Excellence in Action
Joshua Roth ’95
Interviewed by Monique Beals • March 11, 2019
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
I started UCLA with the intent and desire to make video games. I started in the Physics program mainly because I was good at Physics and I liked it, but ultimately, I transferred into Computer Science and Engineering during my first year. It was more what I had always wanted to do.
My junior year in school I started a company with someone I had classes with. For our junior and senior years, we were essentially did consulting for anyone who had technology products that we could get our hands on. That varied from people wanting to do things in security all the way to the coming about of websites in 1995. Ultimately, my main partner and I went to join Digital Evolution. He was one of the lead engineers and I was Project Manager and eventually the Head of Technology. They were doing some really innovative stuff from touch screen kiosks to this advent of the Internet to amazing stuff with Disney, AT&T, and Microsoft. Through my time there, I ended up being the Vice President of Technology. Prior to going public as a rebranded US Interactive, I left there and joined a company that ultimately became Rent.com. We were some of the first leaders in doing apartment rental spaces that you could rent on the internet, so that was late 90’s. We were fortunate enough to kind of weather the storm through the dot com bubble and ultimately sold that company in 2004 to eBay. I had left prior to selling the company after being CTO there. I went to a company that was doing emergency communications for schools and cities. At the time, that company was called Pace. We ended up getting acquired a couple of years in and rebranding ourselves as Notification technologies. I was there for about 8 years and we pretty much did most of the communications for every school in the country.
That company was acquired in 2008 by a company called Blackboard. After that, I actually started another small company with a guy that used to work for me, and we started doing some stuff with college newspapers to help them digitize their content and we did that for a number of years, but ultimately, it didn’t get the traction that I wanted us to get, so I ended up closing down that company and started another company with two other people called Unsubscribe.com. We were focused on removing what is typically called bacon, but the spam content in your email that you may or may not want. Essentially, it was a way to hit the unsubscribe button. We sold that business, and my partner and I went two different directions. I went and did technology for a company called Onestop which did e-commerce for about 40-50 midsize brands. We did everything from the e-commerce websites to marketing to photography and the technology behind it. I did that for about 3 years and my partner that I had at Unsubscribe had gone off to do his own incubator and one of the products that he came up with was something was a doorbell called “doorbot”. He kept bothering me to join him at Ring and I kept saying no, but eventually, in 2014, I eventually said yes and I have been at Ring since officially 2015. I was the 11th person here and I think now we are almost 4000 people. We were acquired by Amazon last April. I am the CTO and focus mostly on our cloud infrastructure and our applications. I used to oversee the embedded software on the hardware as well and the hardware manufacturing development and at one point in my life here, I also oversaw customer service. I have really worn almost all the hats here, so that sort of sums up the career side of it.
From the get-go, I have used my computer science and engineering skills every day of my life since graduating and probably before college as well. I started working on computers when I was about 10 years old. I’ve always kind of been a tinkerer if you will, so I’ve always had a love for that kind of stuff.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
Back in the early days when I had a computer, there were two things I did on that. I played video games, and I ran a bulletin board service which is what the internet really eventually became. It was sort of a precursor to that. We used to have modems and there was a network that I was a part of where the bulletin board service would communicate with each other and pass messages to each other. There was a whole sort of counter-culture to that. I was one of the people who ran that when I was 10 or 12 years old. At the end of the day, most of it was surrounding video games. When I started playing video games, there was a set of games that had come out by Sierra Games. They had a game called King’s Quest that was sort of an adventure game and that inspired my desire to make video games which I never really did, but I always enjoyed programming and doing things from scratch.
My mom was an archaeologist and my father is a screenwriter. He writes movies and TV shows. He had that blank canvas and always had to create something, so I think I like that. Then, I got the science side of my mom, and her being a discoverer and the archaeology of how it applies to the past and create the future. I think I leveraged those sides together to come up with something of my own.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
Starting a company with a couple of people I met there was definitely one way. The first company I started was with people from school in my classes, so integrating that helped build an interest that I already had. I also learned what things I did and didn’t like in terms of some classes more than others. I tended to like the practical stuff more than the theoretical process. Classes where you actually had to come up with a program were always more interesting to me. I had jobs all throughout college too. I worked on computer stuff, made PowerPoint presentations for people, ran IT for a small consulting firm, and did all kinds of other things. I was also in school when the Internet began. I can literally tell you which lab I was in and where I used it for the first time. All those experiences were really impactful for me not to mention the lifelong connections and friends.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think I have been a CTO for so long in my life at some point I started questioning my spot and how to remain relevant. As you get older and you get more grey hair, you think about how people look at you and you aren’t the 23-year-old kid anymore. I think for me it was a mental challenge in questioning if I was the right person. You have different people who say that you should reinvent yourself every 7 years and people adjust their careers. I think after a lot of mental anguish I started to embrace the situation I was in.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?
Work hard. You can never make up for that. Also, don’t be afraid. You’re better off making bad choices than no choices.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
I’ve donated financially. I’m a basketball fan and I go to as many games as I can, and depending on the company and our needs, we do the career fair.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I have three kids, so it has always been fun to take them to campus. I like the camaraderie and spirit surrounding that and our USC rivalry. There’s something fun about living in Los Angeles and having this great rivalry and embracing it, but at the same time having friends at both places. I think beyond that there is a great feeling that you went to a great school that means something.
And finally, what’s next?
I can’t say what’s next, but I’m a person who likes to be busy. When I’m not, I get anxious the other direction. As of now, I’ll be at Amazon for the foreseeable future and potentially beyond, but I don’t look that far into the future, so we will see where things end up.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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