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Project Galileo: the view from the front lines

by Erin Walk.

Growing up in the age of technology has made it too easy for me to take the presence of the Internet for granted. It’s hard to imagine not being able to go online and connect with anyone in the world, whether I’m speaking with family members or following activists planning global rallies in support of a common cause. I find that as I forget the wonder of being connected, I become jaded. I imagine that many of you reading this blog feel the same way. I doubt you have gone a month, or even a week, this year without considering that the world might be better off without the Internet, or without parts of the Internet, or that your life would be better with a digital cleanse. Project Galileo is my antidote. For every person online who abuses their anonymity, there is an organization that literally could not fulfill their purpose without it. And they are doing amazing work.

Working with Participants

As program manager for Project Galileo, Cloudflare’s initiative to provide free services to vulnerable voices on the Internet, a large portion of my time is spent interacting with the project’s participants and partners. This includes a variety of activities. In my organizational role, I reach out to our partnering organizations, such as the National Democratic Institute and the Center for Democracy and Technology, about sponsoring new recipients. I also help recipients onboard their websites and technically explain our product and how it works. Answering emails from Project Galileo recipients is my favorite part of every day. I can still remember when the sense of wonder truly set in. A few weeks into my time at Cloudflare, I received a request from a local community healthcare clinic that was under attack. I was new, I didn’t have all the permissions I have now, and I didn’t fully understand how all of our systems worked (I still don’t, but I’m much better at figuring out who does). I started reaching out to other teams, all of whom eagerly volunteered their time. Within a few hours, a website that had been down for a week was back up, and best practices were being discussed to help them stay online in the future.

About a week later I received a wonderful thank you message from the group, and made sure I sent it to those who had helped out and were invested. I treasure these little reminders in my day that what I’m doing makes a difference. In fact, I frequently question my luck in receiving all the praise for a project that functions thanks to the work of countless engineers, and other teams, who work tirelessly to make our product better. I try to find ways to pass these small moments on.

It makes me laugh when participants who joined while I’ve been working on the project email me with an introduction along the lines of “I don’t know if you remember us, but…”. It makes sense, in the abstract. I receive a lot of emails, and around half of all recipients have joined since I started organizing the project. Still, I remember almost everyone who I’ve written to. How could I forget the person who signed off all their emails with something joyful they were doing at the moment, or the one who told me that they had finally made it through a week without their website going down? In many ways, on Project Galileo I interact less with organizations and more with a set of extremely passionate people. The purpose and drive of these individuals infect me with a sense of wonder and excitement, even when our only communications are virtual.

Project Galileo partners

Internal Commitment

Project Galileo doesn’t just bring out the best of the Internet through our recipients, it also brings out the best in Cloudflare. Working on Project Galileo has given me a lot of leeway to explore all aspects of the company. We don’t have a large team in DC, and most of us are on the Policy team. To do my job, I rely on being able to contact teams globally, from Support to Trust and Safety to Solutions Engineering. I’ve chatted with Support team members at 2am to fix an emergency situation, and had a Solutions Engineer on call from 11pm to 1am on a Friday night to support an organization during an event. Even when frustrating or anxiety provoking, these times make me proud to work for an organization that not only vocally supports this project, but whose members commit their time to it despite competing priorities.

At risk of being overly grandiose, there are a lot of hopes and dreams tied up in Project Galileo. There is the dream that the Internet is a place for vulnerable voices, no matter how small, to advocate for change. There is the dream that companies will use their products to help deserving groups who may not otherwise be able to afford them. As for me, I hope that every day I do something that makes the world a little better. It is an honor to carry these hopes and dreams within the company, and I strive to be a good steward.

Happy 5th Birthday, Project Galileo! Here’s to many more.

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