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.
Welcome to another Dial Up Motive. Today we've got Stephen Perciballi and I'm Sean Richardson and I am there we go.
Hi Stephen, how are you doing? Awesome, glad to be here. Episode 23. Episode 23, thank you, of Cloudflare Dial Up Motive.
I'm the new trial host of taking over from Dan and like I said we've got Stephen Perciballi who's a field solutions engineer based up in Toronto and we're gonna talk about the early days of our Internet experiences.
So Stephen, what got you into tech, the Internet, games or what have you?
I think my earliest experience was at a very young age. We had cousins that were into computers and networks in the early 80s and so they convinced my dad that your kids have to have a computer and so they bought us an Apple 2 plus which was super cool.
It was like an all-in-one sort of with a slidey top horizontal and I would play games on it and I'd be on the console but really I just kept taking the top off and looking inside like there was some kind of magic going on in there that I just didn't understand and so we used that you know for many years until it was kind of end of life and then I kind of got out of tech for quite a while.
I was like that seems pretty complicated. I have no idea what kind of voodoo is going on in there and I'm just going to go back to riding my skateboard and riding my bike and doing that kind of stuff.
It wasn't until much later that I kind of got back into it in a weird way.
Oh great, yeah I remember that was also the days when you know Apple had very attractive motherboards and other components just like the layout wise they were just the machines were there was a lot of time and energy spent throughout the machine.
Absolutely, yeah you could see everything clearly you take that lid off.
That's great. Great and then so how did you sort of go from there to the early Internet and what have you?
Yeah so it wasn't until you know until my college year literally year not plural where I re -got online and the real pivotal thing that happened during those days was there were all these modifications that I wanted to make on Windows which was the operating system I was using at the time and I kept calling my ISP for support because I didn't know who else to call.
My friends weren't in tech we're talking early 90s here and so I kept calling this little Internet service provider and you know they finally got fed up with me and they were like listen you need to look into Linux that's what you need on your machine and that opened up a whole realm of just messing around for me just hacking around trying to learn what these computers are capable of and really trying to learn how the infrastructure of this mysterious Internet was all put together and so that was really eye-opening for me to be able to figure out that I could you know set routes manually I could run servers on my workstation that were similar to the servers that powered the Internet but even then I was still just kind of messing around and you know playing Doom most of the time.
Yeah but that's you know it's how you learn and that's how you explore especially I too was like the only you know real technical you know computer geek friend of mine etc and you're just like you know your friends want to go do stuff but you're sort of interested in this thing and you know you got to just start exploring and learning.
Yes. So I know you know a big challenge back then that I faced and I remember you in the brief briefing you were talking about it was you know we didn't have big pipes there weren't necessarily you know you didn't have meetups or anywhere to go so how did you get Linux to even install like how did you get you know an entire operating system in your hands to even put on your computer?
Yeah that was that was a funny one too so the the best way I mean it came on something like 13 discs or something like that so what I found was I went to a bookstore and I bought this giant textbook called Teach Yourself Linux which is actually sitting on that bookshelf behind me still as a memento and it came with like Slackware one and Red Hat one on individual CDs and I remember having to like really monkey around because I think the computer I had at the time didn't even have a DVD player on it so I had to go to friends houses and rip the data off and and it was a it was a mess and then I actually stumbled on on FreeBSD which had a net install so you could take a 1.44 inch floppy put make that a boot disk pop it in and and download the entire operating system over the Internet which literally took all night long but I you know I just I felt I felt pretty super after doing that and well that was that that alone was an accomplishment and you know you had to learn things and get frustrated and you know scream at the universe but be happy and things would work and then things would break it was you know it was a puzzle and a game and an accomplishment all wrapped into one yeah it was it was all like part of the fun and uh you know and I still was just kind of like horsing around and um I still didn't know what I wanted to do with myself at the time and I started taking these customer service jobs to get a little bit better at communicating with people and and thought that they could help me in whatever career path that I was going to go down and I got this one job doing telemarketing selling broadband Internet to people in the suburbs because they were the only ones that could afford it at the time and what happened there was really funny because it's in a call center and I'd get to work every day and the pcs you know there were shared pcs so I'd get to a pc and it would be crawling and I'd go and I'd look at the storage and it'd be 100 full and it would be temporary Internet files and you'd go in there and sure enough it was porn and people would also have like a lot of gambling cash on there so people were basically doing gambling and porn while they were at work because the call center software just would make the call for you so someone would just end up on your headset and so they would do that on the side and so the administrators took away the Internet access and so one day at work you know I'm bummed now there's nothing to do and I see the you know my network places icon so I drill into that I find an administrator pc I find desktop folder I'm like oh that's an interesting it's the same structure as this and I find their Internet icon and I drag and drop that over and I'm back online and I told my manager I'm like hey man you want the uh Internet back and he's like absolutely so I showed him he told his boss they basically thought I was a hacker and they're like you know we actually have a campaign with sprint canada for their dial-up tech support we're moving you to that call center and I'm like are you serious I don't know that much like this was a fluke they're like no no no you're like more technical than anybody else there and I'm like okay um sure I'm happy to do that and that was that was awesome I actually asked to go on to overnight so that I could you know uh have the gnarliest calls right because that's when people would call in like the people like me calling my isp like how do I do this extra stuff they would call in and I'd help them and I read this book called teach yourself tcpip in 24 hours it took me like two months to read it um and and then I was hooked like at that point I'm like wow all I want to do is Internet all day it's amazing yeah it's it's it's fun how you know opening your mouth or you know a little bit of exploration and sharing can then spiral into a career path an opportunity like that etc and you know then you just gotta be like uh sure and just run with it and do your best and work hard and study and um you know it you can have a traditional background a non -traditional background but that that's still those opportunities you know when they come you want to be ready for them yeah it's funny how you kind of find a path too like even in those days you know I I had very early on started finding my way into cyber security because I thought you know I felt like I was way behind you know like I'd be escalating issues to our tier two support team and like all the time and I just felt like these guys were all you know Microsoft certified and they they knew a bunch of stuff that I didn't know and I started trying to figure out like what would be the fastest way to learn about computers break them and and fix them and so because that's what I would do with my bikes and my skateboards I would pull them apart and put them back together and and so I started doing that and and and even at at Sprint I had uh I had actually found their online registration server for dial-up access I found it had a remotely accessible RPC share and on that share would be about three months worth of personally identifiable information along with the credit card data because they just signed up for dial-up Internet and I was like oh no that's pretty bad like I have this service so my information must have been up here at some point and so I anonymously reached out to the administrators and uh and let them know um you have this vulnerability along with how to fix it and then I was just hooked then you know at that point I was like you know this this kind of cyber security slash hacking world seems to be the quickest way to get exposure to as much technology as I can and fast right did not disappoint uh did did everything did they do they fix it did they ever did they ever get back to you on it even though you were anonymous right away they fixed it within within a couple of days and and you know they had no idea it was me meanwhile back in the call center I'm I'm arguing about why I had to wear a tie to work when nobody could see me we didn't even have video technology at the time what am I wearing a tie for so I'm having these silly conversations uh and they had no idea what I was doing once I got home wow yeah so but from there I mean that that led me to find you know who who like if you know this is an ISP so they're servicing a number of customers but you know I can see that they have to get their Internet service from someone and so I started talking to some of the to the other people that were on IRC uh Internet relay chat for those who you know didn't get to to do that I started talking to those people a lot anybody who had a terminal up on their screen I tended to go and talk to those people and uh and they told me you know if you wanted to work for like the real core of the Internet you need to go to Uunet and you know Uunet to me has a lot of parallels to Cloudflare they were the first real global commercial ISP they had points of presence all over the world and you know that run lasted a long time until uh you know they got bought by MCI, WorldCom, Verizon and then and then regulated down and and and you know countries don't want other telcos operating you know at massive scale in their environments and so that kind of changed the dynamic of the Internet back then but you know Uunet was kind of the top of the food chain they were a tier one backbone provider so telcos had connections with them the Internet exchange points were far and few between and you would basically even have to pay for peering with Uunet and so I basically just applied and got an interview and I begged my interviewers for the job and uh and they gave it to me and so uh that you know if Sprint was like my high school Uunet was my university and and we all said it in the we were in the customer facing network operations center and we all called it UU university right you know you're you're learning things that you're not going to learn anywhere else I mean no one there was no other company that I could work for where I could log into a router in China and the UK and Texas in the same second um so that was yeah that that's where things really started to pick up quick yeah so was this um you just brought up routers and I just it reminds me of uh was that um Cisco IOS yep started off with Cisco IOS absolutely uh god yeah it's like the Microsoft of routing and switching you know yeah I know uh it was they were interesting um just memory flashbacks my own my own days yeah some spark stations and some Cisco IOS and oh yeah uh um so so all right so you went to UUU and uh learned a lot there and discovered you know wow I can sit here and and you know uh mentally and like sort of you know remotely physically change these things that are all over the world and that have these potentially hopefully good cascading effects as you know as you're updating and and and correcting routes and stuff um what's what's sort of your next personal iteration towards towards you know where you are now at you know Cloudflare yeah I mean I mean well when I was there I really leaned forward like I was just leaning forward the whole time I started in like a customer facing knock which was awesome um but I then moved into Internet abuse okay which has got to be the craziest place to go uh to deal with customer service issues but being at a provider that large you know I was able to to help fight spam uh in in in um at scale like I helped chase one of the largest spammers at the time clear off the Internet uh chase them off of UUnit chase them off of several downstream ISPs um they moved down to like Panama um as part of that and this is how funny it is you know now you look at corporations and every corporation has a SOC or a large security team you know we're operating the largest ISP on the planet and I was the Internet abuse guy for the whole time I was there essentially and so you know I did have some peers in the U.S.
but even then there were seven people in the U.S.
that when sites like Amazon or eBay or Microsoft would call in and say hey we're getting DDoS and we need some help all of these things that Cloudflare does automatically with DDoS D you know FlowTrack D you know never take that for granted because it used to be something that someone had to notice something bad happening and then someone had to manually go in there and and do things and we were able to be super creative and and do things with this equipment that was never supposed to be done and uh so like I helped develop ways to track spoofed DDoS attacks through backbone networks by using ICMP unreachables so we would black hole a route meaning we would have a null route on every single router in the network um and then we would listen for ICMP unreachables at the target and what that would give us is the inception point to our network so if someone was spoofing with like 10 dot address space as the source we'd be able to track it back to at least where is it coming in from and so that that that became really really helpful um for the Internet community at large and we were able to stop really large attacks like like the big um botnets that that took down Amazon and Yahoo in one day um you know we were able to actually stop that uh very quickly and trace it back to the source and unfortunately for the individual who was running the botnet they got caught and uh and weren't allowed to touch a computer for a while but um I guess small price to pay for them and uh and we all learned from it yeah no to your to your point it is it is always amazing the things that um Cloudflare you know enables now that you know just even the instrumentation just you know you didn't how do you get the instrumentation in place because it was so expensive to even monitor this stuff to trace it back to have the data you know um and so I'm sure you see lots you know it definitely sounds like a lot of this your uh those days um have have informed your capabilities here at uh Cloudflare um but so um you know we've got a few minutes left we got nine minutes left plenty of time um so what's what's the next what is your next big turning point as as you steer towards finding yourself at orange clouded if you will yeah I'm I mean I'm I'm super stoked because I it feels reminiscent of those days which were so pivotal like I think everything that happened in between was also very pivotal like I went on to do a lot of um engineering work so you know I was like okay let's get out of operations no joke that you know we're going back to 2004 my hip just stopped vibrating without a pager on it because of how often that pager was blown up and uh so I had to get out of ops and so I went and did a lot of engineering work some security operations work I went in and I learned the business of IT I just kind of wanted to get a well-rounded view of of what things are like and then you know finally wanted to to try my hand at sales and and solutions engineering and so you know that's what I've been doing for the past bunch of years and I had been wanting to actually get into Cloudflare for a very long time um and luckily for me I suppose uh you know serendipitously I had just done a stint as my first real SE job for the past seven years and next thing you know Cloudflare is hiring and they're hiring SEs and I'm like wow that's actually a job that I could probably just walk in and and start doing so it was uh you know manifest destiny or uh or great timing or luck or however you want to call it one or part of those things uh really happened and yeah and so I'm I'm actually just super stoked to uh to be here and I'm I'm looking for I'm looking for ways to uh to contribute I um I'm uh I'm really excited at at where the the company is in its in its life cycle you know you can see what we have already you can see I mean obviously there's there's tons of customers and there's tons of tech but you know that this is just the beginning like you can you can it's visceral that you know we're about to hit this this hockey stick growth you see the uh the products and the features that are coming out weekly um so fast that I can't even keep up with yeah I know it's it's yeah I mean so I'm on the in the um you know I focus I'm in growth marketing and impago and we're do a lot of our uh month-to-month month-to-month products and month-to-month customers and etc and even then you know we just it's you know what new feature of the dashboard you know has surfaced there you know whether it's you know some of our bot stuff and privacy teams access zero trust analytics um exactly you it's it's the number of the number of new things ever on all our release weeks is is is daunting in in a lot of ways in a good way but um very good way so I guess circling back on that um what what is you know you you know either your top one ideally or top couple what what is what really is exciting to you in the current tech world or the current cloud for world that you're seeing on the horizon I I think it's I think it's that you know Cloudflare's uh values and and really pillars of technology just line up with with everything that I've been trying to do right so all of this Internet abuse and Internet and Internet security we're making a more performant Internet we're trying to make a more secure Internet and and you know I'm really I'm just in tech I just happen to specialize in security for selfish reasons um you know when one of these retailers or a hospital or whatever gets hacked guess whose information they're stealing like they're stealing your family's information they're stealing your friend's information they're stealing your information and so you know that that's really what I'm trying to protect all the work that Cloudflare has done to uh to help people who don't have a voice have a voice I'm looking forward to finding ways to participate in that and you know more recently you know you hear from our executive leadership that privacy is also becoming kind of like our fourth pillar which that really excites me because you know there's there's obviously the I've got nothing to hide so you can have everything kind of argument I don't necessarily uh disagree with that but what about the I have nothing to share right if if I'm not explicitly sharing why you're now just taking and and that's a lot different to me and I think that privacy is going to be like our physical environment and and and everything that's happening to that and it's going to become one of those things where the more we let it erode the more difficult it will be for us to regenerate it and get it back and so um you know it's it's really important to me that that you know let's let's at least take a shot at that and and some things that I didn't even realize until I got here are amazing like I looked at things like DNS over uh HTTPS and I'm like wow that's awesome you guys are just giving this away that's unbelievable but then I was thinking like you know how in the world like how long is it going to take to roll out something like HTTP 3 with QUIC everywhere I'm like that's going to take decades daunting yeah but then you look at how many sites are already on Cloudflare and how many customers are looking to move to the likes of Cloudflare or as any CDN for that matter and when when you do that and that provider gives you the ability to flip it on it's like wow we could we could make like massive chunks of the Internet that much more private for end users overnight and I'm just I'm super stoked on on the possibilities of that and everything else that the that our executive team and our product team are thinking of that they haven't actually shared with me yet or I haven't been able to read yeah yeah there's a backlog of of interesting reading I I know that for in my my life as well well Stephen thank you very much um you know I hope to uh hang out with you and up in uh up in Toronto sometime in the coming year um and catch up in person this has been great and you shared you shared some some great stories and brought back a ton of memories for me and I know I know just reflecting on it preparing for this you you you had the same uh you know the navel gazing brought back the memories and literally some happiness by your by your laughs and smiles so it was totally fine totally fine well um do you have any closing closing remarks no I think that's it I you know thanks thanks so much for having me and uh super stoked to be here cool well this was Stephen and I'm Sean and uh this was uh Cloudflare Dial-Up Motive and uh everyone have a good rest of your day bye you