Originally aired on January 27 @ 12:30 PM - 1:00 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.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to episode 29 of Dial Up Motive. I'm your host from the Bavarian coast, Dan Hollinger. With me today, I am joined by Jakub Borys. Jakub, welcome to the show. Pleasure. Great to be here. And for anyone joining in for the first time on Dial Up Motive, we go through some of the earliest experiences of Cloudflare employees on the Internet, you know, be it early bulletin boards, the earliest Dial Up Modems that existed, or, you know, longer term Twitch, Twitter and gaming for some of our younger employees. So thank you for joining, whether you're catching us live or one of the recordings, you know, glad to have you. And with that, happy to hand it off to Jakub for a quick introduction. Hi, thanks, Dan. So my name is Jakub. I've been with Cloudflare for an entirety of six weeks, and joined as an engineering manager for our firewall. This is why you still have the time to, you know, jump on the show. Absolutely. Yeah. Although this one is fairly early on our side. So I'm trying to keep my mornings as clean as possible. But you're right. My days are only filled to the brim only on occasion. And what does an engineering manager do here at Cloudflare? We help teams basically deliver software, as you can imagine. All we can do is basically ensure that there is a clear understanding of what work is important for the team to proceed. As an engineering manager, my style is to make sure that I unblock any things and make sure that my engineers don't have to think about unimportant things. And I do all of the things that's boring, you know, communicating with the rest of the company about our progress and making sure that they have the best possible environment to get the work done, which usually means a lot of focused work. Mm-hmm. Sounds awesome, especially working with all of the engineers and then across the rest of the company. Absolutely, yes. It is great to see all the different teams and what they're up to and how much obviously Cloudflare is delivering. It's quite incredible. Yeah, obviously, what's amazing about this vertical acquisition is that you can quickly see the impact that you have on the business and on the users. And it's really great for engineers to have that understanding. Sometimes you are in places where that correlation cannot be made very quickly. Here at Cloudflare, you can very easily see your impact that you have both on the bottom line for the business, but also on the success of your customers. And which products are your teams working on the engineering and code of specifically? So Firewall specifically, my team is about the Firewall custom rules. So that's where the users can go in and really tweak quite a bit and either block or allow particular traffic to come to their origins or destinations. So users have a pretty deep UI that lets them do quite a lot of configuration and quite intricate type of blocking or allowing traffic or challenging traffic. So we're working with the newly created ruleset engine, which makes this configuration very, very flexible for our customers. Awesome. Thank you for that background and glad to have you and welcome to Cloudflare for your first few months. To kind of get into the meat of the show, I'd be fascinated to take a step back, really get into the early nostalgia of your life and hone in on what was one of the earliest memories you had working with either technology or the Internet that really helped get you on the career path you were on today? Certainly. Yeah. So I took some notes here to kind of maybe describe some of that. And I think my first connection was probably really late for some standards today, but I think I was around 14 years old and my parents sent me to some computer class. I mean, we're talking here early 90s or so. And it was a computer class course completely outside of work, outside of school. And I had no idea what I was doing there. We were writing some basic codes. This was the time when still you would be loading programs from tapes, but we would be writing some basic code that I had no idea what was it about. There was some graphics element happening once we executed our programs, but I really had no clue what was it about and just could not understand what we were doing there. But I was typing in some basic code without really understanding what's happening. Yeah. So in that point, it was kind of like math where the teacher was like, OK, type this in. This will be your output. It was more just, OK, I'll go do those things. But you weren't really grasping onto the functionality and what was actually happening behind the scenes. Exactly. Exactly. Really, really no clue what was happening. And nothing was really sticking in my head at that time whatsoever. And where was this computer class? Where were you growing up? Yeah, that's Poland. I think that's like right after communism finished. So I don't know. I was 14, so probably 1990 or so. And yeah, so it was at my some through my dad used to work in the university. So through his university, I think I was getting access to some classes to do that. That, I think, was ZX Spectrum, which was a very popular kind of a platform in Europe at that time. So it was really, really interesting. Well, not really interesting because I really didn't understand what's going on. So that was the first, I think. And I don't know how much influence that had on what I did, but somehow maybe more familiar. My dad did read computer at some point, but we played games a lot and things like that, not really anything from a programming perspective. I know that's always one of the fascinating things of just understanding for many people when the first introduction to a computer was and how it was. So for some folks that had a parent in technology or in the university world and a computer ended up in their home earlier, for those that were introduced in a computer lab scenario, I think I've talked to a few that their introduction was an Internet cafe and then PC cafe in their country. So it's fascinating, just the wide range of when did you first sit down, have a keyboard, see a screen and begin to interact with it in any way? Exactly. Yeah. So certainly that was the case, I guess, at that point. But I kind of quickly moved on to doing some electronics. I had some friends in high school that did electronics and I kind of hang out with them. So very nerdy. And we built some amplifiers, we built some radios. And that was something that I really started enjoying a lot, schematics and just building things. And that was very interesting. But I also gave that up completely for playing guitar at that time. I thought I'm not going to get any girls if I'm just soldering some electronics. So I thought playing guitar is going to be much cooler to do. And that's what I moved on to, basically music and playing some bands. And I got interested in that much more and kind of gave up my electronics background, which actually is paying off dividends still today, to be honest with you. The guitar is paying off dividends? Well, the electronics. At some point, I gave up on music. I decided I have zero talent. But the funny thing about the music, I think, was that at some point electronic music came into my life. So I kind of moved from punk rock and rock and into electronic music. Drum and bass was always my passion. And that meant now I'm starting to be interested in making music on computers. And that's really what brought me back to the computers, this desire to create music and sequencers and Cubase at that time. And just plugins, VST plugins were popular and it was all kind of happening. And so I think like around like 96, 97 is when I really started getting into the music and starting producing a little bit. I mean, getting some time at my friend's studio and things like that. So that's what I was in. And if anything, that's fascinating hearing essentially what sounds like the Venn diagram of, you know, you were dabbling in electronics, you're dabbling in computers to some degree, you enjoyed music as all teenagers do. And to be able to merge those two and say, oh, well, this is interesting. I can make a computer make music. How, to your point, if you abandon the guitar due to fear that you didn't have the talent, but this became an easier entryway into music, you know, you can interact with the computer to set up your beats and create what you wanted to. You know, that's an interesting overlap between, you know, those two, I wouldn't say passions, but those two parts of your life that you'd already kind of been introduced to. Yeah. So did you release anything anyone's heard of? You said you had some studio time. No, no, no, no. You know, yeah. So when I had some bands, we did some live performances. And then when I started going to the studio, no, no one, I don't think so. I mean, I maybe participated in some sessions that maybe were released, but I took like a slot between, you know, 10 p .m. and 2 a.m. where no one was there and kind of stuck in a studio that was Pro Tools and like a proper kind of a setup with proper instruments and really, really interesting stuff. But yeah, no, I don't think I amount to anything really interesting from that time. And it was kind of a passion thing. And learning that and getting really into it was very interesting to me. And I had a lot of good time, you know, lots of, you know, illegal software, a lot of cracks, you know, I could never afford any of that. That was very expensive. Yeah, I think we're beyond the statute of limitations at this point. Yeah, I hope so. Because, yeah, I've talked to a few folks and definitely they came to the Internet and even myself to some degree during the key moments of the various file sharing software of, you know, music downloads and the like. But, you know, everyone's above board here now. Fantastic. Glad to hear. It was just a lot of fun, you know. And so that was, so that was, I think, what kind of brought me back in like a heavy, heavy use of computers again, right? Like, you know, power user type of scenario. What got my eyesight on the Internet, I can move on to that story, I guess, because that, I think, what really pushed me towards what I've been doing for us, you know, 20 years or so is the visit at my friend's, still in Poland, I was still in Poland at that time. And I knew he was into computers, I didn't know exactly what he was doing, but he was like, hey, let me show you something. And, you know, he opened a text editor, put a few like HTML tags together, uploaded to a server and said, look, this page is now available to the whole world. And I was like, what? How is that even possible? It's just, yeah, everybody can see it, everybody can find it. You can go to your home and on your computer and type in this address, and you'll see it. And I did, and that really blew my mind. I don't remember a lot from that visit, but just him so quickly being able to share content online, I just, I just was really amazed. That was, you know, I think maybe like 98 or something like that. Yeah, that was the lightbulb moment of, oh my gosh, this is a thing or, you know, in many ways, a game changer, the ability to distribute content and really without any gatekeeping, you know, in that era of being able to put up your own contents. And so I guess the follow-up question is, what was the first website, you know, you made and put on your friend's server? Wow. To be honest with you, it wasn't this straightforward there. I don't, you know, probably that was the era of like Dreamweaver and Micromedia kind of a tooling. And, you know, that's what helped you to write these HTML pages. And I think I remember, you know, I had some close friends of mine, they already were into like doing like a graphic design and probably mainly printed that time, but they were heavy users of, you know, Photoshop or CorelDRAW or something like that at the time. And I was like, oh, cool. They have some sort of a thing that they do that they can work, you know, and make money on. And I was literally studying political science because I had no idea what I want to do. I was, you know, my parents came from, you know, kind of like a very plugged into the world and obviously Poland was going through like a growth and democracy movement and all that stuff. And I was like, oh, political science, that's interesting. So that's what I was doing. And then once I saw this whole Internet and how easy it is to write web pages, I was like, well, this could be my thing, right? I'm not good at drawing. I don't have the talent for graphic design or anything like that, but I can certainly spend hours and hours on the computer and force it to do what I want it to do, right? And I started playing a little bit and Flash was like popular at that time as well. I don't know if you remember that thing. Oh, I remember trying to make an entire website out of Flash. Oh, yeah. You know, mistakes were made in the 56k era. Yeah, yeah. I was, yeah, because I would put in all the music, the animations and, you know, I had to back off from that quite quickly. And we don't even have tools like that today, right? We cannot make these. I mean, there was this whole website awards page or heavy.com or something that they were just, you know, the stuff that they were producing was just incredible. And so I started, I think, learning that on my own a little bit. And I knew that that's what I want to do. And suddenly the opportunity came to go to US, to live in US and basically work in US. And at that time, I went to San Francisco and it was 2000. And I didn't even know about that bus at all. And, you know, I came to San Francisco, everybody's basically unemployed. And I was like, whoa, what's going on? Yeah, you came at the end of the gold rush. Exactly. And it's like, wait, no one, no one needs me to mine for gold anymore. Nope, no, no. All the guys are hanging out on the corner drinking beer. Yeah, we'll code for beer. Exactly, exactly. So yeah, but I had at that time a friend in Dallas, Texas, and then I went to live with him. And yeah, and that's how my career really started. So I was in US and I was able to get into some early stage startups, but I also was doing a lot of consulting. So like I immediately went in there and I saw this opportunity to basically build websites for clients and money was just laying on the ground as far as I concerned, you know, coming from Poland, working full time job and then working on some clients on the site was obviously normal to me because why wouldn't you get some extra money? And so I think the growth there was pretty quick and rapid. And I would just come from work and spend hours and hours on learning programming effectively. And yeah, and that's really how the whole thing started. And I went from one startup to another as you do. It was a lot of like Microsoft stack at that point, C-Sharp effectively what I've been doing for many years until really early 2000 teens. And yeah, so spent 11 years in US, pretty much all the time besides that beginning in Dallas, Texas, which was a great place because Dallas actually has a really big industry, lots of different industries, right? So healthcare, telecom, lots of startups, lots of tech, always tons of work, tons of interesting places to be. And I was able to, you know, just no one was, you know, upset about me not having, you know, educational background in science. There was never a problem. I always thought that if I stayed in Poland, it would not be as easy for me to at that time to get into to do what I do because of lack of that educational background. I think today very much changed the market that is super hot, so it wouldn't be a problem. And I'd be curious your advice, you know, given that you weren't formally educated on programming, you know, for those out there that went and got a degree in political science or any other field and decided, oh, I actually want to try tech out, you know, I want to try programming out. What would your recommendations be to them? Well, you know, I mean, it's cliche that we say, you know, oh, anybody can do programming. But, you know, the truth is not everybody can do programming. The one aspect of our industry, and that's both true with, you know, computer science, you know, programming or even design, is that the barrier to entry is like non-existent, right? I mean, you can inherit, you can get a hand-me-down computer for free and effectively open a text editor and start doing. Now, the problem there is that obviously, you know, when my wife looks at my screen, she just shivers. She's like, I could not do that. I cannot see this black terminal for four hours that you can do on end. And for me, that was fun. So obviously, there is that predisposition that at some point, you do need to enjoy that type of work, because if you don't enjoy it, I don't think it's possible to really write software. On the other hand, yeah, the barrier of entry is really non -existent. And, you know, I've hired in the past guys and girls who went through three months boot camps, and, you know, in three months today, you can suddenly, you know, make an amazing living. This accelerated fashion, these boot camp programs are amazing. And they come out and have a really good job opportunity straight away. So there's no barrier to enter this industry. Everybody is welcoming. It's really easy. And there's extreme demand. It's very fortunate to be in this industry, obviously. But yeah, it's not for everyone. I would never say, hey, anybody can do it, because if that's not unfortunately true. And then for those that, you know, want to at least test the waters, it's easy enough, as you mentioned, to go get a computer, go take some courses, spin up. I mean, even with the cloud, you can go rent someone else's machine for free and post some code. And, you know, that's one thing I've always found fascinating, either about the Bay Area or about tech in general is, in many cases, we don't judge people by their pedigree. It's really what can you do today? You know, what is your, how many commits have you made? What technology is most, are you most passionate about? You know, how are you helping with that? Or how are you learning and growing? And that's always more interesting than where you came from, or what college and what degree you have. And I think this speaks to the ease of picking it up or the amount of effort to just get started to then begin learning more. Absolutely. Yeah, I think so. It is a really great, great place to be. And, you know, if you have went through this, you know, up and down cycles, recessions and whatnot. And I mean, I don't know anyone who has struggled with jobs throughout this, through this period, 2008 and whatnot. It's never a shortage of jobs to have. So it's very fortunate to be in this industry. It's really, really great. And with that, you know, as we near the end of the show, I'd be fascinated to learn, you know, what you're most excited about for the future of the Internet and technology, either specific to your work here at Cloudflare or more broadly? Oh, it's an interesting question. I think, you know, there's the saying in technology, if you don't like it, just come back in five years, everything changes, right? So like, it's these... It's like the weather in the Midwest. Exactly. So, you know, what I'm passionate about for the future, it's hard to say, right? So like, I think, you know, we've got ourselves into a little bit that pickle with, you know, really there being these, you know, five computers in the world, right? You know, Google, GCP, Azure, AWS, right? And a few others. And I think the backlash to that with some decentralization will probably happen. And I hope it will, right? I hope we will not be... We go back a little bit to these basics of Internet where people are in charge of their own domain and their own content and their own work. And it's not all controlled by someone else. And there's that decentralization of the ideas and thinking. And it's not just based on the big providers of platforms. So I hope that does change and we get back to some of those early principles. So I think that is something I'm interested in. Obviously, you know, there's lots of interesting things happening around crypto and around that side of things. Although I'm still not, you know, I go in and out as probably all the engineers from time to time to kind of zoom in and to see what's there. And usually it's just more tokens and more tokens. And you still don't know what these tokens are for. I always wonder how many good engineers we've lost that are like, yeah, I want to go check out crypto for a while. In some cases, their company might do fine. In other cases, like, okay, that didn't work out. I need to go find another job. It is. The whole crypto world is obviously fascinating, but also troublesome and and, you know, the right with frauds. And obviously, we all know that. But it is still interesting that something like this happens. And there is some hope in it providing some value. We don't know exactly where that value is going to happen. We see some of it, but I don't think it's where it needs to be. So, yeah, I think going back to the basics of Internet is really what I'm hoping for the future. Is that, you know, some of the power can return to the individual or we can open up the wild, wild west in some way again, where anyone can post content. They're not necessarily beholden to a platform provider or a solution provider. You know, I'm definitely fascinated as well in kind of that, if we can go towards a more decentralized world or mesh world where, you know, you're working from your phone and you already have connectivity via your phone, you know, what world can that open up that you're not necessarily having to put this on a centralized server somewhere. So, definitely a fascinating place is where the tech can continue to go. I think so, yes. And kind of maybe a final question is for anyone that's hoping to become an engineering manager or kind of take the path that you've taken, what would your advice to them be? Do you need to become the best programmer first? Do you need to develop more of kind of guidance and mentorship skills? Is it a combination? How would you see, you know, someone pursuing a path similar to you? Great question. I've talked to many, many engineers who kind of decided to take on this path and a lot of engineers who think about taking on that path. Do you have to be the best engineer in the world? Probably not. That's certainly not the skill. If you are the best engineer in the world, you should stay as an engineer because that's really the best thing you do. Yeah, so I certainly developed the passion to be working with people and, you know, I mentored a lot of engineers outside of my working days on different kind of mentorship groups. And at some point of my career, I personally decided that the best benefit for the company that would be paying me money would be for them to use those skills, not my programming skills. And I made that decision once and I reverted that decision and went back to being full hands on. I see again, and then in kind of a little pendulum. And then I went back into management. So I recommend folks to do that. And if you do not feel, if you still feel like you have a lot of that itch to scratch around programming and you still want to write software and you get yourself in the position of management, you can always go back. Right. And then later on, you can still come back to become a manager. So I think once you want to try it out, go for it. Don't feel worried about, oh my God, what's going to happen? Am I not going to be able to write code again? That's not true. You can go back and get proficient really quickly again. But if you do want to try management, do it for at least a year, right? Just give it a try. You know, first year is really, you don't know what's going on. So it takes a while to get a hold of it. That hit where you get after merging PR doesn't exist. So it's much harder to understand what your purpose is in life and what is the benefit that you provide. It's much easier to do when you simply write a code, you can see your results of your work much faster. But if you like working with teams and you like, basically helping the teams to advance and you like to understand where business is going and get some of that perspective a little bit earlier, maybe than engineers, this is a great place to be and give it a go. And if you don't like it, you can always go back to be an individual contributor and very much, obviously places like CloudFed will provide you with the career path that will allow you to stay on that path for a long time. If you decide to go and try management, as an engineering manager, I can tell you, I always look for talent like that. It's very important to have that succession plan in a team who can take over next. And it's a skill set that is in high demand. There's maybe less managers than engineers, but there's always a shortage of training managers. Awesome. Well, Jacob, thank you for that background and thank you for taking us through your early Internet history. And it's fascinating to learn about the mixture of music and EDM and electronics and how that shapes some of your time on the computer. And for everyone watching, thank you for joining us as well. Hopefully you have a great morning, evening, or afternoon. Thank you, Dan. Thank you.