Ben Kamalo is one of our new additions to the TA team. For the past three years he's been a developer at Khan Academy and before that was at the Google offices down in the Silicon Valley. There are even some crazy rumours that he had a three month gig with the US Federal Government. Was there spy work involved? Did he have a Batcave? We're going settle that here.
It’s awesome to have you, Ben! You’re pretty new here as a TA, eh?
I’m pretty new, I’ve been here 3 weeks, now. I love it. It’s super hard. Not from a technical perspective but teaching people is just really difficult. It’s difficult trying to picture yourself learning this thing you learned 15 years ago.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? What do you think makes it so different for you to try to teach?
I wasn’t one of those kids that reverse engineered their toy cars, I’m classically trained. But I did go to the University of Waterloo where we had co-ops, and if I went to through normal school I probably wouldn’t know how to code.
There must be a prevailing worry from new students who are trying to learn to code. What myths do you feel like you always go head to head with?
I work with the educational environment a lot with Khan Academy too and a lot of people think they’re born with "math smarts". That’s a myth we’re trying to dispel. You can learn intelligence if you put in the hard work. I would try to emphasize a growth mindset, science actually shows that your brain is not fixed with a set of abilities. I know a lot of people would say ‘I’m not the computer type of person’ but then they’re here at Lighthouse Labs and that’s a pretty impressive mindset.
Some bad practices you find new students usually have?
A thing new devs struggle with is copy and pasting without a certain understanding.
So, the legend is that Ben Komalo was on the team when Obama called for super devs to fix healthcare.gov. I gotta ask, man. Is that true?
When healthcare.gov came down, I was on the team to fix it.
That’s pretty insane. How was coding under that amount of serious pressure?
It was a lot less technical work then you’d think. It was appealing to me as a developer because of who it was affecting. But you came in and realized that the website is broken because the process is broken and it was more about teaching best practices and how to be a team. Again it goes back to that myth that there’s that genius programmer, but no successful software was made by a genius programmer by his or herself.
Hahah, what voodoo magic do you do outside of work that gets you so calm?
I guess I’m a geek at heart. I hang out with friends who pretty much still talk about coding but we talk about start-ups too. I like to get outdoors, and I moved here with my girlfriend and we like to hike.
You moved here from the Silicon Valley - how does it compare?
I guess I didn’t mention but becoming a TA coming from the Silicon Valley is so cool because Vancouver is a whole smaller community. Lighthouse Labs is definitely helping with that. Khan Academy is doing things online but it comes back to institutions like this where teachers are giving the tools for learning. It’s also a good way to meet people which is a huge motivation to become a TA. Meeting this diverse group of people is super cool, like hey, I didn’t know Flipboard had an office here until I basically started working beside them.
Awesome to hear. Thanks for talking to us!
Yeah, my pleasure.
Last thing. What’s been the best thing so far in working with our students?
It’s pretty humbling for a student to ask you something you don’t know. That’s definitely super fun.
This is part of our ongoing feature series on our amazing TAs. Read the other ones below: