Cloudflare TV

Vets at Cloudflare

Presented by Trent Wooton, Neil Sanchez, Harris Hancock
Originally aired on 

Vets at Cloudflare showcases veterans and members of the military community that have successfully transitioned from a career in service to a career in the tech industry.


Transcript (Beta)

All right, we're live. Welcome everybody to another Fireside Chat with Vetflare. Today, I've got Harris and Neil with me.

I believe everyone's seen them earlier in the week, more in host roles, but now we get a chance to pick their brains, kind of hear a little bit more about their stories.

Starting off a little bit introductions.

My name is Trent. I'm the lead for Vetflare. I'm also a BDR in the sales organization.

I've been with Cloudflare for just under two years now. And Harris, you want to introduce yourself?

Yeah, I'm Harris Hancock. I've been with Cloudflare a little over three years.

I've been on the workers team as a systems engineer the entire time.

And I'm also a veteran. I spent six years in the army on active duty from 03 to 09.

That's my story. Neil? Nice. Cool. Neil Sanchez. I'm a customer success manager.

I've been with the organization now just under two years, just like you Trent.

And I served in the US Navy for five years from 89 to 1994.

Nice. Yeah, I guess I forgot to say I was also in the Navy. I did six years from 2001 to 2007.

Oh, a handful of times. Yeah, tell me about it. And that kind of kind of brings me to some of what I'd like to talk about today.

We've heard a little bit about your story, Harris, kind of some of the unofficial ticks and trips for how vets should navigate in and out of tech.

And Neil, we also got to hear a little bit about your background during your fireside chat yesterday.

But one thing I would love to kind of hear is kind of some of your first impressions.

One thing I always remember was kind of my first day at my first duty station, which was one of my first ships.

So I guess, Neil, you being in the Navy, you know what being on your first ship is like.

What was your first day? We want to go to skip to the ship if you want to go talk about boot camp, whichever was more impressionable.

I think boot camp for sure.

I mean, it's that the same thing you see in all the military movies when people sign up to the service, you jump out of that bus.

And I was in boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois in February, and it was incredibly cold.

And I just remember walking out and everyone yelling at me.

And I just didn't understand why I was being yelled at.

I guess I came out, I was supposed to go into the single file line and kind of move to the side.

And of course, that's, you don't follow the rules, especially when you're trying to line up, you're going to hear from someone for sure.

But yeah, I remember coming out and just being really cold.

Everyone looking very, very, very afraid. And I don't think that fear ever went away in boot camp actually.

Yeah, I guess that is a significantly. Oh, sorry. Go ahead there.

One of my one of my first memories was at basic training was standing in line behind the soldier in front of me.

And just like really close to each other.

We were in some cattle drive. I don't remember what the purpose of the line was for.

But I remember I noticed that he was shaking. He was just trembling his whole body.

And I realized that he was scared. And I knew that he was older than he was significantly older than me.

I was 20. And I knew that he was like 32. And it was strangely comforting.

It was like, if this 32 year old guy is terrified, then it's okay for me to be that's okay.

Yeah, I hearken back to whenever I left, I left in January, I left San Diego, I think it was like 70 degrees, I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, got off got off the plane and the bus in Chicago, same boot camp as Neil.

It was 10 o'clock at night and near zero degrees. And first thing I thought was what am I doing here?

However, it's it is a significant different first impression than say my first day at Cloudflare, which was significantly warm, much more inviting.

But at the same time, it was kind of an end goal for for one of those steps that I was trying to make.

What How about you guys? What was what was some of your first impressions kind of first day first week in the role here at Cloudflare?

Well, yeah, I sort of couldn't really believe where I was, I think. And I couldn't really believe how nicely everyone was treating me.

Which is, I shouldn't have been shocked because I've been a civilian for like eight years by that point.

But every time I joined a new organization, a new like a large company, I, yeah, I was always viewing it through the lens of the military, because that really taught me how the world was sort of supposed to be.

And so it was just all very surprising that that everyone was, I could ask a question of the IT person helping me set up the VPN, and they wouldn't yell at me, they wouldn't be like, you stupid idiot.

Just help. So yeah, the, the friendliness of everyone and the resources just in in the military, it's the military is well funded.

But when you get down to the individual service member, they might be working with 20 year old equipment that's half broken.

And that's just the way it is. So that's a big change to hear.

Indeed. For me, kind of very similar to you, Harris, I think. First of all, I was very shocked and surprised that I made it through.

I interviewed with quite a number of people.

Obviously, as you both know, and everyone that works for Cloudflare, we're big on that culture aspect, right?

We want to make sure that you fit in well, and obviously, you know, the skills for the job that you apply for very important, but I think also, they take very big consideration, how well do you fit in with everyone else.

And I just remember thinking when I got when I when I when I got it was like, wow, you know, it took so long to get here.

I remember I applied. By the time I applied, I got the job was like four months.

Quite a long time. So I was just very impressed with everyone, how attentive they were, how everyone was very nice.

And, you know, everyone remembered me from the interview process.

It was a completely different experience. Obviously, being in San Francisco, joining the company, I think it was February, around the same time, actually, that I joined maybe, but the weather was completely different.

And the people were definitely a lot more inviting, for sure. Nice.

Yeah, I guess my some of my first impressions was really my initial engagement with Cloudflare was initiated around a connection with with a veteran.

I was looking for an opportunity within the sales organization.

And I just happened to see a former Marine Chris Gnanon, who, hey, he's a BDR manager.

What, what could have hurt to possibly reach out?

And it was, it was really, I think some of the some of those good connections that the veteran community really has that, that can really drive a lot of those conversations that, that lead to a number of these great first impressions, because it got me out of an industry I was in finance before, something I was not quite as happy with, to something that I am much more fulfilled on now.

So that's kind of my first impressions of Cloudflare is, this is a great breath of fresh air.

It was somewhere I felt welcome, and that I could definitely apply myself.

Cool. Now there's there is a moniker or a phrase that that is definitely pronounced, or definitely mentioned over and over in the military.

It's hurry up and wait. How one thing I love the most is kind of reminiscing on some of the times that you're forced to wait, you're ready, but you wait.

What were what are what are some kind of memories or reminiscent moments that kind of got you through some of that boredom, really drove you kind of to be perpetually ready?

I can, I can talk about how I, how I endured such, such hurry up and wait circumstances.

And I, I would just repeat to myself inside, this too shall pass, this too shall pass.

And eventually after however many hours that we had to wait, then the thing would pass.

But most of my, most of my memories of the hurry up and wait kind of thing were obviously basic training where you're, you're constantly being yelled at to go faster, but you're blocked on bureaucracy half the time.

And then deployments where again, you're, you're being yelled at to go faster, to, to load the, load the airplane faster, board it faster, but, but then they have to fuel it.

And then they find that some part broke. So you have to get off and wait for the next airplane, that sort of thing.

It's kind of my experience in that regard.

I think, yeah, for me in basic training, I just remember, I think it's that notion of making sure everyone's there at the same time and on time.

As you know, they don't, they'll, they'll make it know that they were waiting for you if you show up late, you know.

But I remember one instance where I just was one very cold, cold morning and in bootcamp, they don't want you to brush your teeth or anything in the morning because you're trying to do it at night.

You shower at night, you do everything at night and you wake up in the morning, you go for that readiness part of it.

And I just remember saying one day, I just have to brush my teeth.

I'm going to sneak off a little bit or get up a little bit early and do that.

And I got caught by the CEO doing that. And he actually, I had to drop and give him 50 pushups right there with my toothbrush in my mouth.

That was quite interesting.

I guess whenever I think about it, I think about, of course, there's always the moments in bootcamp where you're getting rushed around and filed into lines that you're not entirely sure what you're waiting for.

But one thing that kind of sticks out in my mind was my first deployment.

It was into the Gulf where I think we spent about 70% of the time at sea.

And so whenever you don't see land for 50 plus days, you can start to go a little stir crazy.

And I think one of those things that helped keep me calm is really the core group of people that was around.

It was the people within my division. Those are people that kind of were within birthing and just kind of the tight community that those set of circumstances forced us to be in.

But then there is at the same time, right around the time that I think it was Battlefront, so Star Wars Battlefront, SOCOM, all these networkable first person shooters were starting to come out.

And so I had a lot of friends in IT and we started to figure out how to network the various spaces throughout the ship so that we could have little LAN parties.

And so that was one of those fun solutions to bide the waiting game.

Anything else? Oh, that was awesome. So cool.

Another thing I wanted to kind of get into is when did you know you were getting out and kind of what were some of those initial thoughts whenever you're making that decision?

Like, okay, this is what I'm going to do. Did you know what you were going to do or was there still some planning that had to take place?

Yeah, that's a hard decision.

It was a very hard decision. So I entered the Army in 2000.

Well, I signed on the dotted line in 2002 and then went to basic training in early 03.

And at the time, like my reasons, so the recruiter, the Army recruiter, he had these cards, they had five different cards and they're sort of like motivational three by five cards.

And one of them was adventure and it showed some guy rock climbing and another one was service to country.

And I forget what the icon for that, another was gaining skills or money for college, things like that.

And there were all reasons to join the Army.

And he asked me to pick two. And I was like, I already told you I want to join the Army.

Can we just hurry up? I just picked the two that I thought he wanted to see.

And that was service to country and adventure.

Those are the motivations that I identified in the recruiter's office.

And they were more or less correct. The economy had something to do with it too, and not knowing what else to do with my life.

And I spent the next six years sort of wondering, was that really correct?

Are those motivations still true?

Were they even true back then? When my term is up, when I enlisted for six years originally, when it's up, how am I going to feel about that?

And am I going to still be motivated for the same reasons?

And I realized that if the service to country part was true, if that really was one of my motivations, then staying in the Army was not the way to do it.

Because I had skills that I could develop as a civilian that I'd be able to harness more as a civilian.

Specifically, computer programming.

I couldn't do that in the Army. There was no role for that. And that was kind of the biggest one, is I realized that I'd gotten a lot out of the military, but I couldn't see a fully actualized human path for me staying in.

But I also wanted to stay in.

It can be a very comfortable place once you're steeped in it.

And deployments can be a lot of fun. And it's really hard to leave your family.

So that was an agonizing decision. So for me, my initial enlistment was for three years.

And then I enlisted for two more.

And I remember towards the end of that two-year period, I met my wife and I started my family and everything.

And I just remember towards the end of that time, I was thinking, is this something that's going to be good for my family?

Do I want to be deployed?

I don't know where I'm going to go next. I've got to pick everything up and go.

It was a tough decision, because I remember thinking at some point, it's now five years.

If I enlist again, it's probably going to be another three years.

I'm that close to becoming a halfway mark. And once you hit the halfway mark, you're like, ah, it's wonderful to stay in and finish the 20.

But I just didn't feel it was something that I wanted for myself or my family at the time.

But luckily, I had made really good connections during the time I was stationed here in the Bay Area.

So I made really good connections with friends and family.

And they were able to make that transition so much easier for me. Also, the Navy provided a lot of great services for me at the time.

Give you a hand to get you out there, get your resume fixed, get that language right in the resume that makes sense for civilians and corporations.

And that made the transition a lot easier for me.

So the decision was tough initially. But once I was getting towards that end part of it, it's like, OK, this makes sense.

I think I'm ready to move on now.

Nice. Whenever I can think back to a very specific meeting, it was like one of those pre- it was whenever you had to start having the conversation with the detailer about either re-enlisting for future orders, or you get out.

And the commanding officer called me to the office.

And it was literally a 15-minute chat of this is what you need to make if you get out.

We value you. We know what you want to do.

But we're not going to let you do it. We spent too much time training you.

And as soon as I walked out of that office, like, well, not to let me do what I want to do.

I want to become a- at that time, I wanted to become an aircrew rescue swimmer.

I wanted to jump out of helicopters. Long story short, it didn't happen.

But within that planning, the second part of the question was, was there an out plan?

And for me, about three or four months before I got out, I actually had a job offer as an assistant vice president for J.B.

Morgan Chase. And so it was a comfortable way to get out.

But I think in the long run, in hindsight now, was it the path that would have led me to happiness the fastest?

Possibly not. Because now I'm no longer in Southern California.

I'm in San Francisco and now have a wife and family on the way.

So definitely happy on where I turned out. It just was a longer transition than expected.

I think there's a, like, for me, there was a sort of two or a sequence of decisions.

There was the decision to get out, but also a decision to get out of the industry that I was in, which was military intelligence.

And because the obvious thing that all my friends were doing, or the thing that all my friends were doing in the service, where they were getting out, and then they would, they didn't know what to do, but they had a top secret clearance and certain set of skills that qualified them for jobs at contractors at the Pentagon.

And it seemed like that's where everybody was going. And I took a few steps down that path.

I started applying to such contractors. And I eventually, like, after I'd gotten out, I realized, no, I want a full switch.

I want to do something that isn't defense-related at all and have a little more creative freedom.

And then, so I went to college after that. And the point of college was partly to get a computer science degree, because I thought it would be worthwhile in the future, and partly to continue deferring the hard decisions until later.

Gotta love that GI Bill.

Hey, that GI Bill was a godsend for me. It's what enabled me to make a transition and do very much the similar thing.

It has shifted my education, a lot of my skill set to something that made more sense for my long -term goals.

And that's one of the huge benefits, I think, a lot of people, I don't want to say neglect to see, but they just miss that part of service, is that there are a lot of kind of benefits that come to service members in the end.

Whereas people that are trying to make the transition due to lack of information, just it's hard to get all the info, they just miss out on some of the benefits and the opportunity they have to make kind of better decisions on going forward.

I guess, kind of getting into, we've all been, we're all basically the founding members of that flair, having kind of started with the initial day, Memorial Day, with the cake stickers and the fun.

And the balloons, I think my desk might still have them.

But kind of going forward into the future, where would you guys like to see that flair kind of grow, help a company develop, or maybe shed light?

What would you like to see from that flair within a year?

Yeah, very specific. It doesn't matter, how about this, you can do five years, 10 years, ideally.

Well, I don't know if I could put a time frame on it, but I can tell you what I like about that flair, what I get out of it.

And that it brings me back to something that you were talking about earlier, Trent, and that was your first introduction to the company was through a veteran.

And my own introduction to the company was not through a veteran, it was through a GitHub contact.

I contributed to Capn Proto and eventually got on the radar.

But within the first week or two, I think it was after the first beer meeting, I was up on the roof in the San Francisco office.

And I overheard Chris Conannon, whom you mentioned as your first contact, I overheard him say something about one of his deployments.

And I forget the exact phrase that he used, but the words that he used, it's like, oh, that guy is a veteran.

And he has a relatively similar experience to what I had. And suddenly what that gave me was it gave me that I could talk to, gave me someone that I could ask dumb, embarrassing questions about Cloudflare culture or Silicon Valley culture in general or tech without making it seem like I was ignorant or underqualified somehow, because this other person knew that I had some credibility in other realms at the very least.

And that was really important to me and made me feel safe and welcome at the company.

And since then, I've made tons of friends as one does.

Very few of my friends are veterans now at Cloudflare. But that's sort of what I would like Vetflare to be is a resource for, in particular, newcomers to the company to have a safe space, to ask their dumb questions and a place where people will understand if they act a little weird in certain circumstances.

I guess I can piggyback on that.

I keep it simple. Maybe in a year, I'd like to be a more integral part of bringing Cloudflare to more visibility to other veterans out there.

There's some work that I probably need to do on my end. Obviously, maybe put more information on LinkedIn as to my career in the military and make it more visible.

But I'd like to be more of an integral part of that, helping veterans maybe adjust their resume to match maybe a specific job opportunity, and helping out more with the organization itself with this ERG where we can actually bring to light what we do and the fact that we don't have to have a military background to be part of this.

That's also really important. I think for me, it's more the camaraderie, the stories, the partnership you build when you form an ERG.

It's sort of important and doesn't have to be military background related, but people with great ideas that want to help out, I think that would be great if we can get to that point.

I want to follow up on that, actually. Something that I'd love to foster and see more of in our group is just diversification of backgrounds.

We are all US military veterans, but the US has one military out of many.

I want to make sure everyone knows that anyone whose identity has something to do with the military is welcome here, or anyone who's just curious, even.

That's sort of my vision for the future.

I couldn't agree more. Mil spouses or military adjacent, even contractors, anyone that has any sort of engagement or affiliation with the military is more than welcome at Vet Flare.

One vision that I see is using it as a way to drive a diverse talent pool that is also fostered through kind of a connected community of experience.

That's one of the key takeaways that I think a lot of us veterans have, even though we might not readily identify it, is that we have an interesting knack of being able to work well with others under just about any circumstance, as long as everyone understands a common goal.

That's kind of one thing that I want to help kind of foster within Cloudflare and VetFlare is kind of the recognition of military and servicemen, men and women, and their families and friends, while at the same time, I think it can also be a great opportunity to kind of build existing relationships with some of our customer base that we might already have, or might help deepen relationships with existing customers or new.

I think with that, we can pretty much tie that one off. I do want to save a couple minutes kind looking forward to kind of advice that we may have for people looking to make any sort of transition.

So I guess I do want to kind of leave the last couple of minutes open.

What is some advice that you would recommend to either someone separating from the military, changing industries, or just trying to navigate tech in general?

I can get on my soapbox real quick. That's something that I wish, okay, so this is going to be US specific, but assuming you're a US veteran, you're transitioning out of the military, what I would encourage people to do is apply for your benefits ASAP, like go to the VA and enroll in healthcare.

It's an enormous benefit. It can save you. Use the GI Bill. If these benefits are codified in law for us, for people like us, and we shouldn't feel bad about using them.

Sometimes I meet veterans who feel a little guilty availing themselves of VA benefits, but they should not feel that way.

That's my soapbox. Awesome. Awesome. That was great.

I'd say take advantage of everything that's offered to you before you leave the military.

I think some people are so ready to leave. They just don't, they're kind of already detaching mentally, but there's so many great benefits available to military members as they're moving, transitioning into that civilian life.

Take advantage of that. Reach out to your friends in the military or not.

There's someone that's associated with someone that can help you out in making that transition.

I always remember that you have a very specific set of skillsets that not everyone has, and use that to your advantage.

You'd be surprised.

A lot of times I'm doing things, maybe that's because I have that military background.

It gives me that focus or what that may be, but it's something very unique that a lot of people don't realize is very special.

Yeah. Yeah. I guess some final parting advice I'd get for anyone looking to transition, get out, or anything is ping your network.

Ping anyone you see with any prior service. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask.

Not everyone will respond, but you will probably have a better time getting traction with another vet than going in cold, because I feel like you can simply ask a vet, hey, from vet to vet, is this a fair request?

Do you mind having a short conversation around maybe an opportunity? Who knows?

I think that is the easiest way to start a conversation. Now, given we have only a couple of seconds left, I don't want to get cut off, but I definitely wanted to thank you guys first for your service, also for joining me and getting into a little bit more of your background and really what that value and what this community means to Cloudflare.

Thank you, gentlemen, and enjoy the rest of your Veterans Day.

Thank you both. Happy Veterans Day. Thanks, everyone. Thank you.

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