Humans of Harker: Enterprising engineer

Anirudh Kotamraju finds comfort in coding and spreads positivity


Ananya Sriram

“When you’re trying to solve a coding problem or trying to accomplish a task, there are many different ways to go about it. You can use different programming tools, languages, or different algorithms. You have quite a bit of freedom, and being able to look at situations through different lenses is important to finding the most efficient solution,” Anirudh Kotamraju (12) said.

Anirudh Kotamraju (12) recalls his memories as a seventh grader, rising from a couch in fascination and abandoning the show on his television, instead fixated on a simple game of Pong running on his uncle’s computer. He stood transfixed as his uncle changed one variable in long chunks of code, making the Pong ball move faster, or increased a number by a few digits, instantly painting the ball with another color. Anirudh remembers this exact moment to be the beginning of his journey in computer science.

Despite not previously being heavily engaged in coding, Anirudh describes his discovery of being able to control a simple application or program on a computer as a turning point in his life. For the next five years, coding became his passion. Throughout his journey in coding, he pursued making websites or applications for phones and laptops, bringing together both his creative and problem-solving skills.

“When you’re trying to solve a coding problem or trying to accomplish a task, there are many different ways to go about it,” Anirudh said. “You can use different programming tools, languages, or different algorithms. You have quite a bit of freedom, and being able to look at situations through different lenses is important to finding the most efficient solution.”

From working on HTML, C++ and JavaScript websites and servers during his start with coding to making a facial recognition application to potentially expedite attendance and working on software in the robotics team, Anirudh never shies away from taking risks and stepping up to go above and beyond. He recalls his memories of a challenging hackathon, where taking a chance to redo his work allowed him and his team member to succeed in creating a working algorithm.

“We were coding pretty late into the night with only a few hours left, but once we had finally run our algorithm, it failed,” Anirudh said. “I decided to continue on the project, even though it was very late into the night, and I redid the entire algorithm. We were able to get it to work 30 minutes before the deadline.”

Anirudh has also stepped out of his comfort zone by taking on a leadership role as the president of AI club, where he shares his passion of artificial intelligence with the club members by teaching them about machine learning and its uses. Trying the new experience of leading a group of people who have different ideas and thoughts while learning to understand them was a new experience for Anirudh, who had not been in this position of leadership before.

“Being open to trying new experiences in general is really important, because it takes you out of your comfort zone,” Anirudh said. “That’s where you learn about what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, [and] who you are as a person.”

Assisting AI club members through not only the concepts of AI but also the world of technology served as a learning curve for Anirudh. Because he was previously used to working on coding by himself, the club brought Anirudh into a new world of communication, interaction and new perspectives.

“The biggest thing that leading the AI club has taught me is to be very open-minded,” Anirudh said. “When you’re trying to develop new ideas, like new workshops or events, to get new people to come you have to be open to trying new things.”

Guiding the members of the AI club has also taught Anirudh to be patient, level-headed and persistent, values that have accompanied him wherever he goes. He carries these values to competitive events, where he combines these qualities with his leadership skills to effectively carry a team through pressure, even in difficult situations.

In the National Economics Challenge, an economics competition testing principles of micro and macro economics along with global economic concepts, Anirudh served as a motivated and organized team player that helped the team place in the top five in the California chapter of the competition, a fond memory that teammate Rohan Rashingkar (12) remembers clearly.

“We were tied with another team,” Rohan said. “It was a very important moment, and all the rest of us in the team were panicking, [but] he was able to calm himself down and everyone else down and answer the question correctly.”

Along with Anirudh’s leadership, one of his major strengths is his passion to learn. Close friend since sixth grade Saahas Kohli (12) admires the dedication and effort Anirudh puts into his interests.

“He’s loved creating for six years, [and] he immerses himself in the field and gets every scrap of knowledge,” Saahas said. “If you ask him literally anything about the tech industry, he’ll give you a 10-second summary immediately. He’s a born engineer.”

Outside the classroom and competitive environment, Anirudh hopes to help others, whether it be through his technological developments or simply by boosting the mood around him. Close friend since elementary school Daniel Fields (12) recognizes Anirudh’s ability to create a welcoming and bright environment that can lift his friends’ spirits.

“He’s really light-hearted and cheerful,” Daniel said. “If you’re stressed out and you’re having a bad day, he won’t hesitate to come over and lighten the mood and cheer you up and make you feel better.”

Anirudh’s willingness to create a positive environment extends past his close friends, as he makes a point to make everyone comfortable, even if it means putting himself in the spotlight to help others.

“Once everyone was eating lunch, and a bunch of people were teasing this kid,” Saahas said. “[Anirudh] stepped up and told everyone to stop, and they did it immediately. I really admire him for doing stuff like that.”

Anirudh channels the same adventurous spirit that encouraged him to lead the AI club by exploring new activities such as playing chess, flying drones and biking with his brother, Keshav Kotamraju (9). His love for exploration has allowed him to learn new interests, such as chess, which, despite not piquing his interest before, has now become a thrilling pastime due to the beauty of the game. Similarly, by venturing into the outside world via his drone and bike, Anirudh explores the same areas he has known for a long time from a different perspective.

“There’s a really nice explorative component to it, [since] we don’t usually go in the same paths, we’ll always try to find new and different ones,” Anirudh said. “With biking I’m exploring the world on the ground but [with] the drone it’s from the skies and it calms my mind since there’s no boundaries to where you can go. You never know what you’re going to come across.”