Cloudflare TV

Womenflare Presents: Unfiltered

Presented by Colleen Noonan, Fabienne Semeria
Originally aired on 

Join Womenflare each week to hear about vital experiences and insights from women in technology roles, including those who are not in traditional engineering roles. We'll discuss a range of topics including challenges or wins as it pertains to supporting each other as women, day-to-day experiences, career development, and mentorship.

Women in Tech

Transcript (Beta)

Before we get started, I'd like to tell you a bit about WomenFlare and what to expect in the upcoming episodes.

WomenFlare is an employee-led group here at Cloudflare.

Its mission is to inspire and elevate all who identify as women. Our program, Unfiltered, will cover topics such as career journeys and advancement stories, personal development strategies and tips, mentoring lessons learned, and more.

We're excited to be here and looking forward to having Unfiltered conversations with you all.

Stay tuned for upcoming episodes on Thursdays at 3 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m.

Central, and 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. And before we get started, if any questions come up to our audience and you'd like to ask them, feel free to email livestudio at Cloudflare TV.

Again, it's livestudio at Cloudflare TV. And I'll keep an eye and try and answer those towards the end.

Okay. So here with me is Fabienne from the load balancing team.

Maybe you'd like to introduce yourself. Hi, everyone. I'm Fabienne.

I'm a systems engineer in the load balancing team at Cloudflare. I've been with Cloudflare for one year and a half.

And yeah, I've been working as an engineer for 10 years now.

Yeah. Thank you. My name is Colleen Noonan, and I've been at Cloudflare since October of 2018.

And I'm a manager of the core SRE team in San Francisco at Cloudflare.

And yeah, we've got – maybe we can start by getting to know each other in terms of our day-to -day and what we're working on and what's interesting about our job.

I'll let you take it.

Okay. No pressure. So yeah, at Cloudflare, systems engineer make and maintains different Cloudflare products.

So I'm on the load balancing team, which takes care of the load balancing products and some associated features.

I'm personally an owner of the health checks feature. I've learned recently that it's not a product in terms of marketing, but a feature since it's included in the different pay-as-you-go plans.

But yeah, it's a distinct service from load balancing, but it has some shared history.

So yeah, we made that last year, and now we are maintaining it.

And also, yeah, working on some future products.


Day-to-day is – it kind of depends on the day. There's a part of maintenance, checking that everything is still running, reacting if there are alerts or if there are questions from customers or other teams.

And so yeah, some good to write, some bugs to fix.

I actually – I did a search for your name in Google just to see if I can get to know you more and be more prepared.

And a health check blog post came up. It was really enlightening.

It gave me more of an idea of what that feature is, and I really enjoyed it.

That's nice. Team effort, that blog post. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I haven't done a blog post yet.

Maybe next time. Yeah. I also found that there was – both of our names came up on, like, Cloudflare crimes or – yeah, there was some weird – there's somebody out there who has a weird website with probably too much time on their hands who thinks Cloudflare is the enemy.

But we all know that's not true. Interesting. Yeah.

But yeah, so I'm an SRE, a core SRE manager, and core SRE is different than the edge SRE.

We're like parallel teams. Edge SRE is kind of a responsible for the health and resiliency of our 200-plus data centers, and core SRE is kind of like the brain.

It's where stateful things are kept, like databases and configuration, data stores, container-based deployment, and also salt configuration.

So, there's a lot going on.

I mean, while we don't have that same customer interaction that the edge does, the problems can be pretty complex.

And what's also interesting is, unlike most of our systems engineer teams, the SRE teams are in three geographies.

So, in North America, and then in Europe, and then in Singapore.

So, not only do we communicate across our own geography, we have to do these handovers to the, like, eight hours before and behind our time zones.

So, the communication situations are a little more complex.

They say whenever teams get to be larger than eight, their communication degrades.

Just imagine if you also have huge time differences between all those people.

It can be pretty tricky. And then, also, within my core team, or our core team, we've just recently, about six months ago, started dividing the portfolio.

So, my colleague in Singapore has been managing and leading all the observability projects, like when Kibana gets upgraded, or Elasticsearch, or if we want to manage our Grafana dashboards in a much more organized fashion, his team is leading that.

And then, my other colleague in the UK has been leading efforts around Kafka and Clickhouse, so, a lot of the datastore pieces.

So, I'm actually left with a bit of the everything else. So, that includes SALT, like how we do configuration management, a lot of security stuff.

So, we're recently rolling out Vault for secrets management.

I'm excited about that.

Yeah, me too. It's going to make a big difference and make a lot of our lives a lot easier to deal with.

And then, also, Console, which is another HashiCorp product.

It helps us run projects from, say, one data center and then switch over to another data center without any user impact.

So, pretty nice for helping improve our resiliency and reliability.

But, yeah, on the day-to-day, it can be, it's definitely making sure all the projects are moving forward.

And making sure, checking in with the team members, you know, during these times of pandemic and wildfires in California and everything else, I want to make sure that the team is supported.

So, I try and check in with them and make sure I see everybody's face, at least on a day-to-day basis.

And then, I can also, there's generally a lot of meetings.

Sets management is like trying to work on communication and planning. Right now, we're one quarter left in Q3, and I'm starting to think about what's the plans for the end of the year, and the end of the year, we'll have holidays.

So, I really try to think about timing, who's going to be available, and what do we want to accomplish before the end of the year.

So, yeah, it's kind of a mixed bag on the day-to-day, but that's what keeps things interesting, too.

So, yeah, and also, I'll go into a little bit later how I got into engineering, but, or sorry, how I got into management, but I've been in engineering for, I shouldn't, they say a woman shouldn't admit her age.

So, trust me, I started when I was five, but I've been in engineering for 23 years, and in California for about 20 of those.

Yeah, 21 of those.

So, it's been an interesting ride, for sure, but maybe that's where we can kind of switch gears a bit.

So, what inspired you, Fabian, to get into engineering?

It was less an inspiration and more like going with the flow. Actually, yeah, most of my family is in engineering.

So, yeah, when I was growing up, I wanted to be anything but an engineer.

It looks really boring, because, yeah, I was seeing all the complaints and the day-to-day boring stuff.

But, yeah, I did not have a very good idea of what I wanted to do when, by the time I was in high school and having to think about what to do after.

So, yeah, I was good at math back then.

So, I was kind of, in France, yeah, I grew up in France. Yeah, they have a tendency to steer you towards STEM if you're good at math, because they don't have enough people there.

And, yeah, so, yeah, I went with that. I went to a prep school for engineering schools, and then I got into an engineering school.

And once I was there, I picked one that was kind of generalist, so that I could try different things.

And I discovered that what I liked best was coding. So, yeah, I decided to stop fighting it.

Yeah, my upbringing was not an engineering household.

My parents are from Ireland, and they came over in the 1950s to the United States and didn't have a lot of education, but they had a lot of kids.

So, I'm the youngest of seven. So, I don't really know how I ended up in engineering.

I was more into, like, reading and drawing, probably as, like, escapes from all the noise of seven children in the household.

But, like, I had this idea. My parents kept saying, you can't be an artist, because you'll end up in the gutter.

That's not why we came to this country.

You know, that sort of thing. And so, I thought, computers are the future. Art is what I like.

Let's see if I could combine those. And in high school, I had heard about virtual reality, and I thought, that sounds amazing, like, virtual environments and all this stuff.

So, I worked on my grades, and I got into university to study computer engineering, which is what your degree would be to get into, you know, hardware and some of those disciplines.

And a couple years in, I realized that virtual reality was a long way off.

I mean, it's now 2020, and they're only just now the last year or two talking about having VR and video games and such.

So, it's taken a while. So, but while I was in university, I thought, you know, software, I like software.

So, I will learn more of these coding skills, and I switched from computer engineering to computer science.

And I will say that I need to give credit to my university.

It was University of Illinois in Champaign -Urbana, which is where Mosaic started.

So, I think I had, like, an advantage after I graduated, because I already knew a lot about web development and the Internet just upon graduation.

That was what, like, people did. Like, it wasn't even taught in classes.

It was just, like, how notes were given or, you know, IRC. It's just, like, how people communicated.

So, I ended up coming out here to California and then working at a web startup called as part of the Silicon Valley gold rush of 1998, 1999.

And we've come a long way since then, I suppose. So, when you think about your career, have you thought about, like, what challenges you've come across?

Kind of. It's, well, I think every job becomes challenging after a while.

It's always new and exciting at first, and then you have to stay motivated, find a way to keep it, you know, moving, keep learning things, keep challenging yourself.

And, yeah, so it happens more or less fast, depending on the company and the environment.

But, yeah, I think the thing that is very challenging to me and I think maybe more for women in engineering is staying motivated, keeping believing that what you're doing is right, that you're on the right path.

Because, yeah, when you end up in a situation when you're not happy, there are, yeah, there are always options.

So, you go, should I just talk to my manager and ask to be on another project?

Would that be enough? Do I need to switch teams? Do I need to find a new job, another company?

And so, should I be doing something completely different?

Maybe, like, it's not for me. Maybe I've had enough.

Have you ever tried another career? No, I haven't. Like, I like the money in engineering.

Yeah, yeah, that's true. But, yeah, I have a lot of friends who have switched.

And, yeah, a lot of women I knew who I worked with totally stopped working in tech and went to other careers.


Yeah, when it happens a lot around you, you start wondering. Yeah, yeah. I felt the same way.

After that first dot -com job, I actually did take a break. And it was poor timing because, like, I quit right before the stock market crashed in 2000.

So, I didn't even, like, get the severance and all this beautiful package or anything.

I made a gamble. I thought, you know, I am away from my parents. I finished with university.

I want to try that art thing. So, I tried to make a career of art.

Again, like you said, doesn't pay very well compared to software engineering.

So, I was happy I attempted it. But the safety of a job is nice compared to trying to find a way to hustle your artwork or something like that.

It's better to save those things that you feel a lot of passion for, I think, as a hobby.

And maybe that's not true for everybody.

But for me, trying to figure out how to sell something when you just like to make something for the sake of making it rather than selling it is a different experience.

Yeah. Again, I feel like that's why, for me, I, yeah.

Like, we were chatting before this call and I mentioned I used to be into theater.


Yeah. I was pretty serious about that at some point and very passionate about it.

But yeah, my teacher would ask me, like, would you consider going to auditions and, you know, having, trying to put your own show.

Yeah. And I mean, that sounds like an interesting challenge.

But on the other hand, I, it's kind of something I did for myself.

Right. Yeah. I was in the privileged position to be able to do this for myself and have this thing that was, you know, for pleasure, exploration.

And I didn't really want to turn that into my job. Right. I've put so much more pressure on it.

Yeah. Yeah. It almost takes a bit of the fun out of it. As far as challenges, for me, some of the same ones you've mentioned, and then also the technology is always changing.

Like, I, you know, you think you've got a handle on a certain domain of technology, it actually will get rusty or the length of the popular languages will change.

Or I remember having, I never really liked JavaScript, but I would be like, okay, jQuery, I could figure that out.

jQuery is nowhere now.

And then it became like Ember versus Angular.

And now nobody uses that. It's all React. It's like you got to keep up. And that's the challenge of the industry as well as like a benefit.

Like, there's always more to learn.

Like, I guess another challenge, like I mentioned, my team is doing some security, some some console, some salt configuration management.

As a manager, how do I lead a team?

I can do a pretty good job of leading about something I don't know, but you really have to trust your team members or need them to be self-motivated and mature enough in their understanding to kind of find that middle ground.

But it can be helpful to them if you are a sounding board, as a manager, that you have some familiarity and you can help guide them.

So, it's, that could be a challenge too, because if your portfolio of responsibilities is, you know, pretty large, it can take a while to be even, have even a small breadth of knowledge of each of those things.

Yeah, there are so many different technologies to be aware of.

I mean, even Cloudflare, actually. It wasn't until this pandemic that I had some time to create my own Cloudflare account and to try out various things with my domain.

Have you signed up for Cloudflare and utilized any of the products? No, I haven't.

Actually, I've been playing around with the workers for a few weeks. And yeah, it's all new to me.

I'm not very good at JavaScript. Yeah, same here. Something I've kind of been aware of for my whole career is that JavaScript are the things that people use.

And once in a while, I would have to do a thing in JavaScript that's a little thing.

And yeah, I wrote 69 lines of code of JavaScript and it took me several days.

Oh, really? And everything. But yeah, I got finally something to work.

That's good. That's good. After, yeah, embarrassing myself in the workhouse.

I haven't tried workers yet, so I'm probably going to be in the same boat.

Maybe that's the point. I've been very supportive. Oh, good.

Yeah. There are actually other people, Cloudflare developers, who are doing the same thing as me.

Oh, nice. Who respond to the basic questions I had because, yeah, they were more at my level.

I had a little bit of help from a friend. That was fun.


Oh, did you want to talk about any of the huge wins in your career? Actually, I think coming back to work in the U.S.

and getting a job at Cloudflare is a big win.

Yeah. Yeah, for me. Because, yeah, I did the first time I came to the U .S.

was as an intern 10 years ago at the end of my college degree. And so, yeah, I did an internship at a small company in Mountain View.

And, yeah, then I had to go back to France to graduate.

And, yeah, for visa reasons, they couldn't offer me a job.

Oh. Well, they offered me one, but at their office in France. And it was in a city I had no links to.

And I was reluctant to move alone to a new city. Especially since they had a very small office.

Only two people. So, yeah, I declined.

I found another job in France. But I always kind of had this idea that I should come back.

Because also it was 2010 and France was still in the recession at the time.

So, yeah, the job market wasn't great. The first couple of jobs were pretty hard in some ways.

Like the atmosphere wasn't very positive. And, yeah, I was always thinking, yeah, I should go back to the U.S.

And once in a while, I would try to apply for a job.

But very few companies are actually willing to sponsor you for a visa out of nowhere.

They don't know you. Yeah. Yeah. But in the end, yeah.

Fast forward a few years. I got married. My husband was transferred by his company.

Oh. So, I got to come to the U.S. And I actually had a few months of break professionally at that point.

Because I didn't. You have to apply for a work permit.

Oh, right. Yes. To be able to work in the U.S. And you have no idea how long it takes, actually.

They don't tell you. Oh, they don't give you, like, an estimate at all.

Not really, no. Okay. Yeah. Time to learn JavaScript. No. So, yeah.

On one hand, it was a nice break. On the other hand, I was getting a bit anxious.

Technology moves so fast. I'm falling behind. And before that, I had been for five years at the same job.

I had learned a lot of that job. But, yeah. I was kind of worried that, yeah, I would lose relevance if I didn't do anything.

So, I started attending meetups.

Oh, that's a good idea. Just, you know, to meet people and stay in the loop.

And I joined a meetup group that was called Women Who Go.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I know them. Yeah. So, very nice. Very nice group. And that's how I found about the job at Cloudflare.

Oh, that's cool. I used to have a sticker on my laptop.

I don't think I have one on the Cloudflare laptop for Women Who Go.

But I have been a manager at a previous company. And we sponsored Women Who Go for a meetup.

And it seems like such a great group of folks. And really, a lot of people who are pretty experienced as well.

Like, there was another one, Women Who Code, which seems like it's a bit more junior.

So, it's just great to get more variety of those kinds of meetups and different groups.

I know we don't have too much left.

But too much time left. Just as a short, I'll try and fit this in. How I got into management was by kind of similar to Fabian.

I was an engineer. You know, you become more experienced.

You start having an eye for things you can do to help out your team members.

Or could help the company in terms of business. And you start being the first to think about those.

And then one day, my boss said, I need you to be a manager.

And I thought, wow. It was something I never actually wanted to try.

I just didn't know. So, I thought, you know, I'll try it for a bit and see how it goes.

And that boss ended up stepping down and becoming a developer again.

And I was the manager. And then. And you were holding the bag. Yeah, yeah. But then, so, his role as VP of engineering, it was a small company.

Ended up having a more experienced manager in that role.

In that role of VP. And he said, you know, once you become a manager, it's best to separate out being a developer from being a manager.

Being a manager is about supporting your team and helping them grow.

And if you try to do both, you can often get in the way of your team members.

You can create blockers without meaning to. So, while it's been difficult to be completely hands off, I am.

And that's often a challenge, too. Because I feel like I want to learn.

I want to have the focused time to do some coding and such.

But for now, I'll just, you know, be there for my team members and help them.

And try and continue to help them grow. All right. We're at the end of the hour.

Half hour. Well, thank you so much, Fabian. And stay tuned for next week's WomanFlare.