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🌐 Why I Joined Cloudflare & Why I'm Excited About Project Pangea

Presented by Scott Tomtania , Roderick Fanou
Originally aired on 

Cloudflare is a clear destination for leading technologists in the Industry. Tune in to learn more about Roderick Fanou's journey to Cloudflare and his excitement about Project Pangea, which helps improve security and connectivity for community networks at no cost.

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Impact Week

Transcript (Beta)

Hi everyone and welcome to Impact Week. I'm your host, I'm Scott Tomtania, the head of recruiting at Cloudflare and today I have Roderick Fanou here who's an engineer with us who joined us roughly a month ago and he will be sharing more about why he joined Cloudflare and what really also excites him about Project Tangier which we've just launched.

So without further ado, I want to introduce Roderick Fanou and I won't steal your thunder so go ahead and introduce yourself, tell us more about your background and tell us about yourself.

Thanks Scott.

To begin with, I'd like to thank Cloudflare, the organizers of Impact Week and CFTV for this opportunity to share.

So happy to be here and I look forward to this segment.

So I joined Cloudflare about a month ago as a system engineer in the Argo smart routing and traffic team.

I'm based in Austin and my engineering manager is Eric Reeves.

What I do is that I currently work alongside this team on traffic manager which is a module that takes suitable actions on callers whenever needed and we are improving it and enhancing it with new features for improved traffic engineering.

That's great. What really excites you in what you do currently for Cloudflare?

I really like the fact that I experience daily the practical sides of what I've learned or researched on so far for a long time.

Seeing how my work directly impacts the QoS and impacts end-users experience thus actively contributing to help build a better and improved quality in them.

And I also enjoy teamwork, the discussion I have with my team, sharing knowledge.

There are so many experts in-house and I daily learn from them.

I like as well the employee research groups.

So far I've joined those masters. I look forward to exploring Afroflare, Cloudflare, Francophone, Mindflare and so on.

I really like the Cloudflare capabilities which I find to be values that I can implement not only in my own life, the environment, the leadership, the inspiring leadership.

That is actually fantastic and I have to share that Roderick and I are both members of the Afroflare employee resource group and also the Cloudflare Francophone.

The Francophone part, if you can stay tuned in all the way through the end, then what you will see there is that we might have a bit of a conversation in French.

So we'll leave that to the end.

So stay tuned. So let's go back a bit on your journey and let me add that Roderick is from a country in West Africa called Benin.

So tell us about your journey, how you got started from Benin and how you ended up in tech.

So basically, I'm born in Benin.

So my mother was a secretary. So really I got used to the typewriter at home and then with time, I mean during breaks from school, during school break I was going to her office to use her computer and play games.

And later at high school I had to basically connect to Internet to do the school work with either a group or basically to do some studies for work.

So this exposed me to a wealth of documents which I really prefer to just go into the library to lend input.

Later at the university, although we had like low quality bandwidth or low quality Internet, I really enjoyed using the Internet in order to basically pursue my studies.

Then I had the opportunity to do some internship in a top company in a local ISP and this highlighted the need for more research in the field to see where actually the issues were in terms of connectivity locally.

And that led me to research. I did my doctoral studies in Spain, in Madrid and then I did my postdoc in UC San Diego at CAIDA before deciding to join Cloudflare and that was basically one of my best decisions.

So there is a bit of a difference there between the US approach to connectivity and EU approach to connectivity.

And my understanding is that many folks who are growing up in Africa tend to go towards cyber cafes.

So tell us a little bit more about that and how that influenced your journey.

Yes, basically connectivity in my country was basically a luxury.

Having it at home was a need for expenses and most of our parents didn't want to do such expenses.

So what we were doing is instead to go towards places that were sometimes managed by individuals or some community networks which were called cyber cafes.

And there basically as a group of students or as a group of people we together access broadband through a low or a good enough connection.

So this is a side of the research or educational networks, a main type of connectivity.

But right now we also have mobile network connectivity that is popping up in the region.

Great. If you don't mind me just digressing a bit, I want to drill into Benin, an amazing country.

I call Benin sort of like the bedrock of a lot of the Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American diaspora, a lot of the cultural phenomenons that currently exist.

And I know I'm going in a different direction here, but some of my best actors and best singers come from Benin or come from Beninese heritage.

So for example, Jimong Hunsu and Angelique Kijo, for those of you who really enjoy some Afrobeat music.

So tell us about Benin. So Benin is a coastal country in the Western part of Africa between Nigeria and Togo.

And it's a French-speaking country.

And as we know that we have Nigeria aside, basically one thing that is taught to us is the importance of the English language.

So very soon we are also introduced to English.

So Benin has a diverse culture. It's known as the birthplace of Vodou.

And another thing is this links to the kingdom of Dahomey, where the king and the core of his kingdom were based in Abomey, which is in the centre of the country.

And at the side, which is at the coast, we had a city that is known as Ouida, which was where the commerce of slaves was taking place.

And one can still visit the remains of the kingdom as of today.

And to link it to the Wakanda movie, things were protected by close guards, women that were strong and who dedicated their lives to protect him.

And after the colonisation, Benin is now known as a place of democracy, a model of democracy in French Africa.

Or it was also known as the Latin border of Africa, in French, Le Quartier Latin d'Afrique.

Yes. And for all the Francophones and folks who speak French around the world, Benin is known as Le Quartier Latin de l'Afrique.

So I hope I said that right, Roderick. Great.

So let's jump quickly, is that I think your story around your internship, digging deeper there, will give a number of folks who are considering Cloudflare a bit of a glimpse into where different people come from and how their experiences, regardless of how unique it is, or how varied it is, we draw from, you know, different talent pools, very different talent pools.

So tell me more about your internship with Euphorbia Sal.

So as part of my engineering degree, I had to do some internship in a top company in the field.

And locally, we had Euphorbia Sal, which was a telecom group, which was servicing not only bank headquarters, but also end users, local companies, through the incumbent operators.

So I got some hands-on on networking, routing, setting up wireless network, auditing those networks, and so on.

And I recall that I was part of the NOC, and helping whenever the client was calling in order to ask for fixing a given issue.

And that I also helped for building a monitoring tool for overseeing the services.

Yeah. So that helped me basically see the importance of more research, to see actually where are other issues, because we were, sometimes there were, when we had some fiber cut, and the whole country was actually offline.

And basically that highlighted the fact that, okay, there are issues at other levels.

So we needed to do more research.

And that led me to the research world. That is absolutely awesome. I know that you also joined IMDA Networks in Spain for your postdoctoral degree.

You can tell, I've looked at your background and picked apart some of the experience.

I think that's one of the most fascinating ones.

So tell us more about that. So basically, yeah, my stay at IMDA was a way for me to collaborate with local stakeholders, and showcase some cases of setup of Internet exchange points locally, which have helped improve the local connectivity.

So I basically collaborated not only with local stakeholders, but bodies such as ISOC, in order to underline the fact that Internet exchange point improved the quality of connectivity locally.

So we deep dive, or we investigated routing dynamics throughout the African region as a case study for developing regions.

That is awesome. And as a result of that, while you're pursuing your PhD, you also attended AFIX to share some of the results of your research and your finding, and also led some ISOC workshops in Benin, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Ethiopia, Mauritania, and Niger.

So tell this audience a little bit about that, because that ties in nicely into Project Pangaea, and where that passion comes from, and why you joined Cloudflare.

Tell us more about that.

Per region and per country, there were some workshops that were set up in order to help teach local actors or local stakeholders how to set up an Internet exchange point, how to configure the routers, and so on and so forth.

So I contributed to basically to teach them routing principles, and also BGP, and so on.

And yeah, that was really helpful in seeing some of those new infrastructures popping up.

And then afterwards, I had the opportunity to do more research.

I did them with KEDA, and I highlighted the impact of setting up a cable between Angola and Brassie.

And that study was really well received by the community.

That is great. That is great. So internship, what's your advice to the audience?

Internship or no internship before you take your dream job? What would you advise?

I think an internship always gives you an idea of what it is to work in the field.

It's always great to have some hands-on, to be used to what you might be doing before actually taking a decision, a critical decision.

Yeah. So you've heard Roderick Fanu talk about internships.

We are actively hiring our next intern class for 2021.

So if you're interested, and I hope you're interested because we just heard his story here, which we're not done, but email us at internships at to hear more about our internships or check out our careers page.

Now, tell us about the reasons why you joined Cloudflare.

I joined Cloudflare because it has an awesome vision, which is to help build a better Internet, a faster, reliable, and more secure Internet for everyone, right?

Including those who are on the set.

I really enjoyed basically meeting the leadership during my hiring process.

The products are really based or focused towards the core of the network, right?

Enhancing that security, enhancing that reliability is really key. Even another thing that I like is that security and reliability do not impact the performance, right?

And the access to the product is for everyone, not only for basically customers that want to pay, but those who basically don't have the means.

Culture and the team that was welcoming that I had the chance to meet and the opportunities for growth.

So these are- And you touched about your hiring process, you met with some of the leadership, but can you share with the audience how, just like a glimpse into the interview process at Cloudflare?

Yes. I really, I find the interview process in my case was a bit long, but I need to basically keep on striving and keep on improving myself for the next meeting.

One thing that is completely, does completely differentiate Cloudflare, Cloudflare's hiring process from other ones is the fact that you get a chance to meet the head of engineering, for instance, or even in my case, it was the CEO, Michelle Zatlin.

That was an awesome way to basically show me that not only I was valued, but also I had the ability to ask about the vision and learn more about how the company is going in the next few years.

And that really was a value added to me because I learned a lot from this conversation.

How did you prepare for the interview? For anyone else listening, you said it was a long, likely tough process, but then really enjoyable process.

How did you prepare yourself? Not only technically, because I had to basically review whatever I've learned, but also because some of, I was sent some videos that were really helpful, highlighting what the company was about and so on.

And I think I had also to get more hands-on coding and so on and improve my, brush my engineering skills.

Right. Yeah. Great. Tell me, keep going. Yes. One thing I want to highlight is that I also went through a visa process through which, I mean, the support of Cloudflare was really, really impactful.

And thank you so much for that.

Yes. So now coming to a really good area of this segment, Project Pangaea.

So tell us exactly what Project Pangaea is, what it means for you, and yeah, the floor is yours.

Yes. This project is awesome. I believe that the numerous people behind it and Cloudflare and the partners are implementing the right solution for underserved communities.

So I noticed that enough, not only in Africa, but in developing regions, or even throughout the world, there are some communities that are kind of remote, that do not have a direct access to the Internet and therefore get together to set up a network at their own expenses in order to deliver access to the Internet to the people within the community.

And these are the communities, for instance, we can list, I mean, research communities are also part of those or educational communities.

Or when these are not available, maybe you can have some small cyber cafes in the villages, or even throughout some close to some cities where people can actually access the net.

But then they come up with two issues.

They have a way of, throughout the backhaul, they can access to an Internet exchange point, but then they need to spend more money to access to the Internet as a whole.

So Cloudflare comes up with this project, Project Pangea, to basically reduce to zero the cost of the access to the Internet, to those communities, as long as they actually bring, they have a way, which most of them have already, to connect to the closest local Internet exchange point.

And since Cloudflare has its presence throughout the world in 200 cities, and in most of those exchange points throughout the world, it gives a way, an easy way for those community networks to connect their backbone towards the rest of the Internet and enjoy the fact that the network access to the Internet will be more secure, reliable, and faster.

And that's really what I really enjoy.

And I'm excited about this project. Wow, that's really fascinating. So if someone were to ask you, someone who's not technical at all in Benin, in anywhere around the world, in Spain, where you've spent some time, how would you summarize Project Pangea for them?

Project Pangea would be, in an easy way, a way to connect throughout the rest of the Internet in a secure, faster, reliable way throughout a network that has proven its worth, which is Cloudflare.

And I would add that it's really a great opportunity for community networks to save on high transit expenses, which they are doing already, and to basically reinvest maybe those costs in building a better infrastructure locally.

Yeah, that is great.

So in our conversations, if you don't mind me sharing this, and which is also in your blog posts I've read since then, is that you were really, really, really fascinated by the innovation and about things that we've created, for example, Project Galileo.

So walk us through a little bit of those, some of our big staples that we have here, and if you want to share more of that with the audience.

Yes, one of them that I really like a lot, and which is actually in line with the current pandemic, is the Project FairShot that gives everyone a way to access to a FairShot to get vaccinated.

And another project, the Project Galileo that helps actually protect the ones that basically have something to say, but they are in countries where they may have some issues, but the political issues, they had to do that.

So they are basically protected by using cultural networks, and so many other projects, which are basically most of the time presented to the public during some weeks, like birthday week, or impact week, and so on.

I really enjoy these kind of initiatives.

That is absolutely awesome. Now, switching gears very, very quickly.

We're not at the end yet, but we will attempt to do this. I'm switching to French.

I would like to start by saying hello not only to black people, but also to those who are in the diaspora, but also to the country, but also to all the resource centers in developing countries that are following us at the moment.

So, after years of research, I realized that network interconnection was a key factor for a better local connection.

So, for a while now, we have been supporting this project, the Pangea project, and we have been partners with Cloudflare so that local communities can better serve the populations who suffer from a lack of access to the Internet connection, from the smallness of the bandwidth that causes them attacks via the Internet, and the exorbitant costs.

So, this project is an opportunity because it reduces the transit costs of these local communities to zero, while offering a safer, more reliable, and more secure connection to the rest of the world.

And this actually allows us to push the connection of cyber cafes, to boost the educational system, local content, the sharing of local culture, extracultural activities, and to name a few.

So, I invite RAAs such as AFRINIC, LACNIC, institutions such as ISOC, local communities, but also educational and research networks to intensify their collaboration with Cloudflare so that local communities and populations can benefit from a better quality of access.

So, in short, if you want to contribute to this project, go to the Cloudflare .com project application and submit your application as soon as possible.

Ah, that's great.

So, I'm glad we got to do a segment in French. I don't know if you want to continue doing the segment in French, but can you tell me a bit about, tell the audience about what roles your team is currently looking for?

What type of people are they looking for?

Where are they hiring? If you sort of have that idea since you've been there for a month, tell me more about that.

I know that my engineering manager is actually interviewing actively.

So, anyone who might be interested in joining the Argos smart routing slash traffic team, you may basically check on Cloudflare's website and basically apply because we are looking for top people that basically really want to contribute to help contribute more into our mission which are qualified and so on.

And I'd like to make an appeal to all my friends who have basically done research with me or who might be interested in looking to switch towards industry that basically I've joined Cloudflare and I really am enjoying the process and I like the culture and basically I'd just suggest them to apply and then to go through the process and to take the decision by themselves.

Great. This is my favorite part of the segment and I don't think Roderick is even aware of this yet, but this is where I ask some questions and it will be more about Benin, more about different things that you like and we can chat about it.

So, what's your favorite dish in Benin? And tell us what it is, how it's pronounced and what the makeup is.

I know how to make it. You know how to make it?

Tell us. Basically, my favorite dish is pandit yam. It is made of smashed potato and we usually have it, it is called in some countries fufu, in Ghana it would be, but it is using different ingredients.

So, in Benin we use smashed potato while in Ghana, for instance, they use other ones.

And we have it with a sauce of basically, yeah, with some sauce and full of meat.

So, that's what I like the most.

Wow, that sounds absolutely delicious, especially if you're in the eastern part of the US or central part, you are already at lunchtime or if you're in India, it's dinnertime.

So, pandit yam, fufu. And where can we find that in Austin, Texas, since you're based in Austin?

Are there any places yet? I've not done that research, but I feel like, yes, there's a way of finding basically all the ingredients.

I knew that in San Diego, where I was, there was kind of that is such a shop where you can buy these ingredients and do it locally.

Great. My next question is, what city in Benin is a must visit?

Ouida is a must visit because it has...

How do you spell it? Can you spell it? O-U-Y-D-A-H. Abomey as well is a must visit.

So, Ouida will show you, will highlight basically the work of the slave towards the boats, while Abomey will highlight where the kings were staying and how was the life within the palace of the kingdom.

So, it's good to go as well in the North, where there was also another kingdom, the kingdom of Fniki, where you can see that there are Sombas that are really special houses.

Architecture. Yes. Special architecture.

There's also the Panjari Park where you can do a safari and see basically different kinds of animals, mostly elephants or lions.

Great. And what's your favorite, who's your favorite actor in Benin?

I've told you mine. So, I don't know if it's the same person, but...

I think it's the same person. So, I actually watched, when we were back in the first year of high school, an inspiring movie to which he participated to was Amistad and other movies.

That is great, great, great, great, great, great.

And then I have two more questions for you. One is, what was your favorite subject in school?

And you and I talked about this a little bit with your upbringing, where harder sciences were more encouraged.

So, what was your favorite subject?

I think mathematics was interesting, but hard. And physics, again, physics were basically the easier parts.

And so, I like... Physics were the easier part.

Yeah. Wow. Yeah. And that was in high school. Yeah. Yes. I enjoy English as well, because that was...

Yeah. The five was really cool. That is great.

And this is my last question for you. So, what's your number one advice now for anyone who wants to join Carflare?

And you have 10 seconds for that. My number one advice would be, prepare yourself.

I mean, don't wing interviews. Prepare your interviews, show up at your best self, and be authentic.

Basically, do your best during the interview process, and yeah, give your best shot.

And yeah, one thing is to follow the video that is shown, the roadshow video.

It really helped me a lot. Yeah.

Prepare your questions, because at the end of every interview, I basically had about four to five questions to ask to the interviewer.

So, these are basically my suggestions.

Great. Well, thank you all, and goodbye. Thank you so much, and have a great day.

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