Google to Top Gun Techie
By Jack Feuer
Published Oct 1, 2012 8:00 AM
What kind of people do you imagine make expert sharpshooters? Tech geek would probably not be high on the list. But don’t tell that to Chris Cheng ’03, who was a project manager at Google last spring when he beat 17 rivals, including a high school custodian who makes his own ammunition, a chemist, and a grass-fed cattle farmer, not to mention two world-champion marksmen, to win the fourth season of the History Channel’s popular Top Shot reality show competition.
For this multitalented young alumnus, eclectic skill sets are the norm. He played baseball for 13 years growing up in Orange County, then came to UCLA to study engineering, switched to a political science major, and joined Google upon graduation. While in Westwood, he dove into the UCLA Dance Marathon, Student Alumni Association and Greek life. Cheng can also sing — he was a Spring Sing co-winner in 2001.
These are, to put it mildly, a dizzying array of diverse interests. But to Cheng, they’re all linked. “Throughout my life, I’ve pursued things I think are either fun, impactful on our society and our world, or both,” he explains.
Although he was taught to shoot by his father when he was 6 years old, Cheng rarely practiced the skill or even talked about being a competitive marksman. In fact, he didn’t really think he was all that good at the sport until the moment he won the show. Cheng honed his marksmanship playing with water-balloon launchers and rubber-band guns and throwing rocks at cans and trees.
But it was at baseball camp, Cheng says, that he developed “the discipline that comes with hours and hours of practice. Top Shot is a competition where they throw these unfamiliar weapons into our hands, give us 10 to 15 minutes to practice so we can safely handle the weapons, and then throw us into these crazy, amazing challenges. I basically took all my baseball training experience and applied it to this hyper-accelerated environment.”
Cheng has left Google to pursue professional marksmanship and is currently completing the Bass Pro Shops professional shooting contract that’s part of his Top Shot winnings (along with a $100,000 prize). But he’s not done taking on new challenges. He wants to write “a book or two” on his Top Shot story and on leadership in the corporate office. And, perhaps inevitably, “running for public office six or 10 years from now.”