Meet Bold Idea Mentor Thomas

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Meet Thomas Crain, UT Dallas computer science student, future Microsoft intern, master lock picker, and Bold Idea mentor. See how empathy has made Thomas a valuable mentor.

”Understanding the emotions of the mentee is way more important than just knowing the answer as someone with a background in software engineering.”

Meet Thomas…

What is something many people don't know about you?
I’m really into lock picking! Locks are fun puzzles to solve while learning how to keep a steady hand and be patient. Like most puzzles, there’s a huge spectrum of difficulty, and it’s a great feeling popping a new kind of lock or a really hard lock. Plus, I’ll never have to pay for a locksmith!

How did you become interested in technology and programming?
Growing up, my dad took me to a conference for Geographic Information Systems users. Seeing and getting to play with software that helped power the navigation systems of a Mars rover really showed me that programming is the ultimate toolset. I’m lucky that I had opportunities like this to spark my passion for computing. I’m also really lucky that my high school had great programming classes that taught me everything from web development to digital electronics. That helped turn my passion and curiosity for computer science into actual marketable skills.

What are you studying in college?
I’m currently an undergrad at the University of Texas at Dallas studying computer science.

What are you working on now?
I’m currently working through schoolwork and learning web development on the side. This summer, I’ll be a software engineer intern at Microsoft.

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
I’ve definitely gained a greater sense of empathy from mentoring. Starting out, it’s easy enough to use your own knowledge and experiences as a crutch. You listen to the young coder’s problem, you diagnose the problem, and you give them the answer. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into before. Understanding the emotions of the mentee is way more important than just knowing the answer as someone with a background in software engineering. Just giving them the answer without knowing the emotional context of their problem (frustration, confusion, panic, impostor syndrome, etc.) isn’t what mentorship is about. Empowering them to address and overcome those negative emotions is what really pays dividends in the long run.

I don’t have a standout most memorable moment, but watching some of the more hesitant young coders really open up over the course of the semester and become more confident in their own skills is awesome!

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
It’s okay to not feel passionate about coding all the time! There will be times when you’ve been working at something for a long time and it starts to feel like a chore. Hard work and perseverance are great, but knowing when to take a break is also a virtue. You’ll always be able to come back to the problem with a clear mind and motivation.

What is it about Bold Idea's mission that really connects with you?
It’s a bit specific, but I really like the usage of the word “empower” in the mission. “Empower” gives a sense that we’re doing so much more than teaching them coding. We’re also giving them the confidence to know that if they try something new, they can succeed in it! We’re giving them the courage to work through all obstacles that they face, no matter how hard! I just think that’s neat.

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