Tag Archives: Bill O’Connor

ITKAN Chat – Interview with Steve Luker

The disability community in Chicago is an active one in various sectors, from advocacy and accessibility to various employment resources like AbilityLinks, nAblement and ITKAN. These three organizations have grown in myriad ways during the past ten years. One of the most interesting people – and colleagues – that I have worked with is Steve Luker. I actually first encountered  Steve through an educational film entitled “The Forerunners”.  The film was a collaboration between The Mind Alliance, Professor Fong Chan, and Pat Maher of nAblement. It profiles several nAblement consultants, and is intended to support students with disabilities from diverse backgrounds to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines and careers. Steve was also profiled as part of a Chicago Sun-Times article related to ITKAN .

Steve Luker

Steve Luker

Steve has been able to focus his disability workarounds and use of accessible technology into a budding career in IT, specializing in .NET programming and mobile game development. I was able to sit with Steve to discuss his background, career and views on IT.

Hello Steve, we have known each other for years, but for our readers, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came into the IT sector?

I have been a Chicagoan for all of my life. I moved to the Wheaton, IL area and I am married to Michelle. I am a developer focusing on the Microsoft side of the industry. I worked on projects for BP and other large corporate clients, as well as other smaller companies. I have worked on websites and desktop applications, and am currently working on a game called “Falling Fruit”.

When did you start to develop an interest in IT?

As you know, technology users with disabilities sometimes have the opportunity to test out new accessibility devices. When I was a young child, a company came to my school with a computer which would make communicating with people easier. One of the challenges that my Cerebral Palsy creates is verbal communication. That was when I developed a rabid interest in IT. Everything I saw I thought, “I can do this or anything with this technology”.

Did IT assist you in your early education?

I started to read at age 3 so it could have been when I was 4 to 6. My disability does not allow me to speak, so I learned American Sign Language finger spelling at 5 and I was spelling every word out. What’s interesting is that I was not a good speller until I got a speech synthesizer, because I couldn’t sound out words in my head. I always found myself thinking about the possibilities that IT would bring in the future.

How did you come across nAblement?

In 2006, I met Pat Maher at an AbilityLinks networking breakfast at the College of DuPage. It was a few months after I got my degree in IT. He asked me to serve on a panel at Manpower’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee for the Breaking Down Barriers program developed by nAblement. I was able to meet Rob Figliulo, the CEO of SPR Companies, and I really became more involved with nAblement and SPR.

I understand that you have developed a game for the Windows Phone platform. ITKAN has seen Falling Fruit, and it’s very good (and difficult!). Can you tell us about your considerations for developing the game and challenges you have faced?

I wanted to do some kind of app that would go into all of the app stores. I began thinking about how people were actually making money and what tips they gave. Instead of developing an app that people might use for a few seconds every day or two, I thought of a game that might hold people’s attention longer. That’s important when income is coming from ads or in app purchases.

I know that you are registering Falling Fruit on the Windows Store for the Windows Phone operating system. As there is so much money moving with app purchases, I’m assuming this isn’t a labor of love altogether. As Microsoft, Apple and Google are making millions with their app marketplaces, what are your expectations for revenue from Falling Fruit?

Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Falling Fruit, Created by Steve Luker, ITKAN member

Well, at first, I initially thought of sit-down comedy, as there would be a lot less competition than in stand-up, but that didn’t pan out 🙂 .

From there, looking at apps as a prospective business, Apple and Google app stores take 30% of each app sold. Microsoft is different in that they take 30% up to the first 25,000 of sales. Then they take 20%. That makes it more profitable if you come up with the next Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. I don’t mind not receiving 100% of my work, because the nice thing about all of the app stores is that they do so much of the work for you. Distribution, the billing…all of the back-end work is done well by all of the app stores. However, all of the creativity is in the hands of the app designer themselves. For example, I did some of the art myself. However, I am not much of an artist, so I ask family members and friends to help me with the more involved work.

After Falling Fruit is established and earning revenue on the Windows Store marketplace, my next goal is to roll it out on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Were there any core needs that you had in developing Falling Fruit?

It has to do with the processor and its ability to do virtualization. That’s when the computer creates a virtual computer. The game is being developed in a game engine so it could be exported to other platforms with a lot of code reuse. So I know .NET, but the game isn’t written in that. The game engine was key to being able to create Falling Fruit.

Name your top favorite websites and why.

Microsoft has news, learning resources, documentation, etc., even for a rookie programmer, and you can use Yammer to ask Microsoft programmers questions on their message boards and internal social network. Also, any Microsoft-related sites go here as well. At ITKAN we have access to BizSpark as well, which is a great developer site for Microsoft technologies offered free to not-for-profits. Thanks to Adam Hecktman of Microsoft for supporting us in securing our BizSpark license.

Feedly is my personal news reader. There are many others out there that work well, but as a matter of personal taste, this is my pick.

Twitter is great for following news and political discussion. You can reach out and really interact with who you are tweeting.

Finally, Twit.tv is an excellent resource for programmers.

What do you think of ITKAN’s progress, the upcoming year and the road ahead for the organization?

I think we have come a very long way. There’s such a strong bond on technology and careers in technology. We had service providers, technologists and so on in the past, but now we develop a critiquing atmosphere where we want to be better IT geeks as well as prospective IT employees.  For example, I know a little about accessibility and I know where it affects me, but now I know so much more after working with ITKAN members who have visual disabilities. I’ve learned so much more that I would have ever thought I would.

Thanks, Steve.

Thanks Bill. See you on 13th of February at our next ITKAN meeting.

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Megatrends & Education.

ITKAN kicked off our year of IT Megatrends in a big way at our January meeting!  We began exploring mobile computing principles, products, advantages and challenges. Jeff Seagard, a senior technology architect for Microsoft, led our January meeting to start ITKAN on the Megatrends path. He will be back to drill a bit deeper in the mobile sphere for our February 14th meeting.

ITKAN 2013 - Megatrends

ITKAN 2013 – Megatrends

First quarter 2013 – Jan, Feb, Mar – Mobile Technology, (Jeff Seagard, Microsoft)

Second quarter 2013 – Apr, May, Jun – Social Media and Business (Todd Nilson, Social Syntax)

Third quarter – July, Aug, Sept – Big Data (Jeff Seagard, Ross LaForte)

Fourth quarter – Oct, Nov, Dec – Cloud Computing – (Chris Kabat)

One of ITKAN’s charter members, Joe Blasi, feels that Megatrends is a framework that traditional IT education could learn from…

“Education needs to be better fitted into today’s fast paced IT, and needs to take a page from the traditional trades with some kind of apprenticeship system”, says Blasi. He also believes a more hands-on approach is more effective, especially for IT prospects and workers that have disabilities. “The older education system is left behind when it comes to offering more hands on work.”

Each topic will begin with a high-level overview, then drill down to more granular or applied knowledge, finally culminating (in the 3rd month of each quarter) with a more innovative, creative delivery for student attendees who have attended each of the previous 2 sessions on that topic. This could include an industry case study, an exercise that applies some of the knowledge delivered/gleaned from the earlier sessions, or some other innovative approach.

Join us in February at the Microsoft Technology Center at 5 Pm on every 2nd Thursday of each month. Click here to reserve your spot for our second Megatrends meeting!!

“Getting to Know” ITKAN Members – Dan TeVelde

Creative leaders in technology take different paths, but it doesn’t necessarily call for a certification or degree to achieve their goals (of course it helps speed their progress). The booming growth of the I.T. field calls across all educational parameters, including ones that wouldn’t come quickly to mind.

Many people in information technology today come from fine arts, specifically in the field of music. The study of music emphasizes creativity, timing and performance, and this compliments a career in information technology very well. Ask our featured “Getting to Know” ITKAN Member, Dan TeVelde.

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Name: Dan TeVelde

Home: Forest Park, IL

Involved and Interested in IT – 22 years as a  Programmer & Analyst, McDonald’s, Oak Brook, IL

Education:  M.F.A. in Music, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

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Thanks for your time, Dan.  Can you tell me how did come to the realization that IT was for you? 

I heard about a program to teach computer programming to the disabled.  I was working at another job and felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.  I had always wanted to learn how to use a computer so I took a chance on the training program.  After a year the school placed me in my current job.

Where do you think the information technology field will be in the next five to ten years, Dan?

I think the emphasis in IT will keep shifting away from just coding to more use of communication skills.  People will be working together to enhance their companies’ role in the economy.  As people become more sophisticated computer users, there won’t be as much of a need for IT people to do tech support or application development.  I think we will see more use of social media and mobile applications.  Everyone in a company will be collaborating rather than having their own spheres of influence.

People will also need to be more flexible when the priorities of a business change and must be ready to take on new roles and responsibilities.  Desktop computers are disappearing and I think the same may happen to laptops.  There won’t be a distinction between mobile and traditional operating systems.  Everyone will be using some kind of interchangeable mobile device.

As you are an employee of McDonald’s, can you offer insight on working with such a great company in regards to diversity and inclusion?

None of Us Is As Good As All of Us: How McDonald’s Prospers by Embracing Inclusion and Diversity

McDonald’s has had a forward-thinking outlook on social responsibility.  All types of employees are valued for their unique contributions to the company.  There are always opportunities for any company to expand the scope of what diversity means.

ITKAN has been gaining traction in various areas with its mission. What do you think about this dynamic group, and I’d love to hear your views on your participation on the new Visionary Innovation Team! 

I think what ITKAN is doing is great.  I would like to see more participation by businesses to send people to represent their companies at our meetings.  This would help connect people with jobs and other opportunities.  It would also be helpful to have other technology companies involved.  It’s great that Microsoft is being such a good host, and we need other tech companies like IBM, Oracle and others to participate in our meetings.

As far as my involvement with the visionary team is concerned, I think there is a lot of potential to make a difference.  We will need to find software developers who can work within the parameters we determined at our last meeting.  It would also be helpful to have some engineers there at the meeting who could interact with us about how to develop and deploy new hardware and software.

I can’t think of a time when the need has been more critical to develop better computer interfaces for the blind.  This is very important and timely.  Failure to do so would allow the IT field to completely pass us by and most blind people would either lose their jobs or not be able to find new ones.

What are your top 5 most visited Web sites? 

That’s a hard question to answer but the ones I can think of now are The American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, the American Council for the Blind,  Google and Facebook.

You have a knowledge and love for music. Can you tell us about that and does that compliment your occupation today? 

I’ve always had a love of music I grew up hearing it, studied piano in grade school and high school, and majored in it in college.  I was going to teach at the college level but things didn’t work out that way.  I would say where music relates to what I do now is that it is part of my ministry at my church and it provides a conversation piece with people.  I once had a manager who said he would recruit IT people from the music departments of colleges.  There’s a relationship in how the brain handles music and also logic for IT work.

Any closing remarks, Dan? 

I appreciate the opportunity to put myself out there and try to make a difference.

“Getting to Know” ITKAN Members – Joseph Blasi

As the Information Technology Knowledge Ability Leadership Network (ITKAN) continues through 2012, we have focused on displaying our membership and their skills. This week, Bill O’Connor focuses on our first member interview, Joseph Blasi.

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Name: Joseph Blasi

Home: Des Plaines, IL

Involved and Interested in IT – 10 years

——

Hello, Joe.

“Call me Joseph.”

Sorry, Joseph…Some questions for you as an I.T. professional…What 3 factors do you bring to the table in IT?

¨     “I have worked on various projects building and repairing hardware and configuring software and PC systems.

¨     “I really enjoy keeping up on technology, especially new releases of Microsoft products.

¨     I enjoy participating in technical forums. They allow me to look into different aspects of technology and be proactive in helping people with current problems and solutions.

Pretty solid background, Joseph. Where do you think technology will be in the next ten years?

“It really depends on the big players. How will Apple continue gaining of market share? Will Microsoft’s release of Windows 8 be a game changer? Will Linux build a general standardization in their niche? Even Internet service providers will havetheir say, as will the verdicts regarding network neutrality issues.”

What are the 5 Internet sites that you go to the most and why?

VP Forums – www.VPForums.org – This is a site that talks about virtual pinball. Pinball overall looked dead, but it seems to be having a rebound! 

Slashdot – www.slashdot.org – Good tech discussions, stories and articles. 

DSL Reports www.dslreports.org – Discussions on new sites and, like Slashdot, good dfiscussions about tech 

Simtropolis – www.simtropolis.com – This discusses the game SimCity, and I always want to keep up on it. The possibilities are endless with the program!

Mame World – www.mameworld.info – This talks about vintage arcade games, game simulation, and being able to play hundreds of arcade games on your PC. Awesome! 

What do you think about ITKAN? It’s a budding group, but what makes them special and productive?

It’s an interesting group. You’re focusing on people that have a lot of talent in the IT industry, but each one of them is really unique. It’s a tough job market, but these people need to be examined more closely. It’s a good idea, and hopefully, the members of the group will get some exposure. 

Thanks Joseph! Anything else?

Yeah, Bill, I’d like to be interviewed again! 

You bet, Joseph!

Coming next week, we meet with Brendan Ginty, an IT Security pro in Chicago.