As a military kid whose family moved around a lot, Ray Kaminski learned at a young age to approach frequent change as an adventure of discovery, rather than something to fear. Maybe that's one reason he was drawn to programming in the earliest days of the personal computer revolution.
Ray joined Auctiva in November as vice president of engineering. Though he long ago made Chico, CA, his permanent home, he remains passionately curious about new technologies, and harnessing these to make things work better.
It seems like a fitting background for the leader of a development team that is deep-rooted in the eBay ecosystem, where the only constant is change.
We'd like to introduce you to Ray.
EDU: Your title is vice president of engineering. What's your job?
Kaminski: I oversee the entire technical operation, from Customer Support to Software Development, to bug fixes and maintenance. One way to look at it is product development is the "what we develop" and I'm responsible for the "how."
I started college the year IBM released the first PC. I told my parents I wanted to be a programmer. They said, 'Computer science? What the heck is he going to do with that?'
EDU: You started your career as a developer. When did you know you wanted to work in the software field?
Kaminski: I started college in 1981, the year IBM released the first PC. I started out as a math major. I came home from school the following summer, and I told my parents I'd taken a programming class and I wanted to change my major to be a programmer. My parents told me the story years later that they looked at each other after I left the room and said, "Computer science? What the heck is he going to do with that?" Of course, we couldn't have foreseen what technology was going to take place between 1981 and 2013.
EDU: Where did you grow up?
Kaminski: My dad was a doctor in the military. I left the U.S. when I was four and didn't return until I was 17. I lived in Turkey, England and Germany growing up, finished high school in Mississippi and went to college in Iowa. I worked for a couple of years in Tennessee, which is where I met my wife. We have three daughters, ages 21, 19 and 13.
I basically lived all over the world, and settled in Chico in the early '90s. I worked for a small startup that eventually became a 300-person business before it was acquired by a large corporation. I was the fourth or fifth employee there. Believe it or not, we actually worked out of a guy's house up in Cohasset when the business first started. That company was where I spent a lot of my career.
I was a software developer for about 15 years. My specialty when I was writing software was reporting and data acquisition. I became the director of development there in 2001. I had people reporting to me in Chico, India and Pennsylvania, so I worked in a very distributed environment.
EDU: You must have an interesting world view.
Kaminski: You know, I've always been comfortable with foreign cultures, having grown up in countries where I didn't speak the language. I spent a couple years working with developers in India and I traveled there once a quarter. I have a great appreciation for that culture and other cultures. I think that benefits me going in and working with people in China. I'm looking forward to going to China very soon to meet with the team at Alibaba.com (Auctiva's parent company). China is one of the few places I haven't been yet.
EDU: What brought you to Chico, initially?
Kaminski: After college, I was working for the university I graduated from, and they were one of the first customers of the startup I mentioned. I got to know the company's founder, and the rest is history.
Auctiva still has that startup mentality, and that's one of the things that attracted me here. We're working on new and exciting things that are encouraging and fun to be a part of
I remember the first time I came to Chico, I landed here on a very foggy day in December. I stayed at the Holiday Inn. I came down the next morning to meet the founder—I was fresh out of college, suit and tie, the whole thing—and he and his son had come to pick me up on their way back from duck hunting. He looked at me and said, "You can go change." That was my first clue that Chico was going to be a more relaxed environment than what I had pictured.
I really appreciate having had the opportunity to raise my kids in a community like Chico. It was one of the reasons I stuck with my previous company through the years, and why I think people appreciate working at a place like Auctiva as well. I think Chico is a bit unique in the sense that it's big enough that you have everything you need, but not so small that it feels like a small town.
EDU: Having come up in a startup environment, how would you compare that to working at a more mature company like Auctiva?
Kaminski: Actually, I feel like we still have that startup mentality, and that's one of the things that attracted me here. Listening to Jeff (Schlicht, Auctiva's founder and CEO), he still very much has an entrepreneurial spirit, and I think there's a lot of entrepreneurial spirit floating around Auctiva. At my previous company, I think one of the things we had lost in the transition to a large company was we had become very corporate and less adventurous in the things that we were doing. And here, we're working on new and exciting things that are encouraging and fun to be a part of.
EDU: Do you still code?
Kaminski: I do, actually, I've written some code while I've been here. I like to stay in the code and stay current with new technology. I think it's one of the things I do well. I enjoy the consumption of new technology and I try to spend some portion of my day or week making sure that I keep current.
I like to experiment, too. I once wrote a phone app with a friend of mine. We never made any money off of it, but I've done a few things like that.
EDU: What advice do you have for eBay sellers trying to make their way?
Kaminski: I would say if you're doing something that you're passionate about, you will find success. If sellers are selling something they're passionate about, something they believe in, they will find success.
For me that's always been what it's about with software development—I have a passion for it, and that passion helps drive me to be successful. Day to day, I may have failures or setbacks, but in the end my passion usually wins out over those setbacks. And I think if you have something unique that you're able to sell, if you have a passion about that, if you can blog about that, if you're able to tell people and share your passion, it will help make you successful.