CommunityTeacher Spotlight: Ben Jakuben

Faye Bridge
writes on October 24, 2013


It’s time for another issue of the Teacher Spotlight, where we interview one of the Treehouse Teachers so you can get to know them a little better offscreen, and enjoy a sneak peek into their story, their inspirations and what makes them tick.

This month the spotlight is on Android and iOS teacher Ben Jakuben. In his interview, Ben talks about what initially attracted him to mobile development, how his career evolved and brought him to Treehouse, and what he’s looking forward to for the future of tech. Ben also shares advice for how to bring an app idea to life, and discusses some of the most impressive apps he’s seen lately.

When did you first become interested in mobile app development?

I was interested in developing apps as soon as the App Store was announced, but it took me a while to get started! I was working for a big company on various projects doing web development (some front-end, mostly back-end) when a project manager put a call out to the large IT staff to see who had experience with mobile app development. I didn’t have any at the time, but I replied that I was very interested, knew Java, and was just starting to teach myself Android development. I bugged my manager about it every time I had the chance, and it just so worked out that I got to join a team doing full-time Android and iOS development.

How did your career evolve in the web industry?

It’s hard to get a job without any real experience! I worked as an office IT specialist for a year right out of college and then applied for a paid internship at a big company that I wanted to work for. I had actually failed to land an internship the previous year. 🙂

Anyhow, I left a full-time job for the internship confident that I could turn it into a full-time job afterwards (which fortunately worked out). I was working on things that weren’t particularly exciting, but I proved myself by showing a willingness to learn and try new things and by focusing on satisfying the customers. This opened doors for me to work on other projects where we were trying something for the first time, which was a great way for me to keep learning and advance my career.

What brought you to Treehouse?

Mr. Nick Pettit! I returned to work from a family vacation on a Wednesday, and Nick was scheduled to speak at my company on Friday. I had missed the signup but emailed the organizer to let me attend. I followed Nick on Twitter and thought his job sounded amazing. I’ve always wanted to teach, and I was so impressed with what Treehouse was doing. The very next day I saw Nick’s tweet that they were looking to hire an Android teacher (among others), and then talked with my wife at length about applying and relocating before sending in my application video.

What are a few apps that have really impressed you lately?

I love trying apps out, but few make the cut of extended use. What I really love is a good cross-platform cloud-based app. The Kindle app is a simple but great example. I can start reading a Kindle book on my laptop, pick up where I left off on my Nexus 7, and then continue on my iPhone in bed (when I know I should be sleeping instead). Everything should work this seemlessly!

One game I was recently drawn into is Little Galaxy by Bitmap Galaxy. I got it to play with my son but ended up logging quite a few hours playing myself. The gameplay is fairly straightforward–you basically jump from one planet to another and collect things. But the lighting is beautiful and the gamification (missions, etc.) is very effective.

Do you have an iPhone or an Android phone at the moment and why?

Though I prefer Android, I currently have an iPhone 4S because I’m finishing up my iPhone projects for Treehouse. I like to live what I teach. I have a Nexus 7 and will most likely switch to an Android phone now that I’ve started my next Android project. I must admit that I am very tempted by the camera on the iPhone 5s, though! That’s the most important feature of a smart “phone” to me. 🙂

Are there any new techniques or technologies you’re excited about at the moment or are looking forward to later this year?

As much as I love native development, I look forward to a time when we can use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create apps that are truly (ok, nearly) as responsive as native apps. Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but I look forward to a future where we really do write once and run everywhere using responsive app design principles.

In that vein it’s time for me to beef up my JavaScript and CSS skills, so I’m excited to learn Node.js and some of the cool CSS things that Guil and Nick have been doing at Treehouse.

What is the most valuable advice you would give Treehouse students who want to bring their app ideas to life?

The most important point I would like to stress is to keep at it, assuming you enjoy it and really do want to make a career out of it. Learning how to write apps (mobile, web, or whatever) is full of roadblocks, but every line of code is a chance to learn and practice and get better. Even getting stumped by a simple syntax error can be a valuable learning experience. Early on in my programming career I gave it up for a short while because I struggled with a few things and thought I’d like to try some other stuff. I came back to programming and was amazed at how much more I understood after a little review and haven’t looked back since.

One other point to make, if I may, is to make sure that you are either building something for yourself or solving a real problem. If you don’t care about it then you’ll eventually get bored with it, and if you aren’t solving a problem, then you probably won’t make a living off of it. 🙂

What Treehouse projects or courses are you learning form at the moment?

I used a different version control system at my previous job, so I’m taking Tommy Morgan’s Git Basics course to get more comfortable with git, which we use at Treehouse. I’m also casually working through the Ruby on Rails material so I can be a more well-rounded polyglot.

Tell us something about yourself you don’t think anyone would ever assume. 🙂

I feel like a pretty open book, so most assumptions about me are probably true. 🙂 I live for my family and enjoy all types of play: sports, video games, board games, pretend play with my two sons, Benny and Sam, or whatever else comes my way. I also spend too much time watching Netflix and Hulu with my amazing wife, Jen. I have a blessed life that I’m incredibly thankful for!

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