Cloudflare TV

Dial Up Motive

Presented by Dan Hollinger, Amit Prakash
Originally aired on 

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.


Transcript (Beta)

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening everyone. Welcome to episode 20 of Dial Up Motive.

This is the show here on Cloudflare TV where we explore some of the early Internet and early technological experiences of Cloudflare employees.

With me today is Amit Prakash, Head of Lifecycle Marketing and Operations.

And I'm Dan Hollinger, your host from my East Coast office for this episode.

And we look forward to taking a journey of nostalgia through the early 90s, as referenced in my background and, you know, the early Internet and beyond.

So with that, welcome, Amit.

Hey, Dan, thanks for having me. So to kick things off, you know, we'd love to learn about when you joined Cloudflare, some of the work you're doing today.

Cool. Yeah, it's been, I've been with Cloudflare about a month and a half. I started in this early December.

And I'm tasked with using customers' data and insights to help customers improve their business on Cloudflare.

So helping them expand and make their businesses more secure and reliable and fast using Cloudflare technologies.

So educating them about all the products and services that we have, using various marketing techniques that we use, thanks to the usage of Internet.

Like being able to show them the right message at the right time. Awesome.

And yeah, that sounds very interesting, just being able to leverage the data we have or the use cases we have, and then be able to, you know, push that forward or set that as an example for customers.

Exactly. Awesome. Well, glad to have you.

And you've been here a few months now. So I'm sure that the firehose of information is all done, right?

If you've learned everything you need to? Exactly.

Yeah. Yeah. On first day. Well, I'm sure the orientational team will be glad to hear that, that, you know, they mastered it on day one.

Yes, that was actually really good how they did it, like the whole like four days of orientation.

And it's fascinating, right?

One of the things that people think joining and taking a new job in this day and age is through virtual orientations and how is that going to go?

But I think the Cloudflare HR orientation team did a great job on having like sessions already lined up and having the right type of information available.

And then having the right access to leaders, like including our CEO and CEO coming in and spending quite a bit of time with us.

Yeah, I've heard good things about our remote orientation and the amount of work that went into it.

So happy to start kind of walking down memory lane and, you know, really understand where you came from and some of the early experiences you had with computers and then the Internet at large.

Yeah, I, it goes back to like, I would say late 80s, early 90s, my first exposure to computer was like in my elementary school.

And there was a partnership at school with another company where they would do like, teach us basic programming, like beginners all purpose symbolic instruction code.

And then I would do some programming using that.

And then I was very fortunate enough that my parents were able to get me a PC at home as the computers became more affordable as I was growing up in India.

And then I have two of my favorite memories of using that computer.

One was, of my buddies would play like car racing games.

And then the other was during my summer break, I had a friend who would come to my house every day.

And he would like, he was a very good artist, and he would drop pictures, and then he would go home during lunchtime.

And then my goal during that time used to be to write code and basic to draw those images.

And they were like, pictures of like cars or like, anything which was more like geometric that I could code.

And first, he would just draw it on a white piece of paper.

And in the evening, when he would come, I would be like off scale, and he would make fun of me that you can't even like, then I said, well, we need to improvise on this.

And then I was explaining to him that, hey, you know, I need to count the number of pixels.

And then he said, why don't we make him draw it on the graph paper.

So that way, I can just count the exact number of squares and pixels I need to go.

And then, voila, like everything started looking amazing.

So that used to be fun. And slowly, we made like pretty complex things.

And that really goes down the memory lane of like first usage of computers.

And what was your most complex picture that you guys ever drew together? Or like you got basic to draw for you?

It was like a mask that he had built, he had made, like we used to read a lot of comic books, like, I don't know how many people over here who are watching have ever read like Tintin or Asterix.

These were some comics more popular in Europe and Asia.

And in one of the series, there was like a mask that the character was wearing.

And he made that and that was that is one of the most popular most complex thing that we made.

And then slowly, we learned how to like color, color it, like using I think there was a command to like paint inside certain pixels and be able to do that.

So slowly, they got more complex. So what's fascinating is, you know, one of your first entries into technology was right at the mixture of programming, marketing and design.

So you were already leveraging a computer to build images.

And then that was your first album, which which is fascinating to see you entering the marketing world from from that direction.

Correct. Yep. And then as I progressed, like then came like, you know, as our topic is like dial up, like, I feel like if I fast forward about like, six, like seven, eight years, like 1995, 96, around that time, I got first exposed to, to dial up like this thing called the Internet.

But when I first started using it was like the connection was, I hate to use this word, but, but really slow, and it would just keep getting disconnected and, and pathetic, you know, like you couldn't do anything.

And, and then I was like, why, why? What is the point? Like, if I'm going to keep getting disconnected every 5-10 minutes, I can't even like load a page.

And then I would talk to some of my friends and even look at my dad, like, what, what are we using this for?

And, and my dad wouldn't explain to me, he was like, you know, like the big change is the change of fax versus email.

Like he would say that it is work, he would get like these fax from all over the world.

But suddenly, now he's able to send emails, which reach there instantly.

And nobody has to worry about like the paper running out in the fax machine, or, oh, after three days, the thermal paper, the ink started going away, but the email stayed.

And, and that was like the first real use case I saw.

And I had another good friend of mine, from from high school, like I had just entered engineering at that time, he actually created a business out of this, he would charge people like 5 rupees to send out an email from his, from his bedroom, is because he had access to, to a PC and access to dial up.

I mean, that's, that's very entrepreneurial of him. That's, that's a good, I wonder where he is now.

He's built quite a few websites. It's fascinating where he's come from, like, I still like talk to him.

And it's fascinating where he's come from sending emails out of his bedroom.

So he, he runs quite a few websites.

And he does quite a quite a bit of shipping all around the world from this small, his apartment in India.

Awesome. So, you know, those early days where connections were not, you know, solid by any means, or, you know, they could drop at any minute and speeds were, you know, painfully slow.

That's my joke is, this is where I learned patience was ultimately leveraging, leveraging a dial up motive and modem and seeing what, what, how long it took to download anything.

And yeah, I don't know if you remember or not, but at least I remember, like, I download, there was this, I actually downloaded a package which used to stitch up programs, like if you are in the middle of downloading a software, and you only downloaded, say, 10% of it.

So next time, if you start, it would pick it up from the 11%.

And then ultimately stitch up. Otherwise, I would have never been able to download anything, like even like a new version of the browser or any update.

Yeah, it's interesting, the like workarounds that get built up in the early Internet days to make up for, you know, some of the gaps that existed back then.

Yeah, it was really cool.

And then like, for me, if you were to ask me, like, I talked about the stories of my dad, how he was using it for my for his work.

And for me, it became really real in like, 1998 1999, when I was finishing up my, my college, my, my engineering, and then starting to apply for grad school in the States.

And the questions were, okay, how am I going to identify which universities to apply to?

How am I going to get the applications? And how do I prep for GRE? How do I apply for the test?

And the dial -up by that time had become decently stable that I was able to use it a lot to like email and check the status.

And then one day, another friend of mine who was already in the US, he introduced me to this to this website called Dialpad.

And he said, instead of you emailing to the universities checking on the status, you know, you can actually call them with a technology called VOIP, which stands for voice over IP.

And I said, really? He just go dial the admissions office.

And depending on the speed of your Internet, you will be able to if you're lucky, you will be able to actually have a decent conversation.

And I, and I started trying it and it was, it was great that after like 10pm in India time, like the bandwidth would free up and it was much better connection.

And I was able to just call and get status, instant status and updates.

And sometimes even like, clarify things in my documentation that oh, this transcript was was attached in this, this letter of recommendation was in this envelope and, and be able to do that.

And that to me was a huge contrast just in my family.

Like just about five, six years ago, I had seen my brother go through similar process.

He, he was applying for his education here. And we didn't have Internet at that time at home.

And it was him and my dad on the phone every evening trying to like, figure this thing out.

And for me, it was so much easier being able to just use the Internet.

So that's where for me, it became really real, that I'm able to use the Internet to get get myself ahead.

Yeah. And what's fascinating is to see just how quick that change to occur.

Yes, to go from, you know, what required, you know, snail mail, and time to communicate across the globe, now shrunk to, you know, miracles of VoIP and being able to have the conversations back then.

And, you know, now where we're at, we're able to have a conversation, essentially still across the globe over video.

And to see that, you know, level of progress in that amount of time, it's fascinating.

And I'm sure helped, you know, as you were applying to schools and having those conversations made it easier to get into them.

Yeah, no, and this thing, you brought up this concept of like video phone.

I am not kidding, like me and my brother used to read books, where there used to be this concept of, oh, there will be a time where there will be like a video call where you would be able to actually see the other person.

And like the first time I had my video call, like I still like if I, when that thing comes like that page from a from a how and why series book comes in my mind, and it's like, yeah, like this, this used to be a concept in the 70s and 80s.

And then we are we are living it, like right now, like, we're not like, we're sitting 1000s of miles away and be able to look at each other in the eye and do this great, great talk or a great show.

And yeah, that's the one thing I've always appreciated about the the power of the Internet is to, you know, tie people together, to be able to, you know, share information as easily, you know, and it's, it's interesting me dialing from my East Coast office or my hometown farm, which, you know, the Internet was essential to me, you know, learning and growing, and in technology and igniting my interest in that.

So once you once you got to college, I guess, did your early experiences with the computers and Internet, you know, drive your pursuit in down the engineering field?

And, you know, when did you know that you wanted to go from pure engineering to this world of technical marketing?

Well, that that actually, if I was to fast forward, that actually happened during my grad school, where a by that time, I was, I was here in the States and was at experience, DSL speed, and, and all that evolution of faster dial up DSL, and all that, but the real Internet marketing, I got fascinated when I started hearing about like, customer targeting, based on their browsing behaviors.

And this was like, like, first, I, I learned how actually an ad is served, and how it is served in like a fraction of seconds at that time, now it's come down to like milliseconds.

And then when this was, I remember, like, this was a sales team from Yahoo, they came to me in like 2008 ish, I could be wrong in my years, but somewhere in that time, like they had come up with like a Yahoo behavioral targeting segment, they called it as BT.

And I was like, what is this? And they were like, you know, this is basically we'll be able to put people's interest in a pool and show them the appropriate ad to them.

And at that time, I used to work at an ad agency was consulting for Dell computers.

And they were like, Oh, we'll be able to see that people who have searched for laptops or desktops on on their search engine at that time, Yahoo, and also gone to like CNET reviews or other places that they are more likely to buy computers, so we'll show them ads.

And first, I was pretty skeptical, is this really going to work?

And and my job as you bring up as technical marketing was, was to a see the ROI, like what is the return on on on Dell's marketing dollars in this technology versus just being on the homepage of Yahoo or on the homepage of MSN.

And it was day and night, like we were all like eyes wide open that hey, this this targeting is really doing something.

And then I was also able to see this in my real world, like going on other shopping sites and seeing like those those ads were actually following you first, it was pretty creepy.

But, but for me, it was very obvious. I was like, yeah, this is kind of what I also do for for a living.

So So yeah, it makes sense how, how it's how these things are working.

And it has really changed over time, right? Like how in technical marketing, we are actually able to change our messaging as a customer takes an action.

So for example, if we send an email to a customer, if they open an email, the next message we show them is more targeted versus to somebody who did not open an email.

And even like, the concept of retargeting is all thanks to computer networking and how we are able to understand like, if somebody came to a page, say for a technical product, we are able to in their next touch, we are able to take them to like a more deeper tutorial or even like, even understand where they got stuck in the process.

Like the analogy of a shopping website that if you put something in the cart, and you don't buy, you can retarget that customer that, hey, are you really interested?

And if I take it to more like a technical product, like a Cloudflare is like, hey, you were trying to launch a particular service, we noticed that.

And we saw that you didn't complete it. So we, we here is some educational material here some help to help you keep make your business secure or make it more faster.

So that has been really interesting for me. Yeah, that's fascinating that you were essentially at the forefront of kind of the modern economic engine of the web, you know, and it's almost, we don't think about it now how ubiquitous it is to go surf the net to have some ads appear to realize, oh, yeah, that's connected to some of my searches, or some of the sites I've visited in the past.

And, you know, to see that at its infancy of, oh, yeah, by the way, we can actually, you know, track this, this is how this is how we can serve these ads in a timely manner, a way that doesn't degrade performance.

And interesting, I'm sure, from your perspective, to see how that has exploded or gotten so much more intelligence or focus.

Yeah, even being able to, you know, like, like the whole concept of the ad bidding, like all of the most, like all of the search engines, like Google and, and Bing and others, they all work on a bidding model, and you are companies are actually able to bid that in order for for me to be on a particular spot, I'm willing to pay $5 or even $50 for some of the keywords that you want to be.

So that's been really interesting. And that's what makes me really passionate of this technical marketing.

And what this has done is it's, it's, it's taken my technical expertise that I learned in my engineering at my grad school, where I did a lot of major in like wireless networks and computer networking, which allowed me to understand some of the these algorithms, which make the Internet work faster, more secure.

And then I took some of the marketing classes in the College of Business, which helped me put both of these things together.

Like, I also had the opportunity to do an internship, like a nine month internship at a e commerce company, which unfortunately doesn't exist today.

But there I was, I had the opportunity to go look at their racks, their servers, manage inventory and see what type of marketing should I do, like, I would literally go and see, oh, product X, Y, and Z is there.

How do we like try the access inventory? How can we use email to drive that?

So again, the power of Internet came into play. And then being able to see like sales go up or down, as I as I send that email, like pretty real time, that's what fascinates me about this, this technical marketing, and being able to see the impact.

And you know, one of the things we didn't talk about was, when I when I got here, you know, like this, this, this thing of dial up in, in countries where Internet was still emerging in like the 90s was, when I when I came to the US, I my first job was was working as in the College of Admissions at at electrical engineering department at UIC at University of Illinois.

And, and one of the people who worked there, she was one day saying that, I mean, I don't understand, why do I get all these emails from all over the world?

Clearly, they are using the Internet to send me this email and saying that, can you physically send me the application form for grad next year's admissions?

And she said, I don't understand, like, I've already sent them the download link, why can they not download it?

And to me, it was just like, such a aha moment. I was like, oh, you are here at a very high speed Internet and all the emails that you're getting it from probably students like sitting in Internet cafes, or they had like a 30 minute Internet time on their in their school laptop, or their school desktop where they're not allowed to download anything, or their dial up connection is so bad that they just is not going to download.

And then I sat down with her and then I explained to her what it was.

And then even she was like, oh, okay. So that's the issue.

And then like, it just saved her so much time and angst as well, like she was like, okay, every day, I get a bit upset at these emails, like they clearly are using their emails to send me and then they say they don't have access to the Internet.

I said, yeah, they do have access to the Internet, but not at the speed to be able to use it.

Yeah. And that's just very funny, because it just speaks to, I think, most of human nature of, well, I'm using this, and I'm using it at this quality level.

Therefore, I'm just going to assume everyone else is using it at the same quality level, where, you know, the Internet did grow in fits and starts, especially globally, where, you know, here in the States, I was very spoiled by having an Internet connection in the home, or in the schools very early, where more Internet cafe culture built up in other parts of the globe, due to connectivity being a little bit more sparse, or lower quality.

And yeah, there's a fascinating comparison that, you know, here was this person wondering, well, they have the Internet, why aren't they using it properly, and not understanding the realities that was impacting those customers or those students.


Awesome. So with the few minutes remaining, I would love to learn, you know, what are you most excited about for the future of the Internet, be it, you know, from Cloudflare, or from some of the other companies out there?

Yeah, I think the, what I'm most excited about is in our day to day life, right?

Like, first of all, being able to do what we are able to do this in this pandemic, like everybody's working from home, like if Internet wasn't there, companies like Cloudflare weren't there, it wouldn't have been as seamless as it was.

Literally, right, like all of us, like one day, we're told to go work from home, and we picked up our laptops, came home, and we started working.

And that is getting better and better every single day.

And what I'm most excited about in the future is more things getting easier, like now we're like, I'm just doing comparisons of years ago versus now, like being able to deposit like, a check from our from our phone.

Earlier, it was like there was it was just not possible.

And making things more faster and easier, I think is what I'm most excited about.

Like it's right. And, and as humans, as you brought up the example, we are getting less and less patient.

Because now every time we see like, oh, a web page took four seconds to load, we're like, oh, what is this, there must be something wrong with this website, or my device is not wrong, when four seconds is literally like, one, two, three, four, and, and having, having better quality Internet.

And then you know, there's been a lot of bad actors and the less and less we have in that area, we having able to have more trust, right?

Like even now, sometimes when I'm putting in my credit card or putting in my password somewhere, I feel like is this really true, but then what was 15 years ago, where I was like, man, there is no way I'm putting my credit card on the Internet versus today.

Yeah, I feel fairly secure with with certain websites to be able to do it.

And, and it's going to get better and better. And, and how a lot of other companies like DoorDash and all that they've been able to like, it's just fascinating how things have improved in the last two, three years.

And I'm very excited to see in the next 10 years.

And the ease of use, right, like even programming, like I see my son, how easy it is for him to program on the Internet, like, during during this, this COVID, he's built a whole website, like, which tracks all the COVID vaccinations with his with his cousin.

And it's, I don't think all these things were possible.

And now it's every day, it's easier and easier to be able to do it.

And business processes. Yeah. Yeah. So between things getting faster, safer, encryption, getting more ubiquitous, that things are just becoming more convenient.

And, you know, to your point, it just becomes more accessible and easier to learn, you know, what, what has been fun having, you know, these interviews and, you know, what used to take a library trip to go get a book on C++ or some early programming language, there are now full programming tutorials that anyone can pick up that are freely available and, you know, allow people to start with more resources and move more quickly.

And that's a fascinating, you know, especially if that rate of change stays the same or increases, you know, things are only going to get easier and faster.

Yeah, like even cars, like we've heard stories like, oh, now the cars are getting updates on the air, right?

Like who could have imagined like your cars, systems are going to be just updated as you are driving through and, and, and, and all those things, it's just the Internet has made this completely changed the world.

And then, you know, like, being able to use the Internet, like 30,000 feet in the air, like, all of that is just like the first time I had access to the Internet in an airplane, when we used to be easily in airplanes, like, like, wow, man, like, I'm able to like, send out emails from here, like listen to music.

Yeah. Yeah. But then you know, how longer had an excuse not to do any work.

You're like, oh, like, no, I was fine.

That was my one time to like, read a book. But no, I guess I'll check emails. Yeah.

Well, with that, we're near the end of time. So Amit, thank you for walking us through your, your early Internet history.

And, you know, for everyone, jumping in, thank you for for catching the show.

And whether you're catching the live stream or one of the recordings, we hope you have a wonderful morning, evening or good night.

Thank you so much, Dan, for having me.

And again, good morning. Good night. Good evening to our viewers.

And thanks for watching the segment. All right. Thank you, everyone.

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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.
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