Dial Up Motive
Human-interest segment asking Cloudflare employees what their first Internet experience was and how it informed them joining Cloudflare. Dial-up modems, bulletin boards, punch-cards, Twitch, Twitter and more.
This week's guest: Alex Moraru
Good morning, afternoon, and good evening, everyone. Welcome to episode 13 of Dial Up Motive.
This is where we explore the early Internet and early technology histories of Cloudflare employees.
We jump into IRC, ICQ, bulletin boards, early email, and with me today is Alexandra Moraru, a delivery manager here at Cloudflare.
Alexandra, welcome to the show.
Hi, Dan. It's really exciting to be here. Thanks for having me.
Well, thank you for attending and look forward to diving into your early Internet stories.
If you wouldn't mind, would you kind of give a quick introduction on who you are, how long you've been at Cloudflare, and what work are you doing?
Yeah, definitely. So as you said, I'm a delivery manager here at Cloudflare.
I've actually joined fairly recently, about five months ago. And the nature of my work is to facilitate delivery of the Cloudflare products to our users.
And to do that, I work closely particularly with the engineering and the product teams in order to really prioritize, understand what we want to deliver, what's important for our users, and how can we evolve our technology.
That also includes obviously working across teams within engineering and product, but also with other business stakeholders.
And what do you find some of the kind of biggest challenges in your day to day?
Interesting. So obviously, we're a very distributed team, and communication is key and making sure that everybody has the rights and the same expectations aligned.
And I wouldn't necessarily call it a challenge, but I think that it's always something to be mindful of, and it's always top of mind.
In the same time, we work with a lot of products, and every team has their own roadmap and their own priorities, even if they ultimately converge towards the same objectives of the company.
Sometimes it's important to understand how to prioritize amongst them, when you have competing things.
We always have more stuff that we would like to do and accomplish, and less time to do that in.
So that's where delivery management, I think, comes in, in order to be able to help facilitate those conversations and making those decisions.
Awesome. And what kind of technology are you working with today?
Is it mostly the project management software and tools, or are you getting into more of the engineering that's being built up from product?
I guess in the toolkit of a delivery manager, yes, there are project management, program management software tools.
But to be honest, every team works slightly different in Cloudflare, and that's an interesting learning to see, the level of independence our teams have in order to choose their own ways of working, and I really want to be able to respect that.
And I also think it's quite exciting.
In previous jobs, I've worked with really aligning the ways of working for everybody, and obviously we work in a very agile manner, but we work closely with whatever the engineers need, I think.
This is, in a nutshell, how it is.
And I currently support full-time, let's say, the firewall product and our data team, and the products associated to that.
But obviously, as I mentioned, they still collaborate a lot with all of the other products and teams, so you need to be able to understand what the product does, who are the users, how are they using the product in order to really make sure that you make the right decisions for them.
Makes sense. Well, thank you for that introduction. And with that, we'll go ahead and go down the nostalgic avenue and learn more about what was your first experience with, say, a computer?
Was it in school? Was it in your home? What does that look like?
Yeah, and you know, to prepare for this segment, I had to validate my memories with my parents, because sometimes they don't align.
And what I remember is that my first interaction with a computer actually was at home.
So I come from Romania. When I was in school, there were no computers in school, at least not until I got to high school.
So I remember quite vividly that it was mid-90s when computers started to be a real thing.
You know, PCs really started to get into everybody's homes.
And I think because my father was considering getting a computer, so both my parents are engineers, mechanical engineers.
But again, they had a knack for technology and a curiosity towards everything that's new.
So when my parents decided to get a computer, they realized they don't know how it works.
So they had to send us, me and my sister, to computer classes, literally, because these weren't available at school.
So I think I would have been maybe 10.
And we had to go once a week to a place in the city where they taught us about computers so that we would be prepared to know what to do with this machine when it got home, right?
So this is so you could fix your own computer. Not just to fix it, you know, to turn it on and know what it's for and how to use it for.
Because we also got, so we also got Internet in the same time. So once it got, once we got the machine, we also got the connection.
And I really remember, and it's very funny now that I think about it, going to those classes, I was doing that together with only two other schoolmates of mine, right?
So we were three girls, yeah?
None of the boys were doing it, by the way. I don't remember any boys in that class, which is fairly strange now that I think about it.
I didn't think about it much back then.
And we were doing these classes and the teacher was just using the terminal, nothing else.
And the one thing I remember, and probably I could do it now as well, within the terminal, we would build Snowman.
So they would teach us how to create the circles with the radius and, you know, you would do one by one, the small circle and then the bigger one.
And you would, you had to make sure that it's perfectly aligned and it doesn't overlap.
And then the next class, you would learn how to do the buttons and, you know, and slowly you would learn how to just produce something on your machine.
After a few classes, I was lucky enough to be able to actually practice at home.
But honestly, that was the only thing I could do. Like I would come from those classes and like, Hey mom, let me show you a Snowman on a green screen.
It was, it was quite hilarious. But then of course it was like, this is what we're paying for.
Like our daughter can make Snowman's on the computer.
Well, my parents couldn't do it. So it was something right. But then slowly, you know, you would learn a little bit more about the operating system.
And obviously we had Windows back then.
And it was, it was really interesting because the way that I remember it, it just became something normal, but we didn't, we couldn't do much with it because none of my friends had Internet at home.
None of my friends had computers.
I couldn't necessarily share that. It was just me and my sister.
And yeah, we, we, we didn't we, we had an interest in video games, but that came a little bit later.
And we also, we also use the TV screen for that. Right. So it didn't feel much for the computer, but after a couple of years, it felt like it was an explosion.
Everybody understood computers much more. Everybody had access to them.
Even if not at home, you would see the, you know, those Internet cafes that still exist, I guess now where some of my colleagues would go.
And then we discovered some communications, communication tools.
Remember I told you when we were doing the briefing about IRC and man, was that quite a, quite a discovery, you know, for us to, to be in all of those groups and talk to, talk to peers and, you know, even flirt and meet partners.
And, you know, we were kids, so it wasn't anything serious, obviously.
Did you find kind of that headstart you had was that beneficial as the rest of the world was coming online and that the rest of your, your neighborhood?
I think so. So I remember even before we got the computer, it was a Pentium two, I think.
So even before we got that, so my, I remember my father explaining to us, look, you know what illiteracy means.
And I remember probably it was a dinner conversation with, with the family.
And of course we knew that illiteracy means that you don't know how to read and write.
And he actually said, and I remember that, and I asked him yesterday and he remembers it as well.
He said, actually, illiteracy means this now, but in the 21st century, remember this was mid nineties.
Yeah. In the 21st century, illiteracy will mean that you don't know how to use a computer and you don't know a foreign language.
So this was kind of the vision of, of, of my parents for us.
We had to learn both foreign languages and how to use computers.
Right. So I always felt the responsibility to achieve that, you know?
So I did see that it really gave us a kickstart because we felt, yeah, of course we have to, I mean, the 21st century is coming.
We can't be left behind. Yeah. That's a very kind of forward thinking benchmark or high watermark to set of, you know, we want you to learn, you know, as much as possible.
You need to be fluent in these languages. You're talking with technology.
I'm talking with people of different cultures. It's, you know, as, as now a parent myself, you know, it's something that I'm probably going to steal because that sounds like a good idea of like, Hey, let's set the bar here because ultimately we're, we're much more global society.
We're a much more connected society and technologies at the kind of the center of all that.
Yeah, definitely. But I think it also played on the cord that illiterate is kind of an insult.
At least it was back then, you know, you didn't, you didn't want to be associated to that.
And we figured that, Oh, wait a minute. If the term, if the meaning of this term is changing, we also have to change.
We also have to evolve together with it to avoid that kind of label.
Right. And obviously for, in many situations, a lot of people don't have a choice, but we did.
So we felt it's important to make use of that choice.
Awesome. And so, as you mentioned, when you were first connecting onto the Internet, it was the world of IRC and chat.
What was it? Was it interesting? Were you bringing kind of your, your social life from school back home and chatting with local friends or was this meeting strangers or all of the above?
I don't, I don't remember meeting strangers. I think we, we definitely kept in contact with friends from school because then it meant we didn't have to pick up the phone.
And obviously there were different charges for the phone.
It wasn't practically free as it is now. Right. So it was, it was this, this freedom of being able to speak to your best friends.
And then in terms of strangers, I'm now that I think about it, I don't remember speaking to anybody perhaps from, you know, with, with kids from the neighborhood or kids who were in parallel classes with us, but not complete strangers.
So I also don't remember ever having, sitting down, having conversations with, with family members saying, you must be careful.
There might be predators. Like this wasn't necessarily part of the discourse because I think we were also discovering the benefits of, of the Internet without necessarily thinking actively of what would be the, the challenges of it, you know, the dangers, especially for a child of, you know, a preteen as I, as I was back then.
I never considered that. Also, I don't remember having any, any type of negative interaction.
Like it was genuine curiosity and sharing of information, you know, on those forums, you would go, okay, you have an interest in traveling or cooking or something like that.
And you, you would ask a question and receive a genuine answer, but no, no further engagement, nothing else went personal, nothing, you know, everything was out in the open.
So I think that people felt quite respectful towards that kind of forum because they wanted to probably keep it.
Sure. There might've been a few malicious actors or those with malicious intent, but the majority of kind of the early Internet community were those that were using it in a beneficial capacity and only had kind of that optimism and positivity in mind of, yeah, we're using this to share information because we didn't have this solution before.
You know, I've touched on this with earlier episodes that, you know, you had to go to a library, you had to go look up a book, you had to hope that the book was a recent enough edition to address your problem.
And once the Internet was, you know, made more widely available, now you could ask peers, you could ask friends, you could, you know, search via the multitude of search engines back then.
Like now information was more publicly available to help people dive into more information about computers, about subcultures and explore that.
But yeah, we haven't really gotten into, although some Cloudflare employees have been kind of gray hats and black hats in their time, you know, we haven't really gotten into some of the malicious or potentially malicious stuff in the early Internet quite yet.
Yeah. So as you kind of grew out of high school into university, how did your use of technology adapt and change?
Well, so obviously in high school, we used technology quite a lot also because my focus in high school was on mathematics, informatics.
So I did C++, it's a degree I never used, by the way, which is funny enough because I felt it was back when we didn't have computers in school.
So it was a very weird way to learn on a piece of paper and on a blackboard to code because it didn't feel like you're coding.
Well, now you're really good at coding interviews, right? Yeah, I guess, I guess.
I didn't try though. So I remember I did pass my exam, it was fine, I got that degree.
It just didn't, I didn't feel a connection to it. It didn't, I wasn't curious about it.
I was like, oh, if I just have to write this stuff on a piece of paper, and obviously you couldn't necessarily check it, not in class.
So sometimes I would come home and then try to run it on the computer and then it either worked or it didn't work, but there wasn't much satisfaction in learning that.
So while some of my colleagues obviously went on and continued study and continued on that path, I felt that maybe I want to try something else.
So actually in university, I did something totally different and my use of technology there remained.
So as you said, I definitely use it in order to make sure that I can learn in a better way, that I didn't have to spend hours in a library, but I can just be in front of my computer and have access to all of this information.
So probably discovering Google was absolutely a fantastic discovery for my studies because it really accelerated the way that I was able to find the information, do all of my papers, study, and share all of that also with my teachers and colleagues.
So through that, I saw a great benefit. But while I studied something totally different, I always just remained interested in technology.
So while I was in university, I was also volunteering for an organization.
And in that role, I had to learn Photoshop, for example.
So all sorts of pieces of software that were different types of technologies.
So in doing that, then I said, it's not that hard.
Maybe I can learn a little bit of HTML and then I can do various newsletters and different image modification.
Very basic as I saw it then, but it was very useful and it was fun.
I think that was the key element. It was fun compared to what I was doing previously with with C++, which wasn't fun.
I mean, it didn't feel like anything.
Now do you feel this kind of broad exposure to multiple technologies and your interest in like, oh yeah, I'm going to at least sample C++.
I'm going to sample programming. But then I also learned about kind of design and Photoshop.
Do you think that helped you today in your role where you're working with multiple teams?
They're each using different technology stacks.
They're coming at it from different angles. Do you feel that kind of helped you be that hub or central point for them?
Yeah, actually you're hitting an important point here.
And it's true that having this basis allowed me to be very confident in most of the jobs that I've had.
So after university, I went ahead and for about 10 years, I worked mainly in consulting and advisory, but on tech side of things, right?
On digital transformation and how are IT organizations evolving within different companies and how they serve the business, so on and so forth, and slowly, because of that interest, when I decided to move more to startup environments, I felt I did have an advantage.
As I mentioned, it did provide me with confidence.
Confidence that even if I don't know something, I am able to learn it.
And I think that's a really important acknowledgement to have. It's okay that you don't know as long as you're willing to try and check and learn for yourself.
And actually this is what I did. And I think one of the things that helped me also get the job at Cloudflare, in my previous job, I was working in a similar capacity with various teams.
And I was just very curious to understand what are the major challenges of some of our developers.
And then I just picked a technology.
I picked a Swift right to the iOS. And I said, look, I'm going to do a bootcamp.
I'm going to learn and see, okay, how do you do the basic things? What kind of challenges do you see?
What's exciting? What's not? What kind of problems do you encounter?
And I felt that having a basis of that, even if it was many years after, it was very helpful.
And then that kind of helped me understand, yeah, I can learn a bit of Python.
I can do a little bit of MySQL, even if it's not maybe my favorite.
Yeah. So it helps me quite a lot because I think it keeps one very humble and curious because working with the Firewall team where they do a lot of backend and they work on totally different technologies than what the data team does.
And when I would support a different team, I will also be able to open up and say, okay, what are you using?
How can I learn more about it? How can I support you better?
Yeah. And I think that that speaks to a lot of the generation that grew up on the Internet and began to use it as an information source is you knew that once you kind of got over that mental block of, oh, this should be hard or this is difficult or I can't learn it.
And you realize, oh, learning is actually pretty straightforward.
I can self-direct it. I can learn, I can search this. I can download this trial.
I can take this bootcamp. Suddenly the kind of gates to knowledge are all falling away, which allows us, you know, and I can resonate with a lot of what you've said of kind of being able to say, oh, this is, I'm piquing my curiosity.
Let's learn a bit more. Let's go as far as I need to until it either stops being fun or, you know, I want to go more in depth.
And those opportunities are now available.
You know, you can almost, you can now tweet to someone who invented a programming language and likely get a response to learn more about a piece of that programming language, which is a net new thing with now social media.
And all of that is, you know, courtesy of the Internet and technology.
Yeah, no, you're completely right. And it's this feeling of being kept on your toes.
I think it's very exciting. And I think it's great, you know, because if we acknowledge that everything is, you know, all of these technologies keep evolving, and we also have the capacity to evolve together with them, then, yeah, it's always going to keep us well informed and also eager to learn a little bit more and do a little bit better.
Yeah, awesome. And with that in mind, what are you most excited about for the future of the Internet or the future of technology?
Most excited about? Oh, okay. I was prepared for most scared about.
You can do either. Fear is a form of excitement. Yeah, yeah, it's a negative excitement.
But no, let me think. So in terms of positive excitement, I think I am following very closely the situation of how education is very quickly evolving in the world due to the present conditions of COVID, obviously, and the fact that kids can't learn in school necessarily anymore.
And I see a very interesting response from a regulatory point of view.
And while probably this year is the year of a lot of experimentation, but I think that this is what's birthing a lot of different and novel approaches to how young and maybe less young people are learning today, because this spans from kindergarten to school to universities.
So that's affecting everybody.
So this kind of constraint within the world is actually pushing us to find new solutions, which are clearly based on what technology's advancements are.
And that includes the Internet, the use of the Internet, the protection of that, which is actually the more exciting part for me, finding a solution to how can you protect certain groups in their usage and not just protect their identity, but also the accuracy of what they're learning and what they're trying to learn.
So do you see kind of the future in more of these kind of micro degrees or micro workshops where you develop a particular skill and kind of this idea that the monolith that you go learn one skill and you're set for at least the next 30 years is almost dead, at least as long as you work in technology?
I don't know if I would say dead.
And obviously, I don't know if I'm qualified enough to say if it's dead or not, I can still recognize the value of what I've learned in the one university, you do your bachelor, you do your master.
And it's true that what I learned, to be honest, maybe I could translate it now more into values and the ways of working and the approach I have towards working, not necessarily the content of it, because the content of it has changed drastically.
So I had to keep up with the content to be able to actually do my job.
In university, I learned how to use Excel, or at least this is what they taught us.
So whether you know it or not, you learn the, you know, the Microsoft suit, we didn't learn much else.
So the rest of the skills that I've developed were, you know, self taught or learning from in other kinds of forums.
So coming back to your question about micro degrees, like these are exploding, especially this year, I've seen it much more.
I don't know, it's maybe because I'm more curious about it. And I've been keeping a closer look, I've been giving it a closer look, or because this is the time in which you know, you have that turning point, in which a lot of people have recognized this opportunity, they've seen that online learning works, because you have all of these MOC platforms.
And now they're converting them into like proper business models that that are also providing value to the to the students.
Yeah, it'll be fascinating how that it continues to evolve to make sure you know, the modern workforce has the information they need is working with the technology they need.
And to your point, yeah, it's not that it invalidates previous learning. I know COBOL is still in active use and various applications and still in demand for at least some programmers in order to keep the world working the way it is.
Yeah, but I think the driver here is not, you know, the institution of learning or these monoliths, or the small businesses that are showing up now the driver will still be business and how when when you recruit someone, what do you recognize as a as a valuable skill?
Is it because they have on their CV, you know, particular university or because they can, they can prove their skill, however, it is, I was actually quite impressed to see a lot of the positions, for example, we have a cloud player saying that you don't need the specific education for it, as long as you have the skill and you can demonstrate some some relevant experience in the job that you would be doing here, right?
If your GitHub repo is large enough, if you're commenting on stack overflow, if those are all there, that's enough proof point as opposed to a degree at a university.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, why shouldn't maybe both are relevant, but we shouldn't put these kind of exclusion criteria just to keep up with traditions, right?
Awesome. Well, I know we're coming near the end of time, maybe a last question might be, you know, what would your advice be to those that are coming through technology today and might want to work in, you know, at Cloudflare or work in your role as a delivery manager?
So I think keeping keeping keeping curious is really, really important.
And if somebody would like to to work as a delivery manager at Cloudflare, definitely make sure that you have a passion for for for helping people, because ultimately, this is this is what we do.
We remove blockers and we help people do their best job. And yeah, and also, yeah, keep in touch, because we are opening up positions in particularly as delivery managers, happy to say.
Awesome. Well, Alexandra, thank you for your time and, you know, lovely journey through IRC and making snowmen via early computers.
Yeah, thank you so much, Dan. All right. Thank you. And everyone catching either the live stream or recording.
Hopefully, that was a nice journey down nostalgia lane, and we'll catch you next week.