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.
Good morning, afternoon, or evening, everyone. Welcome to yet another episode, episode 16 of Dial Up Motive.
This is where we explore the early Internet histories and technological experiences of Cloudflare employees.
So we dive into mp3s, IRC, early email, everything that the world of early tech has to offer.
I'm your host Dan Hollinger and with me today is Tom Klein, a technical support engineer here at Cloudflare.
Tom, would you mind giving a quick introduction of yourself? Hi, I joined two weeks ago actually, so I'm brand new to Cloudflare, but was actually a customer for like six years.
I joined Cloudflare as a customer in 2014. And yeah, I worked in the past as a software developer and that's how I got here.
So you're fresh out of boot camp. You still have that new hire smell. Yeah. Yes, I'm currently working on my first tickets and still got some training sessions, but it's pretty fun already.
Awesome. Well, glad to have you as on the team and supporting our customers.
Anything that's been surprising so far in your kickoff or bootcamp?
Actually, yes. The most surprising thing was how clearly everything is communicated and how everything is coordinated so well, especially in the times where we can't see each other face-to-face, at least most of the people can't see each other face-to -face.
And so I was really surprised that it works out so well to have a fully remote onboarding, have a fully remote working experience and yeah.
Awesome. Great to hear and good to hear that the remote onboarding is going smoothly.
Are we able to provide that information to you and get you started as easily as possible?
Yeah. What are some of the technologies you're working with today or that you're ramping up on?
So I'm currently working with lots of different things.
For the work part, I use probably most of the same troubleshooting tools I use in my free time as when I'm still doing web development.
So we use different tools like curl, we use internal tools, we use dig for DNS lookups to troubleshoot different problems, which might occur when you use Cloudflare or if you set up your service.
And also a lot of web-based technologies like for example, the G Suite or now it's called Google Workplace, I guess.
I used that before for my own projects, but also now on Cloudflare. And yeah, it's all web-based.
And I guess a couple of years earlier, there wasn't that much of a variety of services that supported those web-based work.
So I remember that a lot of times when I worked with other people together, there was Skype to communicate or other similar services, but most things you had to download or actually run locally.
So it's pretty great it's web-based because that makes a lot of things easier.
And also you don't have to worry about setting up a new PC once you switch to your private PC or to your smartphone or something, just can start and that's pretty great.
So even the Internet and the improvement of technology helping in your day-to-day career, allowing you to be a much more collaborative on supporting customers or working through a ticket, that's great to hear.
So with that in mind, it'd be great to take a step back and learn what your early experiences were like, both with technology or the early Internet and especially where you were growing up at the time.
Yeah. So it started all at the age of six when I got my first PC for Christmas and from my parents.
And it was a custom built PC running on a Windows XP, which is a little bit newer compared to other developers.
So you had a much nicer Santa than I ever did. I don't know about some of our other viewers.
Yeah. It was, I guess, two gigabytes of RAM. So that's, I guess, much more than other people had.
But I started pretty late compared to other developers.
Started in 2006, was it? And yeah. And my dad was a little into graphic design and photography.
So he worked a lot on his Mac. And yeah, that's how I got my first PC.
And I started to ask a lot of questions about how the Internet works and how do I modify how the drives are displayed on your computer and how can I display stuff on the monitor.
And that's, I guess, how I started asking more and more questions and trying to learn all these things myself, especially because there were not so much resources then.
I mean, you could just open Google and type in some stuff and then get your answer, but the answers were pretty bad at that time.
So pretty technical. So you had to have at least a background in web development or computer stuff.
And so it was pretty hard to start, but the Internet kind of grew with me.
So once I wanted to start coding in HTML and CSS, there were more resources on that.
And later, there were more resources on web servers and PHP and such stuff.
So it was, I guess, a lot of luck involved that I had the resources I needed to learn everything.
And if anything, you were fortunate that these were available on the Internet.
You didn't have to go get a book on programming that you could just search and learn and develop in a self-paced way.
Yeah. But I actually got some books because it was for me at that age, pretty hard to kind of think of what I should type into a search machine.
So I didn't know that a domain was called domain or something.
So I just asked, what is this .com thing? Or what is the screen lock in your browser?
And there was no way for me to find out because nobody in my family knew what's it called and what you have to search for.
And so some books that provided all those information in one place, yeah, kind of helped me a lot.
And so then it just, my curiosity just grew over the years. So later it's been, what is an IP address?
What's the server? What's the protocol? What's Anycast?
And then it just grew from there. So did you become the resident computer expert at your home?
Yeah. I mean, it started once some printers didn't work, I guess that's in most families the case.
And I just, everybody asked me and I didn't know what I was doing, but I just clicked on some things and somehow everything worked.
And I never knew what I did there, but yeah, more and more my understanding of technologies grew.
And I guess, yeah, that's why I'm now a web developer and why I'm here and why I can help all my family members once they have problems.
So yes, it's kind of great to see what's behind the Internet and what's behind computers because it's pretty democratic.
Everybody can start their web server.
Everybody can start in the Internet. There's no kind of level for entry.
Yeah. There are very few gatekeepers. So it was very easy to publish information, to get information.
And what was your day-to-day life as a six -year-old with a computer?
Was it really going straight into the code and development or were you playing games and surfing the web and chatting with friends?
What did those experiences look like?
I guess on my first day with my first computer, I just played pinball.
I assume this is what the default Windows XP pinball that came.
Yeah. Then I got my first games installed, which were like, I don't know the name of the game, but it was also pinball, but just a little bit more advanced.
And yeah, I started playing a lot more games. And after a couple of months, I started looking into the Internet because I got this USB Internet stick, which was connected via Wi-Fi to my dad's apartment, which was above my mother's apartment.
So we had two flats above each other. And yeah, I just started to get this curiosity about the Internet because it was like a magic place and nobody knew what was in the Internet and nobody had an idea in my family how all of this works.
And then I just wanted to create my first website and used a website that's called Yoko, which stands for your own community and is a German platform where you can create your own Facebook, just a lot more simplified.
So this is almost the MySpace or GeoCities of Germany, you'd say?
Not really. It's like a website builder.
So your own website, which is in a community style, but you have your own users and own registrations and so on.
And it was pretty awesome because I could just set up a site, just click through some things and had my friends joining.
But at the time, nobody had Internet, so nobody could join the community and it failed pretty badly.
And my father also didn't like the idea to use such a website builder because he wanted me to either learn the stuff or just stay away from that because it looks a lot scammy.
And especially because in my town in Germany where I grew up, nobody really had a credit card or something like that.
So always if you have something online and had to enter some payment details, it looked always scammy for us.
So that's when I got into HTML and CSS. Interesting.
And this community you were trying to build, was it for your friends, for around a game or show?
What was the community you were trying to build? Um, I had no idea what I was going to build.
I just built it and hoped that somebody would join and somehow I started the next big website, but of course it didn't happen.
That's always the hope. And then there's no marketing. No one will go to that part of the corner of the Internet anyway.
Yeah. And then I started modifying my site or creating my own website with HTML and CSS.
And I was wondering how the fuck do I get this online?
I had no idea. I didn't know about service. I didn't know about IPs.
I didn't know about even a programming language. So I always wondered how do I set up a login and registration for my head?
No idea where to start and how it's going to work.
And then I started playing GTA San Andreas multiplayer, which is a mod for GTA where you could kind of multiplayer play with others and do some role-playing and stuff.
But that was a couple of years later, a lot of years later.
So it was like at the age of nine or 10. So then I started. So when you were getting into school, was the Internet pretty commonplace across your peers, both either in school with computer labs or when they were going home?
Not at all. So we had a computer lab in school, but it was just a stupid learn program that nobody knew what's it about.
And it was just, it didn't work at all. So yeah, computers were like a mystery for all of us.
Well, when I started playing this GTA game in multiplayer, there was a hosting provider that was called SAMP4U, I think.
And I started actually working for them as a supporter to support people installing this game and got my own first game server for free because I worked there for free.
That's a nice internship gift, essentially.
Yeah. And it was pretty fun. I didn't stay long, but that's how I got my first server.
And I started to realize, oh, wait, you need to have a computer that's connected to the Internet to run a server.
And it's nothing else than a program on another computer.
So that's when I realized what this networking part of the Internet means, especially, or at least pretty basically.
And the fun thing was I started playing Minecraft after that.
And then I knew how to set up my own server.
And I was pretty happy with that. And that was probably the first time I had other people that I knew in real life joining my service and playing with them.
And then I asked this owner of this hosting provider how he did the login.
And he just said, yeah, I did something with PHP. And I was like, what? What's PHP?
And yeah, you have to store something and you have to do this and that.
And I didn't understand that. And I thought I can just do it in HTML and store all this login credentials there.
But that's a really bad practice, actually. And yeah.
And then I built my way up from there and started learning PHP, which took a long time because I didn't have any experience with anything.
I didn't know HTTP.
I didn't know much about HTML either. I would say, do you feel like Minecraft and hosting a Minecraft server is a gateway for a lot of kids in your generation learning or getting that taste of what a web server is, running a web server is like, or running a game server and then deciding to learn more?
A little bit.
Because if you... Basically, programming and networking and all those technical stuff is like logic.
It's just logic. You have to understand the basic principles of how everything works, at least on the basic level.
And running a game server is actually a good way to start because you have fun with it.
You love playing games with your friends, especially today.
And yeah, you get information, you get an IP address for other people to connect to.
And you learn a little bit about what IP addresses are and how they work because you have to enter them and you see the format, how they are formatted.
And the fun thing about Minecraft, what I was going to say was that you have those plugins or extensions for the Minecraft server.
So you have modifications on them. And I always wanted to have a certain style of server.
And that's when I just started trying to figure out how to code plugins for Minecraft.
And as I already had some knowledge in HTML and CSS, I was pretty confident that I could do that, but failed again pretty badly because programming language are pretty different from HTML and CSS.
But then I started learning Java and it was mostly copy and pasting and trial and error.
But at the end, I just got a basic script and then I was really happy that I got that.
And I guess that was at the age of 10, 11. I mean, I feel that's where most programmers get their start is that copy paste where I don't necessarily fully understand what this piece of code is doing, but I know it's outputs.
I know that I'm going to get a login, two inputs for a name and a password.
If I copy and paste this PHP code over to my server and I know it'll display correctly and what it'll do and what I'm going to do with that information.
So that's really a starting point. I know it was for me in learning how to code and learning about PHP and web development is you find someone else that might know a little bit more than you or understand a little bit more than you, and then you can copy and paste their work.
Yeah, I guess the most important thing is that a lot of things in coding explain each other.
So you have to know something first to realize what the other part means.
And especially when you copy code, you just experiment with that.
You change some things and it starts to work or not to work.
And you kind of figure out how those parts are connected to each other. And yeah, that's probably the best way to learn code.
It's not to attend a bootcamp or maybe it's a great start, but you always have to kind of fail and learn from your errors and try to make those connections and try to optimize your code somehow that it fits your use case.
Awesome. And how do you think you took this knowledge with you as you were starting university or growing into your early career?
How do you think these experiences helped you? So there's another part in school that I didn't mention yet.
We had later in school, like when I was in sixth grade or seventh grade, we had a computer lab that actually had some content.
And in this computer lab, we didn't really do much, but we kind of trolled other people in the computer lab by just running some scripts and some really basic bash scripts or Windows command shell scripts and configured our own IPs or try to figure out how to configure them.
So it bypasses a proxy. So in school, we had a proxy that blocks Facebook and blocks YouTube and such things.
And we always try to somehow Google our solutions to bypass this. And that was another great way to learn about networks because it's a really important part in the Internet.
And then my whole picture of this Internet just started to have all those dots connected.
And then I started building my first few websites, which took a lot of learning, but eventually I got there.
And later when I started working, I worked again for free, just for fun for YouTube networks, because it was at the time where me and my friends kind of started YouTube channels, like everyone started YouTube channels and wanted to do some tutorials or some let's plays or something like that.
And I wanted to have a YouTube network. I wanted to connect all those people creating YouTube content because I knew, okay, I'm not much of an entertainer.
I still want to have some cool statistics to tell my friends. And then I just started a YouTube sub -network.
So it wasn't a real YouTube network, but it was like a kind of affiliate referral-based network and started that.
And from there, I got some contacts to actually do some useful stuff and try to change websites for a YouTube network, for a real YouTube network.
It was a small one, but it was my first job and they paid me like $200 after a month doing some work.
And I was like, wow, $200.
And at the time I just had like $5 a week to buy something to eat. And when I got my $200, I was like, that's not real.
It's like, it was so much money. And then I thought about, well, yeah, I can make this a career.
I can do this for a job.
And yeah, I continued working there for a year or something and just kind of did some work for one company, then for another.
It was always like a hobby still, but a paid hobby.
And that was pretty awesome. And I remember the best or the most influential story I had with working for others was the owner of a YouTube network in Denmark that every day had to kind of convert an Excel spreadsheet to some other format.
And it always took him like eight hours a day. And I wrote him in half an hour, a really basic script that just converts it automatically.
And it saved him like eight hours a day.
So he just had to click in and drag in the file and it just spit out the final file.
Yeah. I mean, that's one of the things I've always appreciated about code and programming in general is taking something simple and being able to do it a thousand times or multiply it, connect a few APIs together and you get that force multiplier that saves a person time or sanity or whatever they might be after.
Yeah. And well, he paid me $50 for that and I was pretty happy again, but it was pretty awesome to see someone being so happy about his job because he could spend those eight hours a day to manage his network or to manage his staff or just connect with his clients.
And he never had time for that.
And he never wanted to do this Excel spreadsheets. And he was so happy. And I always love to see the customers or clients at the end being really happy and to save them some time because time is more valuable than money.
And at least that's my opinion.
And then over the years, especially over the last couple of years, I worked full-time for companies and did some software development and set up cloud computing clusters with Kubernetes and such stuff for large TV corporations and other big brands in Germany.
And more and more, I started thinking about how I could optimize their expenses or their costs and reduce them and increase performance and such stuff.
And I always started with integrating Cloudflare because Cloudflare, it can cache, it caches your stuff.
It doesn't build for bandwidth, at least for the basic parts like CDN and such stuff, and has a really great network.
And since I always integrated it with all those companies and recommended it, they always asked me when there was something happening or something wrong with the integration.
So I kind of supported them as part of my freelance or employed jobs.
And it was really fun to help them because for me, nowadays, those problems are pretty easy to solve.
I mean, you just have to configure something. Most of the time, it's just some setting that's just not set right or set correctly.
And yeah, it was pretty fun to actually integrate it and see the smiles on the executors' faces when they reduced their Google Cloud bill with thousands of dollars.
And yeah, that's when I enjoyed kind of supporting customers from my own customers that are using Cloudflare.
And that's why it just made sense to join Cloudflare actually as a technical support engineer because it was what I was doing before.
And since I can still do my web development hobby in my free time, there's nothing missing and I really enjoy it here.
Awesome. And again, great to have you. And it's nice to always hear about those experiences of our employees using Cloudflare and some of their day-to-day tasks or putting in front of their own little blog or web presence and then ultimately coming to work here.
And with the last few minutes we have left, what are you most excited about around the future of the Internet or the future of your work here at Cloudflare?
So for the future of the Internet, I'm most excited about how the Internet just evolves.
It just speeds up every day, or at least it feels like it.
And I mean, especially I remember when the whole Internet switched from HTTP1 to HTTP2 and websites were loading just blazingly fast instead of rendering from top to bottom slowly.
That was pretty awesome. And also how the Internet just evolved.
And how nowadays millions of or billions of people just connect over such simple technologies compared to other technologies.
It's just really awesome to see what can be done with this.
And working at Cloudflare, I'm most excited about the team.
It's a really great team. That's why probably the interview process is so long, but it really pays off.
And it's really awesome to see the people behind a company that influences millions of websites and billions of Internet connections.
And it's really, really, really great to see. Awesome.
Yeah. Always interesting to see the developments on both the product side, the customer side.
And once again, I thank you for your time and taking us through those early experiences with a computer at six and building your first little web community that no one went to, and then a Minecraft server that people did go to.
And glad to have you here at Cloudflare.
Yeah. As I said, I'm pretty excited to be here.
And for me, it's a huge opportunity, especially comparing it to German companies that are not so creative and don't have that much opportunities.
Not as much fun, not building TV stations.
Yeah. But it's really open and it's a really open culture here at Cloudflare and a really great human.
All right. And with that, I want to thank Tom Klein again for his time and thank you, everyone that's watching today, whether you're catching the live version or one of the recordings.
Hope you had a wonderful journey through the nostalgic Internet trip and have a good morning, good afternoon, or good evening.
Yeah. Thank you, everyone.