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. Usman Muzaffar, SVP, Engineering at Cloudflare, will be the guest today.
Good morning, afternoon, or evening, everyone. Welcome to episode 14 of Dial Up Motive.
If you're new to the show, this is where we interview Cloudflare employees and explore some of their earliest memories with technology and the Internet.
If you're dialing in for birthday week, you're a little bit early, we'll kick that off here in a few minutes and few episodes.
But for now, we're gonna have a lovely chat with Marc Lamik, a Director of Product here at Cloudflare.
Marc, would you mind giving a quick introduction of yourself?
Yeah, I'm Marc. Nice to meet you all.
I'm living in Lisbon. I'm Director of Product for our Lisbon Tech Hub. Joined Cloudflare roughly half a year ago.
Started on the Internet roughly 25 years ago.
And yeah, now I'm kind of happy to talk about my Internet life. Awesome. And what kind of products are you building out there in Lisbon today?
Well, we're building products focused on data insights.
And we're actually having a product launch within birthday week.
So stay tuned for Wednesday, which is going to be a really interesting launch.
All right. And we can't get a sneak peek. Can't like shake the box.
Not yet. Not yet. But we'll have something cool for Wednesday.
Awesome. And to dial into kind of that a little bit deeper, what technologies are you working with on a day to day basis?
What are your your engineers and product teams working with?
It's pretty broad. So we have the React app for like the front end part.
We're using Clickhouse for a lot of the data stuff that we're doing.
We're using workers, software workers as for a lot of our, our products, which is great.
And I think it's yeah, it's really good to to eat your own dog food and build on your own technology.
So that's, that's the main stuff our engineers are using.
If anything, I'll need a show exploring the origins of that term in the in the tech world.
It feels like it's own documentary. Yeah. So cool. In order we can start that the journey down on nostalgia road and would love to learn more about your earliest experience with technology or with computers.
What did that look like?
Yeah, so so I got my my first computer was an 8086. And I would IBM which I actually had an amazing keyboard.
I think people still buy those keyboards because they're really cool.
And had a monochrome monitor. So my, my father brought it and I think I was I have would have been eight or nine.
When I when I got it.
And it was really cool because I have my own computer. You could you would get headache after half an hour working with it because refresh rate of the money was so bad.
But I spent a lot of time on it actually. And I think the first thing that I remember I was really actively doing with it was together with a friend we're building like a text adventure with using backscripting in in DOS, which was we spent a lot of time on that.
And I think it was pretty cool. I can't actually remember what it was about.
But yeah, that was kind of the first thing that I remember of, of my computer life.
So you had kind of that lightbulb moment while working on the computer of like, oh, I could turn this into a game that my friends and I can play.
What what? What did that look like? Was it was it just jumping in a text file?
What was the underlying structure? Yeah, well, it was kind of it was a bad script.
So you can you would open it and then you I think it started we were I think it was about a spaceship or so.
So it kind of you're in a spaceship.
There's like three, you're just like docked onto like a spaceship. There's like three different corridors, you could walk, you want to work left or right or in the middle.
And then you had to press like key and then you walk to the middle and then you had like some action there.
And it was super kind of linear in the way because there was not a lot of calculation.
It was just well a script and you could just jump from one point to the other.
And they were like, I think nine different kind of endpoints.
Eight of them were Hey, you die for some kind of reason. And one was Hey, you survived that you managed.
I think it was not so long. But I think for for our age, we really thought we were pretty cool by doing that.
But yeah, it's, it's gone.
I think it's nowhere. Yeah, it's lost lost a history now.
The floppy disk it lived on is gone. I guess were you were you a cruel game master did did most of the playthroughs end in death or was was a bit more optimistic?
Yeah, I think it was mostly ending and with a bad ending, but to make it a bit more difficult.
Awesome. So from the moment you had a first computer, you were already starting to tinker and code and kind of build on it.
What did what did the next step look like?
Or what did it look like when you finally got plugged into the in the World Wide Web?
Yeah, well, I remember that actually, my father had what was called BTA BTX.
We use it for online banking was like, we was heavily used in Germany, actually, that were heavily as much as you use Internet connected or like connectivity in the early 1990s.
So we use that but was pretty boring, because you could not do a lot of things as like, as a young person.
So I my first kind of memories of using the Internet were from rather from the 96 97 where we got our, like proper dial up connection.
And that was kind of where you already had some proper websites.
So I remember one of the coolest things and for now, I don't.
Now it sounds like stupid because we're like talking. So I'm Elizabeth and you're in the US so we can easily talk but it was so special that you were like in one of those chat rooms where there were tons of it and you were just chatting with someone in the US and it was real time and it was just so amazing to have something like that because it was just not existent before.
So it was something very interesting.
I think I chatted a lot in the first years, I mainly use it for chatting.
So use like different chat rooms and then sort ICQ still know my ICQ number by heart.
I think it's one of the things you never forget. Yeah, that's always the test question of do you still remember the ICQ number I do as well.
To be fair, mine had a lot of ones in it.
So it was pretty easy to remember. Yeah, no, it was.
It was cool. I think, especially the chatting aspect was especially in a time where you had like shared phone lines with like your parents and your siblings.
It was really cool to have this option to chat with someone.
It was pre like mobile phones.
So kind of there were not a lot of possibilities to have like a conversation with someone without like someone in your home noticing.
So kind of using ICQ or MSN, or AOL Messenger, everything that came out over the years was pretty cool to kind of be in touch with your friends without anyone noticing.
So I did did enjoy those.
So was this a way you'd be at school all day with your friends and social groups and you know, you'd be able to come home and continue those conversations and kind of continue that friend building just online via ICQ or chat?
Yeah, and maybe also have those conversations that you may be not be courageous enough to do in person, but rather do it via chat.
So I do think yeah, I use it pretty heavily.
Did you ask your first girlfriend out via chat? That's I had some very positive but also very negative.
Asking out reactions over chat. Hopefully those aren't stored on a server somewhere.
Well, I think they were. It was MSN.
I don't know if Microsoft stores all this information for so long, but maybe they're still there.
It was also pre -encryption. So I'm pretty sure if it started somewhere in free text on some old Microsoft server.
So, so given the kind of novelty of the Internet at the time and that ability to bring a conversation that was happening at school or potentially happening around the globe, depending what what rooms you were chatting in, that being so new to connect people across the globe, or even just across your town.
How do you think it impacted some of the work you're doing today or kind of your next steps into university or onward?
Yeah, I do think the the early like kind of usage of computer or Internet kind of shaped a lot what I'm doing, because in the end, I'm not a really good engineer.
That's why I'm doing product management.
But I still I'm super passionate about your engineers are watching this, you know, you know that, right?
I know, I know. And they know that I'm not a great engineer, but I always do have an opinion on the engineering part.
But I'm actually not that good. Even though I had this this amazing text adventure in the early 1990s.
No, but but I do think it, it showed me what opportunities are out there with like modern technology and kind of let me so everything I spent a lot of time on the computer in my early years, most probably more than my parents would want me.
So but I think it was, it also had an interesting social aspect, because you had this social group.
And well, then, at that time, nerdiness was not the most cool thing out there.
So I think it became cool. And now Twitch, people on Twitch have millions of followers.
That was not the case in the 1990s or early 2000s.
But still, it built like a really cool social group. And I think I had a lot of good times with, with friends like tinkering around the Internet.
Getting doing doing a mixture between like engineering, but also a lot of discovery.
But you could build a lot of stuff very, very easily and very quickly and kind of made your life easier.
I think I, it had some some very direct impacts. Like I remember when it was still okay for like, school homework to just use Wikipedia.
Or like some source you found on the Internet. It was way before teachers knew that something like Wikipedia was out there.
So that was pretty cool.
And that helped a lot at some point in time. Yeah, I think I grew up in that era.
So making homework a lot easier. So well, yeah, here's here's the quote. We'll assume it's true because it came from the Internet.
Yeah. And just like, yeah, that that was pretty cool.
But it also Yeah, I think it well, I'm not mixing time, I'm jumping in between different times.
But also, I remember at some point in time, the, the time of, of gaming parties, like when you just met with with 10 friends, and you, you just went to everyone brought their computer and they that big CRT monitors and went to like some some shady, some some shady shack in the back of someone's parents home, and just spend like the whole weekend there playing like day and night and always took like the first five hours to set up the network, because it was not as plug and play as it is now.
But when everyone was online, and everyone kind of went online, everyone was connected in the in the in the land, then you could start playing.
And that was pretty cool. And I think I spent a lot of weekends doing that.
And I think it, it changed now quite a bit, because now you do it online, and you don't have to meet people.
But at that point in time, it was also like, hey, we're getting together as a group of friends.
And yes, and we're sitting in the same room, and we're playing whatever Counter-Strike the whole night or Age of Empires or something like that.
Yeah, you still have that kind of personal interaction and physical interaction, there's still the breaks for food and drink, there was the, you know, being able to talk about the last game, assuming you could find a shack or a house that was big enough and parents that were patient enough to put up with a group of kids setting up all their computers.
And it's, if anything, that seemed to give you practice for probably your first product sprint, right?
Making sure that you could go through crunch time effectively, or work with a team to do that.
Yeah, I do. It also like built, I think it brings together what I imagine when I like when I took my first like real, proper job in a like in an agile team as a product manager.
It was interesting because everyone had the same background. And when we talked about like network parties, everyone knew what it was, everyone spent like the same time and everyone had this kind of this urge to get stuff done.
And you have like stories to share.
So it immediately creates like kind of a bond. It helps when people are like kind of the same age.
So that was more or less the case.
But in the end, I think it was for me, interestingly, my time in uni was kind of very little focus on the Internet compared to my high school life.
So during high school, I was gaming a lot.
I was using the Internet, I kind of explored new technologies.
I remember the first mp3 that I got and stuff like that. But did you want to share that?
Is that completely embarrassing? It's, it's super embarrassing, but I haven't shared it.
It was actually frozen by Madonna. I don't know why it was a friend.
Hey, you have to, I there's like, you can now make sound files super small.
So you can actually download them with the Internet, which was kind of dial up modem.
I think kind of is the end or something like that. It still took a while.
Yeah, it still took a while. But it was kind of Whoa, that's cool. And then then I then I got it from him.
I think it was even by ICQ file transfer or something like that.
So I got it. And I listened to it. It was pretty cool. And when am was just out, which was actually really good player.
And I think they tried to relaunch it a couple of times.
But yeah, well now Spotify. So yeah, you had that era of, you know, completely legal Internet downloading of kind of the subculture of downloading the music player, the music player being, you know, this very formative part of the software you were loading when you boot up your computer.
Did you rock a custom skin? On Winamp? I played around with some skin. Oh, definitely had a custom skin.
I played around to create my own, but they didn't work out.
I remember that there were like ton of visualizations that you could install.
They all looked. Well, at that point in time, I thought they were pretty cool.
I think it would look back now they have pretty boring. But yeah, I do. I do think it was a really good time.
Yeah, as you know, they're a screensaver now. But back then to like actually visually see your music was a novel thing.
And, you know, was more mind blowing of like, oh, yeah, that's, that's this beat.
And that's this rhythm.
And I can now visualize it in a different way. I think one of my favorites was still the, the metrics font, like from the metrics movie, where this font then like kind of appeared in the, in the beat of the music.
That was pretty cool.
But also because the metrics movie was pretty cool at that point in time. So and so do you feel these these early experiences, you know, led you to pursue tech in university or find the the fellow engineers in your friend group?
How did how do you think that evolved?
It, it, I think it's twofold. On one hand, I think it kind of really drove my interest with technology.
And I wouldn't be working in technology now if I wouldn't have started that early.
And I would have learned that it's really cool.
You can do really cool things. You can do a lot. You can do cool things with your hands and build stuff with your hands.
But you could maybe even do cooler things.
Doing stuff digitally. I think that was kind of one, one part. And I think the other one was also like building, building friendships and networks around with people that are kind of super interested in technology as well.
Or sometimes we're even like, way better engineers.
So I think we, in the later times, like during high school, we started like the first Internet products together with some friends.
And I was sometimes doing a little bit of CSS. And sometimes doing a little bit of database, but actually the most of the engineering was done by my friends.
But it was cool. And I think I learned so much that I, well, not can use one to one now, but it creates this kind of mindset.
And I feel it somehow wires your brain in a way that you do understand how software works and that you do understand how to build build software when you start that super early in your life.
Yeah, I'd be curious whether it's, you know, when you start early, you're able to abstract a little bit better, you're realizing you're putting code out there, the code is being run by the machine, it's producing a spaceship game, or it's producing a website, and you can kind of see that the gears moving a little bit more clearly in your head.
Yeah, I, yeah, I think it's, it's, it's interesting.
And I think now kids learn coding, like super early, like in, in primary school, they, they have the first kind of understanding computers.
And at that point in time, it was not a thing.
So it kind of, it all depended on just bringing people together who are just curious, and you just try things out, there was no online course on how to, to build your first kind of application, you just try things out.
And there were some, some, some easy things, there were like, kind of some stuff like the batch scripting, which is just like, well, super simple.
And then doing some, some extra coding, some Pascal or stuff, which kind of was a bit more advanced.
But yeah, I think it was, it was still not, not in terms of the product that came out, that was not amazing, but it still was a really good waste of time in the end, because you learned a lot about how programming works and how computers work.
Yeah, I think my first experience was grabbing a book from the library, I think it was C++.
And so going and getting Hello World up and running.
And of course, you just have that first moment of elation when it works. It's like, oh, I got the computer to do x, like, this is great.
And that kind of starts the cycle of, oh, how do I learn to do more?
How do I, I get kind of explore this new technology?
Yeah, I do actually also remember the first bug that I built in.
So with now that you that you're saying with like, the first things you try out, when I remember when I kind of did like the batch scripting, I also for my for my parents computer built like a system launcher.
So when your DOS starts up, you just the launcher launch automatically.
And you say, press one for starting word, let's press two for starting, well, some other program.
And I wrote an installer for that.
So you can just insert a floppy disk and then run the installer.
And I would install it automatically. The thing was, when I built it on my super slow 8086, while it was copying the data, I showed some information what you need to do next.
And it was cool, because it showed and you had enough time to read it.
Then I said, told my father, hey, could you please install it on your computer?
Try it out. I was super proud of building that I was maybe nine years old.
And then he said, Well, what should I do? It doesn't say me it copied some things.
And now I'm kind of lost. I said, Yeah, but it shows on the screen.
And then I realized, well, yes, it showed but it was so quickly because the computer was so quick, that it he wasn't able to read it.
And then I needed to build in a break and then actually, or like a sleep time.
And it was cool. But I think those are like the things if you learn that so early that, okay, there's a difference between two different machines.
So not every, not everything on every machine runs similarly, and you have to think of other things.
I think that's just experience.
If you learn them early, they help you for the rest of your, your life. And almost your first lesson in accessibility of this is going to run on a different machines, different screens, different users of different capability sets.
And, you know, just, of course, what you're testing on your machine is not always going to translate globally, or especially from Cloudflare network perspective, around the world around the Internet.
Right? No, definitely. And I think the interesting thing is because usually, from your like, kind of sub 10 years old life, you don't remember a lot.
So I don't remember like, a lot of things. But those are actually some things that stuck.
So somehow, my, my brain decided, okay, those are really important lessons that I learned, really important things that I did over time.
So kind of, I still remember them, even if they were like, no, yeah, 25 years ago.
And, yeah, but that's, I think that's, that's why I do think it's valuable lessons that I took.
And that helped me kind of to become a better, better digital person, or like someone who was interested in digital technologies or computer technologies.
Awesome. Well, glad that you were able to share them with us today.
And then, you know, hopefully, other those watching have similar memories and similar, like, oh, yeah, I had those aha moments back then that that got me where I am today.
pivoting a little bit, what are you most excited about for the future of the Internet or technology?
You know, be it what you're building for for birthday week at Clara Cloudflare or more generally?
Well, I think more generally, I do.
For me, the next step that I haven't like experienced personally, fully is like the Internet of things.
I think it's something that is cool. That's been out there for long.
But for me, it's always like this. Okay, this is what I read what is theoretically possible and what is out there.
And this is what I actually use in my day to day life.
And I think my, my home is not connected yet. I kind of had an Amazon Alexa when it came out.
I didn't think it was, it was helpful. It didn't add any value to me.
So it was more like kind of fancy speaker. So I just bought Sonos afterwards, because it was the better speaker.
And it just plays music. So for me, kind of this, this whole connectedness is, I think, a really big thing in the Internet as a general, but I don't see it yet in my personal life, even though I'm interested, but I don't see the real value add for like, kind of the life I'm living currently.
So I do think that's, that's interesting. Well, if you think about more kind of about what we're building Cloud Fair, but also, what I'm interested is kind of where does the Internet go in terms of, like having a global Internet versus like a separated Internet?
So is the Internet actually becoming less than Internet, but more like a net of a certain country, a network of a country that kind of intranet within within a country or within a region?
Or do we kind of keep this global, global scale of Internet where you can reach everything from everywhere.
And we, we have this way of communicating, I think one of the first things that I learned in the Internet, it's super cool that you can talk to everyone, everywhere on the Internet, I got the feeling that we're rather moving into a different direction at the moment that we are rather moving towards, okay, we're separating the Internet again, and we are creating local networks without actually this connection globally.
And I do think it's, it's a bit sad to see that, especially for like early users of the Internet, because you're kind of rolling back a lot of the achievements that the Internet brought over time.
And I think this is something that we can, as Delta definitely can help building and like continuing a global Internet and enabling a global Internet.
But it's, yeah, it's something that I'm following, very interested and also a bit worried.
Yeah, so I mean, some of that might be the natural ebb and flow of kind of centralization and decentralization.
Some of it might be now that social groups are on the Internet, that social groups are contained by who you can meet physically or in person.
And there's far less room or capability to just jump on a random IRC chat or meet someone through an ICQ friend, and you guys are bonding around a game or shared, shared music or Internet experience.
Some of that is kind of returning to a local approach, as you mentioned.
And it seems like you're really just waiting for that smart toaster that that changes your life to really be like IoT has made it.
I'm not, I think the big question is, do I wait for it? Do I actually need this toaster?
And I, it's more like the idea of everything being connected is pretty cool.
I think it somehow, I do like the idea, but I don't actually see the personal value yet.
So the thing is, the toaster, I still have to put toast in it.
And if I, if my fridge realizes what is in there, that's kind of cool, but I still need to fill it myself.
It's still like not magically, like food is not magically magically appearing in the fridge.
And most probably we'll also not see everything that is in there.
So it's for me, it's like kind of, it's that and also like a little bit of the trade off between privacy and, and the value add.
So yes, I could install cameras everywhere in my home. And when I'm not at home, I could see what's happening, but do I want those cameras running all the time running over to like an Internet-based system where I don't know what kind of security is behind that?
I don't know. So is the value add big enough to kind of satisfy the privacy risk?
So I think, yeah, but I'm, I'm hopeful that there will be a use case.
That's cool. And I do think stuff like how cars have moved in terms of connectiveness.
That's pretty cool. And I think there's a lot of, a lot of things that happened there that are really cool.
But yeah, I think there's still, I'm still waiting for the, this use case, like the iPhone was for mobile phones.
So now actually mobile Internet makes sense.
That killer app where because your refrigerator is smart and connected to the Internet, it's constantly refilling the things you're running out of, you have that extra convenience level.
And yeah, the actual physical part of connecting the world to the Internet is still still a gap.
Well, I know we're nearing the end of time, Mark, I want to thank you for a lovely conversation.
It's always great to relive the days of ICQ and Winamp and learning how early you started coding.
And great to have you building the rest of the Internet and celebrating birthday week with us.
Thank you very much for the invitation, Dan.
All right. And to all the viewers, thank you for dialing in via the live stream or one of the recordings.
I look forward to having you enjoy the rest of Cloudflare TV.
Have a great morning, afternoon or evening. Transcribed by https://otter.ai