E53 - Tom Strickx at Cloudflare

James Dean
Tom Strickx

By James Dean & Tom Strickx

In this episode, James Dean is joined by Tom Strickx, the Edge Network Technical Lead at Cloudflare. Tom talks to James about the importance of incident management and how to be able to manage a situation when everything goes wrong. He also runs through the fundamental skills that he believes everyone should have if they are considering a career in the Networking space.

Tom’s dad was a Computer Engineer and worked on computer micro-systems when he was growing up. Through his dad, he got into computers from a very young age, figuring out how things worked and started to tinker with them. He found that he was taking apart anything electronic, reassembling them was the hard part for him.

With his passion for computers, Tom took his degree in Computer Science and his master’s degree specialised in Network Engineering. During his university degree, he started his business venture with a friend. They set up a consultancy for small companies in Belgium to initially provide websites but then eventually moved into providing data centre services, and hosting services and then started building out their CDN.


Explaining what Cloudflare do, for Tom, is genuinely one of the hardest questions ever. It is even one of the interview questions, to explain to a non-technical person what they do.

Cloudflare started traditionally as an internet security and CDN provider. Since then, they have expanded their products and are now technically providing transit services.

His role at Cloudflare is split between him wearing two hats. He works with the backbone team and its backbone engineering, designing, and deciding what technologies they run on the backbone. The other side is the technical lead side, which is more about leading conversations with different engineering teams.

If you are looking to start in the industry, realising what skills are the most important is necessary. Tom believes that you need to understand, realise, and know what the protocols do and not just focus on vendor-specific skills. Learning the protocols and how they work will be crucial in becoming a successful network engineer. You should know what is inside a switch or router, how they work and how to configure them. In addition, it is important that you have the right attitude towards your career. Networking engineering is a very fast-paced field, and you must relish working in it. If you are not ready to take on new challenges, then this might not be the right job for you.

Knowing how to deal with incidents and emergencies is a vital skill. Tom has become an expert in this field over the years as every system is bound to break at some point. As with all things, it is also important to know how you will deal with them when they happen and learn from your mistakes going forward. Ensuring you know how to communicate during a crisis is key and you will only learn this by actually going through the motions and doing it.

During the quick-fire round, Tom shares his most controversial opinion, in which he says that certifications are over-rated. With many Network Engineers being hugely pro-certs, it was definitely interesting to hear that he doesn’t believe you need certifications to be successful in the industry. What do you think?

What would you buy for your business if you had an infinite budget? Tune in to hear Tom’s choice.