Reminiscences from Recent Grad: Bob Somers

From Bob Somers (B.S., Computer Engineering, 2010; M.S., Computer Science, 2012)
R&D Rendering Engineer
DreamWorks Animation

It was with a very heavy heart that I left Cal Poly last summer, saying goodbye to my student days. I had finished my master’s degree in computer science, capping the bachelor’s degree in computer engineering I had earned there two years earlier.

Those were wonderful years at Cal Poly — and even more wonderful, they led me straight to a dream job at  DreamWorks Animation, where I’ve spent the past year working in R&D on the rendering team. We’re the ones who take the work of Dreamworks’ talented artists — in the form of 3D models, textures, animation, effects and lighting — and produce the final frames you see in theaters. During the past year I’ve jumped between several rendering projects,  from fixing bugs for our summer movie “Turbo” to adding new features that will touch each of the 270 billion pixels that make up “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

It was daunting, though, to find myself at a company that’s just been named one of the 12 best places to work in 2013, where I was  immediately surrounded by incredibly smart, creative people, many with doctorate degrees. To top it off, they all had far more experience pushing pixels for feature films than I did.

That’s where the skills I developed at Cal Poly helped rescue me. The strong emphasis on project-based learning and theory, coupled with hands-on practice, helped me get up to speed and become an effective team member very quickly. In particular, the deep knowledge and practical skills I had acquired at Cal Poly in the areas of computer graphics, computer architecture and operating systems became critically important to my work on high-performance rendering software.

I’ve recently received several comments from my supervisor, tech lead and team members about how well thought out my code is and how clean and tight my API design work has been. Considering the source, that’s high praise indeed! I think back to all the practice I got while working on my degrees:  the never-ending graphics projects from Dr. Zoe Wood and parallel programming projects from Dr. Chris Lupo. I credit this experience, and more, for growing my programming chops. The level of practical knowledge and experience, fused with the theory I gained from lectures, has proven to be a tremendous asset as I’ve started out in the computer graphics industry.