Get Started in Tech: A Day in the Life
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All right, welcome back to Getting Started in Tech. Today we have an episode from our segment, A Day in the Life, and this is where we talk to members of our team, members of adjacent teams, and just kind of get to know them, hear about their background, their stories, how they got here, how they're experiencing Cloudflare so far.
And today I have Tom Klein with me. Hi, Tom, how are you today? Hi, I'm great.
So what about you? I'm doing pretty well. I'm excited to talk to you and to get to know you in a non, hey, can you help me with this ticket environment?
Great. So if you want to start, I don't know if you just want to start telling me a little bit about, yeah, like your background, what got you interested in working in tech?
Where did you start learning all that good stuff? Right, yeah. So let me introduce myself first.
So yeah, as you already said, I'm Tom. I'm Technical Support Engineer with Cloudflare and for a year now, actually, I just had my anniversary a couple of weeks ago.
Yeah, happy anniversary. Also, good call on announcing what you do because I did not say that.
No worries. Yeah, I actually got a really nice cake, like a Cloudflare shaped cake.
Oh, wait, I saw that. I saw that.
Actually, let me check if I can quickly find it. Yeah, here it is. Looks like that.
Oh, no, it's blurred. Oh, no, you're all blurry. Okay, there it is. Oh, so cute.
So cute. That's so nice. It's a cake. I thought it was a cookie. No, it was like a full-size cake.
Oh, wow. Very cool. Really nice, yeah. All right. Yeah, so how did I join Cloudflare?
It's a pretty long story for me, actually. So first, let's start how I got into tech.
So I got into tech when I was like just six or seven years old because my dad was always working on some websites, not really like on a software development style, but he basically used some page builders to just click his site together, stuff like that.
And I always wanted to have my website.
My dream was to get tom .com, but of course, it didn't happen. But yeah, I started playing around with it and got my first computer when I was seven or eight, I guess.
Yeah, and just wanted to click my own website together. But my dad quickly said, well, no, you are not going to use some scammy online services to click your website together.
If you want to have a website, you need to code it yourself.
Oh, wow. That was basically over for me. I didn't want to continue with this, but somehow I started like learning more and more about it and still clicked my own website together without the permission of my parents.
And yeah, and I wanted to modify some styles on the website and there wasn't a great option to just change colors or something.
So I needed to enter CSS code, which is style codes for websites.
And yeah, I just copy pasted code and tried to modify it so that I learned from it.
Yeah, and then I continued with HTML and all this basic website stuff.
And there was a really big challenge. How am I going to do a login or something?
I only knew HTML and CSS, so how am I going to do a login? If I put anything like a login on the website itself, like on the front end, everybody would be able to see the passwords and stuff like that.
So how am I going to do that?
I remember doing that. I remember doing like the alert style where you code it into the HTML that you have to put in the password to continue.
Yeah, that's the HTTP based version, I think.
And yeah, I used to do that too, because it was the easiest one, basically, if you don't have any experience with coding, back-end coding, at least.
And yeah, I basically had no idea what to do. And I asked a couple of people, and then just kind of cut it off and didn't touch it for about a year or something.
Also because I was a lot into gaming then. It was like when I was- And how old are you at this point where you said you were like eight?
I was about 12 years at this point when I knew HTML and CSS.
Okay, cool. And yeah, then I basically stopped doing all of that because I was a little bit into gaming then and stuff like that.
So yeah, played lots of stuff with my friends. And yeah, at one point, I had a game server, which made me basically the cool guy, because I'm the one that could host the server for all the friends.
And yeah, somehow we played GTA, San Andreas multiplayer, basically.
And I somehow got into or went to a hosting provider to host my server there.
And somehow I joined their support team with like 12 years of age.
Oh, wow. Well, of course, voluntarily, I didn't get paid for that or something.
And then I asked the founder of this hosting company, like, how did you do the login?
I play around with HTML and CSS all day. How do you get the login to work?
And he said, yeah, well, you just use PHP and the database.
And I was like, what? What's all of that? And then over a year, I really tried to understand all of this.
And at some point, it just makes sense that there is even a backend.
I didn't know that there was a backend. I thought it's just HTML and CSS.
But then I noticed, yeah, there's a backend. There's a server that handles all of the stuff.
And yeah, somehow I got into PHP. And then, yeah, it was really good to go with writing websites when I was 13 or 14.
And that's also where I basically started working for companies.
It was basically at that time, I had a couple of friends that had YouTube channels and did all this Let's Play stuff that's well known nowadays.
And yeah, basically, I, we were a part of a YouTube network.
And what I did is basically code the dashboard for this YouTube network that basically manages all the partners stuff, like all the finances and yeah, benefits for the YouTube partners and all this stuff.
It's not with YouTube directly, but like with the networks or companies that are YouTube partners themselves.
And yeah, that's basically how I started getting my first payments. It's pretty cool.
I mean, I was still in school and got like 200 euros a month or something just by doing my hobby.
I mean, that is really cool. That's amazing, actually.
That was pretty great because it was basically just my hobby and getting paid for it.
So really great. Yeah, you can't really beat that. And you actually, so you made me think of something because whenever I've talked about my journey of getting into tech, I'm very much like, well, two years ago, I started studying and I didn't think about the fact that when I was a teenager, I started with learning the very basic HTML manipulations, like how to make text bold and add links and that kind of stuff.
I actually, so there was a platform that I think is still around, but now it's behind like a paywall, but it's teen open diary.
So when I was like 13 and 14, I was really into styling the HTML for these diary layouts, because you could go in and completely edit it.
You didn't have to use templates.
I mean, at the time I was a little bit of a thief and I would, I didn't know how to do it from scratch.
So I would take somebody else's layout and I would go through and I would like, okay, well I like this framework, but I'll make the background and then I'll do this over here.
And I would just sort of like manipulate it.
But I think everybody does it like that. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess I probably should have been like edited from this person's, but who knows, maybe they stole it too.
But I actually then started doing it for other people. And this is kind of shows the interest in security, I guess, from day one with these kinds of things, because people would have to give me their login information to change the content of their site.
So usually what I would do is I would change it, but I would change their password and lock them out for a day.
And then I would be like, this is why you don't give strangers on the Internet, your password.
This is a learning experience.
Here's your content back. Yeah. Actually, I got a really funny story.
That's kind of similar to that too. When I was in like, I don't know how it's called in English, but it's like the second grade or something, a third grade, maybe.
Like primary school? Yeah. Primary school. Of course, primary school.
How did I not remember? For grade school. More like we say in the US, grade school.
Okay. Yeah. So basically we had like a website. So basically when we read books or something, we could go onto this page and search for this book.
And then we could answer questions for this book to prove that we actually read it.
Okay. And we then got points for it, depending on how many questions were correct.
And then at the end of the year, you basically get like an award for that.
If you're the person with the most points on the books, basically.
And somebody just put his password and email address into his school notes, basically, and had it visible for everybody.
And what I did is I just logged into it and then tried basically answering the questions on his account.
So he got minus points, negative points, basically. But I knew what the correct answers were then.
I just copied them over to my account and basically got all the questions right without even knowing the books themselves.
Yeah. That is very sneaky. Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting. I find myself going into DevTools for everything nowadays too.
It's probably from doing a lot of Capture the Flags where a lot of the web-based ones are looking for and manipulating things in the source code.
So that's almost second nature for me.
There'll be a button that's grayed out and I'll show you. You won't be disabled in two seconds.
Yeah. It's always funny when websites have only on the button, there's a disabled flag and you can just remove it and submit the form or something.
And it usually works. I can't remember what we were submitting, but we were submitting something that was correct.
And for some reason, the disabled flag wasn't removed.
And I was like, that's fine. I can fix this. Two seconds. And we clicked it and the form went through and everything was fine.
And that was one of those cases where I wasn't so much getting by circumventing a requirement as much as I was making something work that should be working.
So that's useful too.
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. But it's also useful if you know how to circumvent such things so that you can improve it on your side and basically make it more secure or advise other people on how to make it more secure.
Well, exactly. And that's one of the points of doing penetration testing and doing hardening checks of sites.
So, and yeah. Yeah. Actually, I was just going to say that exactly.
This is actually one of the most bad things when you learn IT in schools here in Germany, even if you study it, because sometimes it's really outdated, but at the same time they say, yeah, well, we can't teach you how to hack or teach you about any security issues because that would be illegal because you could hack somebody.
And I'm like, how am I going to secure my site then? Yeah. I mean, you have to know what people do to damage your site to know how to protect it.
I mean, if the police wouldn't know how to enter a building or how to breach a door or something, they wouldn't know what to look for if they want to investigate it.
I attended a cybersecurity bootcamp that will remain nameless because it was mostly great.
However, there were a few points of contrition that I had. And one of them was the attitude of don't ever use Nmap because if you use Nmap, you're a dirty, filthy hacker.
I mean, we use Nmap, at least depending on what skill group you're in.
I use Nmap occasionally, not super a lot because I'm not doing the network stuff.
Yeah. But it's just a lot of networking. But it comes up. All it is is port scanning.
And it's not inherently making you a terrible, evil black hat hacker.
Yeah. Especially when you just try to secure stuff. My other point of contrition, and then we'll get back to the topic, was the...
So I get it when you're studying for the network and security plus exams, you have to teach to those exams.
And some of the information is a little bit out of date.
And things have changed. But one of the things also that I pretty firmly disagreed with was discouraging the use of password managers and encouraging the use of rotating passwords.
Because both of those are not considered good security practices anymore.
Let's see if I can change my background in the middle of this. Yeah. But when you have a password manager and combine it, well, at least if it's not like a cloud start solution, or at least encrypted or something, if you combine it with rotating password, it can be even better.
Yeah. So there are definitely industries and positions where rotation is still kind of needed.
But I always go to this, but I'm going to throw on my background for just two ticks here.
Oh, your chair.
Can you read it? It's not backwards, right? Oh, it's... Oh, my chair.
Get out of the way. I don't know who needs to hear this, but NIST special publication 800-63B has recommended against enforcing password rotation since 2016.
I retweet this constantly. It's not about that password rotation is bad, but it's more that people just rotate it so slightly that it's still not really more secure than before.
And they're more likely to pick weak passwords. They're more likely to pick things that they can...
Yeah, slight changes, more simple passwords, like summer 2012, what year do I think it is?
You know, and write it down, keep it in not safe places. But yeah.
But I wanted to ask you, so when you first... And I get that this is kind of looking back pretty far in your case, but when you were first sort of self -teaching when you were a kid, I can't imagine the resources were quite what's available nowadays, because it seems like there are a lot of free resources out there for learning various aspects of tech.
How did you find out... How did you learn?
How did you teach yourself? So basically, when you code stuff, you basically have two components that you really need to understand.
The first one is the syntax, like how are you going to write code?
How should the code look like? What is, for example, an if statement or what is a variable or something?
And for this, I most of the time just Googled it or even bought a book for that, because just had a complete collection of whatever you need to know.
Also, sorry, quick interruption.
Is it okay if I ask you how old you are? Yeah, I'm 21 now. Okay. Yeah. I mean, that makes a difference too, because I am 36.
So I was thinking about what things were like when I was 12.
Probably more resources than that. I was lucky that the first resources were around then for PHP and stuff like that.
But yeah, I still needed to get a book or something once and then, because it's not...
It's like, oh, wow, Google existed when he was 12. Cool. But there was also the issue when Googling stuff that you didn't know what to Google for.
You didn't know what to search for.
So that's why a book was pretty handy, because it just had a collection of everything and you can just read through it and you're good to go, basically.
Yeah. Then the second part comes in, which is basically, you now know how the syntax works, but how are you going to achieve your goal?
How are you going to implement a lock-in, for example?
Or how are you going to display a date or something?
Yeah. For this, it was really just playing around, trying out lots of different things.
Yeah. So mostly trial and error, taking what you learned from the syntax.
So when you said, Googling around and looking for the information, is this mostly white pages?
Did you find tutorials? Did you just look at documentation for this specific thing?
Well, the documentation was mostly too complicated, if you're a beginner.
Yeah, for sure. There weren't much tutorials around, at least not when I searched for them.
Maybe I didn't find them, but it was pretty hard to find any tutorials.
So yeah, I just Googled for parts of my goals.
For example, if I wanted to do a lock-in, first I Googled, how am I going to do an input field and the form field and stuff like that?
How am I going to get data from my HTML to my PHP?
How am I going to install PHP? Stuff like that. Yeah.
HTTPS, not heard a single thing of it back then. I think there wasn't any, well, there was one single certificate authority that had free SSL certificates, but nobody knew about it.
So it was basically no HTTPS on my site. You just made me think of something, pro tip for anybody who may be watching this.
If you use the auto SSL process that you can use to put in a free digit cert on your site, and you're using Cloudflare, make sure to change, either remove the proxy or set it to flexible.
Because I think setting flexible will work, because you get timed out after a certain number of attempts, and then you have to do it later.
And every single time I spin up a new server, I hit that, it's not allowed because it's an external thing.
So then I remember after they tell me I've been locked out for the day or however long it is that I'm like, oh yeah, it's my SSL settings on Cloudflare, that's why.
Yeah, never forget if you see a redirect issue on your site, always set it back to flexible.
I don't know, whatever you have, if you see a redirect error, change it to the other SSL.
Do the other thing. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
So, yeah, we stopped me at being 13 years old. So yeah, I just said I worked for like YouTube networks and created sites for them and made my first money basically.
I have from there, I worked on more and more projects. I also tried to create my own YouTube network because I wanted to figure everything out.
It's not a lot of different things.
And yeah, that basically went all the way up until when I left school in 10th, after 10th grade, which is pretty normal in Germany.
And yeah, then I just did more stuff.
I tried playing around also outside of IT. I tried doing more stuff.
I actually once was a paperboy basically. And yeah, bringing basically the news to everybody and newspapers to everybody, which really had shitty pay.
It was really bad. I worked six days a week and always at night, like from midnight to 6am or something and got paid like 300 views a month, which is pretty bad for German standards.
Couldn't even get an apartment for that. Oh, wow. So I still lived at my parents' apartment.
Yeah, I also once joined the federal police actually.
Oh, wow. It's basically the FBI of Germany. But only like for a couple of months because I didn't pass the eyesight test, even though I, well, practically I passed it, but I failed on the test that they had because it had like a 10% failure ratio or something where there's like a false positive.
And then I would have to sue them to join it and I didn't want to do that.
And I just reverted back to IT then because it was a better job for me.
And yeah, I always worked on lots of different projects, lots of different companies.
I used Cloudflare the first time when I was working on a company's project, 2015 or something, in 2015.
Okay. Yeah. What was your process for getting with Cloudflare, I guess? What was basically, I saw like this classic, wait five seconds until we check your browser page.
And yeah, that's basically how I noticed that there's something like Cloudflare and I just checked it and then, well, free bandwidth, free CDN, free DDoS protection, SSL certificates for free.
What else do I want when creating a website, especially because all of this was pretty hard in 2015.
And yeah, so I signed up, I put websites on there and got more experience with all of the stuff, like with web development and with Cloudflare.
And then I then worked for more and more companies that spent like thousands of dollars on bandwidth and on DDoS protections and stuff.
And I just told them, well, you can use Cloudflare and you get all of this for free immediately.
They were like pretty surprised.
And yeah. And then I integrated with them, set it up, made sure that there are no errors and stuff like that.
And they saved lots of money. And it was pretty great feeling for me.
I mean, I was still like just 16, 17 years old or something and I saved companies thousands of dollars.
So nice. Yeah. We don't work in sales.
We don't get any personal benefit out of getting people on Cloudflare and especially like the free accounts.
But I always want to preface that because very often I'm like, you know, you could fix that with Cloudflare.
Why don't you put your website on our service?
We can help with that. Yeah. The funny thing is it's not even just advertising or something.
It's just, it works.
It makes your life so much easier. It's literally just recommending a tool for a problem.
And I know that there's a lot of like, okay, but like, I understand why people would have the thought of like, but what are you getting out of this by recommending that I use the company that you work for?
Like literally zero things. Potentially a bigger workload, more problems to solve really if they make support tickets.
But I just want to help you out. Yeah. But yeah, then when I was 17, I basically created my first company, became self-employed.
At the same time, I went to like an IT school kind of thing to learn more about IT.
I jumped out one year later because I already knew all of the stuff because I had the experience already with coding websites and stuff like that.
And yeah, in the meantime, I also became a Cloudflare partner and stuff like that to make my integrations more easy because I could all manage it through one account, but also give customers their own accounts, stuff like that.
Okay. So you have experience from being a partner, like from that side of things.
That's interesting. Yeah. That's actually how I got to know all the Cloudflare products.
Well, not all of the enterprise products, but this and below everything.
Okay. Cool. And yeah. And yeah, basically I then joined companies to work as a software engineer and was self-employed at the same time, all this stuff.
Yeah. And then I just thought, okay, well, I love Cloudflare.
I love their products. I integrated with hundreds of companies already.
Why don't I just join it and try to help while still having my own hobby projects at the same time?
Yeah, for sure. And that's how I joined Cloudflare basically.
I hate to kind of speed you up here just because we're running a little bit short on time.
No worries. But for the last couple of minutes here, based on your hiring process, your time with us so far the past year, both of us had our year within a month from each other.
I guess I thought you were here before me, by the way, I was under the impression you started before me.
And do you have any words of wisdom that you want to share for people who may be trying to get a job with us in tech in general?
So I also did a couple of interviews, so I have some insights.
So the best thing, if somebody wants to join Cloudflare or maybe any other tech company, but especially Cloudflare, is try the products out, play around with websites, understand how they work.
You don't need to have software development experience, but just play around with it.
Try setting it up. Search the community for common issues or something, the community forum that we have.
And yeah, just play around. It's more important that you understand what we are doing, at least on a basic level, than it is probably to have like a special degree or something.
It's so good. Because I know lots of people that have degrees that don't have any idea about what they learned.
And at the same time, there are lots of people that don't have any degrees, but just played around with stuff, have had fun with the stuff, and we're like really experienced with it.
So it's really just playing around, check out if you love to work with it, check out if it's fun for you.
And if it is, then great. Always apply. And if you get rejected, okay, then ask for tips and tricks on what you can do better and how you could learn more and then apply the next year or next month or something.
Yeah, for sure.
I think that's all really great advice. It's so good to be curious and it's so good to just try it, just get your hands in it.
And yeah, so I'm going to share my screen.
Or I guess I could share a specific window. Hopefully this works.
Okay, cool. So while we're wrapping up here, just to mention again, we've got this site that I've created.
It's got a little bit more meat to it. But hopefully I will continue to branch out on it.
Come to this site, fill out our survey. It's right up here.
Tom actually helped me get this working in the back end, which is why I thought to bring him on for the first episode.
And all credit goes to him connecting these pages to workers, which is why you can actually contact me.
So fill out the survey.
Literally none of it is mandatory. So even if you just have a specific thing you want to say, you can just drop it in one of the boxes.
I'm not forcing any specific content.
Just do what moves you. This is where you can see the episodes, this current episode, what we're doing next, and then the previous ones are here.
So yeah, share with me your thoughts because I would really love to hear it. And I think we are just about out of time.
We've got about 15 seconds left. So thank you so much, Tom.
Thank you so much. No worries. It was nice to be here. So thank you for actually starting the segment.
Good luck with your next episode.