Originally aired on July 21, 2020 @ 1:00 PM - 1:30 PM EDT
Join Amy as she provides you with a sneak peek into how the Cloudflare Team has been doing with the transition from daily office life to working from home. How is the team adapting to the shift? What do they miss and not miss about office life? What snacks are they eating? How has it been sharing a workspace with family or housemates? Tune in to find out!
Good morning, my name is Amy Bibeau and I am here to host our Home Office TV show where we take a look at how people are managing with this transition from a very busy, connected office life experience to working at home, sometimes in a tiny place with roommates and at other times with a partner who also has to work at home and then with children. And so today we have Alissa Starzak who is our Head of Public Policy at Cloudflare and thank you so much for joining us, Alissa. Thank you so much for having me. What a fun series. Yeah, it's, you know, I just was like, what are people doing at home? It was kind of like my vision of like home and garden TV but it was like home and office TV, you know, where I could be like, how's it going, you know, to the people? I want to, because that's one of the things I miss about the office is like seeing people. So tell us a little bit about you. Where are you working for Cloudflare? So I'm based in Washington, D.C. I live in the American University Park area of Washington, D.C., so northwest Washington, D.C. But right now I'm actually in a rental house because we apparently chose the wrong time to do a renovation on our house. So here I am in a rental house but it's been working out incredibly well and I'm here with my husband who's also working from home and my two kids, which is a lot on a given day. Great, so how, like when this first went down suddenly, I mean, were you just like, wait a minute, what? You know, I think it's interesting. I think people didn't realize how long it was going to last. So there was certainly a sense, okay, we're going to be in lockdown for a while. Here we are, it's March, we'll get through the next few weeks, we'll see how long it lasts and there's a process back and forth and we'll get through it. And now, of course, here we are in July with no real end in sight, realistically, particularly when you haven't addressed schools yet and we're still going. So it's been a huge shift overall, I think. What did the kids think? Were they like happy to not have to go to physical school or were they disappointed that they didn't get to go anymore? You know, I think at first they were really excited and here they were home, they could do their own thing and then, of course, you get the, you definitely have those moments of I'm bored or what happens next? And online school is a challenge. You know, we in DC, we basically had a set of meetings from a school perspective that were, it wasn't all the time, it wasn't even every day. So understanding when the kids had different events, if they had a meeting or this, what their work was, that itself was a pretty significant full-time job, frankly. And I think a lot of parents have experienced that during a pandemic where you're trying to work from home and you have kids who are trying to learn from home, but there's no one else actually teaching them other than you, which is, it can be a challenge. Yeah. How old are your kids? Seven and 11. So this past year they just finished first grade and fifth grade. Okay. Is the fifth grade or like fairly helpful? Yeah, no, he's great. He's great. And he's, you know, you get to a point, I think of self-sufficiency. I think there are ages of kids where, where some really need a lot of hands-on experience. Some are, some will do a lot on their own. And then I think by the time you get to high school, they're really sort of on their own. They can handle all of it. We're somewhere in the middle with both kids. Right. Like they can kind of make their own snacks. Yeah. But like, how much do you trust the seven-year-old in the kitchen? You know what I mean? Like, you know, like hopefully you have like the 11 -year-old maybe like helping out. You know, my, my seven-year-old is a, is a pretty determined when she wants something, she will go get it. I think, I think it has something to do with younger siblings generally. She's the one who's more likely to make her own breakfast if that tells you anything. Yeah. When I was like seven, eight, I was, I was making fried eggs. I was, I was boiling pasta after school, pasta with butter. You know, I was making pizza toast. I'm not going to tell her any of those things because she will absolutely go for them. That was what we had, noodles and butter. Like, you know, we'd be like, mom, mom, you know, like ragu came out with the pizza quick, you know, it was like pizza quick. I was like, mom, yeah, yeah, yeah. We need that. I would make like pizza toast. That was my big like snack. I don't make them now. I do eat bread still. Speaking of that, so you're in a smaller office anyway, right? But what are you missing about, like, I know for me, it's like, I miss the beautiful office space that we have. That you created, that you created, which you have to miss. I mean, the wonderful flowers, the, the, the beautiful, the wonderful, comfortable, welcoming environment. That was all things that were. Flowers were so fun. Every Monday, like I would go to the flower market. I would like pick out and I did it on a budget. Like I was making 30 flower arrangements with like $120 every week. And they're beautiful. I mean, they were absolutely beautiful. Having around the office makes it feel, makes it feel homey. Makes it, it's a nice place to come to. It was the best. We never got those. We never got those in DC for the record. I know. Too small. I did order snacks. We did so well on snacks. We did so well on snacks. I should have ordered you guys flowers sometime. Now I know that like, I'm going to send some flowers sometimes to our other remote offices. But yeah, like that was the best part of my job. Like it was so relaxing. I would, I would pick out beautiful flowers. I would go to work. I would make arrangements and like, cause I was creative, a creative professional before I started facilities role that I have. Right. So it was like that, that would like kind of tied the two things together of like, okay, well this is like an office job and it's very hands-on and very busy, but it's like, I have that relaxing. I will make the flowers and then people, it made people happy. Right. Well, I mean, that's the thing. I think, I think the interesting thing about facilities and the shift to work from home is one, it's just being around people. So I think we all probably miss being around colleagues and then the ability to sort of walk over to someone's desk and, and, and chat with them informally or, or about work or about anything else. I think also that just the environment of being someplace where the whole point is to get work done. It feels a little different than a home office. And it's not, I think, you know, I think people are very productive in their home offices, but I've certainly gotten a ton of work done in my home office, but it's not, it feels different than being in a, in a, in a hands-on environment when you can have sort of casual conversations and you you're, you're all together and you're all sort of working towards the same thing. It has a different feel to it. Yeah. And then so like you miss the interactions with your colleagues and, and just that, what about the commute? How was your commute before? Yeah, I don't miss the commute. Yeah. My commute wasn't bad. So I actually, I rode public transportation downtown. We're relatively close to the DC Metro. So it was about a 25 minute commute, which isn't terrible at all. And you can read on the Metro. It's, it's pretty easy. But that has definitely changed. You know, the interesting thing about the commute is it gives a, it does give a little bit of a, you know, you walk to the Metro, you walk back, there's a sort of beginning and end fields of the day that I think shifts a lot when you're at home. And sometimes that's good. And sometimes that's bad, right? So the good thing about that is that you get that time back to do other things. The bad thing is that you don't have the ability to sort of get your head in the game right away on the commute or on the way home to decompress a little bit. So I think it has its pros and cons. But I do, I do appreciate having a little bit more time in the morning and evening. So it's hard to, it's hard to say that's a bad thing. Yeah, no, I haven't heard many people complaining about the lack of the commute, but I was going to ask you, how do you know, how do you keep that work life balance without that separation, that physical separation? You know, I think I actually think that is probably a little bit different, at least in my experience on my team, that people who have kids and people who don't have a slightly different position, because when you have kids, there's an external demand for you to stop working. When you don't, you might lose track of time, you might not pay as much attention. You're not as sort of focused on it. And I think that it looks a little bit different, sort of in the challenges that come from both of those spaces. I think the work life balance is a tricky thing anyway. I think one of the interesting things about the pandemic is that you've sort of brought everyone into your home, here we are in a Zoom call, right, in both of our homes, which you would never have seen otherwise. So you see kids pop up on calls, you see, and it has changed, it has altered the work life balance for that reason. It's just a different awareness of people's private situations or home situations. And sort of, you have to accommodate, right? I mean, that's the important piece. And you have to understand that people have different situations. And that's the reality of where we are. Yeah, it's true. It's, I mean, I like being able to see that glimpse into like people's like real lives. But I know that it can be a real challenge, especially like when you're in like an area like the Bay Area, which is like very, it's very expensive. And so if you're like a young professional, you might be living with three or four roommates or something, and you're all sharing Wi-Fi, and you're all sharing space. And, you know, I've never been more grateful for the fact that I manifested like my own living space. You know, because I just don't know like how I would feel to have to work from home and be home so much. If I was like around roommates, you know, who, like, I just, I mean, this is lonely, I'm not gonna lie, like being at home, and sometimes I'll just get in like a, and I'm an extrovert, like, I mean, I'm an extrovert with like a little bit of an introvert leaning. But it's like, I do get my energy from being with other people. It energizes me, it excites me. I'm a Libra, it's a partnership. We want to be engaged with other humans. And so like, I can get into kind of like, when we first at the beginning, I kind of got into like a dark place. I was like, well, this is just going to be over. And I didn't feel like I had to be the one to lead myself out of that, like dark place, because I felt like some of the external circumstance was going to change. And then that was going to bring me relief. But then what I realized was like, actually, Amy Bebo, like, you got to do it for yourself. You have to find your own, like, drive to, you know, to like, get some kind of routine going that feels balanced. You know, make that effort to socialize, even if it's like outside, you know, for a walk. I haven't seen my best friend in a really long time, because she's real scared. Yeah. And I just got a COVID test last week. And now the results are kind of backed up because we have so many people getting tested here. But so it's like, I'm waiting for those results. I can go to her house and she can make me dinner. We have this routine where like, we would like Friday night, I go over there, we have a summer party. She's an amazing chef. You know, so I'm just like, waiting for my COVID results to make me this like, Parmesan pan seared halibut with like a lemon butter. Hungry right there. What have you, have you like started anything new? Or like, has any Have you brought any like different, like, different things or hobbies into your life since the, you know, lockdown? So I haven't done any new hobbies. You know, one of the things, going back to the kids piece of it, it's you're trying to come up with new projects that will entertain kids. So I got my kids a raspberry pie, which I am actually, ironically, I am not the person to teach them how to do anything with it. So I actually feel like someone should put on a Cloudflare TV segment that shows shows me how to teach my kids how to use a raspberry pie. Oh, it's a it's a little tiny computer. So it's a computer that you can build yourself. So and then you can program it, you can do all sorts of things with it. But it's, it's really accessible for kids. So but you know, trying to think about trying to think about what you can do to keep kids interested and to actually have them learn during a pandemic has taken up probably more of my time than any other, which is not a it's not actually a hobby for the record. Being a mom. It is such a, it's, it's been such a crazy time in some way, because it feels busy all the time, and yet you're home all the time. And so it feels like you should have time for hobbies, and it feels like you should have time for this and that. And at the same time, you know, every day is sort of packed full, but also every day feels the same. So, so you, so you end up in this world of sort of Groundhog Day, where you know, you're living the same day over and over again, and you haven't, but you haven't actually done the benefits of Groundhog Day, you haven't learned to play the piano. I got my guitar in here, and like, it is begging for me to pick it up, and I have not picked it up very much. I am going to. It's harder than you think, right? I've thought, I've actually thought when I first, when the pandemic first started, we had sort of a conversation about work, where we were like, okay, this is the time where we actually have the ability to write things that we've been meaning to write for a long time. We can write sort of the descriptions of things that we've, you know, the background policies on a variety of different issues. And, you know, as we sort of went in, you realize, one, Zoom calls take up a lot of time. And two, they're just, at the end of the day, the sort of mental energy from having, after having been on Zoom calls all day, after having sort of done the sort of normal work, it's just not there, and to sort of, for the deep thought that you kind of wanted, that you thought you were going to get to in the first place. So, it's been, it's, it's, it's been a process. Sure. So, like, you're the head of our public policy at ConFlare, and how is that role, what is that like? Like, you know, we, it's like, it feels like it's very, no wonder you're so busy, right? Technology legislation is always changing, and, you know, we're in an interesting place in the Internet infrastructure, where, you know, so we're, we're not in, you know, we're not Facebook, you know, we're not a content provider, per se. So, what is, what is that like for you? Well, so, my role has a couple of different pieces. So, I do external engagement with, with government. We do, we do analysis of legislation, to your point. We also do some internal policy. So, we try to think about what are the effects that possible legislation could have on us, but also, more specifically, how do we think about those things in advance? How are people going to react to the things that we do? And then, how do we, how do we make sure we, we address concerns that people might have, or build our products the way we, we want them, what we think they should be perceived? And then, and then also, I'm actually responsible for our corporate social responsibility program. So, Project Galileo, and, and the Athenian Project. So, that also falls on my team. So, it's a, it's a lot of different issues that, that all sort of come up together. I think, I think that, and they've all had sort of a different effect in the pandemic, right? So, on the, on the government relations side, you know, Congress is trying to figure out what to do. The executive branch is trying to figure out to do, how do you, how do you work during a pandemic? So, you know, the federal government hasn't universally been back on the job. So, you have, you have people who are working from home, the first time they've ever worked from home in the federal government, or they're, they're in the Hill, and they're trying to figure out, can you do voting when you're not in person? There, there have been all of these questions. And then there's the question of how you engage on issues. So, how do you hold a hearing if you're Congress? How do you, how do you do listening sessions? It's been a, there's been a huge change just in the way the government gets information in, from that perspective. So, you don't, you're not doing in-person meetings the same way. We've done a lot more Zoom calls. We've done a lot more that's, that's conference calls and a variety of other things, but it feels different than it did before the pandemic. And then on the internal side, you know, what you're seeing are things being shaped right now because of the reality of the pandemic. So, policies are changing. The things that you have to worry about are changing because the concerns are changing. So, the pandemic is having a pretty significant effect on what people talk about and what people think about and what people care about. You know, we have on the, on the corporate social responsibility side, we've been doing a lot of thinking about what role we have as a company. How do we fit in this space? How do we articulate the values that we know, we all know we have? And then, you know, in the, on the specific, you know, Galileo piece, there's been a ton of action, a ton of activity on, on things that actually really need our help. So, how do we make sure we're engaged on, in, in, with advocacy groups and other entities that can use our help during this time when there's so much going on, either on the social justice side or, or, or just generally because the pandemic, things that they're doing to help ease some of the problems in the pandemic. So, it's been busy. And so, could you give a quick, just like a, you know, quick description of what is Project Galileo and what is Project Athene and just in case people are watching and they're not familiar? Sure. So, we have a couple of projects that are really aimed at making sure that vulnerable voices stay online. So, Project Galileo is, is designed to make sure that, that nonprofits and media organizations actually have the ability to, to make sure that they don't get attacked from a cyber perspective. So, it's a set of free services for them. We actually work with a set of external partners who help us identify entities that might be appropriate for that, for those, for that program. The Atheneum project is a set of free services for state and local governments that run election websites. So, really what we saw for Atheneum was that after the 2016 election, there was, it was really obvious that there were a lot of smaller jurisdictions that really didn't have access to sort of basic cybersecurity services. And the services that we provide are really good for making sure that people are confident in the system. So, you don't want a website, a local website to go down just because it wasn't configured properly to address the amount of traffic it was going to get. That's, that's not even a cyber attack, but people will assume it was a cyber attack. So, making sure that there's some sort of confidence and there's confidence in the system by making sure a website doesn't go down is really important. So, we've been involved in both of those spaces, trying to think about, you know, who, who needs help in that area? How do we make sure that people aren't susceptible to cyber attacks? It's a, people that we all think should stay online shouldn't be susceptible to cyber attacks is a really important piece. Yeah, I mean, it's a, we're really in uncharted territory, I think, you know, from a technology perspective, for what's, you know, happening on the ground level in our country, like what the government, like, you know, like the checks and balances of our, you know, judicial and legislative and like executive branch of the government. Like, I feel like right now we're in a little, you know, there's clearly kind of a battle between like some federal perspective and like what's happening in the states right now, like as far as like what's happening in Portland, for example, which I think like is, I'm personally terrified that, that our federal government is starting to really overreach, you know, like that they might be using this kind of pandemic as a way to kind of like advance their agenda and, and like maybe not get those like checks and balances that I wish that they would have. You know, I think that there's so much going on right now in the world, in the United States, and there's so many different components to it. So one of the things that's a sort of big challenge, just, you know, globally, in the U.S. is thinking about state versus federal. And we see that in sort of coronavirus response to thinking about who actually is the appropriate actor in a space. I think those are just big challenges I think that we as a country are going to have to address. I think when we think about it from a Cloudflare perspective, what we try to think about are really focusing on the cyber attack side of the world. How do we make sure that people can get information? So, you know, the challenge in the cyber attack side of the world or the information side of the world is you don't want sites that actually have information, you know, public service announcements, for example, to go down. Because that's, that's not good for anybody. I think that that are the sort of role that we play, and we can't address the sort of big federal state questions that are coming up across the board. But there are things that we can help with, right, we can help with making sure that people have access to information, because those sites don't go down. Because again, because too many people are visiting them or anything else, we can make sure that, that cyber attacks don't, don't fail advocacy organizations that are also putting out important information. So thinking about what role we play as an organization, we at Cloudflare, the good things that we can do is really important right now, because there's so much turmoil and because there's so much happening. So it's, you know, one of the challenges of the role is understanding when you can get, when you should get involved, when you can get involved, when you can actually do something that's positive. That's, that's sort of where the company, where the company can help. And it's, it's, it's understanding sort of the parameters of that role, and when that fits and when it doesn't. And it's, it's been such an interesting time, there's so much going on, there's so many areas to get involved with, that piece of the role is actually more important than ever. Yeah, that's very interesting. I, I think that Cloudflare is such an interesting company with the fact that we've taken on these types of advocacy projects, you know, to just make sure, like, hey, we want to make sure that, you know, information that needs to be accessible by people who want to receive that information, like, stays available. And, you know, thank you so much for your work on that. So before you were at Cloudflare, you were working in Washington also? I was, I was in government for a long time. So I spent about 12 years in government before coming over to Cloudflare. So I spent time on the, on the, on Capitol Hill, I was in the, I worked for the Senate, and I also worked in the executive branch. So a whole range of different roles in government, but definitely a DC person from that perspective. You got to, you worked with Obama. That makes it sound like it was really direct. You know, I was, I was, I was a political appointee. Yes. Did you ever get to, like, hang out with him? And like, he was, he was a law school professor of mine. So I, many, many years ago. So that's my, that's probably my, my, my best hangout time is back when I was in law school. And way before he was an, actually, he was a sitting senator, even. He actually taught my, yeah, I took constitutional law from him. So he was, he was my professor for an 8.30am constitutional law class. Wow. I bet you never missed it. I actually, I was pretty good, I have to say. He was a good professor. So, so, you know, apart from the presidency component, he was a, he was, I, I made it to his 8.30am class, which I'm now very glad about. I mean, he's a very articulate person, you know, like I, I, I saw a town hall, virtual town hall that he did, you know, in June, you know, talking like with some leaders in the, in the African American community and the people of color community. And it was just so refreshing to just hear his, like, thoughtful, like, articulating of, you know, complex situations. And I, I just, I was, I was wistful. I mean, you know, I really was. You know, like, you know, Cloudflare Home Office TV leans left, you know, in case any, in case any viewers, you know, aren't sure, you know, from a, from a commentator, you know, my views are my own, you know, they don't necessarily represent, you know what I mean, us on a corporate level, but I was wistful for his, like, for his intelligence. And so how did you transition from government, you know, into, into private, private company? So, you know, when I was coming out of government, I was really interested. I said, I'd worked in government for a very long time. I've had a number of incredibly interesting jobs, really always, always moving, always a lot of issues, you know, just, just a sort of constant stream of things to think about and to things to get involved in. And when I was coming into, when I was leaving government, what I really wanted was something that had challenging issues and intellectual, something that's an intellectual heft to it. And then also just had a mission and, and Cloudflare has a mission, you know, it's, it's, it's amazing how much that makes a difference. So when I was in government, there's this, there's this sense when you're in government that, that people can work together and you're going to do something good, or you can do something good. And if you do it well, it really matters. So, you know, I was in the, I was at the department of defense, you know, when you change policies for the, the army, for example, you're changing it for, you know, a million different people. And it makes a difference in their individual lives and you get personal stories where it has made a difference in their lives. And that's such a powerful thing. So coming into the private sector, trying to figure out how you get those same feelings, how you think about what's important, how you, and then also you, you marry that with a set of issues that are sort of constantly challenging and, and difficult, and, but, but you can be thoughtful about and creative about. It's actually not that easy to find the right positioning for that. And so I started looking around after, after I, when I was leaving government and Cloudflare has all of those issues. It has a mission and it just, it just ended up as a perfect fit from that perspective. So it's, it's been great and never, never dull, always challenging and always a place that, that I can, with a mission I can get behind, which is really important. Were you one of our first people in DC? So I was not. We actually had had a DC presence since 2014, which is amazing for, so even when we were a much smaller company. So when I started, I think we were about 450 employees and we had, we already had a DC presence and if we had had it since we had about, then about, about 200 employees. And I think it's actually, it's, it's helpful, I think, for us to have a DC presence in part, because we're an unusual company and people often don't know what we do. So being able to just explain what, what is Cloudflare? What is our role? How does it fit into the space is, is really useful for people, I think. Yeah, that's awesome. I'm so glad that you found, I mean, I'm obviously very glad that you landed at Cloudflare, you know, because I think that you're a great, you know, a great fit for the role that you do and you bring a great, like, energy and a really positive, like, sense of purpose, you know, to Cloudflare. So I'm really glad that we have you, you know, on our, you know, in our corner and, like, helping lead us in those directions. So right now we don't have to be back to work until, let's see, I think January 4th is, like, our, you know, our big day that, you know, I mean, that's what we think right now. And you're doing a renovation, you said, you're, you're in a, like, rental place. So basically, we're going to kind of start back up and that's going to be right around when you're going to, yeah. Like I said, I like a lot of things going on at the same time. So really, we'll just, you know, renovate the house, move back into the office, move back into the house all at the same time. You should probably find some other things to do too, you know, some hobbies. What do you do to decompress? Like, what's your Alyssa, okay, like, the kids are in bed, you know what I mean? And you have your partner, you have your spouse and you, you know, what do you, what, how do you decompress? So I, so I like to run. I like to exercise. I actually find that to be sort of a nice quiet time, which sounds kind of strange, but it's, it's true. It's just, it's time to just think, which is nice. I, I spend a lot of time actually kind of quietly reading after the kids go to bed. We've, you know, there's, there's, there's plenty of entertainment in there too. You know, there's TV and movies and all sorts of good stuff. So, right. Okay. Well, Netflix screen time. I think everybody's screen time in the pandemic has definitely increased kids, adults, you name it. So for me, it's like, I look at my phone and I used to be really excited because I don't run, but I might start exercising someday. But it's like, I was joining the jam really when this all happened, you know, but I used to like, look at my steps and be like, all right, I've got 8,000 steps in, you know what I mean, today. And now it's more like, okay, I got four hours. Okay. Like I'm almost done with next in fashion. You know, I think people will get more sleep in the pandemic. It will be really interesting to see sort of health effects. You know, when they, when they look back at this point in history, understanding that a lot of people are getting a lot more sleep will be interesting. Right. So they may not be getting more exercise, but they're going to be getting, I bet, you know, looking over the course of the population, I probably get two hours more sleep at night, which is crazy when you think about it. I'm so happy to hear that for you. We have just a few seconds left. So I'm just going to kind of wrap it up by saying, you know, so great to see you. I don't get to see you enough, especially now. It's so great to see you too. And thank you for having me on. Thank you so much for coming on my little show, Home Office TV.