Originally from San Francisco, Rice CS sophomore Ani Kunaparaju has been working with startups since seventh grade. “I set up lab environments for a startup focused on infrastructure management,” he said. “I found old computers, set them up, configured out-of-band access, that sort of thing.” As he continued working for startups, his skill set grew to include bug fixes, web development, and back-end micro-services.
Computer science was definitely high on his radar, but Rice University was not. “I was looking at schools on the East Coast and I considered staying on the West Coast. Rice was just an application I threw out there. I wasn’t even going to visit.” Then the Office of Admission offered to reimburse his travel expenses, so he arrived for Owl Days and attended a CS class.
“I sat in Luay’s class, and I saw he called every student by name,” said Kunaparaju. He couldn’t help comparing the experience to another school he’d visited. “At the other school, I was sitting on the stairs with other people because the class was so full, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.”
He also noticed an abundance of opportunities at Rice. His undergraduate host for the visit had only completed one semester at Rice but was already leading a team to build a new iOS app in Rice Apps. “I hadn’t seen that anywhere else,” he said. “I’d never had it in my criteria that I wanted a small school, but once I saw it, once I was here, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”
In his first semester, he met with the chair of the CS department, Vivek Sarkar, and the Dean of Engineering, Ned Thomas. Kunaparaju said, “I met with Dr. Sarkar and Dr. Thomas while we were trying to build an autonomous car– the dean gave us a golf cart and said ‘go for it.’” Unfortunately, the project took a backburner as Kunaparaju and his peers entered COMP 182, but they hope to be back on track next semester.
In addition to leading the autonomous car project, helping organize HackRice, and getting elected as a CS Club officer, Kunaparaju also began working for Polymail.
Although he’s consistently worked for startups, this was his first experience with a Y Combinator company. The team of six rented a four-bedroom apartment “office” in San Francisco, and worked in the living room around the clock.
“We set our own hours,” Kunaparaju said, “so I usually started around 10 in the morning and wrapped up after midnight.” He tried to sleep at his parents’ home, but sometimes crashed in one of the “office” bedrooms. “We essentially worked 7 days a week, but I did take time to hang out with friends.”
Kunaparaju was pushing updates to the production environment quite often, and things didn’t always go as planned. The frantic pace lasted all summer and then he returned to classes at Rice, while his team participated in Demo Day at Y Combinator in San Francisco to find out if they qualified for further funding. He plans to continue working part-time for Polymail around his course schedule.
Regardless of the often intense schedule, Kunaparaju remains fascinated by the opportunities found in startups. He said, “I can have a positive impact on the product and the culture that the startup is building.”