From VHS Comp Sci To IBM

By on June 20, 2016

Will-LaRicciaWill LaRiccia was not, by his own admission, one of the top students in the Verona High School class of 2011. “I think I squeaked out a 3.0,” he recalls. His time at VHS was marked by a passion for golf and computer science, and one of those things helped him  graduate college in record time and land a dream job with IBM, where he already has six patents to his credit.

“Mr. Wertz was absolutely pivotal to my development,” LaRiccia says of the teacher who created the VHS computer science program. “I cannot thank him enough for what my life has become.”

Twelve years ago, Rich Wertz left a job at Goldman Sachs to teach. He has driven enrollment in VHS’ computer science classes from 15 students to more than 100. Many of Wertz’ former students have gone on to major in comp sci in college and some are finding solid careers as a result. With 11 of the 148 members of the Class of 2016 planning on computer science majors and one-sixth of the entire VHS student body enrolled in AP Computer Science for the 2016-2017 school year, it seems a good time to look at one of Wertz’ success stories, Will LaRiccia.

After VHS, LaRiccia attended Arcadia University, a small private college located just outside Philadelphia. You won’t find Arcadia on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top computer science universities, but LaRiccia liked its close-knit feel. “I could be a big fish in a small pond,” he says.

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At Arcadia, he studied some of the most in-demand languages for developers: Java and PHP, C# and Ruby on Rails. He worked on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and expanded his real-world experience (something that Wertz stresses) by landing a co-op placement at IBM.  Many colleges now offer co-operative education programs and internships to help their students make the transition to the working world. Internships are generally unpaid summer assignments, while co-ops like the one LaRiccia did can range from three to 12  months in length and students in them go to work instead of going to school.

One other thing of note: By testing out of some classes and taking summer courses, LaRiccia finished college in just two years. Just two years.

After graduation, LaRiccia went back to work for IBM as a developer. He has gotten to work with Watson, a computer system that understands not only data but language. (Many people first learned of Watson when it won $35,734 on Jeopardy in 2011. It’s now being used in applications like a self-driving bus.) While non-disclosure agreements prevent LaRiccia from discussing his work at IBM in detail, he says he has worked on its WebSphere Application Server and eXtreme Scale, its data storage grid. LaRiccia has also gotten six patents, one of which used Watson to synchronize phone brightness in relation to other devices and the surrounding environment. (Since LaRiccia is an IBM employee, the patents are actually in the name of his company.) For good measure, he also requested an assignment in support, to improve his people skills. “Being able to understand what a customer needs is important to being able to develop products for them,” says LaRiccia.

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What’s next? LaRiccia stresses that, with all the possibilities around him at IBM, he hopes to work at the computer giant “as long as possible”. But, he admits feeling the same tug as many in the computer field to create his own company. “That,” he says, “could be interesting.”

Since 2010, MyVeronaNJ.com has profiled the college and career paths of many VHS graduates. You can read them all by clicking on the “What’s Next” tag.

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One Comment

  1. Edward and Marjorie Duffy

    June 21, 2016 at 11:14 am

    We were so happy to read about Will LaRiccia’s success story. His parents were good friends of ours, and we know how proud they would have been of you! We knew his dad from the time he was born! Congratulations!

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