Bob Greenwald graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1990 with a B. S. degree in computer science. Since then, he has worked for Pegasystems at its corporate headquarters in Cambridge, MA. He has held various positions within the company—beginning with software engineer—and, today, is Senior Director for Consulting Research and Development.
FMC: Bob, you earned an Associate’s degree in electro-mechanical technology in 1980, and worked for several years before enrolling at URI in 1987. Tell us a little about that period of time and how it influenced your decision to study computer science.
BG: When I graduated with my Associate’s degree, I found a fantastic opportunity to work in the field of Robotics for a company called Unimation. At that time, Unimation was the world leader in industrial robotics. We had a large subsidiary—Kawasaki Heavy Industries—in Japan; 6% of their total business was dedicated to robotics. It was a wonderful start to my career in high technology. I was able to work and learn from many of the world's leading robotics engineers, and I worked for Joseph Engelberger: physicist, engineer, and founder of Unimation. I was able to learn and also apply my mechanical and electronics knowledge from my Associate’s degree and add software experience, too. In fact, the software engineering experience was key, because during the late 1980s the technology sector suffered a downturn, as did many other markets. And adding software to complement my hardware experience provided me with the ability to wear different "hats" as needed, which helped insulate me from possible layoffs. It turns out I've been successful and a little lucky throughout my career and have been working continuously.
FMC: Your first position after graduating from URI was with Pegasystems. How did you get that job, and what did you do on a typical day? And what does Pegasystems do as a company?
BG: I was an "older" graduate at the time—having returned full time to get a BS in Computer Science (minor in Math)—and having experience made it a process to follow to identify my next opportunity. I retained a few recruiters and was introduced to Pegasystems with the added caveat that I would interview with the founder/President, which was an added incentive at the time. The interview process at Pega was very aggressive. I was living in RI at the time and was equally aggresive, telling Pega that I wanted to complete the full interview process in one day, cutting in half their normal time frame. It was a long day and, on my drive from Cambridge back to RI, it began to snow. As I walked into my apartment my phone was ringing (before the mobile age!). I answered and heard Pega on the other side offering me a position and a salary that we had discussed when I left. I happily accepted and began my career at Pega, which has lasted 23 years and counting.
A typical day is usually in two major pieces. The first is managing progress on corporate, departmental, and professional development goals for the current year for staff and myself. The second is supporting staff, customers, and partners with critical requests and potential emergencies. In general, this is "typical" at Pega. I've held many positions during my time here, beginning in Engineering for 7 years, taking on and growing the Customer Support business to be a global organization, then over to the Consulting side of the house creating Service Products to support implementing and maintaining business solutions.
Pega is a different software company for a number of factors. First, the company was started with no outside investment, so the goals and vision for the company has not been affected or influenced. And we are on the journey we started from the beginning with a consistent direction kept by our CEO, who has boundless focus and energy. The company started providing expert systems for financial institutions, the biggest banks in the world. The software is developed to run on multiple platforms without having to have specialized versions by platform. Currently, we support Linux, AIX, Solaris, Windows, z/OS, Websphere, Weblogic, JBOSS, Tomcat, Oracle, DB2/zOS, DB2/LUW, MS Sql Server, and Postgres. All these combinations required constant learning, keeping our skills sharp along with our own complicated and powerful software. The solution is a platform to design and build business software solutions that today are not bound by any industry. The software is customizable, allowing our customers to differentiate and focus their business needs. Pega has been the leader in creating and growing the BPM [Business Process Management] market space and after 30+ years is becoming known and recognized as a leading software company.
FMC: You are now Senior Director for Consulting Research and Development. How did you get here from software engineer?
BG: My progression through the company seemed "natural.” Learning the solutions in Engineering and gaining strong experience in the "factory,” then building and running Customer Support, which provided the experience to see how customers and partners use the solutions and where they ran into trouble, and then into Consulting, which bridges the gap between the "factory" and the "field,” providing the full 360-degree view of product life-cycle to customer implementation and consulting services.
FMC: What do you do in a typical day?
BG: My day first involves managing communications, which I stay on top of first thing every day, throughout the day periodically, and then at the end of the day. The world is 24/7 and managing this is necessary to ensure you make the time for family, friends, and for yourself. I've always had a hard line when work stops, but it's a constant battle in the high technology world.
I manage some key Service Products—which are requested globally—so I may be involved with customers or prospects in Russia, Italy, London, New York, and Toronto all in the same day. I enjoy the diversity of the people I support. In my current new role, I'm leveraging my years of experience focusing on four corporate goals this year and how our products, frameworks, solutions, and services can be enhanced to support those goals. All from an R&D perspective and approach. It's proactive research—along with a fair amount of reactive—as this is a dynamic industry.
FMC: Did college prepare you adequately for your career?
BG: I would say yes. When I talk with my sons, nieces, nephews, and friends of my sons, I explain that it is the process of learning and understanding that is the key to school, not being able to recall things from lectures or books. All "content" can be re-reviewed in books and online. The key is understanding the content and how you might apply it in a real-world scenario. My Associate’s degree definitely gave me a solid baseline to then enter the Robotics field, not to instantly become a robotics engineer, but to be able to be trained and learn how to be a robotic engineer. The same goes for my software degree. I learned sound theory and techniques at URI and was able to lean on them as I learned how to be a software engineer when I joined Pega.
FMC: How much do you enjoy your career?
BG: The key word is "career." It's important to seek a career and not a "job" in my opinion. A career covers an area or areas of interest which should then allow you to grow and change and still have the room to learn, improve, and succeed. I've been lucky in my career, and I'm grateful for that. I've been able to move into new areas and new challenges time and again. Sometimes being offered the change, sometimes wanting and making the change myself. I'd say overall I've enjoyed my career in complex technology. It’s been lucrative to provide for my family and personal goals, and it's been challenging and interesting consistently.
FMC: Does your career leave you enough time to enjoy life?
BG: Yes it does, but only because I manage it; otherwise it would manage me—which it did for a number of years, resulting in little sleep and a lot of stress. A mistake most make but it seems only a few adjust. I made a decision that I would make sure that work didn't consume me as best I can. There are many times a year each year where I do need to work more than I'd like to, but this is the career I chose, to the frustration now and then of my wife, who’s asked many times over the years "why can't you work 9-5 and be home early like other people?” She gets it, but being balanced with work and life needs constant attention in a demanding career.
FMC: Do you have some advice for current students in computer science?
BG: First and foremost is be present. Be excited to learn and don't be intimidated to ask for help if you don’t understand something or are confused or unsure. The grade is important for graduation and your first job. After that, no one asks about college, they ask about what you've done lately. College and, in particular, Engineering and Computer Science teaches processes to learn and to manage things which will be used throughout life, so getting these and all the knowledge into your heads is important. Once you have an understanding of something in your head, no one can take it away.