An Interview with Rohith Pottabathni

“Above all, computer programmers should have the drive to create new things and ideas.”

Rohith Pottabathni is a quality assurance engineer for Yahoo. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from University of Washington.

Before he decided on a major in computer science, Rohith was a pre-med student. He made the change in his academic track because he wanted to use his creativity to write programs and develop new ideas. Rohith has become an avid programmer and an aspiring start-up company entrepreneur.

In your own words, what is a computer programmer?

I define computer programmers as people who create and improve websites, applications and software. They use a combination of technical computer coding skills and creativity to do their work.

Personally, I test software for Yahoo’s e-mail program. I work on an application that manages e-mail on smart phones and computer desktops. The tests I perform verify that the service is working for the customer.

If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a computer programmer,” what would your response be?

Students interested in becoming computer programmers should start writing programs and developing ideas outside of a classroom setting. A computer science degree is important, but students will be able to really develop their skills and determine their specific interests if they take on projects outside of their course requirements.

What level of education is ideal to become a computer programmer?

The ideal level of education needed to work as a computer programmer is a bachelors degree. I would estimate that in my department at Yahoo, 90% of the employees have either computer science or electrical engineering degrees.

Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a computer programmer?

No, there are no licensing or certification requirements that are useful for working as a computer programmer. In fact many computer science majors get job offers before graduating from college. Yahoo offered me a job before my senior year of college, but they didn’t allow me to start working until after I graduated.

Why did you decide to become a computer programmer?

I decided to become a computer programmer because I like to be creative and make things. I enjoy developing interesting software, even though it takes a lot of time and effort. Some programmers work 100 hours a week but I don’t spend quite as much time working. I enjoy the time I do spend at work, and I am proud of the software that I create.

What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a computer programmer?

The biggest misconception I had about working as a computer programmer is that I didn’t think any of my coworkers would be over 30 years old. Actually, in my work group at Yahoo, I am probably the youngest person by 10 years. There are young people at the company, just not in my specific group.

What do you enjoy most and least about being a computer programmer?

I really enjoy how much collaboration there is in computer programming. At Yahoo, programmers are divided into teams that work together to develop products. This structure allows the group to come up with better ideas because we can constantly share ideas and point out when someone is missing a key piece of information. On my own time, I also work with friends to develop new programs and ideas for businesses.

My job also allows for a flexible schedule, which is another thing that I enjoy about being a computer programmer. There is nothing that I particularly dislike about my job.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me begins when I go into the office around 10 a.m. I usually leave by 7 p.m. That is more than 8 hours, but I try to take breaks. Some days I may take a long lunch, so to make up the time I will stay later that day, or come in early the next day. I don’t have someone strictly supervising my work, and just need to make sure that I get everything done on time.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

I have a balanced work and personal life because I simply love my job. I am on the computer all the time whether I am at work or doing personal stuff. Work, for me, does not feel like a chore. It feels like a natural extension of my life. For example, in the evenings, when I am not doing work for Yahoo, I am creating ideas with friends for new start-up companies. We develop our own websites, applications, and software with hopes of starting a successful business.

What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a computer programmer and what traits would hinder success?

There are several traits that successful computer programmers should possess. Above all, computer programmers should have the drive to create new things and ideas. They should also enjoy working on computers. And an entrepreneurial spirit is helpful because it is not uncommon for programmers to develop new software that eventually becomes a business.

The inability to work as part of a team is 1 trait that would hinder the success of computer programmers. Many people have the idea that computer programmers work alone, but to be successful, programmers must be effective collaborators. Most good ideas are developed with friends or colleagues. Also, at a company like Yahoo, the projects are too large for a single person to complete.

Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes, in hindsight there is 1 thing I would have done differently as an undergraduate student. I would have started school as a computer science major rather than a pre-med major. Before beginning school, I told my family I would study medicine to become a doctor. My family expected that I would finish the pre-med program and I spent 2 years taking pre-med classes. Instead, I could have spent those 2 years improving my computer programming skills.

Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a computer programmer should pursue?

Yes, I recommend that students interesting in computer programming should complete internships or find part-time jobs in the computer science field. I interned at Yahoo the summer between my junior and senior years at University of Washington, and this led to full-time employment with Yahoo once I graduated.

What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a computer programmer?

My main piece of advice for students interested in computer programming is to start working on ideas outside of school. Prospective students should write computer programs in their free time. Coming up with new ideas and developing software will help students define their interests. It will also help them get a job.