upper waypoint

Luke Kowalski: An Accidental Teacher

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Luke Kowalski found a rewarding way to give back to his community and the next generation.

Traditional community service is often associated with organizing, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or donating money. But I had something land in my lap that was a lot more frequent and interactive. I decided to try teaching in my spare time. I do hold a Silicon Valley job, so it had to be on Monday evenings. I also did not want to be this dry lecturer putting young minds to sleep. What I did not realize was that I would be receiving more than I was giving.

Sure, the pay covers my gas, and maybe the parking. Grading is tedious and lecture preparation takes a lot of evenings and weekends. And the excuses. One student told me that he could not take the quiz because he felt an inexplicable need for a cheeseburger. But it is always that 10 percent of the students who engage and make it worthwhile. The initial class I taught involved groups creating startups. This worked a little too well when one team ended up getting funding and the newly minted CEO decided to quit school, resulting in an irate call from a parent. The second class involved students analyzing business cases and then assembling a real book that friends, family, and their proud instructor could buy.

The goal with both classes was to give students something tangible to be proud of, and give them agency in brainstorming their own curriculum to make it fit their learning pace and interests.

Ernest Hemingway once said: “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing”. This sums up why I continue to teach. It is incredibly rewarding to see new ideas form, students questioning the status quo, or maybe inventing businesses without the cynicism of a more jaded generation. I still donate to other causes, but teaching, in my opinion is a form of community service that yields the best return on your investment. And maybe even the cheeseburger guy will remember something that I said and create the next unicorn startup?


With a Perspective, I’m Luke Kowalski.

Luke Kowalski has worked at the same large tech company for 25 years and has been teaching at a local university for 7 years, so he considers himself a lifer–but he does like to wear a different mechanical watch every day.

lower waypoint
next waypoint