Cloudflare TV

How I Got Here: Unconventional Paths into Cloudflare

Presented by Marianna Ilagan, Hady Mendez, Vasti Porter
Originally aired on 

Three women of color share their stories about their unconventional career journeys before starting at Cloudflare.


Transcript (Beta)

Hi, good afternoon everyone and welcome to Cloudflare TV. How I got here unconventional paths into Cloudflare.

We're really excited that everyone can join us today to introduce ourselves.

I'm Marianna Ilagan. I'm the internal events coordinator at Cloudflare and I'm based out of the San Francisco office and joining me, Hady would you like to kick us off?

Sure, I am Hady. Hello everyone. Good afternoon from New York City and I am a customer success manager with Cloudflare.

Thank you and Vasti?

Hi, I'm Vasti and I'm the vendor relationship procurement manager in San Francisco for our places team.

Wonderful, thank you so much for introducing yourselves and thank you so much for joining me.

Just wanted to share a little bit about the inspiration behind this segment, how I got here, how we got here.

I've been working at Cloudflare for almost a year now. My anniversary is in 15 days and professionally speaking, I have never been happier.

I have never felt more supported, more fulfilled and my friends not in Cloudflare see it and especially the women.

They ask me, how on earth did you get this job at this cyber security company?

You don't work in tech, you don't code, you don't know anything about anything and I'm like okay, hold up.

I know I actually have a lot of things that I bring to the table but it made me realize that a lot of people don't know that there are a ton of non-technical roles in the tech sphere.

Tons, can't even count them and I've personally found at Cloudflare, not only are the non-technical roles existent, the people that I work with, technical or non-technical, are so smart and supportive and kind and amazing and the network of women and women of color is so supportive and strong and we just want to be there for each other and connect.

So, I wanted to share some of our stories today, the unique ways of how we got here.

So, I want to start off with a quick background of where we were prior to starting at Cloudflare.

Hadi, would you like to start off? Sure. So, I started off as actually a technical person when I graduated from college.

I was an application developer for seven years and following that, I actually held several related positions.

I was a product manager, I was a project manager and I also was in business development within finance and tech and I did that for like about 20 years and then back in 2014, I decided that I wanted to do something more impactful and so, I decided I would go volunteer overseas.

I did that for two years and I worked with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women during that time in South America.

It was a from Bolivia, I decided that I would stay in non-profit.

So, I worked for a school, an elementary school in the South Bronx as a community school director and I did that for three years and that was great, awesome work but I was broke and my piggy bank was empty.

So, I decided to come back to technology and try to save some money and I actually missed a lot about technology.

We'll talk about some of that later but I was hired last year. So, I just had my one-year anniversary in June this early and I guess last month now and yeah.

So, I've been here for a year and I get to tell you a little bit more about my story in a little bit.

Wonderful and we're so glad to have you. Happy anniversary and Vasti, would you like to give us a little bit of background about where you were prior to CF?

Sure. Well, so my background, I have a degree in architectural history and my first job was at a company, clothing company called Esprit de Corps and I was an admin in the architectural department and I was, because of the focus of the degree, there was a lot of research into architectural programming, how people experience space and all these different things and because Esprit was a lifestyle brand, everything they did had to, with some clothing, to architecture, to fixtures, to cups or what anything they did had to keep reflecting that whole lifestyle brand or that whole lifestyle, yeah the lifestyle brand.

So, the architecture was really a reflection and reaffirmed that brand, that lifestyle brand.

So, I was asked to basically research and come up with locations or architects to provide to the CFO, Doug Tompkins, for him.

I basically provided insights for him to make informed decisions and then from there, I was an owner's rep for the San Francisco mayor's office of housing and in that role, I advocated for the mayor's office, the city of San Francisco, as the owners for affordable housing and let's see, I'm sorry, I worked with lenders, architects and contractors to ensure that we entered into the correct contracts and to ensure that we came in on budget and on time for these major affordable housing developments and my most recent role or job was a company that I called Dapper Shoe Care and most recently, I was a professional shoe shiner and my company was housed in a men's haberdashery financial district named Wingtip and then someone's like, Fasty, do you want to do this forever?

I have, I think, you know, you might be suited to something in facilities in tech and I was like, you've got to be kidding, I don't have anything tech.

You're like, let's set you up with some informational interviews and let's see where this goes.

So that's when you ended up here and I'm so glad you did, so grateful to have you.

For those who don't know, Vastie's on the same team as me and she, I would not be where I am and I wouldn't have had the success that I have had at Cloudflare if I didn't have the support of someone as amazing as Vastie.

So to give a little bit of my background, I graduated from a liberal arts college as an English literature major.

I really thought I wanted to be a middle school teacher, so I tried that out.

I was not meant to be a middle school teacher, I do not have the strength or selflessness that it takes to be a teacher, but I realized that I loved working with people, loved working, loved solving their problems or helping them solve their problems, loved coordination and organization, so I took those elements and started a career in the hotel world.

I rose up really quickly from front desk agent with zero years of experience to manager in about a year and a half and it looked like I was going to have a solid career in the hotel world, but I realized, wait a minute, I'm not happy, just because I'm good at this doesn't mean I'm happy, and that was a really big realization.

So I looked for something else that had, I wanted my professional blood, sweat and tears to go to a company with a wider social positive impact.

I looked into non-profit, but non -profit doesn't pay the bills in San Francisco, so I started looking at tech that had a wide social impact and that's how I eventually found Cloudflare.

So yeah, those are backgrounds and moving on, I'm curious because we all shared where we were right before Cloudflare, but in between the looking for a new job and getting hired at Cloudflare, what are some obstacles that you faced when applying for jobs in tech?

I would be very curious to hear from both of you.

Hadi, would you like to kick us off? Sure, I honestly had a really hard time getting back into tech.

I tried periodically from the point I came back from living overseas for about three or four years.

I would say I applied probably to several hundred jobs during my job search and I got very few callbacks, maybe 10 to 15.

As an example, there was a tech company in Kansas, which is where I was living for some time, that offered me in like an entry-level position.

So it seemed like I did it for 20 years, I went away for two years, and I forgot everything I did for 20 years and people were, yeah, offering me like entry-level kind of roles.

So it was really tough because my experience was completely discredited and like no one acknowledged it and it just like the whole thing never happened.

So that was really hard, I have to tell you, and very discouraging. I finally decided to hire and invest some money in a resume, a professional resume writer, and that was good.

I think that was like a really smart choice, that person helped me quite a bit.

I will say that I was strongly encouraged to lay down my non-profit experience during that time and that was discouraging and that was really sad because I felt that those experiences really contributed to the person that I am today.

Working with those women in South America, working with those families in the South Bronx, that's like, you know, those were very meaningful experiences for me.

Those are formative experiences. For sure, and they, you know, so it was so sad that like basically I was told like just don't talk about it, don't bring it up, you know.

But I will tell you, you know, when Cloudflare finally, obviously, you know, I got the interview with Cloudflare during the last, some people don't know about this, so here's a little pro tip, but during the last interview Cloudflare had, at least at the time, in order to be a success manager, they do ask you to present and at that time it was like on any topic that you wanted and then you would get Q&As from the people who were interviewing you.

There was like I think four interviewers and so I got a chance to present on anything that I wanted and I chose my experience in South America.

So I talked all about how I had worked with women in jail and what that experience was like and I kind of tried to tie that experience to how, to the role of success manager and how I thought some of those skills were transferable.

So I personally really appreciated that Cloudflare allowed me to bring my and share my whole self during that interview process and I was really happy that eventually, you know, I landed my position as customer success manager here.

And we're happy to have you. Vasti, do you want to share some obstacles you faced while applying for jobs in tech or on your path to here?

Yes, certainly. Pardon me, what I will say, and I think this applies to all of us, is that our path into tech, it's really an intricate odyssey as women and as women of color.

And because of this intersectionality, we've had to think outside of the box in our approach to applying for these jobs as, I want to say, a poet versus a quant, you know, a liberal arts thinker versus someone who's in STEM.

So, you know, Hadi, you're a little different because you did have that tech, but Mariana and I, we didn't.

And, you know, it was thinking, we couldn't just do the same process in applying.

So it was thinking outside the box and being really creative in how we got in.

That being said, I had no success, no success, doors closed, you know, just crickets.

And then with my network, having some people say, you know, I think you need to talk to something.

And I really want to encourage people to rely on their network because really that is a goldmine in getting a job in a company is the network.

And then that being said, you know, your story is important.

It's really important. A compelling, authentic story where you connect the dots, find the common thread, you know, transferable skills, suss that resume out, and connect the dots and then tell that story, work on your storytelling because that will sell it.

And then that being said, get a first follower, a first follower, you need a fan.

And that fan believes in your story. And that fan believes in the potential of your authentic story.

And they will amplify your story to the interview panel.

And it is an ad. I totally agree. I think we can get a little bit more into the tips for other people later on.

I'm sure people want to hear about that.

Let's talk. Let's talk about us. We're so big. We're the kinds of people who always want to help other people.

But this is our time to talk about us a little bit.

And I completely agree with you that you have to realize how to tell your story.

And that was one of the obstacles I faced first. I knew what my story was in my head, but it took me a while to really rehearse and polish how I was telling my story.

And when I told my story to a lot of recruiters, they were like, one recruiter at an unnamed company was like, you have a kind of wishy -washy resume.

Can you make it make sense for me? And I was like, that is not the adjective I would use.

I think I have an unconventional resume, but that doesn't mean I'm a wishy-washy person.

I am adventurous and open-minded. But Janet Van Hise, our head of HR, when I was on the final call with her, she was like, you have a really unique journey.

Can you talk me through your journey and the choices you made?

And I'm like, thank you. That is such a compassionate and accurate way to frame this question.

And that is one of the reasons that made me want to work at Cloudflare.

I instantly knew and found out that the people from the leaders to the people at the front desk to just like random people I tried to get coffee with to get the lowdown on what is the culture, all had only positive things to say.

And so that's not just an obstacle I faced, but it turned into a positive to work at Cloudflare.

Vasti and then Hadi, would you like to tell us a little bit about what made you want to work at Cloudflare specifically, not just any tech company?

Vasti, would you like to start?

I'm going to agree with you.

It was the leadership, the culture, the energy, the people being able to work was really bright folks who have an open mindset, who are curious about all things.

And being around that and having the potential to be around that, I knew that it would elevate.

It would elevate me in all parts of my life.

I mean, it would just, it would energize me and give me a new pair of eyes to look at everything, not just like at Cloudflare, but just outside of my personal life.

So yeah, in the sense of community, I really, we have a strong community there and a strong culture, but it's the community, it's the people and it's the vibe.

Totally agreed. Hadi, would you have anything to add to that?

Yeah. So part of why I wanted to work at Cloudflare had a little bit of something to do with me.

So after my experience living and working in South America and also working in the South France, I really wanted to work in a place that matched kind of like where I was in life.

I didn't I was wanting to go back to like a very corporate stuffy conservative company.

I hadn't primarily been working in banks and financial services companies, and I just didn't want that kind of vibe anymore.

I didn't want to wear a suit or a dress to work every day and deal with politics.

I really, so that's like what I didn't want. And I was very clear on that.

As I did more research on Cloudflare, especially during my interview process, I really loved the energy of the people that I met.

I liked the vibe, just like you all described.

It was a younger company, smaller company, more scrappy company.

We hear that word a lot thrown around at Cloudflare with scrappy, you know?

So I feel like all of that I liked more. I like that you there's like, it seems like, you know, you just don't like there's a thing in corporate America where you got to stay in your lane.

And if like you try to like help somebody, they're like, that's not your job.

That's not how it is in Cloudflare.

Like everybody can do everything. We're all trying to win and we're all trying to cross that finish line together.

And I think that is that collaboration and cooperation.

I like that spirit a lot. And then there were there were two specific blog posts that I had read while I was preparing for my interviews.

One was on Cloudflare, which is Cloudflare's LGBTQ ERG. I think it was one of our first ERGs.

And when I read about it, I kind of was like, wow, like they they they're awesome in all these other ways.

And they value diversity and inclusion.

Yay. So like that really got me pumped. And then I read a blog post about another an employee who had done Peace Corps and then came back and found his way to Cloudflare and was working at Cloudflare successfully.

And I said, wow, that's a company that values other other people like people's other life experiences, not just work.

So so anyway, you know, like there was just like evidence and more evidence to support that Cloudflare was really, you know, a good place for me, a good fit.

Totally agreed. And I like that one thing that I'm hearing from all of us is the word community, vibe, people, culture.

You can't deny in this day and age that it's one of the most important factors in your happiness as a place of work.

And money can't buy good culture, good community. And speaking of community and ERGs, I want to take a second.

We can talk about that another time, too.

We can do a whole podcast series about that. But I want to do a really quick shout out to both to both of you.

For those of you who don't know, Vasti co-founded Afroflare two years ago.

And Afroflare is our employee resource group for people from the African diaspora.

And Hadi co-founded, no, founded independently Latinflare one year ago, which is the ERG for our Latinx community.

And since then, through the leadership of the two of you, the ERG scene at Cloudflare has exploded in a good way across all our global offices.

We have more than 10 offices and there's participation in all the time zones and all the offices.

There's enthusiasm. People are empowered by what they saw in you to not just accept the diversity that we had, but to enhance it and make it better, make it more of a family and community.

Hadi, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you were able to bring your whole self to the Cloudflare interview.

And I think I experienced not just bringing my whole self to the Cloudflare interview, but to my Cloudflare life, my day to day at Cloudflare.

So I'm curious, how has bringing your whole self to Cloudflare helped you thrive?

Hadi, can we start with you?

Sure. I really like this question because it made me realize that it is not just the act of bringing my whole self to Cloudflare that makes me thrive there, but it also has a lot to do with alignment of my values and the values that Cloudflare has.

So I'll give you some examples of, you know, so that kind of everybody could benefit from it.

I think, so I'll say that Cloudflare really values honesty and transparency.

That is like kind of like a big deal for us. And as a result of that, we really, as employees, get to push back and ask tough questions, really of anyone at Cloudflare, from up and down and around.

And, you know, it doesn't matter who it is, we can ask questions and we can say, well, why are we doing it that way?

Or, you know, is there a better way to do it? And I just like appreciate that a lot.

Like that allows me to thrive because it's a place where I can ask honest questions.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an important value to Cloudflare.

And we can see evidence of that in a variety of ways. You know, you mentioned there's like a ton of ERGs.

So that's one example. We have like so many events and activities and, you know, ways that we've been celebrating our differences and bringing people together and informing and educating one another.

And that's like, that's, it's a really big value.

You know, and even the efforts that management is now undertaking as it relates to improving recruiting and inclusivity and the sense of belonging for people now more than ever with all the racial tension going on in this country.

So I would say that because diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to Cloudflare, I get to sit in that and to, you know, kind of enjoy the liberty of being, of working in diversity, equity, and inclusion all day, every day.

Like, you know, that's my role as the, one of the leads of Latinflare, as the global lead for Latinflare.

And as, you know, just sort of a DEI leader at large within the company, I, you know, that's really important.

And, and Cloudflare kind of, you know, enables me to be able to do that.

So I think that's really important. And then lastly, I would say, empathy is a very important value of Cloudflare.

We talk about it a lot, being empathetic with customers, with each other, et cetera.

And my work with formerly incarcerated women, as well as the work that I did with parents at the school where I used to work, it really helped me to approach, it really helped me to approach like life from the perspective of someone who is always listening and seeking to understand other people.

And I feel like that, that skill I can transfer right into my customer success manager job.

And that allows me to thrive at Cloudflare. So, so there's really good alignment with what I think is important and what Cloudflare thinks is important.

And that is what helps me to thrive here. I love that. And I completely agree.

Vasti, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this too. How has bringing your whole self to Cloudflare professionally helped you thrive?

I think one word and I'll get into it would be, I feel supported.

And in that, in my day-to -day projects to co-founding Afroflare with Tiffany Odeka and Tanya Page and all the, working with all of our Afroflare leaders, from just support, our executive sponsors, and it's just support.

So that being said, I want to, I kind of, in planning for this, there's a quote and the quote is, what would you do if you, if you could not, pardon me, what would you do if you know you couldn't fail?

If failure and the fear of failure wasn't built in, you know, facing a challenge or, or, or doing a project that you're, you know, you feel like you may be an imposter around.

And, and so if you eliminated that, that fear or, you know, the ability to achieve would be limitless.

And so, so at Cloudflare, I'm, I'm challenged in my, in my projects. I feel the fear, but I do it anyway.

The other thing that I, I got from one of our retreats, and I think it was, it was a jazz instructor, I think, that talked about Miles Davis saying there are no mistakes, only lessons.

So, you know, that framing frees you up from the fear.

It's not a mistake. You're not going to be punished.

You're learning a lesson. So I have a bag of lessons that I bring in every day to work.

And with all of that, the feeling supported, my bag of lessons, and, you know, feeling the fear and doing it in any way, all that frees me up and allows me to bring my best self and thrive at Cloudflare.

I've personally witnessed you talk about that and enact that.

I've had the privilege of working closely with you.

So I really appreciate you and your candidness, both you, Hattie and Vashti. Both your answers make me think in general about how candid the people I work with are.

Just to share one story, I, in my first few weeks at Cloudflare, I felt really lost.

And, you know, imposter syndrome was happening. And I asked all these different people for random questions, because I didn't want to ask one person all my random questions.

And four different people told me something along the lines of, don't worry, I'm the least technical person at Cloudflare.

You're fine, Mariana.

And I'm like, there's no way all these four people are actually the least technical person at Cloudflare.

But it showed me that people were open enough about the things they knew and the things they didn't know but wanted to learn that I felt comfortable making mistakes.

I had the room to grow. I had the room to ask for feedback and give feedback in, you know, a diplomatic way.

It was freeing.

I think you used the word free, Vashti. That is the adjective I would agree with.

We have just two minutes left, and I want to quickly ask Vashti and Hadi, what are your top tips for the people who are career pivoting or people who want to work at Cloudflare?

Let's do one tip each. Vashti, would you like to start?

The big tip, there's so many, I said storytelling, get your first follower.

Someone in that company, in the interviewing process, the screening, whatever, to be your fan and amplify your story to the decision makers.

And yeah, do that.

And yeah, that's all I'm going to say. Okay, I'll jump in and I'll say, follow your heart.

If you believe that you have what it takes to do a certain job or role, be persistent in your search for the company that will give you the opportunity to shine.

I completely agree. To add to that, just one last thing. In addition to, you know, be strategic and do your research, specifically do your research about the culture, because culture is everything.

You could have your dream job on paper, could pay you a million bucks, but if the culture is missing, then you're not going to be happy at that job.

And why would you take a job you're not going to be happy at, you know?

And so that's, I think that's all the time we have for today.

Vashti and Hadi, I am honored that you joined me today and I am filled with gratitude, no joke, that I get to work with you.

I think you're pioneers and I could not ask for a better set of people to work with.

So thank you. Thank you. Thanks.

Thanks, Mariana. Thanks everyone for joining us. Bye. Bye.