The Code is his passion. Steven Stack, of Waxhaw, N.C., lives, breathes and sleeps the NEC through his full-time job as an electrical inspector and his role as webmaster of ContractorCafe.com.
“I just live for it,” Stack said. “It turned into something I really love doing. I could grasp the concepts in the NEC easily and it almost became second nature to me.”
Stack worked as a residential electrical contractor for three years and then became certified as an electrical inspector. After working during the day as an inspector for Union County, N.C., Stack spent his evenings designing his Web site. In mid-January 2000, Stack launched ContractorCafe.com as a resource for both licensed and unlicensed electricians.
“I have it set up where everyone can benefit from it — licensed or not,” Stack said. “I see no reason why just because someone doesn't have their license they can't study the courses. It's all about learning and bettering the industry. I only charge if I generate a certificate and a letter of completion to get you credit through your state. I make it available to anyone.”
The son of a computer analyst, Stack said he quickly learned how to launch an educational Web site for electrical professionals.
“My father started me in on computers way before the Internet ever was a dream,” he said. “I started up the Web site to try to offer some continuing education for people in my state, North Carolina, and wound up branching off into Alaska, Washington and Oregon. I am currently working on getting some other states soon.”
Twenty-seven states require electricians to get continuing education unit (CEU) credits for license renewal, said Amanda Mullins of Mike Holt Enterprises Inc., Taramarac, Fla. Not all 27 states, however, recognize the online courses.
“Some state laws are not set up to where they can offer it online, but they can do a correspondence,” he said. “Sending a piece of paper in the mail works but they can't necessarily download it off the Internet for some apparent reason. There are others that will let you do it online if you're out of state, but not if you're in state.”
Many electricians have jumped at the opportunity to earn CEU credits through the Internet, he said.
“It's good for it to be available because it's hard for people to go and sit in a classroom for eight hours or sixteen hours for two or three weekends,” Stack said. “They can do it in the comfort of their own home and at their own time. It's been very popular. We've been doing well with it.”
ContractorCafe.com has been particularly popular with Alaska journeyman electricians and administrators, who can earn CEU credits without the hassle of traveling across the state for training.
“The way Alaska is laid out, it is hard for people in the rural areas to travel long distances,” he said.
Contractors can also brush up on the NEC by ordering books at ContractorCafe.com. Stack partnered with Mike Holt, president of Mike Holt Enterprises Inc., to offer an extensive selection of NEC-related books, which can be purchased online using a credit card. After receiving an order, Stack forwards it to Holt Enterprises Inc., which takes care of the shipping and handling.
The online bookstore helps Stack reach out to unlicensed electricians, who often have questions on where to find resources on the NEC.
“I wanted to cover the full spectrum,” Stack said. “I got tons of requests from people who weren't licensed. They would ask me, ‘How can I do this or learn that?’ Every time they would write me, I would forward the e-mails to Mike Holt. One day he called me and said, ‘Why don't you just put this stuff up on your site and we'll take care of it from there?’ It's worked out really well.”
Some electricians order books online while others keep updated on the Code through Stack's e-mail newsletter, “Code Informant.” The newsletter started out as a Code question of the day, but later evolved into a weekly subscription-based e-mail newsletter with Code questions, famous quotes and photos.
Stack estimates that about 300 people now visit ContractorCafe.com every day to learn about the NEC.
“Hopefully, people are getting on and searching for a way to get their license, buy books or ask questions,” he said. “The way things are now with the hectic lifestyles and the busy schedules and the T-ball games, I feel like the more people that are aware of it, there will be more people using it.”
Stack plans on continuing to build the continuing education part of the site by adding more states and offering more options as far as downloading the courses.
“I want to make learning the NEC as easy, fun and accessible as possible,” Stack said.
Stack spends 20 to 25 hours per week maintaining his Web site. Although it is a lot of work, Stack said maintaining ContractorCafe.com is a labor of love.
“People eat it up,” he said. “They can't get enough of the NEC when they're trying to learn and get their license. It becomes a passion for a lot of people.”
Attention readers: You can learn more about online continuing education by calling Stack at (866) 463-2101, sending him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to P.O. Box 1138, Waxhaw, N.C. 28173.