Smashing Spotlight: Harry Akaki, Sr. Network Administrator

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Harry Akaki, Sr. Network Administrator, to talk shop, what it was like to be a road manager for Michael Jackson, and exactly why he has Gold and Platinum records adorning his office.


You’re responsible for making sure we have everything we need to create the most actively engaging digital experiences possible. What does your day-to-day look like?

I make data sing and dance, and generally do magic every day! I start between 5 AM and 6 AM and begin coordinating IT issues with our parent company, Penguin Random House. After that I spend most of the day monitoring and securing the network and keeping it up and running, including all of the computers, laptops, servers, wireless access points, switches and routers, all while handling a number of issues for folks throughout the agency.


Rumor has it you’re responsible for discovering Sir Mix-a-Lot. Any truth to the rumors, and if so, details please!

Not true, per se, but I did give Mix his first national trade press coverage and forced people to take notice that there was more to the Pacific Northwest music scene than rock bands. At the time I was living in LA and working as Retail Editor for Urban Network, a weekly trade magazine servicing urban radio and retail. I spoke to music retailers and wholesalers around the country and kept hearing about this guy in Seattle called Sir-Mix-A-Lot and a song called “Square Dance Rap”. I wrote about in my weekly column, so when SWASS came out and “Posse on Broadway” was a huge regional breakout, I was the first to write about it and helped spread the word.


As we’re now fully into the second half of 2015, what new technological advances are you excited about seeing by the end of the year?

I am excited about the recent announcements regarding miniaturization that will allow processors to become much smaller with higher density, which will result in faster and more powerful processing as devices will continue to get smaller, thinner and faster. For a time it looked like Moore’s Law was going to top out, but it will continue to hold true for the time being. New phase change memory is what I’m keeping my eye on. As this technology becomes widely available, it will fundamentally change the way computers operate.


You were the Road Manager for The Jackson’s Victory Tour. Care to share anything on Michael, Tito or Jermaine?

A tour that big has a few different road managers and I was one of three. Working behind the scenes gives you a unique perspective. Regardless of his eccentricities, Michael Jackson was the most professional performer I ever met. He was totally engaged in all aspects of the show and was ALWAYS practicing and rehearsing his moves. In rehearsals he worked nonstop, even through all the breaks. We had a very large crew due to the complexity of the show, but he knew everybody’s name and job and made sure to acknowledge them before or after each show.


You’ve had an extremely varied career. What are some standout moments?

While at Microsoft, I am very proud of my work supporting the thousands of internal SharePoint sites within MS and later being chosen for the initial Managed Services Group supporting their external customers’ SharePoint sites around the world.

I am also proud of my five years as co-manager of the Fusion Jazz group, Hiroshima. While I managed them we toured the US, Japan and the Philippines. Our first album made it to the semifinals for a Grammy nomination and our second album was nominated for a Grammy, which I happened to sing backup on, along with the third album. They continue to do well today and six years ago were again nominated for a Grammy for their 15th album.

Also, in my years at Urban Network I earned 9 of my 14 Gold and Platinum records for artists such as Ice Cube, Digital Underground, NWA, De La Soul and of course, Sir Mix A Lot. My weekly column was read by people around the country and prompted my writing features for other music magazines, such as The Source.


What piece of technology can’t you live without?

My microwave oven is a piece of technology that I use everyday and cannot fathom how I would get through each day without it. I think that universally it may be one of the most indispensible pieces of technology on the planet. Just imagine going through your day…your week…without being able to use a microwave oven. I remember LBMO (life before microwave ovens) and would hate to go back there.


What song best describes your work ethic?

“City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman – I feel like that train that’s always moving and connecting people and places. I’m like the Engineer and Conductor of the train that keeps rolling day and night. People can take the train for granted and don’t necessarily notice the work it takes to keep it going, nor the people it takes to operate it.


Craziest story you can share from being an extra on the original Tron and Blade Runner movies?

Tron was a lot of fun. I was in one of the opening scenes in Flynn’s video arcade. It was so cool to get paid for playing video games and never having to put any quarters in the machines. I was in the foreground of one scene on the right side of the screen for a few seconds. We (Hiroshima) were touring in Northern California and the Producer of the movie was an old friend of the bandleader. He asked if we were doing anything and since we had a day off between gigs, we headed out to Livermore and had fun.

Working on a movie is extremely boring especially for a crowd extra, which is what I was in Blade Runner. I worked a regular day job, took a nap and headed down to the studio. They would put us through makeup and wardrobe and then feed us. We’d report to the set around 9-10 pm and stand around for a few hours. My job was to walk across the street at a corner until I was behind a building, wait 10 seconds and walk back. We were about 50 ft. from the camera setup and all the action, and after a full week of work, they never ended up using that setup…showbiz.


What similarities do you see in the entertainment industry and the digital/tech world?

The similarity most evident is that both are constantly evolving at an ever-accelerating pace. Both are casual environments with people whose creativity and innovation are unlimited and mind-boggling. They are both about what is going on right now and both tend to focus on emerging trends and shifts in public taste.


You’ve been at Smashing for some time now. Long tenures in the technology industry are rare. What keeps you engaged at SI?

I would have to say it’s the guidance and support of the leadership team. It’s not just their insight to the ever-changing landscape of the digital world and vision of our place in that world, but their ability to turn that vision into reality. It doesn’t hurt that I get to work with some of the most creative people on the planet. The creativity vibe makes it feel like everything is always new.

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