Webb School of Knoxville values and cherishes its Spartan alumni – all 7,000-plus of them. They are an integral part of the Webb School family, leading by example in making a positive difference in their communities and in the world. Spartan graduates are one of the school’s greatest assets – a testament to the impact of a Webb School education and the work of its teachers, staff, parents, and community – and are an invaluable resource and a powerful inspiration for Webb students.
Each year, Webb School has the privilege of presenting its Distinguished Alumnus/na Award to one Spartan graduate whose business or professional accomplishments and service to others exemplify the goals of Webb School in the spirit of its motto, Principes Non Homines – Leaders Not Men. Webb’s Distinguished Alumnus/na Award is among the highest honors bestowed upon a member of Webb’s alumni community. This past fall, Spartan Class of 1987 alumnus Omar Baldonado was named the recipient of Webb’s Distinguished Alumnus/na Award for 2020.
Omar Baldonado is Director of Software Engineering, Infra Network at Facebook. He is also a co-lead for Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP) networking initiative. At Facebook, Baldonado is part of the networking team, responsible for large-scale software systems that model, automate, monitor, and control Facebook’s network.
A graduate of Stanford University, Baldonado has been developing networking software for over 25 years and is a veteran of multiple startups in Silicon Valley in the field of computer networking. He recalls in the 1990s, when one of the startups was acquired by Cisco Systems, right around the advent of the World Wide Web. “It was a fascinating vantage point from which to watch the creation and growth of companies such as Cisco, Yahoo, eBay, and Google,” he said. During the 2000s, Baldonado went back to another networking startup, which was later acquired, and then spent a couple of years running his own company before joining Facebook. “Of course, I’ve loved seeing updates from many ‘Webbites’ over the past years on Facebook,” he remarks, “so I feel proud to have helped in my own way in keeping us all connected.”
A 2017 Webb Alumni Achievement Award recipient, Baldonado notes he can easily see the impact his Webb experience has had on him. “When I was in high school, it was hard for me to truly appreciate this, as I was frankly far more concerned about finding some friends and trying mightily to fit in,” he recalls. “But now, Webb’s motto, Principes Non Homines, really resonates.” For the dynamic, high-tech world, however, he says he’d change the motto slightly to be Leaders Not Coders. “It’s true that the high-tech world certainly needs expert software developers to write those latest apps, gadgets or services,” Baldonado explains, “but those companies also need engineers to be leaders – to show initiative and courage in starting up a new company or pursuing a crazy idea against all odds, to motivate and rally others to their particular cause and to effectively communicate their ideas to the world.”
Baldonado listed how Webb School provided this foundation for him. First, it offered a rigorous curriculum and engaged faculty. “My teachers mentored and challenged all of us to learn at a high level,” he said. Second, Webb provided a wide array of extracurriculars. “There were many formal clubs and teams,” Baldonado notes, “but there were also other activities, such as the Freshman Retreat and even Chapel Talks that encouraged us to come out of our shells and become leaders.” And third, his Spartan classmates. “While we had different interests and ran in different circles, our class still felt like a tight community,” he said. “I’m so thankful for everyone who helped make my Webb experience what it was.”
Omar Baldonado joins 29 other Spartan alumni who have received Webb’s celebrated Distinguished Alumnus/na Award since the honor was inaugurated in 1991. For a list of previous recipients, click HERE.