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John Paul Interview

Originally emailed as "PGSS Alumni Interview with John Paul" in March 2018

John Paul is a 2002 PGSS alumnus and was a Chemistry TA for the program from 2005 to 2007. As a student, John participated in the physics team project and laboratory, but enjoyed core courses such as organic chemistry with Dr. Farrell and computer science with Dr. Burch as well. He lived in Bucks County at the time and attended a small Christian high school in New Jersey, giving him the distinction of being the only student in his class to attend a high school outside Pennsylvania. Finding his school’s curriculum lacking in rigor, he studied for AP exams and SAT Subject Tests during his free time at the encouragement of his parents. These efforts quickly earned him the badge of “nerd” among his peers, which was a challenging label to embrace since it seemed to conflict with his desire to have fun beyond academics. John’s experience at PGSS 2002 was the first time he ever encountered people his own age who were both studious and sociable, and his friendships with fellow Govies empowered him to lead a balanced life in college and beyond.

Having developed a passion for organic chemistry at PGSS, John pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at New York University after high school. He graduated in 2007 and planned to spend a gap year taking the GRE and applying to graduate schools. Needing a way to support himself, he decided to explore job opportunities. Since he wanted to stay in New York City, John decided not to pursue work in New Jersey, despite the many jobs available in the pharmaceutical industry there. Since jobs involving chemistry were few and far between in the city, he applied to a computer programming internship he found on the NYU website. He was pleased to get a phone interview and then even more surprised to hear that the computer science training he had picked up during PGSS 2002 and while hanging out with the computer science TAs for three summers was enough to qualify him for a full-time position instead of an internship. Since that first job, John has continued working in the computer technology sector and has enjoyed turning his hobby of web design into a decade-long career. To succeed in a field in which he had no formal training, John utilized the confidence and diligence gained during PGSS to learn necessary skills through online courses and self-study.

Combining his computer programming ability and interpersonal skills, John worked in several software engineering management jobs over the years. Currently, he is Principal Architect for Condé Nast, a mass media company that owns major brands including The New Yorker, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. In this role, John takes a people-centric approach to programming and engages in strategic technology projects. While transitioning into management, he realized that as a student, PGSS taught him how to have fun and work hard, but as a TA, PGSS taught him how to manage projects and people.

John fondly remembers the three summers he spent as a TA, especially what a privilege it was to breathe new life into the program, which was restarted in 2013. The TAs carry on the cultural traditions of PGSS by organizing the daily social activities and helping students tackle their problem sets, labs, and team projects. Many TAs overlap for multiple summers, which has created a unique PGSS cohort that spans the entire history of the program. John attributes his time spent as a TA to the strong affinity he still has for PGSS and hopes that the TA community can be strengthened.

For now, John continues to generously support PGSS in whatever ways he can. He has offered technical advice, participates in alumni events, and makes financial contributions, believing that regular engagement is what builds a close-knit alumni network. In his personal life, he and his wife Skylar are excitedly preparing for the arrival of their triplets in early 2018. John said, “Hopefully that means that nothing else crazy can happen, because we’ve already had the […] ‘getting hit by lightning three times’ experience.” No doubt he’ll have to send in an update next year.