🏳️🌈 Pride Month: Fireside Chat with Nitin Rao
Join Jacob Zollinger and Eric Allen on CFTV talking about all things Pride 2021! They will be joined by special guest Nitin Rao, SVP, Global Infrastructure at Cloudflare.
Hello everyone and welcome to our next installment in our Pride Month series. Today we're going to be chatting with Nitin Rao who is our Senior Vice President and Head of Global Infrastructure.
As a reminder, my name is Jacob Zollinger. I've been your host throughout this series so far this month and based in San Francisco and work on Cloudflare's security team.
So as a background, we're celebrating Pride this month.
Obviously it's June. It's huge for our community. One of our themes this month as a company for how we celebrate Pride is really to remember the educational opportunities behind it and also really focus on celebrating as some of us are allowed to come back together now.
So just to start off Nitin, what does Pride mean to you and how do you celebrate?
Well happy Pride and thank you for having me.
I'm a big fan of Cloudflare and just how inclusive it helps make working at Cloudflare no matter which office you're in.
So thank you for everything your team does.
So I moved recently to the Castro District in San Francisco and so I'm now a couple blocks away from the Harvey Vermont camera shop and and it's just surreal to think about the history of how the gay rights movement has evolved over time and the generations of folks before us who have helped make identifying as who you are easier.
And so I feel very excited just surrounded by the history around us but also things like Cloudflare make me optimistic about the years ahead of us.
Yeah definitely. I think this has been a really special Pride especially you know us both living in San Francisco.
This upcoming weekend is our huge Pride celebration weekend or usually is our huge Pride celebration weekend.
It's a bit different than years past but still really nice to see the community coming out and all that.
And as you mentioned living in a city like San Francisco and of course all over the world there's lots of points that you can find like history.
So Harvey Milk's camera shot being a big moment that's what he did right before he became part of San Francisco City Council and the first openly gay elected official in U.S.
history which is really cool. So just kind of asking why do you think it's important to amplify LGBTQIA plus voices and maybe which do you think we really need to focus on amplifying more?
Yeah well representation matters a lot.
I think it's this there's something really powerful you know when you're reading a book or watching TV or going to work seeing someone you can identify with.
I think it provides a sense of comfort and confidence and lets you be more authentic and amplifying voices is one way of contributing to that representation.
And it's hard to pick like a particular voice that like there isn't a voice that shouldn't be amplified.
And so I think more diversity is great and I think even for folks involved in communities like Proud Flare I think there's always the opportunity to sort of be exposed to people different than us or who have a different background or perspective and that's just being exposed to that in itself is very helpful.
Yeah I think especially here in Proud Flare it's been really a great example for me just to like see the diversity that exists within the broader LGBTQIA plus community and especially here at Proud Flare too.
I think it's really great to be able to continue to just meet different people and different backgrounds.
It's a really rich environment.
And one of the things I really appreciate is just how global the community is.
So for instance we have colleagues who are amplifying the pink dot movement in Singapore.
So it's just really exciting to see representation from from different parts of the world.
Yeah absolutely. They did an awesome presentation this last year and I think again this morning is when they had their next one scheduled for so really cool to see the different queer movements from around the world being represented here.
So my next question because I think this is so important and really emblematic of you know every Pride celebration is the concept of allyship and really allies have been crucial for the queer liberation movement and are important parts of our community and making sure we get equal representation and equal rights.
What does allyship mean to you and what do you think an effective ally looks like?
Yeah so allyship is incredibly important. I'm very grateful for even personally like all the friends in my life who've been very supportive and accepting of having gay friends or queer friends and supporting their friends through their journey.
And I think often allies can be just even another sort of set of ears and eyes in the room to speak up when they see something untoward.
As I've grown older one of the things I've had to kind of reconcile with is not only appreciating folks who are allies but at some level appreciating folks who aren't aren't allies.
And so I certainly have folks who are important to me and close in my heart who sort of might not be allies or might not be allies to the full degree I'd like but I'm happy to go with them on a journey so much like much like I'm going on my own.
Absolutely yeah I think it's a lot of education can be done too to help bring people that are you know maybe not as out and proud about their allyship help just educate them and that that's a really important part of it.
I know I've definitely served that similar kind of role with my close friends and family and you know anyone else in my life.
So queer liberation movement has had a lot of history happen especially within the last 20 to 30 years.
It's been a lot of really landmark cases, landmark court rulings, all of that.
Why are some of these firsts important to you and what are some of the other barriers that you have witnessed the LGBTQIA plus community break down during your life that have been significant to you?
Yeah so in a number of ways firsts are incredibly important and I think it takes a great deal of bravery for someone to sort of be the first at anything and even if they receive persecution.
I think myself as I think of both of us as being sort of fairly privileged where they're extremely with every decade I think the experience of identifying as being LGBT has become easier and so I can, having sort of not lived as an adult through the 80s or the 90s, I don't share the same perspective but I also have a great deal of respect for folks who went before.
I was actually just watching a TV show on Netflix that has an episode on each decade and has an interesting perspective on things so that's been really helpful.
Yeah definitely I think we both kind of shared this too where I haven't, I mean I've lived through a couple of big historical moments of course you know marriage equality within the United States and Prop 8 you know all the discourse that happened in California in 2008 but I think I've had to do a lot of work to try and teach myself more about queer history because it's not taught in school necessarily you kind of have to search it and find it on your own.
So you mentioned one of these TV shows that you've been watching that talk about some of the different decades.
What are some of the resources that you've used to learn more about queer history?
More about queer history, well if you're university student often there's an LGBT club and so those resources are incredibly helpful.
Friends can be incredibly helpful and for all of that there's plenty of history I don't actually know.
I remember at least two examples that stand out for me that were particularly interesting were one gay marriage equality and it was interesting just the number of people who at least had a friend or family member who'd be impacted who were really excited about it.
I grew up in India, have family in India so I remember both the decriminalization and then recriminalization and then decriminalization of homosexuality and sort of the ups and downs and catching friends going through emotions that came with it and so it's been really interesting to see that journey but there's but they're also like just smaller milestones of everyday life where I think folks can become sort of closer to each other even if there isn't sort of a monumental announcement around them that still helps.
Yeah definitely. Wonderful, well that's a little bit about Pride and kind of how we're celebrating at Cloudflare and your view on all of that.
I want to get a little bit more into your career and to your identity now.
Could you just give us a brief overview of kind of how you've gotten to be our Senior Vice President of Global Infrastructure at Cloudflare?
So I really enjoy what I get to do at Cloudflare and who I get to work with.
So I lead a team that's focused on helping building out Cloudflare's global network and we get to partner with a number of great colleagues at Cloudflare but also partners around the world who are just excited to help make the Internet faster and safer and it really takes a village.
We're working with Internet providers in every corner of the world, hardware companies who want to each do their part to help improve the performance of a service that is so fundamental to what we do every day and I really appreciate all the partners I get to work with, not just externally but even internally.
We work closely for instance with the security team and other teams and that's been really great and it's a good purpose to get behind.
Sure, so when did you join Cloudflare and what were you doing prior to joining Cloudflare?
So I have an undergrad degree in information technology, so more similar to computer science and I also attended business school, so a combination of technical and business training.
I've been at different startups and briefly worked at a microfinance company that eventually went public on the Indian equity markets and started a 3D modeling software company to help designers build products together and sold it for something modest and then joined Cloudflare in 2013.
So I'm coming up on eight years and it's been a real privilege to see the company grow, see the team grow and it's been very exciting.
I was very briefly and for all of one summer, I interned at a strategy consulting firm and I was probably their worst intern ever.
However, a friend pulled me aside and told me about their LGBT ERG and I remember going to meet different colleagues at different levels of seniority and while I didn't really identify with the work or want to go back and work in consulting, I think it gave me a great deal more confidence and so it gave me an appreciation for just how important ERGs are, which is why I really appreciate what Pratt Fair does.
Yeah, yeah, definitely.
That's really interesting. So I didn't realize you'd going on eight years.
That's insane. That's a huge veteran in Cloudflare terms. You've really been through a lot of change and a lot of crazy growth.
That's really, really cool.
So next question I have for you is more about maybe how your sexual orientation and your racial identity intersect.
PRIDES really has a lot of intersectionality built into the queer liberation movement and in celebrating it.
So how do you think your sexual orientation and your racial identity intersect and are there any clashes?
Yeah, that's a complicated question that it's hard to give a simple answer to.
Some Indian brown identify as a gay man and I think identity is complicated.
For a long time in my life, as I got to know friends and role models, I kind of tried to look for folks who my identity kind of perfectly matched with and could say someday I'm going to grow up to be exactly that person and quickly realized that each of us are pretty unique.
And so now I instead draw on sort of an amalgam of different things from different people, some of whom I share similar values with, sexual orientation with, race with and so on.
And so identity is really a combination of all of that. But each of those pieces really matters.
And I think you're right, there is an intersection.
I find myself catching up with friends who are also Indian and also gay.
And just my interactions are a little bit different than with friends who are a different combination.
And so I think it definitely changes sort of what your shared experiences are.
And it definitely changes that. Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that, you know, your identity, you kind of, you can have multiple identities, right?
And everyone kind of contains multitudes. And something you really resonated, or something that resonated with me, what you were saying, was when you looked, you know, you said, I wanted to be exactly this person.
And now you're kind of taking it from different, bunch of different people, maybe, and being, you know, a bunch of different role models.
That's something that I really had to, you know, when I was growing up, and coming into my own sexuality and my queerness, try and find, and there weren't really as many role models, back when I was growing up as there are today.
And it's really wonderful to see the representation in media, in entertainment and business, now that just didn't exist anymore, or didn't exist then.
Yeah, or the people who were fitting role models existed, but the platforms to amplify their voices didn't necessarily.
Yes, exactly. I mean, queer people have always been here and all that, but not on the center stage, like they are now.
I mean, the fact that RuPaul's Drag Race is primetime television, when it was on Logo TV, when it first debuted, it's really incredible to see the progress that our community has been able to make on, you know, the global stage and really come to the center stage of it all.
It's really cool. So, as we've talked about several times now, our community is really diverse.
How has being a person of color impacted your queer experience?
Have you found like community with other people of color?
Kind of what has your experience been? Yeah, I have a number of close friends who are straight or queer, who are people of color, people who are not of color.
I think the experiences are like, I try to make sure that I'm proud that I have a sort of diverse group of friends, and I think the experiences are different.
So, when I hang out with other friends who are Indian and gay, I think the set of shared experiences are different.
And you've kind of been through the same challenges, be it sort of getting your families to be comfortable with having a queer family member, or the experience of being an immigrant and so on.
And so, I think they're shared experiences that bind you in a bunch of ways.
And at the same time, I think it's really important to have diverse friends and so try to get to know folks with as diverse experiences as possible.
Yeah, and also just try and find your own version of community and really just make those friends and find that community where you can find it, definitely.
Yeah, and I think friends are so important. And I really appreciate folks who, and I think this is comfort you develop over time, who you can be really, really authentic with, and you can experience the same sort of ups and downs with, and that really brings people together.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So, going back to your career a little bit too.
So, you mentioned that you've been at Cloudflare for a really long time now, and you've been at several other positions, and we're talking about the community.
So, community isn't necessarily just related to friends, it can also be a community you find in like workplace interactions.
And people that I think are really important parts of my workplace, not only are members of Cloudflare, not only are queer, but might be role models and might be mentors.
Can you tell me about some of the mentors and role models that you've had in your career so far, and what you look for, what you would look for in a career mentor, or a role model or mentor?
Sure, sure. So, I mean, role models and mentors are all around us, really important.
There's this, I have this distant uncle. I don't think he's actually my uncle, but it's just easier to remember him as an uncle, because there's some kind of complicated relationship.
And so, he lives a little bit outside of Boston, and typically has guests at his dinner table.
And I often got the chance to be one of his guests.
And if you're ever invited, once you were invited for life, and you could always come.
And I'd go there for Thanksgiving, and I'd go there for Christmas.
And I have just enormous respect for this person, because he is sort of high integrity, just generally very, very young at heart and open to new ideas.
Just a very classy person. And that's someone I want to be when I grew up.
And so, I don't know if I've ever had a formal mentorship conversation, but that's an example of the kind of person who I just look up to and respect, and just notice things about that I want to copy.
And so, I think having people who you look up to and respect is just really important.
And you can pick up the pieces that resonate more with you and not pick up the pieces that resonate less.
In terms of sort of more formal mentorship, I think, like I remember being an intern at a startup that eventually wound down.
But the person I worked for had just this profound experience on my career and my life.
Just having someone who really believes in you can push you. And a great mentor is someone who believes in you often even before you sort of can really see what your full potential is.
And so, I'm very grateful for the folks who've been supportive and good mentors and people to bounce ideas off.
Yeah. So, let's say that you're someone in the crowd right now that might be queer, might be looking for more of a formal career mentor.
What are some of the strategies you would recommend to ask someone to be a mentor or help find one out?
Yeah. It sort of depends on each person's place of comfort.
I think there are some folks who choose to do that, you know, if you're a college student within their own university, if you're working somewhere within the same company.
But then there are also folks who go the other way around who actually want that separation and would rather find a mentor that works at a different company just so there is that kind of clean separation.
And I think, I mean, my one suggestion would be like get to know someone, ask, and, you know, we're really in this together.
And you'll amazed by just how quickly people respond and want to be helpful, be it in your career, be it thinking through some kind of life decision.
I think the queer experience is both very, very unique, but also very, very similar.
And so, you can get to know someone who is seemingly a stranger and yet you can very quickly pick up on some shared experience and be able to help or at least offer your perspective.
And so, just reach out and you'll be amazed by how supportive folks are.
Yeah, I, you know, I really, that really resonates with me and I totally agree.
When I've looked for mentors in the past, it honestly, I build it up in my head a lot more maybe than I need to sometimes.
You know, I don't want to burden them, but really all you need to do most of the time is ask and people are more than willing to help, especially members of our community to help others.
Yeah, and I realize there's a bit of a generalization, but even if I compare sort of, you know, folks my age with folks who sort of are maybe a couple years younger, I think there's like, I continue to be just amazed and impressed by just how comfortable and authentic sort of queer folks are.
I think that just makes for a very different experience. If you can, you know, bring your whole self to work, that's wonderful.
And while it's tempting to think, while we think of sort of mentors and role models as folks who are kind of, you know, further along us on some dimension, I think there's something to be said, even for just learning from friends, learning from peers.
And so I think you can learn a lot from role models, but you can learn a lot also just from your friends, because they know you just incredibly well and often they know you better than anybody else.
Yeah, definitely. So there's a lot of people that are listening on this meeting right now.
Let's say that there is another young person that has similar ambition to be the next Nitin Rao of the world.
What type of advice would you have for that person if they want to become really involved in infrastructure or want to become an executive one day?
Yeah, I think the, I think the, I think it gets progressively easier with every year.
And so my hope is that, you know, I appreciate the phrase, it gets better.
I appreciate how with every day, with every year, I think it should become a little bit easier for folks to not have to worry about whether they can show up to work and be their full selves, you know, go around, you know, in their neighborhood, being their whole selves.
My hope is that every year, it continues to get easier.
I think it has and it will in different corners of the world.
And so I think you should take advantage of that. I think that instead of being held back because of being queer, I think if anything, instead, you have allies and friends who are invested in your success.
And so you should reach out to them and you'd be amazed how supportive folks will be.
Yeah, absolutely. Use your networks.
It's really, you know, makes a big difference and you know, who you know, you really use your community that you're, you know, creating and fostering yourself.
So something I always like to ask at the end of these things, if we have time, is what was your beer meeting fun fact?
And for the viewers at home, there's a tradition that Cloudflare has that whenever a new hire joins and being an intern or full-time hire, you're supposed to share a fun fact about yourself at our weekly company-wide meeting.
So Nitin, what is your fun fact? So I thought I would escape and never be caught.
So the secret is, I think I'm one of the few people who never gave a fun fact.
And so they happened to forget that one week. And so I guess I've had eight years to think.
If I had to come up with something, I'd probably come up with the fact that when I was born, I was born really, really small.
I was born so small that they actually weren't sure whether I'd make it.
And I guess I did.
And I'm happy to be here. Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Really happy you're here too with us.
That's a really good fun fact. And a dual fun fact that there was a cool class of people that started that they missed it.
That's really, really good.
Well, this has been a ton of fun. Really big fan of everything of the Cloudflare community and appreciate your letting me be part of this.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nitin, and thank you to everyone who has watched our series this month for Pride.
Remember to go out, celebrate with one another, and more importantly, be proud.
All right. Talk to you all later.