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.
Hello and welcome to Between Two Clouds Inside Cloudflare Customer Support. My name is Shane Ossa.
I'm on the customer support team at Cloudflare. And today I have with me Nicolas Gayerie.
Hi, hi Shane. Thanks for having me. Hi Nick. That's Nick.
Nick is shorter. Nick? Full French name. Okay, cool. Well, welcome to the show, Nick.
And for everyone that's watching out there, this show is all about getting to know members of the customer support team at Cloudflare and getting to know what we do, how we do it, what our processes are, the tools we use, really anything.
We like to talk about anything and everything related to customer support and technical support.
And so if you have questions, we'd love to answer them live right now.
There's an email address somewhere down here below me. I can't see it on my Zoom, but you can see it if you're watching Cloudflare TV and you can email that email alias and our helpers will post that question for us on the screen and we'll try to answer them.
And that'd be fun. So ask some questions. So yeah, just to start, I want to give you all just like a little bit of background and then we'll jump in to some conversations with Nick.
So the Cloudflare customer support team is about 120 people distributed globally.
We are 24 seven, follow the sun support.
We support all of our customers and every plan level all day, every day, even on weekends, even on holidays in multiple languages.
And yeah, we're here to resolve all of your problems and we are professional tech support people.
Resolve all of your problems in life. No, just your problems with the Cloudflare network.
And so, yeah, today I have with me Nick. Nick is one of the customer support managers on the team, manages a team of tech support engineers, as he was a tech support engineer first.
And so, yeah, Nick, so it's been a while now.
Like I feel like we've, this date has been on our calendars for a long time coming.
And how long have you been with Cloudflare again? So I joined in April, 2018.
So it's just a bit more than three years. So as you said, I joined in London as a support engineer.
Then after, I think it was after one year, one year, two months or something, I moved to Munich to start the customer support team there.
And I are the first support engineers speaking German and took over the Dach, so the German market.
How's your Deutsch? Well, not great, I'm afraid. So yeah, I've been for a long time in Munich because yeah, I was living in Munich before, but I've always been working for American companies there.
And Munich is very international.
So to be fair, I never really had to use English outside to use German outside.
So you can definitely work and live in Munich just with English.
I think there's a lot of English speakers in Germany. There's a lot of English speakers and a lot of people from all around.
Like Munich, there's a very large French community.
There's people from Eastern Europe, from Southeastern Europe.
Yep. Even like, from all over really, like there's a lot of Asian people, American people.
So you can get to meet, that's one of the great things of Munich.
Like it's a, it's really, I don't think that people realize that.
No, I didn't know that. Right, but it's a melting pot, like with a lot of international companies.
So it's a nice, it's a great place for that. I think the limit of my Munich knowledge like ends at like Oktoberfest.
Okay. I know that, and that's about it.
By unmentioned maybe. Yeah, oh yeah, yeah. That's true. The stock exchange is pretty good, I heard.
Yeah, so yeah. Definitely, that's the main two things in Munich for sure.
Yeah, yeah. So what was your previous experience before coming to Cloudflare?
Well, I started as a sysadmin, like when I started to work in France after the studies, like I was installing laptops and installing Windows stuff and taking off Windows servers, taking care of mail servers, firewalls, this kind of thing.
And then at some point I moved to support when I moved from, because I moved to Sweden at some point and then I had to move to Finland and I was looking for a job in Finland.
So I was looking for an English speaking job or French speaking job in Finland.
And I ended up working as a support engineer for the first time for an antivirus company.
Okay. And so that's how I got my first support experience.
Interesting. And then when I had to move to Munich, it was a bit the same, like I was looking for an English speaking or French speaking job in Germany.
And so same, I found a support engineering job in a SaaS company that we had a digital marketing tool.
Okay. It was kind of the organization of support there, the tool that we were supporting was a bit similar to Cloudflare.
So obviously it was not a CDN, but it was like a SaaS tool.
And so I spent some years there and then I got back to France when my experience in Germany ended.
So I moved back to France for one year and then I have a friend in Cloudflare that told me, yeah, you should join Cloudflare, it's a great company.
So I applied and I moved to London. Right. And you were in the London team for a while, tech support engineer.
And I should say that one of the reasons why you don't have the between two clouds Zoom background is because you're using Linux.
You're one of the special Linux users on the team.
Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't mean that I'm a Linux expert, but I like the opportunity we have to use Linux and not Windows or Mac.
So yeah. So as long as you can use Ubuntu, yeah.
It's interesting. It's one of those things, I think at the company, I don't think the IT team formally or officially supports Linux.
They're not gonna come and help you fix something.
And Linux is very DIY anyway. I think if you're someone who's gonna be using it, that that's part of, but it's not disallowed.
You are allowed to use Linux. I know a lot of the engineers use Linux as well.
No, exactly. And for the tools we are using, like we rely on the web application for Zendesk or the tools we are using for ticketing or the internal web-based tool.
So basically we need a browser, we need a command line, and we're good to go.
So we can use any system really. And so that's one of the great thing, I think that Cloudflare did well from the beginning is to allow this kind of, you don't need much from a laptop or from a computer.
Yeah. You just need a browser and a command line and you're good.
I think there are very few native applications that I am running.
I think I'm using browser for probably 90, it's 90 % of everything.
I'm trying to think, I'm trying to look in my little system tray. I mean, there's Zoom, I guess, there's this, there's Zoom.
Zoom, yeah, maybe. Warp. Yeah, Warp, yeah.
But yeah, it's very few. Like maybe the, you know, do a screen capture of these kind of things and that's all.
Yeah, the screen cap tools, right. Command line and web browsers, yeah.
So I guess it's a good kind of topic to jump into, like, how would, if you were a candidate applying for a tech support job at Cloudflare, would you recommend someone tries out Linux as like practice?
Of course, definitely.
I mean, the more you know about command line tool, like very, something very generic, but I'm not related to Cloudflare, but, you know, Traceroute, MTR, Dig, Curl, this kind of thing.
Like ping, ifconfig, whiz, whatever, anything related to, either troubleshooting, like see if there's a network connectivity, or even something like trouble, you know, get some informations, like Dig to get some name servers informations, or DNS related information.
Curl, we use Curl a lot, like to check the headers, check what is the, what are the responses that we get from either Cloudflare or web servers.
Yeah. So if you're familiar with command line, of course it helps, for sure.
Because it also means like, if you're familiar with command line, it means that you have, you know, an understanding on how things works.
And the more you know, the better, of course, technically.
So that's one of the great things at Cloudflare. There's no limit in the technical depth that you can know.
Right. We can use any kind of level. Like if you, we have some simple tickets, that's what you need, just need to connect the dots based on the knowledge base, but we have some very complex issues from even small customers and the biggest customers.
And so the more technical knowledge you have, the more comfortable you are with any kind of technical tools, the better.
Especially if you think of the latest features, like Magic Transit or the network-created features.
Yeah. So yeah, if you're out there and you're watching this and you want to be a tech support engineer at Cloudflare, go out there and sign up for some Bash scripting and just the Bash command shell and curl.
There's so much online material on those tools and you definitely will have an advantage versus someone who doesn't have that knowledge.
We do train on that stuff a lot internally and I'm heavily involved in the training of tech support engineers, but it's great when someone has already practiced those things.
Obviously, as you said, like your team is great for that, like to give the initial training.
We do a lot of face-to-face training session when you start, shadowing session, so you see how the support engineers are working and you get to learn a lot.
I mean, I was not familiar myself with most of the tools that we are using right now.
Like I spent like 15 years and I was not familiar with curl as I am right now.
And so, but yeah, the idea is the more you know, the better, the more easy it will be for you, but we are there and if you are willing to learn, if you are curious, that's maybe the most important actually, rather than how much you know technically and stuff.
If you are willing to get your hands dirty, install things, check the manual page for curl or manual page for whatever command and check the helps and experiments yourself, that's even better.
Yeah, yeah. We have people who have come with tons of experience and have struggled and we've people who come with less experience, but a lot of drive to learn and curiosity, like you said, who have excelled, right?
So, I mean, it really helps to have experience, but it's not everything, right?
Of course, of course.
And yeah, as you said, like we have some people and I have some people in my team that do not come from a technical background.
And so most of the thing, like what is a CDN?
What is a web server? How do you run a traceroute? All these kind of things, they have no idea about it, but thanks to our training program, thanks to their capacity in learning and be out there and ask people and experiment and things, they are doing amazingly well, which is great.
And that's exactly what we're looking for, so.
Yeah, yeah. I would advocate for anyone out there right now to go through the experience of installing a web server from scratch, right?
Not using one of the website building tools, but actually get a server on one of the cloud platforms that are out there.
I'm not gonna endorse any in particular. Use whichever one, follow the documentation, install a LAMP stack, right?
Or even NGINX.
It could be any of the web servers out there. And I think that's, we are actually lucky to work in this industry where if you want to start, if you want to learn, if you want to start somewhere, just Google it and start, and everything is out there.
Everything that you need is out there. You know, there's documentation, as you said, some hosting providers have amazing documentation on how to install Linux and start to install WordPress, whatever.
Yeah. It's all out there.
Like, you know, it's, if you're able to learn from that, if you're able to make sense of this, then we definitely want to talk to you.
That's been an interesting challenge for us.
And I know, you know, you've been here since, did you say 2018?
And it feels like it's been a long time. I've been here since 2017. I guess it's only four short years, but so much has changed.
We have so many more products now.
We have a lot more employees. We have a lot more customers. It's been a really fun, difficult, challenging, interesting journey to figure out how to scale up a support team from 20 people to 120, you know, from supporting 20 features to supporting a hundred features, from supporting, you know, a couple thousand customers to, you know, tens of thousands of customers.
And one of the things that I've noticed, you've been pretty active in, and this is sort of related to your, you know, what you were talking about with, hey, everything is out there, right?
If you want to know how, if you want to learn how to install a web server, Google it.
But I've noticed you've been really active in our documentation, you know, challenges or documentation journey to try to, you know, take some of the knowledge that we have internally at Cloudflare and publish it so that the customers, it seems like, it seems obvious.
It seems like, oh yeah, that goes without saying, but doing that is more challenging than it seems, you know?
It takes a lot of effort.
Like it takes a mindset to, you know, think always about making sure that anything is documented.
Yeah. And it's critical. Like there's no other way, like, especially as you said, like as we are growing and stuff.
And so for example, in Europe, we used to be all in London in the same room.
So it was very easy to, you know, just ask the person sitting next to you and you will most likely get an answer or they will tell you like where to search and stuff.
Now we have four free locations in Europe.
Yeah. So it's all online. And because of the pandemic, we've been working remote.
So we have to make sure and we have to really pay attention to that and make sure that we make the effort to document as much as possible.
So make sure that if something, if there's an edge case that we found working on a support ticket, Yeah.
make sure it gets documented somewhere, whether it's updating the public documentation, whether it's making sure that we have a public key before that, or maybe it's something internal that, you know, we cannot share.
So make sure that the internal documentation is updated. And yeah, that's definitely something really important.
And, you know, we are running some efforts to try to even, you know, go to the next step, like formalize that even more.
And yeah, it's a key for us to grow. Like maybe next year, we're gonna be double the amount or in three years, you know, three times.
And so, yeah, most likely it will never stop.
So we need to prepare for that. And we need to, yeah, we need to scale.
And that's definitely the challenge because it's the same, like as you were mentioning, the company is not stopping.
Like Cloudflare is not to ship a lot, and which is great.
Like I love to work for Cloudflare for that. Like it's really interesting.
There's always something new. But as a support person, it's the biggest challenge that we have.
Like every month there's a new feature and even for existing features, there's new things coming all along.
And it's great, but it's challenging.
It's a challenge. It's a challenge to keep up with all the change.
I like to tell people, stay flexible and expect change. Yes, and you're right.
It's very true. Yeah, to sort of double click on what you were mentioning is, as a customer support organization, we're exploring implementing knowledge centered support, also known as KCS, which is a sort of formal methodology and approach and a process for creating documentation and maintaining documentation.
I think we've done a pretty darn good job of it so far, as like we do have processes in place, like formal written processes, but they're not necessarily the KCS methodology.
So we've had it in our culture to, hey, if you notice something is out of date, flag it, create a ticket, help us fix that.
We had a content team that we hired and we had technical writers that migrated from the customer support organization to the product team.
It made more sense for them to become the product content experience team.
We work really closely with them to create and maintain support facing, customer facing documentation, most of which is located on support.Cloudflare .com, which we refer to as the knowledge base or KB for short.
But as you mentioned, Nick, and this is a good problem to have, we're adding more and more customers, thousands of domains per day are getting onboarded to Cloudflare and we have 120 support people.
So we're not adding thousands of support people.
Yes, we're hiring. Hey, go and apply for one of our jobs on Cloudflare.com slash careers.
We'd love to have you and we'd love to interview, but we're not gonna hire as fast as we onboard new domains, right?
So the answer is for customers to have great content that solves their own problem.
This is an industry standard, but it's something that we're gonna invest and we are investing more resources in.
Yeah, I mean, we need customers or people using the platform to be able to find the information, to find some solutions for their issues.
And we need to get better at that, like the self-service to our contents and our solution of self-service for the customers so that they can search and find the content that is relevant to them, whether it's documentation, whether it's knowledge-based, whether maybe you can use the community where there's a lot of content also and where you can find help.
And yeah, it's definitely a change for us.
And I think it's up to everyone, every single one of us in the support organization.
We need to be mindful about that. We need to, yes, make sure that the content is up to date, that the content is relevant.
But if something is missing, we flag it and we get the content team, as you mentioned, but some other people from the support organization also have the capacity to publish some content.
So we need to make sure that the content out there is alive, if you will, that it's relevant at any time, up to date at any time.
And in a world where Cloudflare is constantly shipping new features and updates to features and features of the features, it's a really fun and interesting challenge to try to know where all of your content is on each of those features and make sure when there is a change that that change gets cascaded to all of the places that we have things documented.
For sure. And another challenge I think that we face is that the feature offering from Cloudflare is very rich.
So there's like thousands of configurations, possibilities, and the way of using Cloudflare can be very different from one customer to another.
So it's really hard to have like the perfect documentation for every single use case that is out there.
So it's also up to us to try to, you know, try to be mindful about that also and see if there are specific use case that we have a tutorial for that or that we have a specific article for that.
And that's also a challenge. Yeah. You can see that people are using Cloudflare so in a different ways.
And it's another challenge, but it's a good challenge to have because it's interesting, makes the work interesting.
Like there's no routine, like in Cloudflare, like you get every day, I guess you get, and I have no idea.
So I need to search and to see what's there. I need to see what is the specific feature.
I need to see how the customer is actually using it.
Investigate, search the content. Yeah. And come up with an answer. That's great.
Yeah. In the training industry, you know, the training world, it's all about this documented knowledge, right?
And we can train someone on something, but we don't know if they'll remember what you told them.
So you have to refer back to some sort of source of truth.
And I see you're very active. We're both very active in this area because it's one thing to solve one customer's problem once.
But now we need to solve that for the next 10 customers that are writing about the same problem or for the next 10 support engineers that are gonna search for that same answer that you found, right?
So you're actually solving more problems by trying to drive this improvement to the knowledge, right?
And what I always think when I try to put an article in the KB or not in the KB, but more in the wiki, like some internal content for specific use case.
Yeah. It's actually, it's for me that I'm doing that because maybe in six months, I will completely forget about that, but I know that it's out there in the wiki and I just have to search and I would find the answer that I've created.
Yeah. And so I'm thinking about the future me that will struggling with the same thing again.
And so I make sure that, yeah, I can help myself.
And yeah. I think the answer too is, and part of this is KCS, but is to distribute this workload, right?
We, it's nice to have, I think things need to have owners in general, right?
Like things need to be, when things get owned by committee, like sometimes they don't get done, don't get done for a long time or don't get done enough, but you can't run all of this content, update and maintenance work through a single person or even a single small team.
Like it has to be distributed, especially as we get more expertise and specialization on the team.
Like you mentioned Cloudflare's product line is very rich.
It's more and more. Now with Cloudflare for Teams, we're jumping into with the warp client, we're jumping into a whole different realm where we're actually, instead of dealing with like a, like we said, browser-based web applications and troubleshooting why an HTTP requests didn't get through or maybe on a lower layer, why the packets were dropped.
What now we're looking at more of like an IT traditional, like why didn't this application, native application install properly on someone's Windows XP.
Gosh, no, hopefully no one's running XP, but something like that, right?
And so we have people now that we're specialized, we're specializing some people in that, we're specializing other people in, like I said, the lower network, layer three, layer four, you mentioned Magic Transit, and we're specializing other people in the firewall and how to block attacks and other people in how to optimize a website's performance.
And these, we all have to know a little bit of everything here, and that's fun too.
That's kind of the generalist approach.
And then on top of that baseline understanding of our core features and services, now we have to specialize.
And now with specialization, we can say, hey, those specialists are responsible for helping to maintain the whole gamut of knowledge that's documented in that area, right?
Yeah, I mean, the specialization for me, it's a key also, that's the key to the future of the support team, like that's something that we've been doing.
I mean, we started that, what, six months ago, and we're ready to start specializing people in different areas.
And I think it's a great initiative. I think it's working very, very good.
And especially, as you said, like we get people that are dealing with more tickets from their specialty, and they can become more experts in this area.
And yes, definitely, we need them.
We need everyone to be involved in updating content, creating content, making sure that everything's up to date, which is a bit daunting.
Like when you've been at Torfair for six months, you consider yourself as quite young in the team, but no, you're not.
Like if you've been there six months, most likely you know how the Torfair is working.
You know you are specialized in your area, whether it's network security or CDN.
And so, yeah, people need to understand that they have the power.
They need to feel empowered to make sure that they update the content, make sure that everything is updated and everything is up to date.
And I would put the call out to other teams at Cloudflare to get involved in this as well.
I would love to see more collaboration from the customer support team and our amazing success team, solutions engineers, product team, engineers actually building these features.
All of it, I mean, in some ways, there should be a central place where everyone who has expertise on a particular product can trade information and help each other learn.
And then like, that it's not, hey, just the CISO team notices that something's out of date, needs to be updated, that this is like distributed around the whole company and maybe there's an opportunity for...
I know that there's been some initiatives to get the success and solutions and support teams SMEs in line.
We call them our SME pods. I think this is working well, like on very specific, like the most technically challenging features like Magic Translate or...
Yeah. Yes, there is the SMEs from CISO, from the solution engineering team are working close together.
And I think that's great, so definitely.
Yeah, and I mean, for those of you out there watching, it's, you know, we're not reinventing the wheel here.
These are things that are done at other, you know, big SaaS companies around the world and we're implementing, we're innovating new processes and tools using cool tools as well.
But, you know, this is a challenge.
It's a challenge for a business that grows, you know, 50% year over year in both customers and revenue and employee headcount to figure out how are we gonna get experts across a 2000 person org that last year was 1500 to collaborate on a shared, you know, on a shared goal.
It's really kind of fun and challenging, you know.
Exactly. And the pace at which we are doing that is definitely the main challenge.
And I think that's why it's great that we organize ourselves to be ready for that and to have like solid foundation to be able to build on top of that.
And I think what you did with the training team was amazing. Like having a proper training team, with, you know, some people that, you know, onboard over support engineers.
Yeah. Make sure that the content is there, like e-learning content, content in the key.
And yeah, that's so useful. And so for us as team leads, like, you know, when we onboard someone, we don't have to do everything.
Like as your team is taking care of them, making sure that they are progressing for the program.
Yeah, that's great. Yeah, so for those of you out there watching, we have a training team that I manage, a whole training program.
It's really mainly geared for new hires.
We definitely continue to upskill and develop people's skills throughout our whole career at Cloudflare.
But I have to give a shout out to Ada who, you know, four years ago had sort of the foresight to invest in training and bring on a training, you know, manager like myself to figure out, because he had this experience I think before from running other large customer support organizations that, you know, when you're growing, you need to invest in training and developing your people quickly.
We call it, you know, time to proficiency or time to productivity.
How long does it take to get someone who's a new hire to being a contributing, productive member of the team?
And if we can do that really quickly, we can handle things like retention or, you know, turnover, because people stay on the support team for like, you know, two or three years, four years, and sometimes then they go to another team like product or solutions.
And it's great. We have people all over the company, but if we have a good, robust, you know, effective training program, we can weather those types of challenges, you know.
No, that's definitely critical. And yeah, that's something I've been trying to implement in some previous companies I worked for.
And it was always complicated because, yeah, there was no really will to do that or- Yeah.
People are busy with other things. I was busy with the thing myself. And so I was really glad- Yeah, yeah.
Yes, there is a training team, there is Shane trying that, and his job is to build the training program that supports everyone.
Yeah. Well, cool. I can't believe our 30 minutes are almost up here. It's always- It was so fast.
Thanks for coming on the show, Nick. No, no problem. Thanks for having me.
It's always fun to talk about all that. And yeah. Yeah, it's fun to get to have a conversation with you that's just kind of open-ended.
Normally we're working together and at any given day, we're like, what are we going to do?
We've got this situation, this product, this customer.
Yeah. How are we going to deal?
So it's nice to just kind of wax philosophical a little bit. Yeah, it's good to look back at what we're doing, what is working well.
Yeah. Great, Nick. Thanks for your time.
Thanks for watching everyone out there, Between Two Clouds. Tune in in a couple of weeks for our next installation of the show and enjoy the next Cloudflare TV segment on up next.