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Meet Aviatrix’s Youngest Software Engineer, Aditya Prerepa

 

When I learned about Aditya Prerepa’s fast tracked career trajectory, I was blown away. Instantly, I envisioned a headline for a blog Q&A, “Meet the Doogie Howser of Engineering.” Understanding that I may be showing my age here, I decided to run with another headline that would resonate with all generational groups.

 

If you have not met or heard of Aditya, he is a technology enthusiast and a young software engineer who has made valuable contributions to the open-source community and is a rising star at Aviatrix. His story is a testament to the fact that age is just a number when it comes to making an impact in the world of software engineering.

 

Below is a recent interview with Aditya, where he talks about his past and present endeavors and his thoughts about his future career path.

 

You can also find in our Employee Spotlights section where Aditya joins more than a dozen other Aviatrix standouts.

 

Q. How did you get the “bug” for technology, coding, and programming and at what age?

 

A. When I was in middle school, my dad introduced me to circuits and microcontrollers. I really liked the fact that with microcontrollers, like the Arduino, you can build whatever you want, granted you have to have the hardware for it. Imagination was the limit. I started looking at networking technology when I wanted to make these microcontrollers talk to each other, which naturally led to learning about distributed systems and networking. I honed my skills by going to hackathons with my friends, and all of our projects had the theme of “networking different hardware together to make something interesting.” Some of those projects included creating automated parking detection, smart canes for the blind, and automated fingerprint-based attendance systems for schools.

 

Q. What was it about the Istio* project that captivated you? What was the learning curve like?

 

A. It wasn’t anything specific about Istio. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had some prior experience with networking from hackathons and personal projects, but nothing at the scale of Istio. I really missed working on a large project with a bunch of people like I had at my previous internship, and the Istio community was—at the time—very active. So, that’s one of the reasons why I liked the Istio project. I also thought I could learn a lot from the project, and that was definitely the case. I personally don’t think I made a “meaningful” contribution until six months into the project.

 

The community was very helpful in bringing me on board, but I also learned that no one is going to do the work for you. I think a mistake a lot of people make when they start trying to do open-source is that they expect the maintainers/community to help them at the first inconvenience they might have. I learned that this was not true, and unlike a company, where someone might be inclined to help you because it’s their job, in open-source, no one owes you anything. So, to get anywhere, you have to do the hard work yourself—learning the ins and outs of the project before you try wasting someone else’s time.

 

Q. At 16 years old, you landed your first non-internship job at Tetrate, an application networking and security company. Can you share how you found the opportunity or how it found you?

 

A. Varun Talwar, one of the co-creators and founding product managers of Istio and gRPC at Google, left in early 2018 to start Tetrate. As CEO of Tetrate, he noticed that I was a maintainer of Istio and messaged me to chat. At that time, we were both based out of Fremont, California. He was interested in my contributions to the project and sold Tetrate’s vision really well. He offered me a job and I said yes. I was given a lot of freedom at Tetrate and was able to work on both open-source and things that were important to the company. Varun was, and still is, a great mentor. I learned a lot from him.

 

Q. In Oct 2022, you joined Aviatrix. How did you learn about Aviatrix? What attracted you most?

 

A. I knew Aviatrix’s VP of Engineering Josh Blatt and VP of Software Development Mandar Jog from the Istio project. They worked at Google at the time. Josh tried to set up an internship at Google for me during my first few months of contributing, and it didn’t work out due to Google’s, “We don’t hire minors” policy. I never forgot this vote of confidence from Josh. Aviatrix was just the natural place to go when I went to college, as I wanted to grow and learn from the best. Plus, Aviatrix has an office in Champaign where we both were located. Josh and Mandar recruited me, and the process went smoothly. They did a really good job of getting me excited about the company. It also helped that I would be joining a group of smart, hardworking people, some who I had known from open-source.

 

Q. Since joining the company, what can you share about your team and the company in general?

 

A. My experience at Aviatrix has been very “do it yourself”, which is exactly how I wanted it. There are all sorts of interesting projects going on, and as an engineer, you have the freedom to push something all the way to the finish line. In other words, feature velocity is almost entirely up to you. A good example was Kubernetes integration into the Aviatrix Distributed Cloud Firewall (DCF). Our brilliant Senior Principal Engineer of Open-Source Mitch Connors put together a design for integrating Kubernetes workloads into DCF, and I was inspired to pull together a demo to show to customers. We got positive feedback and talks for integration into the product started immediately.

 

Q. How do you maintain work/life balance?

 

A. Mental and physical health always has to come before everything, because if it doesn’t, the quality of your work drastically decreases. I try to lift weights daily, along with just having a normal social life. Once you do those things, it’s easiest just to not think about the work you have as work, but as an opportunity to learn something new. I’ve found that’s the only way to sustainably output high quality work. You have to like what you’re doing.

 

Q. In middle school and high school, you were not the average student. You’re in your late teens and on your second job. How does this impact your relationship with peers your age?

 

A. There’s not really much of a difference between me and my peers except for the fact that I found what I like to do earlier than some. I just found what I like to do, and persevered through any hardship that came my way. My relationship with my peers is likely the same as anyone else.

 

Q. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

 

A. I’d just like to learn as much as I can, with no end necessarily in mind. I suspect that one learns a lot starting something new, because it’s so hard, so maybe that. But it could also go the other way. If I can learn the most about what I’m interested in by earning a PhD, then I’ll do that. There’s really no telling. I just know that I’ll be doing hard stuff and learning from my mistakes.

 

Q. Who do you admire most? Who has been your biggest champion(s) both professionally and personally?

 

A. As far as professionally, there have been so many people that have looked out for me. All the way back to when I was 14 years old and looking for something to do over the summer, Jake Schwartz, who, at the time, was a manager at Life360, a family-social-networking app, took a chance on me and invited me to join his team as an intern. Who in their right mind would hire a 14-year-old? A year later, Percy Liang hired me at Stanford to work on CodaLab Worksheets. During my Istio days, Varun Talwar gave me my first non-internship job, and I experienced getting treated like an actual employee.

 

When I reached the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was looking for research, Professor Brighten Godfrey took me under his wing and found the perfect project for me. When I got started with Istio, and later of course, Josh Blatt took notice and continues to be quite an inspiration. Others from Aviatrix’s Istio team who have helped me a lot include Mandar Jog, Mitch Connors, as well as Principal Engineers Nate Mittler, and Piotr Sikora. From Istio open-source, John Howard, has been helpful. And personally, my family has always been there for me.

 

Aditya Prerepa

Aditya Prerepa is a Software Engineer at Aviatrix and a Research Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently earning a BS in Computer Science and Philosophy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and expects to complete in 2025. Connect with Aditya on LinkedIn here. View the Careers page for the latest Aviatrix job openings.