Building the right thing

When Rotimi Opeke ’12 speaks about technology, he describes it as a window to a world of possibilities. “The beautiful thing about technology is that being able to understand it gives you a ton of perspective,” he pointed out. “Because I understand how different technologies work, I can use them as building blocks to discover and implement new solutions.”

Reflecting on Opeke’s Peddie career, technology might seem like just one building block among many. He was a prefect, an athlete, student body president and a co-leader of the Multicultural Alliance. But a single computer science class, taught by Tim Corica, would lead Opeke to his future calling.

“Looking back, there were so many guardrails [Corica] put up for new students to be successful in their first coding experience,” Opeke reminisced. “It was the perfect starter course.”

After learning Javascript at Peddie, Opeke continued to pursue computer science at Stanford University. Stanford courses were broader and more advanced, but Opeke was emboldened by a well-rounded Peddie experience. “I was able to chart my own path,” he said.

That path would take Opeke in an unexpected direction.

Despite excelling in computer science and spending his summer after college building a stock portfolio visualizer and an app that would keep him up to date on his favorite sports team’s latest scores, Opeke found himself drawn to particular questions: Why do we build? What new innovations best serve users? How can the user experience be optimized? 

In short, Opeke said, “I’d rather build the right thing.”

I'd rather build the right thing.

Today, Opeke is a product manager at Stripe, a financial technology company that enables online payments. If you’ve shopped online, you’ve probably used a Stripe product without even knowing it. Opeke doesn’t code Stripe’s features; instead, he works to plan the features of the future and keep Stripe and its users competitive in the tech ecosystem.

Opeke has some ideas about the way this ecosystem will continue to evolve. “It’s a lot easier to monetize ‘the self,’” he said. “Every individual has an opportunity to bring services and goods to the table, and that is monetizable in ways we’ve never seen before. One person can set up a store, enable shipping and transact on the internet, all within a day.” 

This newfound online independence has already made great strides since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a society, we were forced to get creative,” he continued. “There’s going to be a return to normal, and people who appreciate the brick-and-mortar experience will move back to that. But it’s also forced us to question some of the paradigms in commerce and fintech.”

Opeke recently lent his expertise to Peddie’s Computer Science Club as a guest speaker. “When I was going to Peddie, being able to code was a weird, niche, nerdy thing,” he said. “It may still be a weird, niche, nerdy thing. But I’m glad that it’s less so than when I was at school.”