Andy Youniss has played guitar at the House of Blues and the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. He’s opened for world-famous musicians like Aerosmith, Maroon Five, Elvis Costello, Elton John, and Fun. And he’s done it all as part of his job as president and CEO of a computer programming company, Rocket Software.
Youniss, who earned his B.S. in computer science from Catholic University in 1983, spoke about how he’s integrated music into his computer career during a presentation to students and alumni April 21 in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. The talk “Come Together: Making a Difference with Music and Software” was co-hosted by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and the School of Engineering.
Youniss shared that he began playing guitar in the second grade and piano in the fourth. Later, he was introduced to computer programming as a student at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a science and technology magnet school in Greenbelt, Md.
When he came to Catholic University, he decided to pursue computer science as a career, but to keep music as a hobby. During his sophomore year, he took an internship at an engineering firm in Washington, D.C., where he was tasked with programming the company’s first computer. While there, he began to see the parallels between the two disciplines.
Organized as a conversation between the dean and the director, the discussion covered topics including leadership, the recent controversy over privacy and public safety involving Apple, cybersecurity, and traits of a good lawyer.
“Programming became this kind of puzzle to me,” Youniss explained. “Just like how on guitar, there are six strings and 12 frets and on a piano there are 88 keys and eight notes, with a computer, how much simpler can you get than zeroes and ones? You can make it do anything by putting the right sequence of zeroes and ones next to each other.”
By arranging the zeroes and ones of binary code in certain ways, Youniss found he could create programs that would elicit a positive response in his clients. Just like performing a song for an audience, he realized building a quality computer program can also have a positive effect.
After graduating from CUA and founding Rocket Software in 1990, Youniss discovered even more ways music could help his career. Everywhere he went, he found clients and coworkers who were also musicians. By opening up about his passion for guitar and piano, he was able to build happier, more satisfying work relationships. He even found a creative outlet by starting The Rocket Band, a company band of more than 60 musicians from around the world.
Over time, Youniss’ musical talents became so well-known in the software world that he began opening for bands during technology conferences. The first time he opened for the band Fun, Youniss didn’t think it went well. Yet, the crowd responded positively.
“I realized later that it wasn’t about me and my playing,” Youniss said. “It was about authenticity, it was about sharing, it was about creativity, and it was about innovation. Sharing my music and integrating my music into my company’s persona was creative and authentic and that really touched people.”
Because he has been so successful by bringing his personality and passions into his work, Youniss advised students to bring their own unique interests and hobbies into their work as well.
“You all can make a difference by integrating those things into your life that you are passionate about,” he said.
Freshman Jesse Williams was among those students who attended Youniss’ talk. A mechanical engineering major, Williams also plays guitar and piano whenever he has the chance. He said he was inspired by the way Youniss has connected his two passions in his work.
“It’s awesome how he showed the importance of being a well-rounded person,” Williams said. “Having a CEO come and show us that he values employees who have been captains of sports teams or who can play an instrument and haven’t focused solely on having a 4.0 is great to hear. It makes me happy because we still have time to pursue these things and become well-rounded if we aren’t already.”