*APAC Heritage Month* Fireside Chat: Andrew Li
Andrew Li, Engineering Manager, Cloudflare, will share with us the story of his career, and the path he took to be where he is today.
Hi Cloudflare and happy APAC Month. My name is Alina Ha. I'm a Customer Success Manager here at Cloudflare.
Today in this month of May, we're celebrating APAC Heritage Month in Cloudflare.
We're hosting a number of fireside chats with our leaders and different organizations.
The theme for our APAC Heritage Month is amplifying Asian voices.
Today we have Andrew Li with myself. Andrew, could you please let me know what do you do at Cloudflare and what is your role?
My name is Andrew Li. I am an engineer manager for the bot management team.
I joined Cloudflare in 2019. I don't know what you mean by. This July, I will be in Cloudflare for two years.
Nice. Before we kick in with Andrew, if you have any questions, you can direct them to livestudio at Cloudflare.tv.
I will ask Andrew in the end of our chat.
Andrew, I think one of the main things we're talking all this year is pandemic and how everyone was coping.
What I wanted to ask you, how have you been holding up in 2020 and the first part of 2021?
What adjustments have you done personally?
As a leader, what have you made? Maybe you've done differently this year and past year.
A great question. I think this past year and a half has been very difficult for all of us.
It's been a challenge to people in my team, to me, and to everybody, all the family members that I know for our teams.
I think it was, if I were to look back and try to summarize my own experience, I think it's constantly adapting to a situation and be hopeful, be optimistic, and also recognizing it's been difficult and sometimes depressing.
I think those are three things I feel like accompany me and my team throughout the last year and a half.
I'm really grateful for everybody in my team and in engineering and Cloudflare in general and doing the best, their own specific position, but also really considerate and helpful.
The type of consideration and support that I personally received and my team have been receiving from the engineering internship has been incredibly helpful in terms of helping us navigating this difficult situation.
I'm really proud of the perseverance and the persistence people in my team exhibit throughout the year and a half.
A lot of people in my team have personal difficulties, as we all have been.
Members of their family members fall sick and pass away, unfortunately.
One after one, they all came through and really thrived.
I sometimes just got amazed when I see a situation like that and just really be really proud to everybody in my team and the people around us.
That's amazing. I'm sure people are very lucky to have you as a manager.
I guess my next question would be, to get to this, to be a manager, and from what I hear, being very thoughtful, have a lot of empathy, and something we always talk about in Cloudflare, right?
Do the right thing, think about people, and first come with good intentions.
But you started, I'm sure this came from your old experience you had before.
Could you please share your career trajectory, maybe starting from university?
How did you get to the position you are in now, maybe starting from the individual contributor to moving to the manager?
What was the path to where you are now at the moment?
Yeah, I think I'm extremely lucky to be where I am, and it really took a, you know, sort of sounds like a cliche, but it really took a whole village, I guess, in terms of being able to achieve the personal goals and sort of be able to reach the objectives that I set out for myself.
You know, I'm incredibly lucky to have the team that I had, and one thing I want to add is our team is really sort of exemplary showcase of diversity, right?
So when I joined the team, we have about five engineers, and spread around four different time zones, and that is not something that I think any engineering manager was sort of envious about, right?
But I think that, as you mentioned, you know, to your earlier question, and be able to have that sort of the team being so diversified and spread around different regions sort of prepared us for the pandemic during the year and a half.
So our team today is even more diversified. We have about 14 engineers over, came, come across from 12 different countries, and probably seven or six different time zones today.
So it's probably one of the most diverse team engineering that I know of that really helped us to be successful.
And to answer your question about me personally, I don't think anything sort of I did specifically to, you know, want to be a sort of a manager.
It was a bad accident, and I often tell folks, the kind of job candidates or people in the team is, you know, from individual contributor to manager, it's not necessarily a promotion.
It's a career change. It's sort of a choice that you make in terms of career, right?
You can be very impactful, very effective as an individual contributor, and vice versa as an engineering manager.
So it's a lot of promotion.
It's really just sort of what you feel like you can bring the most maximum value and effectiveness to what you do.
I came to this country when I was a teenager, really.
I started as an exchange student, not far from where I am here.
I'm San Francisco-based, but when I started out, I lived with a host family in California in Central Valley.
And after that, I moved to Arizona to finish my undergrad, and then moved east coast to finish my grad school, and got a job as a software engineer in finance.
So I spent close to a decade working for finance service companies in New York before I moved out here in 2018, sort of come back to San Francisco and come back to home, so to speak.
I think one thing I feel like that definitely prepared me a good deal about, you know, to allow me to do the job I'm doing now is be able to have a good mentor, and to be able to have somebody, you know, give you a chance, and realize your potential, and look beyond, you know, the differences that, you know, we, our appearances look like, or the accent we bring, and be able to look at the skills and the value you can offer.
I think I'm incredibly fortunate to have mentors and managers in the past that really sort of bring me along, and allow me to learn.
And second thing, I think, just be able to have an open mind, and try to try different things.
And I remember some wise person sort of say, advice, is that try every, at least one thing, try everything at least once, right?
I, you know, have worked in different companies, large and small, in different roles.
What it really allows me to see is sort of how things work, what different cultures, where things works, where things doesn't work, and what type of manager I like to work with, what type of team I like to work with, and what things I actually, my interests are, interest me more versus other things, right?
So I know sometimes people tend to sort of stay in one place, and stay in one role for a long time.
It's good, but for me, I personally, I feel like to be able to travel around different states in the United States, be able to try to do different things, really allow me to still be more open-minded, and be empathetic, really, as you said, to some personal experiences, personal journeys, struggles, that I sometimes see in my team.
And the lastly, I think, really is about the engineer manager is, which is, again, it's to empower the people in your team, give them the support, resources, the tools, and whatnot, so they can be successful, right?
I view myself more as a, you know, empowerment person than sort of being, sort of dictating what exactly they want to do, right?
So oftentimes, when I talk to people in my team, it's like, what do you want to work on, right?
What is the definition of success, right?
So give them the freedom, the flexibility, and also provide them sort of guidance, the feedback that I see fit, and identify resources within the company, which is incredibly resourceful, and to help the individual to be successful, whether they want to be IC, whether they're aspiring to be a manager, whatever the choice they want to make with a career.
So really, those three things, you know, I think it's me viewing sort of my job and what sort of prepared me for my job.
I love it. It's amazing. I really like your saying that you make a choice to be a manager, and I think this is so right, like, you know, sometimes people, and push to manage people when they actually not, don't want to, like, they're not ready, you know, like, and I do think it's a real choice, because you're coaching people, you're teaching them, you know, like, you're directing them.
And I agree with mentor, this is something personally, like, you know, once I kind of understood what I want to get out of my career, like, I was like, okay, I need someone to look at, you know, like someone similar to me, potentially, you know, like, and who can give me a broader perspective, right, like, to open up my, you know, because I think what's great and good, and what I really like what you're saying, it's, I guess, you're not all, like, shouldn't be the smartest person in the room, you always have to, like, look for something and involve and, you know, and learn more.
And this one, I guess, would lead my next question, like, obviously, you know, everything you're talking about, sure, it came from your working, you know, experience, but I'm sure this also is something from your, you know, growing up, how you were brought up.
And can you please tell me, and you said, like, you came to the US when you were, you know, like, student, can you tell me your experience and perspective growing up?
Like, you know, where did you grow up?
And how was it like? Yeah, I love this question.
I grew up in a sort of seaside town called Dalian in China. I call it a town, but really, by American standards, it's a huge city with a population of 5 million.
And so it was a modern sized city. And, you know, I was fortunate to, you know, being born to a sort of a middle class family in China, and, you know, received a sort of the traditional Confucius sort of upbringing, and went to school and obviously, in China until sort of the junior year in high school, right.
And, and then I was afforded opportunity to come to America to do the exchange program.
I think it was when I came here, it was a huge culture shock in every single way that you could imagine.
You know, I came here by myself. And that itself was not too terrifying to be at the beginning.
But I think the small challenges such as, you know, the sort of culture barrier, and those things are real, and it was daunting to begin with.
And so I'm looking back, I think I feel, you know, I probably wouldn't make the same choice again, because it was kind of nerve wracking.
And, but you know, it was also was also a good experience in a way where we're sort of really taught me how to be resilient and resourceful.
And some of the things I mentioned, right.
I think compared to, you know, the, you know, the culture between America and China, obviously, they're just fundamentally different in a nine day, right.
Which, you know, I also just making me more, and this is what Matthew says during the beer meeting, Thursday, is that, that diverse background, a diverse experience make you look at problems differently, right?
It's not something you can pretend, it's not something that you just feel like, oh, I want to look at something, look at things differently, you will do that.
Because you actually do understand, appreciate the different human experiences, different human sort of condition, from my own experience, and in contrasting to people either liking me or totally on the opposite side, right.
So I think that's in general, really helped me in sort of managing and dealing with day to day some problems.
I gotta say, I have tons to learn, I have tons to be good at, to be better at it.
And it's still sort of struggle for me really, to be able to overcome some of the challenges that I mentioned, right.
You know, overcoming the stereotypical sort of assumptions people have about you, and to overcome some sort of the barrier that unfortunately is still existing in the society.
But I think, you know, I'm incredibly fortunate to be part of Koffler, to be where I am, and that's I want to pay forward really, right.
So whether it's to, for people in my team already, or to potential candidates who want to join the team at Koffler, I want to really pay forward and sort of tell them my own experiences.
And so hopefully sort of provide a little bit of sort of guidance, so to speak, or advice on potentially things they can sort of hopefully get some useful tips out of and to help their own career.
Yeah, that's amazing. I think, I agree with you, like, you know, having a, you know, a kind of open-mindedness and, you know, like being open to anything really, like doesn't come, you know, just on itself, like it does need to come from somewhere, like your especially personal experience, right, like how you adapt.
And as an immigrant myself, like I understand what you mean, right, like you, it's, you give up so many things to gain so many things, and, you know, like there are personal sacrifices you do, like for your personal success, and it's not always very straightforward, right, like we'll only hear the cool stories about successful careers, right, but how did you get there?
This is another story, right?
Yeah, precisely. And I think, like, what I wanted to ask you, like, I like that you mentioned, like, about, you know, candidates that want to work in Klaffler, and, you know, like I'm trying to get here, but first thing I wanted to ask you, how to find a good mentor, you know, like how to find a person who will not help you to only get to Klaffler, get you anywhere, you know, like to get out of your boundaries, you know, like your personal limits, who will show you this path of possibilities and opportunities.
How did you find yours, and what advice would you give others?
Yeah, terrific question. I often tell people who join my team, identify mentors, right, plural, not just one.
I really think there's a lot value in creating your own sort of mentorship network, and people who you feel comfortable with, people who actually may challenge you, and people who are actually totally different from you.
And this is some of the program I benefited quite a bit from my previous, the companies I worked at.
Beginning, I was very dubious, you know, you know, when I first joined the company, you know, I was just trying to keep my head down, do the work I want to do, and just like, as soon as long as I deliver what I deliver, and then I'm good, right, I'll be fine.
And that's not always the case, right? It's, surprisingly, it's actually almost opposite, right?
Having that kind of mentorship, that people who have been around the company provide different perspective on what actually some sort of maybe perhaps shortcuts that you probably sort of admitted, that can actually help you to deliver your tasks, your projects, or solve problems differently, allows you to bounce some ideas off that may be controversial, maybe you don't actually want to talk to your manager about, or your direct chain of command.
Maybe it just also helps you really navigate what's in Koffler. I know that there are a lot of things in Koffler, there's so much going on in the company, that people probably don't have a documentation or standard operating procedure for you to follow, to be able to talk to a real person, and not only allows you to sort of get a sort of those information that may not be officially documented somewhere, but also really expand your network, right?
So, and also expanded opportunities that you actually will be able to identify, right?
Again, I think, especially this is difficult in pandemic situation, right?
This is, that's why I said, sometimes it's depressing, because I have three people in my team joined after pandemic, and just as you, Alina, like sort of pandemic hire, they totally got a left out from this whole Koffler experience, right?
As much as I sort of would like them to accrue this mentorship, it is very difficult for them, but I'm able to see they are able to achieve their personal goals and success, but this is, I applaud them to be able to do that, but at the same time, I always, just thinking myself, how much more successful can they be if they were able to have the type of experience, be able to talk to folks, be able to make the connections, build a relationship, build a network, seek out mentors.
So, yeah, it's sort of, that's one thing I'm sort of upset about, but I'm looking forward to the day that we can somewhat return to sort of normal, where we can have sort of this, serendipitous conversations that we tend to find when we're in office, and from that, sometimes you can really just find mentors, really, and identify some people you are comfortable with, and sort of, again, bounce ideas off, and have a sort of regular catch-ups, all of that really helps.
Go out for coffees, you know, those kind of things I really miss, and I feel like my team could really use that as well.
We just have a couple of minutes left, but I really, I love that you mentioned this, you know, like, you just put your head down, and like, do what you need to do, right, like, and as we are in APAC Heritage Month, and we're talking about amplifying Asian voices, I think it's, you might agree with me, like, I found myself many times in situations where I was brought up in a way like, just do your work, don't ask questions, be quiet, and do your best, kind of thing, right, like, don't ask for more, you know, like, if you deserve it, you will get it, if not, that's it, and when I came to, you know, to the UK, and I started to work in different environments, it's, I had to push myself to actually speak up, ask questions, and I even, like, I told my, and, you know, like, I have a, like, when I was hired, my manager was Blake Williams, and he helped me a lot in my first few months, because I told him, like, look, I, I'm scared, I'm scared to say something out loud, because I feel like I'm going to be, I will sound stupid or something, and my question to you is, how to get over this, like, you know, how to, can we encourage our future candidates, you know, like, our colleagues of Asian descent to get themselves out there, not to be afraid to be loud as duck in, you know, like, in a meeting.
Yeah, that's a great question, Vincent, how to sort of overcome the, the, the things we're used to, right, I, to answer your question, I guess there are a couple of points, one is encouraging folks like you and me to think a little differently, maybe part of your job is not just to do what you ask, but question more, right, and maybe that those questions, those interactions will help you to be more successful, maybe your manager expects you to ask those questions, and by virtue of asking questions, it will help you to more, get more clarity about your project or tasks, and get more visible in front of your managers about what your struggle is, what you're trying to do, and how you actually drive the solution, right, so part of your, to be successful at your job is to, to ask more questions, is to engage with your managers, is to sort of be more opinionated, and that's all important, right, so, so thinking in this mode of just focusing on what I do, it's not enough, and it's actually, I'll get, give you F for just doing that, right, and this is a concrete example of my team that, you know, people who are stuff in my team, all have this sort of hallmark of being able to push for clarity, being able to push for sort of more, sort of, you know, direction for me, I think that's really important to, to, to, to think about, and to also just sort of, I think for, for managers like us, right, so we, you know, when you, when you, when you have an employee that has an Asian background, sort of be, be aware, sort of be, sort of, empathetic to what the struggles they come, and the other sort of cultures, this package they bring along, so we as managers should also do the extra work, and, you know, put out the extra miles to solicit those voices, so I, I'm not a very extraverted person, to be honest, so, so, you know, sometimes I actually appreciate the side channel conversation with my boss, with my managers, have a safe space where I can voice my concerns, right, so whatever works for you, you, you know, we as a manager, we should think about how to create a safe space to allow, to seek out those voices that would otherwise be drawn out, right, so it's really sort of both ways, but I think, I think this is great that we have this type of conversation, hopefully it'll be, sort of, offer some sort of tips to, to everybody who's sort of on this call, yeah.
I actually have a question from the audience, and it says, great conversation, are there any books or talks that Andrew recommends for people who might not, not have many potential mentors around them?
I don't read books that often, to be honest, I really feel that, I think when I switch career, I, there's a number of books I read about being, how to be a good manager, so Multiplier, which is a very good book I recommend, there's also a book, it's actually on bookshelf, about being a people manager, and how to, you know, I'm an engineer by training, and how to from, leap from engineering to managers, there are, if you go to Amazon, there are a lot of books, I think it's also prepare you, and if you want to sort of aspire to that type of career path.
I, I, I watch a lot of movies, American movies, you know, we're way, it, it's helping me relax, but also help way, to sort of help me understand sort of American culture quite a bit.
What else do I, I can think of? Yeah, I'm not sure if I answered the question, but yeah, I think just sort of really try to have a diverse experience, right, again, don't just do the work that people ask you to do, you know, have, try to have a sort of a network, join the different diversity groups, talk to people, those are all important experience, you really be amazed what you learn from those, and how helpful they are in terms of achieve your personal success.
Thank you so much, this, I think what I, I guess I can recommend people to do is to add you on LinkedIn, if you're from Kaufler, reach out to Andrew, like I enjoyed our conversation so much, and there are so many things I actually wrote down to myself, for myself, and so we have just one, like, you know, one minute left, and I wanted to say that one last thing I wanted to ask you, like, do you have anything to add, you know, like, to share with our audience today, from your perspective, what do you want them to know?
Yeah, thank you for the opportunity, I'm also learning myself, by no means I, you know, I want to, you know, I'm where I want to be, so welcome to reach out, and together we can, we can also learn and grow, so you can find me in Kaufler internal network, but also on LinkedIn, as I was saying, so yeah, so happy to be helpful, if any way I can.
Yeah, and another thing I wanted to say, that we have a lot of openings in Kaufler, so please look at our career page, you know, like LinkedIn, and if you're interested in progressing in engineering, or like, you know, work in Kaufler, yeah, speak to Andrew, if you have any questions about customer success, I'm happy to answer those questions as well, and the last thing I want to say, Andrew, thank you so much about, you know, like, was it, you know, for this conversation, and another thing, like, thank you for bot management, this is something you're like, when I joined Kaufler, bot management then, a year and a half, like, you know, two months ago, was so different to what it's now, and it's like, amazing to see the progression, and that's what kind of, I'm sure this was inspires a lot of us, you know, that the innovation we're doing internally, and like, what we're sharing with the world, and okay, we are wrapping up, and thank you again.
Thank you, Alina, thank you, bye-bye.