It’s been one year since I joined Cloudflare as Head of Australia and New Zealand. While it has been a great year for our ANZ operations, it is hard to stop thinking about the elephant in the room, especially as I’m writing this blog from my home in the middle of Melbourne’s lockdown.
The pandemic has not only disrupted our daily lives, but has also caused a massive shift to remote work for many of us. As a result, security teams lost visibility into office network traffic, their employees moved to unsupervised WiFi networks with new video conferencing technology, and their IT teams found that their out-dated VPN platforms could not handle all the traffic of remote employees. While many organisations were already moving to cloud-based applications, this year has exacerbated the need for greater security posture. Our team has been even more humbled by our mission to help build a better Internet and help organisations face the increased security threats COVID-19 has triggered. With that in mind, I’d like to take a look back at the milestones of the past year.
First, I’d like to recognise how strong and resilient our people have been in the past year. It is not just about the pandemic. It is about a team that has grown more than 60% in size, and for some, have never had the opportunity to meet their colleagues face-to-face, but managed to keep our spirit and culture alive. I’m so proud of how the team continues to meet every customer challenge head on, answering urgent calls for help, many of whom needed to optimise and secure their systems for a remote workforce unprepared for 2020’s curveball.
This is an essential piece in helping to build a better Internet, and the mission is far from over. We recognise the Internet has become an essential service, and greater Internet usage has come with greater cyber risk, and COVID has put the spotlight on the security pain points that Australian organisations and citizens are facing. Scammers have stolen AU$1.2 million from Australians in the first six months of the year, and our recent report ranked Australia fifth in the world for the volume of DDoS attacks targeting Internet properties in Q2.
We need to continue building strong defences against these threats. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy a few weeks ago, which I had the privilege to consult for. However, we need to go further than this and provide organisations with more than a loose plan for upgrading their security standards.
This is why our mission remains more important than ever, and we are ready to take more on. By the end of 2020 and through 2021, we plan to grow our team significantly to meet the challenges. In the meantime, I believe we need to keep that conversation alive, elevate the message to every board member, and every employee regarding the security risks Australian organisations are facing to really spark a change.
With that said, I am heartened by the increasing number of organisations, large and small, that we have been discussing or working with in the past 12 months. In total, we have had conversations on security with hundreds of organisations over the year, including dozens of meetings on my end with CIOs, CSOs and CISOs, with a very positive response regarding the urgent need for greater security. I have the feeling we are building some kind of community, all rallying behind that common goal.
A few specific examples stand out, as they are perfect illustrations of the variety of problems the team has been able to solve, but also of organisations currently looking for optimisation and security. They are incredibly different, but equally exciting. The first is Australian tech darling Canva, whose online graphic design tool is used by 20 million people and businesses worldwide. Canva is the perfect example of a business we have helped scale while maintaining performance and security for their users and employees to meet external challenges, including in recent times. Today Canva uses a number of our solutions including Cloudflare Access to secure remote access to internal apps, Workers to customize how user traffic is handled at the network edge, and Bot Management to significantly reduce cyberattacks by image-scraping bots.
“As our business grows, and we expand our product offerings, we’re constantly running into new technical challenges. Just as Canva simplifies graphic design, Cloudflare simplifies performance and security. Thanks to Cloudflare, we can focus on improving our product and expanding into new markets with confidence, knowing that our platform is fast, reliable, and secure.” – Jim Tyrrell, Head of Infrastructure, Canva
The other one is the organisation Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, which is a participant of Cloudflare’s Project Galileo. At Cloudflare, we believe helping to build a better Internet comes with offering more equal access to cybersecurity solutions to vulnerable groups. In 2014, we launched Project Galileo to provide enterprise-level cybersecurity services at no charge to qualified public interest groups like artists, advocates, humanitarian organizations, and the voices of political dissent.
Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef’s purpose is essential: working to protect and conserve the Great Barrier Reef through in-water projects and public engagement. With a strong emphasis on digital innovation and open source data, the organisation relies on its website to engage and mobilise people around the world to join their mission. Through Project Galileo, we’ve helped them to secure their origin server from large bursts of traffic or malicious actors attempting to access the website.
“Under Project Galileo we’re always online – a web-fronted not-for-profit running on the resources of a startup, but with the network confidence of an enterprise.” – Som Meaden, Technologist at Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef
However, there is only so much we can do alone. Because we are stronger together, we continue to establish and reinforce strategic partnerships in the region. In June, we strengthened our relationship with Rackspace to provide our shared users with combined services aimed at securing and optimising their growing online presence. We have also partnered with Baidam and AC3. Finally, even though our coverage in ANZ is already significant, we continue to expand in adding more points of presence in the region.
This first year has certainly been interesting in so many aspects. It has been unexpected and challenging, but also a journey full of learnings I believe have made me a stronger individual and business leader. I work with a team full of talented individuals, customers that share our purpose, and key partners that make us stronger. With all these allies around us, I’m looking at the future full of optimism for our purpose to build a better, safer, and more resilient Internet. Join the cause.
I’ve recently joined Cloudflare as Head of Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ). This is an important time for the company as we continue to grow our presence locally to address the demand in A/NZ, recruit local talent, and build on the successes we’ve had in our other offices around the globe. In this new role, I’m eager to grow our brand recognition in A/NZ and optimise our reach to customers by building up my team and channel presence.
A little about me
I’m a Melburnian born and bred (most livable city in the world!) with more than 20 years of experience in our market. From guiding strategy and architecture of the region’s largest resources company, BHP, to building and running teams and channels, and helping customers solve the technical challenges of their time, I have been in, or led, businesses in the A/NZ Enterprise market, with a focus on network and security for the last six years.
I joined Cloudflare because I strongly believe in its mission to help build a better Internet, and believe this mission, paired with its massive global network, will enable the company to continue to deliver incredibly innovative solutions to customers of all segments.
Four years ago, I was lucky to build and lead the VMware Network & Security business, working with some of Cloudflare’s biggest A/NZ customers. I was confronted with the full extent of the security challenges that A/NZ businesses face. I recognized that there must be a better way to help customers secure their local and multi-cloud environments. That’s how I found Cloudflare. With Cloudflare’s Global Cloud Platform, businesses have an integrated solution that offers the best in security, performance and reliability.
Second, something that’s personally important for me as the son of Italian migrants, and now a dad of two gorgeous daughters, is that Cloudflare is serious about culture and diversity. When I was considering joining Cloudflare, I watched videos from the Internet Summit, an annual event that Cloudflare hosts in its San Francisco office. One thing that really stood out to me was that the speakers came from so many different backgrounds.
I’m extremely passionate about encouraging those from all walks of life to pursue opportunities in business and tech, so seeing the diversity of people giving insightful talks made me realise that this was a company I wanted to work for, and hopefully perhaps my girls as well (no pressure).
I strongly believe that Cloudflare’s mission, paired with its massive global network, will enable customers of all sizes in segments in Australia and New Zealand to leverage Cloudflare’s security, performance and reliability solutions.
Making security and speed, which are necessary for any strong business, available to anyone with an Internet property is truly a noble goal. That’s another one of the reasons I’m most excited to work at Cloudflare.
Australians and Kiwis alike have always been great innovators and users of technology. However, being so physically isolated (Perth is the most isolated city in the world and A/NZ are far from pretty much everywhere else in the world) has limited our ability to have the diversity of choice and competition. Our isolation from said choice and competition fueled innovation, but at the price of complexity, cost, and ease. This makes having local servers absolutely vital for good performance. With Cloudflare’s expansive network, 98 percent of the Internet-connected developed world is located within 100 milliseconds of our network. In fact, Cloudflare already has data centers in Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney, ensuring that customers in A/NZ have access to a secure, fast, and reliable Internet.
Our opportunities in Australia, New Zealand and beyond…
I’m truly looking forward to helping Cloudflare grow its reach over the next five years. If you are a business in Australia and New Zealand and have a cyber-security, performance or reliability need, get in touch with us (1300 748 959). We’d love to explore how we can help.
If you’re interested in exploring careers at Cloudflare, we are hiring globally. Our team in Australia is small today, about a dozen, and we are growing quickly. We have open roles in Solutions Engineering and Business Development Representatives. Check out our careers page to learn more, or send me a note.
Happy Pride from Proudflare, Cloudflare’s LGBTQIA+ employee resource group. We wanted to share some stories from our members this month which highlight both the struggles behind the LGBTQIA+ rights movement and its successes. This first story is from Lesley.
The moment that crystalised the memory of that day…crystal blue afternoon, bright-coloured autumn leaves, borrowed tables, crockery and cutlery, flowers arranged by a cousin, cake baked by a neighbour, music mixed by a friend… our priest/rabbi a close gay friend with neither yarmulke nor collar. The venue, a backyard kitty-corner at the home my wife grew up in. Love and good wishes in abundance from a community that supports us and our union. And in the middle of all that, my wife… turning to me and smiling, grass stains on the bottom of her long cream wedding dress after abandoning her heels and dancing barefoot in the grass. As usual, a microphone in hand, bringing life and laughter to all with her charismatic quips.
Our first marriage was as legal as marrying two donkeys, with all the attached rights
This was the fall of 2002 and same-sex marriage was legal in 0 of the 50 United States.
It was a tough time economically. We had a front row seat to the historic internet boom and bust. My company filed chapter 11 bankruptcy and my customer’s customers were going out of business. I did not anticipate getting a job anytime soon. So after a lot of silver-tongued persuading, I convinced my wife to quit her job, rent out our home, buy a RV. We grabbed our two Australian shepherds and toured the US for a nine-month honeymoon. Forty-five states and 36,000 miles later, we still had some funds left over and I wanted to show Robin my other home, so we travelled to South Africa for 6 weeks. Just before we got on our flight back to the US, we heard news from our family that Gavin Newsom, the then mayor of San Francisco was going to declare same-sex marriage legal and begin issuing marriage licenses in San Francisco. The trip back to the Bay Area took 42 hours door-to-door and had a nine-hour time change. We got home, dropped off our bags and the very next morning, completely jet-lagged, went back into the city to stand in line to get our marriage license.
Our second marriage was a much smaller and more intimate affair
Held in an alcove in the beautiful San Francisco City Hall rotunda with its exquisite architectural design and a view of the grand staircase. It was attended by Robin’s parents and a couple of our close friends that could take the time at such short notice. Knowing that the time window was closing, we grabbed the opportunity to have our marriage recognised legally along with dozens of other jubilant gay couples.
Alas, a short time later, we received an annulment in the mail. We received that, along with an apology and a request that we donate the licensing fees to the city. We were disappointed, but felt our love was strong enough to carry us through and who needed a piece of paper anyway, right?!?
Our attitude changed significantly when we had our son. We had been trying for a while and what finally worked for us was to take my egg along with a sperm bank donation, and impregnate Robin. To this day, my mom says I’m the best delegator she knows. I delegated childbirth. I also delegated all my rights as Joey’s mother. Absent a marriage, in California, the birth mother has all the rights and responsibilities.
Robin had been in a relationship before me where she had planned and had a child with another woman. When they split up, Robin had no rights to see or have access to the child. She also had no obligation to support the child in any way, financial or other.
We wanted to make sure Joey never faced that predicament and without the option for marriage, took the next available avenue. I adopted Joey. Even though he is genetically my child, we had to go through a lengthy and costly procedure to adopt him. We had child protective services inspect our home and come for numerous visits to ensure I would be a “suitable” parent for my child. Eventually, I was granted adoption approval and we went to family court in Martinez where I came before a judge and officially adopted Joey as my son.
In the early summer of 2008, the California Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in California. We were the second state to make it legal after Massachusetts. The court found that barring same-sex couples from marriage violated California State’s Constitution.
Queue marriage number three…
In the period between the declaration and Prop 8 passing, Robin and I joined 18,000 gay couples that tied the knot.
At this point, we were pros at getting married and went with casual jeans and white cotton shirts, which was easier for everyone including our son who attended our wedding. This was the first marriage where our legal rights and responsibilities actually stuck. These rights were only valid in California however, so on any travel outside of our beautiful state our union would be considered illegitimate. From a tax perspective, it was a real adventure with every advisor having a different take on the way we should file our taxes. Federally our marriage was not recognized, but in California it was. This lead to a lot of confusion and added expenses every April.
Little did we know the backlash that our happy/gay marriages would cause. The religious, conservative right came back at us with Prop 8 for daring to expect equality.
From our perspective, there was no other way to view this than vengeful and born out of malice for gays. Why would these people care that we wanted to live together and have the protections of marriage? I saw this as a group of people wanting to impose their religion and view of what a marriage should be on us. We were on vacation in Hawaii when the election results were announced, sweet with Barack Obama being elected and so, so very bitter with Prop 8 passing.
Prop 8 provoked a lot of soul-searching for me. I was very angry and had a general distrust of people that I had never felt before. I would be in the supermarket line and wonder who there may or may not have voted against my marriage. It was deeply personal and hurtful. We had Mormon friends, who are for the most part wonderful and whose company we enjoyed. Knowing the extreme measures their community went to to ensure Prop 8 passed, cut me deeply. Catholics and conservatives who are both family and friends, went out of their way to harm me and my family and to make our lives more difficult because they believed we were sinners and not worthy of equality in the eyes of the law. Fortunately, our marriage was grandfathered in, so our rights in California were preserved.
The one ray of light was watching our allies stand up and come to our defense. In my life, I’ve pretty much always been part of the privileged class. I’m a white woman with a degree who grew up in an affluent home. I had never personally experienced discrimination or felt part of a marginalized minority. To have allies that stepped up and argued on our behalf brought tears to my eyes. We would not have the rights we have today without those allies. This was a significant lesson for me to learn. I will always stand up for the disenfranchised and make my voice heard to defend those who cannot defend themselves as others have done for me and my family. I know how much it means.
Life went on, and the fight went on, gathering momentum as more states legalized same sex marriage initially through court action and then through popular vote.
June 26, 2015 was a triumphant day
We celebrated a landmark victory for gay rights as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was repealed. Finally, our marriage was recognised in every state in the Union.
We still consider our first wedding as the day we got married. We wrote our own vows and they have traveled with us from home to home framed with pride on the wall in our bedroom.
In October this year, Robin and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’ve been together 19 years in total and it’s been quite a ride. I promised Robin I’d marry her seven times, we still have a way to go!
Cloudflare’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) have seen great progress over the past few years and the future looks even brighter. I joined as Head of EMEA Sales, taking responsibility for our customer-facing activity across the region, just over a year ago. I am encouraged by what we are building while being even more motivated by what lies ahead for our customers, our partners and our employees.
Cloudflare has a rich history in EMEA where London was one of the earliest bases for both the company’s engineering and also its customer-facing activities. In the subsequent years, we have expanded our customer-facing activity to include coverage into all the major EMEA countries and regions. We’ve built up a team of professional sales and business development people, capable systems engineers, dedicated customer success managers, thoughtful marketeers and a responsive customer support team who serve our existing customers and develop new ones as a committed and focused team.
We work on developing brand awareness for Cloudflare and extending our reach into the market through communications, events and most of all through ongoing close engagement with customers, prospective customers and partners. We carry the Cloudflare mission of helping build a better Internet to the market and reinforce it every chance we get.
A short word about myself
I’m a British-Canadian with more than 25 years experience growing international businesses, mostly in the Internet area with leading companies such as Cisco. I speak a little French and Japanese as a result of my travels and have a great appreciation for the rich cultures and incredible diversity that we have in the EMEA region. I see opportunity throughout EMEA and am excited to apply what I’ve learned to help Cloudflare expand and serve our customers here.
Looking into the region
EMEA is a vast, diverse region encompassing approximately 120 countries across 3 continents with a huge variety of cultures, languages and backgrounds of its people. From large, influential countries like Germany, the United Kingdom and France to dynamic, innovative countries such as Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands to fast-growing, emerging countries like Poland, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa there is a tremendous breadth of opportunity and demand for Cloudflare in these attractive and diverse markets.
Our customers in EMEA are some of the most innovative and advanced in the world. Building on Cloudflare’s usual strengths around securing and making more performant our customers’ websites and digital assets, we are increasingly having new conversations with customers in their key areas of their innovation. For example, many companies in EMEA are at the forefront of the trend towards serverless computing and Cloudflare is enabling them on that path with Cloudflare Workers.
Another area of focus is corporate security including identity and access management where Cloudflare Access is being deployed by a number of forward-looking organisations. Customers using additional network protocols such as UDP in the gaming industry and TCP in financial trading markets are leveraging Cloudflare’s Spectrum capability for enhanced security and network traffic handling. This exciting progress is leading our customers to enjoy increasing breadth of usage and strategic value from Cloudflare’s solutions.
On the security and privacy front, in the European market in particular, there is a strong focus on data privacy and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations). Cloudflare is closely engaged with policymakers at the European Union in Brussels to align with and influence these important policy developments.
Our customers continue to be from digital, online, born on the web/cloud sectors while increasingly we are also adding customers from more traditional corporate, and in many cases global, environments where Cloud-based services are seeing rapid adoption as these customers go through digital transformation. Multi-cloud is also an important theme in particular with larger customers who are diversifying away from a single Cloud provider. Cloudflare is well placed to serve customer needs around all these trends.
Here are a few of our exciting EMEA customer stories:
London continues to be the base camp for our activities where we have a customer facing the team of approximately 100 people carrying out our activities supporting and developing customers. We have over 20 nationalities represented on the team and 29 and counting languages covered. It’s a diverse and committed team that is well aligned to the broad, diverse markets we serve. We represent a significant portion of Cloudflare’s business globally and are growing fast.
We’ve recently moved to a large new office space in a great location at London County Hall. In fact, we can see a number of our important customers in the UK public sector and corporate sector from our new office. We celebrated this new office opening with an event in April where our co-founders CEO Matthew Prince and COO Michelle Zatlyn both made the journey from San Francisco to co-host. This new modern office space is well set up to receive existing and prospective customers as well as other key parties such as partners and developers in a professional and comfortable environment conveniently located in central London.
Alongside our customer-facing team in London is, of course, a significant portion of our global engineering team which is led by our CTO John Graham-Cumming. So, our customers and our employees benefit by having all elements of Cloudflare’s business from engineering to product management to all customers facing activities under one roof.
In 2018 we’ve added a second important customer-facing base in Munich, Germany to serve the Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (DACH) markets under the leadership of Stefan Henke. Our DACH team has been growing rapidly, approaching 20 people to support an exciting rate of new customer growth in the region.
We work with a number of committed channel partners throughout the region and are working to extend that cooperation while developing new partners such that we can best serve Cloudflare customers throughout the region. We’ve appointed a Head of EMEA Channel partnerships, Anwar Karzazi, who leads our team and activities building these partnerships in the region.
The Cloudflare network is powered by data centers in over 180 cities around the world including 70+ in EMEA. With our strong coverage In most parts of EMEA, we are typically able to process requests of our customers web site traffic very rapidly ensuring a great experience for their customers and visitors.
Our annual London Connect customer event is happening today at our County Hall location. The event brings together our customers, prospective customers, partners, developers and other interested parties for a full day of information exchange and presentations focusing on the success our customers are having with Cloudflare solutions. If you are already planning to attend, keep an eye on our Twitter account for schedule updates!
If you’re interested in exploring your career at Cloudflare, we are hiring in Europe and globally! Our team in London and in Munich is looking to expand across the region for roles including Account Executives, Business Development Representatives, Customer Success Engineering, Solutions Engineering, Technical Support, Network Engineering, Systems Reliability Engineering, Sales Operations and also in Product Development/Engineering and more. Check out our careers page to learn more!
I’m looking forward to helping Cloudflare grow substantially in EMEA in the coming years!
Thanks to everyone within Cloudflare who is helping us to build up a great EMEA business with the aim of serving our growing base of EMEA and global customers exceptionally well.
If you are a Cloudflare customer in EMEA reading this, thank you and expect our continued innovation and commitment to you and your organisation. Thinking about becoming a customer? We’d love to have you with us. Our EMEA team looks forward to serving you and extending the value we bring to you in the future.
Power is the precursor to all modern technology. James Watt’s steam engine energized the factory, Edison and Tesla’s inventions powered street lamps, and now both fossil fuels and renewable resources power the trillions of transistors in computers and phones. In the words of anthropologist Leslie White: “Other things being equal, the degree of cultural development varies directly as the amount of energy per capita per year harnessed and put to work.”
Unfortunately, most of the traditional ways to generate power are simply not sustainable. Burning coal or natural gas releases carbon dioxide which directly leads to global warming, and threatens the habitats of global ecosystems, and by extension humans. If we can’t minimize the impact, our world will be dangerously destabilized — mass extinctions will grow more likely, and mass famines, draughts, migration, and conflict will only be possible to triage rather than avoid.
How does internet infrastructure like Cloudflare’s contribute to power consumption? Computing power resources are split into end users (like your phone or computer displaying this page) and network infrastructure. That infrastructure likewise splits into “network services” like content delivery and “compute services” like database queries. Cloudflare offers both types of services, and has a sustainability impact in both — this post describes how we think about it.
The Cloudflare Network has one huge advantage when power is considered. We run a homogeneous network of nearly identical machines around the world, all running the same code on similar hardware. The same servers respond to CDN requests, block massive DDoS attacks, execute customer code in the form of Workers, and even serve DNS requests to 126.96.36.199. When it is necessary to bring more capacity to a problem we are able to do it by adjusting our traffic’s routing through the Internet, not by requiring wasteful levels of capacity overhead in 175 locations around the world. Those factors combine to dramatically reduce the amount of waste, as they mean we don’t have large amounts of hardware sitting idle consuming energy without doing meaningful work. According to one study servers within one public cloud average 4.15% to 16.6% CPU utilization, while Cloudflare’s edge operates significantly higher than that top-end.
One of the functions Cloudflare performs for our customers is caching, where we remember previous responses our customers have given to requests. This allows the edge location closest to the visitor to respond to requests instantly, saving the request a trip through the Internet to the customer’s origin server. This immediately saves energy, as sending data through the Internet requires switches and routers to make decisions which consumes power.
Serving a response from cache is as close to the lowest power requirement you can imagine to serve a web request; we are reading data from memory or disk and immediately returning it. In contrast, when a customer’s origin has to serve a request, there are two additional costs Cloudflare avoids: first, even getting the request to arrive at the origin often requires many hops over the Internet, each requiring CPU cycles and the energy they consume. Second, the request often requires large amounts of code to be executed and even database queries to be run. The savings are so great that we often have customers enable our caching to keep their servers running even when their request volume would overwhelm their capacity; if our caching were disabled they would almost immediately fail. This means we are not only saving CPU cycles on our customer’s origin, we are preventing them from having to buy and run multiple-X more servers with the proportionally greater energy use & environmental impact that entails.
Our breadth on the Internet also means the performance optimizations we are able to perform have a disproportionate impact. When we speed up TLS or fix CPU stalls we are shaving off milliseconds of CPU from requests traveling to 13 million different websites. It would be virtually impossible to get all of these performance improvements integrated into every one of those origins, but with Cloudflare they simply see fewer requests and energy is saved.
The energy efficiency of using a wax or tallow candle to create light is on the order of 0.01%. A modern power plant burning gas to power an LED light bulb is nearly 10% efficient, an improvement of 1,000x. One of the most powerful things we can do to lower energy consumption, therefore, is to give people ways of performing the same work with less energy.
Our connection to this concept lives not just in our network, but in the serverless computing platform we offer atop it, Cloudflare Workers. Many of the conventions that govern how modern servers and services operate descend directly from the mainframe era of computing, where a single large machine would run a single job. Unlike other platforms which are based on that legacy, we don’t sell customers servers, virtual machines, or containers; instead we use a technology called isolates. Isolates represent a lightweight way to run a piece of code which provides much of the same security guarantees with less overhead, allowing many thousands of different customer’s code to be executed on a small number of machines efficiently. A traditional computer system might be just as efficient running a single program, but as our world shifts into serverless computing with thousands of code files running on a single machine, isolates shine.
In a conventional computer system the complex security dance between the operating system and the code being executed by a user can consume as much as 30% of the CPU power used. This has only gotten worse with the recent patches required to prevent speculative execution vulnerabilities. Isolates share a single runtime which can manage the security isolation required to run many thousands of customer scripts, without falling back to the operating system. We are able to simply eliminate much of that 30% overhead, using that capacity to execute useful code instead.
Additionally, by being able to start our isolates using just a few milliseconds of CPU time rather than the hundreds required by conventional processes we are able to dynamically scale rapidly, more efficiently using the hardware we do have. Isolates allow us to spend CPU cycles on only the code customers actually wish to execute, not wasteful overhead. These effects are in fact so dramatic that we have begun to rebuild parts of our own internal infrastructure as isolate-powered Cloudflare Workers in part to save energy for ourselves and our customers.
Offsetting What’s Left
All that means that the energy we ultimately do use for our operations is only a fraction of what it would otherwise take to accomplish the same tasks.
Last year, we took our first major step toward neutralizing the remaining carbon footprint from our operations by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to match all of our electricity use in North America. This year, we have expanded our scope to include all of our operations around the world.
We currently have 175 data centers in more than 75 countries around the world, as well as 11 offices in San Francisco (our global HQ) London, Singapore, New York, Austin, San Jose, Champaign, Washington, D.C. Beijing, Sydney, and Munich. In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we have purchased RECs to match 100% of the power used in all those data centers and offices around the world as well.
As our colleague Jess Bailey wrote about last year, one REC is created for every Megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated from a renewable power source, like a wind turbine or solar panel. Renewable energy is dispersed into electricity transmission systems similar to how water flows in water distribution systems — each of them is mixed inextricably in its respective “pipes” and it’s not possible to track where any particular electron you use, or drop of water you drink, originally came from. RECs are a way to track the volume (and source) of renewable energy contributed to the grid, and act like a receipt for each MWh contributed.
As we noted last year, this action is an important part of our sustainability plan, joining our efforts to work with data centers that have superior Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), and adding to the waste diversion and energy efficiency efforts we already employ in all of our offices.
When combined with our ability to dramatically reduce the amount of data which has to flow through the Internet and the number of requests which have to reach our customer’s origins we hope to not just be considered neutral, but to have a large-scale and long-term positive effect on the sustainability of the Internet itself.
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” ― Confucius
Don’t tell our CEO, Matthew Prince, but the first day I interviewed at Cloudflare I had a $9.00 phone in my pocket, a knock-off similar to a Nokia 5140, but the UI was all in Chinese characters—that phone was a fitting symbol for my technical prowess. At that time in my career I could send emails and use Google, but that was about the extent of my tech skill set. The only code I’d ever seen was in the Matrix, Apple computers confused me, and I was working as a philosophy lecturer at The University of California, Santa Cruz. So, you know, I was pretty much the ideal candidate for a deeply technical, Silicon Valley startup.
This was in 2013. I had just returned from two years of Peace Corps service in the far Southwest of China approaching the Himalayan plateau. That experience gave me the confidence to walk into Cloudflare’s office knowing that I would be good for the job despite the gaps in my knowledge. My early training in philosophy plus my Peace Corps service gave me a blueprint for learning and figuring things out when thrown into the deep end (it turns out that I love being thrown into the deep end and learning to swim).
I had no idea that this first meeting with Matthew would eventually lead me back to China, this time riding on the cloud of a fast-growing Silicon Valley tech giant.
Two years earlier, eighty Peace Corps Volunteers and myself landed in the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu. The vast majority of us, myself included, spoke zero Mandarin and only knew about China from books and a few news snippets here and there. The Chinese staff members that greeted us at the Peace Corps China headquarters on the Sichuan University campus affectionately called us “baby pandas”, because we were cute and fairly incompetent in terms of operating in China.
Our mission was to help China meet its need for trained men and women—specifically to teach college level students English and train qualified Teachers of English as a foreign language instructors (TEFL instructors). We were also there to promote a better understanding of Americans abroad, and to do our best to gain some understanding of China and its people.
Thus began two years of deep learning and profound personal growth.
When I think about the most important aspects of my time in China, there are three fundamentals that I come back to:
The importance of learning the language and culture
The importance of 关系 (guanxi) or personal connections and relationships
The necessity of being resourceful
The most successful Peace Corps volunteers in my cohort were the ones that learned to speak Mandarin well, understood enough about Chinese culture to operate effectively in their schools and communities, had built important personal and professional relationships, and had figured out how to survive in Southwest China and be useful as English language resources and American cultural liaisons. There was a steep learning curve.
Peace Corps Service in China has four phases more or less. Phase one, Pre Service Training (PST), took place at Sichuan University. We were all living with Chinese host families, taking 8-9 hours of Mandarin class each day, learning about Chinese culture, and being trained as TEFL instructors. It is an intense period of learning against a backdrop of tremendous culture shock, jet lag, and general confusion of how to be an American in Southwest China.
After three months of well taught crash courses, I was sent out to the college where I would spend the next two years of my service. That first night, after I unpacked my bags and took a shower, the reality of my life decisions came crashing down. This was going to be *very* hard. I was alone with millions and millions of Chinese people in remote Sichuan. Phase two was about to begin.
Getting familiar with the college where I was to spend two years was another steep learning curve. I was introduced to the colleagues I’d be teaching with as well as the school administrators, and, most importantly, I was introduced to my students. I got lucky, the English department at my school was small, and I only had 20-30 students in each of my classes. I met with them 4 times a week for two hours a day, so I had ample time to really get to know them and work with them one-on-one in the classroom, during office hours, and over spicy Sichuan dinners.
That first year of service I studied Mandarin as if my life depended on it—because it sort of did. Few people, i.e. my students and colleagues, spoke English in rural Sichuan. As I was able to communicate better in Mandarin, my understanding of the culture grew and so did my relationships with folks at my school and community.
In an effort to understand more about the culture I was living in, I gave myself an education in Chinese philosophy starting with Confucius (孔子) and the Daoist like Laozi (老子) and Zhuangzi (庄子), and I also looked into Buddhism. Since the world’s wisdom traditions contain universal principles that transcend time and culture, these readings gave me subtle insights into the Chinese way of life. I learned that Confucianism is the invisible glue holding much of Chinese society together. And while Confucius spoke to Chinese society and how people ought to act, his contemporary, Laozi, considered the founder of Daoism, spoke to the Chinese soul via the Dao de Jing (道德经).
Apropos of philosophy, one beautiful Chinese proverb I found in my reading goes: “Only those who take leisurely what the rest of the world is concerned about, can be concerned about with the rest of the world takes leisurely”. A calligraphy artist at my school gifted me a piece of work expressing this:
I also learned early on in my service what my students needed: authentic opportunities to express themselves in English, understanding and encouragement, and a solid English text book that employed the latest pedagogical techniques for learning a foreign language. Since my Mandarin was slow going, my students had all sorts of authentic opportunities to speak to me in English. They ended up helping me translate a lot that first year as I navigated my life on campus. As for encouragement, I would often talk to them in my developing and broken Mandarin in front of the class. I messed up words and tones constantly, and they laughed (hard) and then kindly corrected me. In this way, I showed them that learning is all about making mistakes, and that it is fine to get it wrong as you begin. There is no other way to learn a language (or anything else). The last part, providing a solid textbook, would be more tricky.
I received enough training during PST to have some good ideas for teaching English as a foreign language, but I had no experience writing a language textbook. What I ended up doing was replicating the structure of the textbooks I was using to learn Mandarin: a dialogue which incorporates a few new vocab words, a list of those new vocab words, grammar practice using grammatical structures from the dialogue, and then photos of relevant objects or scenes that would allow students to use new vocabulary words to describe the photos using new words and structures. I would record these dialogues and then distribue the audio file to my students so they could hear my pronunciation.
We’d work with this dialogue, vocabulary, and grammar all week, then on Fridays I’d put them in a “language line”. Sort of like speed dating, but they would have to hold a conversation with their classmates around the topic of that week and use the new vocab words. I’d listen in and help guide them. Then at the end of class, we’d form a line and I’d ask each one of them a question individually that they had to answer before they could leave the classroom. This pushed each student into learning so that they could actually speak English confidently to a native English speaker. It was a rewarding project.
My students were super smart and diligent, and week after week their English level was going up. I was able to hold natural conversations with them while speaking slow, and my Mandarin was progressing to the point that I could clarify things in Mandarin to aid their English learning. And so I learned how to teach English.
I consider all of the second year of service phase three. It is in that second year that volunteers can do really great work. My language level was high enough to really communicate with my community and explore China more, I had a basic structure for teaching and kept honing it to fit the needs of my students, and I developed a lot of really important relationships with the administrators at my school and other wonderful folks in the area.
Phase four is the return to the US. Something that no one told me about Peace Corps service before I joined is that you actually sign up for three years, not two. And that the third year, the first year back home after service, would be the most challenging by far … readjusting to life in the US, starting up or continuing a career, feeling a million miles behind peers who cranked through two extra years in a work world. All of this while trying to work on one of the most important goals of the Peace Corps—Goal 3—helping Americans better understand China through my experiences. I’m doing this every chance I get. This blog is a part of fulfilling Goal 3.
My service in China impacted me in profound ways. I have a love and respect for China that was born of close contact with the wonderful people, culture, philosophy, and language I was steeped in. And it gave me a clear experience of my ability to grow and change and acquire new skills swiftly. By the end of my time, I could confidently hold a conversation in Mandarin, I could read sections of Chinese newspapers, I had written an English text book for my students, and I made so many friends. All of that came from slow, diligent, hard work—and finding the necessary resources to get things done for my students in non-obvious ways. I had a clearly outlined experience of what diligence and time can do, and I knew deep in me is the potential to learn, adapt, and grow into almost anything.
Two years of remote Peace Corps work (which, despite being among millions of Chinese people, is often an isolating experience) gave me ample time to reflect on my life. While I find teaching deeply rewarding and I love the study of philosophy, I felt that I needed a different pool to swim in than academia. I thought that the private sector would likely offer the most opportunity, so when I came back to the US, I decided to move to San Francisco and aim for a job in tech. I figured that would be like plunging into the ocean, and I was keen to see where the global economic currents might take me.
In the first few weeks I was back in the US I set up 4-5 informational interviews each week. I spoke to people at Google and Square, folks working in event planning, in finance, in HR, in construction, etc. Then one of my colleagues at the university mentioned that their friend (Matthew) had a tech startup called “Cloudflare” and could maybe use some help writing stuff. I followed up right away.
Career Change: From teaching to tech – How Hard Can It Be?
Despite hours of Googling “What is a Cloudflare?”, I was utterly and completely out of my depth when Matthew explained to me what the company does. Before my interview with him, I had done my homework memorizing definitions for acronyms like CDN, DNS, DDoS, and API, but I didn’t really know what they were. The instructions I received before the interview were to learn a bit about how Cloudflare works, and “Don’t wear a suit and tie”. This was a time in Cloudflare history when we had about 60 employees, about 30 data centers, and a bit of duct tape in the office pressing extension cords into the carpet.
I was intimidated speaking to Matthew the first time. He is an amazingly accomplished and incredibly intelligent person. I checked out his LinkedIn profile, and I didn’t know anything about SPAM, law school, business school, being an entrepreneur, or how the Internet works. The folks in Peace Corps China always talked about being resourceful, so I looked for and found an opportunity to connect with him on a level that I could grasp. Matthew, who has unbelievable credentials and professional accolades, still has “Ski Instructor” on his LinkedIn profile somewhere between “Adjunct Professor of Law” and “Harvard Business School”:
I had just spent all of my time in China aiming to build relationships with my students and other people in my community that were from vastly different backgrounds and trying to find common ground from which to build rapport and trust. I thought, if someone this accomplished keeps their ski instructor experience on their resume, it must have a lot of meaning. I’m glad I followed that intuition because this topic led to a great conversation with Matthew about hometowns, ski trips, and ski equipment, which eventually lead to a conversation about surfing and surfboards, which is right in my wheelhouse. It turned out to be a great interview because we connected over things that we both found important. We found a piece of common ground that didn’t seem obvious at first—part of that being a deep curiosity for how and why things work. Looking back five years, I can say without reservation that finding a way to connect with Matthew that day has had a profoundly positive impact on the course of my life.
When it came time for me to interview with our co-founder, Michelle, she understood that I had a lot to learn about the company, and she took the time to draw out a simplified map of Cloudflare’s network on a yellow legal pad. She drew jagged, little clouds around the world and patiently explained what global caching is, how Anycast networking helps with DDoS attacks, and how DNS is like the phone book of the Internet. I was struck that such a highly intelligent person, HBS grad, co-founder of a major tech firm would take time out of their busy day to do this. I learned later that Michelle is always like this. She is amazing with names, stops to talk to folks in the office whenever she can, and sets a tone of respect, compassion, and understanding at the office. It is inspiring.
I then had a video interview with John Graham-Cumming, our CTO, who was in London. There was no getting away from tech with this interview. So I Googled everything I could about John. I read his book Geek Atlas, I watched his TED Talk, and I looked into his interest in Movie Code. I was ready for this interview. We talked about the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, Alan Turing, and about the code in the Matrix (thank you, Neo!). John is a fascinating speaker and a legend in the technology space. He is also kind and patient, and he never made me feel silly for not grasping technical concepts right away.
After 6-7 interviews over the following weeks, the feedback I got was that I was a good culture fit, I was hard-working and smart, but I just didn’t have the technical knowledge to do the job. That feedback seemed spot on, but I wasn’t going to let that hold me back. I knew I could be useful to this company. I knew that if they gave me a shot and threw me into the deep end that I would learn to swim. I knew what I needed to do: learn the language and culture of Silicon Valley, make connections, and be resourceful.
I stood outside of the old Cloudflare office at 665 3rd St. in San Francisco, and I told myself that I have to get in that door. I didn’t know exactly what they are doing in there, but it seemed weird and interesting, and I wanted to be a part of it.
So I started learning. Another returned Peace Corps volunteer that I’d met in the Bay Area sat down with me one weekend and helped me build a simple website from the ground up. In the most basic HTML and CSS, we embedded a video we made about my China experience. On the site I made the background color orange to match the Cloudflare logo and wrote something like, “Check it out Matthew and Michelle, I’m learning how to write code!”, and I sent them the link.
In the following weeks, I sent more follow up emails to Matthew than felt polite. But it worked. Matthew, Michelle, and John took a huge risk on me, and I got an offer to be Cloudflare’s “Writer” (since that was really the only thing that made sense for an academic philosopher to do at a tech firm). They actually gave me business cards that read: Andrew A. Schafer – Writer.
When I accepted the offer via email, Matthew wrote back saying that getting up to speed with Cloudflare was “going to be like drinking from a fire hose”.
Drinking from the Fire Hose:
On day one, I sat down next to the folks on the Data Team and introduced myself. They all said a quick, polite “hi” and then put their head phones back on immediately and continued to write code. I didn’t learn for a long time that engineers DO NOT like to be interrupted when they are coding. This is a key feature of tech culture.
At one point John Graham-Cumming walked past my desk and asked me why I was staring at that man in the orange shirt so much. I turned around and exclaimed, “John, did you know that the Internet has LED lasers that blink on and off BILLIONS of times per second?!” He calmly replied, “yes” and then went about his business. That fact made my mind melt. I had so much to learn.
One of the first things I worked on as Cloudflare’s Writer was some of the PR efforts surrounding Project Galileo, DDoS attack protection for at-risk public interest websites, which I’m still proud of. I worked with our legal team to draft up this blog post, which helped me to understand the implications and power of Cloudflare’s technology in real-world terms.
I worked with Nick Sullivan a whole bunch at the beginning also, which was mystifying. He is already a great writer and he was writing about such complex things. There were times where I was adding punctuation to sentences that made sense grammatically, but I didn’t understand their content. I learned a lot about encryption, and my tech vocabulary grew.
At one point I also helped John Graham-Cumming with a few blogs. John is a published author, so I didn’t really help him write anything, but I did help him bring his posts way down to my level. You can see my influence on this blog post about Shellshock. That day I learned the term “zero day vulnerability”.
In that blog John wrote: “Attackers will also use an ACE vulnerability to upload or run a program that gives them a simple way of controlling the targeted machine. This is often achieved by running a “shell”. I read his draft and I asked him, “What is a shell?”. A question, I learned much later, that was highly embarrassing to ask at a tech office. But I didn’t know, and I wanted to know. So we clarified that, “A shell is a command-line where commands can be entered and executed” in the post just in case other tech noobs like myself were trying to follow along. I learned how to be a translator from tech-speak to normal English.
I even researched and wrote a few posts of my own, like this one about Raspberry Pi’s fronted by Cloudflare. I had no idea what a Raspberry Pi was before being asked to write this. Thankfully one of the folks on the Data Team had one and let me borrow it for a photo op. I learned about the inspiring philosophy behind Raspberry Pi and the vibrant community that uses them.
As the official Cloudflare Writer, I was proud of writing the copy for our dashboard. That project was an amazing way for me to get to know a lot of key members of the engineering team and have them teach me exactly how each feature worked. I wrote out what I understood, clarified some points with them, and then made a pull request to get the explanations into the code base for our dashboard.
If you’ve ever used these help menus—you are welcome! (Note: lots of other Cloudflare team members have kept this updated and expanded.)
Eventually, I became an honorary member of the Data Team. It took some doing, but I learned Python the hard way, and I wrote a Python script that would print my name 100,000 times in the terminal. I crashed my machine when I tried to make it print my name 100,000,000,000,000 times. I learned something about code that day—it can break things.
I ran this code while sitting next to the person who had built Cloudflare’s original database. I did a victory dance when I crashed my laptop I was so proud of myself. That is sort of like me bragging about my backyard badminton skills next to Serena Williams.
I dipped my toes into the language of code, and started to speak that language with the engineers around me. This helped me to learn an important lesson about tech culture: the deeper your technical understanding the greater the respect you receive.
Eventually, I was ready for a new challenge at Cloudflare—talking to our clients.
The first thing I learned in a client facing role at Cloudflare is that Cloudflare is not a widget or a nice-to-have—it is mission critical technology for everyone that uses it. When something goes wrong people are very upset. The second thing I learned in a client facing role at Cloudflare is that the Internet is a fragile little teacup and it runs on human trust—which is astonishing. The combination of those two facts created ample opportunity for me to develop my listening and communication skills.
I started by rereading How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie and took special note of rule number four, which states, “Be A Good Listener”. I quickly graduated to the philosophy and practice of Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall B. Rosenberg. I ended up taking some NVC courses in San Francisco focused on listening skills in this style. I also took compassion meditation courses via Stanford a few years in a row, which had a profound impact on my ability to empathise with our clients.
While brushing up on and honing these interpersonal skills was helpful, what I learned in a lot of those early meetings with clients was that I need to understand Cloudflare’s technology better. It’s one thing to be able to talk about it, it’s a whole different thing to be able to understand it enough to solve real issues.
I decided to do the “homework” our Solutions Engineering team gives out to their hiring candidates. I had to learn command-line basics, create an origin web server on DigitalOcean, install Ubuntu, configure a firewall, install NGINX, create a simple website from HTML, add an image to that site, set up DNS, and then put Cloudflare in front of it.
I set up my first DNS record in Cloudflare to point to my origin server, and was like “OHHHHHHH SNAP! That is how DNS works! It maps my domain name to the IP address of my server!” Hands on learning makes all the difference.
And I learned that WWW is a subdomain of the apex!! What???
It wouldn’t be a legit Cloudflare blog without more code, so here we go. I ended up writing (modifying) this amazing piece of code based on the NGINX HTML welcome page template:
Notice that I added an image:
I’m now a web developer! I’ve added yet another cat photo to the Internet. You are welcome world! (Note at the time of publishing my site is offline [I forgot to renew the domain—oopsy]).
Once I had my site up and running on Cloudflare, I learned how to make API calls to pull down the our Enterprise raw logs and use jq to sort them (jq, I learned, is “a lightweight and flexible command-line JSON processor”):
(Note: This cURL command does not contain a real API key. I learned the hard way to NEVER include the API key when sharing a cURL.)
I was so proud. I could say things like, “pull down the raw logs and pipe them into jq” to my clients, and I actually knew what I was saying—my tech language skills were improving.
I then read “High Performance Browser Networking” by Ilya Grigorik. I didn’t even understand what that title meant at first. I had to translate it into non-tech English. It turns out that, for example, Chrome is a high performance browser, which is a tool you use to navigate a network of computers, a.k.a. the Internet. So it is a guide book for building the most performant web apps within the limits of current browser and networking technology.
Grigorik’s philosophy resonates with me, “Good developers know how things work. Great developers know why things work.” Insert any other profession or art and the statement remains true.
It took me six months of reading on bus rides to work, but by the end I could say things like, WebSocket API, Subprotocol Negotiation, TLS OCSP Stapling, and TCP Head-of-Line Blocking. I learned from Grigorik that, “TCP provides the abstraction of a reliable network running over an unreliable channel, which includes basic packet error checking and correction, in-order delivery, retransmission of lost packets, as well as flow control, congestion control, and congestion avoidance designed to operate the network at the point of greatest efficiency. Combined, these features make TCP the preferred transport for most applications.” Who knew?
After putting so much work into learning what Cloudflare really does, I came to understand something fundamental about the tech world: the learning never stops. Never. The fire hose never turns off.
When I started at Cloudflare we offered more domains and extra SSL cert hosting slots as our additional products. Now we have Workers and Access and Argo and Argo Tunnel and Spectrum and Load Balancing and Stream and a Mobile SDK, and the list keeps growing. And we all have to learn about all of this new technology as it gets released. It is amazing!
Over the last few years, I’ve learned the language of Silicon Valley, and more specifically, I can speak the language of Cloudflare fluently. That has made a huge difference in my career.
Life @ 101 Townsend:
I’ve enjoyed a lot of successes at Cloudflare, but the one achievement I’m most proud of is creating the “Big Horse Award for Strong Work”.
The idea for this came directly from chapter 2 of How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Give honest and sincere appreciation”. I make it a point to tell the folks I work with that they are doing outstanding work every chance I get because the folks I work with really are doing outstanding work all the time, and they should know about it.
Maybe three years ago my best friend at Cloudflare sent me a message via HipChat that read something like: “Hey Big Horse, you check that Jira ticket yet?”. From that day forward I called everyone “Big Horse” on HipChat at all times, which I thought was hilarious and everyone else thought was weird or annoying.
Shortly after that, in an effort to step up my “Give honest and sincere appreciation” game, I started sending emails to the whole company pointing out the strong work our support team was doing in our Zendesk customer support tickets. Our support team is world-class, but since only a few teams in the office can access Zendesk, a lot of folks internally don’t see their amazing work. I decided to take screenshots of tickets that were particularly well-handled and share them. I’d titled these emails “Strong Work, Big Horse!”. I quickly learned that emailing the whole company “does not scale”.
This culminated at one of our all hands B.E.E.R. meetings, where I gave out a Big Horse Award to a few outstanding members of our Support team. I had this stunningly beautiful trophy made for the occasion:
We needed a logo, so I Googled “stupid horse drawings” and found an image. With a little editing via photo editor and PowerPoint, a meme was born:
Since then we’ve had all sorts of iterations of the Big Horse logo:
And we had paraphernalia made:
Our support team even spray painted “Big Horse” on the side of a building on 4th St in downtown San Francisco on a team outing:
We’ve issued a new Sparkle Lama award as well—since not everyone wants to be called a big horse:
Many Cloudflare team members have Big Horse and Sparkle Lama stickers on their laptops, and we’ve shipped those golden big horse trophies around the world to our London and Singapore offices. These symbols have become easy ways to let our teammates know that they are doing great work. It is a small thing, but it adds up and helps make Cloudflare a great place to work.
Just a few weeks ago this Tweet was pointed out to me:
Well, Neil, the reason for this is that a few engineers and myself had big plans of launching a website around the Big Horse Award, we bought big.horse and a few others, but we didn’t follow through—yet. Stay tuned.
The Big Horse and Sparkle Lama Awards are my contribution the tech culture I’ve been a student of these last few years.
回中国 （Back to China)
Five years after those first conversations with Matthew, Michelle, and John, I’m headed back to China with Cloudflare!
We are expanding our presence in China, and I have the good fortune (幸福) to combine the skills I acquired in philosophy and in the Peace Corps with the skills I acquired in Silicon Valley. We will be onboarding new Chinese clients, hiring more team members, and building out partnerships with other Chinese tech firms. I’m incredibly lucky to be headed back to a country that I love and embark on a new adventure.
I have a whole new fire hose aimed at me, and I plan to drink deep. I’ve been taking Mandarin classes again, this time to learn words like encryption (加密), caching (缓存), and cloud software (云软件). I’ll be learning a whole new interpersonal skill set around working with clients in China and across Asia. And since the office is just starting, this project will be a new exercise in resourcefulness.
life_journey = ["China", "Silicon Valley", "China"]
for x in life_journey
I had no idea how much opportunity lay before me when I walked in the door as “the writer”, and I am profoundly grateful that Cloudflare took a chance on me. I plan to throw myself into this project in China, to learn and grow and contribute, and to figure out the best way to translate “Strong Work, Big Horse” into Mandarin.
I’ve been different for as long as I can remember. I’ve been the odd one out not just for the time I’ve spent in tech, but most of my life.
I’m transgender in that I am gender non-binary. I’m working with the word ‘agender’ right now, as it is the word that describes me best: I’m not a woman, or a man, just a human. I don’t really have a gender, and I certainly don’t identify with either binary label.
Being transgender in tech is difficult. There are many times where we have to work harder, smarter, and give up so much to stay afloat. Times where you have to weigh the benefits of correcting your pronouns against the title of the person who is to be corrected (are they a customer? Your bosses’ bosses’ boss?). Times where you don’t know if you can even be ‘out’ with your coworkers, because you just don’t know if, or how, they’ll treat you differently, or fairly.
Being agender or outside the binary represents its own special quirks: I get asked a lot if I’m OK with going to women’s groups; I quickly explain that I am not a woman, but I try to be an ally to women, and see if the invite still applies. On International Women’s Day, I got a bit of well-meaning attention as a ‘Woman in Tech.’ I had to think for a bit: should I just bite the bullet and accept the attention while glossing over my identity? In the end, I decided to speak up and redirect the attention to actual women– And yes, before you even think to ask, I mean ALL women, including and especially trans women.
I’m lucky to be at Cloudflare; my coworkers respect my pronouns, and I’m treated fairly. We even have an organization, Proudflare, that advocates for LGBTQIA+ Cloudflare employees and folks in general. It’s still hard to be visible and trans in tech. For those who are out, and proud, and loud; be sure to recognize their work. Think about the extra work trans folk put in to be visible while trying to remain safe and healthy. I can’t and won’t speak for the entire trans community, but I can respect their experiences and I can listen to them.
I guess that’s the one thing I might ask of the reader here: listen to trans people. Really listen. And, if they seek to be visible, help them. Share their work.
Let’s be honest, interviewing for a new job can be a long, difficult process. Not only is it emotionally draining to handle multiple rejections, slow responses, and prolonged processes, it can be physically exhausting to sit through hours of stale interviews. A former colleague of mine compared interviewing to navigating a jungle; one misstep here, one wrong answer there, and you barely make it out alive. I once had an interviewer set out a 200-piece puzzle for me to complete in order to “evaluate my problem solving skills”. Basically, when it comes to interviews, you never know what you are going to get. As you may be able to tell, my feelings towards finding a new job this past fall were grim, until I interviewed with Cloudflare.
If you truly want to be impressed by Cloudflare, interview with them. Every employee knows the process is deliberate, thoughtful, and diverse in taking the time to get to know a candidate while the candidate gets to know Cloudflare. It is humbling to realize that any employee interviewing has also passed through this challenging process. It all starts with a phone call, as most interviews do, and the process is fairly standard until you reach the onsite, when things begin to deviate from the norm.
I arrived for my onsite interview and was greeted by the front desk team with such enthusiasm as they smiled, laughed amongst each other, and jammed to Hall & Oates. Right away, I felt relieved, comfortable, and even more so, excited. I interviewed with seven employees that day, as I answered different questions about myself, asked them anything from “How would you describe Cloudflare to your grandmother?” to “What is a DDoS attack?”, and left knowing a great deal about the Internet and the company. The interview felt more like an open classroom with encouraging professors and less like a small, sterile examination room. I left the office energetic, a rare feeling after the usual grueling onsite [to which] I had become accustomed. Weeks later after starting my new job at Cloudflare, I realized that the onsite interview perfectly mimics the learning environment and leadership style of Cloudflare co-founders, Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn.
After hearing that I had been moved on to the next stage, I was able to speak with the Head of People, Janet Van Huysse. The thing I remember most from my conversation with Janet is talking about weaknesses. Janet asked me the daunting question, “What’s your biggest weakness?” adding, “but a true weakness, not just something that can be spun into a strength”. I answered truthfully and we moved on. This struck me as very real, a genuine conversation between two people getting to know each other rather than feeling like I was under a microscope. In the past, most interviews involving that question were dragged on as the interviewee is split between being honest and wanting to sound competent and this was not that case. Despite her chaotic schedule, Janet was intentional about trying to get to know me. I still look back at that conversation as the turning point in knowing I was “all-in” for Cloudflare.
The last step in the interview process was a final call. Cloudflare gives candidates the unique opportunity to interview a member of their executive team as a last stage. This stage is essentially a confirmation on both ends that working at Cloudflare is the best fit for the candidate and for the company. I was told that my final call was with Matthew Prince, the CEO and Co-Founder of Cloudflare. I had only once spoken to a CEO of a 90+ sized company and thought that was a huge deal. Now I was going to speak with a CEO of a company nearly nine times as large. So yes, you could say I was nervous.
Looking back, I should not have been nervous at all. My phone call with Matthew felt like a conversation with one of my former college professors, empathetic and enlightening. The first thing he did was apologize for calling me three minutes late. During our conversation, I learned about the origins of Cloudflare, Matthew’s background, and his hopes for the future of the company. He gave me the opportunity to ask him any questions I may have and by the end of our conversation, I felt highly confident that I was a good fit for Cloudflare and vice versa.
Throughout this blog post I have referenced aspects of school life to describe my interview experience. Cloudflare is changing the game when it comes to hiring because they are converting the stale, uncomfortable process into a learning process facilitated by approachable, nonjudgmental teachers. This process is representative of the overall culture – keep asking questions, keep being curious, keep learning new things and above all, be empathetic to those that do so in return. To further prove so, the entire first week of working for Cloudflare is spent in a classroom at orientation. My new peers and I spent five days learning about internet safety, the inner workings of Cloudflare, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and how we all fit together. I previously stated, if you want to truly be impressed by Cloudflare, interview with them – but I’d like to take that a step further: if you want to learn and grow as a person, interview with Cloudflare.
The collective thoughts of the interwebz
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