Geek of the Week: Sandeep Nain walked away from tech and trekked into a passion for the outdoors

Sandeep Nain behind the counter at Ascent Outdoors, the shop he took over in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

When he was working for the Indian technology company Infosys, back around 2005, Sandeep Nain was contemplating taking a year off to bike and hike around his home country. In India it was regarded as a crazy idea, to leave a well-paying job for such a pursuit. Nain instead left India.

He came to the United States for a temporary job at Amazon, with a plan to make and save good money and return to India to do his trip.

But he did not leave behind his desire to get outdoors, and in his new home in the Pacific Northwest, he discovered he didn’t have to quit his job to find time to get away.

“I was like, ‘Wow, you could do it while you are working. I could just live here. It’s green, it’s beautiful, there’s a lot of water, there’s mountains close by,’” Nain said. “So I dropped the idea of that biking plan.”

Nain, our latest Geek of the Week, dove deeper into his tech career, spending the next four years as a software developer at Microsoft, and then another four years as an engineer and manager at Expedia.

He was also climbing every weekend, taking courses through The Mountaineers and progressing rapidly as a skilled outdoorsman. He became a new father and it became more and more difficult to juggle work and his outdoor ambitions. So after 15 years in tech, with a chunk of money in savings, he decided to leave Expedia in 2014 and start his own company, a mountain guide service called Miyar Adventures.

For six years, Nain and his company have led trips across the Northwest and around the world, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Machu Piccu and Nepal. And in 2016 he opened a complimentary gear store in Redmond, Wash., which he recently moved to Woodinville.

Now Nain is the new owner of Ascent Outdoors, a fixture in Seattle since 1996. He jumped at the chance after the sudden closure this spring of Ascent locations in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and Redmond, as well as Ascent Cycles, also in Ballard. The Ascent location in Redmond won’t reopen, and this week in Ballard, Nain stood among racks of backpacks and sleeping bags, clothing, climbing gear, shoes and much more. A soft opening has already happened, but a grand reopening party will take place on Aug. 3 for the beloved neighborhood shop.

(Photo courtesy of Sandeep Nain)

The climber and guide who got his start in tech still thinks about that old career. He misses design meetings, and wishes he still had the time to do some coding in some form or another. But he leans on the skills he developed tackling problems for some of the biggest companies in the world.

“We want to start having a scrum meeting in the morning, a quick standup where we think about the tasks, what’s working, what you did yesterday,” nain said. “A quick 10-minute thing which is pretty popular in tech of course.”

While he hasn’t had a day off since making the offer to take over Ascent, and being your own boss is challenging, Nain likes the flexibility. And the puzzle aspect of putting a business together is mentally fulfilling.

“It’s one thing to have a passion for it and having [Ascent] reopened is definitely very exciting, but we also want to make it sustainable and profitable so it doesn’t go in the negative again,” Nain said. “We’re looking at ways to make things more efficient, cut costs, simplify processes and maybe use more tools.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Sandeep Nain:

What do you do, and why do you do it? At present I run an outdoor and adventure travel company — Miyar Adventures & Outfitters. I also recently acquired Ascent Outdoors and Ascent Cycles. On a personal level, I’ve been active in the outdoors (climbing, mountaineering, backpacking etc.) since I moved to Seattle. Getting professionally involved in the outdoor industry has presented a larger opportunity to engage with, learn from and serve the wider outdoor community in our area.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Spending time in the mountains and in nature is good for the mind and the body. It forces you to focus on the present task, and you can easily leave your day-to-day worries and tasks behind. By the end of the trip, you’re exhausted and the uninterrupted rest that follows leaves you rejuvenated. Plus you have great stories from a shared adventure.

Where do you find your inspiration? I started and ran the “Climb for Asha” charity climb for more than five years while I worked in the tech industry. The process of training folks, mostly from the Indian tech community, to climb our beautiful mountains was a huge undertaking, yet very fulfilling and motivating. Working with and watching folks commit to the training, grow their skills, overcome their apprehensions, and the camaraderie within the group over several months, culminating into a summit attempt of Mount Rainier, is inspiring. In addition, we were all volunteers with the same end objective of raising funds for a cause about which we all care deeply. In addition, my passion for climbing and the outdoors along with a desire to challenge myself to learn about this new field was a motivating factor to take the plunge.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Camming devices? They make it easier to add protection on crack climbs and you can generally find a nice crack to get one in relatively quickly. You still have to use it correctly for it to be effective. Also, my iPhone — I use it for almost all of my work as I’m typically on the go.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My workspace is diverse since my tasks include guiding and running a business. Though my favorite workspace is being somewhere remote in the mountains, leading a team up a climbing objective. I can almost always be found on my phone managing issues whereever I may be, unless I’m putting my kids to sleep or when I’m in the mountains.

Ascent Outdoors on Ballard Avenue in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Delegate tasks. Hire people for tasks that can be delegated, so you have time to focus on tasks that only you can perform — like coordinating, managing and running a business in my case.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows (previously), Mac (currently).

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … work on building a better trip booking and trip management system. Also design and build a better inventory management system.

I once waited in line for … routine things like the train and getting coffee before the days when you could order ahead via an app.

Your role models: Bill Gates because of how he’s grown over the years to applying his innate curiosity and problem solving skills towards challenging issues at the global level through his work at the Gates Foundation. He’s a voracious reader and a continuous learner.

Greatest game in history: Not a gamer so can’t really weigh in on this one.

Best gadget ever: Smartphone.

First computer: Windows 95.

Current phone: iPhone.

Favorite app: Slack.

Favorite cause: Asha for Education.

Most important technology of 2019: AI and predictive analytics.

Most important technology of 2021: DNA based data storage as it promises a large data storage capacity with a low energy consumption.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: If you’ve been wanting to go in a new direction whether in your life or work, don’t be afraid to take the risk. Trust that you’ve thought through the big items and you’ll be able to figure out the issues that come when you delve into the details.

Website: Miyar Adventures

LinkedIn: Sandeep Nain