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.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Episode 8 of Dial Up Motive. I'm your host, Dan Hollinger, and on this show, we explore the early experiences of Cloudflare employees with computers and the Internet and how it defined and shaped their career today.
This morning, I am joined by Janet Van Huysse, current head of people at Cloudflare.
Janet, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, Dan. I love that I'm Episode 8, the least technical person at Cloudflare talking about technology, but I do have some experience with it.
Everyone's a little bit technical in their hearts.
That's right. It's not the need to be technical to be able to use it and enjoy it.
Especially as we were all growing up with technology, the Internet's not that old yet.
What I've enjoyed about hosting this show is actually seeing the breadth of people's experience and when they were first touching the Internet, what they were using it for and how that kind of developed and shaped their lives.
So it's always just interesting to see a variety of perspectives.
Great. Well, it'll be a wonderful walk down memory lane for us today, at least for me.
Awesome. And with that, would you mind introducing yourself?
Oh, sure. So, I mean, you said I'm Janet Van Huysse, head of people at Cloudflare.
I've been working in tech in HR for over 20 years.
I was a part of the dot-com first bubble. And yeah, I feel like I've had a really great career and love being in tech, especially on the people side, you know?
So it's been great. And how do you feel on the people side? Is there anything unique or different about supporting people teams here in the Bay Area or in the tech bubble in general?
Yeah, that's such a great question. And I think that there is.
I think why I'm attracted to people work in tech is that, and I guess maybe in California, because that's where I've spent most of my career or all of my career in tech, is I feel like when I, so when I moved out to California in the late nineties, I'm sure we'll talk about it.
I was just amazed that these people that were just like me, like new college grads were CEOs of these tech startups.
And it just was something that it was not part of my upbringing that you would ever just go right to CEO at 23.
And so I loved, and I loved all the innovation and the disruption.
And what I thought when I joined, because I joined a startup after I moved to California, was they wanted innovation everywhere.
So even in HR, like even in the people team, like what can we do that's innovative around people?
And I loved that mandate because I wasn't technical and it's not going to ever be my superpower, but people stuff is.
And so getting the license to kind of be innovative and not have to play by a specific playbook was really attractive to me.
And then I felt like living in California, the employment law is very favorable to the employees.
And I like that, it makes my job a lot easier when you're doing the right thing by people.
And so I don't know that I would be as successful or have as much fun in my career in HR if it wasn't in tech.
It's definitely, it has to be in tech.
And to be fair, were these good 20 year old CEOs or do they still have a lot to learn?
Well, I mean, I mean, I'm well into my forties and I still feel like I'm learning.
No, it was definitely one of the good guys.
And he's still a good friend of mine. And I've been, you know, he's been a CEO.
I've been, I've worked for two of his companies with him as CEO. And so, yeah, we weren't like, we weren't one of those stories of like, we're having a lot lavish parties on yachts and like burning through investor money.
We weren't, we were like very prudent and had folding tables as our desks and, you know, old doors as the tabletop.
I mean, it wasn't, we were not, we were not that group. We'd have some fun parties every now and again, but they were like in someone's basement or something.
It was not something reasonable.
Yeah. Yeah. And, and so what kind of technologies are you working with today, either at Cloudflare or at some of your previous roles?
Well, email and today Zoom and Google Hangouts. Yeah. I mean, I feel like I use technology at work a ton.
I have technology in my home. You know, I love musics.
I tend to have music going at all times. And so, I don't know, like all the technologies that you use to get your work done and have a fun life.
And during these kind of unique times, how do you feel we're using technology to kind of bring teams together or keep teams working, you know, in a coherent fashion?
What has been your take or perspective on that?
Yeah, well, I'm really grateful for the progress that we've seen with technology in order to allow, you know, great VC experiences and great collaboration on online, because I think that especially with COVID being a global pandemic, right?
So I always kind of talk about how it wasn't just like one office at Cloudflare that went shelter in place.
It wasn't just one part of the world.
It was all of our offices around the world. And, you know, we really didn't miss a beat, right?
Like, and I think a lot of that is because we were a global company.
So we're used to using Zoom and Google Meets, and we're used to collaborating on Google Docs.
And so how we get our job done wasn't much different.
You know, it was the wear that was very different and the circumstances around that wear.
And so I'm really grateful because I think if this pandemic would have happened even five, definitely 10 years ago, we would, it would have been more disruptive.
And what I get excited about for the future, because we will get through this pandemic.
It doesn't sometimes feel like it, but it will end.
And I'm really excited about all the flexibility it will give us. And maybe, you know, it's caused a lot of companies to rethink how we work and where we work, including Cloudflare.
And I'm really optimistic about those changes. And I'm really excited to be a part of it.
So pop up office in Hawaii. We're looking forward to that.
I'll sign up for that. I will definitely sign up for that. Yes. All right.
And with that out of the way, you know, I'd love to start the journey down kind of memory lane and go through all the nostalgia of, you know, what the early computer life was for you and kind of the early Internet.
So happy to jump on to those experiences.
Yeah. Okay. So I've already said I'm well in my forties. And so I have a large part of my life that I remember quite well without the Internet and without technology.
I remember buying my first Motorola flip phone. And it was like this, and I had an extra battery pack.
So it was like the size of a brick and I just kept it underneath my car seat because I would never like put in my purse and travel around with it.
It was too big and too heavy. But I liked having it to, you know, be able to make phone calls when I needed to.
So yeah, so I'm going to age myself.
I definitely lived most of, you know, my youth without any technology at all.
So I think my first introduction to it was, you know, email and floppy disks in college and, you know, being able to store your, you know, I was an English major, so I'd be able to store your papers on this disk.
And so that was kind of like as deep as I got in college with technology.
Life before was typewriters, wasn't it?
You were writing papers. Oh yeah. Yeah. And I'm actually kind of grateful.
You know, I've got three kids and they're school age. I'm curious to see, they haven't yet, but you know, I took a year of typing class in high school and it was because, you know, I knew that we were using computers.
I've got actually a computer science story for high school I will share.
But that skill of typing has like really been useful for me.
And so I can't imagine like not really learning how to type correctly and be on the computer all day.
I don't know. I know people do it, but I'm very grateful that I made that decision.
But, you know, at my high school, I went to an all girls Catholic high school in the Chicago suburbs.
And there was a computer science course.
And, you know, I don't think many schools had that, but we did.
And I was so excited. My sister was a year older and she took the class and I signed up for the next year.
And I think we were halfway through the semester.
I remember like carrying around my floppy disk. And then the teacher went out of maternity leave and they like didn't replace her.
So we were left with literally no computer science options.
So I took study hall or something instead. I was so devastated by it.
And I really blame that as my setback. Maybe I would have been a developer.
You could have been a coder in a different life. And it's one thing I've found fascinating is kind of in talking with people through various walks of life is those that, you know, to seek information, they had to go find a book in an obscure library and they were lucky if it was a recent enough edition to be useful.
And then as we started to introduce computer classes here in the States, you know, it was disparate depending on where you were going to school, what neighborhoods you were in.
But over time, that access has just increased, allowing more people to learn about the Internet, learn how to code or to design whatever their passion might be.
And so it's interesting to see that dilution of, you know, accessibility to more world.
Yeah, it's funny that you say that.
So I'll go on with a little bit more about my first introduction. But I, you know, I was a middle school teacher early in my career.
So before I got into tech. And so I remember moving out to California and thinking, you know, this was the innovation hub around technology, right?
And then I was teaching in middle school in Mountain View, a public middle school, and that was great.
But most of the kids there did not have, we didn't have great technology there.
And I remember talking to a friend who was, had kids in school that was kind of like anti technology.
And they were, you know, kind of going on about why that was so important.
And I said, that's interesting, because me as a public school teacher, I feel obligated to get my kids in front of technology, because a lot of them don't have it at home.
And so it felt like such a privilege to say, I want my kids to grow up or not have technology in the school, because you know, they're getting it probably at home and other access that they have.
But as a public school teacher in Mountain View, in the late 90s, you know, I really felt an obligation to get to get my students in front of in front of the computer.
But let me share with you kind of my early days teaching in Illinois, I taught for like two years in middle school in Illinois before I moved to California.
And my boyfriend now has been at the time had moved out to California with a few other friends, and everyone kind of worked at Oracle.
Like that's all the developers I knew were going to Oracle in the mid 90s. And so he was part of that group.
And so I was super into what was going on in California.
Like I said, I was attracted to the innovation and just like the disruption about like, what a CEO is and who can start a company.
And so I'd go out and visit him.
And I was just definitely enamored of the whole situation. But I'd still go back to Illinois and go to my teaching job.
And so I would try to bring like what I was learning back in California to my Illinois classroom.
But like really important things like how do you properly punctuate a URL in a sentence?
Now, I was doing things like that. And the kids will need this. This is really important, really important children.
So but they thought I was an alien.
Like they were like, what is this HTTP, you know, www dot they really had no idea I was talking about, like they weren't spending their days as eighth graders, you know, surfing the web, because this was the mid 90s.
And I remember, I remember this vividly.
So but you know, but, you know, web browsers were being invented, there was more getting online, there was a dial up modems.
And I remember being in my mom, my parents kitchen, and my mom was always listening to am radio.
And they were talking about the Netscape IPO. So this must have been 1995.
And that's, that's basically the NPR of of yesteryear, correct? I guess so. Yes, yes.
Yes. So there's a good analogy. I don't know if like the NPR really existed.
But yeah, I was listening to a lot of am news radio as a kid. And so they're talking about Marc Andreessen, Netscape, this IPO.
And I remember like just stopping in my tracks and listening because you know, I just graduated from the University of Illinois.
And then I'm listening to this graduate have this great, you know, experience and be inventing something that I was using.
I was using Netscape, I was using Alta Vista, I was using, I'm sure Internet Explorer.
And I thought I was really inspired by that. And I think, you know, I was already enamored of California and really wanted to get out there.
But I think that really fueled my fire is feeling, I don't know, some Marc Andreessen inspiration, which I don't think I've ever admitted to this day.
But here we go.
And it's interesting, it's interesting how all of those came together.
So in other circumstances, if you hadn't been so in love with California, and some of the technology you've seen there, you might have been as paying much attention to that, that radio station, it just would have passed over you as background noise.
And yet having kind of the experiences you did, you were able to allow them to reinforce each other.
And for you to end up in California.
Yeah, it's one of those things where you just like, feel like maybe you do have a bit of a calling.
And you know, and like I said, I'm the least technical person.
I'm like, I'm not terribly innovative, I don't think but yet I find myself like just always attracted to that environment.
Like I wanted to be around really smart, creative people who are innovating and disrupting and you just be able to do find, I think I was lucky as I'll define where it worked for me, you know, and that was on the people side.
And yeah, the way I fell into that. So I so when I finally moved out to California in 97, I was, you know, working at this middle school in Mountain View by day.
And, you know, teaching pay is not that great.
And living in California is very expensive. So of course, I had two jobs. So I would teach during the day.
And then at night, I would work at the startup that my husband was at the 23 year old CEO and a few other of his, you know, MIT classmates.
And, and so I was working with them on nights and on the weekends. And I was doing everything I was doing, like marketing and events and customer support.
And I even like was that QA person for a while, which was super fun.
And I love telling that story, because I always kind of blows people's mind.
And so, so I was doing that on the nights and the weekends.
And at some kind of point, you know, I remember it in the early spring, I realized I'd like this weekend job better than my day job.
I also saw a path towards only being able to have one job and not have a house or apartment with six roommates in my future if I picked a different career path.
So I definitely felt like a financial need to get out of teaching, but definitely a calling towards tech.
And so that was a great job. It was an online music startup.
It was called spinner.com. If anyone, it was the dj.com. But everyone kept going to Dow Jones.com instead of our music player.
So we renamed it spinner.com.
And then, you know, I was there from the very beginning. It was like the three founders, my boyfriend, my husband and me.
Then we got a bunch of funding.
I think actually Mark Andreessen was no Mark Cuban was one of the funders. And then, you know, we're able to grow the business.
And then we got acquired by AOL. When AOL was big in the late 90s, we got acquired in 99 by AOL, which was a great experience to from a career perspective.
And they also merged us with this group called Winamp that had this awesome mp3 player.
This was before the, um, I was, I was an avid Winamp user.
Oh, great. Thank you. I thought you'd be like, what are you talking about?
No, I had custom skins. I had, you know, my completely legal music collection, you know, stored within that.
Of course. Yes. Yeah. So yeah, the like Winamp devotees would pay like a dollar, you know, for the player that just like dollar donations would come in like in cash.
Yes, they merged the two of us together.
And it was funny because at that time, Spinner was I don't know, close to 100 people, or maybe over 100 people.
And Winamp was, you know, I don't know, four 19 year olds.
And so that we were all together under one, you know, roof and in the mission in San Francisco.
And they actually put like a tarp over their their area to like, I don't know, separate themselves.
They thought we were like total corporate stiffs at Spinner.
And we were like, No, we're not the corporate stiffs.
Like AOL is the corporate stiffs, you know. But it was really interesting because not only did I experience from an HR point of view, an acquisition, I also was experiencing this merger where you have these two companies that were just like really kind of clashing culturally, and I was in the middle of like trying to make that work.
And so and then of course, the bubble burst. Oh, not before AOL acquired Time Warner, which was really interesting to be kind of on the inside.
Granted, I was nowhere near the details.
But I remember coming back from my honeymoon, and that acquisition was happening.
I was thinking this is not going to be good.
Yeah, a weird purchase. Out of curiosity, do you feel that some of your experience as a teacher has only helped you in dealing with, you know, engineers, executives, you know, especially people that, you know, have big dreams, just like children, and managing those is in some ways, its own kind of challenge.
How do you think your experiences as reflected on that? Yeah, I really love my time teaching, because you know, I was telling you, I'm attracted to like innovation, right?
So the tech, the the team that I taught on in, in Illinois, and the fact that I'm even using team is awesome.
It was this, we had a team teaching model.
So there's like five to seven of us, depending on what year I was in.
And we had integrated instruction. So you'd mix together reading and writing and science and like a two hour class with two teachers, instead of like 50 minutes, one teacher in front of the room, bell rings, go to the next class, we just weren't doing it that way, which is part of the reason I stayed out there for two years.
Because it was such a new approach to teaching.
And this was like a middle school in Chicago suburbs.
It was really awesome. And now I've lost my train of thought on Oh, yeah.
And so then so then I move out to California. And you know, it's the job I'm most qualified for.
So I get a job teaching, I'm doing the stuff at spinner at night.
And then I realized I'm liking this job better. And we're getting funding, they can probably employ me full time.
And so I asked around, like, what should I do?
Because I really felt like spinner was going to give me the opportunity to like put myself in any position that, you know, I wanted.
And so I asked a lot of people like, what should I do?
I'm trained as a teacher, but I want to get into tech.
And you know, people just kept recommending HR. And I really didn't have a paradigm of like, what HR was.
I'm like, okay, it looks like there's like some training aspects, definitely people oriented, you know, like evaluating performance, like, yeah, sure, I do that all the time as a teacher.
And so I really love that I had that early experience, especially around working together on a tight knit team.
And one of the other things that's an interesting takeaway, that's not obvious, probably is we, one of my early teaching teams, we had, we came early to like, what, where are we gonna when we are trying to kind of come to consensus?
Or at what point can we agree and disagree and commit? And we found in our North Star of like, is this best for kids?
Like, is this the best thing for the kids?
And then because sometimes a lot of times it meant like more work for you or something difficult in your life.
And that was always our North Star. So I love that I learned that and brought that into the office.
Like what is best for the business?
What is best for the people? And yeah, there's a lot of similarities. But one of the funniest early moments where I was like, wow, this is really similar teaching, was having to sit down with a co -worker who's, or an engineer whose co -workers were complaining about the body, body smells.
And if we, if I didn't talk to the person about, I don't know, hygiene, personal hygiene, I'm like, yep, this feels a lot like teaching middle school.
You have to explain to them, you know, bring a change of clothes.
Yeah. Or like, I don't know, like the deodorant options, but yeah, that happened.
That was real. And also, also part of California life.
Yeah. Oh, it's life everywhere. And one thing I resonated with that you talked about earlier is especially at a startup, the ability to do a dozen different jobs.
And I think an aspect of kind of the success or innovation of California and the Bay Area in general, is you just get that exposure and you get a lot more experience faster.
So as opposed to some areas where you're supposed to master one job, you try to master it as well as you can.
You spend 40 years doing that. Here in the Bay Area, you typically have to wear multiple hats.
You not necessarily have to be the best at any of them, but you get that multiple exposure, be able to find what fits, you know, at no point did I think I was going to become a Internet TV host of anything extraordinary.
Yeah. But now, you know, here's the fun side hobby.
I get to learn, experience and develop that I wouldn't have had elsewhere.
And that I think is maybe not necessarily going to remain unique to the Bay Area as more kind of team based mindsets get put in place.
And it's less about kind of an individual and a single task and more about a North Star and a team of people trying to accomplish that.
Yeah, I totally agree. And like my happy place is, you know, wearing all those hats and building things from nothing, you know, so that real early kind of, I guess not really early, but you know, that early startup life.
And I love seeing when people early in their career make that decision.
So go to the startup versus the big player. And I get the appeal. I realize too, it's so personal.
Like for me, someone asked me after my last job, like, Oh, are you now going to go to a big company?
Cause I've, you know, I've done three small startups that got big.
Like, okay now. And I'm like, I would literally wither on the vine.
It's just not for me. So yeah, I love when people do that because yeah, you're going to get this really robust experience and then you can choose like, Hey, I like, I've learned that I like being a generalist.
I like knowing a lot about everything and like not a lot about anything.
I'm like a mile wide and inch deep, but like that works for me versus like specialize and then really become an expert in something.
So I think you just have to know who you are, but I feel like tech startups give you an opportunity to experiment that I think is hard to replicate anywhere else.
Yeah. And, and given kind of the growth rate of, of Cloudflare, or do you think we're still a small nimble company at heart for, for better or worse, or are we becoming a tech giant?
Oh yeah, no, I feel like we have a long way to go before we're a tech giant.
No, I think it's still there. One of the ways that I kind of look at it is how much does your job like impact the work that you do?
How much does it impact the company? And you know, I still do final calls as part of our process, right before anyone gets an offer at Cloudflare, they talk to an executive first.
And you know, every job I think about, like whether it's a BDR on the sales team or, you know, a new marketing role, I'm like, you are going to have like a big impact on the success of the company.
That's why we keep a really high bar when we're hiring, because like everyone really still contributes and make it makes a difference.
So like no one can kind of hide out in a corner and not be great at their job because I think we're still too small for that.
Yeah. Awesome. Yeah, I, I definitely agree. Although it's, it's definitely fascinating in my kind of tenure here seeing how much we've grown.
So, so thinking back to the 100, 200 person days, and now, you know, at almost 1500 globally.
So seeing that that growth trajectory and continued growth has been fascinating.
So do you, Dan, you believe like in the dog years of the Internet that one year at a startup is worth X number of years at a large company or a mature company?
I definitely do. I think it's, it's the rate of change. So because you're changing so much so fast, and because, as you said, both the impact and the multiple hats you're wearing, you're just getting more cycles than you would in a kind of a normal job where you have maybe one or two responsibilities.
And I think that's what adds to that feeling.
So my joke a few years ago, I don't think it's quite 2x here at Cloudflare, but it's definitely like 1.5, 1.6.
So a normal year is almost two years here at Cloudflare.
And I think that's just the how rapidly it's so much higher than that.
I mean, I'm kind of like, is it the seven year dog year? Like, maybe it's not that.
But I don't know, I definitely feel like it's more than one and a half X.
Oh, no, I joked last night on my game show, like someone has to sit down and do the math.
Like, what's the average, you know, Cloudflare year to a year?
That's what I was watching it yesterday. And so I think that's what made me think of it.
Then I'm like, I wonder what it is like, because I definitely agree that, you know, it is worth more than one year at a mature company.
But I don't know.
Okay, well, we should, we should, we should, we put somebody on this.
And then I think that that's some of the magic of the Bay Area. So to the point of you can come here, you can almost get overclocked, you know, your career, your experience, you can develop a little bit faster in this area and region.
And then if you did want to kind of settle down or escape, you've now had that uplift of, sure, it was only four years, but it felt like eight, or it felt like 10.
Depending on your role.
Yeah, or when you do if you decide, okay, maybe the more mature, bigger company is for me right now, I want to take a stab at this, like, I think you bring just so much more experience, like you just get so much more out of the years, which are valuable no matter kind of what you do with it.
And with our last few minutes on the call, I'd be curious to learn what you're most excited about for either the future of the Internet or the future of Cloudflare.
Yeah, I kind of alluded to it earlier, like, I am really excited that and it took me a while to see like the silver lining of COVID.
But I'm really seeing it. I'm really excited because I know that it will end.
I'm really excited about the flexibility that it will now that like the way that companies are rethinking how we work and where we work and what that flexibility means.
I'm really excited because I think we'll tech will have greater diversity, because we'll be able to hire, you know, outside this kind of expensive hubs where we tend to have offices.
I'm excited for what it means for working parents, I'm one, you're one to not have to like commute into an office each day.
I get I've been really close to the parents at every company I've worked at.
And just hearing about how, you know, the difficulty of trying to put a hot, healthy meal on the dinner table when you're working full time or being there to help your kids with homework.
And I have a two hour round trip commute, like, yeah, it's like, it's brutal for quality of life.
It really is brutal.
And until like mental and physical health. And so I'm excited that I think we'll have a lot more flexibility of how often you're going in if you're going in at all.
And and I think that will really benefit text diversity. And I think I'll help parents, which is part of the diversity problem, too, is I think a lot of moms typically decide to tap out for a bit so they can be there.
And and so I'm excited that I think it's I don't think we're going back.
I don't think we're going back.
And I'm really optimistic about the change. Yeah, I know, I can echo that I've enjoyed, you know, some of the impromptu walks with my daughters, some of being able to join them for lunch.
And just having that kind of extra time has been nice.
Although on the flip side, my wife still tells me I go straight down to the garage and start working too much.
And I need to stop doing that.
But once we get the pop up office in Hawaii, you know, that's right, Dan, you and I are gonna be the founding team there as long as there's Wi Fi.
We're good. Well, you know, yeah, I definitely have enjoyed that, too.
I don't like that they you know, I'm trying to like run in between meetings to get water or something.
They're like, I mean, I'm like, no time, no time. Like, I don't like that they see that side of me.
Although I think we've all kind of like learned to live with that.
But my oldest is 11. And she will sit down and hang out, you know, and listen.
And now she like writes questions for me about the meeting I'm in. And so after lunch, like, okay, mommy, what is GNA?
How long is a quarter? What is equity?
And she's got like a list of questions from what she's heard. I'm like, you're kind of getting a bachelor's in business administration.
I don't think we're like master MBA right now with her that she's hearing.
But I kind of like that she's getting exposed to it.
She's getting the jargon. And that's half the MBA.
That's right. Half the MBA is the acronyms and the jargon. So she's either going to fall in love or be like, this is not for me.
But whatever, she will know she's more empowered.
She has more information now to make a good decision for herself.
But that's been kind of cool to share a bit of the work my work life with my kids.
Awesome. And with that, we're at the top of the half hour. Janet, thank you for your time.
Thank you, Dan. This was great. For everyone watching, hope you enjoyed and have a great morning, afternoon or evening.