I am a technical generalist who is interested in the intersection of the engineering and operations of Internet-scale, distributed computing platforms. I lead teams of talented individuals who are in pursuit of ambitious, meaningful goals.
Internet Plumber at Akamai Technologies.
Love things too much. Take things too far.
Attention Surplus Disorder.
I run the global engineering team for Akamai's Prolexic product - our DDoS Mitigation service. This is an industry leading offering, supporting the world's largest companies and brands across all verticals. Forrester's Q1 2021 Wave report sums it up well, "clients that want an experienced, trusted vendor to make their DDoS problem go away should look to Akamai."
The team was distributed across five development centers in the US, EMEA, and APJ. I was responsible for a $25M+ annual OPEX budget. In addition to engineering, we staffed InfoSec, Operations (Platform and SecOps), and Tier3 Product Support in the organization.
During my tenure, I certified as a Severity 1 Crisis Manager for our Incident Management program; these events represent the highest risk to Akamai's business. There are 12 global leaders holding this responsibility.
Akamai is able to leverage our distributed platform to build solutions for the SASE / SSE market. I will elide my critiques about the coherence of these analyst frameworks, but the point stands that enterprises need a suite of secure access capabilities to enable their modern, distributed, workforce. To that end, our leadership team focused on building a portfolio of solutions in this space. This included organic as well as inorganic growth. For M&A, I served on the core team where we identified, executed, and integrated two acquisitions - for a combined purchase price of > $600M: Inverse (Network Access Control) and Guardicore (Micro Segmentation).
The timing of my tenure in this role was... interesting. As I ramped up on these products, COVID-19 hit. Like many other companies, we immediately learned how to transition to a completely remote work force. However, unlike others, our products solved a critical remote access problem and this created unprecedented demand on the team during this crazy time. I know that I did not create a perfect recipe for handling those challenges, but this period reinforced my beliefs in leading with empathy, flexibility, and shared sacrifice.
Advice I never expected to give - I started this role while still living abroad in Germany with my family, but relocated back to Akamai's corporate headquarters in the summer of 2020. As a pro tip, I now recommend to folks that you should avoid moving a family internationally during a global pandemic...
My team was responsible for deciding how to build Akamai's platform infrastructure in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia. We partnered with our Media, Web, and Security business units to understand and forecast their needs for day-to-day capacity and headroom. We then figured out how to make this happen while optimizing for cost and performance.
In addition to the physical platform build-outs, we also generated, stored, and analyzed platform telemetry to help us understand the quality of our decision making processes and then improve those decisions over time. By the end of my tenure, Akamai's global platform was pushing over 140 Tbps of traffic (and > 21 Tbps of IPv6) comprised of a diverse mix of performance and security workloads - truly computing at scale, and our EMEA footprint was a sizeable chunk of that.
My family and I relocated to Munich, Germany for this role. In addition to my functional responsibilities, the goal for this move was to provide technical leadership as a member of the EMEA executive team.
Accolades - In 2018, I was a recipient of the Danny Lewin Award. This is our company's highest honor.
My team built and operated 3 Managed Content Delivery Networks (MCDN) on the Department of Defense's private, global networks. Internal to the DoD, they branded it as their Global Content Delivery Service (GCDS). These CDNs supported sensitive, but not classified networks (NIPRNET), classified networks (SIPRNET), as well as joint forces networks in support of NATO (CX-I).
The CDNs fundamentally accelerated and secured the DoD's most important web applications, but also provided streaming media and distributed storage solutions. It was renumerative work.
In addition to providing the core, managed CDN offerings, our team also innovated on the delivery and security of any web traffic traversing the DoD's enterprise. We prototyped a new service offering that incorporated Secure Web Gateway (SWG) functionality into our CDN fabric. We dubbed this the Universal Content Delivery Service (UCDS). It has since evolved into a service of Identity-Aware Proxies - a fundamental capability in what people these days describe as "Zero Trust" architectures.
My family and I moved to Reston, Virginia for this role. The precipitaing event was an organizational change that pulled the Operations group under me. Previously the engineering and operations teams were siloed and in conflict. I'm proud of the work we did to fix this and change the culture into one of collaboration, high trust, and high performance.
Clearance - During my tenure working with the DoD, I carried a Top Secret/SCI clearance.
Service - In 2013, I served on President Obama's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC). Our working group was a blend of industry and government leadership. The deliverable was a set of policy recommendations for improving secure government communications.
Accolades - Not a "formal" one, but when I moved from my group to the new EMEA role, my team built the website haslarrybeenreplaced.com. It is a beautiful mix of griefing and affection - definitely one of my proudest professional accomplishments.
In this role, I learned to be a good engineering leader. I focused on the fundamentals: developer environments & happiness, testing & SQA, lab infrastructure, build environments, release management, install automation, service orchestration, telemetry, logging, observability, graphing/plotting/trending, alerting, playbooks, and incident management (obviously not an exhaustive list).
I also learned how to partner effectively with sales and services leaders. We moved away from the perception that Engineering was always "Doctor No." The general approach was to genuinely focus on the needs of our customers, be positively oriented, and offer alternative solutions that could get us to "Yes" during times of conflict or disagreement.
Service - I had the opportunity to present at the National Academy of Sciences; I showed up for that gig and found out that Don Norman was on the working group that would interview me after my presentation. It was a wobbly knees type of afternoon.
In this role I learned (the hard way) that you can effectively manage a team of 10+ people, or you can be an effective individual contributor - but not both.
During this timeframe, I provided team leadership to expand our services into a new secure environment (SIPRNET). I also provided individual technical leadership to build the streaming and storage capabilities into our managed CDN platform.
Eventually, we had the right structure of architects and team leads in place so I could actually focus on good line management practices.
Lead a team of 5 engineers. We had an intense focus on rapidly hiring and training both engineering and operations staff as our program went from pilot to production.
Leveraged my prior military telecommunications experience and knowledge of Akamai's systems and products to take on a new role. Part of a 3-person pilot program trying to answer the question, "Could we build a wholly separate, disconnected instance of Akamai's platform on a private global network and deliver the same benefits to enterprise applications?" The answer was yes.
Wore many hats. Specialized in our edge proxy engine, messaging systems, key management infrastructure, install automation, and our nocc infrastructure.
After the archetypal span of a year-and-a-day away from Akamai, I returned to a TSE position. There, I continued toolsmithing for other TSEs and handling escalations from top accounts.
I was a stay-at-home dad to an obstreperous 1-year old. I also loaded up on my university coursework to finish up my degree more quickly. Not much sleep, but good times.
I ran a team of 7 great TSEs. We supported the company's top accounts. My role started evolving away from product support with more of a focus on the software development responsibilities of the job.
Ultimately, I burned out though: The dot-com crash had arrived and the company was in survival mode; my wife and I had a new baby; I was leading a team while doing individual contributor work; and I was attending classes at night trying to wrap up my undergraduate degree. Something had to give.
Accolades - The QuickTime team at Apple sent our family a gift to celebrate the birth of our first child; it was a token of their esteem for our collaboration on delivering all the Steve Jobs Keynotes over the QTSS network.
Building on my support and software development skills at a videoconferencing company, I focused on exhaustively understanding Akamai's products and then writing troubleshooting tools - primarily for our streaming media networks (QuickTime, RealNetworks, and then Windows Media).
So. much. Perl.
Accolades - In 2000, I received the Founder's Award. This was during the period where we were still a freshly IPO'd startup and our co-founder/CTO Danny Lewin was still with us. It was a special time.
If you teach colleagues enough, you get noticed by management as a "force multiplier." If you then build a one-person distance learning operation where you are sys-admining the servers, writing the application logic, authoring the course content, delivering the course content, filming and editing it yourself, and then shopping the project around your company as a way to more effciently and cost-effectively train your channel partners over this thing called "The Internet" - you get promoted into a previously non-existent job and given a goofy job title.
I supported most aspects of PictureTel's product line, but wound up the local expert on the Multipoint Conferencing Units. A fun job with a huge range of technology to cover along with an exciting transition from circuit-switching products (H.320 over ISDN/T1/E1) on custom DSP-accelerated hardware to IP-based (H.323) on x86 PCs.
I served in various Network Operations groups. I was responsible for the maintenance, upgrade, and deployment of a wide range of telecommunications infrastructure in both fixed and tactical environments. (for civilians reading this, "tactical" typically means places with unpleasant weather and where your leaders will expect you to operate a shovel as well as that emotionally unstable satellite unit)
Accolades - BMT Honor Graduate, Expert Marksmanship, Tech School Distinguished Graduate
Because I am complacent, lack imagination, and Akamai has poor performance management practices?
Well Actually... Akamai is loaded with incredibly talented people who are also good humans; I'd had the pleasure of working with a lot of them. I've been constantly intellectually challenged. I've been promoted as my talents have matured and opportunities availed themselves. I've expanded into adjacencies (Operations, Support, Services, Engineering, Networking) that mutually reinforce my existing skillsets. I've had mentors and advocates who are interested in helping me further develop my potential. I've been compensated commensurate with my contributions to the business. Sounds kinda ideal, no?
I'm a good student (3.82 GPA upon finishing that damned degree), but people don't hire me because of my academic credentialing...
Stringed Instruments - Guitar is my primary instrument, but I also play a bit of mandolin and banjo. My favorite musical impulse purchase is my Irish Bouzouki from a trip to Dublin.
Pizza - Although untested, my pizza making skills could probably win my freedom in a hostage situation.
Easter Eggs? - Yes. I enjoy them.
For inquiries of a professional nature, I'm happily engaged doing interesting work for my current employer. However, if you want to chat and make a connection, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/larryunderhill
(I'm not terribly active these days; at this point these handles are probably more about maintaining the 'lgu' namespace)
Credits: This stylish HTML/CSS is by the talented folks at Blackrock Digital.