iSchoolers help ExtraHop grow by leaps and bounds

Several iSchool alumni work at Seattle's ExtraHop.
Several iSchool alumni work at Seattle's ExtraHop.

Ansel Santosa’s bosses at ExtraHop were knocked out by their new hire. He was both a hard-core software engineer and a team-builder with people skills, a coveted mix at the pioneering data analytics firm. “Where can we find more of you?” they asked him. The 2013 iSchool Informatics alumnus didn’t hesitate. “There’s a whole school of people like me,” said Santosa.

He told them about the UW’s interdisciplinary iSchool, where students – while mastering everything from coding and data management to user experience design – meet industry insiders and engage in the collaborative group work expected in today’s project-oriented tech companies.

“The classes at the iSchool prepared me for really working well with partners on a team and for the issues people in industry are facing,” says Santosa, a front-end software engineer who soon after landing at ExtraHop began recruiting fellow iSchool alumni to his UI (user interaction) team.

There are now nine iSchool alumni working full-time at the company. Santosa, highly active in recruiting at the company, is intent on seeing more hired.

“iSchool graduates can ramp up quickly,” Santosa says. “There’s not as much cultural or communication overhead before you can start actually talking about the work that needs to be done.”

With their interdisciplinary training, iSchool graduates at ExtraHop are able to tackle multiple fields, points out 2015 Informatics graduate Robby Brosman. He compares graduates to all-purpose “Swiss Army knives.” They have tools for almost everything. “Because the iSchool approach is so holistic, I know how to interact with project managers, do UX (user experience) and UI (user interface), and how to develop code at the same time. That’s one of the reasons I joined the iSchool, so I could do both design and code,” says the software engineer, who works with Santosa and other alumni on the UI team.

“That’s something noticeable about all of us who come from the iSchool,” says Mike Kelly, a 2015 graduate of the iSchool’s Master of Science in Information Management program who works on the company’s product team, focusing on UX design. “We’re all design-minded.”

ExtraHop company founders Jesse Rothstein and Raja Mukerji launched the Seattle-based data analytics company in 2007 as a platform for addressing the growing complexity of large-scale data management in IT environments, where tens of thousands of networked servers and devices may be in operation at once, communicating in multiple layers of conversation. “There are all these things that can go wrong in all these layers,” says software engineer Alex Burner, a 2015 Informatics graduate and web developer working with the UI team. 

ExtraHop independently monitors all that heavy traffic in real-time and structures this active “wire data” into easy-to-digest visuals. Where are the spikes? Where are the anomalies?  If there’s a traffic jam, a slowdown, or an accident on a client’s big-data highway, the ExtraHop appliance quickly isolates and presents the source of the problem as it is unfolding. “You essentially plug ExtraHop into a network and it figures out what all the hosts and network devices are, and who is talking to who about what, and how all the distributed applications and services on the network are performing, and it does it all really fast,” says Kelly.

Monitoring data-in-flight can quickly identify problems-in-the-making: a cyber-intruder in hospital records, a blip in live Netflix streaming, a jammed computer program that keeps airplanes from getting clearance for takeoff, or a dysfunctional checkout page for an online retailer.

“What happens as a Dev Ops (development operations) engineer when your boss tells you at 4:59 p.m. that customers can’t check out and your company is losing thousands of dollars a minute?” says Brosman. “With ExtraHop you can see everything that is happening. You don’t have to guess; you have solid evidence.”

It is, he says, “the eyes on your datacenter.”

Brosman points to one children’s hospital where a systems slowdown left doctors waiting almost 20 minutes to log on to their computers while they were seeing patients. An ExtraHop analysis quickly drilled down to the problem: one doctor at the hospital had loaded 20 gigs of personal files onto his cloud drive, which were downloaded every time he logged on. It bottlenecked the entire system.

It took ExtraHop 15 minutes to find the problem and solve it. “The cool part about real-time analytics is that you don’t have to wait for results,” Brosman says. 

Offering what it calls “big data without the big headache,” ExtraHop serves some of the biggest corporate IT departments in the world, with clients including Sony Network Entertainment, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Adobe, Microsoft, and McKesson. Hospitals are also major clients. ExtraHop can help identify their technical issues before they impact clinical workflow or patient care, says Kelly. “Hospitals are constrained by budgets and tend not to be resource-rich in IT. But it’s mission critical. When something goes wrong, it’s always urgent.”

ExtraHop is expanding at dizzying speeds. Last year alone, the streaming analytics firm added more than 150 employees and expanded into new global territories including Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. The company is buzzing, the pace is fast, and iSchoolers describe jumping into action immediately upon landing.  “When I first took this job, I had no clue about the things I’d be touching,” says Brosman. “Even in the first six months, I’ve done crazy stuff I’d never have imagined I’d be doing.”

At more established companies, he might be working on improving existing products, says Ashish Chandwani, a 2014 Informatics graduate who works on web properties and services at ExtraHop. “Every few days here, we have to come up with a solution from scratch.”

Employees are encouraged to chase their ideas, say iSchool alumni.  “If you show interest in something here, you can dive right in and start tackling problems,” says Kelly, who helped build an advanced new appliance for search capability while still working part-time. “It really hit on the things I studied at the iSchool like information architecture, searchability, and browsing. And even though I was only working a couple days a week, I was able to contribute to this big new feature and see it through the pipeline.”

Santosa, who is a senior engineer after only a few years at the company, was still an intern when he began building a new user-friendly code feature. By the time his internship ended, the feature was already in customer hands. “I could come in as an intern, design and build something, have the full support of my team, and get actual customer support all before I was a full-time employee. It was so rewarding.”

The quick uptake and output of iSchool colleagues doesn’t surprise Chandwani. “If you look at our staff, you see that people from the iSchool tend to be self-driven and creative,” he says.

They’re also highly skilled at making technology human-friendly and tailoring it to clients’ needs. It’s ingrained in them during their studies at the iSchool. “This is all the stuff the school caters to: getting stakeholders involved, listening to their concerns, being proactive,” says Chandwani, who has also begun recruiting friends from the school to work at ExtraHop. “At the iSchool, It’s not just can you write code, but can you write code that matters for the people you are writing it for?”

ExtraHop Director of Engineering Bhushan Khanal has witnessed what iSchool graduates are capable of. His company is reaping the rewards. “At ExtraHop, our platform, and by extension, our customers, have benefited tremendously from the skill and talent of our iSchool alumni.”