Interviews

Ahmed Ilyas is Helping the Tech Industry Grow a Conscience

Image Credit: SD Times

The tech industry has moved past its Wild West days. We all lived through the times when the internet and social media were a novelty, surprised and delighted by every new offering and feature. There was an innocence among both tech leaders and the people who used their products.

Now, users have higher expectations for their tech. It has to perform well, be enjoyable to look at and use, and, in the wake of multiple tech debacles, it also needs to not steal and misuse user data, or contribute to the collapse of a democracy.

In response to seeing repeated headlines about tech’s precarious position in the standing of the American public, civilians have started to realize the immense complexities of tech itself and the work that goes into making it. And while Silicon Valley institutions do indeed have self-professed company-wide values and goals, the individuals that make up these companies have their own varying philosophies, projects, and goals. Some of these individuals even have their own companies, companies with even greater ambitions and a more substantial sense of responsibility to all of humanity.

Ahmed Ilyas has worked closely with Microsoft on a multitude of projects, as well as founding his own software development business, Sandler Software, which helps both small and established businesses create the software they need to stay relevant and improve on their past processes.

Microsoft has named Ilyas an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for three consecutive years. And he has plenty of thoughts on the company and how MS has been able to maintain its massive stake in the tech sector more than 40 years after becoming one of the first in existence.

“The mood these days of Microsoft employees is pretty confident, pretty optimistic. Finally, the organization has overcome its losses from the Windows 8 era, and projections claim that it will be a trillion dollar company by the end of this year. The buzz is there. The excitement is there.”

And these days, Microsoft is determined to extend its reach all along the frontier of emergent technologies, including the kind that has Elon Musk nervous.

“We have A.I. and M.L. [Machine Learning], advances in security. MS is the leader in such innovations and services. By no means am I solely focused on MS but I do look at things in a very objective way. I don’t believe in sticking to just the one thing – I stick to things that make the most sense, which in turn helps my business and customers.”

Ilyas has a talent for balancing his perception of the tech industry between appreciation and critique, and he’s constantly scanning for areas where tech could improve lives for many. You’ve likely already noticed his outspoken sense of conscience within the tech world. I asked him which issue he would like to tackle in funding were no object.

“Most definitely using tech to find the cures for cancer, without a doubt, hands down. People are important. We make the change that we want to see in the world. We truly do.”

This altruistic worldview is just one factor that led to Ilyas’s initial dive into the world of programming and software. Another influence was the plain wonder that the world of computers offered when Ilyas was still very young.

“I think it was just the fascination of computers doing ‘something’ when I was young. I then explored on my own about how things worked and got myself into Windows, very early Windows, pre Windows 95 in fact. So that played a big part, in combination with the natural questions that a child asks to gain knowledge and insights.”

As he built up his programming skills, he started to view contemporary businesses with a much more critical eye.

“Basically, I saw how businesses worked at the time: customers were not entirely satisfied. It really made me wonder why some businesses operate like this. It’s why I started my businesses, to put the wrongs to one side and make things right, to show that virtually anything is possible.”

And those humble beginnings led Ilyas down the rabbit hole, into the complicated world of software development. I asked him what the average tech user doesn’t usually realize or understand about what’s happening behind the scenes.

“There is *a lot* to think about when developing software, especially for quality purposes and pure customer satisfaction. Clients, as well as even fellow techies, sometimes do not see or envision the complexity of things. The key is to learn, to experience, to choose what makes sense, to apply best practices and principles that make sense for the situation. As I said before, a lot of work and careful consideration goes into projects and it is important to keep that quality bar moving forward and not to let it slip and to continuously improve.”

Letting it slip has been one of the tech industry’s problems, not so much in terms of performance as much as their perception of public opinion, and knowing what the public want. Ilyas has a clear idea of what tech companies of all sizes should be focusing on.

“Most certainly the tech industry needs to focus on security and using and enhancing artificial intelligence and machine learning. We need to develop ethical tech that actually helps humans.”

His own company, Sandler Software, hopes to work towards this optimistic vision of the future.

“There is no one main goal. There are many main goals: to provide quality and professional software for customers, for customers to have a great experience, tech or non-tech, and to teach and to help each other evolve.”

And given Sandler’s wide scope, the company can potentially help to make sweeping improvements to any number of industries.

Ahmed Ilyas represents a rarefied breed of developer, one that places importance on the smallest details of programming as well as keeping watch on the big picture, and the many ways that tech continues to impact our daily lives. And if he gets his way, we can be sure that the aforementioned impact will be positive.

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I'm a long time fan of tech innovation, especially its capacity to cross over into the realms of art and social justice. The paradigms are constantly changing, and we need to change with them.

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