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August 2, 2017

Academy Instructor Spotlight: Tom Kraak

Tom Kraak is a software developer at Oath, with a focus on JavaScript and AngularJS. He is passionate about learning, teaching, and the web platform. Tom combines these passions in frequent contributions to his favorite open source projects on GitHub. Besides the long-standing Academy course at Betamore, he teaches and mentors at Thinkful, Baltimore NodeSchool and various local meetups for junior web developers.

Tell us a little about your professional background before teaching Betamore Academy course(s)

I am a self-taught web developer, working on the web for over 10 years in various capacities. I’ve grown over the years into more technical roles, and now work full-time for Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon, which houses 50+ media and technology brands including AOL, Yahoo, and HuffPost. My current role is UI Software Engineer.

What made you want to teach at Betamore?

I have to admit, initially it was pure selfishness — teaching is a great way to learn! Being able to effectively explain something to others forces you to genuinely understand the concept yourself. So, as a self-taught developer, you can read all of the books and blog posts that you come across all day long, until you think you know it and are even putting it into practice. But getting up in front of people and explaining it to them requires a different level of understanding. Then, once I got into it, I quickly learned that people learn in different ways. Some are old-school like me, totally ok with a book or a blog post, but others go straight to YouTube and need somebody actually talking back to them. I have been loving it ever since!

How has your coursework developed over the years?

It has evolved as I’ve picked up on people’s learning styles, new technology has entered the picture, and old things have left the picture. Things that I find important as a growing developer have also made their way into the material.

Tell us a little about your style/teaching environment

If you ask my students or even Michele, they would probably use the word “animated.” I get into it very quickly and am very passionate about every little detail. There is no such thing as a stupid question. You have access to me for 6 hours a week and even beyond that, so make sure you use that time to ask questions. I try to make everybody as comfortable as possible simply by repeating over and over again that everyone started somewhere and everyone can get into software engineering as long as you put your mind to it. It’s not reserved for an elite group or the old school math people; I was terrible at math, so it has nothing to do with that. You are here, that’s a great first step. I’m trying to create the learning environment of “you can do this.” If you have to ask to do this over and over again, we will do this over and over again. I just try to hammer that home. Writing code is hard, but at the same time accessible for everyone.

Can you tell us about which course you teach and what you hope students can accomplish by their last class?

I teach Front End Web Development. There are no technical prerequisites. So as long as you can send an email and find your way around a computer, you are welcome. We start from scratch, literally character by character. The idea is that at the end of 10 weeks, you are able to build a website from start to finish. No drag and drop type WordPress kind of things — you write HTML, CSS, and JavaScript by hand and create a simple website. Most people choose to create their own portfolio page or help out a neighbor to build a small business website. A number of graduates have also gone into various junior-level positions in and around Baltimore with this knowledge.

Who should be taking your course?

I’ve seen people from all walks of life. Recent graduates, people at the height of their career who want a total change and 180 because they are not satisfied with what they’ve been doing, designers who rely on developers who are fed up with that process and just want to understand better, project managers who are in a similar boat with developers — they all come into this class. While I sit here and wish that everyone keeps pushing and potentially pursues this field, I’ve had plenty of people go through the Academy saying that this great to see just what a developer does, or I love my job and it has opened up my world so much that I can do my current job much better. People have different goals and their eyes set on different things, and that is totally fine. But if you really want to become a developer, I will teach you.

What sets your class apart from other courses that explain the same topics?

I would say it is an in person class. So while we have all of these online things going on, schools and bootcamps which are totally fine, it does help to come into a class. I’ve had plenty of people tell me I’m paying for this class so you make me show up twice a week. It’s a motivational thing. You have access to not just myself, but also your classmates. A lot of people have expressed that the classroom setting has attracted them to the program. I make myself available plenty outside of twice a week when we meet. You can talk to me between class or pretty much anytime. We get together on weekends as well, just in order to deepen the material or repeat some stuff. It’s a great atmosphere and creates a great learning environment.

Is there a last piece of advice you have for people considering signing up for the Academy?

Just do it. Don’t be afraid. Never think this is not something for you. If you’ve ever had an interest, now is the time. We know what the job market looks like; there is so much demand for these roles. Don’t wait. Reach out to myself or reach out to Michele if you have any questions on what it would take, and come to the Meet + Greet that we do. Just do not hold back. It is something you can wrap your head around even though you may have reservations about it. See what it’s like, it will change your life.


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