Conversations with Immigrants and Expats
Interviews with people who live and work in a country other than the one they grew up in. Learn about their experiences moving, integrating, and being productive in a foreign land — while keeping in touch with friends and family back home.
Welcome to Conversations with Expats, live on Cloudflare TV. I'm here with Alonso Bustamante, a frequent guest on Cloudflare TV.
Welcome, Alonso. You're all over this channel.
I think the Academy is taking notice here. Hey, Pat. I'm just happy to be helping out the team here.
Great to see you. Great. Good to see you as well. It's been a little while.
So where are you joining us from today? I'm live from the west side of London on a beautiful sunny day.
Beautiful sunny day in London. I'm not sure if I believe you, but I'll take your word for it.
So how long have you been in London?
On and off since 2011. I originally arrived here with my wife in 2011 and was here for two years doing a master's in business administration, then left for a couple of years, was in Korea for a couple of years, and then I've been back since 2015.
Oh, wow. So tell me about that first move. When did you go to London and where did you come from?
So I'm originally from Mexico. I was born and raised there.
I lived there my entire life up until college, moved to the US for college and then went back to Mexico.
So I'd been back in Mexico, back from college for maybe six years.
So in my late twenties, I decided that I wanted to pursue a master's degree.
And London made all the sense in the world for myself, for my wife too, which brought us over in 2011.
So we lived two years as students in London, which was a fantastic experience, although a very different experience to being a professional over here.
Interesting. And how was your English when you moved?
Oh, yeah, it was completely fluent. I went to a K-12 school in Mexico. So all my teachers, except for one hour a day from nursery all the way to high school, were either American or Canadian, which is why sometimes I will say PE, sometimes I will say phys ed, and I'll mix up the Canadian and the American terms from time to time.
So my full education, both nursery all the way to undergraduate, was in English.
So completely fluent. The part that maybe I didn't have as much was the local British, the British language, because most of my instruction had been in North American English.
So I was very familiar with American terms and American pop references, so on and so forth.
I wasn't familiar with lift and flap and loo and all those things that are part of the day-to-day lexicon over here.
Yeah, I find myself trying to pick those up as well when I came.
And it takes a little bit, but you get used to it, and then it kind of becomes part of your life, and you inject it back wherever you end up going back to.
So talk to me a little bit about the decision to kind of move for work for the first time.
So it sounds like you went out for school, came back, talk to me about why the UK, why there professionally, kind of what did that mean to you, and how did you think about that decision?
Yeah, of course. I think at some point in our lives, my wife and I were debating whether it was time to go, in our last move, which is when we moved to London.
We were debating whether it was time to move back to Mexico, be close to family, be close to some friends, so on and so forth, or whether it made sense to come back to London and spend time here.
From a personal standpoint, I think we weighed heavily for a couple of things.
One, the European experience and being able to live in close proximity, not only to the UK, but the Europe as a whole.
I think from a cultural and personal perspective, it's incredibly enriching to be able to take a long weekend and fly off to Warsaw or Prague or take the train to Paris.
It's just all at your fingertips.
So it's pretty amazing to have that, and we always wanted to experience that.
So that was from the personal standpoint. Also, London as a city itself, I think maybe together with New York, I would call it as one of the two large capitals of the world.
You have everything at your fingertips, professionally, culturally, arts, anything, any type of hobby or like, or anything that you might want is at your disposal, and that made it incredibly enriching from personal experience.
From the professional side, I think the way I thought about it a little bit was, I'm going to use a sports analogy here, a football analogy.
It was the difference between going and playing in the Mexican Football League versus playing in the Premier League or in the Champions League.
I kind of wanted to play in the majors and some of the best talent in the world is in a handful of cities and London is one of them.
So that's really where you can test yourself as a professional and push your professional boundaries even further.
And good analogy. I'm still learning the different football leagues myself. I should have used a baseball one.
Thank you. So what was it, what was the actual role that you took when you came there?
And kind of how did that differ from what you were doing in Mexico?
Yeah, absolutely. So I joined Cloudflare in 2015.
And just to give a little context, so Cloudflare was somewhere between 150 and 200 people at the time.
You know, fast forward five, almost five years, and we're closing in on somewhere between 13 to 1500.
I don't know what point we're at. So it was a very different place back then.
It was a lot smaller, a lot leaner, a lot scrappier.
You know, the global vision and the strategic vision was there, but it was a very different experience.
My role specifically was as part of the special projects team.
And the special projects team as it was defined back then, I think it was a team of what I would call high level generalists, somebody, a team that you could throw some hot potato that is not necessarily a part of a traditional business function, or that requires a cross functional type of approach.
And you kind of hope that that team could figure it out.
Some of the special projects back then, you know, was I think, one of them was our first joint venture in China.
Another one was, you know, helping expand our global network from a handful of cities, or maybe 10s of cities into hundreds of cities.
And these were things that were non repeatable projects that nobody had done before in the in the organization.
And I think that's how the team started. So, you know, we really could do anything and everything.
The first couple of projects that I had were anything from helping what is now our infrastructure team, open new points of presence around the world.
And I remember, you know, helping negotiate the Lisbon pop and the Barcelona pop.
And at some point, some in Mexico, and some in South America, so on and so forth.
And also looking at the potential policy and partner policy partnerships, and trying to do a zero zero egress type of deals with many ISPs.
So it was really a jack of all trades.
That's a lot. That's, that's the short answer. Yeah, no, it's funny.
I remember, I think we joined around the same time in 2015. And I kept hearing this special projects team, and I didn't know exactly what they did.
I just knew that they were they're highly capable and did a whole bunch of things.
And I almost thought of it as it's almost like your own sort of group of, you know, McKinsey consultants, in some sense, you know, inside your company that able to kind of switch between a whole bunch of things.
So I still like to think we're scrappy, by the way, I think, at least on the product and the engineering side, we like to consider ourselves that way and try to get stuff out quickly.
So you have another role too, right?
So so, you know, I know you and being in the London office as you know, one of our leaders on the special projects side in particular, kind of focused on some of the M&A that we do.
But you also have another role, right? Can you tell us about that role?
Give me a second there. I've got a little choppy connection.
Sure. All right, I'm back. Cool. So I was just asking, you know, I know you for from another role as well in the London office.
And, you know, when I came out there, you know, you're kind of balancing two different roles, which I think is unique and impressive.
And, you know, we'd love to hear a little bit about the other role and kind of how you think about that and how you balance your time.
Yeah, of course.
I don't know about the impressive part, but I'm happy to tell you about the role.
You know, as we grow, I think there was a need, you know, like I said, when I joined Cloudflare, I think the London office was maybe 25 people.
We're closing in on 300 right now.
Our European presence has offices in Munich, in Lisbon, a small presence in Warsaw, small presence in Brussels.
So there's a lot more of a robust team.
With that come different types of needs, which means some of the larger offices like Austin, like San Francisco, like London have a role that is called a head of office.
And the head of office has two types of functions. One I would call trying to be the connective tissue between different organizations within the team and making sure that, you know, different functions talk to each other well.
Second, maybe also that different offices talk to each other well and are well informed as to what's going on.
It's important that the office in San Francisco knows what's going on in London, as it's important that the people in Brussels know what's going on in London.
So I think there's a little bit of a connective tissue element to it.
And the second is what I would probably call brand ambassadorship and trying to help spread the Cloudflare brand and the Cloudflare story externally, maybe less so in a commercial function, like some of the people in our sales team would do, and more so from a recruiting perspective, from a brand perspective.
So I spend a lot of time, well, I used to spend a lot of time speaking externally, going to panels, telling a little bit of the story of Cloudflare growth, so that there's one more voice for Cloudflare, particularly in this region, in the European and Middle East and Africa region.
And how do you think, you know, I think that's really fascinating.
And one of the things I wonder is with kind of what's going on in the world, like how that might affect your ability to sort of be that brand ambassador, or at least connect with, you know, offices around and, you know, local government.
How do you think that that's going to change?
And do you have strategies around that? And also, with respect to bringing new people in the office and being that kind of connective tissue, how do you think about us being able to continue to do that effectively in London and elsewhere in the current world situation?
So from a recruiting perspective, and from a people perspective, I think, you know, a combination of teams from across the organization have, you know, rallied and really put together a great program to onboard talent virtually and onboard new hires virtually.
You know, as one of the things I do with that London role or hat on, is I have a welcome coffee with every single new hire that comes into the London office.
And one common theme that I've heard from people is, actually, it's really impressive that Cloudflare has been able to put so robust a training program completely remotely.
And I think people, having had other experiences, you know, really value that.
And I've seen the people really value not only that we're still hiring within, you know, this global pandemic and global economic crisis, but that we're taking the time to train people.
So that's one thing. From the other, from the, you know, maybe speaking externally, there's a lot more webinars and a lot more Zoom in my life.
It has led to some interesting dynamics. I think some of the conversations that you end up having in terms of invitations to speak externally and engage externally are in smaller rooms, in smaller virtual rooms, as opposed to speaking to a room full of 100 people or something like that, which actually allows for better engagement, maybe at a smaller scale, but it allows it for better engagement.
I was recently in a working session with other heads of offices in London organized by the Business Council for the Mayor of London.
And, you know, it was a, you know, who's whose name of, you know, brand names that, you know, our parents have heard of.
And, you know, we're all talking about how our different organizations are dealing with this pandemic and what we're seeing with our employees.
And, you know, maybe it leads to a more open and honest conversation.
It leads to more open and honest by being sort of remote or just the nature of the discussion or what specifically about that?
I think the fact that you're probably limited to smaller rooms, the fact that you're not in a room, well, for starters, the fact that you're face to face, you know, I can talk to anybody like I am speaking to you, as opposed to being on a deus and like speaking out to a group of people.
The other, I think it's easier to moderate probably on Zoom.
I don't know if you've found this for large meetings, but actually the moderation can be a little bit easier because people aren't jumping in as often to interrupt each other.
Yeah, I think that's right. I think it kind of levels the playing field a bit for those that are a bit louder and sort of, you know, more aggressive in person.
I think it does, the technology does help kind of spread that out.
So, I want to go back to the actual move itself. We kind of got off course a little bit and as you and I tend to do when we chat, talk to me about the actual process of moving.
Like, what was that like? What surprised you? What didn't surprise you?
How did you kind of get acclimated? I've done two types of moves, the hard one and the easy one.
I'll talk about the hard one first. The hard one is when you've got to do everything, right?
When you've got to, you know, pack your bags, arrange your move, arrange, you know, the apartment and go hunt for it, do all your utilities, so on and so forth.
That is the hard one and the enriching one and a very humbling one in a sense.
The easy one is I happen to be in a lucky situation to have an expat package at some point in my life.
And the last time I moved to London, my former company took care of everything.
And, you know, that's a very easy and comfortable situation.
An expensive one, but fortunately, somebody else was paying the bill.
But, you know, there's all types of ranges. The things that I've learned is just where you live is key.
Like, it's really important not to just find a flat and not do your research about neighborhoods.
That makes such a difference.
So I think tapping in your local network, if you have one, whether it's your new colleagues, friends or something like that, you know, especially in a city as large as this one, the neighborhood makes such a difference that it's really important to have some local intel on where you want to land.
And maybe the second thing that I think of is it's really important to, if you can, to visit a place before to get a feel for it.
I've moved, no questions asked, to a new city, having never traveled there before.
And, you know, it's not the easiest thing. You can do it.
It's certainly doable. I've done it twice in my life. I moved to Chicago once for college, having never been in Chicago.
And I moved to Seoul, Korea once, having never been in Korea.
The ramp up is slower. And, you know, there's a little period there of freak out where it's like, oh my God, what did I do?
You get over it, but it's definitely slower as opposed to already having a feel for the place.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think you were very gracious when I moved to kind of connect me and plug me in locally.
And I think, you know, being able to have the privilege of drawing on a network like that really makes the transition easier.
So thank you for that. I do agree with you. I even recommended a barber.
You did, although I've got this kind of quarantine haircut right now.
And so we all do. Yeah. The other thing I think that you said that was really interesting is like figuring out kind of where you want to be.
And, you know, I'm impressed you were able to move someplace and without having visited and sort of jumped in.
But I know for me, when I was kind of in London for a little bit, I would stay in an Airbnb, you know, in various different neighborhoods and kind of figure out, you know, what fits with you.
And I think that's that's really important.
I guess the commute these days is not as much of a concern. I know that was something that I was looking at.
But how have you kind of found the transition to working from home, you know, throughout this, at least temporarily?
Lost you there for a second.
I'm not sure. Yeah, your video is cutting out. We'll just talk and assume that you can hear me if you can't or if I broke up.
Just give me your your back, your back.
So the question I'm not sure if you heard was like, how have you kind of found that transition to temporarily not being in the office?
The transition from work from home, like, you know, let's be honest, I think, if we're all honest to ourselves, it's.
Can you hear me better? Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. Sorry about that. I guess we all go through this.
The trance, the transition to work from home, it's on the one hand, it's an adjustment for sure.
And like, I think if we're all honest to ourselves, like there's good days, and there's bad days.
I, especially in a city like, we all have our troubles, right?
And like in London is a small place. It's you've got small spaces.
It's not, you know, I come from Mexico, where just space is not an issue.
And, you know, you don't get over each other. London has small flats, and you have to learn to live with that.
I think the initial adjustment period is always a little tough learning to interact with your colleagues in a different way.
You know, in this, in this zoom world, or Google Meets world, you need to learn to interact in different ways.
And personally, you know, you got to learn how to do your routine, I think, you know, keeping your routine is incredibly important.
It's easy to get lost in the comfort of home and forget to go out for a couple days and not exercise and maybe like, you know, stay indoors.
And that really takes a toll after a while.
So you know, I think you it's better now the beginning of this, I imagine it was tough as it was for most of us.
Sure. And it sounds like, you know, getting that that perfect location in the home for the Internet connection is, is very important as well.
Even even now, I've doubled my Internet connection, it still does this.
Maybe we can help you out with that. So routine, you mentioned, I think that's incredibly important.
What is your routine like now versus sort of, you know, back when I think, you know, when when I've walked out of the office with you a few times, and I think I've seen you on the phone kind of calling, calling back to Mexico and staying in touch.
And like, how has that changed for you?
You know, first of all, how are you kind of staying in touch with your family?
And then how might that be different now? Yeah, you're right. I mean, my my, I don't know if it's a daily routine, but it's certainly a weekly routine is I would call back home probably, you know, call my dad or call my grandpa back in Monterey, Mexico.
And I do that on the walk over to the tube. So I've probably got maybe a 10 minute walk from the office to the tube, you know, maybe spend another couple of 5-10 minutes at the train station and then go back, go back home.
So that was part of my daily routine. It was a very easy time to do it. Now, I think I need to be a little bit more conscious of doing that just because I'm not in my mind, I'm not used to doing that from the home, I'm used to doing that while I'm walking around the streets in London.
But you know, I think the routines in general is important, you know, wake up, do a little bit of exercise, try to get out of the house in the morning.
That's one of the first things that I try to do just take a little run or take a little walk and just get a little fresh air in before the cars and the buses start going all around and then come back, do some breakfast and start answering some emails and even a random person in the West Coast or two night owls might even be online on chat.
Yeah, definitely. That's great to hear that you're able to kind of stay connected with the family throughout this and you know, that can be that can be tough, especially with the time zone change, right.
So I'm sure you kind of experienced that when you first moved. You've done multiple moves, right.
So I want to talk a little bit about Korea. That's that's even further removed.
So tell me about that. What was that experience like?
It's, it was an incredibly enriching, but equally challenging experience.
I don't know if you've had a chance to visit Korea. It is a different world.
It is a different type of, you know, doing business. Is it a different culturally?
It is a Seoul in particular is a mega city. It is just what you imagine in terms of skyscrapers all around neon lights all around you.
It's a lot for the senses in a sense.
So this and like I mentioned earlier in the conversation, I'd never been there.
So I think when we, when my wife and I moved there, you know, we certainly for the first week or so we were in complete and absolute shock and wondering why we did what we did.
And both of us tend to be adventurers.
And then we both tend to just like make decisions on a semi whim. And that was one of them.
So after a week, you know, shell, you know, the shock went out and we started exploring and we found a fascinating country, a fascinating culture and fascinating and incredibly welcoming people.
So it was great. And professionally, I think you get to learn quite a bit too.
I was working at one of the world's largest consumer electronic companies.
And it's also really interesting to learn about the Korean or Asian style conglomerate, you know, those organizations that, you know, manage a significant chunk of the GDP of the country and are just massive.
And it was really interesting to learn, you know, from an organization of 250,000 people and employees.
And I would imagine language. Did you try to learn Korean?
Like, how did you think about that? Was that helpful for you?
My day to day business was in English. So professionally, I could conduct my work in English.
And because we were in an internal consulting or strategy type of unit, we did have our Korean counterparts who would translate when needed.
But my day to day was professionally was in English. But the reality is, at least in the neighborhood that we picked, and again, I go back to the whole like picking neighborhoods is important.
It wasn't an expat neighborhood in any way.
So we were, you know, the small group of random foreigners in a completely Korean neighborhood.
So we made an effort to learn Korean. You know, I was very proud that I got to maybe I would say a three and a half year old level.
I was once walking on the in the mall, and I heard a kid who said, Daddy, Daddy, I want ice cream.
And I understood it. And I was very proud of myself. So that's kind of the level I got to.
But the reason it was important to learn it, I think was just I think, locals notice that you're a foreigner that's making an effort to, to learn about them and their culture, as opposed to just, they see was more permanent, they see you as and I think that leads to open to opening up social opportunities.
We had a lot of Korean friends who just like, Oh, we were kind of the for the funny foreign friends.
And that's fine. As long as you're comfortable with a couple people making fun of you.
I think it opens up a lot of opportunities to to tap into local networks that you wouldn't otherwise.
That makes a lot of sense.
And I think people absolutely appreciate the, you know, the effort that you're putting forth to kind of learn that and get acclimated.
Were you studying that in any sort of school or just kind of picking it up from?
Yeah, no, no, I was taking one hour worth of language lessons every morning, five days a week.
So that certainly helped.
And you know, it's obviously a hard language for somebody who has no background in that language.
But it's certainly like I said, I think, you know, a lot part of what I've noticed living in different countries is sometimes people speak either English or Spanish or some other language, but they're a little, you know, shy about speaking it because their diction or their enunciation is not perfect, right?
The moment you're comfortable, you know, essentially making a fool of yourself and speaking the language very poorly.
I think that's when people are like, Oh, well, I'm also comfortable breaking that barrier and just like maybe trying my poor attempt that, you know, my English language or something else.
So I think once you make yourself a little vulnerable, people are willing to do that and reciprocate.
And that opens a lot of doors. That's a really smart way to think about that.
I never thought of making yourself a bit vulnerable and, you know, putting yourself out there and having that be reciprocal by somebody else, whether it's be trying to speak English or just sort of deepening the relationship.
What would you say, you know, from your time there that you learned, let's talk about both.
I'm curious, both kind of Korea and in the UK, what have you learned that you'll kind of take with you the rest of your life, wherever you end up being?
Hopefully, you'll stay in London for a long time. I enjoy working with you.
But, you know, I'd imagine at some point you may move somewhere else.
Like, what would you take with you from both of those, both of those stints abroad?
There's a couple of things. One, I'm putting yourself in uncomfortable situations might be hard at first, but it's incredibly enriching and it pays off in the long run.
I'm sure you've faced that. I can't imagine your first couple of days or maybe even weeks when you move to London were easy.
There's a ramp up period.
And, you know, if you're an expat, you know that like, until your furniture arrives, or like your stuff arrives, you don't feel like you're at home, right?
You don't feel like you've got a place and that could last a month.
It could last a couple of weeks.
So I think, you know, going through that initial hardship helps and you then need like a whole new world opens to you.
So a little patience, I think is important.
Second, for, you know, for anybody who might be listening, who has a, who has a partner, the buy-in of your partner is so important.
You know, if your family is not happy at home, you know, this is not going to be successful.
And I've seen so many cases of people who moved on a whim somewhere else, but their partner wasn't fully on board.
And like that breaks down very quickly. So you both need to be aligned on where you want to be.
And maybe the third thing is, especially mega cities like London, New York, Seoul, Tokyo, and others.
They've got these, they're not all the same.
They've got these pockets and neighborhoods and things that might be, whereas smaller cities might be a little more uniform or a little bit more homogeneous.
Larger cities have all these pockets.
So, you know, you can just keep on exploring and spend weekends upon weekends getting to know different areas and different fields for the local culture.
Yeah, I actually found that myself. I found that I ventured out a lot more when I was trying to get exercise when we were kind of all cooped up rather than, you know, walking to the tube, taking the tube, crossing the Westminster and sort of the commute.
I was finding myself walking around the city and actually exploring neighborhoods.
And I've been realizing, frankly, that there were, you know, these great parks next to me, I probably should have explored a little bit more early on, but it does kind of force you out there.
How are you, you know, beyond sort of walking, how are you trying to stay fit and kind of mentally sharp throughout this?
Well, like you, I recently purchased a stationary bike for the home, which is helping.
And then, you know, try to get out of the home as much as possible.
Good, good, good, great. Well, any kind of parting tips? We're sort of running up against our time here.
Any parting tips you want to leave anyone with or words of wisdom for people that are potentially in your shoes however many years ago, thinking about, you know, taking an opportunity somewhere?
If you're thinking about moving elsewhere, tap into as many people who live there, locals as possible, expats as possible.
Don't do the one call to your friends. Talk to your friend's friends and the other friend's friends and so on and so forth.
Like, don't do the one call, try to do four, five, six, seven calls.
Because some, especially you want to talk to people who are different than you.
And you want to, you want to hear the bad stories too.
Some people have a bad reaction to living locally.
And the more information you can have, the more you can make up your mind whether you're going to be successful in that new place or not.
So that's my one word of wisdom, or a couple of words of wisdom.
I think that applies to all sorts of things in life, even in product management.
I think we, you know, we spend a lot of our time talking to customers.
And you might get one perspective from one customer, and then you talk to a whole bunch more.
And you know, you might take the product in a very different direction.
And so I think that that's great advice for life.
So anyway, Alonzo, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining me and I look forward to seeing you soon, as soon as soon as possible in person again.
Great. Thanks, Pat. Thanks for having me. And thank you Cloudflare TV.