Getting to Know Zaid Ali Kahn

October 19, 2015

Name: Zaid Ali Kahn
Position: Director, Global Infrastructure Architecture and Strategy at LinkedIn
LinkedIn profile:

Talent is LinkedIn’s number one operating priority and we have no shortage of talented individuals in technical roles across the company. These are the folks that create, build and maintain our platform, tools and features - as well as write the posts for this blog. We are featuring some of the people and personalities that make LinkedIn great.

Zaid began his career in Silicon Valley in 1998 at WebEx as the company's first network engineer, where he designed the first SaaS network called MediaTone. After building his own software company, Zaid eventually returned to his passion of infrastructure engineering. At LinkedIn he leads the infrastructure architecture team which works on next generation technologies for network, compute and datacenters. Zaid is passionate about Internet development which lead him to co-found the San Francisco Chapter of the Internet Society, a non- profit organization that promotes open development and ensures that the Internet is for everyone. Zaid has been an invited speaker to many Internet Peering forums and currently is an advisory board member for DE-CIX, the world’s largest Internet Exchange.

What is something not found on your LinkedIn profile?

My passion for percussion. As a hobby I studied classical Arabic percussion and played with a number of ensembles in the bay area. Instruments I play are darbuka, riq and tar/bendir. These instruments originate from the Levant in the middle east and north africa. I eventually joined a band and played for a number of years in a popular nightclub in San Francisco for belly dancers and also various venues in the bay area with my band Al Azifoon. I don’t play in a band anymore but spend my musical time to teach my toddler son percussion.

What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at the office?

I like spending time with my family and exploring the outdoors with my one-and-a-half year old son whether it is going to the beach, swimming or riding the puffer train at the SF Zoo.

What’s your favorite thing about working at LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is an environment that encourages taking intelligent risks. I have lead several initiatives that were high risk but yielded high rewards. As a leader I hope to inspire engineers to take intelligent risks.

What do you do best at work?

Empower engineers. I started my career at LinkedIn as an individual contributor and built the first network engineering team which executed on initiatives like global MPLS backbone, POP’s for improving site speed, high speed fabric datacenter networks, IPv6 deployment and automation. My philosophy has been to invest heavily on solid engineering which will eventually remove the need for high overhead in day to day operations. I now have a team that looks at future infrastructure innovation and engineering challenges to keep up with LinkedIn’s growth. As we embark on several initiatives to scale our infrastructure my daily work is to empower my engineers leading an initiative, get out of their way and champion them from the sidelines. I spend quite a bit of time mentoring engineers which I also enjoy.

What do you love most about Infrastructure engineering?

Infrastructure is the underlying plumbing of an Internet application and the most abstracted. To build large scale infrastructure one has to think about housing massive compute nodes in multiple datacenters, connecting these datacenters with diverse fiber links around the globe which can involve thinking about the physics of lighting your own fiber to using existing sub sea cable systems connecting data centers across continents. Pondering on build vs. buy, improving site speed, traffic engineering on the global backbone and interconnection strategy. There are a lot of complex systems that store and move those bits to hundreds of millions of users. I love waking up everyday to work on problem sets in this space.

What tools do you use every day at LinkedIn?

I use a variety of tools to track over progress of systems as well as use data for design improvements. inGraphs, inOps, inPeer, Kafka are some to name.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Guiding people to take intelligent risks. I find that as a company grows rapidly we often lose sight of the systems we want to have and tend to focus too much on the problems of today. I spend a lot of time challenging high risk averse designs and creating a collaborative thought process around it.


  • Zaid Ali Kahn