Getting to Know Shawn Zandi

June 9, 2017

LinkedIn wouldn't be the company it is today without the engineers who built it. We have no shortage of talented individuals in technical roles across the company. They are the ones who create, build, and maintain our platform, tools, and features—as well as write posts for this blog. In this series, we feature some of the people and personalities that make LinkedIn great.

Shawn Zandi is an infrastructure architect at LinkedIn. In addition to his work with infrastructure and network architecture, Shawn is the product owner of the Falco and OpenFabric projects at LinkedIn, and is a board member on the OpenSwitch project steering committee. Shawn's role at LinkedIn is to economically grow and scale data center, backbone, IP, and optical networks with correct architecture, long-term strategy, and clear roadmaps in place. He played a major role in the design and deployment of LinkedIn’s backbone and four recent global data centers, including LinkedIn’s Oregon data center, and is the lead architect of project Altair. Shawn holds multiple patents, has published several papers, frequently speaks at international conferences, and is a board member and advisor to tech startups in San Francisco, California.

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Before joining LinkedIn in 2012, Shawn worked as a network consultant and architect for various Fortune 100 companies from Dubai to Silicon Valley, building infrastructure for universities, hospitals, airports, luxury hotels, plain old dial-up service providers, and mega-scale data centers.

What are some of the coolest projects that you and your team have been working on?

Currently, we are working on the concept of self-defined networking. Self-defined networking is a series of out-of-the-box features and functionalities that enables a network element to initialize and build dynamically with no preplanned configuration or human intervention. Network elements discover the topology and define their role and function in an automatic and self-driven fashion.

In addition to that, we are building our own control plane for data center fabric, which I named OpenFabric. The idea is to have better traffic distribution, control, and visibility inside our environment. OpenFabric is LinkedIn’s approach to a self-defined programmable data center that we will explain in detail in future publications. My colleague Russ White and I are also working on an IETF draft to present this work as an internet standard so that everybody can take advantage of it.

What do you love most about infrastructure engineering?

The criticality of infrastructure and the challenges that come along with scale make it so interesting to be in charge and drive your own destiny. To me, the most interesting aspect of infrastructure architecture is the mindset and the thought process. It constantly demands a combination of creativity, knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Internet architecture (including infrastructure engineering in general) is about good enough, pragmatic solutions that simply work at the right time; it is not really about perfection or long-term solutions, because internet and infrastructure growth never stops, and long-term solutions tend to never happen. This makes a “solid execution” as important as the architecture.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Figuring out which problems to tackle first. Engineering in general is about solving problems, and when you dig deeper into a complex environment such as ours, you will find many challenges and issues that each require attention and resolution. Figuring out the right time to tackle each puzzle and considering priorities and dependencies is always an interesting challenge, especially because there’s always a limited amount of resources. The other interesting part of our job is that we should always maintain a feedback loop and go back and compare our existing solutions and methods that we designed in the past with new data and new technologies and make a call to find new approaches.

Compared to other places you've worked, how do you like working at LinkedIn?

Working in this industry since the late ‘90s, I tended to move between projects or companies very often, as I wanted to experience different sorts of challenges and puzzles. I could never imagine that I would stay at LinkedIn for the past five years! In addition to the interesting projects that we are working on, I truly believe that the best parts of LinkedIn are the people and the company's culture. We are encouraged to act as owners, take intelligent risks, and demand excellence to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

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

I love playing basketball, and I’m a regular attendee of Golden State Warriors games at home. I also love reading about physics and philosophy, and enjoy listening to vinyl records, such as Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, and jazz music. I also paint, mostly oil on canvas, and am a photographer.

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