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The Tech Wiz


Posted on December 14, 2016

Ryan Montoya used to be the advance man for the Clinton administration and today is overseeing one of the largest technology projects in the world.

Photography by Kevin Fiscus

Since he's already worked for a U.S. president, vice president and first lady, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Ryan Montoya is just as comfortable working around Kings.

Montoya, who’s 41, is, the chief technology officer of Golden 1 Center, which is already being lauded—by people who know—as the most high-tech arena on the planet. Montoya has a job he’s been training for his entire career, even though there were notable stopovers working as an advance man for President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Clinton. (The advance man or woman, as it sounds, is the person who arrives in a city or another country ahead of the political leader and ensures that safety, comfort and security arrangements are in place.)

After the 2000 election, when George W. Bush beat Gore, Montoya decided to leave politics for a while and start his first development company, creating web-based software applications. But he was no latecomer to information technology. “I wrote my first software program in the fifth grade on an Apple computer,” he says, and built his first website during a summer program at Carnegie Mellon in 1994.

Today, he’s overseeing enough technology, as he says, “to power a small city.” Examples:

  • He’s already run more than 650 miles of fiber-optic cable and more than 300-plus miles of copper throughout Golden 1 Center, as well as arranged for hundreds of Wi-Fi outlets throughout the building.
     
  • He’s also built a 6,000-square-foot data center within the facility and has a huge distributed antenna system, or DAS, that will enable venue goers to send 500,000 Snapchats per second.

All of which begs the question: With all these distractions, will anyone find time to watch the basketball games, rock concerts or Disney On Ice?

LESS LIKE AN ARENA, MORE LIKE AN AMUSEMENT PARK

In a small conference room at the Kings Experience Center—itself a high-tech marvel of offices and a block from Golden 1 Center, and which staff and visitors refer to as “the XC”—Montoya takes a moment from his 24/7 comet ride to answer the question about distractions, to chat about the arena.

“There are going to be plenty of distractions,” he says. “But this is an experience economy. It’s less like an arena, more like an amusement park.” Accordingly, Montoya did field research at other arenas “only in a cursory way. The places I really wanted to see, and did, were Lucasfilm, Disney and NASCAR, places that are principally in the business of providing entertainment—because that’s what we do.”

Montoya says that Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé has been clear that he wants “every game to be a spectacle. He wants kids and grown-ups to feel that they’ve entered another universe. We want them yelling, ‘Wow! This is amazing!’ What we’re doing is”—He does a quick mental word search—“texturing the experience for everybody.”

When the arena opens, Montoya says, “We’ll be paperless and cashless. Purchases will be driven by apps and cards.”

With such a reliance on technology, Montoya is asked if the arena will operate under “redundant power” (a backup system should one fail). He smiles. “Oh, you have no idea,” he says. “My philosophy is, ‘Two is one and one is none.’ We have an absolute no-fail policy. Everything has to work.” He mentions that three of his staff members are former Marines. “There’s a reason for that,” he says. “These are people who stay until a job is done. If something goes wrong, they’ll stay—around the clock if necessary—until it isn’t wrong.”

Asked if he has a favorite arena component—something that knocks out even someone with his expertise and seen-it-all eyes—Montoya doesn’t hesitate: “The scoreboard!” He’s referring, of course, to the 94-foot-long, 4K resolution, four-sided, ultra high-def TV monitor that will be visible “from every conceivable seat, food stand and aisle.”

A “TESLA EXPERIENCE”

Montoya says Ranadivé wanted the entire building to be “a Tesla experience—a car you park when you get home which (technologically) updates itself overnight.” He takes a moment to reflect. He’s an enthusiastic but centered man who doesn’t fill silence if it will help him explain something a little better.

Finally, he says, “Look at college. You go for four years and what you learn is supposed to last you for the rest of your life.

“Well, people put up buildings and just walk away from them,” he continues. “(They say), ‘That’s it. I’m done.’ That’s the beauty of what we’re doing at Golden 1 Center. It’s more like a living entity than just a building, one that’s (capable of) regenerating itself.”

He means more than just the overnight upgrading. The facility has empty spaces (called cable racks) between floors to house whatever new cables and wires will be required to improve the already-out-there technology when the time comes. “Vivek is very clear about this,” Montoya says. “He knows how fast all of this is changing (and) that by the time we’re open, something new will come along a few months later and we’ll have to take a look at it.

“His goal,” Montoya goes on, “is to future-proof the building. We’re looking at five years down the line and 10 years. We’re even looking at a year from now.” As David Pierce, writer for Wired magazine, nicely put it in an article this past June, “Ranadivé and company have set themselves the formidable task of not only building today’s most up-to-date technology into the Golden 1 Center but (also) creating an edifice flexible enough to adapt to what the future brings. This means building an arena that doesn’t just have concrete at its core. It also has code.”

GETTING READY FOR A VR EXPERIENCE

One thing that has the IT industry buzzing about the new arena is that it’s allowed for virtual reality—already common enough to have its own acronym (VR)—to be deployed for a variety of tasks, including seat selection. “People can put on a helmet and see where their seats will be and what will be around them,” Montoya says. “This year, we were the first team in the NBA to use VR to live-stream a game to a local children’s hospital in India.” (Ranadivé, a native of India, is also involved in sports and other business ventures there.)

Warming to the subject of his boss, Montoya says, “I’m more impressed by Vivek every day. He’s always thinking about what’s next. A lot of people don’t realize that this man, in the 1980s, is the one who essentially digitized Wall Street. People started calling him Mr. Real Time.

“I know what I’m doing but I find that when I’m around him, I become a sponge. There’s always more to learn.”