Alumni Q & A: Gerard Pompa
Gerard Pompa (BSCS and BS in Mathematics ‘81, and MSCS ’87)
It was Gerard (Jerry) Pompa’s love for mathematics that led him to the field of Computer Science. “Once I had my first CS course, I was hooked,” he recalls. From there his passion only continued to grow and has now resulted in career he loves.
Since earning his bachelors’ and master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Jerry has seen the field of CS grow and transform drastically. For over 20 years he has played a significant role in the unified collaboration industry and received the Telespan PACE Award honoring the positive impact he has made on shaping the industry. Jerry currently holds the position of Senior Vice President and Division Manager of the Communications Systems Division (CSD), and Director of Compunetix, Inc. — the international leader in the design and development of voice and multimedia unified collaboration solutions.
We sat down with Jerry to ask him how his education in CS from the University of Pittsburgh shaped his career, and how he has seen the industry evolve over the past several decades.
How did your undergraduate degree prepare you for your first job?
I believe it prepared me in a significant way. The underlying understanding of math, data structures, and computing control constructs really helped as I was confronted with my first project to modify the control software for a 9-axis robot used to inspect nuclear reactor vessels.
What’s the best part of your current job?
As the Senior Vice President and General Manager for a business unit at Compunetix I am responsible for not only the profit and loss of the division but leading the sales and engineering. The best part is talking with customers, understanding their requirements, taking that back to engineering and finding a solution together.
Describe your typical work day.
Not sure there is a typical day, which is good, but about 60% of my time is focused in support of the sales team and negotiating with customers while the remainder of my time is working with product development and dealing with the engineering/development priorities.
What advice do you have for high school students trying to decide on a college major?
Explore a variety of areas as quickly and as early as possible. I changed majors three times and didn’t lose time since I made changes early. As an undergraduate I was able to graduate in four years with a double major. Today there are many more opportunities to gain exposure and see what interests you. Volunteer, shadow, add something of academic value to each summer in high school. There are many academic-related programs during the summer with most universities.
How has the computer science field changed since you graduated?
When I started working on my undergraduate degree, personal computers were just starting. People would ask, ‘what would someone do with a computer at home?’ CS has changed everything in those years. Now we don’t think of doing much of anything without consulting a computer or smart phone. Nearly everything we touch, including our appliances and our automobiles have several computers in them.
The changes to the CS field are countless. Self-learning (or Artificial Intelligence) of course has changed a great deal over those years; animation, graphics, etc. But in the end, many of the fundamentals of the science are the same. A constant search for new and faster ways to solve problems. The fundamentals of data storage and computer algorithms/control are the same at the lowest levels. Interestingly, we are only at the beginning and it is mind boggling to think about what is next.