I’ve heard a rumor you’re an IT professional. Okay, maybe it’s less a rumor than a well-established fact. You’re on THWACK, after all.

 

I’d never considered myself an IT pro until now. Even after a decade in the tech industry, the title didn’t feel like it fit. It wasn’t until a conversation last week with KMSigma about the difficulties of markup languages on our weekly digest email template that I had the epiphany—gosh dang it, I AM one of you nerds!

 

The timing of the realization ended up being perfect. This coming Friday, I drop the chains of corporate America and leave SolarWinds so I can focus on some personal projects.

 

Before I go, there are some departing thoughts I want to share with you. They’re lessons learned from ten years of “not” being an IT professional, three of which I was #blessed to spend with you and this incredible THWACK community.

 

One thing I’ve learned in IT, aside from “more than I ever wanted to know about HIPAA and GDPR,” is that we can consider ourselves kings, but the end user is ultimately the queen. Debates about sexism aside (we all know the queen is in charge), think about this.

 

In chess, the king is a great piece of wired hardware. It does the job, is pivotal to the whole operation, and nothing is going to work without it. But it’s not moving very far. Sounds like you, right? Me too.

 

The queen has far greater reach than the king but opens up a whole slew of problems when you start to move her about the board. Invading forces are limited in the ways they can get to the king if the queen is right there by his side. But if the queen decides to take a business trip to, let’s say, a conference in Las Vegas and starts to use the dirty public Wi-Fi… you get the picture.

 

However, if nobody builds your organization’s products, sells them, and supports the products sold, what’s left to create demand for we, the IT-people?

 

I’m not dissimilar from you. Instead of my end users being solely an internal team, I have to make sure I support what you need and want. And instead of infrastructure, my chess board is THWACK. It’s while I focus on you as a user that all other KPIs melt away. User engagement goes up. Community sentiment and satisfaction increases. The sales team on the third floor cuts back on Red Bull consumption.

 

It’s when we don’t focus on the end user that all things go to [redacted by our Content Review team].

 

When we follow the status quo, resist change, follow the path of least resistance, blindly adhere to that nagging boss (not calling DanielleH out), their nagging boss (not calling TiffanyNels out), and other internal pressure to make decisions contrary to the success of our end users and customers, we lose our grip on success. Our KPIs become the only thing we care about, and somehow, they still manage to collapse.

 

This is the moment I think about one of the happiest people I’ve ever met, Larry. I affectionately called him “Larr Bear.” Larry was a senior help desk analyst here and could be found roaming the halls at least once a day to mingle, chat, inquire, troubleshoot, and check back with his constituents. Did it take time away from his goals? Yes. But was he happier, and did he effectively change the way our helpdesk team functioned on a fundamental level? Absolutely.

 

There’s a story I’ve heard from time to time about a woman who took her child to see Mahatma Gandhi.

 

“Mahatma,” she said, “I don’t know what to do and I’ve come to seek your advice. My son won’t stop eating candy. The sugar turns him into a monster. He’ll cheat, he’ll lie, and he’ll steal to get more candy. It’s ruining our family, it’s ruining our relationships, and it’s ruining our reputation.”

 

Gandhi looked at the boy for a moment, then turned to the mother. “I see,” he said, pausing again to choose his words. Gandhi continued, “As much as I would like to help, there’s something I need to do first. Take your son home, wait two weeks, then come back to see me.”

 

The mother wasn’t sure why Gandhi gave her this advice, but she trusted he knew what he was doing. She took her boy home and continued to struggle with the child and his candy addiction. When two weeks has passed, she knew she would have to return to Gandhi and ask for help once again.

 

Gandhi recognized her immediately, walked over to the boy, got down on one knee, peered directly into his eyes, and said sternly, “Don’t eat sweets.” He then got up and turned to walk away.

 

“Mahatma,” the mother stammered, “this is a very serious situation, but you sent me home for two weeks just to have us come back so you could tell him to stop eating sweets?”

 

Gandhi looked back and paused for a moment. “I did. But two weeks ago, I was still eating sweets.”

 

Before they make me turn in my badge and laptop, and days before I send my final passive aggressive email correcting “THWACK” to be all-caps, let me leave you with this.

 

Be the change you want to have in your organization, set the tone for the morale you want to have around you, and don’t forget the reason we’re all here—our users. Everything else will fall into place.

 

Signed lovingly,

 

Ben Garves

*Former* Senior Product Manager, THWACK

 

For those looking to stay in touch, I will be turning my efforts to freelance web development (ben@bengarves.com) and to my fitness startup, WODDITY (https://woddity.com). May the fourth always be with you. Even on the 23rd of July.