Cloudflare TV

People Behind the Packets

Presented by Nitin Rao, Raejeanne Skillern
Originally aired on 

Tune in to hear conversations with leaders building the infrastructure the Internet relies on.


Transcript (Beta)

All right. We're live. So, thank you so much, Raejeanne, for joining us. Hello, everybody.

My name is Nitin Rao. I lead the team that builds Cloudflare's global infrastructure.

And welcome to our very first episode of People Behind the Packets.

This is what I'm hoping will be a series of conversations with leaders around the world that I respect who are building infrastructure that's just critical, which the Internet relies on, from hardware to connectivity to mobile communications.

And few people understand the intersection of those three, as well as Raejeanne Skillern.

And so, really honored, Raejeanne, that you could join us.

Raejeanne is the president of communications and enterprise compute at Flex.

And previously, built really ground up Intel's cloud business and has just an incredible vantage point to talk about everything where sort of all things infrastructure around the world.

And has been really a trusted partner to anyone building the cloud in many ways before we called it the cloud.

And so, thank you so much for chatting with us, Raejeanne.

Really appreciate it. I know it's so great to be here.

It's nice to see you again. It's been a long time. And talking about one of my favorite topics, data center infrastructure, cloud infrastructure.

People look at me crazy when I say I love to talk about the data center and cloud, but no better time than right now.

No, no better time than right now. And it's funny.

It's one of those roles where you're sort of, it's behind the scenes. And if it's working well, like, not a lot of people need to be thinking about data center infrastructure, but it's part of every facet of our life.

Everything now. I mean, and truly, it's become everything since COVID where now we just, that concept of brick and mortar, right, is just, we've lost the capability to do it in many cases.

So, now, I mean, from my kids doing their homework to me trying to get enough Internet bandwidth at home, competing as a family for better, more consistent, higher performance access and bandwidth, right?

And thank you for helping with that.

A cloud player is a very important part of ensuring our security and performance and our bandwidth and connectivity.

But yeah, it's a time where I think people, they see the growth of these companies, but they really don't understand sometimes just how much scale and infrastructure goes into making it happen.

And now Flex is, and you run a large business at Flex that I was reading did more than $8 billion in revenue last year, which is like really large numbers.

I think at this point in time, we can almost, it's almost easier to count the products that Flex doesn't manufacture than that Flex manufactures.

But for folks who are less familiar, can you give us a sense of just the sheer breadth of products that Flex burrows and how it touches lives?

I think it's really surreal how broad it is.

It is so interesting. And it's been really fun for me to come to this company because I run communications cloud and enterprise infrastructure, server storage, radios, baseband units, core networks, all of that traditional infrastructure.

And when I came to Flex, I learned about healthcare. We're one of the leading providers of ventilators.

We've made over 20, 30 million masks, face masks.

In your home, I'm guessing we either made your vacuum cleaner, your dishwasher interface, or your shampoo bottle.

I mean, that breadth in the home. And I'm the proud new owner of a drone that I've been really enjoying.

We make drones.

I mean, it's just really fun to see that from life-saving medical devices and equipment to really just fun stuff.

And then everything that's helping us stay connected during this COVID period and support medical centers and connectivity for healthcare and really help fight this battle of COVID.

So, yeah, breadth is absolutely there.

Well, they must make for a really exciting job. And thank you for all the hard work that your team does.

We do need ventilators. Yeah. Can you give us a sense of who goes to the office?

Who doesn't go to the office? Because so much of this is an essential service that's literally keeping the economy going.

And so how did your team think through those decisions?

It was probably one of the most inspiring moments of my time at Flex was to see how our global operation machine came together to really handle a global crisis.

And it started in China, then we had significant impacts in Malaysia, we have impacts in Mexico.

But the way they and how quickly they were able to keep manufacturing running.

And that's a large part of what we are a global contract manufacturer, electronics manufacturing.

And, you know, the shutdown time was actually really quite small.

And you'd say, well, hey, are you putting your employees at risk?

Actually, that was the awe inspiring part, the way the employee protection went in and how quickly they did it and the screenings.

And actually, you know, when you're able to do that, you can work with local governments to, you know, where they will grant the exception for essential services, which really, especially in my field, right, communications and, and infrastructure, it has been an essential service.

So we've been able to keep producing and keep our employees incredibly safe, and win the trust of many partners in region in our countries, so that we have that handshake that we're doing it right.

So, you know, we had, it's just really amazing from that, you know, remember, China hit during Golden Week, right?

And then, and such, such complexity, we have a huge presence in China.

But now, especially with with Mexico and Brazil being so hard hit, it's, you know, I do, I do share a sense of pride in the company and how they've done that.

Now, with that said, those are, you know, essential workers, but we have a lot of labor like myself, that's not as not that essential.

And I've been working from home since March. And that's been that's worked out really well.

I miss the people desperately. I miss seeing customers, I miss seeing my co workers in person and having that, you know, being able to have a beer at the end of the day.

But, but it is remarkable to how effective you can be via Zoom.

Yeah, it's, I remember the moment when we were wondering whether we could we could pick up servers from factories and went through a similar process of sort of getting exceptions and realizing we could, we could, we could just keep moving on, even as we were figuring out how how to work with colleagues from our, from our houses.

And it's been fascinating to see sort of that adjustment.

Yeah, isn't it? We've learned quickly. And who knows what the next six months will bring.

I would love to go back to my office at some point, but I'm glad that we don't feel compelled to.

We can we can honor, obviously, we honor all local state regulations and mandates.

And, you know, Santa Clara County in the Bay Area has been hit really hard.

And that's where my office is my regular office. But my new office is the spare bedroom in my house in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon's a very, of all the places like Oregon's a very, very nice place to be.

Yes, I have to say I haven't spent this much time at home this many consecutive nights in home and probably over a decade.

And so that that changes. I don't like the circumstances it's under.

But, you know, to have to see my kids every single day after a decade long career of super high travel.

Wow, it's a gift. So you gotta you gotta enjoy you gotta appreciate the bright spots that are in a very globally dark situation.

Yeah, yeah, no, that's really wonderful. We're, we're, how do you make sure your team members are, are sort of checking in on your team members and and how hard making sure they they're, they're, they're, you know, not working too hard.

We're like so many of us are going through sort of these 14 hour zoom days.

And so what's worked for your team? Yeah, and that that is the issue, you know, you might think, oh, out of sight, out of mind, maybe people won't work hard.

But I agree, people are working too hard.

And when with a global company like ours, right with multiple time zones, we were, we were really lucky that a lot of those leaders and other time zones, they, they came to the headquarter office a lot.

But now, now that means you want to get all geographies on a call your 6am pacific standard time, right, or, or five, and you can go well into the night, just like you these, these incredibly long days.

And I wish I had the magic key other than to say, I, I have a really good team of people that I think has that shares our priorities for our organization.

I've always held family first as as the mantra in any organization I've led.

And so I do hope that our teams are doing what they need to do personally to protect themselves.

But we've we've cut back, we had to go cut back a ton of standard meetings.

And there's still way too many. But it's because we want people to, you got to have dinner with your family, you've got to have rest, you've got to get out and do exercise, you've got to eat right, you've got to enjoy your life.

Otherwise, it's not worth you're gonna, you're not going to be passionate at work if you're not passionate at home.

So and I know you, I know all the people online at Cloudflare can probably relate to this because everybody, everybody I know in this industry is working harder and longer than ever before.

We're so so Matthew, our CEO said something that sort of resonated with me, which is, at moments like this, like we, all of us at some level feel a certain amount of helplessness.

But I think one of the things that's made us maybe made it maybe a little bit better is being in an industry where you feel like you can, you can, you can sort of channel your energies to something that's, that that's, that's, that's helping make the experience we're all living through a little less painful.

And, and so that's, that's, that's been, that's been helpful. The, so both it, I'd love to, so I'll be asking Regine more questions about about the cloud and feel free to send in questions at livestudiotv at Cloudflare .com and we'll try to get to them.

Before running the large business you do at Flex, your team also built up the cloud service provider business at Intel.

And, and, and, and, and that's, if I, if I read correctly, you grew the business like many hundred X, which is, and so it's rare to, for someone to run not one, but, but multiple sort of $8 billion plus businesses.

And, and it's incredible that the data center group, I think is, is, is, is gone to right.

There is, or is very nearly the majority of Intel's revenue.

So it's, it's, it's incredible that the transition that your team laid, laid the foundation for.

Yeah, that was talk about when people ask me for career development advice, I always, I, you, you can, you, you can build up the skills and you have to build up your network, but you've got to have luck in there too.

And I joined the cloud team like six months after it started in 2009.

And literally my first, the ask of me was to write down a consistent definition of cloud that we could get everybody hooked on because there, you know, we said the new buzzword at the time.

We've come a long way, way from that, but to see, you know, to, to have been able to have the privilege of working with companies like an Amazon from inception of AWS to, you know, supporting, I mean, it's just, you know, even globally watching the China big service providers come online.

It's, it's, it was a lot of luck for my career to get that, to see that business hit $10 billion when I left.

And I want to do that again, but, you know, I always say too, I can claim it on my resume, but I mean, the cloud grew cloud, right?

I mean, it's just been over the last decade, just an explosion of new, new use cases, new ideas, new, new opportunities that just didn't exist.

So but watching that infrastructure build out and being a part of it has taught me a lot.

It's, it's just been a major transition in infrastructure design and architecture.

It's been a major transformation in how people use it. And so yeah, it's, it's, it was so lucky to get into that at this at the end of the beginning of Intel with that, and to be able to stick with it for a decade at Intel.

And now still to work with it, but from a completely different angle at Flex, you know, it's, it's fun.

It's why I'm a data center junkie. I'm sure you're much too modest about your, your role building, building the business.

But so I hope I had an effect.

I'm sure you had a large effect. You noted just an outstanding vantage point to see, you know, upstarts the, the what, what became the super seven giant companies?

What, what separated the, from your perspective, like what separated the companies that have scale from the ones that, that haven't?

Are there, are other things there, there were just like surprising insights?

I think, I think there, but what I would always amaze me too, is that there definitely were so many commonalities across these mega companies, despite them sometimes being in very different, you know, what Facebook has done in the industry is very different from Amazon and Google search, right?

And Google search is different than Amazon web services, right?

So they're very, very different use cases, but, but, you know, realizing early on that basically their cost of sales, and this is kind of, you know, I'm sure this plays into you too, right?

Is, is the underlying hardware and software technology.

So if you, for two reasons, if you are going to scale, it has to be done power efficiently and cost efficiently so that you don't, we don't wreak havoc on the world from that perspective, but also it is the cost of scale, sales.

So those companies that recognize that and, and invested early in, you know, what, what we now call, I call, I call the supply chain disruption, right?

Which, and, and, and it was a shift that was very painful because remember, I came from Intel, I spent a decade supporting enterprise before doing the cloud, but, you know, those traditional OEM boxes layered with verticalized stacks and a lot of software, but breaking that down because these companies, this is, this has also been probably, and this goes for you guys too, the software developers at, at these companies are the best in the world, right?

And what they can do for the good, and sometimes I felt for the bad because a lot of times it's abstracting away the hardware.

I'm like, no, no, no, you can't do that because I've always been on the hardware side, but the, the, having the best software developers in the world, realizing early on that they had to plan for the future, design now for the future scale and know how to get there, those two things.

And, and then that just continuous maniacal focus on, on best technology first and cost effectively, right?

They don't sacrifice, none of you guys sacrifice that, right?

And so, you know, not losing your edge in the technology leadership game and also being first while, while doing it without, you know, while keeping your costs low, because we all know that early adopters of technology tend to pay a premium, but the, the, the hyperscalers have figured this out and they're scaled as the more scale you get, the more, the more positional power and leverage you get, which is called economics.

So it's nothing. Like, like made, made, made possible in, in no small part, thanks to, thanks to businesses like, like Intel and Flex.

And that was a journey.

I mean, that was such a learning experience for us at Intel, because it was nothing like the decade before.

It's still learning the experience and I'm learning more even now at Flex, I don't do the silicon and I'm not an ODM.

We don't do product, but we do integration and we do design.

We do a ton of design, design work for the big cloud players.

The game keeps changing, right? Because it keeps pushing to, to faster, more designs, more variants, especially in the 5G space right now.

The complexity of radios has just, is dramatically increasing as we move to 5G and massive MIMO and millimeter wave.

And, you know, it's just a, it's just a, it's, it's the scale never stops.

Can you give me a sense of the sort of work, working in engineering, I'm, I'm often curious about this.

Like, what's, what's the relationship like with, with, with these partners?

Because you have, you have multiple, very large companies, sort of, you're essentially a trusted partner to, to focus on some of their most critical decisions.

And, and often they're multiple companies in many cases, even competing with each other that are, that all agree to use, use your service.

And so, and so what's that relationship like, how does, how does the relationship evolve over time?

How do you build the trust for that? You know, it, it is, and I think, what do we say, trust, you know, trust takes a long time to learn and a second to lose, right?

So you have to, you know, we always start, started in my prior job and current job, you have to have that physical sense of barriers, right?

And how you protect, whether, you know, your customer's IP, whether it's physical or manufacturing, but in, in my prior job, it was more virtual, but, but it, it, it takes time to, for them to know the person that they can trust.

They need to see it in practice every day. You need to execute. You know, I, I, you know, I had a slip with the, I didn't, somebody in my team, which means I did, right?

Because it's my organization. We had a slip on an IP issue with a very loud, large cloud service provider.

And it was one of the most devastating conversations I've ever had in my career to, to have to acknowledge that we didn't hold that trust because then it's, it takes twice as long to earn back.

So, you know, your integrity, flawlessly execute good, good, good, just like in the security, in the Internet security world, right?

You have to have these barriers and firewalls and, and protections in place from how you handle email communication to how you handle a manufacturing line.

But I think one of the, and I think it becomes more and more evident every single year, security is at the heart of everything we do.

And, and you do, and we do, and I did in my last job and the rest of my company, even in, you know, in the medical field, it, it, you have to, you have to be the protector of your customer.

Yep. No, that's, that's, that's absolutely right. And such a nice way to think about it.

We're speaking to someone a couple of days ago, who was one of the large cloud providers.

And he said, I would typically at this time be in type A, but I can't be.

And so we're having to do, make all these decisions remotely.

And one of the reasons it works is because I trust my partner so much.

And so we're able to just keep on going. And, and so it's incredible how, how that's, that continues to work.

Yeah, it's, it's that human glue element of trust and then the, and then, and then your credibility and reputation.

And we do have to, don't we know we have to, to trust so much more when we can't be there to, to oversee everything.

Although I do, I miss traveling to Taipei. I miss traveling.

I miss traveling to our sites. We, you know, that, that's, that's been one of the, yeah, I don't, you've probably found this because you're, you're, you're, you're partners in the industry so vast globally.

You can get a, you can get a lot undone based on the relationships you have, but it's still easier to walk down the hall and knock on somebody's door and solve a problem than, than any other form.

And, but like that cloud service provider said, the reason the world didn't stop is because we do have relationships.

You, you, you spoke about how the, the, the cloud businesses has grown so much from, from, from, from, from where it started.

Like, what's the, from, from your vantage point, like, what's the, what's the next similar sort of team or team for, to, to join?

So if you're, if you're an engineer, you're in sales and you want to, like, where, where, where would you, how, how do you think about sort of career choices and, and, and where to invest your, your time and effort?

Yeah. And the, I'm doing this with my kids right now, trying to influence where they go.

And, first thing, just quite honestly, I, any, any, any school age, whatever age and up through college, kid, kid, young adult that I mentor, I tell them to just, you need an engineering degree in the future, period, period.

If you're going to, the whole, you know, everything is going to be transformed by technology.

And if you want to understand what's happening, even if you're marketing or sales or, you know, every industry is going to be, or music, right.

It's going to be transformed by technology. And then in the terms of engineering, I'm super, I just continue to be excited about the possibilities of artificial intelligence and what we're going to do with this data, right.

Your, your intelligent network, right.

And probably you look back, probably you, you've been there seven years, right.

And how far it's involved. And now we use a lot of data to run our manufacturers, manufacturing facilities more smartly.

So I'm personally encouraging my kids, although I'm more of a, I was a computer science major.

I'm like, you gotta, you know, the language of the future is software.

You need to know how to code. And, and you need to, I, one of my daughters really into math and, and, and, and the concepts around, I think data science is where I see her going.

So I've got her convinced at the age of 14, she wants to be a data scientist and do some network modeling.

Well, if she's, if she's, if she's ever looking for, for an internship, we'll have to catch up.

She will be at about four or five years, five years.

So a colleague of mine mentioned this, which is like, there is no, like data science sort of isn't, isn't a department.

Like every team needs to have data science that are just as, just as a part of, it's, it's, it's a skill that you need to have in your, in your sort of toolbox, so to speak.

And so it's really exciting to see that evolve. And the hardware layer, like there, there are so many companies that are building sort of specialized ASICs and chips for AI.

And that just feels like a very difficult business to be in.

And what's your, what's your sense for, for that landscape?

Because it's, it seems like a very, like a difficult business to be in, but, but also a very exciting business to be in.

Yeah. And, and that, that is the, that is the thing, right? Because it's, it's the edge of technology and, and the use cases are endless, but there's hundreds, if not thousands of, of silicon being, you know, designed or, you know, from a new, new silicon or, you know, FPGA usage models, or, you know, there's just a ton of, of options.

And I have a lot of friends in, in these companies. I actually build for a lot of these companies in my business.

And in many ways, you give them a level playing field to compete with the really large, like, like the, like the, you give the upstart a level playing field to compete with the, the largest.

That's what we try to do.

That's exactly what we try to do. We aren't just high volume. We are low volume, high complexity.

We are high volume, high complexity, high volume. We, we are businesses that are high volume, lower complexity.

You know, it's, it's, it's, there's always that chicken and egg of, you know, of you can't put too much risk in your portfolio with every single startup or, or attempt, but it's that building relationships over time.

Some of these new silicon companies, you know, we've been working with for a few years and because that's how long it takes.

And then they've got to get to new product introduction and then they go into mass volume.

So you've got to place your bets because you, you can't, you know, but there's so much opportunity.

I was just talking to the head of my sales organization and just said, you know, we have great relationships here.

We can't let them that, that even though I just spoke a lot about the software world evolving, you know, my, my, my 25 years of experience on the silicon and hardware side is that's evolving too.

I'm still a huge Intel fan, but I, I do, I do get to admire a lot of other silicon companies and what they're doing.

Yeah. Like, like everyone makes like every company makes everybody else better.

And, and so that I think we're, we're, we're all better.

And at the end of the day, the end consumer has a better experience.

You can't protect, you got to let the future, you got to out innovate, not, not try to prevent the competition.

You need to just out innovate the competition. What do you, what are you most optimistic about, about sort of for, for our space?

So when you, when you think about communications and enterprise cloud, which is really broad what, what are you most excited about the next several years?

I think quite simply the evolution to 5g and, and what that means for in, in, in, in the use cases that come with it.

You know, we're, there was a lot of talk last year about a slowing down of the technology, but for various reasons, you know, we're seeing that global spur in, in, in 5g as well as, as well as current existing infrastructure for sure.

But, you know, you're, we're starting to see that acceleration coming in.

Well, thank you so much for your time, Regina. I really appreciate it.

You've been incredibly generous with your time and great to learn about your, your perspective.

Thank you so much. Yeah. It was a lot of fun talking to you and seeing you.

I hope everybody has a great Friday. Hope to see you all again sometime soon.

Thanks so much. Take care.