Cloudflare TV

Tom Paseka's 10-year journey at Cloudflare

Presented by João Tomé, Tom Paseka
Originally aired on 

We Are Cloudflare. Tom Paseka is celebrating 10 years at Cloudflare as a Network Engineer. Join us in getting to know more about Tom and his amazing experience (that includes working with undersea cables).


Transcript (Beta)

And we're live. Hello, Tom.

How are you? João, good afternoon.

Good morning to you.

We're live.

So welcome to our Cloudflare TV segment, "We are Cloudflare".

As the name says, of our segment, we are here to look for stories about people who work at Cloudflare, probably worked before in other places, and of course people are what companies are all about.

Companies start with people and I love this idea of getting to know people who work at a company.

Sometimes people work at a company for a year.

And in the case of Tom Paseka, our first guest here, Tom is celebrating, this week, ten years of Cloudflare.

So it's a decade in a tech company.

That's not that common. So Tom, please tell us the secret of being in a company like Cloudflare for ten years, a company that is 12 years old or so.

What's the secret?

Cloudflare is a really, really unique company, and I'm incredibly lucky and privileged to have been able to be here and be here this long.

It's very rare in a tech company that you actually have a diversity of things you can do and that you can be challenged every day in coming to work.

And that's the fantastic thing here is I'm excited to come here every day because I get to do something new and continue to do things new every day and be challenged and keep growing.

Of course.

Yeah, I'm here for four months now, and I get what you're saying. It's completely a company where every week could be different.

You could be doing different stuff and learning different stuff.

So in terms of yourself, let's go back from, we already spoke about this, you're from Australia, you grow up in Australia.

When did you...

how was your upbringing really in Australia? Where in Australia?

Sure, sure.

So I grew up in a in a very small town called Canberra, which happens to be the capital of Australia.

Most people don't don't even know it exists, so they probably think it's Sydney or Melbourne.

But Canberra is a small town. In the eighties when I was born it was probably only 200,000 people.

So fairly small town, it's fairly isolated from the rest of the world.

But it was interesting to grow up there and I always had an interest in computers.

My first computer growing up was an Omega 600 and I always got in trouble for playing it too much.

Playing games?

Playing games.

Yeah, of course. Which games?

Honestly, I can't remember.

There's some car racing and other things like that, but growing up I started disassembling and reassembling computers.

We moved on to a 386 or 486, which I ended up building.

And this is when I'm sort of like ten or under, under before, before even being a teenager.

So playing around with those, and that kind of led me into, into my career path.

When I was finishing high school, I was actually working for a systems integrator.

And so this is while still in school, actually, still in high school.

And it happened through some circumstances that I that I took over the business after I finished high school.

And I continued for a year or two until I merged with an ISP.

And then then I became into the Internet community really and continued working there since.

Yeah, absolutely.

And then, of course, you went to Cloudflare. How was that process?

So by the way, you went to college?

What degree did you take? No, no.

So straight out of high school, I was working and I never went through college.

Of course.

Yeah. Because actually you were doing stuff. You were doing the stuff that probably people had to go to college to learn.

You were learning, doing it, being at those companies even in early, before of the age of going to college, right before the 18 year-old mark, you were you were doing all that stuff and learning all that stuff in a sense, because those areas were always also expanding.

Internet was expanding.

You were learning as things were evolving.

Probably college would be, at those times, a little outdated.

A little bit.


Yeah, absolutely. You can say for Internet focused college degrees, I think they've only really been a thing sort of the past 5 to 10 years.

And so it is really interesting to to be in there before all of that existed.

I'm sure I could have learned a lot more on computer science, but it's a lot of fun just to get to a terminal and figure it out as well.

Before we get to 2012, when you join Cloudflare, you've got a bunch of interesting work you've done.

Can you summarize a little bit of those works?

And I think it involves also undersea cables, a topic very, very close to heart, especially in these past few weeks where we discussed the Tonga situation with those problems there.


So after after my time at the system integrator, I actually merged that company with an ISP.

And so I started working at a very small ISP in Canberra, in Australia.

I worked there for a couple of years and I moved to a much bigger company called TPG Internet.

TPG is a national ISP and they were they were growing like crazy when I was there, so I joined there, it would have been in 2007, I think six or seven.

And to give an idea of the scale we were, we were adding, although this sounds small today, we were adding about 40 or 50 megabits of bandwidth per week.

And for the time in Australia, to buy internet bandwidth, it would have cost about $3,000 per megabit.

So, the scale...

Different times.

Yes, very different times.

So from there I went to another ISP in Australia called Pacific Internet, which was then merged with a large one called Asia Netcom and grew into a company called Packnet.

And Asia Netcom and Pacnet actually owned a substantial amount of submarine cables.

So so they had around 19,000 kilometers, I think, of submarine cables across the Asian Pacific.

And when I was there, they were actually just launching a new Trans-Pacific submarine cable as well, connecting Tokyo to the US.

That was the Unity Cable.

It was a lot of fun getting exposure into that because I think for most people they don't really think of how the Internet works under the oceans.

A lot of people still think we use satellites for primarily like inter-country communication, but the submarine cables are there and there is hundreds of them around the world.

And they're fascinating things.

True and more important, like you were saying, that what people realize actually things like StarLink are the new kids in town in terms of Internet, right, are the ones that are trying to expand now.

Before they weren't that big in terms of presence in terms of the Internet.

What what do you learn?

What do you remember learning in those days of working with undersea cables?

How did you work with undersea cables in a sense?

Sure, so we were the owner and operator of those cable systems.

So it's fascinating to learn about how they worked.

There's actually a pretty good discovery on, sorry, a pretty good documentary on Discovery Channel called Mighty Ships, and they have one on, at the time it was Tyco, I think now it's SubCom, one of their boats doing a expansion in South America.

It's really interesting to watch if you can find that episode.

It's really interesting to see because they go into the depths of how they do it, how they expand the cable.

They'll actually drop an anchor to break the cable.

Then they'll go back and pull it up and splice it together, melt the fibers back together and then put it back in the water.

Yeah, it's a real process and it's tricky, right?

There's a science there, and it's all technology in a way that has been updated.

But it comes from the telegraph, right?

It comes...

that type of wiring, undersea wiring comes since those days, right?

Yeah, so like the first transatlantic cable in the 18, in the late 18th or 19th century is fascinating.

When they deployed it, they didn't know if it would work.

They didn't understand what would happen with the electricity going across it.

And so it was really just, let's see what happens.

And they managed to actually get the cable live for a couple of weeks before it faulted and then then built another one with some learnings of what they did.

But it's fascinating that this was all new technology and new things, and we've largely followed on from what they've led with.


And then what... How was the your situation in terms of coming to Cloudflare in 2012?

What convinced you to come to a small company, very small company at the time, 2012?


So Cloudflare was actually a customer of Pacnet at the time and the sales engineer who was helping the Pacnet account ask me to help out because Cloudflare was growing like crazy and was having some challenges in setting up their infrastructure.

And so I dived in and helped out and befriended the team at Cloudflare then.

Sorry, excuse me.

And I noticed how busy they were. How many people?

Ten people or so. At the time I think Cloudflare was was about 15 people.

And so I reached out and said, Hey, you guys are so busy, you should just bring me onboard to help out and went through interview process and then hopped on a plane.

It was, so it was a changing, a complete change of location, of content in a way.

So it was more than a job, a new job.

It was a new changing of setting.


Yeah. I'd never even been to the US at that point in time. And so I flew out site unseen and took a chance and it's obviously been very successful.


And it's incredible to see how it played out, of course, but also how the mission you were given in terms of your path, what you could do in the company, guide you to go to another continent to change your life.

So the mission really engaged with you in a sense?

Yeah, absolutely.

And looking back, I think like working in the telecom space, things are pretty monogamous, like they don't change much from day to day.

You have the same thing.

Coming to Cloudflare, it was really just wildly different.

The pace that we worked at and we still work at today, is something I couldn't believe.

In my formal life, we would sort of add a new new city or new data center sort of once or twice a year.

The Cloudflare when I joined, we added I think we added 20 in six months and we've continued to grow with that sort of scale and in other spurts.

And so that's been amazing.

And during that growth, it's had an opportunity for me to actually learn a lot and continue to excel.


It's incredible to see how it played out. For those who don't know, what does a network strategist do?

Your job, really?


So my job now is looking at how Cloudflare connects with other networks and building what our connections look like going forward.

So network interconnection strategy is really about plumbing our network into other networks as well.

If you go back, looking at Cloudflare, we used Internet exchanges a lot.

We used a small number of IP networks to connect to.

But now we're one of the most connected networks in the world, connected with over 10,000 different ISPs or enterprises.

And we're continuing to try and reach out to every part of the Internet.

And so that's what my team is really looking after.

Of course.

I have... We mention this in the blog, in the blog posts that we do at Cloudflare a lot, and I love this expression.

It's the Internet is a network of networks, so it has a collaborative nature all over.

So, companies collaborate with companies, people collaborate with people to create this thing that is the Internet and is, of course, evolving.

So in a sense, that union between companies, between ISPs and other providers is the essence of the Internet and getting better makes...

It's also about collaboration, right?


Yeah. It's interesting to see how how the Internet has evolved.

And one of the good ways to look at this is if you look at BGP data, and we should probably do a blog post on this later, is you can see if you go back sort of 15 years ago, there are there are a handful of small networks in North America that were really the center of the Internet, and everyone had to connect through those networks to reach other parts of the Internet.

Today, the Internet is far more distributed than what it was.

And so you can see there's a lot more connections between stub networks or other networks, which are not the Tier ones.

And so it's really evolved and the Internet has actually become more resilient over time.

And it continues to become, the more that that it reaches out to the edges.


True. Let me share with everyone your first blog post, but let's see if this plays out.

Your first blog post in the Cloudflare blog.

So this was March of 2012.

So you were at the company a little over a month and you wrote about Cloudflare being a part of the Hong Kong Internet Exchange.

So this this was the first one.

But there's more here, just to set things up.

Why Google went offline.

We actually love to explain how things on the Internet work in the blog.

And here are some examples.

Power outage in Taiwan and of course, data center in Macau, in this case.

How was it for you in terms of explaining things in the blog, using the blog?

What do you think about that?

I think it was a really good opportunity to help other people explain sorry, help other people learn.

One of the things that we see a lot with technical writing is that it's designed for nerds or geeks, and it's not easy to understand.

But I think Cloudflare's blog, and I've been helped a lot by some of our leadership and others in writing these as well, is we've gotten very good at explaining simply how things can work on a technical level to people who are not technical at all.

And I think that's been part of the success of the Cloudflare blog in general is it's easy to refer anyone to read.

And that's a lot why people come back and keep reading it.

It helps them understand the concepts.

Makes sense.

Also, you have some memorabilia to show us, right? Yeah.

...from the first days.


So first of all, the shirt that I'm wearing today, we have the Nyan Cat Cloud. This is a very sought after t-shirt by Cloudflare enthusiasts.

It's doing pretty well for its age, approaching ten years as well.

But we had a limited number of these and they're a lot of fun to have.

And then another one I have with me is the first Cloudflare hoodie.

So the brand is not the same.

The logo is obviously different than it is today, but we had that at our first or sorry, it wasn't our first.

It was my first company offsite retreat. We were, the whole company took a bus up to Napa and we we had an offsite there.

It was pretty cold in the evening and I didn't bring a sweater.

But as we're finishing dinner, Michelle, I think handed out the hoodies.

So it was great.

We could walk back to the hotel with those hoodies. Of course, it's incredible to see how merchandising from Cloudflare now is something very sought after.

People really love those items. And I remember a story of Matthew talking about in the first years of Cloudflare, he saw someone in Costa Rica wearing a Cloudflare t-shirt and he asked them about it and he said, Oh, I love the company.

And he said, Oh, I'm the CEO.

So it's funny to see in different places of the world, that's when people like Cloudflare, they really like Cloudflare and use products like our our t-shirts.

Yeah, it's great.

Like I've seen the Cloudflare t-shirt in the Hawaii airport.

I think someone the other day said they saw one in Poland.

They're great to spot around the world.

And people really love the quality of the shirts and and that brand as well.


Let's let's go a little bit to your favorite memories at Cloudflare, your path here.

You already talked about what network strategists do. Do you have favorite memories, even in the way your job evolved since 2012?

Sure there are a lot of favorite, I say memorable memories, as we had a lot of tough times.

In 2013, Cloudflare was facing the biggest DDoS attacks on record at the time, which actually started impacting parts of the broader Internet.

At the time, I was the only network engineer at Cloudflare, and it was it was really tough because these attacks would continue day in, day out.

I had very little chance to sleep as we were constantly fighting the attackers to to keep our network and our customers online.

It was a really challenging phase, but we learned so much from that.

And we've actually made the Internet better.

And there are a lot of things that that came out of those attacks which went around to actually clean up parts of the Internet to make things better for everyone.

And so there's lots of good that have come from that. Those were some some pretty crazy DDoSs back then.

And so so with that as well, like it's all new things to be learned.

These attacks had never been seen before.

And so, it's kind of I'm making it up as I'm going along and actually learning how to solve this problem.

And then that's something that that I don't think many have had a chance to do.

So so that's one way that's been great that I've been able to learn and adapt and actually help make the Internet better.


You can get a sense, from those days especially, in 2013, that the changes you are doing in this company were making the Internet better, even if most people, my grandfather, my father probably won't get...

they use the Internet, maybe, but they don't get how tricky in terms of complex it is, how it has to, there's a lot of innovation there to to bring it to people to be faster, but also to be secure.

And those days, those attacks were relevant even to get to get things better in a sense.

Right, right. Right.

Well, more memories from previous years that you want to share?


Trying to trying to think of some some fantastic ones. I mean, it's been a lot of fun, to be honest.

So growing the network as much as we have has forced us to learn a lot.

We deployed a data center in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

And to be honest, I didn't know Djibouti existed before this.

And some people love to use that as almost like a joke because it doesn't sound real.

But it's real and we've got a data center there.

Sorry, sorry if I sound like I'm making fun of it, but it's really interesting to to learn about these places and actually expand.

And we're continuing to do that.

We're going to new places, new countries.

We're learning of how the networks work there, how the people work together and actually go and expand it and help make the Internet better there to.


That's not just a memory.

It's it's something continuously happening. True.

And it's really a global view of the planet, really. Different cultures have different ISPs.

Different ISPs have particularly things that they do and join everything together, being aware of the culture of each country, it's important, even for a tech company, right, that wants to operate and wants to facilitate the use of the Internet in different places.



In terms of things that you think that most people don't realize about Cloudflare, that you think they should realize, they should know about Cloudflare, and probably most people don't know.

Given that you're ten years in, what are those misconceptions that sometimes you think are there?

That's a tough question.

Sorry, I don't know if I have an answer for that right now, but what sort of misconceptions do we have?


- Sorry, I'm not sure... - That's okay. That's okay.

But of course, most people, for example, when I started working at Cloudflare, Hey, what is that?

Oh, it's a tech company.

Oh, it's about the Internet. But most people don't understand really the basis of that.

Do you have, ever had that when you were starting?

Even when you were starting in those first days at that company, how did you explain, Oh, I do this?

Yeah, I mean, because my background has been on the Internet, a lot of my circle is quite familiar to it.

But I think one of the things that we we that that some people misconceived is, is like the size and the breadth of what Cloudflare does.

Often I'll have people reaching out to me and saying, oh, we can help you with your cloud bill.

And my response is, oh, really?

You can help me with my infrastructure.

They'll go on about how they can get me a discount at AWS.

And it's like, well, we are the cloud.

Like you can't compare us like that.

And so, so I think that's a common misconception that people just assume things will run in the public cloud without realizing that a network like Cloudflare is the public cloud.


It's already there. He's already doing those types of things.

Also, interested to know what excites you the most things, that we can reveal, but what excites you the most in terms of the company that is now really big, in terms of of what it was when you started ten years ago?

Yeah, I think it still really excites me that we have the same mission, which is really to help make the Internet better.

You could see it when when I first joined the company, when we were expanding.

Every time we'd launch a new data center, we would actually hugely improve performance of the Internet in that country or in that location where we did it.

And that's still true today.

We're still able to give anyone the same resources that the Internet giants have to keep them online and to make them faster and more secure all around the world.

And so that's something which really excites me still.

And it's a very important mission.

For example, I've discussed this with people who are working in Africa, trying to get some African countries better Internet, and they describe to me the difference of having a very slow connection, very slow communication through the Internet.

You can only do specific type of things. It is difficult to browse things, search for things, because it takes longer.

In some countries in Africa, there's squares where people go to go to the Internet.

They only have that half an hour to go to a square and go to the Internet.

So making the Internet, even in those parts of the world, quicker, more accessible, it makes a difference, right?

Yeah, absolutely.

And I think in the West, we often forget how different things can be like when you look at some modern Web pages and they have an eight megabyte CSS file.

If you're accessing that on a on a satellite link in Africa, it's impossible to use, like the website just won't load in time.

And buy by...

one of the things we do is by putting our infrastructure out there, we're actually able to make it faster and make those things work.

But it's still a long way to go, I think.

We've still got a long way to go, but I look forward to continue making that that better everywhere.


Do you have any tips for anyone hoping to join Cloudflare? Yeah.

I'd say one thing is be ambitious. Cloudflare gives you the chance the chance to do a lot, and if you put the energy into it, you can really achieve a lot.

So be ambitious and be honest and you'll probably succeed.

Just to wrap things up, do you have a lesson you took from this ten years at Cloudflare that you want to highlight, something that really pops out from this ten years of Internet working, really?


I think always be open to learning. Coming to Cloudflare, I was already an expert in my field, but after being at Cloudflare, I realized that I still had so much more to learn.

And these ten years, I still realize that I'm still learning.

I still have so much further to go. And I think that's something to always keep in mind, is that you can always do more and learn more.

And so that's been a great lesson for me.

And in terms of the global Internet, do you have anything you want, really want to get things better in terms of the global Internet?

I think one of the big things that we have to solve is the Internet security.

And by that I mean like the inter-routing domain security.

So how do we make BGP secure?

Because right now there is a chance of bad actors actually doing some very bad things, and so we've seen that with things like route hijacks.

Cloudflare has done a lot on that with RPKI and then rolling that out, but there's still a lot more to be done.

And so I think that's that's something I really want to see come through.

And like you were saying, it involves collaboration because it's not only Cloudflare that can solve that.

It has to be a collaborative effort.



Yeah. Everyone has to has to play by the same rules, I guess, to implement the same security features to actually make it successful.

Of course, that makes perfect sense.

We're almost out of time.

So 30 minutes in.

Any last advice, any last highlight you want to share from your time at Cloudflare?

I think nothing specific, but just it's been great being here and I hope to have another ten years.

Yeah, we hope so too.

And have more discussions, more blog posts, more features to help the internet being better.

Thank you so much Tom.

Hope you enjoyed this 30 minutes of conversation. Thank you João.

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