January 16, 2024

In Loving Memory of Leila Etaati

Leila Etaati is a name that RADACAD started, grew, and matured with it. She was the heart and brain of RADACAD. It is with great sadness that she passed away on the morning of 31st of December 2023 after 11 months of nonstop fight with progressive head and neck cancer. Leila was co-founder and co-director of RADACAD, Power BI & Fabric Summit, Difinity conference, Data Insight Summit, SQL Saturday Auckland, Power BI and Analytics user group in Auckland, and Global AI BootCamp in Auckland.

I have written the text below for her, which I have added here;

Leila Etaati, my beloved wife, friend and partner,

Leila Etaati was born on 20th Sept 1982 in Tehran, Iran. She was the youngest child of a family of 6. Her father (Mostafa) was a retired major, and her mother (Nasrin) was a schoolteacher. Leila has two brothers, Kamran and Kouros, and a lovely sister, Kiana. Leila was such a cheerful and playful little one. Even though her siblings were at least 11 years older than her, Leila never let that stop her from being a playful kid who had plenty of childhood friends.

Leila was tech-savvy throughout her school and university education, and as we all know, she had a special knack for making wonderful friends. Perhaps one of her special talents was gathering fantastic friends around her and maintaining these bonds by staying in contact with some of her school friends and many of her university friends, even though they were scattered across distant corners of the globe. A tradition that continued until her final days.

Reza first met Leila at a company they both worked at in Tehran, way back in 2005. Leila was always the bright spark in any room, and two years later, in September 2007, they were married. From then on, they’ve been on adventures worldwide, sharing incredible moments together… and even though it’s been almost 17 years, it felt like it all happened in the blink of an eye.

Leila and Reza moved to New Zealand in January 2012, and since then, Leila earned her PhD and achieved so much in her professional journey.

Leila was truly an exceptional person. Just having her around lit up every room and conversation. Even though Leila was more than her career accomplishments, in her 41 years of life, she managed to accomplish what might have taken others decades to achieve.

I am personally honored to talk about some of these here;

  • Leila graduated from Amir Kabir University in Iran with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.
  • After that, she gained a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
  • Her Ph.D. in Information Systems was completed in 2016 at the University of Auckland.
  • Leila has been invited to lecture at multiple universities since then, teaching courses in the computer science field at universities such as the University of Auckland and the University of Otago.
  • Leila gained her first technical award from Microsoft in 2016 for her significant contributions to Data Platform technologies, and attained the status of a Microsoft MVP, which stands for: Most Valuable Professional.  Becoming an MVP is a special award given to less than 4,000 people worldwide and can only be attained each year based on contribution levels. The MVP award shows the world not only an individual’s significant expertise in technology, but also recognises the many selfless community contributions which help others learn about Microsoft technologies. Having both qualities is why this award is so special.
  • And with Leila’s passion for learning, she was not only renewed the following year as a Microsoft Data Platform MVP in 2017, she was awarded a dual award becoming the first Microsoft Artificial Intelligence MVP the same year. Leila was the first AI MVP ever announced globally by Microsoft.
  • Since 2017, Leila has been been a dual AI and Data Platform MVP each year for 7 consecutve years.
  • Leila has given her time to help others by speaking in user groups, SQL Saturdays, and many local and regional events in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Europe, and Asia.
  • Leila was an invited speaker at Microsoft global flagship events such as Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft Business Applications Summit. As well as being invited to speak at global community conferences such as PASS Summit.
  • Leila’s presentations were always among the most popular ones, and her theatre session at Microsoft Ignite 2019 remains one of THE record-breaking theatre sessions of all time.
  • Leila was the co-founder of RADACAD. She was not just the co-founder but the mastermind behind everything they do at RADACAD. All the training courses, conferences, consulting, and content sharing are built from Leila’s brainstorming.
    • RADACAD started small in 2014. However, these days, the website has over ten million visitors yearly. It is a primary source of content for Microsoft data analytics topics and has served customers worldwide, expaning into both training and consulting areas and proud to be a business from which other consulting companies come and learn from.
  • Leila has done over 200 presentations over the course of 2016 until recently and often times, her individual sessions’ would draw over a thousand attendees at conferences.
  • Leila is the author and co-author of 6 books on topics such as Microsoft AI, Data Science, and Power BI, among which are bestseller books.
  • Leila has published over 12 video course series on AI, Analytics, and Power BI topics.
  • Leila was the regional leader of the Global AI Bootcamp in Australia and New Zealand.
  • She was the co-leader and co-founder of the Auckland Power BI and Analytics user group with over 3000 members and the Auckland AI user group with over 1500 members; both groups meet monthly free of charge to help the community learn.
  • Leila was an active blogger and YouTuber with over 600 content items, such as articles or videos. Her technical content has taught many people in the global community.
  • Leila was a mentor for many other MVPs and experts worldwide. Her willingness to help others was unparalleled.
  • Leila gained the Power BI All-Star Award 2019 from Dynamic Communities for her outstanding, unique contributions to the Microsoft Power BI field. This award is given only to one individual every year among a community of 25,000.
  • She also won the Dynamic Communities Emerald Award, the highest award for community contributions to Power Platform areas.
  • Leila was a technical guru who always dipped her toe in new technologies. She has worked with AI and data science for many years, inspiring many on their path.
  • Leila was the mastermind, co-founder and co-leader of major conferences;
    • The Difinity Conference has been the largest data platform and analytics conference in the southern hemisphere since 2017. Difinity Conference brings speakers from all around the world to New Zealand yearly. In 2022, there were 65 speakers from all around the world.
    • Global Power BI Summit: the largest Power BI conference ever runs virtually worldwide. This event had over 140 speakers and 5,300 attendees last year and is the biggest Microsoft Power BI event of the year globally. This conference started in 2021 and has run yearly since then.
    • SQL Saturday Auckland: A free community 1-day event that gathers over 400 people in the tech community with speakers locally and regionally.
  • Leila was a leader of women in technology. She regularly ran free courses, training, webinars, and presentations for women in Auckland, New Zealand, Australia, and others around the world. So many women have been inspired, guided, and mentored by Leila, throughout their journey in data analytics and data science careers.  
  • Tens of thousands of people continue to benefit from Leila’s contributions, her books, articles, videos, and conferences.

Even with all these remarkable accomplishments, if you ever met Leila, you’d never guess that she’s the one responsible for them. Helping others was a calling for Leila, and never a chore. She was the most down-to-earth and welcoming soul you could ever encounter. Leila never boasted about her achievements. Instead, we all remember her for that sincere, radiant smile of hers. In just 41 years, she accomplished what would take others many lifetimes to achieve.

Besides her tech expertise and consulting work, Leila was quite the all-rounder. She had a passion for sports and a deep appreciation for art. Whether it was soaking up the sun at various beaches or diving into water sports like stand-up paddling, she made every moment count. Leila was the kind of person who wouldn’t let a single minute go to waste. She dabbled in art, enjoyed sports, played board games, explored new places, went camping, indulged in some retail therapy, tended to her garden, went on road trips, danced like nobody was watching, kept up with fashion, solved jigsaw puzzles, and so much more as part of her daily life.

And again, in the words of Reza:

Finally and most importantly, Leila is the one who shaped me into the person I am today. I had my parents’ upbringing, but Leila was the one who truly made me who I am.

In my darkest moments, Leila was my guiding light and my biggest cheerleader. Leila wasn’t just the brains behind our journey; she was the leader of it all. Leila’s not only my life partner but also my mentor and my heart.

Without Leila, there wouldn’t be a Reza Rad.

Leila’s passing on December 31, 2023, has left a gaping void in my life and my heart, in the hearts of our friends and family, the global tech and Microsoft community. Leila’s heart was vast, and she made the world seem closer and connected with her kindness. Throughout the months of unimaginable suffering from this relentless illness Leila always maintained a positive outlook. I’ve never encountered anyone as resilient and courageous as Leila in my entire life.

The only solace I can find is knowing that she is finally free from pain.

Even though Leila’s legacy and selfless treasures have lived beyond the 41 years she was given, her gifts to others will continue to help others learn and grow, and will remain part of us all.


4th of Jan 2024

Leila’s Funeral recording can be watched here;