Meet Our Careers in Code Teaching Assistants!

Hack Upstate
May 30, 2019 · 11 min read

Careers in Code is a coding bootcamp that teaches computer programming to women and minorities to help combat poverty in Central New York. 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 the help of the talented teaching assistants below.

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Alice Miller

Current occupation:
Principal Software Developer at Covey Computer Software

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m 25 and currently a full-stack web developer with .NET and JavaScript experience, but my real passion is operations and I am looking to move to an SRE role within the next five years. I got started fixing old computers with my grandfather and began playing around with Linux in high school. Since Linux could basically be made to run on any computer from the past two decades, I was able to recycle unused or broken computers for my own use. In college, I started programming more regularly, which led to me being hired by my current employer.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
Building my home lab. At work, we use AWS pretty heavily, so we rarely deal with physical hardware or even any piece below the application level. It’s a great way to quickly build and deploy applications, but it doesn’t do much to teach you what’s going on behind the abstractions. Because of this, I’ve needed to take matters into my own hands. My home lab has allowed me to learn more about operations tasks, such as managing configuration through tools like Puppet or Ansible, containerizing applications, and monitoring. My next goals are extensively documenting everything and moving all my email accounts in-house (pun intended).

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
It’s small, but growing! The work Hack Upstate has put in with its biannual hackathon shows that there are plenty of technologists in the area. All we need to do is keep giving them ways to get together and build cool stuff.

What led you to Careers in Code?
My employer is already partnered with Hack Upstate for Careers in Code and I wanted to do more to get involved, so I signed up to be a TA! I feel like Careers in Code is a great initiative to help members of the community find good jobs and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I enjoy tinkering with my home lab, building Gunpla, geocaching, and hanging out with my cat, Bee.

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Katie Watson

Current occupation:
Student at SUNY Potsdam.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Long Island, and majoring in Computer Science at SUNY. I had an interest in CS, but came around to it through political science and art, having thought my applied-math skills were sorely lacking.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
My first experience dabbling with anything technical was through a simple online TCG game in high school years ago, which I made with my sister and a friend for fun. I ended up learning some frontend like HTML/CSS and playing a tiny bit with JavaScript/AJAX. This introduced me to minor backend programming tangentially with phpMyAdmin and MySQL, when those were the primary tools to use.

It was super exciting to be able to find completely new tools (like regular expressions) to do unexpected things and continually add features, especially when we were trying to compete with others to stand out. Being able to create an engaging experience for other people was definitely very rewarding.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
It is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, so it attracts highly motivated individuals who pursue it out of a genuine passion for the subject with a continuous drive to learn, experiment, and — vitally — collaborate. At every local event I have attended, I have met bright people who often don’t have a collegiate background, but because of their interest, easily rival or surpass myself and others in knowledge and skill.

There is never a sense of competition or judgment about things you don’t know, or a fear of proclaiming that, because everyone is always aiming to improve themselves and help each other.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I was at Hack Upstate with friends (my first hackathon!) and Jesse mentioned it in the introduction. At my university, we have a relatively new local chapter for women in technology, ACM-W, and we have discussed similar ideas for engaging women with CS to improve representation in the field. Since this included offering camps for younger girls to gently introduce them to programming early on, I thought that not only did Careers in Code sound like a great cause by itself, but it also represented a perfect opportunity. I would love to see this program grow.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I’m stoked to have some time this summer to look into the hottest topics of the day (machine learning, AI/NLP, etc.), and I’m looking forward to hiking, camping, and going on rides locally (my boyfriend got a bike and it’s been motorcycle fever for me). If I go home for break at all I’m definitely going to be nagging my mom to do some DIY outdoor/gardening projects, like creating that mosaic walkway.

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Jennifer Tran

Current occupation:
Sales Executive (formerly Operations) at C.H. Robinson.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I started learning how to code ever since I attended Hack Upstate Demo Day in October 2017. I was inspired by the complexity of apps that attendees as young as middle-school students managed to develop.

As I progressed with my learning, I realized that I could solve supply-chain problems and began building tools that helped my transportation team at C.H. Robinson become efficient. I also learned data science and created greater business intelligence. Now, I am an intermediary between our business and tech teams.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
I created a working prototype of a web-based app that streamlined the claims-documentation process for an online hackathon. After calling the police or an insurance company, users were reminded to document their accident and could record videos and take pictures right on an insurance platform to file a claim.

It was inspired by two different experiences: 1) A friend, who was in a car accident, faced so much anxiety that she forgot to document the aftermath of the accident. 2) Warehouses often do not visually document damaged freight or freight with missing cartons, reducing the strength of their claim.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
The tech community in Syracuse is filled with people with entrepreneurial spirit. Though Syracuse is a medium-sized, post-industrial city, those who work in tech in some manner are generally very positive and driven. As a result, more people are taking an interest in the community that we’ve developed.

Since my parents and much of their generation of Vietnamese immigrants worked in manufacturing, I experienced the decline of Syracuse firsthand. I hope that the tech and business communities, with an emphasis on tech, will revitalize the city.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I am fascinated with urban development and history. I love to explore urban landmarks, analyze architecture, discuss urban design, and attend lectures on local history at local museums. French is my favorite foreign language and sometimes, I think in it. You can find me speaking French at a local coffee shop with French-language meetup members, watching a Quebecois movie, or listening to a podcast about Canadian state of affairs in French. However, I’ve found myself singing in Korean more often in my head.

I highly value creative talent even though I do not create my own artistic work. I attend at least one concert or play at a local venue each month. The last concert that I went to was Cirque Goes to the Cinema by Symphoria, Syracuse’s Symphony Orchestra, and it was wonderful!

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Pankaj Chandiramani

Current occupation:
Product Manager at Oracle.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been with my company for 10 years and recently moved to Syracuse from the Bay Area. I manage a cloud SaaS product at Oracle.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
Currently, we’re building a next-generation cloud product at Oracle, which is really exciting.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
I am looking forward to learning, sharing, and networking in the local community.

What led you to Careers in Code?
What I really liked about the program is that it is focused on changing the lives of people by teaching them to code, and at the same time is flexible enough so they can attend remotely. I also loved the tremendous support that the community is giving the program, inspiring them through sessions or prepping them for interviews. This all inspired me to do my bit and give back to the community by sharing my experience.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I will be looking to engage in various events outside of bootcamp, maybe start a startup soon. I am learning more about security and compliance and am also learning pottery (wheel throwing) and getting good at making mugs and bowls. Still need to learn how to make plates :)

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Dave (Felix) Badillo

Current occupation:
Front End Designer / Developer.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up playing a lot of computer and video games. I often thought code behind what I saw on the screen was a mysterious, unobtainable technology. You’d have to do some intensive studying and graduate from Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, or some other some school like that. That was certainly not the case with me. Out of high school, I became an insurance broker, but I had more interest in my office computers, rather than selling insurance. Naturally, I joined Apple and became a repair technician and was dubbed a “Genius.” I hesitate to use that word. As the late Steve Jobs put it:

“Life can be so much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
The one I’m working on now. It’s a custom site for an architect. He’s quite a visionary. I’m creating a design that emulates his unique style often done in print. The coolest part about it is that I’m using Flexbox & CSS Grid in new and interesting ways. Once you wrap you head around these CSS layout modules, it opens the door for really cool (now widely supported) designs for responsive sites. It’s the little things that make me happy.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
I’m amazed by the number of events nearby where people meet up, talk, discuss, learn, make friends, discover, network, and even teach. My encounters here were always met with kindness, patience, and understanding. I truly feel the tech community in Syracuse is accessible to all who want it. It’s humbling to see, firsthand, an initiative that encourages women and minorities to become active members of the tech field. There’s so much talent out there. Looking ahead, I’m eager to see what becomes of these brilliant minds and how the community as a whole develops.

What led you to Careers in Code?
I taught in a workshop called Hour of Code (code.org) at Apple, instructing kids and adults. This inspired me to learn more and I joined an evening bootcamp called StartFast Code. There, I made a few JavaScript-based games with the help of FreeCodeCamp.com. The instructors were absolutely amazing. Many of those same instructors are now teaching at Careers in Code. After graduating from StartFast Code, I started my own web-development business and participated in many community meetups and events like Hack Upstate, Open Hack, and the Syracuse Javascript Meetup. These are great places to challenge yourself and learn new things. A fellow TA (Jennifer) and participant at the Syracuse Javascript Meetup suggested I apply to become a TA for Careers in Code.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
I enjoy hanging out with friends and family. I like going to fitness challenges. I ran both the Mountain Goat and BoilerMaker a few times. I participated in the City Challenge obstacle course, among others. I recently started biking. I enjoy playing disc golf with friends, playing D&D, or board games like Pandemic. I don’t play as many video games as I used to, but when I do it’s often a JRPG. Karaoke has always been a favorite thing to do. Sometimes, belting out songs with friends is all one needs in life. In contrast, quiet time with a good book can be a world of fun, too.

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Drew Knab

Current occupation:
Full Stack Developer at SIDEARM Sports.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m self-taught. I wrote my first lines of BASIC on a TI-99/4A my parents got for me in 1996 (already discontinued for 12 years!). I started getting serious with web development in 2003, working on gaming web sites and forums and making MySpace/LiveJournals look cool. I got my first professional job around 2012 after college.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to work on?
I worked on a very cool project at Golden Artist Colors. It was a small quality-of-life improvement for maybe four people in operations. We had some tanks filled up with various materials required to make paint and I had to come up with a solution to connect to the constant telnet stream attached to the tanks, parse it, and drop it in a little database so it could be read and updated on an internal web page for tracking purposes.

What excites you about the local tech community right now?
The fact that it exists here. I’m excited just to be a part of it. I’ve spent a long time living in areas where there just wasn’t a community at all.

What can we find you doing outside of bootcamp?
When I can, I like to play D&D and Magic: The Gathering. Someday soon I’d like to get back into bicycling.


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.

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