IETF Profile: Alissa Cooper

Periodic posts will highlight individuals who serve in IETF leadership roles, people who have recently begun working in the IETF, and organizations that make the work of the IETF possible. Each post aims to describe experiences working within or supporting the IETF. The first of these is by Alissa Cooper, current IETF ART Area Director, who will take on the IETF Chair position during IETF 98.

Alissa Cooper

Alissa Cooper, IETF 96 at Intercontinental Hotel, Berlin, Germany.

I started participating in the IETF in 2008 and went to my first meeting at IETF 72  in Dublin. I was working at the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) in Washington, DC, where my role was to explore and articulate the technical implications of policy. I worked on a number of issues there, including online privacy.

In 2008, real-time applications were the focus of many of the consumer privacy issues of most interest to CDT. Initially, I focused on the Geopriv Working Group. I became a document author and then a co-chair of the group. It was a busy time in Geopriv – many tough battles had already been fought concerning the design of the technology, but finishing out the protocol suite required substantial effort. Over time the IETF grew into a larger portion of my job responsibilities because it was well aligned with the rest of the CDT work I was doing.

In 2011, I was appointed to the Internet Architecture Board and soon thereafter became the lead of the IAB’s Privacy Program. CDT was thrilled—they saw it as a huge honor that one of their own had been selected to serve in this capacity.

In 2013, I joined Cisco, and in 2014, I joined the Internet Engineering Steering Group as Applications and Real-Time area director. I’ve tried to do my area director work approximately half-time and my day job half-time. I’m leaving the post as I’ve been appointed IETF Chair beginning in March 2017—my new full-time role for the next two years.

Leadership in the IETF offers exposure to a broad swath of Internet technology that most of us otherwise wouldn’t be able to justify spending our time learning and influencing. This is particularly true on the IESG, but also on the IAB. It’s incredibly enriching and highly beneficial because you’re able to make connections between your day job and things going on across the whole industry.

IETF leadership also requires management skills of many kinds. You have to manage authors, your time, big community processes. It requires a lot of strategy and work in the background to achieve good outcomes. Many people do not realize the depth of the management education you get while serving in the IETF leadership.

Lastly, you get to (try to) promote your vision of what the future of the Internet should look like. Everybody might not agree with you, but serving in the leadership gives you a platform to steer and influence.

Cisco has been a big supporter of the IETF because it is deeply invested in the growth and stability of the Internet. Its customers like the idea that the products they buy from different vendors interoperate. Cisco enjoys having people in leadership positions dedicating a portion of their time to furthering interoperability and making sure that standards are keeping pace with other technological developments.

In recent years, some IETF participants have encountered difficulty in trying to convince their employers about the value of the time commitment associated with IETF leadership positions. But in reality it is possible to balance your day job with an IETF leadership role—you set the parameters for how you manage your time. Lots of positions require a half-time commitment or less.

Having a well-functioning IETF and an Internet that runs on secure, performant, interoperable standards should be pretty important to any large tech company at this point in history. If that model goes away, the options for how we replace it are all inferior. Hopefully the indirect benefits of supporting IETF leaders are obvious, but if not, current and past IETF leaders are always happy to explain the benefits. We have a big incentive to expand the population of people willing to take on leadership roles.