Profile Friday: Professor who peaks in ranking also leads in sparking passion
Palm trees, peach trees, lemon trees and microcontrollers are just a few of the things that have given adjunct professor Paul DeCarlo a backyard that would make any green thumb green with envy.
But gardening is a relatively new pastime for DeCarlo, who teaches in the Bauer School of Business and claims the title as the highest-rated UH professor on the faculty-ranking website RateMyProfessors. DeCarlo has the most ratings for a professor, with a clean 5.0 rating on the website.
“My stepbrother worked at a nursery and brought home these trees,” DeCarlo said. “So I bought a microcontroller and I did this as one of my first ‘Internet of Things’ projects.”
All of his trees are connected through a Wi-Fi-controlled sprinkler system that allows DeCarlo to measure the saturation of the soil for his trees and water them. It could also check the weather to know how much water they really need even when he’s out of town.
‘You’ in the machine
In his primary job, DeCarlo works as a developer evangelist for Microsoft. He builds relationships with the company’s developers then tries to get others excited about their products. DeCarlo said that when he speaks at conferences, he often talks about the trees he has at home.
“A lot of people think that stuff like this is really hard to do,” DeCarlo said. “But really, doing something like getting a light bulb to light up or installing your own Nest thermostat is not that different.”
This is the concept behind his teaching method as well. DeCarlo teaches a course that compresses all the material taught in a sixteen-week course into a five-day course called “Cloud-Powered Mobile App Development.”
DeCarlo said it’s sort of a “boot camp” where students will build three big projects: a website, a cross-platform mobile application and a microcontroller, which is a small, customizable computer with one function — such as assisting with horticulture.
UH alumnus Raiyan Ahmed said that DeCarlo’s projects always left a lot of room for personalization, and he encouraged students to bring their own passions into them.
“I am a huge food and burger fanatic, so I made my website about burgers,” Ahmed said. “I made my app about gaming.”
Developer rock star
Bringing personality and passion into his work has always been very important to DeCarlo, who has been in a Tool tribute band, “Spiral Out,” for eight years. He said that in another life, he would have been a rock star.
“One of the ways I’ve kept that dream alive is playing music by the musicians that I have a particular affinity for,” DeCarlo said. “This all goes back to the message I try relaying to my students. I play this music because I liked it when I was a kid, and now I get to perform in front of audiences of people. That helps me with my job at Microsoft whenever I need to present in front of a crowd of developers.”
DeCarlo compares his job as a developer to a musician: There’s a constant urge to create “hits.” His work also requires him to travel to wherever developers are gathered, whether at universities, maker hackathons or even abroad. Three weeks before this story was written, he was in China for Maker Faire Beijing 2016.
But his entryway into Microsoft came through WinCoder LLC, the program that helped him create the app “Top Music Videos.”
His app used both data from iTunes and YouTube in around 36 different countries to create top-20 lists in their respective languages. “Top Music Videos” ranked No. 2 in Japan and No. 1 in Spain and Mexico.
After getting Microsoft’s attention, DeCarlo started to work for the tech giant. He began delivering talks at UH, where he met future close friend and colleague Jared Bienz.
“We first met briefly during one of his talks at the University,” Bienz said. “Then six months later, when I was giving a talk at the Houston Tech Fest, we talked more about the phone applications that he had built at the time.”
Catching the teaching bug
Bienz sometimes comes in as a guest speaker for DeCarlo, introducing his students to the world of virtual reality and HoloLens.
DeCarlo said that he never originally intended to teach at UH.
“My initial intention with the University of Houston was to come and there and maybe teach a class for one day,” DeCarlo said. “But then I created this class.”
DeCarlo said his favorite part of teaching is seeing students light up when they realize that they can do things they didn’t think they could. As he introduced virtual reality and microcontrollers to his students, in return they got him to know more about things like Snapchat.
“While everyone might think I’m the one getting them plugged in, often times they’re the ones getting me plugged in,” DeCarlo said.