To his great good fortune, Jonathan Kron discovered and was accepted into Townsend Harris HS, a mecca for smart oddballs, nerds and cut-ups. “It felt safe to be your uncool self and explore your passions and interests without being bullied or forced to conform,” says Kron, 32, a self-described tech nerd. “The teachers were mostly really smart, nerdy types, too. It was pretty perfect.” It took many years for Kron, who built his first computer as a teenager and who holds an electrical and computer engineering degree from Cornell University and a master’s in computer science from Georgia Tech, to find the adult version of his Queens high school. Kron tried taking his talents to several websites, among them Bloomberg (“not a nice place to work”) and Etsy (“an extremely nice place to work, but boring”). Eighteen months ago, he was hired at Facebook, where he is a member of the Places Search team. “The product I build is used by literally hundreds of millions of people,” he says proudly. (When Facebook and Instagram users want to add where they’ve eaten, danced or vacationed or any other location, it’s the Places Search team’s job to make sure it’s there for the choosing.) “Facebook is a pretty exceptional place to work. Everybody is extremely smart and nerdy, but not just computer nerdy — with lots of other side interests and intellectual curiosities.”
I was raised in Fresh Meadows in Queens. My parents weren’t hippies or anything, but they let me sort of find my own interests. My mom was a public school teacher until she retired from PS 186 in Bellerose. My sister is a teacher at PS 68 in Ridgewood. My father is a criminal court judge in Queens.
I got my first computer in the 5th grade, and I used to do all of my reports using CD-ROM encyclopedias. My mom would tolerate me breaking the computer all the time. I would poke around with the hardware and it wouldn’t turn on the next day so we’d bring it back to CompUSA to get it fixed.
I got into PC video games, and that was pretty much how I got sucked into computers. I learned a lot about the components and ended up building my own PC before I went to high school in 1997. My mom is still not sure what I do, but she calls when her Facebook isn’t working.
I attended PS 26 through grade 6, followed by JHS 216 (Ryan JHS). But my most formative and impactful years were spent at Townsend Harris. I was pretty set on going to Bronx HS of Science because of my interest in technology, but then my mom and I decided I should go to Townsend. We both felt I could pick up the engineering stuff later, and that I’d get a better-rounded education. I did, on so many levels.
Elementary and junior high were fine. I was one of those shy kids who loved school, but it seemed to go from black and white to technicolor when I got to Townsend. It’s different from the other specialized high schools, more artsy, liberal, with a focus on the humanities. And the student ratio was seven girls for every three boys, which I’m not saying is why I chose the school.
I had some great teachers. Mrs. Shelly Goldfarb taught me calculus in a way that prepared me for college. She was very sardonic and a little bit mean if you didn’t do what was expected, but she was a strong teacher. I learned to write code as a junior in Mr. Joseph Horn’s computer science class. He gave us lots of free time to think and to write. Some people used it to chat. I would build my own adventure games in code.
Townsend students are required to take Greek or Latin. I took Latin with Mr. Richard Russo. I liked the way he taught it, more through history and culture than the language itself, though we had some of that, too. He taught us a lot of cool stuff, like the Roman calendar; stuff that just clicks with me.
Another favorite was my English teacher Mr. Michael Carbone. He loved Tommy Hilfiger. He even had a Tommy Hilfiger CD case! He used to teach what he called Grammar Tips that he’d put up every day, and he was one of the first teachers who had me write long essays. I would actually read the books he assigned and we’d have open discussions. I’m friends with him on Facebook.
— As told to reporter Christina Cheakalos