Distinguished Alum and Strategic Architect Kimate Richards
Kimate Richards has a job that many people know exists, but can’t explain.
He is a strategic architect at Amazon Web Services working in areas of spatial computing and robotics, where he designs and builds technology for smart factory automation.
Put simply, he makes AI-powered robots that perform a growing number of basic and important tasks—like packing and moving boxes or identifying outages—so that people can focus on doing more important, less basic tasks. And his work is literally making warehouses and factories around the world safer, more resilient to climate events or human error, and hyper-efficient.
For over 23 years, Richards (Mechatronic Engineering, ’05) has developed applications and software for some of the globe’s largest clients, including Apple, Mastercard, and Gap, flexing the technical skills and curiosity that came naturally as a child.
“When I was seven years old, I was watching TV and my dad asked me how a television works. I obviously had no idea, so he turned it off, told me to go to the library across the street, and said ‘go figure it out,’” Richards says. “When I came back home with all these books, my dad laid out on his workbench a set of tools and an old television for me to take apart.”
From the side of his father’s workbench, Richards’ personal and professional journey has since traversed oceans, continents, and industries. Yet through all his successes, Richards’ dedication to public and community service has been a constant, grounding force through his life. This began with his parents and their influence and was later amplified when he joined the Civil Air Patrol at age 16.
“I took my first small airplane flight, learned all about flying and the military and how helping people also helps you,” Richards said.
Today, he is a Character Development Instructor at Civil Air Patrol and currently serves as Director of Homeless Outreach at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Vallejo, California.
“I’ve been fortunate to have so many good people around me who I’ve learned from and now I just want to give it back,” he said.
Richards also previously served in the US Navy and Army Reserve, enlisting right out of high school, where he served in both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Shield, and received a Combat Battle “E” Excellence 4th award for his service.
Why did you choose Chico State?
Knowing that I wanted to be a roboticist, I had applied to a bunch of universities for engineering. At the time, there were about nine schools in the country offering mechatronics and Chico State was one of them. Everyone was only offering enrollment in the fall. Being a transfer student, Chico State allowed me to start in January for spring semester.
Mainly, I wanted to experience something completely different and new while still focusing on robotics. There was really only one place that that could have happened in California. And honestly, looking back now, it was really the best decision of my life. I have friends from Chico State I call brothers and sisters. No other institution has had that kind of effect on me where I’ve been in contact with friends for almost 20 years.
How do you shake things up in your work today?
I think I’m around a lot of scientists who aren’t naturally social beings. In that group, I bring a bit of social awareness, levity, and fun to the work that we do. The trope about me is that I am always talking about building the singularity—technology so advanced that it surpasses human intelligence and results in a Terminator-like situation. I’m the one who makes jokes about stopping the Terminator from coming to get us. I am the extrovert in a group of introverts and force them to just enjoy the process.
For employers, I truly believe that Chico State is a great school to recruit from, because graduates are ready to go out into the world, both academically and socially. There’s a big component of engineering that’s about self-managing and it involves working in isolation. A lot of folks in this field are great academically, but they’ve never actually had to socially interact or work on a team. One thing Chico State will do is enable you to be social—teamwork and collaboration are a part of the experience.
What advice would you give your freshman self?
To my freshman self, I would say: do exactly what it is you need to do to have the career and the life that you deserve. You’ve worked so hard for this, so make sure that your career isn’t solely about money. It’s got to be the thing that you’re passionate about, the thing that you love.
Enjoy yourself and don’t be in such a hurry to get out and make money. You can go out and make money and that’s great and all, but the important thing is to end up with a career that you love.
I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years—some when I woke up in the morning dreading going into work. I’m in a great place now. This morning I hopped up at 6 a.m., ran up to my office, jumped on my laptop, and started working. I’m surrounded by robots in my house. That’s really what you’re working for.
Do you have a favorite memory at Chico State?
My very first memory of Chico stands out. It was the day I arrived on campus. I had never been to the area before and I thought I was lost. I called up the director of my department—because he asked me to call when I got there. And he said, “drop your things off and join us for dinner, because I’m meeting a couple of other students.” I’d never had a department head come and say anything like that to me. From the moment I arrived, I had a one-on-one connection to faculty. I remember he said to me, “we’re going to get you a job here, a roommate, plugged into clubs, organizations.” Immediately, I went from having no idea how I was going to find my way around to having a job, a place to stay, and a network of people. It was so seamless, like a family member helping me get set up. At bigger institutions, you often feel like a number—my experience at Chico State was completely the opposite.