ITA Spotlight: Duke Greene, Lead Instructor, Software Engineering, Flatiron School
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Posted by: Abbey Kwiat
Duke Greene, Lead Instructor, Software Engineering, Flatiron School
Chicagoan by birth or relocation?
Relocation! I was born in Toledo, OH and raised in Grand Rapids, MI. But I remember my family’s annual Lou Malnati’s pilgrimages since I was 7 years old.
If you relocated, what brought you to Chicago? If you’re a Chicago native, why did you stay?
I moved to Chicago from Grand Rapids, MI to attend Dev Bootcamp, in the hopes of someday working a tech job in the city. It worked out, thankfully!
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My parents have been my biggest influence, because when I was a kid, they encouraged me to chase my passions and really dig deep into each one, even after I was in high school and it would have been easier for them to say “oh, we didn’t really think you’d be into XYZ…” They taught me that it’s never too late in life to learn something new!
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?
“Dude, just let it happen!” Whispered to me by a mentor, just as I was about to talk about what *I thought* people should learn from an upcoming activity. I needed to just sit back and let the learning happen before announcing exactly how it was going to happen. I still need to remember this sometimes.
What other roles have you held in the industry? How did they lead you to where you are now?
Before Flatiron, I taught software engineering at Dev Bootcamp and built hybrid iOS/Android apps at SnapMobile (now known as Proof Works).
Out of all the positions you’ve held, which one is the most interesting?
I think my first tech job is the most interesting because of the path that got me there. The week after I graduated Dev Bootcamp, I sent the campus director an email asking for a chance to do anything *but* teaching if it would help the school and help me make rent. I didn’t think I was anywhere near ready to teach yet! They saw something that I didn’t see in myself and offered me a junior teaching contract, which turned into a full time job and eventually a full-fledged teaching role. It was extremely interesting to be so junior to the other teachers in terms of raw technical knowledge, yet senior to them in terms of having firsthand experience of the program and being able to “unstick” students in creative, emotionally intelligent ways based upon those experiences.
How did you come to work with Flatiron School?
I heard from an old Dev Bootcamp colleague that Flatiron was starting a school in Chicago, and I got really jazzed about the idea of teaching again after spending a year developing mobile apps. (Nothing against mobile apps! I just like developing developers more.)
What have been some of your favorite medias (books, podcasts, movie/documentary, tv show) of the last six months and why?
I’m really into the Rude Tales of Magic podcast, which brings equal parts creativity and crassness to the “listen to us play D&D” podcast genre. The Mandalorian was *really* good, maybe because it feels like it never set out to be better than “pretty dang good”. I’ve technically watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse within the last 6 months (albeit for the 8th time), so it’s on the list too!
What about Flatiron School was appealing?
I like their focus on outcomes and how it permeates every step of the program. As a career changer back in 2014, I was wary of schools that seemed to care more about their shiny curriculum stack than how strong their graduates were at using that stack, and learning so so many more stacks (a requirement in a fast paced world!). I see a lot of humility at Flatiron, and a lot of collaboration and flexibility too - everyone’s just trying to do their own small part to help each graduate be as hireable as possible as soon as possible after graduating.
What is the coolest thing you’ve developed or project you’ve worked on?
In 2018, I got to build an invoice export feature for a pretty complex commerce application, where the sellers set their own service prices and task names, and the buyers could either singly or multiply own the items being serviced. On top of that, the database had been updated a few months prior, which affected how certain timestamps would display before the update. I turned all that messiness and uncertainty into a simple form that would end up emailing you a CSV file of all your transactions, ready for import into Quickbooks, once submitted. I know someone’s snoring right now, but it was super cool to me!
Excluding your phone, what kind of technology could you not live without?
I need headphones so I can listen to music. And a music player, I suppose. And if the music player could play games...ok, shoot, that’s a phone again. Let’s say Nintendo Switch and Bluetooth.
What do you like most about what you do?
I get to come in every single day and watch people have all these little epiphanies, and most of those are epiphanies that I can personally remember having when I sat where they sit, and then I get to help them celebrate the small win while contextualizing all the other wins that led up to it. It never gets old.
Which achievement at Flatiron School are you most proud of?
I’m proud of a new Chicago tradition I started called “Appy Hour”. Basically, there’s a two-hour WeWork community happy hour every Thursday, but students tend not to spend that whole block of time socializing. For those eager to get back to work and learn more stuff before their day is done, I pull up a big screen TV near where everyone’s working and dig into writing an app based on the current curriculum. Every time I’ve done it so far, it’s surfaced a couple of really good questions and I end up getting to re-demonstrate some key concepts from the day in a new context.
What’s your outlook on the local tech industry?
It’s like a small town in a huge city! I think Chicago tech will have a wonderful decade ahead, because there are vibrant communities around open data e .g. Chi Hack Night, and because so much commerce and finance flow through this city that people here will always need help systematizing their work using technology.
Dead or alive, if you could have a dinner party with three famous and influential figures, who would they be and why?
Black Thought (of The Roots), because he’s the greatest rapper living or dead, and I’m curious about how he’s spent his “free time” since 1990 or so. Hiromi Uehara, so I could thank her face to face for writing and recording “Place to Be.” Thich Nhat Hanh, because I want to study how he sits at a table and eats and directs his attention during the conversation.
What did you want to be when you were in kindergarten?
I wanted to be Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles. (The best Turtle.)
What is the hardest challenge that you’ve faced on your professional journey?
Trying to get an apartment, in Chicago, off season, with bad credit, while juggling my impostor syndrome as a junior teacher and worry about the family I’d left behind in Michigan during my search.
What success are you most proud of?
About once every other week, a current student of mine talks to an old student of mine at a meetup or similar event, and then comes to class the next day like “hey your former student says hi from their job at
!” Each one of those times is a tie.
What is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
Destiny 2 for the Playstation 4. (1400+ hours and counting!) Also the seeming inevitability of world leaders taking a fascistic approach to protecting their comfort in the face of climate change.
If money was no object, what would your dream job be?
I’d ghostwrite parody rap lyrics.
What risks or issues do you foresee in your industry’s near future?
People are getting asked to build objectively harmful stuff, and they end up doing it without question, either for the job security or for the love of the pure technical challenge. Like Volkswagen with those cars that were programmed to cheat emissions testing. There could be a reckoning if coders decided, en masse, to say “hey boss, if you want to do that kind of evil with code, you’re gonna need to learn how to code it yourself.” I believe there *will* be a reckoning if not enough coders make that decision.
What is your earliest childhood memory of technology in your life?
The Big Bird cassette tape player who would “talk” with his moving beak while playing a story tape. Wore that thing OUT as a preschooler.
Where do you live in the city and why? What are your favorite restaurants, bars and places to go and why? Your favorite architectural landmark and why?
I’m in Lincoln Square, and all my faves are within walking distance. Food: Luella’s Southern Kitchen and Taco in a Bag are two great spots virtually next door to each other. Place to go: Jacobs Park, which has my daughter’s favorite sandbox. Architecture: The Davis Theater was recently remodeled, and they postponed the renovation to redo the blueprints after finding some awesome throwback molding under an artificial ceiling!
This one is all you! Tell us anything. Any topic at all.
My favorite factoid/allegory is that a caterpillar needs to *liquefy itself* in that chrysalis before it can become a butterfly. Change is scary and worth it!