Nick Ortakales graduated from Plymouth State in 2010 with a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics. He currently works at Amazon.com as a Software Development Engineer 2.
Can you tell us a bit about what your typical workweek is like in your current job?
A typical day at Amazon:
Get in the office at 10:00AM
Browse The Verge, Reddit, etc
Daily standup meeting at 11:30AM
Either go out for lunch, or bring lunch back to the office and play board games until 1:00PM
Work on sprint tasks from 1:00PM to 7:00PM
Half an hour of ping pong is thrown in there somewhere
Go home at 7:00PM
The juicy stuff is this though: In the 5-6 hours per day that I actually work on sprint tasks, I am doing any number of things that range from writing new features or bug fixes in Java for our back-end services, coding in Mason (it’s horrible and Amazon is getting rid of it) for our front-end pages, running database queries or looking at graphs and metrics to gather numbers, designing something (a new API or new web service) to solve a business need or planning for our next sprint. I’m sure I missed a lot here, there is actually a lot of variety in what I work on day to day. We also have a lot of happy hours (beer in the office!) and nerf gun wars.
Tell us about some cool projects you’ve worked on since graduating.
I’ve worked on so many cool things Amazon. I don’t think this is necessarily the coolest, but it certainly had a big impact and was very well received by other developers here. It was an internal tool that would parse the log files from the Seller Central website (the portal for 3rd party sellers to sell on Amazon.com) and aggregate all of the page rendering failures by page and type. Before my tool was created, we would get reports that our page failed to render X number of times per day. My tool produced a report saying our page failed for X reason Y number of times per day (for example, service ABC throwing an exception would differentiate from service XYZ throwing an exception, etc), and scaled for every page and failure type. It was then very easy for us to prioritize fixing the bugs that were causing the most page load failures.
How did Plymouth State help prepare you for your job?
CS Fundamentals, Programming in Java, Data Structures and Algorithms, and Client/Server Programming were absolutely crucial. Those four classes alone taught me the necessary skills for my job. The class I wish I had paid more attention to was Software Engineering. Aside from specific classes, Plymouth just prepared me for life in general and set me up for success.
What are some of your favorite memories of your experience at Plymouth State?
Late nights in the “Lair” (senior computer lounge in Memorial) with good friends and plenty of soda to fuel our programming and crazy antics.
What other things do you do for fun in your free time?
Comic books, video games, movies, TV shows, board games, typical nerd stuff. I’m also part of a local MINI Cooper club which does events all throughout the year.
What advice would you give to current CS/IT students?
Be passionate about what you do. Take your assignments and make them fun. Make what interests you (I made video games every chance I got). Pay attention in those classes I mentioned earlier, they are super crucial. You may learn mostly Java, but the concepts apply to every language. Never stop learning.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Don’t be afraid to look far from home for awesome job opportunities. I was reluctant to move across the country (moving away from everything I know, friends, family, etc), but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.