Ben Day, Software Engineer on Surfing, Soccer Management, & PTA

What I love the most about surfing is hanging out in the water, catching free rides, and seeing what happens at the beach. There always seems to be something going on at the beach, be it dolphins jumping, whales swimming by, WWII bomb disposal, fishing, people, crabs, Coast Guard training – the beach has it all!

My name is Ben Day, and I’m a Software Engineer at Celona, working on private LTE & 5G wireless. We enable enterprises to build their own cellular networks.

I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1998. At that time, I didn’t know much about what I wanted to do in life, but I heard about a music club called The Purple Onion in San Francisco. This is where my favorite bands were from, so I thought I’d give it a try!

Outside of my job, I work with the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), I surf, manage my son’s soccer team, attend band practice, play guitar, programme, learn about hardware, draw, cook, and more – my mind is a mess!

One of my main activities is surfing, which is a great way for me to be in the ocean. I grew up around Lake Huron and Lake St. Claire, being on the swimming team. I love the water and being in it. I’m happy any day I have the time to get out or into the water.

I’ve surfed in Maui once when I was just starting out. Since then, I used to go to Pacifica a lot, and I now mainly surf Ocean Beach when the conditions are right for me. Surfing has been a great activity to have during the current quarantine. It provides a lot of the “Pre-Covid” moments – I’m really happy and can forget about life; I can also just enjoy seeing dolphins swim by.

One of the first times I went surfing at Ocean Beach was a very memorable experience. It was a beautiful sunny day with a little bit of offshore breeze – the mist from the waves was making beautiful rainbows in the air. While sitting on my board, I saw a murky shape on the side of a wave a few meters away. A dolphin jumps out of the wave face, through a rainbow, and then disappears right into the next wave face. It was cool, and I realized that some psychedelic airbrush paintings I had seen on Venice Beach were actually quite realistic.

For scary experiences, I haven’t had anything like a pro has, but my worst was one day with overhead surf around Vicente. I got held down pretty long, unexpectedly. It was really the only time I had to focus on relaxing to slow my breathing down and not freak out. I accepted that I didn’t have control, protected my head the best I could, and focused on my family. It worked. I was happy to paddle in after that.

Looking at my second activity, I also work with my community’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School. My main responsibility is to not block our very capable and dedicated volunteers. In general, the PTA is responsible to raise funds for our Principal to provide supplemental educational resources. We fund things like Social Emotional Learning (Soulshoppe), Physical Fitness, Garden Programs, Puberty Education, and more. This involves getting parents and the community to give us money. Overall, people invest in their children’s futures when they can, but being a public school in a major city, we see incredible equity ranges.

We do a lot of activities and projects as part of the PTA (all remotely, due to quarantine). In the fall of 2020, we organized a Zoom Fairytale Quiz Show for our Kindergarteners through 3rd graders. We made a Google slide deck covering about 11 different fairytales and questions about them. Then for the 4th and 5th graders, we made their teachers play Quiplash on Steam with all of the kids.

Recently, we hosted a similar daytime event for Lunar New Year. One of our teachers, Michelle Lo, made a great slideshow for the kids about The Great Animal Race. Of course, the older kids got to goof off with online games again.

Coming up next month will be a Read-a-thon to try and raise money for this year, followed by a Move-a-thon in May. I’m hoping that Covid infection rates will be edging lower, and it will be a great time for families to go out and enjoy some socially-distanced outdoor time.

What I love the most about my work with the PTA is being a part of the local community, delivering T-shirt orders when I go for a jog, and talking with my other PTA people. Also, getting to contribute to and seeing what online classes are like for our kids right now is really cool. Most parents will probably not have the chance to see what school is like for these kids.

However, the pandemic has greatly affected the role of the PTA in our community. With San Francisco’s quarantine, we are staying healthy, but that also means we are trying really hard to not see each other in person. Only meeting remotely, or at a distance, is tough. The sorts of parents that are attracted to the PTA are social, and this year has been tough on them. We all miss the garden BBQs we would have, as well as Fall Festival, Lunar New Year, and movie nights. Being able to see families and communities together is great, but doing things remotely has taken some tweaks.

Also, just like at work, I’ve been really examining priorities and making sure that people are first. I’ve been through trauma before, and know that we are all going through our own versions now. I need the PTA to work and be the best it can be, which means I need my people to feel and be the best they can. If I only think about team goals, then I am being introverted and will lose touch. Only my team can tell me what is on their minds, and how personal goals/needs might interplay with team goals/needs. If I can’t hear that, then I will lose those I need.

Looking at my third activity, I also manage my son’s soccer team. I became manager of the soccer team by replying to an email from my Principal, Diane Lau-Yee – another father from our grade, Jiashun Zheng, and I replied. Jiashun had played in college, so I was a natural pick for the assistant coach. After our first season, one of our parents, Bella Wu, found our new coach, KJ Ahlo. It was then I knew I had graduated to the “Front Office.”

As manager, I try to help each player find their place on the team. Some of the kids are naturally faster than others, some like the game more than others, but all of them want to find a way that they fit in and feel good about themselves. My three tactics to achieve this are:

  1.       Provide consistent, positive, and honest feedback
  2.       Stand up for all players on any team
  3.       Let the kids decided how to play, and try to keep my input to the sidelines

What I love most about managing the team is the community. We have decided to hold off on any sort of practices until we feel the Covid-19 risks are negated. However, the team still practices together once a week with the coach over Zoom. The team is much more than a group of kids playing soccer games. It was the first window into our school’s larger community for me, and a great way to meet other parents.

One of my favourite experiences was during our first Futsal (indoor soccer) season, when we were just getting started. We trained really hard though, and, in the last game, after the first half, for the first time, we were in the lead. As the half progressed, our lead narrowed – with a minute left, the other team was one goal from us. All of my players wanted in, but, Futsal is 5 v 5. We had a time-out and told the team to pick amongst themselves who would go out. It was cool. Leaders whom I didn’t realize existed spoke up, and they quickly decided their line-up to win. Everyone cheered from the side. Afterwards, we all celebrated our only win that season with that last game.

I definitely think the experiences with all my hobbies have been a benefit to my technological career. I haven’t talked much about music, but, for example, just my basic recording experience has given me ways to measure latency in networks. Surfing has turned into a metaphor for me to imagine radio waves. When it comes to my career giving back, it’s the same way.

In a more literal sense, some of Celona’s customers are building their own private cellular networks to provide additional broadband connectivity for students at home during the pandemic. Student connectivity is a topic in our PTA meetings, too. Vice versa, I have ideas to set up a private cellular network one day for a sporting, education, or entertainment-related purpose of my own. I never would have dreamed about that even a year ago (well, not true; I just didn’t know what to dream of).

My advice to anyone reading is that if you want to take up anything, you just need to do it. All activities rely on experience which only you can give to yourself. However, some things are inherently more dangerous and need to be learned in smaller chunks. If you want to try surfing, please be a very good swimmer, consult with your local surf shop, get lessons, learn about the conditions, and always know your limits. When it comes to Soccer Management, make sure you are doing it to help the players, and remember that the greatest things that come out of all teams are their communities. Opponents one season can be teammates the next.

There is always more than tech. It’s great to have an outlet for people worldwide to share their passions and how they achieve them. Financial and environmental factors are different all over the world, making for lots of independent laboratories to combine nature, community, creativity, technology, and commerce. Sharing with the world via social media is great, but so is chatting with someone at the beach, at a school, or a music club. Anyway, share the new nerdy things you’re into, and love the oldies as well, however you want to do it!

PS – in regards to the PTA section, this school year is getting even more serious now, with words of big school budget cutbacks. I’m worried that some of our teacher’s positions could be on the line. If anyone would like to learn more or contribute, be sure to check out

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