It’s that time again — the time marking the culmination of our weeks of knocking on doors, sliding into DMs and asking anyone and everyone about the unsung heroes of the local tech scene. Yes, it’s Technical.ly’s annual RealLIST Engineers.
Since 2019 — or 2021, in Pittsburgh’s case — Technical.ly’s had a tradition of setting aside some time to highlight some of the rising stars in the tech industry in the regions we cover. Sometimes this means an academic who spends their weekends running a company. Or, it’s an engineer who has shown their willingness to mentor the next generation. Whether they come from the nonprofit world, opt to use their talents in the public sector, or split their time between the private sector and volunteering, the individuals we’ve highlighted on our RealLISTs are technologists who can be described as influential, collaborative and innovative.
As always, the search for our 2022 RealLIST Engineers began with a public call for nominations. Then, we consulted technologists — thanks to Ben Garvey and Anthony Putignano for their anonymous review of the noms — and looked back through our own coverage. We considered how the person in mind was influential within their organization and community, how they overcame a specific technical challenge, and how they contributed to educating others on technical issues. This final list was curated by the Technical.ly newsroom.
If they’re on the list, it’s because they’ve been making a splash in the City of Bridges. Keep scrolling to find out how.
Amil Cook, director of technology at Community Forge and founder of Amil Cook Consulting
Cook is a Morehouse College graduate and self-described hip hop technologist. As a consultant, he’s developed tech curriculum for Black youth and led marketing and media strategy for a number of social enterprises.
In his capacity as the director of technology programs and curriculum at Wilkinsburg-based Community Forge, Cook founded teen computer program BootUpPGH and, per his nominator, helped the org secure a contract with a big-name tech company. Previously, he’s also worked as a computer science and graphic design educator.
Max Dennison, digital inclusion specialist at the City of Pittsburgh, coordinator of the Rec2Tech program, and cofounder of Beta Builders
Dennison is a self-taught technologist trying to inspire more Black and brown technologists, one recreation center at a time. As the City’s digital inclusion specialist and coordinator of the Rec2Tech STEM education program, Dennison has combined his background in teaching and knowledge acquired as a self taught technologist. How? By taking STEM classes directly to kids at recreation centers, and occasionally in schools. Dennison also cofounded Beta Builders, a free coding summer camp for Pittsburgh kids ages 10 to 18, with Anthony Harper.
Dennison does it all to pay it forward and give back the positive things he was given by mentoring and college readiness programs in his own childhood.
“I know for a fact now, as an adult, had I not been in those programs, I may not have went to college because I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily been exposed to university life,” he told Technical.ly this summer. “So I’m hoping to make that same impact, but in a tech way.”
Jacob Driggs, chair of Meta Mesh Wireless Communities’ technical advisory board and senior staff tech lead manager at Aurora
Driggs got his technical start in 2016 at Uber as an engineering manager in its department of systems engineering and testing. Since 2021 he’s been working full time at local autonomous vehicle company Aurora as a systems engineering manager and now as a senior staff tech lead manager.
Through the years while he’s been at Uber and Aurora, Driggs has stayed busy with a host of projects that focus on providing technology to those who lack access. He’s the owner of FIFTY7 Solutions, an org that provides technology concierge services to small businesses, law firms, and nonprofits. And of course, you might be most familiar with him from Meta Mesh, where he’s served as chair of its technical advisory board since 2016.
“Meta Mesh wouldn’t be around without Jake, period,” his nominator told Technical.ly.
Meesha Gerhart, founder and CEO of RedTree Web Design
Gerhart is trying to get more women in the STEM field. By day, she’s the founder and CEO of a web design company that helps businesses build a strong foundation online. Gerhart has also been a web specialist designer for the Chatham Women’s Business Center, designing services “geared specifically to women in underserved communities and the challenges they face in starting, growing, and succeeding in business,” per her LinkedIn. Additionally, she’s been on the board of RedChairPGH, and org working toward gender balance in the Pittsburgh tech industry.
Gary Hlusko, application developer at Libsyn and founder of PirateMaps and Gridtech
Hlusko is a web application developer and a senior engineer — and he’s founded a handful of companies throughout his career. If PirateMaps, Gridtech, or Cargo Inc. sound familiar to you, know that Hlusko’s the man behind them. As a self-described “data junkie,” Hlusko has worked at the University of Pittsburgh as a data manager, been the growth data analyst for RoadBotics, and has been a software developer in industries from medical research to nonprofits.
Never content to work on just one thing, Hlusko splits his time between working for Libsyn and offering his time as a data and programming consultant to well-known social media brands such as Twitter, Reddit and Facebook in addition to providing research for government policies and fundraising. In the past, he also developed a program to make teaching Russian easier with an English keyboard.
According to his nominator, what makes Hlusko stand is his willingness to communicate and collaborate: “He is communicative and collaborative, and very generous with his time while getting his work done,” they wrote. “He’s pushed forward various initiatives at the organization to improve efficiency. He’s assertive while being collaborative. His technical knowledge and ability to communicate it, despite being self-taught, is staggering.”
Aniket Kittur, founder and CEO of Skeema and professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University
Kittur has been making headlines for figuring out a way to Marie Kondo your tabs. As a software engineer, the cofounder of data analysis company Datasquid, and a researcher with a Ph.D. in psychology, Kittur’s no stranger to thinking about how the human mind and technology interact. It’s probably why when he realized he frequently had multiple tabs open on his computer at any given time, he wondered how it was impacting people. So, he conducted a study on the subject, and he and his fellow researchers found that having never-ending tabs on everything from vacation plans to work was bad for the average person’s focus.
Upon making that realization, Kittur took it one step further and offered a solution to the problem: Skeema. The product offers an extension that allows users to declutter their browsers by saving tabs and managing documents to encourage focusing on one task at a time.
You also can find Kittur at CMU, where he’s been fa professor for the past 13 years. What makes Kittur stand out, according to the university, is his creativity — so much so earlier in the year, Kittur was elected to Chi Academy, of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction, an honor reserved for individuals who have contributed significantly to the field.
“His interdisciplinary research stands out for its combination of fearless creativity, intellectual rigor, and real world impact, as well as the way it integrates cognitive and social science with artificial intelligence (AI) and interaction techniques,” CMU’s announcement said. “Kittur’s research has made lasting contributions to augmenting the human intellect by introducing new social and technical designs that scale thinking beyond the limits of individual cognition.”
Taryn Malavite, president of getWITit Pittsburgh and professional services delivery manager at Boomi
Malavite is the current president of getWITit Pittsburgh, a nonprofit focused on getting more women involved in tech. Prior to her current Boomi position, she worked at Duquesne Light Company for 20 years, occupying positions such as senior manager of IT business solutions, senior manager of IT planning and business solutions, and DEI chair.
She’s also been the website administrator for De Novo Pittsburgh Chiropractic and Health, and a mentor volunteer for Strong Women, Strong Girls, among other service roles.
Felix Matathias, engineering manager at Meta
The FAANG software engineer is currently an engineering manager at Facebook’s parent company. In the half decade he’s been in Pittsburgh, he’s made a name for himself as a software engineering manager at Uber and SVP of technology at PNC Bank. Prior to coming to the city, he worked for Bloomberg LP for a decade as an engineer.
Check out his interview for Technical.ly’s Introduced series about how to get ready for an intensive technical interview. It features a lil’ anecdote about preparing for his most recent role out of the Carnegie Library.
Candice McDermott, tech committee co-manager at getWITit Pittsburgh
McDermott wears a lot of hats. She’s the co-manager of getWITit Pittsburgh’s tech committee, and has spent the past decade freelancing as a front-end web developer.
Her resume also includes titles such as volunteer website and communications support leader for anti-human trafficking org The Asservo Project; director of web and marketing for TrailBlaze Creative, an advertising agency for business and nonprofit; and VP of marketing and community development at Realize Labs, an org that examines barriers in the wearable technology industry.
Yvette Menase, senior project manager at Libsyn
Menase is the senior product manager at Libsyn and the founder of Collaboration Career Coaching, which provides guidance in the job search from the interview process to salary negotiation. Additionally, Menase serves as Code and Supply’s director and program manager of surveys, where she leads a team that publishes and analyzes reports on compensation and tech lifestyles.
Menase is also involved in numerous volunteer projects such as mentoring middle and high schoolers in STEM via FortyX80, the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s nonprofit division.
Heather Miller, assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University
Miller is a tenure-track assistant professor at CMU’s School of Computer Science, where she participated in the department’s recent rebranding effort: The former Institute for Software Research is now known as the Software and Societal Systems Department.
Miller is an experienced researcher who also cofounded the nonprofit Scala Center, which is focused on software development, education and research surrounding the open-source Scala programming language. Sh has also served as a research assistant at the University of Minnesota and University of Utah and a doctoral assistant at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Nicholas Nystrom, chief technology officer at Peptilogics
Nystrom became the CTO at the biotech company at the start of this year after joining the startup in early 2021. The move followed nearly 30 years at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, first spearheading strategic applications there before become the senior director of research and finally, the center’s chief scientist. He holds a BS in chemistry and math from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as a Ph.D. from the university in computational chemistry.
Why the change? “I like to wake up and realize that what I’m doing will make a difference in people’s lives,” he told Technical.ly in January.
Nystrom has won a number of awards recognizing him for teaching, leadership and research skills. Furthermore, he’s a longtime member of the American Alpine Club, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society.
Matt Riffle, chief technology officer at Pair Networks
Despite opting to stay in the same place for long, his coworkers describe Riffle as a person who is constantly willing to learn and evolve with the times.
“Matt is ALWAYS learning, ALWAYS helpful, and incredibly knowledgeable and loves to share his knowledge with anyone at the company regardless of technical level,” his nominator wrote. “He is innovative, quick, and responsive. This leadership sets the model for the rest of the employees, which is demonstrated in promotions, long tenure, and their five-star reviews on TrustPilot.”
Armin Samii, founder and CEO of Dashcam for Your Bike
Samii wants to make Pittsburgh streets safer, and he’s been using his software engineering skills to make that happen one app and partnership at a time. After Samii experienced how little legal recourse cyclists have when he was hit by a car, he founded Dashcam for your Bike (fka Robot Armin), an application that offers its users a way to turn their smartphones into dashcams that can record accidents, hazards, and cars blocking bike lanes and other road hazards.
Recently, as a part of the PGH Lab Cohort 7.0 — a program that connects local startups with local government — the 2022 RealLIST Startups runner-up added the hazard map feature which enables users to report hazards directly to 311.
“There’s nobody you can talk to, there’s nothing that gets done, and the Dashcam app gives you a place to put that anger and turn it into action,” Samii told Technical.ly in September. “What I’m hoping is that it becomes clear that we need more infrastructure protection on the bike lanes, and we need more enforcement.”
When he’s not running Dashcam for your Bike, Samii keeps busy by involving himself in political advocacy. Since 2020 he’s been a software consultant for nonprofits and has taken on projects such as text banking software for progressive candidates, and working on UberCheats, a project which sought to help gig workers get paid daily. Additionally, as safety rarely seems to be far from Samii’s mind, he’s the chair of Safe Streets Lawrenceville, an org which seeks to make the neighborhood a safer place to bike and walk.
Molly Urbina, mechanical design engineer II at Deeplocal
Urbina is now an engineer at the creative technology and experience design company where she previously worked at as an intern.
Through the years, Urbina has worked for Pittsburgh’s Gecko Robotics and IAM Robotics in an engineering capacity, and at one point was a teaching assistant during the summers at CMU. The Girls of Steel alum has made it a point to mentor budding technologists, too, including by volunteering with the youth-focused FIRST Robotics.
Sarah Withee, founder of Code Thesaurus and consulting software engineer at 18F
Withee is a consulting software engineer at 18F, the an office within the US General Services Administration that helps the federal government buy and build technology. Additionally, she’s authored an engineering guide designed for GSA software consultants.
You can frequently find her coleading a talk series for her fellow software engineers working for GSA orgs and even working with the Department of State to modernize its websites, improve accessibility and enable public accountability.
But those are just the things Withee gets paid to do. She is also the lead mentor for Girls of Steel Robotics team, founded open-source polyglot developer tool Code Thesaurus, leads the Code & Supply conduct team, and mentored the Girls of Steel BuzzBand project team, which invented an arm band to help autistic children exercise. According to her nominator, Withee has built a reputation for using her engineering abilities to mentor young people and make the work a better place.
“To experience the diversity of the world through robotics and with mentors like Sarah is giving them an impression that will last a lifetime,” they wrote. “Sarah’s taking a lot of time and care to help them succeed, and they do: She knows the details of Girls of Steel’s successes and her other mentors have raved to me about how much they love working with Sarah and how much the kids do, too.”
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments.