Developers’ Corner: Fall 2021

Developers’ Corner is a segment in the Rokwire Insider newsletter where we sit down with the people who contribute to our innovative projects. In this issue, we introduce Sandeep.  

Sandeep Puthanveetil Satheesan is a Technical Lead on the Rokwire initiative and a Senior Research Programmer at the NCSA. His work is integral to Rokwire and his leadership has guided the platform development team through the release of the Illinois and Safer Illinois apps. We asked him a few questions about his experience as a key member of the team and how he came to join the initiative. 

What are the main responsibilities in your role on Rokwire? 

In this role, I lead platform development activities related to Building Blocks, the backend modules that provide core Rokwire functionalities. I work with a team of Research Software Engineers from NCSA who develop software for these modules – namely Yongwook Kim, Bing Zhang, and Minu Mathew – and some part-time student developers. 

How did you come to work on Rokwire?   

I started working on Rokwire at the end of 2018. Then, Dr. Kenton McHenry (current Associate Director of Software Directorate, NCSA) got a request through the Computer Science department about a new project on smart communities. He introduced me to the project and asked if I could lead the NCSA’s team. I had some reservations, but my managers had confidence in me. Soon enough, I also convinced myself that this would be an exciting journey (which turned out to be more than what I expected at times!) 

What were you doing before you joined the project? 

Before starting on Rokwire, I worked on various projects on unstructured data and its analysis, research data management, and computer vision at NCSA. For half of my time, I work on Rokwire and the other half on two research projects at NCSA. One is a Cover Crop decision support web application for farmers, crop researchers, and policymakers. The other one is a big data historical newspaper analysis system for studying the evolution of juvenile delinquency. 

How do you see platform development evolving over the next several years? 

I see the Rokwire Platform maturing and becoming more stable in its underlying architecture while constantly changing on its surface with new features. I believe that we will be getting more contributions from the open-source community and adoption by other universities or communities, which will widen the horizons of platform development. Eventually, I think Rokwire will become the go-to operating system for the smart communities of tomorrow. 

What are some recent developments on Rokwire that you closely worked on? 

Currently, I am working with our team of developers on a web application called the Rokwire Contributions Catalog for those who would like to contribute specific modules to the platform. We hope that this will enable more existing systems to be integrated with Rokwire. I also worked closely to get released the 3.0 version of another web application called Events Manager, which helps to manage and send events to the Illinois app. 

What advice would you give to someone who just started their career in software development? 

Focus on learning and applying computer science and software development basics while keeping an eye on the larger goal or vision of the problem at hand. Software developers are engineers and hence problem solvers. So, we need to go beyond designing and developing software to ensure that our contributions solve the entrusted issues. 

What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now? 

A recent exciting thing that I’m involved with is the discussions and tasks to make the platform more welcoming to contributors from both non-technical and technical backgrounds. 

Where would I find you outside of work? 

I am an amateur keyboardist, and I enjoy attending musical concerts. I also love watching movies and documentaries at home and in the theaters. I like to travel a bit to visit natural and historic destinations. I am not an avid reader, but I try to read some non-fiction and light reads during my free time. 

What is a quality that you appreciate about yourself? 

That would be patience, something that I believe is one of my strengths. 

What is a quality that you appreciate in others? 

I admire people who have excellent listening skills. 

What is one skill that you think everyone should learn or try to learn? 

I think everyone should try to learn more than one language (human or computer or both)! 

What motivates you in life? 

I am intrigued by the wide variety of technical and other challenges and problems that I see around. Given my training in computer science, I firmly believe that I can help solve or contribute significantly to address some of those challenges. That keeps me motivated. So do my family and friends, who support and encourage me tremendously. 

What is something most people don’t know about you? 

I didn’t have much experience with computers or computer science until my first year in college.