Between Two Clouds - A Look Inside Cloudflare Support
Inside Cloudflare Support explores the people and processes behind Cloudflare's Customer Support team and service. Each segment will include a discussion with a different Customer Support professional on their experiences and their take on the effort to support Cloudflare's customers and products.
This week's guest is Justin Wong, Product Specialist.
Hello and welcome to Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Customer Support Cloudflare TV segment.
My name is Shane Ossa. I'll be your host today. And this is a show where we get to know members of the customer support team and what it is that we do.
Today, I have with me my friend and colleague, Justin Wong. Hi, Justin. Hi, Shane.
Hi, everyone. And I just want to have a quick disclaimer. My tooth got chipped.
It's been chipped before and I'm getting it fixed tomorrow. So this is the Shane with the chipped tooth episode.
And Justin, of course, has his amazing, you know, gateway, Cloudflare gateway piece.
Yeah, this is the this is the Cloudflare gateway right here.
You can put Argo tunnels behind it. You can do what you want with it.
Helps to protect yourself from the main Internet. It's just a hardwood panel, but it's beautiful.
Beautiful. And your plan. I'm appreciating that, too.
My background is on brand this segment, which is called Between Two Clouds, which is sort of a play on the Zach Galifianakis Between Two Ferns, although this is a lot less sarcastic.
And it is still fun, though. So let's just get going.
Hey, Justin, how's it going? Many of you don't really know. Maybe out there, the people that do know us at Cloudflare, maybe they don't know that Justin and I have known each other for a heck of a long time.
How long do you think it is now, Justin, doing the math, doing the math?
It's like 18 years, I think, at least quick.
Yeah, the quick carry the one and divide by two. And, you know, like that. That's right.
So Justin, I have both San Francisco natives. We are both based in the San Francisco Cloudflare office and we both grew up together, went to the same middle school and high school and then even college.
So those are fun times. So, Justin, just to start, what are we going to say?
28 years. I forgot to carry the one.
I think it's 28 years. It's a good while. Yeah. Yeah. A long time to get to know somebody and how they work and be able to be a successful co-worker with you, but also be a great friend outside of work.
So, yeah. Yes, I think it's important.
So I was going to say, tell me, how do we get from how do you get from setting up lands in our bedrooms to play Doom in the 90s to troubleshooting, you know, multimillion dollar enterprise SAS, you know, problems for Cloudflare.
What's your where's your journey?
And it's been interesting journey. I think the main quality of that journey is really the curiosity that comes along the way.
How does this work?
You know, trying to set up two computers to talk to each other. What's not working?
Why? Why can't I see the public Internet, but I can't see your computer in the same room next to each other.
What's going on? Right. How do we how do we figure that out?
And, you know, pulling back the layers, using all the means we have to kind of figure out the next step.
And and that that curiosity has led me to several things down in life.
I went to college. I studied under a landscape architecture degree because I was very curious about plants.
And it it gave me the sense that I can I can take care of and curate something or make something out of my own creativity.
Like if I wanted to design a backyard, I can implement these things and have it grow and be something in 10 years.
And I didn't get the same satisfaction I did when I was in.
My tech and one of the things I did was take a big leap of faith and I attended boot camp back in 2016 to get a web developing certificate as it were.
I was so curious about how the Web worked. I needed to go back to.
Implementing it myself, I wanted to be creative. I had this creative outlet where I want to build things, make things for people, for myself and and see how they can.
Grow in 10 years, etc. So, yeah, took that journey was a leap of faith.
It ended up working out for me very well. I was grateful for that experience, but that was the thing that I needed.
I needed that technical bootstrap to allow me to find my way to Cloudflare.
And I think one of the reasons one of the very compelling reasons I applied for a role at Cloudflare is it's that next step.
It's not just web development on a server. Cloudflare offers so many disparate products across the full stack of the Internet that you can learn one technology and grow in it and still not have any clue what's going on on something directly next to you.
And I love that. I love being curious. I love learning about all the technologies that we're implementing to make this Internet thing so much better for everyone.
And so I'm just so grateful to be here because I feel like this is a great place for me to continue that curiosity.
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
And you've been an amazing part of the team. I think you just joined about a year after I did.
And I mean, at this point, it's been another at least three years since then.
So we've gotten a lot done and a lot has changed in this last few years.
And I remember when you were going through the coding bootcamp or had you finished and you were like, we were talking about what I was doing with Cloudflare.
You were telling me what you were doing. And I was like, oh, man, you would be you'd be great for this.
And you applied. I didn't do anything. And you just aced everything on your own.
I was recused myself from the process. And now you've done the tech support engineer role for several years and you've transitioned to a new role on the team.
You want to talk a little bit about this sort of next kind of leap in your in your development and growth within the company?
So I started as a technical support engineer in the beginning of 2018. So I've been doing that for about three years.
And most of that entails learning about all of our products, being able to support all of the customers that come in with their varying questions.
We scaled up to the point where we had to implement a. A ticketing system that allowed for us to be subject matter experts in a single or in a variety of fields, but not everything.
There's so many products specialization.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I recently took on a new role called a product specialist.
And what I am is effectively a product manager for being able to.
Communicate all of the product changes that are coming down from all of the product managers to cease to our support, customer support, see stuff.
While also taking all of the.
Tickets and problems and issues that we have from our customer base and delivering that feedback back to our product managers so that they can either implement change or direct the product to be more supportable and and towards the goal of the business.
And so it's this. I'm effectively a liaison in this two way street of communication.
Yeah. Which is so important, right? Because customer support, we're handling customer issues all day.
And we have super talented troubleshooters, tech support engineers, busy all day, deep diving, solving problems.
And then we also need people to look at all the data of those types of problems that we're seeing and help the product and engineering organizations sort of with their road mapping and their prioritization around what features should be built next or what bugs should be fixed first and those types of things.
And we are the eyes and ears of Cloudflare in many ways. And then the product specialists are the mouth, I guess, that communicates what the eyes and ears are seeing and hearing to to the rest of the company.
And then it's sort of like you mentioned two ways.
There's so many changes and releases and launches and Cloudflare is just very rapid in its innovation.
And that's an interesting challenge for the support team.
Right. Which are we have to be knowledgeable enough to support all of these products.
And I'm glad you brought up specialization.
People that have watched this show in the past know that we usually spend at least one minute talking about how big an impact skills-based routing has been for our team.
Those of you that are in customer support organizations around the world, you know this pain.
You get to a certain point of scale, especially with a lot of different products, where it becomes very difficult to say to a support engineer or the trainer, which is what I do, and say, this person needs to know everything about everything.
And you say to the learner, hey, you need to know everything about everything.
And that's difficult and it's not ideal for the customer experience necessarily, too.
So we totally started moving towards specialization.
We have SMEs and different product lines and product areas and sort of high level technologies.
And the product specialists work closely with these SMEs who are technical support engineers as well.
So there's some interesting overlaps in this Venn diagram.
And this is still a relatively new, you know, setup for us.
Right. We're still sort of getting going on how. What have you learned so far?
There is a lot of learning. Well, there's a lot of overlap as well, both with your team, the training team.
As a new product gets rolled out, we have to make sure that there are adequate trainings developed so that support can be successful at covering those products.
But also with our technical writers who are constantly updating external knowledge base articles.
The product and design team.
There's so many different. It's not just a Venn diagram. I mean, it's not a two circle Venn diagram.
It's like maybe six or seven that are overlapping in different areas.
And it's kind of fun to navigate where all of that responsibility lies.
And we're organically kind of discovering that as we go. And what really helps is the speed at which we're innovating.
I mean, we are developing products at breakneck speed, which gives us ample opportunity and ample time to make sure we get a process right or that we release.
Right now, we're in the middle of speed week and there are some really interesting products that we have released and are releasing that I'm not sure.
I can't predict how many tickets we're going to get.
But once we start to see where those pain points are, then we can develop better articles, then we can implement training.
Yeah. And so, yeah. And then then, of course, that's where all the collaboration comes, where all of those overlaps meet in that Venn diagram.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I feel like some of this can be sort of boiled down to the age old problem of siloing.
Right. In general and busting down silos and spreading the knowledge that there is ultimately down to the customer, ideally first.
And I'm so glad you sort of brought up content and knowledge management.
Right. And that being sort of part of the product specialist gig and SME gig as people who are experts in a particular product or feature or area of Cloudflare.
Validating content, what's useful, what's accurate, what does the customer need to know, what is secret sauce that the customer can't know that the support engineer needs to know.
Right. The back end code proprietary IP stuff.
Right. Obviously, we can't share it all. I think Cloudflare does amazingly well to share an incredible amount of information on how things work here in general.
But yeah, so that's a big part of all of our jobs as well. Even the tech support engineer, all of us are content contributors.
All of us are what some people refer to as knowledge workers.
Right. Sort of using our knowledge, our learned knowledge and helping ultimately helping to resolve customer issues and help them figure out how to use the Cloudflare platform on their unique use cases of which there seem to be infinite combinations.
I think there's a very underrated area for where customers can get knowledge.
I think when someone goes to look for support, they'll immediately hit up the knowledge base articles or developer docs, which are very well curated.
But I think one of the most underrated spaces where you can glean some really neat technical oversight is our blog.
And our blog is written by tons of PMs, tons of engineers, our chief technological officer has done some really incredible stuff.
And some of those things allude to that secret sauce or explain a system or how a product works as an overview.
And so you might not have the exact nugget of information that you need from a KB article, but if you read the blog, there might be some sort of like diagram or like explanatory element that helps you get the whole picture of what is the issue that you're having.
And I think there's a lot of value that can be found from just checking that out.
Absolutely. And here's another case for specialization.
I mean, this week alone, there's going to be at least, what, eight blog posts, maybe a dozen.
And I'm sorry out there, anybody from Cloudflare that is watching that I don't know exactly how many blog posts.
But that's the case for specialization is because if you actually set about to read every single blog post at Cloudflare, that's a lot of reading.
And I do as much as I can, just mostly because I find it extremely fascinating and I want to know what's going on.
But we have to, at some point, operationally, we have to say, okay, I can't be an expert at everything.
I can't know everything that's going on because there's so much going on. This is great.
So you start learning about this and I'll start learning about that. And then we'll share with each other what we both think we really need to know.
But you'll be my filter and contextualize things for me.
And that's the way we divide and conquer, quite simply.
I counted 22. 22 blog posts going out this week.
So imagine saying to the tech support engineer, hey, you got to read 22 blog posts and solve the problems that are coming in.
So that's a great call out.
I think another thing I'd like to sort of point out as a place for people to learn more, both internal Cloudflare people and Cloudflare customers, but general public, is the community forums.
And a shout out to our MVPs in there who are Cloudflare power users in there helping other Cloudflare users all the time, every day.
We're always super impressed with the work they're doing in there.
And this is really a wealth of knowledge and information. I think there's other Cloudflare TV segments specifically about the community and how awesome it is.
But that's really the way forward for us is to have people, our own Cloudflare users, of which there are thousands and thousands, helping each other with their issues, pointing each other to knowledge-based articles, to dev docs, to places that we do have a formal, official, formatted and copy-edited content that will help you.
But if you have a weird use case and you are trying something new and innovative yourself, or if you're encountering some strange problem or error that you can't seem to find information about online on our knowledge base, before you open a support ticket, I would say go ahead and check to see if someone in the community has already encountered that problem.
And you'd be surprised.
A lot of other people have, and they're in there talking about how to fix them.
And then every now and then, one of our MVPs or a support engineer or a product specialist or a product manager or an engineer will come in and validate that and be like, yep, oh yeah, and we see that bug and we're working on it here and we'll have that fixed.
Or, oh yeah, that's coming next quarter.
We've got it on our roadmap and we're going to have that feature here. Yeah, 100% agree.
I think the wealth of knowledge that we can get in that platform is just, it's beautiful.
There's so many people and our customers from disparate organizations and companies that have incredible perspective and years of understanding and work history to be able to back up what they're doing.
I've only been in this industry for about six years now, but there are people who have been doing this for 20 who say, yes, this is exactly how this product should work.
This is the expectation.
What you forgot to do is check this one box and it will be flawless.
I love being able to glean knowledge from all of the people in our community.
It's fantastic. Yeah. I like to talk about sometimes with people on the show, what did we used to do?
What are we doing now? What are we going to be doing in the future?
Maybe what's your take on when both of us started, the company was around 400 or so, right?
And we're under 500 or something like that. And we've gone to 2,200 and lots more products and features, lots more customers.
And the next four years will take us maybe from 400 to 5 or 2,000 plus to another four times that size, right?
So 6,000, 8,000 employees and the same amount of customer growth and product and feature complexity.
As a product specialist, as someone who sort of, and a tech support engineer, right?
And someone who's seen our growth firsthand, like, you know, what's your sort of take on some things we could be doing in the future or some things that we're doing now that are successful?
I wouldn't be surprised.
I mean, like, yeah, that what a wondrous thing to think about. I hope we're that successful in the next several years.
I could only hope for that kind of growth.
But the way that we have adapted to our scale now makes me look forward to the fact that we might even have distinct, like large distinct support teams specializing in whole swaths of areas.
You know, and I can't, unless there's a better way of managing a whole organization with hundreds of products, I think that might have to be an eventuality.
One of the cool products we, or support products we just released is the SOC.
Right. Or the, yeah, the, exactly.
Security operations. Security operations. Yeah. Right. And so for the ability to actively monitor a customer's traffic.
Right now we're starting out with, there's a few agents now, it's going to get to the point where we know that cyber attacks are constantly going up the complexity of them, whether it's, you know, DOS or IoT issues or like wherever the spaces that an attack is going.
There's always going to be a need for people who can help fight against that.
And, you know, we're going from a team of maybe a handful of SOC engineers to possibly a need for 20 global.
Yeah. You know, with five on shift all the time, and five more as escalation points.
Yeah. Outside of that, then you've got, you know, our whole, maybe there's like a whole team dedicated to account management, a whole team dedicated to workers, a whole team dedicated to our magic transit product.
Yeah. And it's, I think the skills based routing for tickets that we currently have is just going to have to evolve to the next iteration.
Yeah, and that's not uncommon I think for organizations that, you know, in our, of our type to go down the route where you have network engineers and security engineers, and so on.
Right. And those orgs are distinct. I think there's been some advantage to having a certain amount of generalization, general skill sets.
It's, it's enabled us to be very versatile. Of course, Cloudflare's products are really interact with each other.
You can't, you know, just do, you know, security without understanding DNS without understanding where the SSL handshakes.
You have to have a certain awareness of the core. So what we call like the core concepts.
And then from there, yeah, we can have completely distinct teams with distinct managers and distinct escalation paths.
We do have tiers at Cloudflare.
It's not formal, we don't publish that externally that's, hey, go to tier two or request tier two, but it's common knowledge that we have an escalation team that handles the escalations between the tech support engineers and the actual Cloudflare engineers.
And I spoke about that two weeks ago with our colleague Garrett who manages that team.
And, you know, and that's another thing that support organizations have.
So, yeah, I could see us kind of going down that path and it being interesting to see, you know, how we can sort of remember that silo thing we referenced earlier, right?
How not to build too big, too tall silos, right?
But also operationally set ourselves up for success, right?
And ultimately the best customer experience. If we can get, you know, your issue in the best person to solve that issue's hands, then that's a win for everybody.
You have to have a certain amount of scale to be able to pull that off, I think.
And I think that's a great call out by you there over the next few years that we continue to see some development in that area.
What would you say to someone if they're a candidate watching this going, oh, wow, I wonder, should I work at Cloudflare?
I wonder if I should apply for a job as a tech support engineer?
What sort of advice would you give them, you know? So, absolutely.
First of all, apply. Always apply. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, right?
And you never know if this is your next big opportunity. I would say it's definitely changed my life.
I would say go ahead and apply. Things you're going to want to bring or demonstrate are your passion and your curiosity.
Showcase, you know, what you know about your modern tech stack. Show us some projects that you've done to help solve problems in your life or in your friends' lives.
You know, I think that aspect of growth mindset is really valued here.
We've hired some incredible people from many different walks of life who have demonstrated this and have gone on to be very successful.
Yeah. And we're building a diverse and inclusive team.
I mean, that's a high priority within Cloudflare. We're being proactive with our efforts to make sure that we're hiring diverse people from all backgrounds.
And that makes us a stronger team. It gives us a stronger product.
So, don't be watching this and think, I can't apply. I don't have what it takes.
I don't have the right qualifications or, you know, get out there and learn and build a web server or get a free domain from one of the free domains that start there.
And build a free website, even with, you know, one of the free websites.
I'm not even going to drop any games, but you know, the free website builders that are out there.
Start there and play with the DNS settings and build something, you know, even simple.
It doesn't have to do anything fancy. Just mess around on the Internet and break.
Things are naturally going to break because that's how it works.
And then you'll fix them. And that's what we're looking for, right?
And Justin mentioned the blog. Check out our blog. There's some cool stuff in there.
Anything else you want to say? Yeah, actually. So, I also feel there's quite the opposite argument.
If you're already in an engineering role or a senior engineer role at another company and you feel like maybe applying to Cloudflare on the support team is maybe a lateral move or even a step down, apply anyway.
We've hired candidates with PhDs on the support team and they're adding so much value to our products and our company.
There have been people who have been hired onto the support team who, after a few years, have moved on to different organizations or teams and are delivering on DNS.
They're delivering on the SSL crypto team.
We've got people who are running in upper management. I mean, it is a way to get your foot in the door, certainly, but your technical knowledge and your years of expertise are valued here and we are going to recognize that and we're going to see you do very successfully here.
That's right. That's such a good call out.
I mean, we have massive growth opportunities within the customer support work and I think we need to sort of change the industry mindset that customer support is just a stop on a station to, hey, maybe this is a whole city I'm going to get out and explore for several years and live in it, right?
Because we've got some really interesting problems to solve.
I mean, shout out to our support operations team, SOPS.
These are programmers building our tools and automations, machine learning.
I mean, really interesting problems that we're solving every day within support that have a massive impact, massive data sets to analyze and figure out some cool natural language processing.
There's a lot of interesting problems within support as well.
And you get to work on a lot of different things, but we have product specialists.
We've got trainers like my team interested in helping people grow.
We have managers, of course, if you're the type of person who wants to manage people and if that's the track you're on.
We have engineers and programmers on the SOPS team.
Who am I forgetting? We've got escalation engineers who are like SRE or network type folks.
We've got content editors.
We've got tons of tons of tons of diversity. There's something for everyone just on this team, let alone all of the rest of the teams.
And people have gone to the success team, to the solutions team, to the product team, to engineering teams, and you name it.
So we've got a great footprint. And so, yeah, I would encourage anybody out there, if you're thinking about it, feel like you're overqualified, feel like you're underqualified, come to us.
We're hiring right now. Cloudflare.com slash careers, check us out.
And yeah, so Justin, any sort of final thoughts? I think we've got to wrap it up pretty soon, but it's been super nice to talk to you, as always.
You know, I have loved working at Cloudflare. I love the journey that I've had and the people that I work with.
It is giving me challenges every day. It's the best thing that I've done for myself in my life and for those around me.
Thank you so much for having me, Shane.
I'm really glad that you're doing this segment to bring the support team to the front.
Yep. We're coming in every day, you know, 24-7.
We have shifts of people solving, you know, never stop, holidays, weekends. There's always a Cloudflare tech support engineer working, ready to answer a phone call, ready to help someone with their emergency.
Shout out to the tech support team at Cloudflare for working extremely hard and being just curious learners.
So if you're out there watching this segment, thanks for watching Between Two Clouds.
Again, my name is Shane, and my guest today was Justin.
Hopefully you enjoyed our little chat about customer support, and I would love you tuned in again in a couple weeks.
We will have a new guest, and I hope you're enjoying your Cloudflare TV segment next.
Next time, feel free to submit your questions. We have a little email down here.
We love to answer questions live. We didn't get any today, I forgot to mention, but next week I'll be a better host and see if we got anything.
So thanks, Justin, for coming on.
It was really fun. Yes, thank you, and thank everyone.
All right. Happy Cloudflare TV. See you all next week.