with eating vegetables and drinking a lot of water, it’s the best thing you can do to yourself! I think there is a trend in tech where some people are getting too stressed about being productive, learning new things, and advancing in their career – if you are reconsidering that, and you realize that you are working too much and not taking care of yourself, sports are a great way of balancing your life.