Originally aired on February 10, 2021 @ 7:00 PM - 7:30 PM EDT
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.
Today's Guest: Erwin van der Koogh
Hello, hello everyone, welcome to episode 21 of Dial Up Motive. I'm your host, Dan Hollinger, and if you haven't caught this show before, this is where we go down Nostalgia Lane, or in my case today, Nostalgia Fields, and we walk through some of the earliest memories Cloudflare employees have had, either with the early Internet or early computers and how that has shaped their life and career today. With me today is Erwin van der Koogh, a product manager here at Cloudflare. Erwin, thank you for joining us. Awesome. Thank you for having me. Trips on memory lane are always really good fun. I've enjoyed hosting the show. It's been fascinating hearing everyone's early experiences and how the Internet guided their lives. To kick things off, how long have you been at Cloudflare and what does a product manager do here? I think I'm coming up to week six now, so very, very new. I got in late last year with the acquisition of my startup. Product managers are an interesting addition to the software development. Basically, our job is to help figure out, together with the teams, what do customers want? When do we build? What customers are we going to go after? We work a lot with customers. We work a lot with the development teams. We work a lot with internal stakeholders. It's a really great position inside the organization to figure out how do we build the best possible products, the most valuable products for our customers. Awesome. I'm glad to have you. At the six-week mark, do you feel like you know all the things you don't know yet, or is that still somewhere in the middle? No, there's still a lot that I don't know I don't know. It's been really great having everyone hugely helpful in helping you figure out where to go and how things work around here. Where are you dialing in from? I'm dialing in from Australia, Melbourne, Australia, where it's nice and sunny in summer. Awesome. Yeah, we're still in the beginnings of spring here in the Bay Area. Oh, yeah, I would imagine. Yeah. All right. Well, to get us started on the path of Memory Lane, I would love to learn more about those early formative years, either with computers or with the Internet itself, and how that impacted you growing up. Yeah, so it's been sort of interesting. I was born in the late 70s, so that makes me barely 30, I think. But yeah, my family was really lucky. So we had computers very, very early on. There's a photo I remember of me at three years old sitting on my dad's lap, playing a really, really, really old video game. And that's been for a long time. Do you happen to remember the name of the video game? I don't know. I think it was an early version of Lode Runner. But I'm not entirely sure sort of what that was. It's certainly one that I played sort of a lot later, a couple years later, when I sort of got more proficient with it. But yeah, after that computer, we had another brilliant one, which was the Compact Portable Computer. And yeah, we're talking... Yeah, how portable was it back then? That feels like a marketing strategy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So this was mid-80s. The portable computer weighed only about 10 kilos or so, I think. It was a big, massive gray box. And it had a keyboard that you could clip onto the thing, and then it had a handle, and you could port it. It was portable, technically. It was in no way, shape, or form anything like a laptop or sort of anything. Yeah, but you could... And that sort of like, initially, it was sort of at my dad's work, and then he sort of brought it home. And yeah, those were like... And that was by sort of the first sort of foray into computers for real, was that Compact Portable Computer. Now, did you take to computers quite easily? Was it like, just that, oh my gosh, moment of, was this a piece of hardware? You know, why is it my new toy? Like, was that the approach? Yeah, I took to computers straight away. Like, there was an Apple 3 before, but that was sort of, I couldn't do an awful lot with that. But like, this computer is just the first one that I could use, like, by myself and sort of start to play with. I was playing a lot of games on it. And that's like, the fun thing. So yeah, that's how I learned English, in a large part, because I'm Dutch, sort of grew up in the Netherlands. And yeah, I learned English playing, like, mostly Shiera's adventure games. We're talking like King's Quest and Police Quest and sort of Larry. That was, those were sort of like the years where I had a sort of dictionary next to the computer. And I was just brute forcing my way into English. Because I wanted to play these games. Now, does this go alongside any, like, formal education in school? Or it was simply, that was your only outlet in order to enjoy the games was to force yourself to learn English? So yeah, so it was like, in that sort of day and age, we didn't really start formal English until like, 10 or 11. And yeah, no, I was playing games, these games at like, seven, eight. So yeah, it was well before I had any formal education in English, that I was sort of brute forcing my way into it. Yeah, that's fascinating that you essentially were leveraging these adventure games as almost, you know, beginning Rosetta Stone or Duolingo. Yep. You know, walking through, like, you get some context of the story, you're able to piece together, oh, I kind of think I know what this word means. And then to confirm with the dictionary, I'm sure that had to actually be very helpful. And, you know. Yeah, and for people who are sort of young enough, this was like a paper based dictionary, like a really big book. Granted, the vocabulary you're learning, were probably more related to pirates and fetch quests and, you know, where the key was hidden. Not necessarily full business English. No, but it was, but yeah, it was really fun. And that's sort of where I, yeah, like, I learned two languages there, because that's sort of, it was that. And the other thing that sort of put me on my career path, like really properly was the basic interpreter. That was there. And so, yeah, I spent a lot of time writing, writing sort of small little things and sort of basic. Yeah, do you remember what some of those early programs were? Were they, you know, jumping into early kind of text based adventure games yourself? Was it Hello World? Oh yeah, this is something that I started like really, really early on. Again, I was very lucky with my dad having some, some sort of exposure to this. But, but yeah, like the first ones were just like print out statements, right? We just sort of printing out. You do your first Hello World. And then you learn about GoTo. So you do GoTo print. So Hello, and then 20 is GoTo 10. And then sort of you want Hello, sort of scroll over your screen. And that's when you get hooked. When you go like, I can do this, I can make this computer do like anything I want. So yeah, I, and then they became, yeah, they become sort of harder and sort of more complex sort of as they sort of come along. But yeah, like another iteration I remember vividly was getting to the point where I had like Erwin written on the screen and like big massive asterisks and it was blinking. And did you, did you have a lot of outside resources available to you? Could you go to the library and find a book on BASIC? Or was this similar to the way you learned English was just kind of a trial and error? You approach the vocabulary of BASIC on a step by step basis? Yeah, so I can't remember any books, particularly sort of, certainly not from the library. I was living in a sort of smallish village and sort of like that didn't sort of really sort of get to me. But what they did have, and that was sort of, again, it's amazing if you try to explain this to sort of people now, is they had magazines, like paper magazines. Where they sort of taught you things about sort of BASIC. And they had listings. So you had a listing in the, like in the magazine, and you would spend an hour just typing in that listing. And that's sort of how I got, how I sort of learned sort of programming is like typing over a listing in a magazine and then like changing it and trying to figure out like if I change this, what happens then? And if I add this thing here, what happens then? So it was really, it was really good fun. Like we had, one of the most amazing things is that we had a guy, a retired sort of late 60s, three or fours down, down to three or four houses down. And he had a computer too, and he was into BASIC. And so, yeah, there was this sort of eight year old kid and a sort of 65 year old guy. So together we were going over listings and trying to figure out what was going on and sort of why. And it was really good fun. I mean, this might be a very American reference, but this was, you know, very Dennis the Menace, but with code and computers. Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were, yeah, that's sort of basically what I was, I was doing. I was like just figuring out code and sort of what happens. So yeah, that's what sort of what I, what I did just basically sort of taught myself how to, how to code BASIC based on just messing about and sort of BASIC magazines. Yeah, it was a, it was a very different time. Yeah, that's, that's been what's one thing that I've been fascinated about in these conversations is finding out just the distribution of knowledge, like those that were able to go find a book in the library, those that were already part of the Internet generation and able to go learn more about programming or what they were working on via the Internet itself. And, you know, prior to that, if you didn't have a library available to you or they didn't have books on on BASIC or early computers, then where do you go and you know you were fortunate enough to have have that neighbor that also shared that that interest and was able to learn, learn with you. Yeah, and like having a, like, sort of, yeah, like having a computer in the house at the time was, it became a bit, bit more sort of widespread sort of like as I as I started growing up so yeah like one of my, I didn't actually have one of my best friends that I spent a lot of time with in primary school was, I had a Commodore 64. Right, and that was, that was just incredible and I think yeah and that's sort of the thing we did there was like how do we how do we change these games that we're playing, which also, by the way, had the, the most interesting way of distributing source that I've ever seen. Because Commodore 64 had like a tape deck that you could record. Like just sort of you could put sort of like a code on like sort of games you put on a cup on a cassette, which again is something that definitely sort of dates me. But yeah, we had a radio station. And basically what they would do is they would broadcast the source code. So, if you press record at the right time and they were like, so now when you press record on your, your tape recorder on this radio station. Like, it would, it would sort of record the next set of X minutes. You stopped and you put it in the tape drive on your Commodore 64 and you could now play, play that game. This sounds like the worst version of Napster I've ever heard. Like, I'm starting to feel sorry for you that this was you know how, how, I mean again I don't, I don't know the legality of software. Being distributed via radio, but that's fascinating to hear that you were legitimately recording programs from your radio to put them play on your Commodore 64. Yeah, that was, that was sort of what we, what we did. It was just, yeah, it was hilarious. Of course it didn't work. And then you sort of had to try again and, and do that over and over again. Yeah. And that's, that's where. Yeah. There was no checksum. Like how do you, how do you make sure. No, no, no, there's nothing. Yeah. How do you make sure you're getting good data? Like, just being lucky. Like, yeah, it would work maybe sort of 20% of the time. So, so as, as you were downloading software from the radio or trying to, I guess how, how did the Internet reach your home or your school and what are those early experiences? Yeah. So, so that was, that was well before that. So the first thing there was when it was sort of, we got through the modems, right. It's like the, it's just sort of why this thing is called dial up motive. I'm, I'm pretty sure. So yeah, like the first thing we, we sort of went modems. It was very much like, it was all BBSs, right. Like sort of your bulletin board systems. And that's where sort of I spent, they came in. I sort of spent, spent a bit of time there. Didn't sort of never got really, really into it. It's sort of like the whole BBS scene. Like there was a, there was the early sort of like email inboxy type things that sort of we had. That was, that was interesting. We had some, some text-based sort of MMOs that were sort of being played. So that's sort of stuff we, we did with sort of modems. Did you take a similar approach where you eventually wanted to run your own bulletin board or wanted to explore hacking and coding via the platforms that were available to you? Was, was that kind of itch there the way it was early on with learning basic and developing? Yeah, not, not, so my, my coding skills, I'd always sort of, sort of kept up and sort of like built things for myself. So like, yeah, sort of that same friend sort of ended up sort of running a BBS. So I did get involved there, but not sort of, not, not myself. No, that was sort of basically sort of, we did run that thing. Like he ran it and I sort of supported him there. I wrote, I remember writing sort of a few things for that, but not much. No, it wasn't sort of really getting to the, and then, then we sort of slowly got to the, like the World Wide Web, right? Like the early, the early sort of World Wide Web in the, what is it, mid -90s? Just missed, sort of, just sort of like, it was the dying days of sort of Gopher, sort of when I, when I got on the, on the sort of the Internets. And that, yeah, that was sort of, sort of eye opening. The biggest eye opener for me, though, was going to university. Because what they, what they had was a massive, it was a campus and like all the student dormitories were on the campus and every, every room had like local area. It was this massive local area network that collected a few thousand students. And that's changed the way I thought, I completely thought about sort of computers and how things work. And so that was, that was this big, massive thing. So we now had unlimited bandwidth, right? Like anywhere else, you would still on your 55.6 sort of kilowatt modems. And here we were running like 100, 500 megabit local area networks across the entire campus. And with a very, very sort of big upload to the Sarah, which is like the major hop between the Netherlands and sort of the US. So we had like at that, at that point in time, and we're talking 96, 97, we had unlimited bandwidth to like anywhere in the world. And yeah, I'm sure going from that kind of restricted slow dial up motive scenario to an environment where you did have speed, you really didn't think you needed back in the day or didn't even think was available suddenly front and center and easily accessible to to your university and community. How do you think that shaped your career, your studies? I assume you'd already chosen computer science or computer engineering at that stage. Yeah, it was it was a mix between computer science and sort of economics. Something I very quickly abandoned. The economics, not the science to even the computer science even more than the economics. And that was and that was sort of another sort of interesting career. I like sort of get back to the tech now because then we'll get to the career bit because that's interesting, too. But yeah, like from a tech perspective, it was like, you saw that peer to peer, but all that all that centralization, because it turns out if you give students instead of the mid 90s, unlimited bandwidth, that they share everything they have to share. So there were like repositories of gigabytes of MP3s and videos. And I hope the statute of limitations is sort of expired and all that. I'm pretty sure it has but But yeah, it was, it was, you could find anything sort of on that on that sort of place. But then, but then it was also interesting because what you then saw was like having everything available everywhere is not good enough. So yeah, you saw things like sort of indexing machines and sort of indexers were being built and where you would crawl all of the Windows shares and figure out what was there. And so, yeah, it was really interesting to get like a microcosm of like how the Internet works, because it's all of these, because it wasn't it wasn't like it was a small Internet right like we had a few thousand computers. But to have that microcosm of crawlers indexes. Yeah, but we need to standardize the way that we name our files, because otherwise they can't be found by the indexer. And so, yeah, like it was really good to see that, like the thing that makes the Internet work. But really, on this really sort of small network, which means that we could also like it evolved like really rapidly, because everyone was in a like five square kilometer radius right so and everyone knew everyone so it was really easy to go like well what we need to do is the blah blah blah. So yeah, that was really sort of an interesting way of of looking at the Internet and sort of what the Internet could be. And that sort of changed me. And so yeah. But yeah, like the reason I dropped out of the whole uni thing was because I was doing so because I've been sort of software development sort of self taught and sort of doing that on the side. I was quite literally making sort of very decent salary in the couple hours I was doing outside sort of studies. And they were trying to teach me the same things like in college. So yeah, I sort of realized I'd learned more. In the field. Yeah. That I that I did sitting in a college in like in a seat. So yeah, I, I dropped out of university. And yeah, and then here's the other thing that we've ended with was sort of mind boggling at the time but we wanted to, I sort of was joining a startup. In the sort of what cryptocurrency but like the previous sort of versions because it's this 99 2000s that were to 99 that we're now in 98 99 But yeah, we're here with sort of four guys trying to figure out one of them from the UK. One of them is from Australia. One of them is US and one from the from the Netherlands. So you sort of go like, well, like, where are we going to move to? And then we couldn't go to the US and the UK for legal sort of export reasons. And like, go to the Netherlands, because that's where the Australian I lived for a bit or go to Australia. Like, and then I sort of made a joke and like, well, why don't we go to the Pacific? And we all laugh and we all sort of look at each other and go. Yeah, like we need power and Internet connection. Right. And it turns out you can get that in the Pacific at the time, but in the in the Caribbean, that was totally possible. So, yeah, we all went to the Caribbean, sort of rented a house and started a startup. You're working on on Silicon Beach, you know, essentially. Yeah, basically. Yeah. And a really, really nice beach, too. So, yeah, I'm not 20 or so 2020 sitting on a beach in the Caribbean, sort of writing software. It turns out sort of that paradise is really boring for 20 year olds. So it didn't last long there. And that sort of set off my... You're taking the show on a deeper, deeper path than we normally cover. But yeah, and that's sort of where it's sort of like taken off, right? Like this, like the Internet is this thing that changes how people live, how teams work, how we collaborate together. Like, I had to find out about these people on literally four different sides of the planet. Like via this thing called the Internet. And yeah, to be able to say, hey, let's meet up at this location, start a business, be able to write code and deploy it or send it across the world. Suddenly now available and with the time remaining, you know, I'd love to learn, you know, what you're excited about for the future. I know you had a company that Cloudflare recently acquired. I'm assuming you'll continue to work on that product as part of the Cloudflare portfolio. But what are you most excited about? Some of the work either Cloudflare is doing or what's going on on the Internet as a whole? So one of the things that I love is to sort of see the... And it's sort of... If you've sort of been around a while, you see these pendulum swings. And it's very easy to go and like every time the pendulum swings and go like, ah, this is just like X. And I sort of grab my beard and go like, ah, like these new kids, they found something new, but it's just this old thing sort of repackaged. And it never is. If you sort of look closely enough and that sort of the thing, right? We started out with computers on desktops only. And then we had desktops and servers. And then we had like browsers and everything was back on the client. And then we had... And that's sort of one of the reasons why we joined Cloudflare is this sort of edge computing thing, this serverless. Serverless is sort of massive thing. So the workers platform, I'm just so excited about to see where we can take that. Because we now have a third place that we've never really had before. Like before we had either the server or the clients, like the device that is people's hands. But we now have this sort of new place where we can write code that is in between there. But also it's lowering the cost of everything, right? I don't have to worry about scaling. I don't have to worry about monitoring. I don't have to worry about performance. I don't have to worry about sort of any of the things I traditionally have to worry about. So this sort of serverless is amazing. Edge is sort of incredible. So that's one of the things I'm sort of really excited about. It's like how do we build things in this sort of third place? What are the things we can do there to sort of make things even more ambiguous than they already are? And again, you see it almost as a force multiplier from... You had the client -server approach and really that was the only strategy you had. But now with a third place to write code and one that is trying to get as close to possible to the developer dream of I just write code and deploy it and everything else is taken care of for me. That opens up new opportunities in the same way that you going from dial-up to broadband and university just opened up new capabilities. Yeah, exactly. In piracy as well as I'm sure in education. There's definitely a lot of educating happening too. And quite a bit of gaming. But yeah, that's where it's so interesting. You have this sort of third place. And funnily enough, it's close to both the server and it's close to the client. It's really going to be interesting to see how even computer programming, how we built applications is going to change over the next couple of years. Again, that's extremely exciting. It's going to be cheaper. It's going to be faster. It's going to democratize a whole bunch of applications that we cannot build. So yeah, I'm sure you're looking forward to the next startup you're going to found back in the Caribbean. I think I'm done with the Caribbean for living. And I'm just going there for holidays. Absolutely. With that, we're near the end of time. So, Erwin, thank you. Thank you very much. For taking us through that journey and looking forward to serverless and everything that the future of the Internet has to offer. Thank you very much. All right. And everyone, thank you for joining us. If you're catching the live stream or the recording, hope everyone has a great morning, afternoon, or good evening. See you next time.