“I’m a big believer in lifelong learning”

Jim Cramer is the definition of an active volunteer. Almost year-round he is teaching refugees how to code.

“I’m a big believer in lifelong learning”

Meet HYF’s mentor Jim Cramer.

Jim Cramer is the definition of an active volunteer. Almost year-round he is teaching people with a distance to the labor market how to code. When teaching, he spends at least 20 hours a week on HackYourFuture, delivering the weekly lecture, reviewing homework and providing online support to students. The night before this interview he was still up at 10:30 PM for a video call with one of the students.

Jim (65) started programming while still studying to become an electrical engineer. Two of his older brothers had previously emigrated to the United States and both found jobs at Hewlett Packard in Silicon Valley. Through one of them he was able to obtain an HP-35 handheld scientific calculator (now considered a classic), which allowed him to ditch the slide-rule he used up to that point for his studies. Soon after, he bought a newer model, but this time one that you could program yourself. That got him hooked. “I  got myself, as it was known at the time, a single board computer with 4KB of memory and finally an Apple II home computer”. After he graduated, Jim started working as a programmer for Royal Dutch Shell, and retired as a Solution Architect, at the age of 50, through voluntary severance.

After retirement he did not plan to sit idle:

“I have always enjoyed studying. After retirement I started an introductory course in psychology at the Open Universiteit. Then, I followed some online courses offered by MIT, for instance an introductory course on Chemistry. Right now, I am studying Modern Standard Arabic at the Volksuniversiteit. I am a big believer in lifelong learning” he says proudly.

Just over two years ago, Jim attended a meetup on AngularJS, a popular JavaScript framework. At the meetup, there was also a presentation by HackYourFuture - “I asked if I could stop by, and so I did. I had no idea whether my knowledge was enough to teach and how I would do as a teacher”. Jim has long been comfortable in languages like Fortran, C, C# and Pascal. “But I only started working in JavaScript a few years ago. I really had to deepen my JavaScript knowledge in order to teach it to others”.

Jim is fairly strict with his students. He expects them to hand in their homework on time. “Sometimes I can understand their struggle. Right now, I still have to do this week’s homework for my next Arabic lesson in two days time.” Instead of doing his homework Jim biked 50 minutes to the center of Amsterdam, for this interview.

Jim Cramer during one of his classes at HackYourFuture

After his students continue with the next module, taught by a different teacher, he often tracks their progress. “I sometimes peek at their homework to see how they are doing. And when they make the same mistakes I pointed out to them earlier while reviewing their homework, it ticks me off”, he says while laughing.

Why all this effort? “Firstly, I enjoy teaching. But I also get a lot out of HackYourFuture as well. I have learned a lot from other volunteers. For instance, the way they organize their lectures and homework assignments, how they provide feedback on the homework, how they communicate with students and with each other.” In HackYourFuture students and teachers communicate during the week through Slack, an online collaboration tool.

Jim finds it rewarding that he can contribute to getting the lives back on track of people “who often had a job or education, but due to unfortunate circumstances saw their career being broken. People who often have a degree, which is not fully recognized in the Netherlands. People who have trouble finding a job.”

But perhaps the main reason for Jim’s commitment is his love for coding. “I truly enjoy to convey my passion. I have no idea what it would be like to be a programmer from 9 to 5, and then stop being a programmer in the evening.”

Get involved

Our curriculum is created and taught by our volunteers, all professional developers. They teach our students how to work on projects in a modern tech team, how to be problem-solvers and to think like developers. Are you are skilled developer who would you like to provide support, guidance, and advice to our students? Then visit our website and join our team.