Meet Our Careers in Code Instructors!

Hack Upstate
Apr 23 · 17 min read

Careers in Code is a coding bootcamp that teaches computer programming to women and minorities to help combat poverty in Central NY. We provide students with the technical skills they need to obtain internships and entry level software development jobs with local employers after 24 weeks of instruction. Our first cohort began in March with instruction from the talented folks below.

Joey Buczek

Current occupation:
Software Developer at Raymour and Flanigan.

Tell us a little about yourself.
When I was younger, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, so when I went away to school (Art Institute of Pittsburgh) we kept playing through chat rooms. I soon discovered that I could write small programs within the chat app we used, so I started writing dice-rolling programs to automate our adventures. That was my first introduction to programming. Today, I mix both my art and design skills with my ability to create software, all while being able to support my family with what I love to do!

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
Redesigning our company intranet architecture. I contributed by rewriting the way we create our front-end solutions from the ground up using modern best practices and architecture.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I wanted to be able to give back to those who are where I used to be before getting into software development.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
Model railroading. Its come a long way since the analog days, so now I get to control my layouts with fun new technology!

Max Matthews

Current occupation:
Lead Developer at tuzag, inc.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a full-stack JavaScript developer who has been writing code for over 10 years. After attending the iSchool at Syracuse University, I was offered a position at a local startup, tuzag, inc, and have been there since. When I’m not writing JavaScript, I enjoy hanging outside with my dog, Stella, cross-country skiing, biking, and sparking deep philosophical questions with friends.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
I built a custom CMS and API that allows for the building of computer-mediated conversations through touch points like Alexa, email, website, mobile apps, and even print. The most exciting part is the constantly evolving product demands, and therefore code.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
I think Syracuse is at a pivotal moment of tech growth.The low cost of living combined with the demand for tech in the area is going to lead developers in higher-expense cities (NYC, SF, Seattle, etc.) to see the appeal of living and raising a family in the Upstate NY area. There are great communities like OpenHack and Hack Upstate that create an awesome support network for developers, and they are perfectly positioned to grow the community even larger.

What led you to Careers in Code?
While teaching at StartFast Code, I fell in love with mentoring. I’m excited for the opportunity to give back to the community and shaping the next generation of in-demand developers, especially in our local area.

Zoe Koulouris

Current occupation
Co-Founder and Partner at Upstate Interactive. We build custom web, mobile, and blockchain applications for our clients.

Tell us a little about yourself.
The idea of starting my own business was always attractive to me from a young age. I graduated from Syracuse University in 2011 with a dual degree in Entrepreneurship and Finance and a minor in Psychology. After graduation, I gained experience working in marketing and communications for a few tech companies. My experience with product management and marketing at a health-software startup, 3Pound Health, lead me to pursue software-development training and ultimately, to meeting my current team.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
I am most excited about the current project I am managing at Upstate Interactive. We just completed the discovery and design phase for an expense-management application with a client based out of Seattle, WA. We will be building a cross-platform (native mobile and web) application using NativeScript, Angular, and Node.js. It’s going to be a fun and challenging development project and we get to help them launch it from MVP to commercial release.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
Careers in Code is the most exciting to me right now. It is a program that we desperately need in Central NY—I know that from personal experience. After teaching one of the modules for Careers in Code, I got a real sense for how well the members of Hack Upstate have been organizing the program. The students that were accepted into the program are very engaged, serious about learning, and a pleasure to work with. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each of the students in the current cohort and for the program itself.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I enjoy being part of the Syracuse tech community and currently organize and teach classes through the group that I founded, Women in Coding. I heard about Careers in Code directly because my colleague at Upstate Interactive, Doug Crescenzi, is the founder of Hack Upstate and of Careers in Code. As a former Syracuse software-bootcamp graduate, I felt that I could be a good resource and hopefully mentor to aspiring developers.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I pursue various health and wellness goals, from triathlon training to natural cooking. I also recently started making my own natural body products like body butter. I also like to travel and spend time with my family.

Ryan Gaus

Current occupation:
Software Engineer for Density.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been writing software since I was 12, starting in an esoteric BASIC derivative called Liberty BASIC. I didn’t really have many people in school who were also interested in software to the level that I was interested in it.

On a whim, I attended one of the first OpenHack meetups way back in 2014 and immediately found a group of people that I could relate to. A few years later, I had a part-time job with Lono, a company started by Doug that made an IoT device for controlling lawn sprinklers. I worked for Doug throughout high school and when it was time to graduate, I had a choice: continue working for tech companies or pursue a college degree?

It was a tough decision, but I ended up at least for now choosing the former. I currently work for Density as a software engineer, mostly focusing on our frontend dashboards and interfaces while occasionally touching some of our backend and embedded systems.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
Some of my favorite projects have been completed at Hack Upstate’s hackathons. One project in particular is called CandyCrowd. A graphic-design student from RIT and I designed and built an application to make trick-or-treating easier.

The idea was simple: crowdsource trick-or-treating data so that any potential trick-or-treater can easily figure out which houses on a block are worth visiting. After trick-or-treating, a trick-or-treater would assess their candy, and rank it from 1 to 10. This data, along with their GPS location, would be uploaded to a server, where it would be incorporated into a mathematical representation of the neighborhood. Then, in the same interface used to assess candy, a map was shown that would mark each house with a dot. Larger dots on the map indicated houses that had higher rated candy (and therefore, houses that are worth visiting).

It turned out quite well, and we ended up winning Hack Upstate that year!

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
Syracuse has an amazing tech community for its size. We have a number of active meetups that are all well attended, a hackathon that people come to from all over the state (and sometimes beyond!), and programs such as Careers in Code that help teach software-development fundamentals to members of the community.

And best of all, the vast majority of the members of the community are really great people. I think that Syracuse software developers are incredibly lucky to have such a supportive group of people around them.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I spend the vast majority of my time in my shop building things. I’m currently restoring a 1940s-era South Bend lathe, I’m sewing a bag out of sailcloth (my mom was a seamstress, and because of this I’ve been sewing for most of my life), and I’m building a complete 1:12 scale model of a house my grandparents used to live in.

Jason Scharf

Current occupation:
I am a Child Protective Caseworker with Onondaga County. I have been doing this for over seven years and enjoy helping families navigate crisis situations.

Tell us a little about yourself.
In my career, I have worked a variety of different jobs in the social-work and human-services field, many with adults and children with developmental disabilities. For most of my jobs, I am working with people encountering a variety of challenges.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
I am a newcomer to the local tech community and have been blown away with how accepting and personable people in the community are. I have loved being able to discuss ideas with local developers and software engineers and get their feedback and brainstorm potential solutions.

What led you to Careers in Code?
Being active at local meetups and on local tech Slack channels helped me hear about the Careers in Code bootcamp. I was very excited to hear about the Student Success Coordinator position, where I could combine my passion for computer coding with my human-services background to help support our amazing students in the bootcamp.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
You can often find me playing Super Smash Brothers with my youngest son, Luke; skateboarding with my oldest son, Jaiden; or going for walks around some of our beautiful local parks in Syracuse with my wife, Courtney. I am also active at my church, Great Grace COGIC, and am a Lego Robotic Volunteer at PEACE Inc.’s Westside Family Resource Center.

Jacob Beard

Current occupation:
Self-Employed Technology Consultant.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I wanted to work with computers ever since I was a little kid — I have deep memories of starting Windows 3.1 from an MS-DOS prompt. In my formative years, I had the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in Foundations of Computing and a master’s degree in Computer Science, both from McGill University in Montreal. This led me on a journey to discovering how compelling and fruitfully challenging computer science can be. I found an interest in modeling and simulation, open-source software development, and programming-language research.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
As a consultant, I have worked on some very interesting projects, but unfortunately the life of a consultant means that many businesses do not allow you to speak of them.

I have worked on media software for places such as HBO, and some interesting projects for banks. I loved working at INFICON in Syracuse—we were building a gas chromatograph from the ground up. This was an early experience developing an Industrial Internet of Things device, before the term Internet of Things was in widespread use, as well as an early use of Node.js to control hardware. This has been one of my favorite projects to work on.

What led you to Careers in Code?
While writing my master’s thesis, I lived in Syracuse for three years. I became involved in the tech community through attending Hack Upstate, where I met Doug. In 2013, I founded Minnow Software, a technology consultancy. Minnow develops custom software for businesses, focusing on full-stack JavaScript solutions. I am primarily based in New York City, but I still maintain my ties to the Syracuse technology community, attending Hack Upstate every spring and fall, which is how I heard about Careers in Code.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I like biking around NYC, especially along the Hudson, and I practice yoga daily.

Gus Cost

Current occupation:
Engineer at Density (right in The Tech Garden).

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from Rochester, NY. Technically, I did go to school for Computer Science (but didn’t graduate), and technically, I did graduate from RIT (but not for Computer Science). I’ve only ever lived in New York and California.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
It has to be my current company, Density. They’re a startup in Syracuse (pretty rare) and building a hardware product (also pretty rare). The work is challenging and often fun!

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
That there are lots of people consistently engaged in the tech scene (going to meetups, starting companies, etc.) and that this seems to be increasing, not decreasing.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I know Jesse and Doug through Hack Upstate (and I’m actually a former medalist there!).

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
The local music scene is not bad at all either — sometimes I’m at Funk ‘n Waffles catching a show, or at Maxwell’s hacking out tunes at the open mic, biking in the summer, and I’ve also gotten into snowboarding last winter (which turns out to be the best sport on the planet).

Cashley Saintilus

Current occupation:
Technology Associate at AXA.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I went to SUNY Oswego as an undergrad and studied Public Justice. I moved here six months ago from Brooklyn to work at AXA.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
The most exciting project I worked on would be the resume builder (Rezzy) my team built during the last Hack Upstate hackathon.

What led you to Careers in Code?
Jesse told me about Careers in Code, I was super excited because I, myself, went to a coding bootcamp.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
If I’m not coding you probably find me playing soccer, going to the gym, or playing basketball or video games.

Jeff Passetti

Current occupation:
Web Designer and Adjunct Professor at Syracuse University.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve evolved. Let me explain how.

While getting a degree in art illustration at Syracuse University from 2000 to 2004, I had friends in graphic design convince me to enroll in a design course. I learned a few things and I was quickly hooked! After graduating, I was only satisfied with freelance job opportunities where I could merge art and design.

As I became more proficient in design, I had clients ask me for websites instead of traditional print brochures. I naively started coding, made many mistakes and learned from other web designers. I eventually got better, changed professionally and only accepted jobs where I could merge art, design, and code.

Fast forward to 2019, I’ve come full circle: now I’m inspired by and attracted to generative art, where code is used to produce artwork.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
I’m excited to see the local tech community continue to grow and build momentum. It’s nice to see many unselfish people come together in downtown Syracuse to help grow and expand the local tech community, transform and educate it, and push it to where it needs to go. We need “less talking, more doing” in Syracuse.

What led you to Careers in Code?
In addition to teaching web-design classes at Syracuse University, I’ve taught many workshops, classes, and bootcamps in the Syracuse community. I’ve tried to make an effort to always educate and share with others, in hopes that they’ll share with others as well, and even reciprocate and teach me something, too.

Also, I believe pessimism is contagious and there’s a deep abundance of that in Syracuse. We need to change that. I’ve purposefully chosen to surround myself with like-minded people who share the same positive outlook. My hope is that Careers in Code students embody this and do their part in transforming the local tech community in the future, too.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I’m always trying to find the elusive balance between screen time and the outdoors. My wife and I are both artists and often hike up in the Adirondacks. However, last year we were fortunate enough to take a cross-country road trip, visit 13 national parks, and hike up a 14,000-ft. mountain in Colorado. I’m truly happy when we can do all of that and paint in our sketchbooks, too.

Jeremy Conn

Current occupation:
Front-End Web Developer at AXA.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m 25 and I graduated from the iSchool at Syracuse University in 2017. While at SU, I was an intern for three years at SIDEARM Sports, where I helped integrate the user interfaces for over 40 college athletic websites. This experience was invaluable and allowed me to gain critical industry knowledge before entering the workforce. I was also a teaching assistant for a few web-development courses while I was a student. After graduating, I got a job as a front-end developer at AXA, where I still currently work.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
While I was an intern at SIDEARM Sports, I had the opportunity to work on the athletic website for Oklahoma State University. This was awesome because it was my first big-name school that I worked on and I knew that the work I was doing would be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. It was a great learning experience.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
The thing that excites me most about the local tech community right now is just how willing everyone is to help each other. I’ve never gone to a talk or a meetup where people aren’t willing to help one another, regardless of skill level. It removes all the barriers to entry that developers might face, especially when first starting out.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I’ve worked with Jesse Peplinski on many side projects and he reached out to me about being an instructor for Careers in Code, thinking I’d be a good fit for the responsive web-design unit. I’m glad that he did, because I had a great time teaching the students! This was my first formal teaching experience, so I learned just as much as the students did.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
When I’m not coding, which isn’t often these days, you can find me watching some sporting event or playing golf. Not easy to do most months in Syracuse!

Christy Presler

Current occupation:
User Experience Designer at Raymour & Flanigan

Tell us a little about yourself.
I have a background in Art and Design. When I got interested in designing for the web, I realized I wanted to be able to build what I was designing. I started digging into code and figured out that building things online mixes three of my favorite things: creative problem solving, languages, and people. After learning HTML and CSS, I moved on the JavaScript and PHP.

When I got my first job as a front-end developer, I expanded my skills to include working within a variety of different build systems, content-management systems, and technology stacks. I have grown into a sub-specialty in eCommerce design and development, and appreciate the special challenges that come with making it easy for people of all backgrounds and abilities to complete their shopping tasks online. My favorite part of every projects I tackle is getting to improve people’s lives by solving their every day problems online.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
I’ve been working for the last year with my team to redesign/rebuild an enterprise-level eCommerce website from the ground up. It is an unusual opportunity to start over from scratch and completely rebuild the customer shopping experience by first seeking to understand how our customers shop, then providing them the best experience that connects with the business’ internal requirements. It is a complicated project, but includes so many different facets that it is endlessly fascinating both from a UX and technology side.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
A lot of people have been working to get separate initiatives off the ground here for a long time, and many of those efforts have started to converge into a web of support and growth for people who want to move technology forward in Syracuse. A prime example is Syracuse.io and OpenHack that provided my entrance into the local community when I moved here a few years ago. Syracuse.io has gone from being something that just promotes OpenHack’s monthly meetup to a resource for the many different groups and events that are happening around tech in Syracuse.

The city of Syracuse also seems to be really leaning into tech as an economic growth opportunity, which is exciting. As someone with a non-traditional background working in tech I feel strongly that the more voices and perspectives we can have leveraging technology, the better off we will all be. The technology sector has a ton to offer in partnership with the city, both in helping people to grow and leverage new skills, and also in empowering people to start new and thriving businesses that can provide good jobs in Syracuse.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I found Hack Upstate through the OpenHack meetup, and have attended many of the hackathons in the last few years. I appreciate the spirit of collaboration and growth that Hack Upstate promotes, and am passionate about empowering a wider range of people to seek careers in technology. The more perspectives we can incorporate into our technology solutions, the more well rounded, and comprehensive those solutions will be. Anyone with an aptitude for logic, a willingness to learn, and a determination to solve problems can be successful in technology given the right opportunities. Careers in Code has the potential to be that opportunity for its students, and I want to see both the program and the students thrive!

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I love designing and building things both digital and physical, so my partner and I have been remodeling an 80-year-old house in our spare time for the last few years. All of that is on the back-burner at the moment though, as my daughter very recently joined the world, and is taking us on a whole new adventure of parenthood. For the foreseeable future, if I’m not working on a project, I’ll be busy helping my daughter learn and grow. I might even teach her to code, when she’s ready in a few years. ;)


We’re so grateful to have such an amazing group of instructors, truly the best the ‘Cuse tech scene has to offer. We’re confident this year’s cohort will be more than ready for careers in coding thanks to the decades upon decades of experience they are sharing with our students!

Follow along with the Careers in Code instructors in our classroom livestream, broadcasting Monday through Thursday nights, 5:30–8:30pm on YouTube. Archived classes can be found here.

Hack Upstate

Written by

Advancing Upstate New York's tech community through events and education. http://hackupstate.com/ && https://careersincode.org/

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