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 11 of Dial Up Motive. I'm your host Dan Hollinger and on today's show we walk through some of the early computer and Internet history of a Cloudflare employee.
So welcome to either the live stream or if you're catching a recording, good morning, evening or afternoon.
With me today is Shrenik Bhayani, working on customer development out of I think it was Mumbai.
Shrenik, welcome and good evening.
Would you mind giving a quick introduction of yourself?
Yeah, sure. So good. As you said, good morning, good evening, good afternoon.
If you're on live or if you are watching the recorded session. So my name is Shrenik Bhayani.
Yes, I live in Mumbai. I'm supposed to be operating out of our Singapore office.
Don't ensure that I stay more with my family and I would say more with my parents as well out here.
I work, it's been like about three months now for me in Cloudflare.
Happy to do this conversation with you, Dan, and hopefully give some more insights about my private life on how I started using Internet and what some stories around it.
Hopefully they are interesting for others too. Welcome to Cloudflare and I assume you know everything now.
You're really comfortable and yeah, yeah, yeah.
All good, all good. We've read all the documentation and so what, I guess, led you into a career in kind of technical sales or how did you get started?
I would say, okay, it's an interesting one.
Thanks for that question. So I started my career post my engineering as a service support engineer.
So at that point in time, I was a wise engineer, wise engineer, right?
So we worked on Nautilus Meridian systems and they were all systems by itself, no standard programming patterns, but looked at the manual, then go about doing the configurations and so on and so forth.
Three years into that career, largely realized that, you know, in specifically in the region where I come in from, there are two guys in the company who are more focused, more valued upon, I would say.
Valued is the wrong word, but you know, generally with the sales guys who bring in more revenue, as well as the finance guys who actually save more revenue from the company standpoint.
So these are the guys who really get a lot of importance.
And then I realized that, oh, okay, looks like I got to do selling and I wanted to stay in the technical selling domain because of my background.
And eventually from there, it's been like about 17 years that I have been doing the technical selling.
Of course, in different roles from business development, to pre -sales, to product management, to managing a team, individual sales roles, and all put together.
I mean, I don't want to give my resume profile out here, but reasonably good with the overall technology selling that I've done so far.
And I must say, Internet has played a big role in that. I mean, in many ways, on the sales side, you really get to make your own destiny.
So if you do want to be that top seller, you know, quarter after quarter, you have that capability if you put in the work and the hustle, as opposed to some other roles where, not to say that you can't also kind of put in the work and the effort, but you just have that less of a direct connection to the output as you do in sales.
Would you agree with that?
Yep. Of course. Of course. No doubt about it. So thank you for that introduction to kind of take things back to a little bit of nostalgia.
Would you mind diving into kind of your first experience with a computer?
Okay. So this was the time when in India, we had this concept of assembled computers, right?
So compact and those machines were largely meant for corporates, people in corporate, and very few people in corporate, I would say, use it.
I'm talking of the year 1991, right?
When overall from the country standpoint, we allowed a lot of foreign investment, foreign technology to be deployed within the country.
And with that, the boom of Internet also started coming in. I still remember the days when we had this company called VSNL, which is a government body called Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.
They announced, they put an ad on the newspaper, the prime one saying, okay, we are opening the world to you.
And they were effectively giving the Internet service, but the kind of money that you got to pay for that Internet service to subscribe to VSNL, it's only the top corporates who could afford, right?
But a good thing from the government standpoint was that they did have something called as a student's account.
Largely meant for students, whether you're in school, high school, they were giving away these accounts.
It was a process to be followed. You got to stand in queue because a lot of students were queuing up.
They wanted to know what's going outside. So I did stand in queue, I guess, for like about six hours or so.
I applied for that. I got my details of logins and passwords and it came in like after a week or so.
Now, once that was there with me, I knew that, okay, fine.
I wanted this. So I have this now, but I really did not know how to operate.
Where's the starting point, right? So I called it a friend who was a little more, not a little more, actually was a technical guy.
He was into the technology and he helped me to set up basic configurations that were required on my assembled computer at that time.
And that was my starting point in terms of my Internet journey, which came in with a lot of difficulties.
I would say six hours of standing in hot sun, getting in there and then trying to find out, okay, what's this about?
Like, okay. I knew what it could deliver, but I really did not know where to start and how to go about it.
Yeah. I mean, it's fascinating just to think back.
That was not all that long ago. And for you to wait in line for six hours to get your Internet login information, and now people wouldn't even put in six minutes on a website or on any kind of platform.
They'd give up if they weren't able to actually get their account information or get logged in.
Just the sheer difference of state we're now in and expectation we're now in compared to when things were getting started.
It's uncomparable. We just cannot compare that world to this world that we are in.
I mean, I like to pretend I learned patience by waiting for that dial-up modem to actually dial up.
Now, if my picture doesn't load in time, I'm already starting to get frustrated.
And at that point in time, when we talk about, since you brought about the subject of dial-up modem, there's just one name in the country, Robotics, US Robotics.
That's the modem that we used almost...
I mean, D -Link and all came in quite late in the country, but it was just this white rectangular box of US Robotics that used to give us the dial-up speed.
Just to let you know, the dial-up speed that we were operating on, the account that was given to us was 64 kbps.
But in reality, when you get connected, I was getting in the speed of only about 28 kbps, 30 kbps at the best.
And the most irritating part about that was that noise, you know, seeing the signals getting exchanged and all.
I mean, first of all, to have a dial -up connection at that point in time from India and that too in a city like Mumbai, which is supposed to be like one of the most commercialized city in the world.
Even at that point in time, the dial-up was not so very stable.
So for you to make one Internet connection, you would probably make 10 phone calls.
And after making those 10 phone calls, you get connected and with the speed that you get it like 24, 26 kbps.
But you were happy at that time. Oh, finally, I was able to connect.
Now I'm on Internet. And it was a very different, I would say, feeling that you had at that point in time saying, okay, finally, I'm there.
I got something which I wanted, as well as my connections.
And what was your day-to-day use like? So as a student, you know, now being able to get Internet access, what were you using with the Internet on a day-to-day basis?
To be honest, I think, okay, I wanted to get connected with people around the world.
I wanted to know, try and understand from the fact that till 91, we did not really know, by and large, people in the country didn't know the world outside.
So the regulation around broadcasting, specifically around what goes on TVs and radios was pretty much controlled.
So we then had this opportunity to find out more about the people, more about making friends outside.
I think at that point in time, there was this concept of pen-friend.
I do not know if you have all of this. Pen-pals like that?
Yeah, pen-pals or pen-friend. So where you write in, where you subscribe to it at one agency and then they give you some names of some people and then you can write in the letters and send some messages around them and so on.
So that was a concept which was very popular with the young people in the country then.
And then now we got a platform where you could actually use ICQ and get an instantaneous connection probably within five minutes, ten minutes.
You get to do the same thing which you were spending probably a month or so with that pen-friend concept.
So it was really exciting getting connected to people.
But as I also started moving on in my studies, I went into engineering in 1996.
And then when I went into, sorry, I did finish my high school in 1996 and then I went into engineering then.
And then I started realizing that it's not just about making friends or chat or something of that sort or to view images and download images and all, but it's also much more than that.
So first thing that I did after that was to configure mail and hotmail at that time was like a big, big thing.
So I did configure my account, went in creating some test emails just to find out, did you receive my email?
There's still a lack of trust of like, well, I pressed the button.
Did it actually go through? I really didn't know.
I wasn't sure whether someone on the other side has actually received it.
And I was very impatient to find out that. So after sending the email, you just call up and say, okay, have you received it?
And for this gentleman, again, to check that it was like another 30 minutes of process because of the dial-up connection, the noise of the modem, going into it, checking, fine.
Yeah, I received. But what was this about?
No, I said, I just wanted to test it I have been in position to send this email or not.
And it was like, oh, you just wasted my 30 minutes just for your check.
So that's a very different environment that we were in at that point.
So out of curiosity, do you still remember your ICQ number? Has that been ingrained?
No, I don't remember that. But I remember my first password, which I set for hotmail, because I checked with my girlfriend.
I said, what kind of password do you think I should put it?
And then she gave me a password saying, I think it's better you put in something like lazy bum, because that's something that you're not going to forget because that's what you are on your daily basis.
So that's the password that I had for my first hotmail account.
Hopefully it's not your current password.
No, it's not. I'm sure it's lazy bum with like an ampersand for the A. You've just made it more difficult.
No, if I do that, then it reminds me I did not get married to her, so I don't really need to remember that password anymore.
Yeah, it doesn't sound like the healthiest of relationships, if that's her recommendation for a password.
I also hope that she's not on cloud 13 to listen to this.
No. Well, we wish her well. So given that evolution from chat, using it as a way to connect with others globally, were you actually using ICQ and email to talk to strangers around the globe?
Or was it mostly local? What was that interaction like?
No, it was largely the strangers around the globe. As I gave you the reference of PenFriend, I just wanted to explore the same concept, but only using the Internet and leveraging the technology.
So more around making friends outside, knowing about them, knowing about their culture, understanding what they do, and just to know more.
Just the curiosity to know the world better. Now, did you guys bond around kind of this new thing of the Internet?
Did you bond around games or kind of world culture?
What were those conversations like? It was largely around culture.
It was largely around what you do, what university, what courses, and more around that.
I'm not a gaming guy, so I did not really venture out into gaming and leveraging Internet, but it was more around just a general chat, you know, family.
Overall, how do they live? What's the difference between their upbringing versus our upbringing?
Because as you understand, there wasn't really too much of information that we had.
And our curriculum, as far as our studies are concerned, they're very much intrinsic in terms of history and geography.
And yes, in geography, you get to learn about a lot of other regions from the geography itself of the different continents and all that.
But that's very raw, right? So you need to have some life in it.
And that's what I wanted to find out with the people on the Internet.
Yeah, I mean, that's one thing I've always found fascinating about the Internet in general is its ability to connect people, connect very desperate nodes across the globe, and the evolution almost from those ICQ chats to us now communicating across the globe, sharing it via live stream, and just that evolution to learn more about you, you know, your history, and share it with the world.
And I know when we spoke earlier, you had a very interesting story, kind of the introduction of mobile and how that was hitting your area.
And how it began with, you know, the world of pagers, who most people most people, those kind of joining this call may or may not ever have lived through pagers.
But could you kind of give some insight on that?
Yeah, so this that was around, I would say 2002, when pages got introduced in the Indian market.
And as an engineer at that point in time, we were given pages because we were supposed to be on field.
And a call used to get locked saying, okay, you need to go here.
And then the second one would come as a pager saying, and at that time, there was limitation in terms of number of characters also on the paging message, right?
So most of the times the message was, please call back office, right?
So if you're not in really good mood, or it's already like about 637 in the evening, and the network also was not that stable, right?
So you you had the opportunity at that time to say, oh, I did not receive the message, right?
That you could ghost your work basically saying like, well, you know, reception was was poor.
I'm sorry. You could you could do so. Of course, you could not do it every day.
But even if it was a bad day for you, and you just wanted to go home, you could do that, right?
So so but I mean, people were really proud at that time to carry a pager and you know, for us, I think it would probably be true for you too.
Pagers were supposed to be carried, you know, with a with I mean, the way the pages were designed, and the case around it was designed is you actually tucked it up on your belt, right?
And then you know, when you when you just walk, people can actually see that pager on your belt.
And a lot of people used to look and say, oh, it looks like some advanced guy carrying some fancy device.
And then the message comes up, you know, some tone comes in or vibrate.
A motor pager, you know, really gets an alert.
And then you just look and you know, when you're going in the train or so people ask, what is this?
You know, this is a new technology and all.
So we were very proud about it. But I think the industry itself, paging industry itself had its life for like two or three years in India, because immediately when the pagers were in, I think the country was more or less preparing itself from an infrastructure standpoint with 2G mobiles.
And with those 2G connections that were rolled out by private companies, then also the government companies, I would say the network was, I would say, largely okay.
But the devices were very fancy ones, right?
You recollect that discussion we had where he said, okay, it was like a brick.
So you were using the brick for communication.
And more importantly for us, that brick communication actually had the user who was charged for an incoming call as well as an outgoing call both.
And at that point in time, it was really like about 25 cents a minute.
And if it was an incoming call, which was actually a wrong number, you really feel bad about it.
Because, you know, you ended up for paying something which someone did a mistake in terms of dialing a wrong number.
So whenever there was a wrong number on the mobile call, it was like...
So yeah, even that short exchange of like, oh, hello, is this so and so?
Oh, no, it's not. I'm sorry, you have the wrong number. Even that short exchange was costing both the sender and receiver.
It was about 25 cents per minute at that time.
And I would say, as compared to where we are today, so incoming in the country is completely free.
Outgoing is like 0.02 cents or something per minute.
So you can understand what I'm talking about. And also, you look at it in terms of the way the rupee impact has come in right over the last 25 years.
So 25 cents then was really something which was very costly. And of course, it was a status symbol, needless to say that.
Mm hmm. Yeah, that's interesting that the pager was essentially a badge of honor.
And then as you progress to those early cell phones, which were essentially bricks, and then on top of that, the ability to afford the usage of those bricks to communicate with people given the status of mobile networks at the time.
Yeah, I should tell you one incident on that.
So there was a major escalation at my manager's manager actually had the phone at that time.
Mobile phone. So he said, No, someone has to go now. And you know, we got to fix this, this customer is really getting angry.
Tell him carry my phone and you know, just coordinate and go and ensure that this is solved.
The moment I get my phone, I walk out of the office and I go, first thing I do is okay, I call my wife and say, Okay, you know what, I'm calling you from where I'm calling you from a mobile phone on onto a landline, of course, at my home at that time.
And she was saying, Oh, wait, from where you bought it?
This would have costed you a lot.
And then she started really, you know, you, you know what I'm saying, right?
So, so then, you know, I said, No, no, I'm just trying to make a phone call, talk to you from a mobile phone.
And I mean, those it was, if you talk to my kid about this now and say, Okay, a phone call at that time brought in a lot of happiness.
It's, he's just going to say, Okay, that looks like you need some medicines, you know, please.
What are you talking? Yeah, they will never be able to understand that kind of environment.
Yeah, the before that time, yeah, the before the Internet kind of before mobile and after mobile such a kind of singularity that and now it's just so ubiquitous that that is very hard for these the next generation to understand that there was, you know, life before kind of instant communication, instant connection.
You know, it's almost the same as back before there was a mail service, and you could at least send some message across the world or across the country.
And yeah, it'll be and you were actually paying by one by every email. No, it wasn't like this email service, you pay based on the number of emails that you've sent.
And so yeah, to have that, that moment of excitement of like, Oh, I'm actually calling you from a cell phone.
I'm calling you from wherever I want. Like, this is exciting.
Like that, that is lost on on future generations. I think the future generation does not even want to box.
They're more on I am on Snapchat. You don't use your phone as a phone.
But that's all I'm on. I'm all aware of you. Yeah, you only use it for text and video.
They don't want they will don't even want to talk.
So even if my son has to communicate to me would just send me a message saying, Okay, get me this get while you're out.
Can you do this for me and do a favor?
Because he knows or maybe they know it's that if they make a phone call and they talk, then obviously there is a sense of some counter argument that may come in.
So they are equally smart. They they know they don't want arguments, they just want to convey the message.
And hopefully that makes their job easy too. And I mean, I think to some degree, that also speaks to the value of asynchronous communication.
So like emails, you know, I can send the message to you, you can absorb it on your own time.
So I'm not interrupting you with a phone call. I'm not asking from you immediately, especially if that message is not that important.
But that way you can consume it on your schedule and kind of on your timing.
So that's an interest. I should I should tell you something very interesting, which is even prevailing today.
So assume that I get a phone call. And it's not from a customer or so but someone who is near to me.
The first thing when you pick up the phone, you say, hi, hello, how are you and all.
The next question is, where are you?
I mean, that question is irrelevant, right? You've already reached out to me, you know, you want to talk to me now.
So it does not really matter where I am.
But it's so prevailing in the culture today, even today, right?
Someone calling you and say, okay, hi, where are you? Imagine the same thing at 25 cents a minute.
At that time, where are you? Oh, come on, tell me what do you want?
You know, we don't have time for this. But the meters, the meters running, we have to we have to hurry.
What's your point? Let's get to the point. People even you look at the phone saying, okay, oh, 56 seconds, you know, okay, okay, enough, enough.
All right. Yeah. So it's fascinating just seeing the difference in time and just the how quickly, you know, all of this has now changed and shifted.
Yep. So kind of looking forward a little bit in our last few minutes, what are you most excited about for the future of the Internet or the future of mobile?
Where do you think we're going? I think the progress that we have made, specifically in last 10 years, to be honest, I cannot predict as to what will happen in the next 10 years, right?
Because the the technologies that we were talking about or using even 10 years back are quite not relevant now.
I mean, I really like the way Matthew presents on my, I mean, I was not physically there.
But I did go through the presentation in terms of how things around us were changing.
So how the infrastructure guys, then the application guys, and now the cloud, how it is becoming relevant.
So if you ask me how, what do you predict in terms of next 10 years, where it will actually land all of us into, it's very difficult for me to make any judgment around it.
But I know for sure that cloud as an option is largely dependent on Internet.
And I believe the mission statement that we have, which is making Internet better for all of us around who are using that, that is a very powerful mission statement.
And that was one of the reason for me to take this job in cloud play.
Because I think apart from the work, apart from what we all learn, in a way, we are doing some sense of, I would say our social responsibility back to the society.
And we are making Internet better for them, for everyone, right?
So the companies who are paying for the services that we are rendering to them, but also for the people who are using those portals and a lot of other things that we have to offer.
But a consumer who is wanting to do any transaction in a secured way, we somewhere, we would play part of it.
And I'm extremely proud about that as bringing something back to the human society by and large.
Yeah. And I mean, it's fascinating, just, I assume all of the trends will continue of things getting kind of smaller, faster, cheaper, easier to use, like all of those trends will then make it the Internet more accessible, more broadly accessible, which just gets more people kind of into the conversation.
Yeah. And I mean, if you've heard of Jio in India, for them, the whole dynamic stuff, you know, laying down so much of fiber in the country and getting fiber to the home, for them, it's a very different mindset, right?
It's not just about giving Internet to people, but what they effectively want to do is run a lot of services on that, which means that we're not just talking about browsing Internet or using it on social media and all, but they are talking about machine to machine.
They're talking about a lot of things which can be automated using fiber to home as a network.
So net, net, their view is very simple. They got to collect X amount of dollars per month from a specific household in terms of the selling that a household would effectively be doing in the market.
It could be in terms of groceries.
It could be in terms of utilities. It could be in terms of, you know, a normal spending that any household would need to do.
And what they are intending to do is to effectively have the underlying network available and then leverage this network for any services that you may otherwise would have done through any other service provider, or you may have gone in and done that specific purchase.
So that is a very, very broad plan. And I see that Internet or 5G for that matter, which is getting rolled out India soon, we'll have that too.
They all are being laid out with a very different plan, not just from a voice and data plans that they currently are giving to the subscribers, but it's a very different approach that these guys would have.
And again, it would make life easy. Yes, they will be dependent a lot more on technology for a normal living.
And again, we lived even then, right?
You just made that statement that it's very difficult for your kids to understand that there was life prevailing even before Internet.
That remains as a fact, but yeah, we will leverage a lot of this by and large for our daily affairs that we have currently.
And I think all the way, it would be good for all of us.
Awesome. Well, with that, I thank you Shrenik for the time and I know we're the end of the session.
So thank you all of our viewers for checking us out. Thank you for inviting me to this discussion and I hope the viewers also had some time and good time listening to this.
Thank you. All right. Good evening. Thank you everyone.