I’ve come to realize that no matter where you go or what career you have, every job has similar types of people. The quiet one. The office mom. The veteran. And a type I can only label as “the character.”

Now, the character is someone who, through his or her unique, ineffable personality, manages to seamlessly lighten the mood, is always good for a laugh, and generally a person everyone enjoys being around. Parks and Rec has Tom Haverford, The Office has Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott, and Willow Marketing has Keyon Whiteside—or Key-in as Brad mispronounces it.

Picture of Keyon Whiteside

Apart from being the Senior Web Developer here at Willow, Keyon is a former Linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, self-taught computer wizard, amateur Mandarin Chinese interpreter, and a human hard-drive of a seemingly endless supply of dad jokes. What does all this translate to in the office? This clip should about cover it.

All kidding aside, I invite you to sit back, relax, slide Rocky Top into the cassette player, and meet one of the hardest working, influential and interesting characters here at Willow.

“Now, I’m not fluent in Mandarin, only the beginner level—,” he said. Mandarin Chinese is said to be the most difficult language for native-born English speakers to learn. Which begs the question, “why Mandarin Chinese?”

“It’s funny you ask that, because apart from being a useful skill, I like the challenge. It’s a way to push myself—and before programming and learning Chinese came along, it was sports.”

Keyon attended and played for the Tennessee Volunteers. After graduating in 2002, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. “When the Colts drafted me, it was such a great feeling. That feeling of ‘you’ve made it,’ you know? I went to training camp—then I got cut. Bounced around. Went to Cincinnati briefly. When I got cut a second time, it truly humbled me, you know? From then on, I started to see things differently. I learned and adapted to the business mindset of it. Once I did that, everything changed. I treated it for what it was: a business. I eventually ended up back with Colts, who signed me in 2003.”

Keyon played with the Colts for four years before an injury ultimately led him to retire. “I was fortunate enough to see ahead. I remember looking around at some of these guys with no plans for future after football—so I made sure I had something.”

Before he was drafted, during his offseasons in the NFL, while recovering from his injury, and after his tenure with the Colts, Keyon dedicated himself to learning his passion, the ever-evolving world of computer programming.

“After the Colts, I didn’t have a job lined up, so I took classes. Anything computer related: coding, programming, developing—you name it.”

His dedication eventually paid off in 2008, when he was hired as the Director of Information Technology for a prominent custom home construction company.

“During that time is when I really started hitting my stride with programming.”

When I asked how he eventually found Willow, he chuckled. “You know, I wasn’t really planning to go anywhere—just seeing what was out there. Saw a job posting, applied, and I was called for an interview. Which,” he smiles, “I almost didn’t go to. But I realized in order for me grow, I would need a new challenge, so I went to the interview. And here I am.”

Keyon only recently came back to work full time after he had to be rushed to the emergency room when a cyst in his chest burst, collapsing both lungs while traveling abroad with his family. After a successful surgery, Keyon recovered quickly and was back to work in a few weeks.

Kim Jones said, “I remember telling everyone in the morning meeting that the surgery went great, Keyon would be hospitalized for a week or two, but he would recover. I also mentioned an email that Keyon sent me earlier that morning requesting me to send him work to do in the hospital. We laughed and were grateful he would be okay, but he just had the scare of his life and he wants to work. I can’t think of a better example of his dedication, leadership, and complete team-player attitude.”

When I broached the subject, Keyon merely laughed, “Well, I didn’t want to get behind on my time sheets—I’m kidding. No, it’s one of those things from my football days. Are you hurt or are you injured? I believe in our team, and as the senior guy, I didn’t want to let them down.”

Keyon has become a revered member of the Willow team, even being a newer member. People missed him and talked about his absence often. One team member said, “When he finally came back… he literally took our breath away—too soon?”

To wrap up the interview, I asked Keyon what he looked forward to most here at Willow. “You know,” he said, “I’m fortunate to work in a place as supportive as this one. The accident and surgery kind of woke me up—to appreciate what really matters. So I’m just looking forward to the journey with this great team and doing whatever I can to help them succeed.”

Great to have you back, Keyshawn.

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Written by Joe Golc

“Like the good doctor once said: Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”