The Burney Twins: Building Careers and Solutions Together

June 26, 2017 by Georgeanne Oliver

Sonia and Sabrina have a lot in common. They both work at Akamai, they’re both in the Global Services division, and they’re both Solutions Architects. You might even say they’re like twins. And you’d be right!

The Burney sisters grew up together in Pleasanton, California, where they were inseparable. Years later, they found their way onto the same team at Akamai. The Inside Akamai team spoke with Sabrina and Sonia about what it’s like to work with family. Here’s what they had to say about their unusual relationship.

How did you both end up working at Akamai?

Sabrina: Shortly after my first job out of college, I joined Akamai looking for a role where I could use my technical expertise in a social and consulting setting. A couple of years into the company, I sought to bring on Sonia in hopes that she too would enjoy the work as much as I do.

Sonia: It wasn’t long before I decided to make the move to Akamai. I had met Sabrina's coworkers many times and saw the type of work she was doing. I thought it was great opportunity to work with an innovative team…and I was right! Sabrina and I had never worked together, on the same team, so I thought it would be a great experience playing off one another’s strengths in an attempt to build on our knowledge here at Akamai.

Tell me about your roles as Solutions Architects in the Global Services division. How is the work you do similar and different?

Sabrina: We specifically work on the Advanced Solutions Services team where we have the ability to develop custom solutions catered to our customers. Initially, Sonia and I were not on the same team. In fact, I jumped between quite a few teams, where I could experience different verticals within services including media, security and now, Web Experience. Eventually we made our way to the same team and work very well collaborating on different projects.

Sonia: I had initially been brought on to the Front-End Optimization (FEO) team, where I could really utilize my front-end development background. When Sabrina and I moved to the same team, we both found ourselves working on a variety of custom projects—some similar to one another and some very different. She has her expertise in security, while I have mine in front-end development, so we have been able to help one another on different custom solutions that come up on a daily basis. Our strengths complement one another very well.

You both work for Akamai in the same department, but Sonia is in Santa Clara and Sabrina is in Cambridge. Who has the best office? What are the biggest difference between the east coast v. the west and Akamai’s presence there?

Sabrina: Initially after joining Akamai, I worked out of the Santa Clara office, until last year when I moved to our Cambridge office. Being here in Cambridge gives me the ability to meet more colleagues and collaborate with different groups/projects, so I’d have to say the biggest difference is the networking aspect, which is a great benefit. However, the Santa Clara office will always be my “favorite” office because of my team and colleagues that I’ve known for quite some time.

Sonia: So basically, to summarize Sabrina’s stance, the Santa Clara office is better! Just kidding. I do enjoy the Cambridge office as well for the same reasons Sabrina stated. You end up meeting more individuals from different teams, as well as having more management networking opportunities, which is definitely important for growth here at Akamai. Given that most of my team members are here in the bay area, I find it very advantageous to work out of the Santa Clara or San Francisco offices.

Tell me a little bit about growing up together. How has your relationship changed, now that you’re adult colleagues?

Sabrina: Growing up together was essentially like having a live-in best friend, not only because we are siblings but because we’re twins. In our younger years (pre-college graduation), we had many similar interests including playing on the same soccer team, track team, studying computer engineering in school, etc. While our personalities are slightly different now, we remain interested in the same activities and work-related projects as well. Being at the same company and on the same team has actually brought us closer as we now relate on all aspects of our current lives (work and non-work).

Sonia: We definitely encompassed everything about being twins. Matching outfits, the same schools, the same classes, and the same major. People mention that we are inseparable, which I guess is right since we now work together! She moved to the east coast last summer, yet I still find that working together as well as our bond keeps us closer than ever.

What inspired you both to go into this field?

Sabrina: Right away in high school, I had a passion for math and physics, which led me to explore areas in tech. In fact, our high school also offered our very first coding class which exposed us to programming in C. After that point, I knew that I wanted to work in the tech industry and be able to use my programming skill set, in addition to my consulting interests. Because of these interests, I opted for studying computer engineering at Santa Clara University.

Sonia: We often laugh about how we have very similar responses for these types of questions. In high school, I was the same way. My strong suit was math and the logical approach to solving different problems. With that background, I found that becoming a software developer made the most sense. It helped having Sabrina around so we could bounce ideas off one another, which is what we now do today as adult colleagues.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Sabrina: I hope to advance my skill set and learn as many new technologies as possible. Being able to cater to customers and work on advanced solutions is what I enjoy doing most, and hope to achieve even more advanced solutions as the years progress.

Sonia: She stole my answer. Only slightly kidding! In all seriousness, I hope to advance in the type of problems and solutions I am able to solve, whether it’s Akamai or developer specific. In 10 years, I plan to be the “it” girl who can solve some of the craziest problems out there through my adaptability, innovative skills, and technological savviness.

Tell me about a custom technical solution you’ve done for a customer.

Sonia: Our team has the privilege of working on many different types of complex issues - some pre-existing and some completely new. We worked on a specific solution to detect anomalous behavior leveraging both browser and platform capabilities in order to track user sessions and help to prevent account checking / fraud. All this was accomplished through advanced metadata, really pushing the boundaries of what the platform is capable of. For the customer, through this solution, we ended up successfully investigating low volumetric account checkers that would have otherwise gone undetected.

Sabrina: Not only did we leverage advanced metadata for the described solution, we were able to apply similar logic to other various projects by utilizing the Edge counter capability. This capability allows for us to use the Edge’s cache as a datastore to store information on end user requests across multiple sessions. With this functionality, we were able to achieve detection of anomalous behaviors as well as detection in other areas including third party performance issues. More specifically, we used a combination of Service Workers and the Edge counter capability to monitor and take action on slow third party domains for a particular website. The third party mitigation strategy is promising as third party performance concerns continue to grow, as they can indirectly cause security and/or performance issues such as Single-Point-of-Failure for our customers.

How are you similar? How are you different?

Sabrina: One of the biggest similarities between us is the fact that we both work really hard, even if that means staying up late at night learning something new to beat a deadline.

Sonia: While we both definitely stay up until the last possible second to figure out any issues we run in to, we also differ in our demeanor when it comes to solving these issues. I tend to stress out more, and it is definitely visible, but luckily, Sabrina is quite the opposite. She maintains her calm. This difference actually helps us to work together, as I stress important details, while she keeps us moving forward with her calmness.

What is on each of your desks right now?

Sabrina: I’d have to admit that I’m pretty messy when it comes to my desk. There are many sheets of paper with scribbles everywhere, but I’ve pinned up a few pictures and would like to add more decorative pieces to my somewhat recent desk in Cambridge.

Sonia: I have a lot of random things on my desk. Actually, a lot of it is what Sabrina left behind when she moved to the Cambridge office since we sat right next to one another. Notepads, an endless supply of water bottles, and everything I need to make my board ever so colorful with all my work and non-work drawings.

What is one thing on each of your bucket lists that you absolutely must do?

Sabrina: Originally, the top contender on my bucket list involved seeing the northern lights, but I was fortunate enough to witness them last year. Another thing on my bucket list is to travel to as many countries as possible, mainly Russia as I admired it from an architectural point of view growing up (admittedly from watching the movie “Anastasia”).

Sonia: My bucket list is mostly filled with places to see and travel to. There is so much of the world to see, enjoy, and learn about from a historical point of view, that I am determine to visit as many countries as possible. The current item to tackle is to visit New Zealand and all the places where “Lord of the Rings” was filmed (one of my favorite movies).

If you could swap places for a day, what would you do?

Sabrina: Funny thing about swapping places is that we’re so alike that we would essentially lead similar lives. But, if I could indeed swap places with Sonia for a day, I would probably just embrace being back in the Bay Area.

Sonia: If I could swap places with Sabrina, first of all, I would not do it in winter, because Boston winters are supposedly brutal. I would travel to Europe quite frequently. Living on the east coast has its advantages, and one of them is the much shorter flights to Europe.