Join Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming as he interviews Cloudflare engineers and they discuss a "war story" of a problem that needed to be solved — and how they did it.
All right. Welcome to Story Time. I'm John Graham-Cumming, Cloudflare's CTO. And my guest today is Lee Sam, who is recruiting lead in London, obviously not in the London office right now because of COVID, but in London somewhere.
And I thought I'd have him come on and talk about recruiting in general at Cloudflare, because all of us spend a lot of time on it.
And often in final interviews, we'll get to talk about final interviews as part of this, because people ask me, what is the most difficult thing about Cloudflare?
What is the most difficult thing that worries you the most? And I always say finding people.
There is all sorts of technical things that are difficult.
But actually, everything we do is made out by people. And finding people, building teams, all that stuff is tricky.
And for a very long time, we didn't have a recruiting organization.
And now we do. And so Lee and I worked together for a while.
Lee, how long have you been at Cloudflare now? Just over two years. OK, two years.
And in that time, obviously, even since then, that organization has grown a lot.
Why don't you just give us a quick introduction to what recruiting lead does?
And then we can talk more about the whole process at Cloudflare. Sure. So the recruiting function at Cloudflare is essentially here to help us hire the type of people who can help us build a better Internet, essentially.
So we generally look for people who are technically curious, who believe in our mission, who are excited about our technology, and who want to help us on our mission to build a better Internet.
And you often go off and do initial phone screens on people, which actually is a thing I find really hard to do.
Because there's so much riding on that first conversation with someone, and you're trying to figure out are they the right person, are they not, and get information.
Tell us a little bit about how do you approach those initial screens.
Yeah, so the interesting thing about recruiting at Cloudflare is that normally, in many cases, it's sometime that the hiring manager does the review of a candidate's CV.
In pretty much every other organization I've worked in, that's the recruiter's responsibility to sift through CVs.
In Cloudflare, it's completely opposite way around. The hiring manager will actually be the one who will review the applications, and then say to the recruiter, I'm interested in this candidate and that candidate.
Can you speak to them and put them through the process?
So when that happens, in many cases, the recruiter will have an initial conversation with a candidate.
And that initial conversation is actually fairly high level.
So say if we're talking to an engineering candidate, I'm just wanting to get a feel for what they're currently doing in their current role.
Talk me through the tech stack, which languages you're coding in, which languages you're interested in learning, what's brought you or what has attracted you to this role here at Cloudflare.
Is there a particular team or part of our infrastructure that you're particularly interested in?
And then I'm checking some basic things, like if you require a visa to work in your chosen location, if you've applied for a different country, what your salary expectations are, so that we can ensure that we can afford you.
And then any other basic information that the hiring manager might need to know.
And in most cases, I'm then kind of recommending that the hiring manager go on to interview that candidate.
But in some cases, there might be some misalignment in terms of the candidate's experience or what they're looking for and what we have on offer.
OK, so part of that is matching up the CV with the person and making sure that what they say is not just accurate, but it's also that what we've read into it is the thing that we're looking for, right?
Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And you obviously got hired into Cloudflare.
This is story time. Tell me a little bit about that story. How did you end up working at the company?
Yeah, so I was... So my manager, Scott, who's our global head of recruiting, I worked with him a few years ago back at Twitter.
And when he joined Cloudflare, which I think was sometime around 2016, 2017, he got in touch to let me know that he had just joined.
And I think shortly after that, he reached back out to let me know that he might be looking for somebody in London.
And at the time, I was a few months into a new role at Okta.
And so the timing was pretty bad for me because I had gone through a short period where I had kind of jumped around jobs quite frequently.
I think I was at Salesforce for one year. Before that, I was at another company for nine months.
And I really wanted to just stay put somewhere and stop jumping around.
So Scott reaching out to me four months into my time at Okta was like, this is terrible timing, but I'll hear you out, tell me more.
And I always joked that his pitch of what Cloudflare do was terrible because I asked him, what is Cloudflare?
I'd never heard of it at the time. And he said, it's security, it's cyber security.
It's cloud, it's in the cloud. There you go.
That's my terrible American accent. But yeah, the explanation of what Cloudflare does was not particularly fantastic, but he told me about how the company was performing.
He mentioned that Janet, who's our VP of people, also was here.
And Janet, we also worked at Twitter. So those were two people who I knew and respected who were both at this company that I'd never heard of.
So I said, okay, let me look into it a bit more.
And I ended up coming into the London office to meet with some folks.
And yeah, I think I went through a few rounds of interviews and ended up being made an offer to join the team.
And do you now have a better pitch for what Cloudflare is than Scott does?
Yeah, it's security in the cloud.
Brilliant, totally it. You should be in our marketing group, I think. I mean, I'm wasted in recruitment.
You're completely wasted. You should totally be there.
What I wonder is, has Scott got a better pitch or is he still doing the same?
I hope so. I might ask him in my next one to work. It's security in the cloud.
Well, fair enough. All right, so that's sort of like, we talked a little bit about the initial screening thing.
Now, as you know, I end up doing what are called final or executive calls at Cloudflare, which I think is a quite unusual thing for companies to do.
Originally, these were all done by Matthew.
So Matthew Prince, the CEO, would actually speak to every single person being hired.
That doesn't scale completely. And eventually we grew into a smaller number, a small number of people doing it.
Some people- Take us through that.
Yeah, so actually some people still refer to that call as a Matthew call, even if it's done by you.
So the Matthew call or the CEO call is basically a nice touch that we add to our interviewing process, whereby after somebody's been through their interviews and they've done well, and before we extend an offer to them, we set up a call for that candidate.
We'd be one of the company founders, either Matthew or Michelle, or with yourself, and in sometimes, some cases, Janet.
And it's usually a brief 20-minute call to give you, the candidate, an opportunity to ask the executive questions about what it's like to work at Cloudflare, ask them about their own personal experiences at the company and their thoughts on the industry or anything like that.
Anything you want to know that maybe might not have been quite suitable to ask at the interview, during the interview process, but you'd really like to hear from one of the C -level executives.
So it's a really nice touch.
Most candidates really look forward to it. And I think I know of quite a few, I review a lot of feedback from the likes of yourself and Michelle, and also speak to candidates after they've had these calls.
And they're always so really excited about having had the opportunity to speak to a company founder during the interview process.
Right. And do you find that people, though, are very nervous about that?
Because they've obviously been through a whole interview process with Cloudflare, and they are presumably hoping they're going to get an offer and feeling it's gone well.
And there's this sort of, I guess for some people, it feels like a hurdle of speaking to someone who's very senior.
Yeah. And that's why I always position it to them as a brief informal chat.
So I don't make it a big deal, like, no pressure now, but you're going to speak to the CTO.
You know, I just like, no big deal.
I'm going to have a quick chat with JGC. You know, great opportunity for you to get to know him better.
You know, you can ask him about his speaking, or, you know, I tell them about the fact that, in fact, part of my pitch to candidates when I know they're going to have their final call with you, is I tell them a couple of fun facts about you, that, you know, you wrote the code for our WAF, and some of your code is still in the code base for that.
I told them that you were the very first employee for Cloudflare in London, and that at the time you were working out of a spare room in your house, and that was technically our first Cloudflare office.
Now I'm talking to you out of my bedroom, so nothing's changed in your life.
So you've basically regressed. Regressed, basically, yeah. So yeah, so I give them these facts just to kind of make you more, kind of make them more relaxed, to make you seem more normal to them, and I think that helps kind of diffuse any tension that they might have, yeah.
Yeah, I mean, I think that's, I know that if I was on the receiving end of that, because I got recruited right at the beginning when there was about 20-something people, but we didn't have so much process around this.
I think I would be quite nervous about talking to one of the executives, especially now in a public company with, what, 1,500 employees or something.
It's starting to get, feel a little bit scary.
Who did your final call? Matthew. How was that?
Matthew. It went pretty well. I think I asked him some kind of basic questions around how he likes to see the recruiting team perform and work, and what he'd like to see more of from recruiting and things like that.
So I'm here, so I guess it was okay.
Well, yeah, yeah. I mean, it's rare for somebody to stumble at that final step, right, with the executive call.
Yeah, no, it's, it isn't, it's not meant to be an interview, and in most cases, it's meant to just be a conversation.
So it is very, very, very rare that somebody stumbles at that stage. And if you happen to have your interview, sorry, your final call with Matthew, the feedback I've been given by a lot of candidates is that in most cases, he's so energetic and enthusiastic that he spends most of the call talking than the candidates.
So all you've got to do is just ask a question and just sit back and let Matthew take it away.
And before you know it, your time's up, and you're through.
Yeah, I mean, I think what all of us look for is people who just really want to be at the company, right?
And so if you get to that final executive call, when I ask people a few questions, I have a little formula I go through just to get the conversation going.
And then it's really, are you actually interested in Cloudflare?
And that comes through in questions that people are asking. People have all sorts of different questions depending on the role they're going for or their background or where they are in the world.
But I love doing those calls. I mean, they get tiring because sometimes I'll be doing two a day, many, many days a week, but they are a great way to sort of connect with the team.
Absolutely. Tell me about, okay, so we've done initial screening, final executive call.
Obviously, typically we have, typically actually I think we interview people quite often, right?
So it was like a quite a large number of interviews for people. Do you know what the average would be?
Of interviews in total or final? Yeah, yeah. If you think about between the initial screening and the executive call, I mean, I've seen people with six, seven, eight, you know, that many interviews.
Yeah, I would say typically a candidate will typically expect to go through anywhere between five to eight interviews before they get to that final call.
Right. And that might sound like a lot, but bear in mind the usual format is that your first formal interview will be a phone interview or in these, in a pandemic, a hangouts interview with the hiring manager.
If that goes well, you would then go on to what we call a panel interview where you'd interview a few members of the team and maybe some other cross-functional individuals.
And that is where, you know, kind of the number starts stacking up because you then end up interviewing with about maybe four or five people individually.
Those interviews typically about 30 minutes long each.
And although the number sounds a lot, we typically split them.
Sometimes we split them over two days, two or three days to make it kind of more convenient for you, the candidate.
If that goes well, you'll then progress to an executive round where you would maybe interview with the hiring manager's boss and another senior individual.
And that's usually the end of the formal interviews.
You then go on to the CEO call. Right. And when you say, when you refer to that as a panel interview, we call it that internally, but it's not you with five people in front of you.
It's basically there's like five or six people in there.
It'll be one-on-one interviews. Exactly, yeah. So some companies refer to them as an interview loop.
We use panel, but it's individual interviews, usually 30 minutes.
Sometimes you'll have maybe 30 minutes back to back, maybe three or so.
And then maybe you'll have another two or three back to back the next day.
So it's broken up for you. And in your role, you're accompanying the candidate through all of this, right?
Keeping them updated on where they are in the process.
What are you telling them about how to prepare for the different stages?
Great question. And this actually ties in nicely with something that we're currently working on.
So I'm actually working on something with our recruiting coordinator, Anthony, to really help improve the candidate experience.
So my role currently is that right throughout the interview process, I'm kind of relaying feedback to the candidate, both positive and constructive.
So in some cases, you might have a candidate who's being progressed from one stage to another, and they've received maybe some constructive feedback along the way.
My role will then be to actually share that with them, to make them aware, look, by the way, one of the reservations that XYZ interviewer had is that you didn't answer this question particularly well, or you came across as not an articulate communicator.
So bear this in mind for your next interviews, because it will be looked at further.
So that's part of my role. And also to kind of answer any questions they have right through the process, be it on the company benefits, or the interviewers, or what will be covered.
And the reason why I say it's a great point that you bring up is because something that Anthony, our RC recruiting coordinator is gonna be working on, is we want to introduce a one pager for candidates.
We will share with them at the start of the interview process, which will outline what the various stages are that they're gonna go through, who they're gonna be speaking with, and what they can expect from each of those interviews.
We're gonna do this for every single role, and it will hopefully give candidates a good insight into what to expect from the process.
That's great, because I think sometimes with tech companies, you see recruitment, like people from externally, they see recruitment is almost like a sequence of tricky things they have to deal with.
And we're not trying to like trick people, have hard questions, or test some crazy book learning knowledge.
We're trying to figure out, is this person the right fit for the role?
What can they do? Who are they? What's their motivation? I think more than that kind of like whiteboard.
Oh no, you got this little tiny thing wrong.
Yeah, we're completely the opposite. We actually are encouraged as a recruiting team to prep our candidates more so than I've observed or seen anywhere else that I've worked.
So one of the first teams that I worked with was our business development team, the BBR team.
And we would give, these are typically entry level sales roles where the candidates are meant to be qualifying leads for our sales team.
And one of the first things I observed that my colleagues, my recruiting colleagues in the US would do is share links with those candidates before their interviews to check out, familiarize yourself with what a CDN is so that you can explain that in the interview.
Familiarize yourself with our price plans.
Familiarize yourself with what Childfare does. We have a template which we would actually send to these candidates ahead of their interviews.
And at first I was like, well, we're kind of giving them all the answers, but actually no, because there's so much about Cloudflare and what we do, it can sometimes be difficult to narrow and focus your research, your homework.
And so what we want to do is we want to just basically give a little guidance to candidates to help them kind of be their best at the interview.
And you're absolutely right about that.
There is so much to learn when you go into a new company that there's no way someone's gonna know the answer to every question.
So prepping them also helps show how someone likes to learn and how someone can learn.
Because I think one of the things I found at Cloudflare, there's 25 people now, 1,500 or whatever, is that there's just constant learning going on about what's new.
I mean, you must see this in your own role of what's out there in the market, what are the best practices, right?
Yeah, I mean, yeah. I mean, I still sometimes ask folks to explain what some of our products are to me.
I always ask them to do it in layman's terms, explain workers to me like you'd explain it to your mum.
That then helps me to be able to have better, more articulate conversations with candidates as well.
So yeah, there's always more to learn about our products and we're always releasing new products as well.
So the learning is always constant. Yep. What would you say to somebody who's thinking about applying to Cloudflare?
How should they prep for it in general?
Yeah, so I think one of the first things, and we actually covered this in a Cloudflare TV segment that we did last Thursday.
So if anyone's watching this and you wanna check that out, hopefully the recording will be available soon.
But I think- What was that called, that segment? That was the EMEA Recruiting Roundtable or something like that.
Recruiting Corner, and it was on last Thursday at 5.30.
Okay, great. Yeah. So one of the first things is really do your homework.
So really make sure that you understand the role, you understand what we do as a company, and that you definitely do have the experience that is outlined in the job description.
Because, and I'll give you an insight, I encourage my hiring managers not to spend more than 20, 30 seconds glancing at a CV.
Because we get so many applications, some roles can get several hundreds of applications.
And if the hiring manager's having to review all those, you can't spend 10, 15 minutes reading through a CV.
So your CV is only gonna get glanced at maybe 20, 30 seconds to see, are the key skills I'm looking for on this CV?
Does the person have the tenure that I'm looking for?
So for example, if we're looking for a senior software engineer, we generally want somebody who's got at least five, six years experience coding in a particular tech stack.
So firstly, make sure that you're applying for a job that you definitely do have the experience in.
And then maybe, if you can do some research, maybe see if you can find who the hiring manager is, or who the recruiter is, and reach out to them on LinkedIn to let them know that you've applied.
The reason why that helps is because again, if we're getting that many applications, that the hiring manager may only review the first 20 or 30.
And if he gets a good bunch of relevant applications from them, he might stop reviewing the others just because he's already got four or five strong candidates that he's reviewed.
So the people who apply two, three weeks later down the line might not get their CV reviewed, not because you're not good, but they just don't get around to it.
So you being proactive on LinkedIn or Twitter and reaching out to the hiring manager or recruiter just to flag your application might just help you get your CV to the top of the pile.
What I thought was, there was an interesting thing in what you were just saying, which is that you mentioned like, 70 years experience in a certain field like that, but you didn't mention, and I have rarely heard people mention at Cloudflare, educational background.
Yeah. The first company I ever worked for out of college, they essentially hired graduates of Cambridge, Oxford, like three other universities.
And that was one of the ways they screened.
And I don't think I know anybody's educational background in Cloudflare except maybe Matthew and Michelle, who, you know, they're the founders.
Yeah. How does Cloudflare think about that? So great question. We actually don't require a computer science degree.
And I hope none of our software engineering job descriptions have that on there.
If they should, I can quickly go in and update that.
I'm sure they don't, but yeah. Yeah. We've actually hired software engineers in London.
I know of at least two who didn't have a computer science degree.
And so it's not a requirement for us. And I think in general, right, that's the case.
It's kind of like, yeah, okay, great. Education is interesting. It's a one aspect of who you are, but it's not the end of the story.
Exactly. And that kind of fits into the areas around like, trying to hire for a greater diversity, right?
And how the company thinks about that. Do you want to just talk a little bit about, you know, what's the company's thinking around?
And why do we want to have diverse teams and how are we actually going about it?
Yeah. So I think diversity is important.
I think there've been numerous studies that have shown that companies that have diverse teams, they literally just perform better financially, more profitable.
So, you know, if you, I mean, everybody wants to work at a company that's successful and that's profitable.
Nobody wants to work for a company that's about to go bust, right?
So that's the first thing. So then how do you go about that?
Well, what I found over the years is that building diverse team is really, really hard.
I don't know of any, particularly tech companies. I don't know of any tech company that has really just nailed it.
If you look at companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, you know, those kinds of big tech companies, and you look at their diversity reports, which they do publish every year, you see that the vast majority of their workforce is white.
And then when it comes to the rest, i.e. black, Asian, and other minorities, they make up like very like single digit percentages.
And the problem, the numbers get even more exacerbated when you look at management.
And the thing is, as the company gets bigger, the problem gets a lot harder to address.
It's like trying to turn around a massive tanker in the sea. So the advantage that we have is that we are still relatively small, but even still, we are still finding it challenging to hire and attract more women in engineering and more candidates from ethnic backgrounds.
So some of the things that we're trying to do to address that are things like prioritizing our sourcing time on LinkedIn to looking for women and candidates from ethnic backgrounds, and trying to partner with more organizations like Women in Tech and other non-profit organizations and platforms focused on attracting candidates from these demographics.
And I think it's interesting to say about the LinkedIn sourcing thing, because you and I have worked on some candidates where we've tried really, really hard to find a good list, say, of women for a particular role, and really perhaps sort of spread out a little bit on LinkedIn and really look around for different backgrounds.
Because in fact, if you go with that kind of cookie cutter, oh, they went to Stanford and then they did this, then you really limit yourself into people who've got a very interesting background.
I think of Jen, who's in the London office as one of the engineering directors.
She came from, she was doing something very different and came in as everyone thinks she's doing a fantastic job.
And it feels like that kind of actual real effort on the sourcing makes enormous difference, right?
Absolutely. I was actually just in preparation for our chat this morning, I was actually just kind of reading up on the Rooney rule and the positive action, just to kind of make sure I've understood what these things are.
And for those who might not be familiar, so the Rooney rule is something that was come up by the NFL as a measure to encourage more diversity in management in the NFL.
And the policy basically states that whenever the NFL or a team in the NFL would have an opening for a manager on a team, they would have to ensure that they interview, I think at least one candidate from an ethnic background.
Interestingly, the English Premier League, the football league have implemented a very similar policy last year so that whenever an English Premier football team has an opening for manager vacancy, they've also got to ensure that they interview at least one candidate from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
The Rooney rule is an example of positive action, which is basically, is legal, is allowed.
And it's a measure that companies can employ to help create a more diverse workforce.
So yeah, so there are measures like that in place, which it's designed to encourage diversity, but it does require a lot of time and a lot of effort.
It does. Yeah.
Yeah, it really does, right? Yeah, I mean, there's some other job searches I worked on actually for a role that was in the US where we were using an external recruiting firm because it was a headhunting firm and I really had to hold their feet to the fire on, no, no, you're not giving me candidates that are from a diverse background.
I really mean it. I won't hire someone unless you show me, because guess what?
You won't hire somebody like that unless you have actually spoken to them.
So you've got to get those people and talk to them. Yeah. And I think that's really, yeah, really a big part of what we're doing.
Yeah. All right.
Well, good. So, you know, two years in, what's changed in two years at Cloudflare for you?
Not a great deal. We've got bigger. My team has got bigger. When I joined, it was just myself.
It was you, right? Yeah. I was going to say, it was just you.
I did remember that. I remember introducing you because you, I introduced you at one of our little meetings in London and you had this fun fact about- Put me on the spot.
I just asked you about your fun fact and it involved Arne Schwarzenegger.
So that was pretty good fun fact. Yeah. I remember that.
So I think it was my first day in the office. It was a Friday because back then we were starting people, their first day in the company would be on a Friday because they would then fly to San Francisco that weekend to start their orientation in San Francisco.
And yeah, unexpectedly, John introduced me to the London office and asked me for a fun fact, which I wasn't expecting.
So my fun fact was that I think a year or two prior when I was in LA doing orientation for another tech company, I went to Gold's gym and I met, I saw Arne Schwarzenegger and I managed to get a selfie with him.
Amazing. I think that's a great fun fact. I love it.
All right, so not too much has changed, but your team is actually growing into a decent size now.
So- Yeah, we're a bit bigger in the EMEA recruiting team, which is fantastic.
We've got a great team. All right, well, listen, we are coming up pretty much on out of time.
Lee, thanks so much for coming on and talking about what it's like to get recruited into Cloudflare.
As I was saying at the beginning, it really is one of the most difficult things at Cloudflare is finding people and then making teams work and doing all that sort of stuff.
So this recruiting role is really, really vital.
And if you're thinking about applying to Cloudflare in London, Lee's the guy, please apply, please prepare, learn about as much as you can about Cloudflare.
And don't be afraid of the process because we will guide you through it.
All right, well, I guess we'll leave it there. Lee, have a good day in London and I'll see you all around sometime.
Bye. Everyone, bye. Cheers.