This is the About page where I’m suppose to give you a bulleted list of GitHub repos, degrees and accomplishments that validate my existence on this planet… I’ve never been good at that. My LinkedIn page is a constant struggled for me to word things the right way.
Instead, maybe I’ll tell a story.
My name is Riyad Kalla – I’ve spent my life in technology and my career in software development & engineering leadership.
I don’t know why I got so hooked on technology, but I was all-in by 12 and running my own 2-node BBS (56k US Robotics modems for those that remember the stone age of the internet) with subscribers and everything.
I also owe my passion for technology to video games – I loved them from the word ‘Go’. I want to thank my dad for early on saying I could have any games / game systems as long as I figured out how to sell what I had to make money to pay for the next one.
The intersection of my passions with making money was truly a light-bulb moment of: “I LOVE THIS”.
From 7th to 12th grade I had my own side business servicing and selling computers / small networks – I really enjoyed that. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Not in the “I want to be a VC in the bay area!” way, but in the “I want to grow something from a tiny seed!” kind of way.
From there I went into Community College courses on C/C++ while wrapping up high school and then a Computer Science degree from the University of Arizona where I fell in love with the initial release of Java.
The next 10 years was a blur of Java server side (Servlets, EJB, JSF, etc.) and client side (AWT/Swing) with 15 or so Open Source projects.
I couldn’t stop coding – I loved it. 12 hours a day and double-digit opensource projects of coding was a total dream.
All the problem solving of how to make things go faster or be uncrashable / automatic recovery were obsessions to me. Reading the JVM specification to understand what my enhanced-for-loops were turning into so I could make them faster and use less memory was the name of the game.
Somewhere along the way my passion for tech and people gave me opportunities to grow into engineering leadership.
It started small (a few people on a team) and as it does, grew in bigger teams and more responsibility. This was when decisions I was being asked to make really started to impact and effect P/L, future revenue, etc.
I couldn’t get enough of it – being dialed into the community, giving webinars, presentations at conferences (JavaONE, EclipseCon) and talking to our biggest customers to bring the bugs and feature requests back into our roadmap was A BLAST.
All the work we did was so directly purposeful and tied back to the customer mission.
Overlapping with this time, I created a small blogging network of Tech (Break it Down Blog), Humor and Politics blogs and had a staff of 5 writers working with me.
I dabbled in YouTube videos back then as well for some game reviews – it was fun, but ultimately too slow going and I wasn’t terribly good at it.
These were the early days of blogging when sites likes TechCrunch were coming up and we were all competing for the same eyeballs, but I grew that site to 1 million/unique visitors a month and I’m pretty proud of that.
After that I spent 2 years on a mini-sabbatical to decompress and get back to my tech roots. During that time I became obsessed with cloud technologies – AWS was just starting to blow up and these were new days ahead of us.
During that time I had one of the most active posting accounts on the AWS Support forums – both learning and helping people out.
I found myself particularly passionate around CDN/global-scaleout w/ low latency type problems the most interesting.
From there, I was fortunate enough to interviewed by an amazing team at PayPal that asked me to join as a manager. So I spent 7 years at PayPal growing from a manager with a few teams to a 120-person organization. I couldn’t be more thankful for that journey or the people I got to do it with – that was such an incredibly fun adventure.
Every moment of every day I tried to leave a path of happy, passionate people who knew the mission we were on, knew their part in it and felt cared for behind me.
One of the most wonderful moments of my personal and professional life was receiving a 30-page, hand written “We Will Miss You!” book, signed by everyone in the organization across all the global locations – letters of thanks, letters of regret, letters of next steps… all these people that I had grown to know and genuinely feel like were all part of a big family, saying wonderful things.
That meant more to me than they will ever know.
I came home for a year or so to take a break and was approached by the United States Digital Services (USDS) and asked about doing a 2-year tour there.
I was hesitant at first, it wasn’t really the plan to get back to work anytime soon, but after meeting with 4 or 5 of the other USDS folks and understanding what Matt (yes, that Matt) was really doing with the organization – I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Only 2% of applicants make it in and so far it’s been a BLAST.
I don’t know where things go from here, but during my last mini-sabbatical between career changes I was obsessed with Cloud technologies and that ended up being a huge boon to working at PayPal.
This time around, I’m completely captured by blockchain technology AND the micro-incentives model that it creates… the concept of Helium and Chia are brilliant and the tech behind big movements like Cardano are overwhelmingly cool.
The whole ecosystem of blockchain-based technologies and crypto-coins/tokens will change the world and I am incredibly energized by that.
We will see where life goes from here, but so far I’ve been so damn fortunate to be aligned with the opportunities that I’ve had and I truly hope to have done my part in making the world better behind me as I’ve gone through it.
I smile and think about what the future brings!