Leon Adato

Day 31 - Postscript

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 31, 2017

In the very early 80's, a small team of developers at the XEROX Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed a new page description language and dubbed it Interpress. Like many innovations that were initially conceived at PARC, XEROX saw the value but failed to find a way to integrate it into their copier products in an economic way. And so, in 1982, two of the Interpress developers left PARC and started their own company, which they dubbed "Adobe", and from the ashes of Interpress the PostScript font system was born.

 

It is difficult to describe just how much of an impact a seemingly simple font system had on the computer industry at the time. You would have to imagine a world where, if you created a document yourself it would be limited to one of perhaps 4 typefaces. And by "typefaces" I mean almost any change at all to the type - the shape of the letters to be sure, but also size, italicization, etc. Four choices. If you were lucky enough to have one of the advanced IBM Selectric typewriters with the easily replaceable typehead.

 

Anything else - multiple font sizes, dropped-capitals, multiple typeface styles - was the sole purview of the "printer", a perennially ink-stained tradesman who plied their craft with equal parts ancient techniques (sheets of red film called rubylith, lead-based characters manually assembled on a block), mid-century mechanics (such as linotype systems) and modern technology (including Linotronic computers).

 

Postscript changed all of that. suddenly, for the price of a laser printer (which was still going to set you back $1,000 at the time, but still...) book-quality printing was possible.

Ironically, Postscript didn't have the effect on Adobe that the name implied. It wasn't a relatively minor end-note, sharing some ephemeral bit of slightly unrelated trivial. Postscript was, ironically, the start of something completely new - both for Adobe and the computer industry at large. Like so many of the truly revolutionary breakthroughs in IT, PostScript put power and control into the hands of all users.

 

Adobe remains one of the few companies that seems to be able to reinvent itself over and over, while retaining their core values. Having started off with font rendering, Adobe quickly leveraged that success by licensing and releasing various fonts to be used by the postscript system. As the computer industry matured, Adobe pivoted and developed Illustrator, a graphics design program. Building on that success, they released Photoshop a few years later. In 1993, Adobe returned to it's document rendering roots, but put a new spin on the idea by releasing it's PDF reader for free (the writer, of course, cost money). But the world of technology was changing, In 1991 they released Premier, a timeline-based video editing tool. Again, the world was changing, and through a series of acquisitions Adobe was able to change with it by releasing Dreamweaver, a web page editing suite.

 

My point in reviewing all of this history is to show that Adobe - unlike so many other tech companies - refuses to be defined by any of it's software products. They never settled for being "that company that created fonts". However, they also haven't forgotten their roots. If you look at the products developed internally and acquired, there is a through-line you can detect in all of them.

 

As modern IT professionals, there are a few lessons we can glean from all this.

 

The first is the perennial lesson that most of the XEROX PARC projects epitomize: XEROX had the vision to fund, create, and staff PARC but not the ability to see beyond their own copier-centric world view. PARC gave rise to technologies which shaped the IT industry for decades after: the GUI, WYSIWYG text editors, Interpress/Postscript, ethernet, object-oriented programming, cut-and-paste, fiber-optic networking, laser printers, the foundation of Unicode; not to mention folks who went on to found Pixar, GRID, Adobe, Alta-Vista, and SynOptics.

We cannot, as IT Professionals, afford to overlook radical ideas just because they don't fit into our world view. That goes for everything from a snippet of code to a choice of programming method to a platform.

 

The second lesson, as I stated earlier, is not to let our past limit our future. That is as true for our successes just as much as it is for our failures.

 

Finally, take a moment to appreciate an organization that is committed to remaining true to itself, while allowing and even embracing the possibility to grow, change, and improve. If we are able to bring that lesson to our work, discuss it with our families, and find ways to apply it to ourselves, how much better we all would be.

erikeff

Day 30 - Density

Posted by erikeff Dec 30, 2017

"Isolated Neutron Star"https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5905339

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5905339

 

Density is an interesting word. In science, it refers to the amount of ‘stuff’ that occupies a given area. We can talk about population density in terms of the number of people per square mile. Or, we can talk about the density (aka “weight”) of an object by defining its mass relative to its size.  For example, lead has a density of 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter (or 11.34 g/cm3). Osmium, also a metal, is the densest naturally occurring element on Earth. It has a density of 22.59 g/cm3, making it twice as dense as lead.

 

If we look beyond our own planet, we can find examples of density that defy our understanding. I am told that a non-rotating Black Hole has infinite density. However, since it exists beyond an event horizon, its exact properties are unobservable and can only be theorized. A Neutron Star, on the other hand, is both observable and measurable. Its density is truly mindboggling. With a mass twice the size of the Sun, a Neutron Star has a diameter of about 13 miles, or roughly the length of Manhattan. Based on those dimensions, its gravity would be 200 billion times greater than what we experience on Earth. That means if you dropped an object from a height of one meter, it would hit the surface at about 2,000 kilometers per second. Ouch!

 

In the Age of Information, we use the term, density, to quantify the storage capacity of computer disks. The greater the density of a disk, the more data (or “information”) it can hold. For me, this is where the word gets interesting because a state of density can also be an impediment to the storage or retrieval of information. If someone calls you ‘dense,’ it’s probably not a compliment. The inference is that somewhere, somehow, certain information has not sunk in. While not exactly a contronym (a word that has opposite or contradictory meanings), density can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the context.

 

Which brings me to my own density. I love to learn new things, but I also resist them. The assimilation of new ideas usually requires change and change can be hard. Change takes work and I’m lazy by nature. Sometimes my love of learning collides with that thick wall of the familiar and…well, let’s just say things can get ugly. New ideas get lost and old patterns persist. I like to think I’ve grown wiser as I’ve grown older, but my path has been far from straight. Sometimes I find myself tracing familiar ground and I suddenly realize that the footsteps I’m following are my own. More often than not, my life’s journey is less of a quest and more of a maze. It’s a confusing place where maps are useless and I’m far too stubborn to stop and ask for directions.

 

So where am I going with all this, you ask? I have no idea. Remember, I’m the guy walking in circles. What I can tell you is that growth is impossible without change; the two words are virtually synonymous. If you want to be a better person, then you need to change. If you want to be wiser (i.e. more packed with knowledge), then you may need to vary your density a little. As the late Wayne Dyer once said, “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don't know anything about.”

 

I like that. In fact, I’m going to make it my goal for 2018: I won’t reject something unless I can understand it first. This will force me to minimize my bad density (thick-headedness) and maximize my good density (pure, concentrated knowledge).

 

Who’s with me?

jennebarbour

Day 29 - Segment

Posted by jennebarbour Employee Dec 29, 2017

In my prior life, I spent a good deal of time speaking and writing about customer loyalty and engagement, and how marketers needed to adapt to support customers’ changing needs.

Marketers have traditionally viewed customers in groups – segments – who exhibit common purchasing, engagement, or other behaviors. But with the increase in data companies can gather about their customers, together with the wealth of interaction data customers generate almost constantly, marketing stakes are higher today than ever before. Traditional segments are now too wide.

I regularly spoke about individualization – the practice of observing customers’ behavior, interactions, and needs, and delivering an experience relevant to a segment of one. I thought today would be fitting to share some of my thoughts on this subject with this audience of IT pros, many of whom help marketers and the businesses they support, address the challenges of the Age of the Customer. Though I would typically write for marketers regarding their customers in the B2C sense, IT pros perhaps understand these experience expectations even better than their marketing peers, complete with quick complaints and rare compliments.

-------------------------

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

- General Eric Shinseki, U.S. Army, Ret., Former Secretary Veterans Affairs

Customers are evolving, as is the technology they rely on, meaning marketers have to adjust their sails and navigate the winds of change. These changes provide us with the opportunity to transform our businesses for the better, provided that we embrace it. As General Shinseki alluded to in his quote above, you become rigid at your own peril.

What’s at the heart of all this change? Technology. The ever-increasing velocity of digital technology has accelerated what Forrester calls “The Age of the Customer.” We know how easy it is to pull out a smartphone or tablet and find out virtually anything – and that’s exactly what today’s consumer does. They can research and buy whatever they need – whether a product, service, or experience – with just a click, wielding tremendous, instantaneous control.

Of course, for marketers, this customer-driven dynamic can be maddening! Speed and control have transformed buying behaviors – customers expect to access what they want, when they want it, wherever they are... instantly. When they can’t find exactly what they want, they move on with just a click. That leaves little room for error, and no room for irrelevance.

In addition, the velocity of digital technology has created a cacophony of marketing noise and color, an onslaught of marketing madness competing to be noticed. As a result, details often get missed, and many marketers settle for “close enough.” But “close enough” means profiling audiences instead of building relationships with individuals.

Customers are flooded by marketing – it’s like living in Times Square 24/7. It’s a spectacle to behold, but it’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation in that environment. This intense availability of options makes it incredibly easy for a customer to try something new – especially when the cost to switch is practically non-existent. Without relevance, relationships are short, and attention wanders.

In spite of the noise in the market, customers are creating relationships with brands to get more value from the business they provide – COLLOQUY has seen loyalty program memberships more than triple over the past 15 years. That’s because customers are willing to create relationships with brands – if those relationships deliver value. And that value can flow both ways.

Rich insights come from a relationship where the customer receives a true value for the information they share – and that, in turn, empowers brands to improve profitability and increase engagement with their highest-value customers.

In fact, small shifts in loyal customer behavior drive huge rewards. Bain & Company has found that increasing customer retention by 5% increases profits by 25-95%. That’s why loyalty remains a powerful strategy for companies seeking a deeper understanding of their best customers and improved ability to retain, grow, and acquire more high-value customers.

So, if loyal customer behavior offers such tremendous advantages, why are so many companies struggling with their loyalty programs? According to COLLOQUY, it’s because even though overall membership shows growth, loyalty program engagement has decelerated. For example, while the average U.S. household holds memberships in 29 loyalty programs, that same household is only active in 12.

As consumers, we establish relationships with brands to get something of value from the exchange. But when that value exchange doesn’t meet our needs, we split our share of wallet with another brand. Because let’s face it – customers aren’t interested in a company’s org charts and system integrations. When individual understanding is left out of their experience, customers feel betrayed. Their brand loyalty is ignored.

And all too often, they move on.

For decades, many brands have built a wall between their loyalty and engagement initiatives and the entirety of their customer experience, and that’s what’s driving the decelerating engagement. COLLOQUY advises marketers to leverage loyalty learnings across the organization, and ramp up integration of all channels to improve relevance and increase engagement with members. Rosetta Consulting’s 2014 Customer Engagement Survey finds that customers switch platformsup to 27 times an hour, yet they demand relevance and coherence in every interaction with the brand.

Yet, Forrester found that only 34% of loyalty marketers feel their internal systems (such as their loyalty and campaign management platforms) are integrated enough to leverage the insights they need to connect with customers. Forrester says “marketers need to step up their technology execution and analytical prowess to act on the useful customer insights they create.” Without doing so, marketers neglect to recognize their most valued customers wherever and whenever they engage with the brand.

As Fara Howard, global VP of Marketing for Vans, said at the 2015 Gartner Digital Marketing Conference, when marketers fail to use the insights they’ve gained, the customer is left in the cold, saying, “I love you, and you don’t even know my name.”

I love you, and you don’t even know my name.

- Fara Howard, VP of Global Marketing for Vans

Now, organizations are racing to connect digital touchpoints in a loosely woven fabric of point solutions, and they’re attempting to collect – but not always integrate – information through every channel. But that often leaves loyalty and engagement siloed off to the side.

Steve Dennis of Sageberry Consulting described it this way: “The battle between what your customer wants, needs and expects, and that which your various silo chieftains and defenders of the status quo try to hold onto, is intensifying.”

For Emily Collins of Forrester, the relationships companies have with their customers and the loyalty they demonstrate to those companies trump traditional competitive advantages. Loyalty is mission critical, she says.

In too many cases, the recognition we enjoy as loyalty members is disconnected from our experience elsewhere with the brand. We expect that a brand with whom we have a relationship should know us and recognize us everywhere we go – we’re part of the tribe. And yet, when we’re treated like strangers instead of family? It’s damaging to say the least, and regularly ends the relationship.

The speed at which always-on customers move today, the breadth of options available to them, and the constant hail of marketing messages they’re pelted with all work to erode the customer relationship – and can keep it from even getting started. Without properly onboarding new customer relationships, or bolstering the one-to-one connection with high-value customers, those relationships wither away, if they ever take hold in the first place. It sends you scrambling to find more customers to fill the gap, requiring 6-7x more resources to acquire new customers to replace existing customers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Engineering Serendipity

Futurist Jason Silva, host of NatGeo’s Brain Games, sees the vast oceans of data our customers generate as an opportunity for brands to connect with empowered individuals in a more meaningful way. “We move into a world of engineered serendipity,” he says.

We move into a world of engineered serendipity.

- Jason Silva

The word “serendipity” means a “pleasant surprise.” When brands create relationships that please the individual by consistently delivering convenience, unique rewards, engaging moments, and a true value exchange for the information they share – it may be a surprise for the customer, but it’s the product of considerable engineering by the marketer.

By unifying a brand’s disparate understandings of individual customers, they can clearly see the highest-value among them, those that have high potential, and get a better view of where they should be focusing acquisition efforts in the future. Then, by leveraging those insights through an integrated technology platform – they can engage your best of the best, surprise and delight them, and deliver value worthy of both the business they give the brand and the information they share.

That’s exactly the opportunity businesses have today. They can create an experience that captures the moment with the customer and holds them rapt, and experience that makes them deeply loyal and incredibly engaged with the brand.

Every new insight creates the chance for companies to engineer a little serendipity, by connecting in right-time relevant ways, by surprising and delighting their customers, and by rewarding their relationship and engagement with the brand through an experience that keeps them coming back. Because engagement that cuts through the noise and truly connects with the customer as an individual, is the new loyalty.

There are as many tools in the loyalty toolbox as there are brands looking to use them. Creating the right experience for your customers is about listening to the information they provide – and answering with the most relevant approach for their needs. Relevance is what cuts through the clutter, connects with the individual, and keeps them from clicking away. Intimate relevance – driven by individualized insights – elevates the loyalty programs of the past to the engagement of the future. Because it’s all about the individual. Individualized engagement – fully-integrated into your enterprise and your customer experience – enables brands to use deep insights to connect in a vibrantly relevant way, and deepen engagement with individuals in a more rewarding manner – ultimately driving customer loyalty.

By centralizing the customer view to include the traditional behavioral data together with emotional insights, marketers crystallize their understanding of who their best customers are, what they need and want from their brands. They shift from just addressing audience segments to co-creating value exchanges with individual customers. And that experience touches every point of interaction with the customer – online, offline, wherever she is and whenever she is ready to interact.

This two-way exchange establishes more lasting relationships, fuels engagement, and allows marketers not only to increase their share of wallet, but as Hal Brierley, founder of Brierley+Partners, says, grow “share of mind’ with their customers. Make no mistake. This ain’t your grandma’s loyalty program.

Disney MagicBands

Borne out of a desire to remove friction and deliver a more magical Disney experience, the MagicBand is the key to providing a superior experience. RFID-enabled bands are individualized to each guest, and remove the need for paper tickets, FastPass+, and even your wallet. And it allows Disney to track your visit through its parks.

Imagine the look on your little princess’ face when Anna and Elsa greet her by name – and even know that she saw Mickey and Minnie at breakfast. Describing this individualized experience, Disney COO Tom Staggs quotes Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

By reducing even the friction of choice – what lines to wait in, where to hunt down Disney characters, even deciding what to eat – visitors free themselves up to experience more of the park – so they do more, create more memories, and ultimately, spend more. It’s this magic that shows how well brands can create opportunities for customers to clamor to share their information. As Cliff Kuang of WIRED wrote in his article about MagicBands, “No matter how often we say we’re creeped out by technology, we tend to acclimate quickly if it delivers what we want before we want it.”

No matter how often we say we’re creeped out by technology, we tend to acclimate quickly if it delivers what we want before we want it.

- Cliff Kuang, WIRED

Starbucks Rewards

Today’s loyalty members are leaving the plastic far behind, instead carrying their memberships with them via smartphone. The 2015 Bond Brand Loyalty Report called mobile the “strategic high ground in loyalty.” Combining communication, unique ID, and a payment vehicle, it adds utility to marketing by providing the customer with a link between online and the real world.

This trend prompted Starbucks to transition all of its Starbucks Rewards members from plastic cards to the Starbucks mobile app in 2016. After all, we’ve all stood in line at Starbucks, and as we waited, what did we have in our hands? Certainly a more reliable way of tracking payments than a gift card you might leave out of your wallet. In fact, Starbucks mobile app transactions accounted for 16% of total revenue, with 7 million transactions tracked per week, across the 13 million active app users – and over 9 million active My Starbucks Rewards members in 2015. By engaging loyal customers through mobile, Starbucks has embraced the digital experience as much as they have focused on the in-store “third place” experience. This clear, cohesive focus on their customer’s experience across all channels shows what loyalty can achieve when it is embedded throughout the connected experience.

If we think about the tens, hundreds of times per day we interact with different brands, the opportunity for any of them to resonate in a meaningful way is slight. The apps we interact with obsessively for a few weeks [remember Angry Birds? Words With Friends? Candy Crush?], the websites we visit, the emails we receive that go unread – we waste interactions without reservation. And yet, consumers are embracing entirely new channels through which we can connect with them.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch – and other connected wearables like it – provide a unique opportunity to individualize relevance in a truly intimate way. Gathering data and providing valuable information as American Airlines and its AAdvantage program is doing through its Watch app version – enables brands to connect directly with known individuals, with a right-time relevant value exchange so imperative to how we go about their day that a competing brand never has a chance to disrupt the relationship. Loyalty and engagement are changing – as all of marketing is. But though the mechanics are evolving, the power remains.

Building a relationship with a brand’s best customers provides proven results. Engaging customers to propel them forward outpaces acquisition every day of the week. Understanding customers more deeply as individuals empowers companies to create a differentiated customer experience that keeps their best customers coming back. By embracing real customer obsession, unifying loyalty and engagement and infusing it throughout the customer experience, brands communicate clearly the value they offer their customers, and give them a real reason to connect and engage with a company – and be loyal now, and in the future.

I believe in the power of the individual – and in rising above mere mass personalization to connect with the customer through a truly individualized experience. Loyalty has always been about engaging the individual – and this next evolution in individualized loyalty and engagement will enable marketers to harness that power to retain and grow their most profitable customers.

Rather than being classified into a segment, each customer should be seen as a “segment of one.”

- Jeff Berry, former COLLOQUY Research Director, now Senior Director, LoyaltyOne Global Solutions

The days of grouping customers as “close enough” profiled segments are over. The future of marketing is all about engaging the loyalty of a segment of one.

jennebarbour

Day 28 - Recovery

Posted by jennebarbour Employee Dec 28, 2017

During the time of which I speak it was hard to turn the other cheek

To the blows of insecurity

Feeding the cancer of my intellect the blood of love soon neglected

Lay dying in the strength of its impurity

Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together

They've all gone and left each other in search of fairer weather

And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast

To the slim chance of love's recovery

 

I spent a decade in an ill-advised relationship with a college boyfriend, one utterly destined for failure. The kind of pursuit that – some years removed – makes you wonder what on earth you were thinking. Of course, as with so many ventures in one’s 20s, sheer willpower seems to rule the day, and it did in this instance as well.

 

Many friends got married right after college, and that fact, together with an over-reliance on more traditional models of courtship, seemed to mean that I needed to make this pairing work, despite countless red flags. “DANGER, DANGER,” was the theme of that time, but once you’ve committed that far, you sometimes feel like you have to earn your way out.

 

There I am in younger days, star gazing

Painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be

Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection

My compass, faith in love's perfection

I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen

Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together

Left each other one by one along the road of fairer weather

And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast

To the slim chance of love's recovery

 

Only about half of the couples from that era survived intact. Divorces abounded, separations were frequent, and for a still fairly traditional gal like myself, my view of love and romance was positively shattered. I could not imagine how I’d gotten it so very wrong.

 

I had a core group of college friends who’d managed to stay in touch since graduation. And not just in touch, like we’d see each other once a year, but really in touch, like we emailed [this was in the years before group texts] each other every day, all day, for years. Jokes, griping about work, dumb stuff we’d done the night before, whatever you can think of.

 

We’d scattered across the country, but thanks to the miracle of Hotmail, we were bound together through all the challenges of post-grad young adulthood. We counseled each other on relationship fumblings, we encouraged each other to take new jobs, we gave backup for hard choices, and we got each other through a lot of tough times.

 

That same group had heard my complaints so often, they were exhausted by me, as much as they were still my friends. They talked to each other without me on separate threads about the abuse, my poor choices, and what they should say to me – what would even make sense or break through. They watched me shrink away into a person they didn’t recognize much anymore.

 

I didn’t recognize myself much, either.

 

Rain soaked and voice choked like silent screaming in a dream

I search for our absolute distinction

Not content to bow and bend

To the whims of culture that swoop like vultures

Eating us away, eating us away

Eating us away to our extinction

 

It took learning I was going to be a mother to change course. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend a better life for myself, but I knew I wanted a better life for my child. I moved home, rebooted my career, became a Mom, and thought, OK, this will be my path. I consigned myself to focusing on mommyhood and work, and letting all that hard work of trying to build a life with someone just go.

 

As my favorite oceanography professor once advised me, you have to fall in love with yourself first. So, I worked on that – and on the considerably easier business of falling in love with my newborn daughter. My friends remarked that the me of college seemed to return, finally. I relaxed. I laughed more. I wasn’t the frenetic, hand-wringing, tear-stained mess I’d been for so many years.

 

And as it turned out, one of our close-knit group and I fell in love. We were already great friends. We already knew all the things about each other that test newer relationships. We’d each hit our bumpy roads with those college loves, and we’d both learned a huge amount from our failures. And each of our life partners happened to be right under each of our noses for a decade. For me, it felt quite like a romcom, where the leads – friends for ages, constant sounding boards for failed romance after failed romance – finally look at each other… differently.

 

Oh. There you are.

 

Our individual tribulations and ultimate recovery from those foolish years had taught each of us an awful lot about life and love. Expectation and reality. Failure and true achievement. Frankly, life had beat all the nonsense out of us, and shaped each of us to be use to ourselves and to each other.

 

Once I abandoned any preconceived notions of how my life would go, I allowed that recovery to get underway, and my life began to unfold in a great many wondrous ways.

 

It’s the release that brings forward the recovery that has been a lesson I learn, and relearn, continually in life.

 

Oh how I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me

I'd still have two of the same to live

But nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we're universal

To let this love survive would be the greatest gift that we could give

Tell all the friends who think they're so together

That these are ghosts and mirages, all these thoughts of fairer weather

Though it's storming out I feel safe within the arms of love's discovery

 

How - and what - have you recovered in life? What lessons of recovery can you share with others?

 

Lyrics: “Love’s Recovery” Written by Amy Elizabeth Ray, Emily Ann Saliers • Copyright © EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group

Image credit: Mental Health Ireland

mprobus

Day 27: Initial

Posted by mprobus Expert Dec 26, 2017

According to dictionary.com, initial is an adjective meaning “of, relating to, or occurring at the beginning; first.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/initial)

 

The important part about this is to remember that it’s just the beginning. Initial is the first attempt and is very rarely the final attempt. Let’s try to relate it to various categories to cover the majority of the readers.

 

Sports: If you have every played a sport, you were not ready for the hall of fame your first time playing it. Your initial attempt at learning the sport likely didn’t go so well. You had to attempt, learn, adjust, and repeat.

 

Programming: Regardless of how long you have been programming, you have probably made multiple revisions to any code you’ve written. You write it, test it, figure out what doesn’t work, make changes, and re-test.

 

Dashboard Development: In relating the topic to SolarWinds, if you are in the area of developing some type of dashboard, you’ll find that different audiences want to see different components. You may ask 10 different people and get 10 different design ideas. You build an initial dashboard, find out what the user wants to change, modify, and have them reassess.

 

Writing: As I write this article, I have already made multiple changes to it. The more I write, the more I think of, so in an effort to keep this from a dissertation, I have to narrow down the focus and revise what I want to talk about.

 

The key point to remember is that initial is just the beginning. You can apply it to anything from technology to relationships. Learn from what you do and use that knowledge to make improvements. Don’t let your first attempt be your last. While in some scenarios, you may be judged by first impressions, it is the lasting impression that will stay with the audience.

 

silverbacksays

Day 26 - Utility

Posted by silverbacksays Expert Dec 26, 2017

It’s Boxing Day, and If you’re reading this on the day itself, here’s to you and yours! I hope your Yuletide celebrations have been filled with family, friends, and above all, good times!

 

Today, I’m going to link my chosen word for 2017’s Writing Challenge, ‘UTILITY,’ to one of my favourite, but commonly overlooked, aspects of the Orion Platform: Custom Properties.

 

I won’t keep you from your family long, but this is a perfect opportunity for me to share why absolutely everyone should not only use Custom Properties, but use them as much as possible, within their estate.

 

Simply put, custom properties are the Orion Platform’s super power. They provide you with the ability to truly customise your Orion Platform and are used everywhere, from alerting, reporting, view and account limitations, to improving how some built-in dashboard resources can work for your business.

 

They also provide the means to automate many common tasks and reduce the complexity of your alert stack. The possibilities are only limited by how far outside the box you can think: the Orion Platform can be much more than "just" your monitoring tool, if you use Custom Properties wisely!

 

If I have piqued your interest and you’d like to know more about Orion Custom Properties, or if you need some advice on how to implement them, reach out to me here on THWACK. I’m always happy to help!

 

Make utilising Orion Custom Properties your tech New Year’s resolution, and I promise you’ll be pleased you did!

 

To end this post, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to share your story. Like me, have you found a feature of a specific piece if software particularly useful? Have you found a particularly useful link, which helps you with your job? Please share! I look forward to reading your responses!

srcrossland

Day 25 - Platform

Posted by srcrossland Dec 24, 2017

When I think of the word platform, my first thought may not be your first thought. I immediately think of a social media platform: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. Knowing this, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn I work under Allie Eby (please read her entry if you haven’t already) as a Social Media Marketing Manager. I am also a millennial (though I HATE that word), so social media has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 10 years.

 

Social media has changed a lot since the early days, when it truly was just about connecting with friends, sharing photos, and being entertained. Though it still holds those aspects at its core (I have had the pleasure of exchanging funny gifs and banter with many of you on Twitter), it has also turned into a marketing platform, a political platform, and a news platform. When asked where I consume most of my news in my interview for this position, I hesitantly said Twitter, and Allie immediately reassured me she was in the same boat. I won’t get into the political uses, but I think we all know it has become a part of every political campaign. As for the marketing side of social media, I quite literally would not be employed in my current position if it weren’t a reality (shameless plug to stop everything and go follow SolarWinds on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram).

 

Just as the usage and core purpose of social media has changed through the years, so has the very definition of what we consider a social platform to be. Just for fun, I looked up the definition, and Merriam–Webster defines it as: forms of electronic communication (such as Web sites) through which people create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, etc.

 

Sound familiar? The more I thought about the meaning of social media, I began to realize THWACK is a social platform of its own! It certainly allows you to share information, ideas, and personal messages just as the definition states, and it has created a community of people who enjoy interacting with one another, both virtually and in person. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the THWACK MVPs during THWACKcamp in October, and it was great to see the online community come to life, the THWACK IDs and Twitter handles I had come to recognize becoming real people right before my eyes.

 

Whether you love or hate social media, you have to admit it gives people the opportunity to have a voice. That voice may be used for sharing silly cat videos, arguing about politics, or providing tips and advice for how best to use SolarWinds products. Whatever the use, everyone deserves to have a platform. I’m glad you have all have found one in THWACK.

rainyscherm

Day 24 - Peripheral

Posted by rainyscherm Dec 23, 2017

Full disclosure: I’m not an especially tech-y person, despite working for SolarWinds. So, when I chose peripheral for this challenge, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t a peripheral device, but peripheral vision.

 

With the end of each year comes the inevitable onslaught of “here’s why 201X was the worst year ever and everything is terrible!!!” blogs popping up on social media. Clickbait aside, we can all probably agree that 2017 has been a particularly topsy-turvy year.

 

And when so many issues are constantly hitting you in the face, a lot of stuff essentially gets lost in your peripheral vision. Things that are stuck in the back of your mind but just out of sight—the “yeah, let’s totally get coffee sometime!” half-promise you made to a college friend you ran into at the grocery store; the season of that one Netflix show you do actually want to watch but keep forgetting; the thing you keep telling yourself you’re going to learn but do mental gymnastics to avoid. (“I’m totally going to learn how to code,” I say to myself once about every three months, opening up Codecademy for a solid half hour before deciding that I’ll do it tomorrow. Spoiler alert: I don’t.)

 

The thing is, plans stuck in the peripheral aren’t necessarily obligations or things we actively want to avoid. More often than not, they’re actually things we want to do but can’t for whatever reason. I do want to catch up with old friends. I do want to finish season 2 of Stranger Things (… two months late). And I do want to learn how to code, cook, and maybe crochet (if only to complete the alliteration trifecta). So, what’s stopping us? What keeps these things stuck in the peripheral?

 

In my experience, when you routinely put off fun things you actually want to do, having fun almost turns into this weird, scary obligation. It’d be easy to end this with “you’re the only one stopping yourself,” but I think that trivializes how easy it is to get swamped with life. So rather than jumping to platitudes, I think it’s better to take a step back and figure out how you can take small steps to escape the scary spiral of procrastinating the “fun stuff.”

 

Instead of saying “Let’s get coffee sometime!” to a friend, I'm starting to say “Let’s get coffee! Are you free Saturday?” And sometimes I have to compromise with myself: “Okay, yes, you can eat cup noodles for dinner tonight, but this weekend you’re going to cook something fancy and feel totally proud of yourself for it.” It feels weird to say that I’m actively making an effort to have fun, but hey, that’s life.

 

This perpetual balancing act between work and play is especially relevant given the holiday season. A recent Nathan Hubbard (Ticketmaster CEO) tweet and its subsequent backlash is an interesting example of just how ingrained the idea(/expectation) of overworking yourself to the point of burnout has become. Work is important, but I think many of us undermine just how necessary it is to take a step back, breathe, and relax—even if you’re like me and have to mentally “schedule” your fun.

 

David Heinemeier Hansson’s response to this tweet is an especially poignant read, and I think he sums it up best here:

 

“What really gets my goat, though, is that [hustling] doesn’t even work. You’re not very likely to find that key insight or breakthrough idea north of the 14th hour. Creativity, progress, and impact does not yield easily or commonly to brute force.”

 

What things have gotten lost in your “peripheral vision” this year? And how do you tackle making time for the fun stuff in the midst of end-of-year craziness?

zackm

Day 23 - Parity

Posted by zackm Expert Dec 23, 2017

(Image credit: Artist: Mayumi Tokuda)

Parity. While the word means many different things, I think that in the world of infrastructure, we tend to lean towards the idea of parity within storage. (Insert seriously interesting read here.) For this post though, I want to branch out a bit and move into a realm of software/DevOps/automation engineering. Let’s start with some, very simplified, definitions:

 

Feature Parity: The ability to maintain specific features between multiple systems, matching individual components of those features.

Example: The Orion Platform maintains feature parity across all products within the reporting and alerting engines. While there are multiple modules that focus on varied monitoring disciplines, all access web reports and alerts in the same way.

 

Functional Parity: The ability to maintain a common end-result between multiple systems, regardless of features used to achieve the result.

Example: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM) and Log & Event Manager (LEM) both have the capabilities to monitor, report, and alert on specific Windows Events. However, their individual approaches to those functions vary greatly.

 

Now, let’s get further down this rabbit hole and apply these definitions of parity to our careers.

 

A few weeks ago, I was blessed with the ability to attend THWACKcamp 2017 with a group of my peers and fellow THWACK MVPs. During “camp,” we spent a LOT of time socializing with each other and sharing backgrounds, passions, hobbies, and Limoncellos with Crab Cakes. One thing that really struck me was the vast array of paths that each MVP took to get where they are today. Off the top of my head, I can remember several small-business owners/consultants, infrastructure architects, way too many network engineers (where are all the DBAs and DevOps pros???), a few dreaded infosec professionals, several monitoring engineers, lots of jack-of-all-trades engineers, and two current SolarWinds employees. However, despite all of the titles we each hold individually, we all hold the MVP title collectively.

 

I think the singular thread that tied all of the MVPs together at camp was the urge/need to constantly improve our skills mixed with a healthy level of self-deprecation that keeps us motivated to spend those personal hours getting better and better. What’s interesting is that in our sample group, there was a mixed amount of Feature Parity for backgrounds, but almost 100% Functional Parity as to where we are right now. And I think we can take this further and expand that to the entirety of the THWACK community (all 130,000+ of us). To me, one of the absolute BEST parts of being involved in the SolarWinds software suite is the community, and I am constantly in awe at the knowledge, innovation, and selflessness that I find in these “hallowed halls.”

 

What do you think? Does one type of parity (Feature/Functional) outweigh the pathway of your career and ultimate goal(s), or would it be a symbiotic relationship between the two? Or maybe you think this is all hogwash and you can share your opinions on whatever version of parity that you want!

 

THWACK: zackm

Name: Zack Mutchler

Title: Bearded Monitoring Engineer, SQL Fella, PowerShell Aficionado, and Whiskey Connoisseur

Mark Roberts

Day 22 - Object

Posted by Mark Roberts Expert Dec 22, 2017

I had received an object of complaint letters, stating that the object of the project had not been met and that as Project Manager, I had myself become the object of the failure. My immediate response was to object to the accusation, basing my objection on the fact that the complaint was predicated on false information and therefore the objective was not based on fact and this was an object lesson in how to waste people's time.

 

Being an English speaker from birth, the sentence above can be readily understood, but boy do you have to have sympathy for someone learning English as a second language. The sentence is an example of a homonym, where words are spelt the same and indeed sound the same, but have different meanings.

 

Objects are an integral part of everyone’s daily lives, as we are continuously interacting with objects to achieve our goals—for example, drinking our morning coffee out of an object suited to that purpose. In this case, a mug.

 

The pursuit of objects is also the foundation for much that is good and bad with humanity: in the past, currently, and certainly something that will remain in the long distant future. Conquests were very much based on objects, where wealth and position were attained from the acquisition of objects of desire, such as gold and jewels. Our society is still obsessed with collecting material objects, either for their perceived enhancement of one’s life or and for the status they bring.

 

In many dystopian novels and films, that materialism is the foundation for all that is bleak and undesirable about that society. The reverse is also manifestly true, where inequality is a thing of the past—a futuristic society where money and objects are replaced by knowledge, achievements, and experiences.

 

I know where I would rather have the future takes us: a life where happiness is not based on what we own or how it compares to others, and where our passions and drives are not dictated to by what we can buy or acquire.

 

We are all guilty of this approach to life, especially with Christmas just around the corner. I ask that you give some thought as to whether your life will be enhanced by whatever the number-one gift will be this year, or by finding an activity or holiday that will create memories for you and your family.

ams.norman

Day 21 - Noise

Posted by ams.norman Employee Dec 20, 2017

It’s a favorite topic here at SolarWinds, particularly in reference to noisy alerts. There’s a lab all about alerts because poorly defined alerts can have such an impact on the effectiveness of your network monitoring. Too many alerts can leave you feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where your attention is needed. Too few alerts can lead to missing important notifications. Understanding what is a good noise balance is key.

 

This time of year seasonal noise can have a similar effect. Over-played holiday music, too many cars on the roads, and too many people in the stores all trying to rush through to-do lists are a constant.

 

Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise!

Noise! Noise! Noise!

That's one thing he hated! The NOISE!

NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

  - How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

 

Despite the noisy hustle and bustle, the end of the year encourages time with friends and family and allows time for reflection. Many are celebrating holidays, some enjoy time away from work or school, and everyone is wrapping up the year and preparing for the next. Colder weather and darker days drive us inside with loved ones, where the noise—or lack of it—can be amplified.

 

In our house, we see both sides of this. Our toddler is exploring noise creation, be it through vocal exercises or by banging a toy on the coffee table. As much joy as we get from hearing the toddler, there is something missing. My stepdaughter has been away at college for her freshman year. We still feel the silence from the absence of our older girl and are looking forward to some precious time together in the coming days.

 

This time of year also weighs heavy on my heart because there are so many who, in the midst of all the noise, are experiencing a silence that won’t be filled. The season may highlight memories that can’t be recreated and traditions may slip away when the people who carried them onward are no longer present. For all those experiencing this, whether for the first time or for yet another year, may the warmth of the season surround you, and may others wrap you in love. May new and joyful noise fill your home and heart again, even as you also feel the silence left by those who are gone.

 

[The Grinch] did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow.

But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY![…]

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same! […]

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!"

"It came without packages, boxes or bags!" […]

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

        - How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

 

Merry Christmas to those that celebrate. Happy holidays to all! (And before you leave for break, make sure your alerts are tuned so you are receiving only needed, actionable alerts—or better yet, set them to notify someone else. Maybe you can actually enjoy some time off!)

My parents – and my in-laws – like to tell us they’re cruising away our inheritance. Which is pretty much true.

 

But truer than that is the gift of so many memories. Last year, I wrote about love and cooking. Much of the time for me, these words are synonymous, though not exclusive. So many lessons of love were learned in my parents’ kitchen, and whether my children realize it or not, the lessons I offer them in my own kitchen are gifts of love – and down payments of their future inheritance.

 

I was reminded of this last night when my Dad emailed me, because he’d forgotten we recently changed our phone numbers to the Austin area code… while he and Mom were on a cruise, as it happens, spending our inheritance, of course.

 

Dad needed my Grandma’s peanut butter cookie recipe. Now, the context here is that Dad was calling from his sister’s house. Calling for their mother’s recipe. Which neither of them had.

 

I had to text my youngest brother to relay that I was evidently now the Keeper of All Family Recipes. Guardian of the Recipe Cards. The Recipe-ient. Top Chef?

 

I’m not sure exactly at what point all of these duties transitioned to me, but now my recipe box is evidently the Master. So I dug out my transcription of Grandma’s recipe [whatever has befallen the original???] and relayed the recipe to him so they could make the same cookies their Mom always made them.

 

I needn’t fear an estate tax. I have no land heading my way, nor titles, nor boxes of jewels. I have a greater chance of inheriting decluttering work than anything else, but I also have a wealth of love notes in the form of my family’s recipes. Most of which are already in my recipe box, but clearly many more to be gathered, not unlike the monks of yore copying ancient texts to prevent them from slipping into oblivion.

 

So while they aren’t anything revolutionary, I bequeath to you all one recipe, always made with love, by my Grandma, my Dad, and now by me.

 

Grandma Hamlin’s Peanut Butter Cookies

 

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 scant cup shortening

1/4 tsp. salt

3 cups flour

1 cup peanut butter

2 eggs

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla

 

Blend together sugars, shortening, salt, peanut butter, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Add flour and form into about 1” balls. Press down with fork tines, making a hash #. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.

 

May you inherit memories a-plenty from your family, and may you pass them down like the finest of jewels.

 

What will your inheritance be? And what will those who come after you inherit from you?

 

Image credit: Saveur Magazine. Not even gonna Sarah Sanders you - I didn't make these cookies, but mine look basically just like this, as does essentially everyone else's.

rschroeder

Day 19 - Gateway

Posted by rschroeder Expert Dec 18, 2017

In the contexts of Information Technology and of humanity,  I define “gateway” as a portal for change. We, and our data, may enter new environments by passing through that gateway.

 

When you discover your network communications are limited by what can be reached locally, your options are to give up, or to send your IP traffic out a gateway to other networks.

 

There’s no guarantee what you’ll find through the portal will be improve your situation, or make it worse. Just understand that the knowledge and risks that come from passing through a gateway are essentially limitless.

 

I remember a gate that my childhood friends and I climbed through to access a favorite fishing hole. Yes, we were trespassing. And sometimes we were hurt there. But every single trip through that gateway was an adventure. It became a gamble of risking injury or getting caught against the possible payout of big fish (and peer admiration!), or splashing and swimming, or even the opportunity to perform amateur forensic analysis at the site of some impromptu beer party. Past this gateway we sought adrenaline on our path to some future and mystical condition called “adulthood.”

 

If simply passing through a gateway changes your environment, it becomes a bridge to new opportunities, and as such, may require a guardian to keep out what is unwanted, and to allow you (or your data) pass through. Not unlike the Bifrost Bridge of Norse mythology, recently referenced in Marvel Universe movies.

 

It has a guardian who sees and knows much—but perhaps not all, and perhaps not enough!

 

How does your IT environment deal with gateways?

  • Does it limit traffic by source, destination, source port, and destination port?
  • Does it filter content and/or restrict other access?
  • Who has access to the keys to your gateway?
  • Who reviews and inspects the behavior of your staff who hold the keys to the gate, thus ensuring their power is not abused or misused?

 

Tell us about your own Bifrost Bridge and its Guardians—how you keep them working as needed, how you learn to improve their performance, and how SolarWinds can be a gateway into silos to which you previously had no access!

allieeby

Day 18 - Fragment

Posted by allieeby Dec 18, 2017

Fragment.

 

I didn’t grow up with connections in any industry. Neither one of my parents went to college or made an exorbitant amount of money. My mom was a superhero/childcare provider and my dad spent his 50+ hours a week driving freight while I slept (he still does). I did, however, grow up with the only thing that mattered: parents who believed in me, supported me, and loved me intensely. They poured everything they had into making sure their children had the opportunities they never got. Their greatest piece of advice?  “Be tougher than everyone who’s bigger than you. Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

 

 

My name is Allie Eby, and I manage social media at SolarWinds. Yes, I am one of the brains behind the tweets. Social media remains one of the business world’s most mysterious phenomenons. Executives don’t know exactly how it works. It can be seen as a fluffy part of marketing; a nice-to-have rather than a necessity. So how do you convince execs to buy into a program they don’t know a lot about? How do you present them the full power of social media when all they read about it are headlines or fragments? You have to be so good they can’t ignore you.

 

I took my parents’ advice and ran with it. I never considered myself naturally smarter, faster, or stronger than anyone else. So I made sure I worked harder than anyone I knew, and then I worked even harder just to be sure. If I had reviewed my notes the day before a test three times in a row (one time too many), I told myself to go through it once more. I wanted to ensure I didn’t fail, and to me, getting less than an A was failing. “You’re only as good as the last test you took,” I’d tell myself.

 

Something happens when you pour so much time and energy into accomplishing a goal. Sometimes you fail. And when you do, it feels like the only thing in the world that matters. All of your previous achievements feel so far away, because you’re focusing so hard on that misstep. That fragment. Despite the hours and weeks poured into planning, studying data, and developing a social marketing plan that will best meet our audience’s interests, I am well aware that’s often what you see of it. Fragments. Sometimes it’s our less attractive fragments. The ones we’re less proud of. The ones where we’ve spent a bit too much time thinking about ourselves instead of thinking about our audience.

 

When I was young, I was a chronic perfectionist. I stressed out a lot. My grandma was, in many ways, my opposite. She was more about living in the moment instead of constantly looking ahead. She used to encourage me to start enjoying the present instead of stressing so much about my future goals. When I was tempted to look ahead because standing still made me bored, she encouraged me to look around. She taught me how to find and cherish the worth in those in-between moments of time.

 

What I love about social marketing is that even when the marketing isn’t live (or just isn’t working), there’s the social component. The in-between moments. I like to spend time with our social feedback as I review sentiment, look for trends, and collect data. As a former community manager responsible for actually responding to this feedback, I learned to love the process (yes, even the negative comments). When someone comes to talk to a brand on social, it’s an opportunity. Sometimes, you’re their biggest cheerleader. Their sounding board. The geek in their cube next door. Other times, you’re the place they come to have their complaints heard, and I’ve grown to appreciate that. Once someone tells us the problem they’re having, we find ourselves with the unique opportunity to fix it.

 

“Tell me your biggest problem. I’ll tell you how I’ll help you solve it.” I had exactly zero experience in the job I was interviewing for right out of college, but I had the one thing that can’t be taught – hustle. I still use that line in interviews today, and I still mean it sincerely. Feedback over the years has varied. I’ve been called everything from “intriguing” and “whip-smart” to “too hungry.” I’ve had “ambitious” used both as a compliment and a criticism. But you know what has happened the majority of the time? I’ve gotten the job.

 

Do you know what’s better than working with the smartest person in the room? Working with the person who cares the most. The ones who bring fragments of their life experience into work each day. There have been so many times in my life and my career where I’ve wished I could show someone my entire body of work. To explain why I behave the way I do, or make the decisions I make, or show up so darn early to the office. But in most areas of life, all you get to show is a fragment. A small piece of a greater story. If you could choose, which fragments would you want to share? Which parts of your story paint the best picture of who you are today?

 

One thing I love about social media is that no matter where you are in the world, you get to see the fragments that others have shared. You can bond, you can connect, or you can silently feel a sense of warmth knowing you’re not alone. I enjoy seeing, reading, and hearing people’s fragments.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed mine.

tomiannelli

Day 17 - Character

Posted by tomiannelli Expert Dec 17, 2017

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” - John Wooden was an American basketball player and head coach at the University of California at Los Angeles

I appreciate being asked by Leon to write about the word “character.” As a voracious learner, I enjoy a wide range of topics and sources for reading. Both Eastern and Western philosophies have looked at ways to promote discussion about character that is global in nature. IT is also global; it has no borders and we use its services without leaving the comfort of our businesses and homes. The IT profession has become, with international business and the move to the cloud, also more global in nature.

 

I went in search of a way to discuss character that was universally human, and wish this discussion to focus on the more global perspective of character. World-wide philosophers have addressed character development as both an individual and cultural challenge. I discovered Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman 1. Over a three year period they collaborated to review philosophers and religious thinkers throughout myriad histories and cultures. The result of this research suggests one’s character is a permutation of character strengths. They called it the Values In Action (VIA) Classification and Inventory of Strengths.

 

Each character strength needed to:

  1. be fulfilling, morally valued, and not diminishing to others;
  2. have inappropriate opposites;
  3. be a distinguishing feature of human nature (trait-like);
  4. be distinctive from other strengths;
  5. have a person or thing regarded as a model of excellence of it;
  6. have prodigies, wunderkind or wonder child;
  7. selective absence of it in some situations;
  8. Have institutions/rituals to celebrate or express it 1.

 

These character strengths get categorized into six virtues:

  1. Courage consists of the emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.
  2. Humanity is the interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others.
  3. Justice groups the civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.
  4. Strengths protecting against excess belong to Temperance.
  5. Strengths forging connections to the larger universe and provide meaning lie in Transcendence.
  6. The cognitive strengths entailing the acquisition and use of knowledge make up Wisdom1.

 

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” - Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist.

In the brief exposure I had to this work, and some of the reports on its 10+ years of use in psychology and sociology, I found much that was familiar to me from my readings of Confucius, Aristotle, Plato, and others. Philosophers discuss the application of strengths in the context of a given situation. The same character strength applied in the work place might not work well when it comes to an intimate relationship. Different occupations will also require the use various combinations of character strengths. The goal is to understand your character profile, then develop skills to enhance and combine character strengths to achieve success, happiness, and fulfillment.

 

It is like being a chef, and not just knowing all the ingredients and cooking methods, but how to combine them to make a fabulous dish or banquet. Or an author who knows all the words and the stories, and has the skill to put them into an amazing novel. Or the composer who knows the notes, and the instruments, and puts them together to create a symphony that stirs the soul. As Aristotle discussed in Nichomachen Ethics 2 the right combination of strengths, expressed to the right amount, and in the right circumstance, is the golden mean of strengths use. The knowledge of your own character strengths can help you make your own masterpieces.

  1. There is a strong connection between well-being and the use of signature strengths, because strengths helps us make progress towards our goals and meet our basic needs for independence, relationship, and competence 3
  2. The use of signature strengths elevates individuals’ harmonious passion (i.e., doing activities that are freely chosen without constraints, are highly important, and part of the individual’s identity). This then leads to higher well-being4
  3. A strengths training intervention (involving noticing when, where, and how top strengths are used and writing about this) was found to be effective in boosting life satisfaction in the short-run and long-run in the Chinese education context. The placebo effect was ruled out by having some participants informed of the purpose of the study, and some not, and finding that this had no long-term effect on life satisfaction5

 

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman.

If Goethe hadn’t lived over a hundred years ago, you might think he was talking about that smug, corporate computer guy, Nick Burns (played by Jimmy Fallon) that shouts “MOVE!” to his customers to get them out of their chairs. Nick certainly seems to exhibit judgement and zest, but not kindness or humility. Okay, then what is the right combination of character strengths for an IT professional?

 

  • A military leader’s with the character strength of humor predicted their followers’ trust. While followers’ with a character strength of perspective earned their leaders’ trust6
  • Seeing one’s work as a source of meaningful fulfillment is predicted by the character strength of zest7
  • Most mismatches require individuals to suppress this strength in some way. The expression of gratitude, humility, kindness, playfulness, spirituality, citizenship and hope for example suggest that many of the human and community-based virtues are suppressed in the workplace. The rhetoric of a workplace in which community and meaning are valued seems to be exactly this: more of a rhetoric than a reality”8

 

I’ve observed that humor, perspective, and perseverance seem to be recurring traits in the IT professionals, that I have known and respect. Perseverance to complete tasks and projects, despite the high change rate in technology and priorities. Perspective to step back and see how this new technology fits into existing processes, or to push the organization to develop new ones. Humor - well, because if you can’t laugh at others, yourself, or the situation in the highly stressed circumstances, something is going to snap. When you can laugh - it puts people at ease, can be a gateway to change, and moves the process forward.

 

I am curious to know what character strengths you think make for successful IT professionals?

 

P.S. You can take a survey to discover your character strength profile at The VIA Institute on Character

For those of you that have met me you will not be surprised that my top strength is currently Humor.

 

------------------------------------

 

Endnotes

1

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2

Aristotle. (2000) Nicomachean ethics, translated and edited by Roger Crisp, St. Anne’s College, Oxford: Cambridge University Press

3

Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (1), 6-15.

4

Forest, J., Mageau, G. V. A., Crevier-Braud, L., Bergeron, L., Dubreuil, P., & Lavigne, G. V. L. (2012). Harmonious passion as an explanation of the relation between signature strengths’ use and well-being at work: Test of an intervention program. Human Relations, 65 (9), 1233-1252.

5

Duan, W., Ho, S. M. Y., Tang, X., Li, T., & Zhang, Y. (2013). Character strength-based intervention to promote satisfaction with life in the Chinese university context. Journal of Happiness Studies. DOI 10.1007/s10902-013-9479-y.

6

Sweeney, P. Hannah, S.T., Park, N., Peterson, C. Matthews, M. & Brazil, D. (2009). Character strengths, adaptation, and trust. Paper presented at the International Positive Psychology Association conference on June 19, 2009.

7

Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.

8

Money, K., Hillenbrand, C. & Da Camara, N. (2009). Putting Positive Psychology to Work. Journal of General Management, Vol. 34, No. 3, UK: Braybrooke. (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274698850_Money_K_Hillenbrand_C_Da_Camara_N_2009_Putting_Positive_Psychology_to_Work_Journal_of_General_Management_Vol_34_No_3_UK_Braybrooke.

jennebarbour

Day 16 - Backbone

Posted by jennebarbour Employee Dec 16, 2017

 

Jared Dunten is a loving husband and father, an extremely talented artist and copywriter, a fellow Aggie, and the quadriplegic survivor of an unfortunate diving accident.

 

Jared was paralyzed after diving into the Rio Grande in 2000 following a camping trip with a buddy from work. He began painting in 2002, and now continues to “paint himself out of the wheelchair,” focusing on not only his art, but his research advocacy for a cure for paralysis from spinal cord injury.

 

While Jared’s skill with a paintbrush is impressive by any standard, the fact that he expresses his vision while holding a brush in his mouth makes me feel both awe and a general sense of disappointment in my own skill level on a wide variety of subjects. His work spans a number of styles – some abstract, some incredibly detailed, landscapes, portraits, still life… I can’t imagine a subject he’s unable to capture beautifully.

 

He’s also an old college friend of my husband, which is how I came to meet him last weekend at his recent art show at Star Hill Ranch here in Austin. Matt and Jared spent some time catching up and talking about their days in the Corps at A&M, and I got to meet Jared’s wife Kimberly and their adorable twin sons, before our kids and I decided which pieces of his work we needed to add to our home.

 

We settled on a small print of The Chief and a canvas print of Randal, a bison in profile that we couldn’t get out of our heads. Jared shared that when he originally painted The Chief, the five-foot by five-foot canvas was so large that he continued to bump his feet into it as he leaned in to reach the canvas. He had to use extra-long brushes to avoid smudging his work, since he holds each one in his mouth. The detail of that work is incredible – I couldn’t paint as well if you gave me a decade to try.

 

As we wandered through the gallery, our son found Mea Culpa on a wall off to the side [as an original piece, it was protected from kids running around and adults with wine]. He retrieved me from the other side of the room, and quietly asked if it was about Jared’s accident. Four feet by two feet, it portrays a skeleton viewed from behind, and the detail and coloring appear purposefully unfinished, perhaps still under consideration.

 

While he was nervous to ask, my son asked Jared what the story behind the painting was. Jared explained that Mea Culpa means “my fault” in Latin. The work is his way of processing his accident, and his role in his resulting injury. It’s an acknowledgment of his responsibility, an expression of remorse, and an offering of forgiveness to himself for his injuries. He also shared that it’s a work progress – just as his healing process continues.

 

Despite the day-to-day challenges Jared and his family face, they’re as warm and kind as anyone you could meet. The twinkle in Jared’s eye and his broad smile are infectious, and his determination is obvious. He is confident that medical breakthroughs will one day allow him to walk again. I think he’ll be right.

 

----

 

I meant to write this post differently. When I originally volunteered to write about the word backbone, I didn’t expect a both a figurative and literal connection – I just wanted to write about determination, scrappiness, staring down a challenge. Grit. But sometimes stories find their own way through.

 

I planned to write about my own challenges, and how being raised to have backbone in life helped me to overcome them. But suddenly, that seemed diary fodder, not helpful to anyone else, or interesting in any way. In considering his bravery, humor, confidence, courage, kindness, and joy I was struck by an entirely new imagining of the word – one personified by Jared himself. He’s both grit and grins.

 

Jared’s art show allowed Matt to reconnect with his old friend, and introduced me to someone I didn’t already know from those same A&M days. I knew Jared’s story before, and was as inspired by him then as I was meeting him in person.

 

Challenges incarnate variously. Some break us. It’s in the getting back up that we find our backbone. That getting back up may feel impossible or improbable. It can be an ongoing practice, day by day. It may take other hands to help lift us. And as we rise again, we may be more flexible, less rigid, but stronger none the less. It’s embracing that new possibility – that what comes after the tragedy may be a dawn different than what we expected – that proves our own backbones.

 

Because of the common Aggie heritage, and because inevitably, all thoughts of A&M lead me back to Robert Earl Keen, Jr. and my very favorite of his songs – The Front Porch Song – I’ve had this playing in my head while I’ve been writing this post. Now, you too can hum along.

 

This old porch is just a long time

Of waiting and forgetting

And remembering the coming back

And not crying about the leaving

And remembering the falling down

And the laughter of the curse of luck

From all of those sons-of-bitches

Who said we'd never get back up

 

----

What are the challenges you've faced in life, in your career? What has tested your own backbone?

 

Image credit: Jared Dunten

Lyrics: Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

designerfx

Day 15 - Argument

Posted by designerfx Expert Dec 15, 2017

Being someone raised in a household with very stubborn parents, arguments were the core of my existence. As a parent myself, I have learned to not escalate arguments—although sometimes they are bound to happen. However, I want to immediately acknowledge multiple meanings of arguments within the IT world. Both of which we usually end up intimately aware.

 

We have:

interpersonal arguments

scripting arguments

 

My focus here is on interpersonal arguments. We all have them from time to time. I feel there are three core things to remember about all arguments:

 

  1. Words can hurt. Things said in an argument may be hurtful.
  2. It's ideal to be calm, but that's not a guarantee. Live and learn and do your best!
  3. Make amends. Arguments are one thing, but holding a grudge will never help anyone.

 

The thing is, no matter how strong an argument gets, it's crucial to remember that an argument is not going to last forever. Buddhism has a concept for this called "Right Speech," which says "Speak only words that do no harm. One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken."

 

What do you think of when it comes to an argument?

aguidry

Day 14 - Cookies

Posted by aguidry Employee Dec 14, 2017

I was taught to bake, not cook. As a child, my mother and grandmother showed me how to measure flour, crack eggs, and transform simple ingredients into one magical, delicious, comforting whole. I made cookies, muffins, biscuits, and white cakes with pink frosting. If I relied on memory to tell the story, it would sound like I spent my entire childhood baking, reading, and riding bikes. That’s it. Cookies, books, and bikes.

 

By the time cookies took on a whole new and different meaning, I had yet to surf the web. The internet was just emerging when I was studying English and philosophy in college. Back then, I was delving into difficult texts because it was fun, and obsessively listening to music made by people who loved language as much as I did. If tech was a thing back then, I wasn’t aware. Blooming into a full-bore word nerd took great focus.

 

I don’t remember the first time I saw the word “cookie” used as a name for a small data file, but I do remember thinking it was a travesty. Why cookie? Why couldn’t the geeks in charge of such things name their little computer whatsit after something less transcendent? Less soulful. It was an affront to my love of cookies AND words! More than that, it signaled the decline of the English language. Cookie! How dare they!

 

There are several origin stories to explain how the cookie (not the buttery kind) got its name.

Some say it came from the fairy tale where Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of cookie crumbs behind them to find their way out of a dark forest. Another is the Cookie Monster Easter Egg theory that you can probably figure out on your own. Suffice to say the word “cookie” plays a major role in the story. The third explanation is known as The Magic Ticket cookie, so called after programmers named a token, or short piece of data, a magic cookie, which they passed between programs. You could only access the contents of the cookie file after the program passed the file back to the sender at a later time. The file was used like a ticket to identify a particular event or transaction. Finally, there’s the Chinese Fortune Cookie answer, which comes from UNIX systems’ Fortune Program. When starting up, the system would present a joke, or a quote, to the user who was logging in. The information it received was stored in what administrators called a cookie file.

 

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

 

The English language continues its decline, thanks to shorthand naming conventions, texting, screens replacing books, rampant capitalism, etc. Being a word nerd in the 21st century isn’t easy, but I’ve found ways to get by. Working as a professional writer and editor for almost 20 years helps. Baking with my children is another soothing balm. Teaching them to read and follow recipes, and love the process as much as the result will, hopefully, help them in countless ways down the road. Speaking of which: I wonder what they’ll think about internet cookies when that day comes.

 

Are you a word nerd? Which cookie origin story do you buy? Do you have nostalgic feelings about cookies? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

karlap

Day 13 - Bootstrap

Posted by karlap Dec 13, 2017

It’s a mindset. (And yes, it’s also the name of Twitter’s front-end web framework, amongst other things.)

 

Bootstrapping is essentially the commitment to getting something done no matter what obstacles or resource constraints you may have. It is the resolve to move forward understanding that the end result may not be perfect, the circumstances not ideal.

 

An Introduction to the Bootstrap highlights how in the 1900s, to “pull (oneself) up by (one's) bootstraps” was used figuratively to describe an impossible task. Years later, its meaning has expanded to include to "better oneself by rigorous, unaided effort.”

 

That is not an easy feat, and not one everyone feels comfortable with, but it provides a tremendous opportunity for growth.

 

I’m sure many of you in our IT community run into what may at first blush appear to be insurmountable obstacles on a constant basis. How can I possibly make this work with the limited resources I have? How can I fix this if I don’t have anything left in this year’s budget? From speaking to many of our IT professionals, failure is not an option, and more often than not, the bootstrap mentality is what enables them to power through.

 

A few years ago, as part of a small start-up, I found myself on the phone with a customer who was having trouble with our platform. He was frustrated and wanted things fixed instantly “or else was immediately cancelling his subscription”. At that time, I was wearing the marketing, customer success, and support hats all at once. We hadn’t acquired many users, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose any customers either. We were a small team of three, and my technical co-founder Ted was at the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting to register his vehicle. The customer wanted his issue resolved immediately, so over text, while on the phone with the customer, I relayed the problem to Ted, who successfully walked me through fixing the issue. All while our customer was unaware of what was transpiring behind the scenes. It was exhilarating to realize we could successfully these tackle these types of situations as a team.

 

From these past experiences, I understand the creativity and team building that comes from trying to generate ideas and solutions without resources. The old adage of "necessity is the mother of invention" seems to never ring truer than on those occasions. When resources are not an obstacle, getting things done is just a matter of time, but it gets a lot more interesting to see what you can construct when resources are tight and things needed to be resolved immediately.

 

Many of us wait until we think things are in perfect order to move forward, but we work in technology, which means things will never be perfect. If you haven’t, I encourage you to be a little scrappy and try “bootstrapping.” You’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished. The satisfaction that flows from knowing you were able to bring forth a solution from what can be an uncomfortable space that is worth experiencing. Keep pushing forward.

mandevil

Day 12 - Obfuscate

Posted by mandevil Employee Dec 12, 2017

Obfuscate – to make less clear.

 

Love the word! It’s fun to say. Now there may be some negative connotations with this word, especially in contemporary times. Alternative facts, cell phone bills, my kids’ response to “what homework do you have to do tonight?” and anything coming out of congress comes to mind as having some aspects of obfuscation to them. However, let’s invoke the holiday spirit and be positive. Making things less clear can be a good thing. Especially when it comes to data.

 

Encryption isn’t the only way to obfuscate data. Obfuscation is a word I learned near the beginning of my IT tenure. It was used in conjunction with redacting (another great word) sensitive data when it leaves production to be replicated to another environment. See, I worked at a company that primarily did D.O.D. type contracts, so we’d get audited on such things. Too often, we don’t think about all of the attack vectors those that want our data can take in this pursuit. Think about all of the security breaches we’ve had lately. I’m not saying they successfully got data that was not obfuscated. I am saying that it should be a tool at your disposal in your toolbox for protecting data.

 

I dare you to use it in normal conversation while at work. Chime in with the reaction of those around when you pull this one out of your arsenal.

Patrick Hubbard

Day 11 - Loop

Posted by Patrick Hubbard Employee Dec 11, 2017

Loops are among the most sublime constructs of programming, but as it turns out, often consume our personal lives as well. Whether baked into the silicon of routing ASICs or beautifully parallelized in Go, loops are the mechanism by which we say, “Yes machine you’re done, now do it again”. Loops tirelessly execute routine business logic, evaluate access control policies, they ensure our backups happen on schedule and they pull resources in and out of production to suit demand. But we forget that they are also a metaphor, endlessly iterating, endlessly reminding us as their keepers, not to fall into life-wasting loops of our own.

 

Consider three loop patterns, in BASIC, Java and Go:

 

BASICJavaGo
100 REM GUESSING GAME
110
120 PRINT "GUESS THE NUMBER 1-100"
130
140 LET X = INT(100*RND(0)+1)
150 LET N = 0
160 PRINT "YOUR GUESS";
170 INPUT G
180 LET N = N+1
190 IF G = X THEN 300
200 IF G < X THEN 250
210 PRINT "TOO LARGE, GUESS AGAIN"
220 GOTO 160
// print the integers 10-19
for(int x = 10; x < 20; x = x + 1) {
    System.out.print(
         "value of x : " + x );
    System.out.print("\n");
}
func main() {
  for {
    test := statusNow()
    if test == 10 {
      break
    }
    if test == 5 {
      continue
    }
 
    fmt.Println(test)
    time.Sleep(300 * time.Millisecond)
  }
}

 

At first glance, they are the same: keep doing something until a condition is met. However these aren’t the same, not one bit, and they tell the human stories of their creators. Left-to-right, you might think of them as Get Out Fast, Deterministic, and Eventual Exit.

 

GOTO: Chaos Classic

 

In the case of BASIC, this loop expects to get out or at least is in the habit of falling-through. BASIC is like most languages of yore, procedural. It has first and last line, a beginning and an end, and all loops must end or the process can’t exit. GOTO came after conditionals, a mechanism to redirect the falling momentum of top-down execution. But it’s branch exception based on one particular condition- anything else and the process falls through. It’s also not technically a loop in the modern sense, GOTOs can go anywhere and the loop is actually a pattern not an operator.

 

The human equivalent of the BASIC GOTO loop is an interrupt driven life. You’re heading with determination in a direction, but issues pop-up and you have to go back to fix them. It’s two steps forward, one step back. In many ways it’s actually the most hopeful because it rewards tenacity, eventually leading to progress or transition. It’s also the diametric opposite is the For-Next Loop.

 

For-Next: Precision Planning

 

Say what you will about strongly typed languages, but the stalwart For-Next loop in Java, C# and others will save you debugging pain. While it’s possible to mess with the iterator or otherwise engage in continue/break shenanigans, for is used because it’s deterministic. The code will execute precisely a known number of times only. At it’s most extreme it’s the human analog of a prison sentence, or at least week, semester, year or similar conventions.

 

There’s a certainty about For-Next- awareness of initial commitment and start conditions and it’s iterators provide feedback along the way that guides us to conclusion. Why is Friday great? Because the next value in the day iterator is Saturday. We use these loops as technologists to accomplish life change, or at least to provide time scaffolding to hang other milestones of personal development. With For-Next we know what we’re getting into, even it’s a bit routine along the way.

 

While: Seductive, Soporific, Insidious

 

while then must be the ideal use of a computer, the ultimate hands-off delegation to automation. It’s an expectation that a thing will continue open-ended. In the GoLang example above for { may look like For-Next, but it’s not. No condition is being evaluated each loop- there’s no iterator. It just spins, printing integers to the console with a 300ms nap each pass. It continues or breaks on unrelated if’s. In other languages while contains a condition for escape, but not here. This use is the inescapable, even dreadful, while(true).

 

OS message and event loops are canonical monster examples, expecting to run without interruption until shutdown. The while loop’s momentum is not to run to a terminus like BASIC, and it’s also not deterministic like For-Next. while expects not to progress unless something exceptional happens. Its human analog literally, is to “while (wile) away your time”.

 

And in this time of IT transformation, failing to recognize one is trapped in a while is increasingly perilous. When I hear Ops teams say things like, “I guess this job is OK”, “Meh, SDN won’t affect me”, or “The datacenter will never go away”, I ask them what their day-to-day is like. Almost all fall into a narrow pattern of help desk misery, systemic underinvestment, nervousness about the future and lack of time for personal skills development. For them while is innocent enough- it’s emotional compensation to get though each day hoping there’s something out on the horizon.

 

Some in IT even subconsciously wait for radically new hardware, a layoff, re-org, or family relocation- anything that will force a major job change because they’re stuck. Usually in the past it’s worked out, but fortune without development is less guaranteed each year. Cloud and DevOps are brining unique changes that require significant skills upgrades. Many IT Jobs- at least the ones that will be interesting and rewarding- won’t be network configuration or application debugging. They’ll be something more. Something architectural, something analytical, something less expert and more inventive.

 

GOTO: Neurons

 

Perhaps there’s irony in the BASIC example above. It’s old, limited and even in its agnostic Integer BASIC form terrifically uncool. But just perhaps, it might be the most compatible with our human, wet-CPU processors. Perhaps living a life of interconnected pointers and evolving spaghetti code in the wonderful synaptic sense offers the most resiliency, captures the most opportunities, and breaks away in the most important top-right quadrant of human endeavor: fun.

 

Beware settling for while. It’s process interrupts are usually unexpected.

Starting out in life, we are poked and prodded and dressed up in strange clothing. One almost-universal gesture is to create a plater mold of a baby’s feet. This leaves a near permanent fossil of something that was once small, beautiful, and almost perfect—the footprint of a baby.

 

As we grow our footprints become deeper, like footprints in the sand. We as humans look at our footprints and watch as the sea washes them away like we were never really here at all. Just a brief fleeting reminder where we once stood is quickly washed away by an awesome power we have really yet to understand and our own arrogance will not let us respect as we should.

 

Growing up as Americans and getting older, we become more useful, able to give back, work, play, serve, worship, but most everything we touch has a new fossil on it, our carbon footprint.

 

Image source: MIT


The above image shows a scale of how we over-use, over-do, over-want, over-need, under-estimate, and ignore what has become a growing issue for some and a nuisance for others. Whether we believe it or not it doesn’t make it less true that everything we touch is now marred with our mark, our DNA, our footprint.

 

As a global community, we have learned and are learning the importance of our digital footprint. In the modern society, the digital footprint defines who you are. We need to ensure it’s accurately painting the right picture about you. You need to protect your footprint as well from those that would try to steal a piece of you, sometimes marring your portrait and leaving your footprint broken or nonexistent. Much like the ocean can wash away our footprints in the sand, hackers and morally deficient individuals will try to erase you from existence in order to have what you have worked hard to create. We have tools, we have knowledge, and we only lack the proper wisdom at time to use these tools to protect ourselves.  It never easiest to make the right choice, but it’s better to make the hard right choice than the easy wrong.

 

Think about your footprints, who you touch, where you go, how you live. What can we do better, what should we do right? Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Even if no one else is looking, think about if this action, this thought, this moment was cast in plaster like the perfection of the infant foot, how would it would compare, and if this is the fossil you want others to remember you by...

KMSigma

Day 9 - Binary

Posted by KMSigma Administrator Dec 8, 2017

 

Binary Haiku
With just two fingers
Counting to two fifty-five
Joined with seven friends

 

When I was first learning about computers and the idea of binary numbers was introduced, I was lost. This was around 1985 and I was just a fledgling technologist. Seriously, though, what’s so wrong with the decimal numbers that we all know and love?

It wasn’t until high school (and my first programming class) that I truly began to understand the concept. “Began” is the key word here. There I was, sitting in computer science class learning to program in Pascal.  I decided to go “off book” and write my own character generator for Dungeons & Dragons in my free time.  For my character generator, I needed to track several Boolean values (true/false). I thought to myself, "If I happen to have an array of these, how is that any different than a binary number ( [TFTTTTFF] = [10111100] = 188 )?" It was my first eureka moment.

Fast forward about five years and I’m trying to understand the whole concept of “networks.” Subnet masks were (and in some ways, are) the bane of my existence. Thankfully, I found tools which could help me out (https://www.solarwinds.com/free-tools/advanced-subnet-calculator). [Sidebar: this was my first introduction to SolarWinds]. These resources gave me a better understanding of how addressing worked and because of that, how binary worked in practical information systems management.

Binary is integral to all computing, but it’s been hidden by layer upon layer of abstraction… and that’s okay. The levels of abstraction make it easier for humans to interact with computers. But many computer users aren’t programmers, nor do they want to be. That being said, thinking in a binary fashion is still useful.

So, what does binary mean to me? Honestly, it revolves more around troubleshooting than anything else. As many of you, I spent some time working on a help desk. I realized that most issues we investigated were binary in nature.

What’s the first thing you ask yourself when troubleshooting an issue? For me, it’s “Is it the network or is it the server?” This is a binary question: one with only two answers. After that initial test, you halved the possible troubleshooting you need to do.  So, it’s the network (this time), so the next question is “Do you have a valid IP address?” Again, based on the answer, half of your possible troubleshooting is no longer valid. If you put yourself in this mindset, it should aid you troubleshoot any issue you encounter.

In my opinion, you can look at binary in two ways (see what I did there?): as the underpinning of the entire computing framework or used when thinking about how you interact with said framework.

RichardLetts

Day 8 - Virtual

Posted by RichardLetts Expert Dec 8, 2017

For me, "virtual" is a buzzword being used to sell me the idea that things are simple and easy to configure.

 

Many years ago, networking people achieved some virtualization by running VLANs in order to segregate traffic through their switches, saving money from having to build separate layer-2 infrastructures. Today, we are facing the challenge of deeper network virtualization: I have physical routers running several virtual routers with many virtual routing instances with hundreds of virtual switches, all combining to support thousands of virtual LANs. In the heart of these virtual networks, we have firewalls and other security devices all with their own virtual contexts and configuration.

 

Some challenges simply come from scale: show arp can return tens of thousands of rows, but you have to use just the right SNMP community to reach the right context to look at the routing table you want. Polling may not even complete in a "reasonable" time.

 

But other challenges come from complexity. How do I know that the subnet has been deployed properly with the right routing, firewall rules, and DHCP configuration? Why does it take several people to deploy a new subnet into a virtualized network? Why can’t one simply “vmotion” a subnet from building to another (in a different city) and have it just work?

 

What are your challenges as the whole infrastructure stack becomes more nebulous, complex, and virtual?

kneps

Day 7 - Pattern

Posted by kneps Dec 7, 2017

Snowflakes and conifers, elves and presents... see a pattern emerging? Us humans are pretty good at finding the message in the noise.

 

Recognizing, sorting, and evaluating inputs, comparing them with mental models of the world, responding, learning and refining knowledge... we do it constantly and unconsciously.

 

Our pattern recognition skills have built-in biases from millions of years of evolution. A favorite internet of mine is faces in places. Our brains are primed to spot eyes and evaluate a mood. We can't help it.

 

 

Or take false positives—sounds bad, right? But, I'd rather have my ancestors run away from a sabertooth tiger that wasn't there, rather than being 100% correct on their tiger-spotting skills. Our pattern-recognition skills are optimized for—biased towards—survival.

 

Oh, and the pattern I was thinking of with the example at the beginning was "plural nouns." Did you get it?

 

Now, whether or not you are on the machine learning / artificial intelligence hype-train, looks like a new sort of pattern-recognition system is emerging. One where we’re the ones in charge of setting the end goals.

 

So, no biases, right? Guess again! According to Google's InceptionV3 image classifier, this little 3D-printed fella is almost certainly a rifle.

 

 

Researchers were also able to fool the algo into recognizing a cute kitty as guacamole.

 

Adversarial pattern recognition attacks against artificial intelligences. Now don't tell me we're not living in the future.

Thanks to pervasive acronymization of society, we now down in daily grammar like FOMO, FWIW, FML, FB, and FBF.

 

What we should never have, as IT professionals, is FUD.

 

“What is FUD,” you say? Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

 

Now, I’m new to the world of IT pros. Yeah, I’m a project and product manager. Yes, I’ve always worked in tech, but, no. I’ve never contributed to this epic world of infrastructure. Now that I have a window into it, I’m shocked y’all have managed to keep running, despite our (cave women and men) best attempt to break things.

 

Fear our spilled coffee on our laptops.

Loathe our forgotten passwords.

Glare feigned disbelief when we tell our dog ate our work phone.

Quake in your boots when we lie about clearing our cache.

 

But, don’t you EVER dare to have Fear, Uncertainty, or Doubt about the future of our industry.

 

I told you I’m a newb. This has been a sweet indoctrination into your world. I get to watch every episode of SolarWinds Lab live. I’m running around the building like a maniacal squirrel during THWACKcamp. I’m in the booths during trade shows, and launching THWACK contests and pages for every new feature we roll out.

 

Heck, I can almost tell you what Cisco ASA is. Almost. (Um…direct all questions to kmsigma)

 

If I had to summarize my single biggest takeaway from this tenure at SolarWinds and THWACK:

 

The future isn’t coming.

The future isn’t near.

The future isn’t here.

 

The future is constantly arriving, and will never stop showing up.

 

Those with Fear, Uncertainty, or Doubt have much a smaller place in this industry. Hybrid IT wasn’t our plan, it just happened. The world of a manageable number of nodes, switches, routers and endpoints is going the way of IPv4. Oh, my, and how are we going to prepare for this growing onslaught of malicious entities in the world?

 

We can’t face them with FUD. We have to face them with decisiveness. We have to meet them with action. It is our readiness and equal or greater power that will see ourselves succeed over these constantly changing winds of the industry.

 

Why do I love tech? Because, the industry is only limited by the imaginations of those pushing forward. What does that make you? A superhero.

 

Our imaginations can go wild and we can plan to solve any one of the world’s problems. We just could never do it without you building and managing the infrastructure.

Craig Norborg

Day 5 - Code

Posted by Craig Norborg Expert Dec 5, 2017

Code. The word has had a mystical quality to it since its inception. Its origins come from the Latin word “codex,” which was a book constructed of paper bound by stacking papers and fixing one edge. Before that, tablets or scrolls were used. The spread of the codex quickly became popular and was associated with the rise of Christianity.

 

Since then it’s taken on many different forms. A code can be a compendium of laws or rules: to write them up is to codify them. In wars, the different sides would communicate in codes or ciphers and spies would transport them. All sorts of code-related words came about as a result. Encode, decode, codebreaker, code names, code books and my favorites, the “Code Talkers.” The code talkers were a group of 400-500 Native Americans who were used to send and receive messages in their native languages. Many think it was strictly Navajo, but it was pioneered by the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians during the first world war and included a wide variety of tribes and even Basque speakers.

 

Technology was employed to increase the complexity and speed of producing these codes. Perhaps one of the most interesting and difficult-to-crack technological systems was the Enigma Machine, invented by Germans to encrypt their communications. Alan Turing, who was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science and AI, was central in cracking the intercepted code messages from the Enigma machines.

 

With the rise of computers, code took on a whole new set of meanings. “Code” became the shorthand many used to talk about computer programming. One who understood and wrote computer programs was known as a “coder,” and being able to code became cool. It’s been said that being able to code is the new literacy, although I’m not really convinced of that. An illiterate person cannot read or write, so if coding is the new literacy, that would mean that being unable to read or write code is the equivalent of being unable to function in computer society. I don’t believe that is so. While coding can be useful in your job, it’s your ability to use the programs that were coded, like a word processor or a web browser, that determines your ability to function in our world today.

 

And coding has taken on whole new definitions. Back in the genesis of computers, coding meant you were able to program in a language like basic, or machine language. These days, I’ve heard people say that you need to know how to code to write a webpage. I find working with something like HTML to be more akin to using a primitive word processor to being able to program. Especially when there are more advanced HTML generators like WordPress and others that can make it so that one doesn’t need to know a thing about HTML. Though newer advances in HTML, like HTML 5, definitely blur the lines, if not break them outright. And web-based programming languages, like PHP and Coldfusion, are solidly in the realm of coding.

 

What was your first exposure to code and what does it mean to you? Was a it a movie like “Hackers” that inspired a generation of phone-phreaks, hackers, and viruses? Was it a favorite book like “Neuromancer”?

 

And where do you think coding will be 10 years from now? Will legions of programmers still be typing in instructions? Will it be virtual reality headsets and some form of object-based coding? Or will we have the direct neural interfaces to our brains, resulting in the internet being visualized as a virtual reality world in which we work? Or will we be getting our exercise in by using whole body gestures like in Minority Report? Will coders still be writing apps or applications? Or will they be building artificial intelligences that are smart enough to help us do our work, or just outright do it? Or in 10 years, will AIs have taken over the world and we’ll be living the plot of the Terminator movies? What are your thoughts?

jbiggley

Day 4: Imposter

Posted by jbiggley Expert Dec 4, 2017

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Everyone is an imposter. It’s not just the people who feel like they are an imposter, but literally everyone is an imposter. Nobody fits into every situation every time. It’s just not possible.  Even if you are a social, intellectual, spiritual, and technical chameleon, nobody can change fast enough or often enough to never have to fake it at some point.

 

Being an imposter isn’t bad, though.

 

Taking a leap into an environment that is not your norm is going to mean breaking into some group, team, or other engagement. You’re going to feel awkward. It’s going to be middle school all over again.  Or worse, high school. Everyone feels awkward. Especially that one person who is loud, obnoxious, and spends their time pointing out the faults of the other people on the team. Don’t be that person, but also don’t spend time working to align with that person. Find the person who makes people stronger. Find the person who sees a problem but then sees multiple ways to fix it. Better yet, be that person! If everyone feels awkward then make it easier to break down those barriers instead of accentuating them.

 

Sometimes, being an imposter happens quite by accident. You get invited to participate on a project and you have no idea why. You get invited to a social event with a group of people who you don’t know.  Take this advice: be you. During Parent-Teacher Interviews, my son’s senior year art teacher told us, “Kids can’t be successful until they find their people.” That is sage advice and it doesn’t just apply to kids. If you give up your genuine self then you will forever be an imposter. However, if you present the real you then you’ll discover how the group works, or does not work, with you as part of the team. The dissonance of pretending to be someone that you are not perpetuates that imposter syndrome and will rob you of the peace you need to be successful.

 

Embrace your inner imposter! It’s okay. It really is. Everyone else is doing it, or should be doing it. Break into those teams, opportunities, or groups with the real you. Then, and only then, will you find that you weren’t really an imposter after all—just a friend, teammate, or colleague in the making.

The word is insecure, and insecure is the feeling…

 

But "insecure" is not to be confused with the word, "unsecure," which is more commonly referenced in the hallowed cubicles and data centers of IT. There are differences between these two words, even though both can strike fear in the hearts of IT professionals and lead to long sleepless nights. While unsecure is often used as a classification at the technical or physical level, insecure can lift an IT professional’s anxiety level even higher.

 

You see… we feel that we can keep IT “stuff” like hardware and software and code under our control. And when we have our hardware, software, and code running like a well-oiled machine, we feel as if we are masters of our domain. But technologies always change, and they change fast. And each technology exists on its own lifecycle and those lifecycles are never in sync. So, while we feel that we are the proverbial masters, the cold reality is that we are the mouse running on the wheel. Always upgrading, always replacing, always patching, always fixing… sprinting as fast as we can only to be in the same place. This revelation dawns on every IT pro at some point in their career. And when it does, the internal dialogue begins:

 

“Did I make a mistake choosing Support as a career path over Development? Should I have gotten more industry certs? Should I have gotten/finished my degree instead of pursuing all those certs? Should I study Agile, ITIL, DevOps? How do I keep up with OS, Applications, Network, Security, and everything else? After all these years of hard work and dedication, will I end up being laid off?” And so on…

 

And inevitably (for many), the internal question during the darkest of nights: “Will I be exposed that I don’t know as much as I say and be viewed a fraud?”

 

These moments are the blossoms, the fruits, of feeling insecure. Alas, the insecurity of an IT professional. While being unsecure is being vulnerable to attack, being insecure can be vulnerable to yourself, specifically with self-doubt. No IT professional is immune to these insecure episodes because insecurity is a part of human nature. I know that during my IT career I’ve had several insecure episodes myself.

 

There are a thousand ways to respond to these episodes and they cover the spectrum from healthy to self-destructive. To do nothing to improve yourself, your skills, and your situation are examples of self-destructive responses that only feed the feelings of insecure. To improve your skills, to mentor others, or to use your feelings of insecurity as motivation to reach your career goals are examples of healthy responses. So where would you rate your responses on the spectrum? I have been all over.

 

Insecure/Insecurity is attributed as being a negative personality trait, but I disagree. I believe it to be a healthy component of human nature. And in some circumstances, insecurity has driven people to be the absolute best in their field: athletes, musicians, actors, leaders, politicians, and so on. The challenge of tough problems, the obstacles to overcome, the desire to help others and be hailed as heroes, drive us to be better at what we do. A recipe of desire, focus, Insecure feelings/insecurity, opportunity, failure, persistence, and even luck, can lead to great accomplishments. Learn to embrace and harness those feelings and put them to good use for you. You will then be master of your domain.

CourtesyIT

Day 2 - Access

Posted by CourtesyIT Expert Dec 2, 2017

What does access really mean? How do you define "access"? What "access" do you need?

 

These are questions that I hear every day from folks looking to gain access to my SolarWinds servers. They know I have the information they need to do their job.  I do want to assist as much as possible, but I have to consider the possible ramifications of my actions. Below are a few things I contemplate before I give them access:

 

Authenticate

  • Who are they?
  • What is their job function?
  • Why do they need the access?
  • What happens if they do not receive the access they are requesting?
  • What is my mission within the company?

These are all questions I consider, but how do I authenticate them and their access to my system in ways I can track and monitor? I am not concerned about any malicious intent, but a fat finger here or there and I am getting calls late at night. My purpose here is to analyze the risk of providing the access to the individuals' credentials.

 

Comprehensive

  • I need to be able the validate their request for access to my system through levels of organizational structure and policy. Again, more questions? Yes.
  • Where are they located?
  • What information do they need from which set of devices?
  • What services shall I expect them to receive?
  • What services do they expect to receive?

 

Credentials

In my industry, it is all about the proper credentials to gain access. If you do not have the right levels of credentials, you are not getting access to anything, not even the workspace. Again more questions.

  • Do you have an administrator-level account?
  • Which admin accounts do you have?
  • What do you currently have administrative access to?
  • I will look to see which Active Directory Groups their administrative account has access to validate their request.

 

Exercising

Although it may seem like I have run a marathon at this point with the amount of consideration I've given over access, I am only exercising the proper due diligence to conform to organizational policies and procedures. We grant the minimal level of access to prevent security breaches and perform oversight of activity to prevent loss and corruption. Also, preventing those 2 a.m. phone calls.

 

Secure

  • How does anyone do their job?
  • How does work get done?
  • Sounds like you are the only one doing the job?
  • Hoarder?

 

Systems/Services

Well, I am happy to tell you that people get all the access they need to perform their functions very well. They even write back and ask to get more functionality out of SolarWinds, in which case I turn to you fellow THWACKers from time to time for assistance. Expanded participation from my users and engineers helps my team to develop SolarWinds for them and their specific needs. We are able to provide expanded services, system health, and availability for the entire IT infrastructure. The ability to forecast and provide preventive maintenance to the systems allows for the network engineers, system developers, and end-users worldwide to enjoy more uptime and less downtime.

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