On the surface, it appears as though Thomas Zucker-Scharff (tzucker) is miles away from the career trajectory he had envisioned for himself when he was in junior high. Surrounded by four computers, five screens, and a scattering of hardware (extra boot drives and USB hubs, mostly), it’s much different than the classroom where he thought he’d be, though the similarities are there once you pull back the layers.
Education had always been at the forefront of his career goals. Even though he ended up going into IT, he works at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center of Yeshiva University, keeping a mindful eye on their computers and helping students recover papers. So he still found his way into education, it just took an alternate path for a while.
A Suggestion That Turned Into a Career
It wasn’t until college that Tom even considered anything else but teaching as a career. He was in the midst of his Elementary Education degree when his advisor, who worked with the Boston public elementary schools doing IT, suggested that he try out a few computer science classes to supplement his degree. Eventually, he had enough credits to count it as a minor.
Upon graduating, he followed in his advisor’s footsteps and began on-site training in Boston’s public school system. This was back in 1985 — they were using Sinclair ZX81s, which had membrane keyboards, built-in memory, and no monitors. Eventually, they changed over to IBM computers that had a whopping 64 kilobytes of built-in memory. The lab he worked in at the school had a 10MB Corvis network drive that was so large, twenty Apple II computers all shared it.
When he finally got his own home computer, he had to modify the chassis in order to fit the 100 megabyte hard drive. “I remember telling my wife that we had way too much storage,” he laughs. “I didn’t think we would ever have a chance to use it all.”
Ultimately, he’s extremely grateful that his career took the turn that it did. “I truly believe that if you love the work you’re doing, it won’t feel like you’re going to work every day. And that’s true for me. I love doing this.”
Going from Geek to Expert
The story of how he became active on Experts Exchange is similar to how he ended up in IT. In 2009, he was an avid member of MajorGeeks.com and wanted to offer his services for hire, but they turned him down, saying that he hadn’t established enough of a track record.
“At the time, I was pretty active on Twitter. One of my Twitter friends, who works in security, knew some of the folks at Experts Exchange, and they hooked me up with a 3-month membership.”
During the first month he wrote twelve articles and started answering questions. When the video micro tutorials went into beta, he was asked to contribute, so he made some videos as well. Soon enough, he was solely focused on being involved in Experts Exchange and did not return to Major Geeks. One of the things that stood out to him was the collaboration on Experts Exchange. Instead of one asker and one solver, multiple experts can all chime in, thereby creating a larger collaborative piece that has more educational potential beyond just a simple question and answer.
“For instance, I may not know the exact answer to someone’s question, but I can say how much I do know, and what I did to solve a similar problem. That way, it’s up to the user whether or not they want to try it out for themselves. Either way, the information is out there for other people who may need it.”
The gamification aspect offers thrilling rewards, but in the end he’s more interested in helping someone else.
“And I’ve learned a lot myself. Things like scripting and being able to automate certain Windows operations.” He says the people who helped him the most when he joined were Younghv and rpggamergirl. They were the first people he followed due to their insights into malware and system restore. The community is what keeps him coming back.
Raising the Next Generation of PC Enthusiasts
At home, Tom is a PC person through and through. He never really got into Apple computers, but he loves their other devices, especially the iPad. He has two children: a twenty-two year old daughter and a twenty-six year old son. His son latched onto technology early on, and is now a WordPress guru, combining his technology skills with creative writing, and has recently been hired at Salon.com.
He used his own career trajectory as an example to his children about making sure to follow a path that leads to something they actually enjoy doing, even if it doesn’t lead them exactly to their original destination.
Tom’s career is proof that you can apply what you love in a number of different ways. On Experts Exchange, he is a teacher, but he is also a student. There’s always more to learn, and he loves being able to do that within the collaborative environment that Experts Exchange provides.
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