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The STEM of Akamai's Success

Repost from the co.tribute blog: http://info.cotribute.com/featuredcompanies/akamai

Akamai Technologies, Inc. is the global leader in Content Delivery Network (CDN) services, and has been since 1998 when it was incorporated by Dr. Tom Leighton and Danny Lewin. The company is a product of the annual MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition of 1997, during which Leighton and Lewin realized the potential in the Internet content delivery market and development efforts began in earnest in 1998. Their most notable, early achievements include March Madness, Star Wars trailers and Yahoo!. Named one of the 100 Best Places to Work by Computerworld, Akamai is the next company featured in the Purpose Driven Workplaces highlight. We spoke with Noelle Faris, a Principal of Investor Relations and President of the Akamai Foundation (the charitable arm of the organization) to discuss Akamai's corporate giving practices. 

It Starts With School

Co-founder Dr. Tom Leighton (current CEO of Akamai) was an MIT Professor of Applied Mathematics, and his co-founder, Danny Lewin, came to MIT from the Technion to work with Leighton as a Ph.D. candidate. Together, they focused on creating mathematical algorithms to find a solution to web congestion. It was after Lewin had already made significant progress on multiple techniques that the two decided to explore the commercial possibilities of their technology by entering the $50K Entrepreneurship Competition. Over the course of the nine-month competition, the hopeful Akamai team grew to include a large number of MIT students with math, computer and business backgrounds.

Noelle Faris has been with Akamai for eight years. Her two roles - in investor relations and as President of the Akamai Foundation - present, as she says, an interesting dichotomy. Part of her days likely consist of overseeing shareholder meetings, annual reports and private meetings with investors. Her expansive knowledge of Akamai's earnings makes her an obvious choice to oversee the company's corporate giving, which makes up the other part of her days. A 2003 MBA graduate from Northeastern's D'Amore-McKim School of Business, Faris is a big proponent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education which is the main focus of Akamai's charitable efforts.

On September 11, 2001, Akamai suffered the tragic loss of one of its founders: Danny Lewin. One of the ways Akamai continues to honor his memory is by focusing their charitable giving on math and science education. They do this by offering support to children of all races and backgrounds who have an interest in STEM subjects.

Enlightened Self-Interest

In a video on the Akamai Foundation's homepage, Akamai employees, some of the Foundation's partners, and a few beneficiaries of Akamai's sponsorship laud the benefits of math education and what Akamai has done for the community.  Many of the employees view it as "enlightened self-interest" - they are investing in the technologists of the future who will eventually join the same community. Everyone interviewed expressed their passion for spreading knowledge and information, as well as their thanks for the people who helped them along their path to a STEM career. "Paying it forward" is an oft-repeated sentiment.


STEM is part of Akamai's DNA. The company began at a school and their CEO is a born educator. As a member of the STEM community, many of the employees feel it is their duty and privilege to give back and provide similar opportunities to younger generations because "math isn't important, it's essential." During the interview, Faris emphasized that volunteering is ingrained in every employee at the organization - so much so that she considers it a pillar of Akamai's success. Giving back is a way for the employees to get more involved with both the company and their community.

Most of Akamai's charitable giving is focused in the Boston/Cambridge area of Massachusetts, but Akamai has over thirty offices around the world and plans to start incorporating a more global giving-back strategy. They primarily support mathematics education in K-12 for under-served groups like girls, children with financially unstable backgrounds and minorities. But, according to Faris, being a good corporate citizen is not just about funding and throwing money at issues, it's about time and mentorship. Akamai wants to inspire young individuals - to be a catalyst taking obstreperous young adults and molding them into budding scientists. Every employee is offered two fully-paid work days to volunteer their time to a cause of their choosing; one of these days can be applied to what the company refers to as Danny Lewin Care Days, where employees team up with local non-profit organizations to give back to the community.


The Foundation has many partners and programs they contribute to, but this year, Akamai Technologies, outside of their Foundation, teamed up with Girls Who Code for an intensive summer program.


According to statistics on the Girls Who Code website, 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM subjects. However, when they are choosing their college majors, only 0.4% of high school girls end up pursuing computer science. Akamai teamed up with Girls Who Code for a seven-week immersion program aimed at teaching young women computer technology skills. Twenty girls came to the Akamai offices every day Monday through Friday. Each week had a different computer science focus, and Akamai Technologies covered lunches for the girls every day as well as the cost of bringing in teachers. Additionally, each girl who participated had an Akamai employee who volunteered to serve as a mentor to each student.


Dr. Leighton said it succinctly in Akamai's press release on the Girls Who Code Sumer 2015 Partnership:

"The imbalance in the numbers of women focused on careers in computer science, software development and Internet technologies is one of our industry's biggest challenges," said Dr. Tom Leighton, Chief Executive Officer at Akamai. "Partnering with Girls Who Code is an important step towards better preparing young women for technology jobs - an investment, we believe, that is vital to the future of technology and innovation."

Their partnership with Girls Who Code as well as all the other projects Faris and Akamai organize yearly is just one of the many reasons the company has been recognized as one of the top places to work for multiple years. Akamai is making strides both in business and in philanthropy, one child and one employee at a time.

Noelle Faris is a Principal of Investor Relations and President of the Akamai Foundation