Nikunj Shah ’08:
IT and Photography
During his time at Arcadia, Nikunj Shah ’08 majored in Computer Science and minored in Photography. He was an active member of the Arcadia community, participating in FYSAE (First Year Study Abroad Experience), working in the Community Service Office, and interning for AdminServe.
Today, Shah works for Vanguard’s Information Technology department and spends his free time taking photographs. He recently had an exhibit at Framing by Walter in Philadelphia. I sat down with him to ask him about his time at Arcadia and his two not-so-different passions—computers and photography.
Q: How did your time at Arcadia shape your present career decisions?
A: Through my four years at Arcadia, I learned that I needed to have a human aspect in my career. I had two internships that were straight software development with little interaction with other people, and I found that I did not enjoy that particular aspect of development. So I found myself looking for a position in which I would be able write code while still interacting with people.
Q: You majored in Computer Science and minored in Photography. If you had to decide between IT and Photography, which would you choose?
A: That is a difficult choice to make because the two fields are actually more similar than most people think. Software development is clearly a technical field but it requires a fair amount of creativity when solving problems that are given to you. Photography, on the other hand, is artistic but in my opinion it is the most technical of the studio arts. The two play off of each other and allow me to exercise both sides of my brain. But, I think I do enjoy the IT field more than photography. Software is forever extensible, while photos are restricted by medium and atmosphere.
Q: How did you go from a minor in Photography to having your own exhibit
A: As with any other hobby, I like to stay current with recent photography. The Rittenhouse Square museums and galleries had a Gallery Night similar to First Friday in Old City. At the end of the night, I stopped in a framing shop that had a few pictures up and started talking to the owner. He gave me his contact information, and I sent him a portfolio of work. He liked my work so much that he asked me to work on a new set of work and to let him know when I would be ready to hang them.
Q: What do you enjoy most about photography?
A: The most enjoyable aspect of photography is how often I am surprised by the outcome. Even with planning and set up, pictures always come out different than expected, allowing me to discover a new picture I never dreamed of.
Q: What’s it like working at Vanguard? What’s a typical day like? Do you enjoy it?
A: Working at Vanguard is exactly as one would expect at a large business. It is a far-reaching company with many large systems and lots of work. As such, everyday is different for me. I have had the good luck of being placed on a team that has the ability to do everything day in and day out. My day-to-day responsibilities include discussing requirements with clients, testing applications with clients, inspecting co-worker applications as well as getting knee deep in code and writing applications. Being a part of the entire life cycle of an application gives me the opportunity to not only code, which I enjoy, but also the ability to talk to clients, which I crave.
Q: What was the single most important thing you learned and achieved while at Arcadia?
A: I think the most important thing I learned at Arcadia was the importance of helping others and working on behalf of others. After working in the Community Service Office for three years and coordinating an Empty Bowl Dinner, I’ve found that there is nothing as fulfilling as bettering another human being’s life.
Q: Did you discover anything surprising about the fields you’re currently working in, specifically early on in your career?
A: The most surprising thing I’ve found in my field is the breadth of ways something can be done. Growing up, I considered programming to be as clear-cut as math, with only one or two ways to do something. However, I now see that there are a dozen different ways to logically solve a problem and several ways to implement each solution. It confused me a little when I first started to maintain applications and each one did the same thing in a different way.
Q: Considering that you’re a recent graduate, what advice would you give to students who are graduating soon and entering the workforce?
A: Do your best to balance being true to yourself and understanding the realities of the current atmosphere while considering the long term. While it’s nice to hope for your dream job right out of school, you may have to take a less than perfect job to gain experience for your perfect job. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb—organizations and jobs have a way of surprising you.