Periodic posts on the IETF Blog 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. This one is by Jari Arkko, who will step down as the current IETF Chair during IETF 98 and begin an appointment as a member of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).
I had my first contact with the IETF in 1996. I started working with modem pool and access server products at Ericsson. Some of what we wanted to build for our products needed standards so they could interoperate. I started working with AAA protocols and extensions. Later I became chair of the EAP, EMU, and MOBIKE working groups. These were long-term efforts that I was heavily involved in.
When I was first approached about the area director role, it didn’t sound like a feasible goal, but it grew on me. But a few years later, I applied to become an Internet Area Director. It turned out to be a perfect fit — I got to work on many topics that I really cared about, such as IPv6 transition techniques. And it was good for our company because this is the layer where our products mostly were.
I was an AD from 2006 to 2012. Six years is on the long side for this job. We tell people that four years is optimal because it takes about two years to learn the job. When I was an AD, the IETF took up 50–100% of my time. Meanwhile, Ericsson benefitted from me advising them on where the technical pieces that we cared for were heading to.
I spent the year after the AD term in the the IAB. I was already wondering if I wanted to be the IETF chair. But I knew it would be a growing experience, perhaps even a scary challenge. But I thought about it for a long time and decided to go for it.
I was IETF Chair from 2013 to 2017. And this year we are again in a situation where things are changing: I will still be at the IE, contributing, and again at the IAB.
I have personally benefitted tremendously from the involvement with the IETF. Those challenges were well worth taking! It is a privilege to witness Internet technology in the making. .And the nature of a leadership role in the IETF demands that you see things in a broader way, talk with other companies, talk with lots of people with new ideas. It forces you to understand the bigger picture. I’ve become personal friends with lots of people in the industry, a perk I’ve enjoyed a great deal.
In a leadership role, you get the feeling that you are in the middle of important issues. As chair of one of the more active or high-profile working groups, you are doing things that are broadly visible and have an impact on the Internet. As IETF chair, I was witness to many interesting things. I am an engineer and have no interest in going into political matters. Yet observing the IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority] transition was a wonderful experience, and I was glad to see how that played out.
The work of the IETF chair represents almost 100% of my efforts, although I spend a fair bit of time at Ericsson. My main role at Ericsson is to share with people what is happening in the Internet and make sure we take it into account. There were many cases, including Internet of Things technology, HTTP and encryption changes, where our business was affected by what was happening at the IETF. The company appreciates our IETF team’s involvement and expertise on these topics.
If you are thinking about applying for an IETF leadership position, my suggestion is to take the challenge! Expose yourself to new things. You will understand more, which is a benefit to both you as a person and your employer.
For me, being a leader in the IETF has underscored that we actually can make a difference. We can make significant technical changes in the Internet, or change how the Internet is administered. Yes, some of the work is hard and takes a lot of effort, but isn’t that the exciting part?