Dr. Tim Krause’s passion for computing started in middle school when he taught himself how to program a checkers game using a Texas Instruments computer.
“A lot of us like to tinker and we like to build things,” he said. “I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember.”
It’s a sentiment that’s sure to resonate with many working in programming or information technology. For Tim, his career began elsewhere.
He received his BS in Accounting from St. John’s University and MA in English at St. Cloud State University, where he taught English courses as a graduate student. For more than ten years, Tim also worked in marketing and project management roles in Minnesota assisting companies with web design and video projects. During this time, one of Tim’s friends from graduate school told him about an opportunity to teach a seminar on web design.
“I ended up getting the teaching bug again and realized I need to be back in the classroom—that’s really where I belong,” he said.
Tim went on to earn his PhD in English at Purdue University. Today, he’s an academic director for the University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing and professor in Computing and New Media Technologies at UW-Stevens Point.
When he’s not teaching courses in the 100 percent online UW Applied Computing program, Tim runs Tomorrow River Games, a game development and therapeutic game company he founded with his wife, Karolee, a licensed professional counselor. The two have created games like Therapy Cubes, where children use dice to drive conversations about their feelings and express their emotions. Tim also designs 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons modules, which provide players with new adventures for the popular tabletop role-playing game.
With his project management background and entrepreneurial experience, Tim helps guide students through the UW Applied Computing program’s capstone and pre-capstone courses. The capstone project prepares students for computing careers by applying the knowledge and skills gained in the program to work with real-world clients.
“You and I have probably both heard the same thing from friends, if not felt it ourselves at times. Employers tell us that we need experience, but in order to get experience, we need to have experience. How do you break the circular logic of that?” he said. “The capstone breaks it.”
We spoke with Tim to learn more about the capstone process and what students can expect.
What’s the number one thing you want students to know about the capstone project?
You have to have a client or an employer, and your project has to be connected to the Applied Computing curriculum—that’s it. From there, it’s just details that we need to sort out and agree on. So if you’re interested in application development, that works. If it’s networking and infrastructure, that works. If it’s game development, that works.
That being said, if anyone’s a little bit anxious about the experience, then it’s just a conversation. Let’s talk about what you want to do and see if we can find a way to get it to work. It’s really unusual that I’ve said to a student “That’s not going to work.”
At what point during the UW Applied Computing program should I start preparing for my project?
Students do pre-capstone the fall of their last year, and then the capstone their final semester in the spring. There’s so much that can change in even a month or two’s time, that it’s hard to do much planning in advance of the pre-capstone. And that’s really what the course is designed to accomplish: to finalize all of those project details and set yourself up for success in the capstone.
Are there things you can do in advance? Sure. There’s almost some “pre-work” in the sense that you should be using personal, professional, and classroom experiences to learn about your passions and how they might intersect with the capstone. While that might not be a specific project, client, or employer, knowing that about yourself in advance sets you up for helping to identify the best possible capstone experience.
How much time each week should I plan to work on the capstone?
About 10 hours a week. It’s a three-credit class, so plus or minus three hours per week per credit hour, which is standard definition. The assumption is that this is going to be a more difficult class and a lot more time, but that time commitment theoretically is no different than any other class.
What types of projects have students completed in the past?
They’ve done mobile apps for K-12 school districts. One student did a database where the website would help diagnose different sicknesses in aquarium fish. Another student rewrote a transportation scheduling app for a local occupational development center (ODC). We had a student do some work around ticketing and support issues, and we’ve also had students do some network design.
Can the capstone be a project I’m already working on as part of my job?
It actually seems to work best if it’s an existing project for work so it’s not an additional requirement and doesn’t add workload to your plate. We want supervisors to be on board and participating in the process and serving as a mentor. We want them to participate in a final presentation and provide feedback. That’s about it in terms of expectations for employers.
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For students with no computing experience, what organizations does UW Applied Computing partner with for capstones?
School districts and organizations associated with scouting, social, fraternal, and service organizations such as Lions Clubs, Optimist Clubs, and Rotary Clubs. The clients that tend to work the best outside of employers are smaller organizations who may not necessarily have budgets for projects. If we don’t do the work for them, they’re not going to get it done. It invests them in the process, but it also invests us in the process because it gives us increased likelihood that our work is going to see its way into production and get used—it’s mutually beneficial.
Can I do my capstone with family members or friends?
Family members make the worst clients—they’re just too nice. Friends are only marginally better for the same reason. They think that by being nice, they’re helping, not realizing that what you really need to do is help your friend or help your kid deliver a quality product. My students tease me all the time about this. I very seldom give definitive black-and-white yes-and-no kinds of answers. Family members and friends, no. It doesn’t work.
How can I use the capstone to get a job or showcase my experience?
Including it as part of a portfolio is great. Even just mentioning a project as part of that initial email you send a prospective employer where you can make a connection between, “Hey, I saw that you’re looking for this in your job posting. I have some similar experiences in my capstone project here and I want to share that with you. Maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about that together in an interview.” That’s great and it’s informal. It lets the employer decide if they’re intrigued enough to want to have that conversation or not.
The other thing that I’ll suggest to some students, especially the ones who don’t have a lot of work experience, is to point out that it’s convention with resumes that it’s paid work experience. That’s what we all assume it is, but that’s not what it has to be. So if you’re light on paid work experience, and as long as you’re not misleading about what your capstone is, it can certainly go on your resume.
What happens if I don’t finish my project before the course ends?
It’s a great chance to have an opportunity to start talking about the difference between classroom experiences and real life—real life doesn’t conform to a 15-week semester. As long as we define the work that’s going to get completed and we can come up with a unit of work that makes sense in a semester, it’s OK if the project lives on after the semester is over.
What if my project doesn’t go as planned or something unexpected happens?
I almost never get technology-related questions in the capstone. By the time you get to the capstone as a student, if you’re going to do a Java project, part of the reason you’re doing a Java project is because you already know Java. So I troubleshoot a little bit on those things when they come up, but most of the time it’s communication issues: “Something didn’t go according to plan, so now what do I do?” That’s where we do most of our work together.
You’re going to run into problems or issues in your capstone. Everyone will, but that’s not the point. The point is, when you do, how do you handle it? If you’re handling it well, communication’s open, you’re honest about it, and you come up with a good plan, you’re going to get through and it’s going to work just fine. Because if you’ve got a reasonable boss, that’s how it’s going to work in the real world. And so when you figure out that open, honest, and regular communication is essential in delivering successful projects, that is a big part of the magic sauce, if you will, when it comes to the capstone.
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