Week 2 of the challenge has brought even more insights and wisdom than I imagined - although I should have expected it, given how incredible the THWACK community is day after day, year in and year out. As a reminder, you can find all the posts here: December Writing Challenge 2019.


I also wanted to take a moment to to talk about the flexibility of the ELI5 concept. If you have a child, or have been around a child, or ever were a child, you’re probably acutely aware no two kids are exactly alike. Therefore, “Explain Like I’m Five” (ELI5) implicitly allows for a range of styles, vocabularies, and modalities. Like some of the best ideas in IT (or at least the ones making the most impact), there’s not a single, correct way to “do” explain-it-simply. ELI5 is not a single standard, it’s a framework, a way of approaching a task. Explanations can use simple words; or present simple concepts using more sophisticated words; or use examples familiar to a child; or even be presented in pictures instead of words. Because the best thing about explaining something simply is there are many ways to do it.


With that said, here are the featured words words and lead writers for this week, and some of the notable comments from each day.



7. Troubleshoot

Kicking off the second week of the challenge, THWACK MVP Nick Zourdos tackles one of the most common tasks in IT—one of the things we most hate to do, and yet also one of the skills we take most pride in.


Jake Muszynski  Dec 7, 2019 6:53 PM

In IT the ability to troubleshoot problems will set you apart. So many people I have worked with go in circles or have no idea how to move forward to resolve issues. Starting with ruling out the things that are right, and listing what you don’t know goes a long way to a resolution.


Tregg Hartley Dec 8, 2019 4:33 PM

Understanding how things work

Is at the very core,

Of knowing how to troubleshoot

And doing well, this chore.



Knowing which tools to use

Will also help with this,

To localize the issue

And return to cyber bliss.


Thomas Iannelli  Dec 10, 2019 11:46 AM

SUZIE: Uncle Tom?

TOM: Yes Suzie.

SUZIE: Mom says you troubleshoot computers. What’s troubleshoot?

TOM: Well Suzie, see Alba over there?

SUZIE: uh huh

TOM: See how she is just laying there?

SUZIE: uh huh

TOM: Is she sleeping or dead?


TOM: How can you tell she is not dead?

SUZIE: I can see her chest moving.

TOM: What else?

SUZIE: When I squeak this toy her head will pop up, watch.

[Suzie squeaks the toy, but Alba doesn’t move.]

TOM: Oh, no Suzie Alba didn’t move. What next?

SUZIE: I’ll give her a treat.

[Suzie repeatedly says Alba’s name and offers a treat, but Alba is not interested.]

TOM: Oh, no Suzie Alba didn’t move again! I think I know a good way to test if she is still alive.

TOM: Hey, Alba do you want to go for a ride?

[At which point Alba jumps up, almost knocking Suzie over, and heads toward the garage door.]

TOM: You see Suzie, troubleshooting is like trying to answer the question whether Alba was alive or dead. It is a problem to be solved. You did very good things to find out if she was alive and kept trying. Sometimes it just takes someone with a little more experience who knows the right question to ask or thing to do in order to solve a problem. That is the same thing I do when I troubleshoot computers. But see next time you will know to simply ask if Alba wants to go for a ride, we all learn from each other.

SUZIE: Uncle Tom, I also learned not to get between Alba and the garage door when you ask her if she wants to go for a ride!

[They both laugh and go take Alba for a ride around the neighborhood. Otherwise she will stand by the garage door barking for the next 30 minutes, definitely letting everyone know she is alive.]


  1. 8. Virtualization

The second word of the week has—as many of the commenters said—completely changed the nature of IT for many of us. SolarWinds SE Colin Baird gives a simple, but not simplistic, explanation of what and how this technology has been so transformative.


Faz f Dec 9, 2019 4:10 AM

I have a very big Cardboard box, too big for me, cardboard, Scissors and sellotape.

My friend comes and also wants a box,

I get the cardboard, scissors and sellotape and make my friend a box inside my box,

My box is still too big for me.


Another friend comes who wants a box.

I get the cardboard, scissors and sellotape and make my friend another box inside my box,

Next to my first box.

My box is still too big for me.


Another friend comes who wants a box.

I get the cardboard, scissors and sellotape and make my friend another box inside my box,

Next to the other boxes.

I think my box is now just right for me,

My friends are having fun in their Visualisation of a box.


George Sutherland Dec 9, 2019 8:29 AM

The pie analogy is perfect. Virtualization is the natural progression of computing....

I also think that virtualization is “divide and conquer” a large box can support a number of smaller boxes, each solving a needed business problem.


scott driver Dec 9, 2019 12:01 PM

Thank you for getting back to the ELI5 approach.


Virtualization: Computers running inside other computers


  1. 9. Cloud Migration

THWACK MVP Holger Mundt kicks of a series of days focusing not only on cloud-based technologies and techniques, but also featuring those little plastic blocks kids (of all ages) love to play with to build new things, worlds, and dreams.


Chris Parker Dec 9, 2019 3:29 AM

All your precious items

Saved at home

Under your care, in your hands


But in time there are too many

Not enough space

A single collection

A risk, danger


A solution, though not always best

Someone else to take care for you

The burden lifted from your hands

A Gringotts in the sky


A cost attached

But sometimes needed

Safest option to suit most needs


But be warned

The goblins can be tricky

The cloud unmanaged

A cost too big


Control passed over

Hard to return


Sascha Giese  Dec 9, 2019 3:51 AM

Not gonna migrate my LEGO Super Star Destroyer!


Michael Perkins
Dec 9, 2019 8:50 AM

I am old enough (barely) to remember when computers were usually big machines in central locations accessed via dumb terminals. The big machine’s owner or administrator sold or doled out resources to you: storage, processor time, etc. I grew up through the PC revolution—the first box on which I actually worked was a 6k Commodore PET (one for the whole school), followed quickly by an Apple IIe (one in each classroom). My first home PC was the 128k Mac—the same one advertised on the ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad. I’ve used various flavors of DOS, Linux/UNIX, MacOS, and Windows through grade school, high school, undergraduate and graduate work, home and employment.


Now, everyone is migrating to the cloud. The big machine at the other end is a lot more complex: more redundant, better connected, faster. It offers additional services than the old ones, at least if you purchase the right ‘aaS.’ At its heart though, we are going back to paying for processor cycles, storage, and connectivity to it.


Everything old is new again.


  1. 10. Container

David Wagner is one of the product managers for the team building and supporting SolarWinds solutions for the cloud, so it makes sense for him to tackle this word.


Kelsey Wimmer Dec 10, 2019 12:21 PM

In some ways, it’s like keeping the forks, knives, and spoons in one drawer that has dividers rather than keeping forks, knives, and spoons in different drawers. That last part sounds silly, but that’s exactly what people who developed containers thought.


Rick Schroeder  Dec 10, 2019 4:52 PM

Some containers let us manage many smaller items that are put into groups, and it’s a huge time-saver, and very powerful. Rather than contacting 100,000 soldiers individually, one might contact “The army” container. Or one of several Corps, Divisions, Brigades or Regiments, Battalions, Companies, Platoons, right down to squads. Managing by containers, or by groups, is part of what makes Active Directory powerful—or ridiculously complex and inefficient, depending on one’s great planning and experience—or the lack thereof.


Other containers are computer environments that are isolated from other systems, and that allow us to execute commands without impacting resources that should NOT be disturbed. Containers can make installing/running apps on a Linux server simpler and more uniform. And that makes for faster deployment and better security.


Matt R  Dec 11, 2019 10:31 AM

Ha, this is perfect. My child has a specific definition of containers, as well. We had this conversation last year:


(daughter): Mommy, will you sit in the trash can (next to potty) while I go potty?

(mom): People don’t sit in the trash

(daughter): Except for when they die, then we throw them in the trash

(mom): We don’t throw dead people away

(daughter): Oh, only animals. What do we do with dead people?


So, be careful what you define as a container or it may end up with some...unwanted results.


Laura Desrosiers Dec 11, 2019 11:49 AM

I keep everything as neat, clean and simple as possible. I don’t like to over complicate things and everything has its place.


  1. 11. Orchestration

Another day of cloud-based topics, and product manager Dave Wagner is back to explain how yesterday’s word and todays fit together to create a more automated environment.


Anthony Hoelscher Dec 11, 2019 12:22 PM

Another way to imagine this is baking a cake. It’s awfully hard to find a substitute for an egg when you are out. All the ingredients must be added within a certain time to be effective. There are certain sub tasks that must be completed to achieve a delicious cake, you beat the egg before you add it to your working recipe, and you always crack it open, careful not to lose any shell in the batter.

Everything has its place, and recipes help achieve the same result, don’t leave out the eggs.


Holly Baxley Dec 11, 2019 12:59 PM (in response to Dave Wagner)

Workflow: Mom’s before-bed-to-do-list

Orchestration: Mom directing all of us to do our tasks before bed


Jason Scobbie Dec 11, 2019 12:46 PM

Automation is a great thing... Combining these tasks and process through orchestration is the difference between fixing things for an Engineer or small team to turning it into an Enterprise wide improvement. When you can automate a change, but also the change ticket, taking the device in/out of monitoring, pre/post change verification, and NOC notification all by a single click to start is a key to greatness.


  1. 12. Microservices

For this cloud-centric term, SolarWinds product manager Melanie Achard once again invoked the (practically) holy LEGO concept, to great effect.


Jeremy Mayfield  Dec 12, 2019 8:33 AM

Of course I am a fan of the Lego analogies. Great way to explain this. Just to be different today, right from Google: The honeycomb is an ideal analogy for representing the evolutionary microservices architecture. In the real world, bees build a honeycomb by aligning hexagonal wax cells. They start small, using different materials to build the cells. Construction is based on what is available at the time of building. Repetitive cells form a pattern and result in a strong fabric structure. Each cell in the honeycomb is independent but also integrated with other cells. By adding new cells, the honeycomb grows organically to a big, solid structure. The content inside each cell is abstracted and not visible outside.


Kelsey Wimmer Dec 12, 2019 9:27 AM

A microservice is a small program that does one job but does it really well. It doesn’t try to do everything. Just its job. It needs to communicate with other programs but it doesn’t do their jobs. You can put a bunch of microservices together and do even bigger things.


Holly Baxley Dec 12, 2019 10:54 AM

Hey Five-year-old me,


Do you remember the Power Rangers? How cool they are? Remember how you always wished you were the Pink Ranger, even though you were told the Green Ranger was always the strongest? You thought gymnastic skills could kick butt over raw brawn any day.


Well, keep that in your mind, as we talk about IT Microservices.


Just like each Power Ranger can stand on its own and have its own cool robot technology without affecting anyone else, each Ranger can take their powers and robots and add it to each other to make one HUGE super cool mega Ranger that can fight any beast.


Sometimes the Rangers had to work independently to root out the bad guys, and sometimes it takes a very big robot as a unified team to really tackle some big battles.


Microservices work like that in IT.


Each Microservice can stand on its own, like each Power Ranger. It can have its own skills, be upgraded independently, and get some really cool features—without affecting anyone else.


Each Microservice is very specific, just like a Power Ranger has very specific powers and skills it brings to the team.


But what’s cool is if you take several of these microservices and connect them together, they morph into a bigger application—just like the Power Rangers could morph into one unified giant robot ranger. This bigger application can tackle some giants that other applications and software on its own can’t.


Maybe that’s why giants such as Amazon and Netflix use Microservices in their IT architecture.


Maybe they should really call microservices: “Mighty Morphin’ Microservices!”


Yes, I suppose the nano-bots on Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit are microservices too. Maybe Tony uses microservices to create the nano-bots to do what they do to form Iron Man’s suit. You think?


  1. 13. Alert

For the last word of the week, THWACK MVP Adam Timberley gave us what amounts to D&D character cards, explaining the different personas that you may meet when working with alerts.


Faz f Dec 13, 2019 6:54 AM

Alerts you know,

Your Alarm clock in the Morning (this could be Mum)

When Dad is cooking and the oven beeps and dinner is ready!

At School when the dinner bell rings and you can play outside.

This are all Alerts you know


Mike Ashton-Moore Dec 13, 2019 9:24 AM

holy smokes, I read that and kept expecting a truncated post message

Love the detail and the archetypes - and recognize many of them, I have examples of most of them in my team.

My problem with alerts is what the intended use is.

I would advice going to the googles and searching "Red Dwarf Blue Alert"

I love my Trek/Wars etc, but Red Dwarf is aimed squarely at grown ups


George Sutherland Dec 13, 2019 1:00 PM

Alert: SHIELDS UP!!!!!


  1. Seriously.. Instinctively it's the fight or flight dilemma we face when confronted with the barrage of atomic particle pieces of information.


(great graphics and analysis of the people types involved.... WELL DONE!)


I use the STEP technique

Survey the situation

Take the appropriate action based on what is presented

Evaluate your response

Prepare for the next situation