(A little inspired by the #builtforthis campaign)
The Internet holds a very special place to me. I wouldn’t be who I was without it, and every day I get excited that I get to help connect people to it’s future.
One of my earliest encounters with the magic series of tubes was a dial-up email service called Juno. It was a free service that allowed you to dial-in and check your email. Despite being ad supported, I’m sure I cost that service a pretty penny because I would constantly try to refresh my inbox causing our poor little modem to sing as it reached out to some random computer in Dayton, Ohio. Now, being a kid, and the Internet being what it was back then, the only other person I knew with email back then was my elementary school teacher. Fortunately, she was the type of amazing, supportive teacher that would email a precocious student back on her off hours. (Thanks for everything, Mrs. W). I can’t even fathom today what we talked about, but after that, I was hooked to the feeling of connection that the Internet could provide.
For some context, I grew up on tiny farm outside of a small town on the West side of Ohio (i.e. The middle of nowhere). The area surrounded by corn and bean fields that you pass by without thought on your drive from Toledo to Cincinnati. Social distance was the majority of my social life, and the Internet was my lifeline to the world outside the small town. It helped me reach opportunities I never would’ve had access to otherwise. I was able to make friends and learn life-long skills, and it all started with that annoying squeal of a dial-up modem.
I remember my first upgrade from 26k to a 56k modem and a real Internet connection. It didn’t take long for me to find my way to online gaming and friendship with games like Subspace, Outwars, Tribes and more, and the utter devastation felt when you were about to win and a family member picked up the phone somewhere else in the house. (Heck, I still remember my ICQ number.) Those games lead to friends I’ve never met in real life as we languished over losses and celebrated our victories in clans, forums and more. The Internet became my source of connection for friends around the world, or even ones on the other side of my city.
I eventually found my way to graphic and web design. I moved from a simple Hello World to an ugly Geocities page, from Microsoft Image Composer, Flash and server-side code like PHP. Much of my first job out of college was spent writing special code for IE6 for things that worked perfectly in Firefox (Yes, my client stilled used IE6.). Looking back its fascinating to see my career path forged by the Internet. From volunteer web master for my college groups, to slinging PHP in Austin, Perl in Seattle, and Python in Washington, D.C. and Mountain View. My lessons on the early Internet began to literally take me places.
And finally, the Internet brought me to the Bay Area and this company called Cloudflare. I was living in DC at the time, but able to find and apply to this little startup with a quirky gradient logo. There was never much doubt in my mind that we are going to leave a major dent on the Internet. The disruptive, innovator’s solution was there, and I got a front row seat to some of the not-so-slow, not-so-steady, but ever-subtle movement upward. There are days, sitting in a conference room (or zoom call now), where I just can’t believe I get to connect people to the literal future. From my first days as an SE, I don’t think I ever really tried to sell my customers on our product so much as I sold them on the vision and the passion of a small farm boy dialing into the Internet for the first time.