Meet Mike Elissen: Founder of Our Akamai Developer Champions Program
Bridging the gap to tools for developers
In many ways, Akamai’s Developer Advocacy team helps bridge the gap between developers who rely on our solutions, and our internal teams that deliver exceptional customer service and informational tools.
Our longest-standing Developer Advocate, Mike Elissen, noticed an opportunity to make Akamai’s developer relations even stronger. He co-created Developer Champions, an advocacy program that helps Akamai employees better meet customer needs.
Since its launch in early 2020, the Developer Champions program has grown from 10 members to nearly 60 around the world. I sat down with Mike to learn more about the program, the role it plays within the company, and his own nine-year career at Akamai. Below are highlights from my conversation and how we’re taking this program to the next level.
Finding his niche within the field
Growing up in the Netherlands amid the ’90s computer boom, Mike was fascinated by computers. This interest inspired his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in IT, and eventually led him to a consultancy agency where he launched a career as a software developer. However, after working on a number of assignments, Mike realized he wasn’t being rewarded in the ways he was hoping to be.
When a recruiter reached out about an open position at Akamai, Mike jumped at the opportunity to interview. He was soon hired as a Solutions Architect, and after several years, moved into a Presales Engineer role. In early 2020, Mike became a Developer Advocate.
“The small window of opportunity that led to me getting that first role at Akamai is really interesting,” says Mike. “I’m extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to grow my career at Akamai. I feel a lot of loyalty … and want to be part of Akamai for … more years to come.”
Launching the Developer Champions program
After Mike transitioned into his new Developer Advocate role, he and his colleagues realized the need for more developer support. He began recruiting others at Akamai who were already knowledgeable about the Akamai Developer program to help out. These efforts eventually led to the formation of the Developer Champions program.
“At first, it was just a small subset of Presales and Professional Services staff,” says Mike. “That slowly grew over time. Every quarter, we looked at new talent to join that pool.”
Now consisting of nearly 60 members worldwide, the program convenes twice a month for an hour-long meeting where Champions share what they’re working on, and share insight and collaborate on solutions. In between meetings, the Champions create videos, articles, and contribute code to aid customers using Akamai solutions, as well as review new tools and features for the engineering teams.
“The Champions are really the core voice when it comes to talking to our customers,” says Mike. “They are working with power users of Akamai’s platform, which includes Akamai APIs, the Akamai CLI (command-line interface), and even the Akamai Terraform provider.”
Five core characteristics of success
There are five core characteristics of the Akamai Champions program that make it so successful.
The program is engineered to encourage collaboration between the Champions. We use Webex Teams to communicate with each other and a Slack channel to connect with customers, answer questions, and gauge interest in potential products and features.
As Mike says, “More often than not, one champion raises a question that the other champion has already solved.” One exciting feature that Mike and the Champions have also started seeing is collaboration happening not only “between Akamai and the community but between community members themselves.”
In the case of EdgeWorkers, for instance, Akamai’s customers have been educating themselves and each other about how to solve simple problems, coming up with new use cases in the EdgeWorkers Coding Challenge.
2. Trend focus
Customers are eager to see Akamai embrace new DevOps tools and trends. For example, when GitHub Actions debuted, the Champions received multiple requests regarding it. Small teams within the program got to work delivering the capability.
Ensuring that Akamai, and the Champions, stay at the cutting edge of an innovative field is a driving force for Mike. “In the 15 or so years that I’ve been in dev roles, the pulse for me is seeing what’s going on in the community.”
The Champions take innovation to heart. Some have created tools and libraries on Akamai’s GitHub or their personal accounts for broader use.
“At Akamai, innovation happens at such a rapid rate,” says Mike. “You’re constantly being fed new ideas, new tools.” They’ve even worked together to create a minimum viable product, as was the case with Akamai Docker Image, which combines a plethora of useful Akamai Developer tools, freeing up the engineering teams’ backlog and expediting the time it takes to get a new product to market.
Mike and the Champions are always looking for ways to grow the program and Akamai as a whole. Several years ago, customers and prospects began asking Mike if Akamai had a Terraform provider.
After some research, he became intrigued by the power of infrastructure as code (IaC) and started prompting the engineering and product teams to look into it.
The prospect of being able to “create a very simple 100 lines, maybe 200 lines of code to be able to generate infrastructure, create servers, create all the settings you want on those servers” and “create Akamai configurations” was exciting to the entire team. Eventually the project took off with a fully staffed engineering team and leads from our Developer Experience teams dedicated to it.
5. Knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing is another key aspect of the program, and Akamai enables this across the organization.
Every day, Mike sorts through content on the internal Akamai collaboration platforms to find articles that employees are sharing in their smaller teams. He then reaches out to them to ask if they’ll share it with the larger organization or post on the Akamai blog so the community may learn as teams at Akamai do.
“That’s definitely something I’ve learned in the past two years … to give knowledge back,” says Mike.
Transformation with DevSecOps
Over the past nine years he’s been with the company, Mike has seen a lot of transformation, particularly in the realm of DevOps and DevSecOps. He’s also witnessed the growth of Akamai’s security solutions, which will evolve even further with Adaptive Security Engine, Akamai’s new web application firewall (WAF) engine.
In the future, he’s looking forward to advancements with Akamai as Code, the Akamai Terraform provider, new technical documentation for Akamai Developer, and growth across the Developer Champions program itself — in addition to finding new ways to create harmony between Akamai solutions and ways that developers can interface with them.
“All this innovation that is happening is what really excites me,” says Mike. “It’s really a perfect storm where we are right now, and an exciting time to be part of the company.”
Innovation and an exciting time for Akamai
The Developer Champions program is another reason why it’s an exciting time for Akamai. As much as the program furthers the company’s goals, it’s also a product of Akamai’s values and culture. Together, Akamai and the Developer Champions program will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
“The program is all about collecting knowledge and sharing that with the wider organization,” says Mike. “Here, people come together to quickly disrupt things and make things better for themselves, the customers, and the company as a whole. That is really showing the power of this program.”
Interested in watching the full interview? Find this episode of The Developer’s Edge on our YouTube channel.