Google Business Operations Project Manger and Joint Venture board member
By Duffy Jennings | Published: August 2010
Considering Google has a global workforce of more than 21,000 today, it was still a relatively small 3000-employee company when Larry Alder signed on in the product management group back in the ancient days of 2005.
Alder then reported to Susan Wojcicki, whose Menlo Park garage Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had rented a few years earlier to incubate the company. She had become Google’s first marketing manager and today is vice president of product management.
“It was a good time to come into Google,” Alder recalled the other day in his office on the sprawling Google campus in Mountain View. “Larry and Sergey had a strong interest in wireless and I was able to develop good working relationships with them and other top executives.”
Alder currently heads Google’s Business Operations Access Group, responsible for a number of product, policy and strategic investment activities promoting open Internet access.
He is also a core team member for Google’s Municipal Wi-Fi Network and Google’s fiber to the home initiative. It was the municipal Wi-Fi effort in particular that led to Google’s alliance with Joint Venture three years ago. A year later, Alder replaced a prior Google executive on the Joint Venture board and is now the board champion for the organization’s wireless initiative.
“We are focusing more on our community,” says Alder. “We are looking at new technologies like satellite and fiber to the home. Muni-Fi is certainly an area where we got exposed to working with the local community. We continue to interface locally and we have a good relationship with the city.
“Joint Venture is helping to bring all of the key parties together and we want to participate in the effort. My role is to help plug in the right people.”
Minnie Ingersoll, another product manager in the Access Group who has worked alongside Alder since he arrived at Google, says he “is the scientist, the person everyone turns to as the expert. Larry doesn’t try to spin the story. He’s pretty straightforward. I think the world of him.”
If the technology and terminology around Wi-Fi and Internet access all sounds like rocket science to some, Google and Joint Venture have the right person on the team.
Alder holds a BS in mechanical aerospace and nuclear engineering from UCLA, and a master’s and Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford.
“I was always good with math and science,” says Alder, who was born and reared in Davis as the only child of educators. His father, Henry, was a prominent math professor at UC Davis. He endowed the Henry L. Alder graduate fellowship in mathematics that bears his name and he was a celebrated member of the Mathematics Association of America for many years until his death in 2002. Larry’s mother, Benne, was also a teacher.
“Davis was an idyllic town to grow up in,” Alder recalls. “I went to Davis High School and played basketball and water polo there. In the summers, he washed dishes at the Bar 717 Ranch, a youth camp near Hayfork. There he gained a passion for white water rafting and later became a guide on wilderness river rafting trips in Northern California and Oregon.
When it came time for college, my father said, ‘You can go anywhere you want – as long as it’s a UC.’
“Like most high schoolers, I wanted to leave home so I went to UCLA. I thought I was going to do mechanical, but then I got interested in control theory,” – an interdisciplinary branch of engineering and mathematics that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems.
He also developed an interest in another UCLA student, Jan Tom, who he met on a ski trip to Mammoth Mountain and who would later become his wife.
Alder entered graduate school at Stanford in 1986 thinking he might become a professor but his career path has taken a different turn, although he did return to Stanford a few years later as a lecturer for one course.
After Stanford, he spent two years as an engineer with Adept Technology, and then in 1995 he joined a startup called ArrayComm that was developing multi-antenna signal processing (MAS) software for wireless communications systems. The company was led by Martin Cooper, a wireless communications pioneer generally considered the father of the cell phone.
During a ten-year career at ArrayComm, Alder held a variety of roles, rising to become vice president of technology development and vice president of product management. While there, he led efforts that synthesized smart antenna technology, implemented ArrayComm’s first commercial products for PHS basestations, and developed prototypes for a Wireless Local Loop system and iBurst.
“Larry is a thinker, very insightful, very thoughtful and thorough,” said Alan Norman, a colleague of Alder’s at ArrayComm who is now CEO of Amicus Wireless Technology. The two have remained friends and still ski together occasionally. “I enjoy bouncing ideas off him because I know he will think things through.”
After leaving there, he took on a consulting assignment with Google that quickly turned into a full-time position.
“The Access Group has three goals,” he noted. “We are working to have more access with a bigger broadband pipe, to preserve the openness of the Internet and to bring the open ethos to the wireless world.
“We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still a lot of work to be done. There are projects like the Muni Wi-Fi and fiber to the home, policy work and strategic investing.”
Earlier this year, Alder was appointed to the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), a group that advises the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications on matters of spectrum.
Larry and Jan, who will celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, have two daughters, Allison, 15, and Cate, 11. He has coached the girls in basketball and other sports, and the family holds season tickets to Stanford women’s basketball. They enjoy frequent ski trips and Stanford family camp in the summer.
Speaking of family activities, another extra-curricular interest of Larry’s is a web site he developed for parents to help young people learn about money management called Smart Piggy Bank, www.smartpiggybank.com.
It may never be an Internet behemoth with 21,000 employees, but like Google, it empowers its users with information that enhances their lives.