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Profile: Jen Langdon, Director of Engineering, Cloudflare

Women in Tech: “Diversity breeds innovation – no doubt”

Dominik Mohilo

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Jen Langdon, Director of Engineering at Cloudflare.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Jen Langdon, Director of Engineering at Cloudflare.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Jen Langdon, Director of Engineering, Cloudflare

Jennifer Langdon is the Director of Engineering at Cloudflare. She has over 15 years’ experience helping to build tech companies on both sides of the Atlantic. A founding employee several times, she has a passion for disruptive technology, delivering complex operational programmes, scaling high-growth companies, diversity, leadership and mentoring.

As the Engineering Director at Cloudflare in London, she is focused on how the company innovates its security portfolio to protect both its network of customers.

When did you become interested in technology?

I didn’t understand what technology was when I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a degree. I remember going to the careers office. They said what do you like to do? I said I liked solving difficult problems, I liked maths, I like really hard problems. Computer Science just wasn’t given as an option. Never even given as an option. They said you should be a teacher or lawyer. Both are notable careers but neither were right for me, so I majored in Economics as it was what I knew.

In year one, I found a software house that gave me part time work. By the time I was in year two of my degree, I was working 35 hours per week and still continuing with my degree. It was a lot to handle but I was so interested in learning as much as I could about software development. I was lucky enough to have a senior colleague who liked my curiosity and that person then spent two years mentoring me. I had found my calling.

How did you end up in your career path?

It was not a straight line – as I said above, Computer Science was not something I was really even aware of, it certainly wasn’t advertised at my school or presented as an option. So feeling very unsure, I majored in Economics because I thought I was pretty good at it. I remember feeling a real lack of excitement about it. I had great fortune to stumble on a job in that software house which allowed me to learn about technology and software and this learning continued for many years.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

As for my early communities, I was lucky enough to have a solid friendship group. I distinctly remember having to explain to several friends what I was doing and why I cared about technology: “Shouldn’t you focus on something that will help you get a proper career?”. From the age of fifteen, I played premiership rugby for Saracens, and I feel this group really influenced me in being a strong woman, who could be what I wanted to be. It was very common then to be told “Girls don’t play rugby!?”. Yes, we did and we do and we’re pretty good at it.

Having a community in tech is so important. I have been mentored by Mary Keane-Dawson for many years. She’s a leading female in digital transformation and also an incredible role model.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

My Grandmother was rather unhappy when I said I was contemplating switching degrees. She didn’t understand what I was doing or what our field is. She made me promise to complete my Economics degree and she would support my choices after, which I did. She was good to her word on support but never grasped it, I heard her telling a friend years later that I fixed computers for a living…

It is all about the people, growing the people to be the best they can be.

A day in Jennifer’s life

I’m Engineering Director at Cloudflare in London responsible for several software engineering teams. Working closely with my product partner, I am responsible for the chunk of our security portfolio, including the front line platform (every HTTP request that Cloudflare serves, which is more than 28 million HTTP requests per second at peak). I’m also responsible for our firewall and WAF which is how our customers configure our products for protection.

My typical day is balancing how my teams drive innovation in driving new products very quickly, while at the same time making sure our customers and network are secure.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Many things! Prior to Cloudflare, I was COO of a tech company and we had a good exit which felt great and it taught me so much. It is all about the people, growing the people to be the best they can be.

Also, being female and the Engineering Director at Cloudflare in EMEA, I am proud of that.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

With myself not having the opportunity to do computer science, it takes me back to the university, where this can start. My experience doesn’t translate now. I think it is getting better, tremendously. Organisations like STEM, STEMETTES, Girls Who Code, and others promote and mentor young women, who I have worked extensively with. We make sure that women have an opportunity in technology and this also translates to but the huge, critical cultural part in technology. We all have a huge part to play here.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Balance. Work-life balance. I have three young children. I have high expectations for my career, I’ve always had. I think many others can relate but you worry this will hurt you. Balancing home and work as a female executive is a constant struggle. And we can’t ignore the new obstacles with the global COVID-19 pandemic and as a result home-schooling, now we have a very different beast.

When you sit at the table, do you have a voice? Do you feel appreciated? You should.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Diversity breeds innovation – no doubt. It gives our teams a critical, diverse way of thinking. It also creates a culture of “we need to deliver but we want the best people and that means we need to adapt as an operational culture”. In order to create this thriving environment, it’s not just about wanting diversity but actively investing in it. That’s how we can work to get to this level playing field, for everyone.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

We already are but we still have a way to go. My own staff group is gender diverse and we see the rewards of that, but it takes work, getting there and maintaining it. I think from my own experience and involvement, we have made huge improvements at the University STEM stage, and that needs to continue. We can only achieve a diverse industry if we’re investing at the top of the funnel for all groups. Cloudflare as a company has worked extremely hard at diversity and building that into our recruitment and retention has been a clear priority.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

Firstly, there are no true barriers to what you can accomplish in tech, but there can be challenges just as with anything else in life. It is a vast landscape, so think about the areas you want to work in, what technologies and problems motivate you. Then pick a company that values your input. When you sit at the table, do you have a voice? Do you feel appreciated? You should.

Does the company have diversity support networks? If a company cares about this, they will have created groups to support you.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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