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Geek Speak

127 Posts authored by: Leon Adato Employee

At the start of this week, I began posting a series of how-to blogs over in the NPM product forum on building a custom report in Orion®. If you want to go back and catch up, you can find them here:

 

It all started when a customer reached out with an “unsolvable” problem. Just to be clear, they weren’t trying to play on my ego. They had followed all the other channels and really did think the problem had no solution. After describing the issue, they asked, “Do you know anyone on the development team who could make this happen?”

 

As a matter of fact, I did know someone who could make it happen: me.

 

That’s not because I'm a super-connected SolarWinds employee who knows the right people to bribe with baklava to get a tough job done. (FWIW, I am and I do, but that wasn’t needed here.)

 

Nor was it because, as I said at the beginning of the week, “I’m some magical developer unicorn who flies in on my hovercraft, dumps sparkle-laden code upon a problem, and all is solved.”

 

Really, I’m more like a DevOps ferret than a unicorna creature that scrabbles around, seeking out hidden corners and openings, and delving into them to see what secret treasures they hold. Often, all you come out with is an old wine cork or a dead mouse. But every once in a while, you find a valuable gem, which I tuck away into my stash of shiny things. And that leads me to the first big observation I recognized as part of this process:

 

Lesson #1: IT careers are more often built on a foundation of “found objects”small tidbits of information or techniques we pick up along the waywhich we string together in new and creative ways.

 

And in this case, my past ferreting through the dark corners of the Orion Platform had left me with just the right stockpile of tricks and tools to provide a solution.

 

I’m not going to dig into the details of how the new report was built, because that’s what the other four posts in this series are all about. But I *do* want to list out the techniques I used, to prove a point:

  • Know how to edit a SolarWinds report
  • Understand basic SQL queries (really just select and joins)
  • Have a sense of the Orion schema
  • Know some HTML fundamentals

 

Honestly, that was it. Just those four skills. Most of them are trivial. Half of them are skills that most IT practitioners may possess, regardless of their involvement with SolarWinds solutions.

 

Let’s face it, making a loaf of bread isn’t technically complicated. The ingredients aren’t esoteric or difficult to handle. The process of mixing and folding isn’t something that only trained hands can do. And yet it’s not easy to execute the first time unless you are comfortable with the associated parts. Each of the above techniques had some little nuance, some minor dependency, that would have made this solution difficult to suss out unless you’d been through it before.

 

Which takes me to the next observation:

 

Lesson #2: None of those techniques are complicated. The trick was knowing the right combination and putting them together.

 

I had the right mix of skills, and so I was able to pull them together. But this wasn’t a task my manager set for me. It’s not in my scope of work or role. This wasn’t part of a side-hustle that I do to pay for my kid’s braces or feed my $50-a-week comic book habit. So why would I bother with this level of effort?

 

OK, I'll admit I figured it might make a good story. But besides that?

 

I’d never really dug into Orion’s web-based reporting before. I knew it was there, I played with it here and there, but really dug into the guts of it and built something useful? Nah, there was no burning need. This gave me a reason to explore and a goal to help me know when I was “done.” Better still, this goal wouldn’t just be a thought experiment, it was actually helping someone. And that leads me to my last observation:

 

Lesson #3: Doing for others usually helps you more.

 

I am now a more accomplished Orion engineer than I was when I started, and in the process I’ve (hopefully) been able to help others on THWACK® become more accomplished as well.

 

And there’s nothing complicated about knowing how that’s a good thing.

This is part 3 in a series that began here and continued here, which found life-lessons for IT practitioners up on the big screen in the movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. (I did something similar for the movies “Doctor Strange” and “Logan.”)

 

If you missed the first two issues, use those links to go back and check them out. Otherwise, read on, true believers!

 

Spoilers (duh)

As with any deep discussion of movie-based content, I’m obligated to point out that there will be many spoilers revealed in what follows. If you have not yet had a chance to enjoy this chapter of the Spider-Man mythology, it may be best to bookmark this for a later time.

 

Humility is its own reward.

It could be said that, if honesty about those around us is the source of empathy, then honesty about ourselves is the source of humility.

 

Along with empathy, humility is the other great value to which we can aspire. Not the false humility of someone fishing for more compliments, nor humility that originates from low self-esteem, but honestly understanding our own motivations, strengths, and weaknesses, and keeping them in perspective.

 

In IT, humility allows us to clearly see how our work stacks up against the challenges we face; how to best utilize the people, skills, perspectives, and resources at our disposal; whether our approach has a realistic chance of success or if we need to step back and consider a new path; and more. Humility moves ego out of the way and lets us see things for what they are.

 

Of course, Spider-Man (Peter, Miles, and the rest of the Spider-Folk) is innately humble. That’s part and parcel of the mythology. No, the place I found this lesson was how the movie was humble about itself.

 

From the recognition that certain aspects of the Spider-Man franchise were poorly conceived (Spidey-O’s cereal, “evil” Toby Maguire); or poorly executed (the 1977 TV series); or both (the Spider-Man popsicle), this movie is intent on letting the audience know that it knows the complete Spider-Man pedigree, warts and all. But the humility goes deeper than that.

 

After the third origin montage of the movie, you get the feeling the writers were never taking themselves that seriously. You sense that they are now making a commentary on just how many Spider-Man origin movies there have been (and how unnecessary some of them were). Miles’ comment “how many of us are there?” is a direct reference to the insane number of reboots the franchise has undergone. And the title of the comic Miles’ dorm-mate is reading (“What If... There Was More Than One Spider-Man?”) shows the movie is aware of its own preposterous nature.

 

The overall effect ends up endearing the characters, the plot, and the narrative to us even more, in the same way that “Spaceballs” and “Galaxy Quest” were to their respective franchises. The humility becomes a love letter to the story and the people who have invested so much into it.

 

Understand how to relax.

Played mostly for laughs, Miles’ initial inability to “let go” of things using his spider ability is a wonderful metaphor, especially for those of us in problem-solving roles, who often find ourselves asked to do so in stressful situations (like when the order entry system is down and the boss’s boss’s boss is hovering over your shoulder).

 

Whether it’s meditation, exercise, raging out to metal, travel, perfectly rolled sushi, looking at art, getting lost in a book, enjoying a fine Scotch (or wine, or chocolate, or doughnut), or gaming non-stop, you need to know for the sake of your ongoing mental health what it takes for you to unwind. While many of us find most of our work in IT fulfilling, there will always be dark and stressful times. In those moments, we need to be able to honestly assess first that we are stressed, why, and finally, how to remove some of that stress so that we can continue to be effective.

 

As the movie illustrates, not being able to let go can get in the way of our ability to succeed (hanging from the lights in Doc Oc’s office), and even hurt those around us (Gwen’s hair).

 

When you get quiet and listen to your inner voice, that’s when you are the most powerful.

Since “Into the Spider-Verse” is largely an origin story about Miles’ transformation into his dimension’s one-and-only Spider-Man, much of the action focuses on him learning about his powers and how to use them. The difference between this and many other superhero origin stories is that Miles is surrounded by the other Spider-Folk, who are much more experienced. This comes to a head near the end of the movie, when the others decide that Miles’ inexperience is too much of a liability and leave him behind. After an entire movie of Miles running, jumping, and awkwardly swinging from moment to moment, idea to idea, and crisis to crisis, this is where, for the first time, Miles finally stops and just is for a moment. He takes a few precious seconds to center himself, to understand where he is, and where he wants to be. In that moment, he is finally able to get in touch with all his abilities and control them.

 

Much like knowing how to relax and let go, being able to “check in” with ourselves in this way is incredibly powerful. Over the length of our IT careers, we will find ourselves surrounded, as Miles did, by people who are doing the same work as us but are vastly more experienced and confident about it. If we’re lucky, some of those people will be patient with us as we learn the ropes. But even so, being patient with ourselves—being able to stop for a moment in the middle of the cyclone of ideas, tickets, questions, incidents, doubts, system failures, and fears—will serve us well.

 

Pushing outside of our comfort zones is good, but if it doesn’t fit, we need to recognize it before we hurt ourselves.

“Try harder than you think you can!” “Push yourself just a little further!” “Do more than you planned!”

 

It seems like the message to try and exceed our limits is everywhere, and is mostly a positive one. We should want to keep improving ourselves, and having a cheerleader (even an inspirational coffee mug) can be an effective way to reinforce that desire.

 

But there can come a point when our attempt to push through the discomfort in pursuit of growth becomes unhealthy. When we are no longer “lean and mean,” but “emaciated and ornery;” when we’ve trimmed the fat, stripped the muscle, and are now cutting into bone.

 

In the movie, this lesson becomes clear when we see the other Spider-Folk experience the slow but deadly effects of being in a dimension not their own. Their cells are slowly dying, and if they don’t get back home, they have no hope of survival.

 

In our dimension—where we’re more likely to be accosted by users claiming “the internet is down” than by plasma-gauntlet wielding stalkers—it would be nice if being dangerously outside of our comfort zone was as clear. Sometimes it is. Many of us have experienced the effects of long-term exhaustion, drained of motivation and unable to focus. The movie is teaching us that we need to first understand what is happening to us, and then work to find our way “home.”

 

As I described earlier, maybe that means centering ourselves and determining what we really need; or maybe doing something relaxing until we’ve recharged. But to not do so, to keep powering through in the vain hope that we’ll somehow find equilibrium, is as deadly to us (our career, if not our health) as being in dimension 1610 (Miles Morales’ home) when we belong in 616.

 

It’s never too late to try again

I’ve already commented on the state of dimension 616’s Peter—his emotional state at the start of the movie, the condition of his relationships, etc. And I’ve also commented on how, by the end of the movie, he’s beginning to take steps to repair his life. As moviegoers, we are invited to compare that choice to Wilson Fisk’s. His way of fixing his mistakes was to steal something that wasn’t his. We’re left to wonder, even if he had succeeded in spiriting a copy of Vanessa and Richard from another dimension, how would they survive? What would they think of him? So much about his choice leads only to more problems, more mistakes. It’s not that Peter’s path is easy. But if reconciling with Mary Jane is difficult (even if it’s ultimately unsuccessful), it’s still the only way to move ahead.

 

I am reminded of two business-critical failures, occurring a week apart, that I observed at a particular company. In both cases, a human error by a technician caused the failure.

 

In one case, the tech came forward immediately, owned up to what happened, and offered to help resolve it. Even after it was evident that the failure extended beyond their skillset, this person stuck around to watch, so they would learn and know more next time. The incident was resolved, and nothing more was ever said.

 

In the other case, the technician did everything they could to cover up the event, and their role in it. The truth came out fairly quickly (never forget that there are logs for everything) and the employee was literally walked out the door.

 

The lesson for IT pros should be clear. Even after a critical failure, we have opportunities to improve, fix, and ensure that next time the outcome is better. No technology failure spells “the end”—only our own attitude toward the failure can do that.

 

Final Lesson

In watching the Spider-Folk work together as a team, with all the similarities and differences in their abilities, attitudes, and personalities, I was reminded of an anonymous quote:

 

“In that which we share, let us see the common prayer of humanity.

In that which we differ, let us wonder at the freedom of humankind.”

 

If there is any lesson we can walk away with from this movie, it’s this: there is more about us that is the same than there is different; and both the similarities and the differences are the source of our strength as individuals and teams working in IT.

 

Until next time, true believers,

Excelsior!

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” 2018, Sony Pictures Entertainment

In our last exciting installment I began delving into the IT-centric lessons we can glean from the latest addition to the Spider-Man franchise. (Just like I did in the past with the movies “Doctor Strange” and “Logan.”)

 

But like a good comic book series, one installment is never enough. Keep reading, true believers, to see what other jaw dropping discoveries await your eyes!

 

Spoilers (duh)

As with any deep discussion of movie-based content, I’m obligated to point out that there will be many spoilers revealed in what follows. If you have not yet had a chance to enjoy this chapter of the Spider-Man mythology, it may be best to bookmark this for a later time.

 

Even inelegant solutions can be powerful

At a few key moments of the action, help comes from an unanticipated direction—the more “cartoonish” abilities of Spider-Ham. Whether it’s a giant mallet he produces from I-don’t-want-to-know-where, or an anvil falling directly on the head of a villain, these great saves are played for laughs, but still have a lesson for us in IT.

 

Have you turned it off and on again?” is an inelegant solution. But it works. So does restarting IIS to get the website back up. As do a million other “kludges” that IT professionals employ every day, sometimes feelings guilty about it.

 

My advice (and I believe Peter Porker would back me up on this): don’t overthink it. If a solution works, it works. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also make time to resolve the underlying problem. But always be open to use every tool in your toolbox, even an oversized wooden mallet.

 

Simple tech used with determination—even by less skilled folks—can be very effective.

Closely related to the previous lesson is that often your commitment to solving a problem is more important than the techniques or tools you use to solve it.

 

In the movie, this is best exemplified by Aunt May. Horrified at the destruction being done to her home, she takes matters (and a Louisville Slugger) into her own hands, and makes Tombstone understand that wearing muddy shoes inside her house will simply not be tolerated.

 

The moral for us is twofold. First, that our success as IT practitioners is less about the sophistication of tools, and more about our persistence in solving the problem.

 

On the flip side of this, when we see one of our colleagues, even someone we consider less “powerful” than we are (although anyone who judges Aunt May like that is in for a rude and likely painful surprise), we need to focus less on their technique or tools and more on their goals, putting us into the healthier and more productive role of supporting, rather than judging.

 

Trying to re-create, or worse, “fix” the past is a fool’s errand.

The best villains are the ones who don’t see themselves as such, but instead have deeply-seated motivations driving them to extreme lengths. In a different context, they might even be seen as a hero because of their determination to see a course of action through to the end. Such is the character of Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin). We learn that in a single moment, Fisk lost the love and trust of his wife Vanessa. This triggered a rapid cascade of events, leading to the death of both Vanessa and their son Richard. Fisk cannot reconcile the pain of that loss, and therefore set himself on the path that leads to the catalyzing event of the movie—opening a rift between dimensions, finding an instance where Vanessa and Richard did not die, and pulling those living versions to him and make his life whole again.

 

Each one of us carries memories of past moments where, looking back, we know we could have done better, or could have been better than we chose to be. In fact, in 2018 the THWACK community spent an entire month discussing what they would have told their younger selves, if they had the chance.

 

Working in IT, there are pivotal moments where we realize we’ve made an error—sometimes the microsecond after hitting the ENTER key (c.f. the ohnosecond). These are moments we might wish to erase or undo. However, even if the technology existed, very few of us would do so if it meant hurting someone.

 

The lesson we can take from the movie is how damaging it can be to dwell on those past mistakes, replaying them over and over and saying, “if only.” I’m not saying that regret will turn you into a criminal mastermind. But I am saying that living in a regretful past will lead to nothing good.

 

Being multi-lingual is normal. Don’t fight it. Don’t make a big deal of it.

Miles Morales is celebrated for being one of the most compelling and relatable characters in comics, due in no small part because of his cultural heritage. He moves effortlessly between cultures, and one of the ways the movie shows this is when he flows from English to Spanish without hesitation (and without subtitles, which is part of my point below). Whether it’s the kids in his neighborhood, the teachers at his new school, or the villains crowding into Aunt May’s home in Queens, Miles is un-self-consciously fluent in the languages around him.

 

While I would love to make this lesson all about how I think all IT professionals should learn another language because it will help in ways they cannot possibly imagine, that’s not exactly my point. But if you want to change your life, learn to speak more than one language. Really.

 

My point is more about the way Miles’ multilingual nature is portrayed: it’s nothing special. Miles never acts as the interpreter to those around him. He never shouts, “Scorpion just said he’s going to knock you into next week!” He’s not there as a proxy for a non-comprehending audience. He’s there as a proxy for everyone else.

 

The lack of subtitles in the movie drives this home. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey made this choice purposefully, as if to say “This is a trivial aspect of this world. If it’s jarring to you, that’s you, not the story. Get used to it. This is how the world works.”

 

The lesson is that being multilingual is an IT thing too. Maybe not spoken languages, but modalities of computing. Cloud, hybrid IT, containers, software-defined networking, platforms-as-a-service—these are all part of the fabric of our work now. Even if we’ve put off learning to code the same way we put off learning French, the time is now for us to take another look, start to familiarize ourselves, and begin to build our fluency. The Miles Morales-es of our organizations are going to come in un-self-consciously fluent, and it behooves us as colleagues and potential mentors to be partners in that journey.

 

But That’s Not All

With a character history as rich as Spider-Man (not to mention a movie as awesome as “…Into the Spider-Verse”), it turns out I have a lot more to say on this subject. The adventure continues in the next issue.

 

Until next time, true believers,

Excelsior!

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” 2018, Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men.”

  • Shimon Ben Zoma

 

Wisdom can be gained from anywhere and anyone—even the most unlikely places. For me, that includes nuggets of capital-T “truth” in popular culture, primarily superhero movies.

 

As I did before with the movies “Doctor Strange” and “Logan,” I found that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” held some universal lessons for those of us working in technical disciplines.

 

Spoilers (duh)

As with any deep discussion of movie-based content, I’m obligated to point out that there will be many spoilers revealed in what follows. If you have not yet had a chance to enjoy this chapter of the Spider-Man mythology, it may be best to bookmark this for a later time.

 

People may do the same thing you do, but they got here differently.

The entire premise of the movie is that Spider-Folk from different dimensions (Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Gwen Stacey’s Spider-Woman, Peni Parker’s sp//dr, the other Peter Parker’s Spider-Man Noir, and Peter Porker, the Amazing Spider-Ham) are brought into a single dimension (the home of Miles Morales). While each of these individuals embody, with slight variations, the abilities and ideals of the spider-themed superhero, it’s clear from the beginning that the path that led each person to their current state is very different. Peter Parker makes this clear when he tells Miles, “Remember, what makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.”

 

The lesson for IT should be clear. Even on a team of equally-qualified SysAdmins, network engineers, DevOps practitioners, or monitoring specialists (especially monitoring specialists, in fact), our abilities may be similar, but the path we took to acquire them is unique and personal. We’re at our best when we recognize and value those differences in perspective and approach, even as we appreciate the way our colleagues can execute as a team with consistency.

 

Everyone’s the star of their own story.

Everyone’s the star of their own movie, not a sidekick in yours. This was clear from the start of “Into the Spider-Verse.” Each Spider-Person was used to being their dimension’s “one and only.” Even when they were in the same room, they maintained their individuality.

 

But one trope that the movie avoided was the “no, *I’m* the one-and-only Spider-<Person>. You must be an impostor!!” From the very start, the Spider-Folks understood they had to work together, leverage each other’s strengths, and support each other’s deficits.

 

We can take that lesson to heart. Despite that we’re all starring in our own show, we can be co-heroes in the larger story—shining when our individual skills are called upon, supporting others when they need it, knowing that we aren’t diminished when we raise others up.

 

Perfect (whether that’s a situation, technique, or person) doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it only exists briefly.

The writers and the story itself confirm that the “real” Spider-Man, the one from the dimension Marvel has stated is “ours” (Earth 616), is the older, slightly downtrodden, thicker one. So, what about the first one? The Peter who is sandy-haired, young, and far more put-together?

 

That was an idealized Spider-Man. An inspirational, but unrealistic model, to which Miles (as well as the city) might aspire, but never achieve. Because life is messy. Because in any plan, little things go wrong along the way.

 

Likewise, our “perfect” design crumbles in the face of real production load, undocumented data center layouts, or other things make up “just another day in IT.”

 

Just because that “perfect” Spider-Man (or network design) didn’t last very long under the onslaught of implementation hiccoughs (or Kingpin’s fists) doesn’t mean we can’t draw strength and inspiration from them. The key—which Miles learned and we should learn as well—is to adapt to changing circumstances, plan for contingencies, and fall back on grit and determination to get through the hardest parts.

 

Even a bad mentor may have something to teach you.

Life has handed Peter a few raw deals and he’s definitely worse for the wear because of it. Cynical and world-weary, he’s not the greatest teacher for Miles. Despite that, Miles is a ready student who is at a point in his life where he still has a sense of wonder, but has the street smarts to see the lessons in people’s actions over their words. Miles’ willingness to believe in Peter’s ability to show him the ropes as Spider-Man carries both the student and the mentor through.

 

In a long (and hopefully fulfilling) career in IT, we can learn from many different people. While some of these mentors will be gifted with the ability to see us clearly and say the right thing to point us in the right direction, far more will be well-meaning, but flawed individuals who may be pressed for time, short on patience, and caught up in their own poor choices. Nevertheless, they can teach us beyond serving as an example of what not to do. Being a student of life is one of the most valuable skills any IT professional can aspire to attain because it leads to more discoveries.

 

Mentoring will likely teach you more than your student.

Flipping things around, it’s not such a stretch to see ourselves in the role of the time-scarce and impatient mentor haunted by impostor syndrome. “Who am *I* to teach anything to anyone?”

 

Nobody is ever ready for responsibility when they first set out. It’s only by learning-as-we-go that we discover how much of a mentor and teacher we can be. One of the unexpected benefits is that we become better in the process. Better teachers, certainly, but also better professionals, team members, and even people.

 

Peter enters Miles’ dimension very nearly washed-up, ready to hang up his web shooters. While returning home gives him an immediate motivation, you still get a sense that he’ll go right back to the status quo once he gets back. In teaching Miles what it means to be a webslinger—both the ideal, as well as Peter’s more nuanced reality—Peter rediscovers and re-aligns his own inner compass. In the end, we see Peter take steps in his own life that were unthinkable before meeting his inter-dimensional protégé.

 

Nobody is a teacher, everybody is a student.

“Into the Spider-Verse” teaches that, by and large, everybody is a student. While you could also understand that to mean that everybody has something to teach, the lesson and focus here is on ourselves. When we are teaching, we can learn.

 

From the big things, like the aforementioned life lessons that Earth 616 Peter learned from Miles and Gwen, to the equally important life lessons Gwen learned about the value of being open to friendships, to the concept of a Rubik’s Cube that baffled black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, the characters learn from each other and the world they are thrown into, and are better for it.

 

Never assume you know everything about someone.

Miles’ Uncle Aaron is a pivotal character. We understand at the start of the movie that he’s something of a black sheep—he’s not on speaking terms with his brother (Miles’ father), his job takes him out of town unexpectedly, and he’s not able to settle down. But he’s also the “cool uncle” that Miles turns to for wisdom. The twist comes when we discover Aaron’s secret identity: the villain known as The Prowler, who is on Kingpin’s payroll and happens to have the new Spider-Man in his sights. It’s only during one of the climactic fights that Miles and Aaron recognize each other for who they are, in costume and out. In that brief second of recognition, Aaron decides to save, rather than kill, Spider-Man. The consequence for this is swift and, in a parallel to the “traditional” Spider-Man story we all know, we see the hero cradling his uncle’s dead body in his arms.

 

While “you can’t save everyone” is as much a part of the Spider-Man trope as colorful tights and swinging on webs is (the Spider-Folk tell Miles as much), there’s a more important lesson for the audience, especially for those who work in IT.

 

Uncle Aaron had very complex and personal reasons for staying away from Miles’ family, for becoming (and remaining) Prowler, and for saving Miles. These reasons weren’t obvious to anyone around him, but that didn’t make them any less important or real.

 

We can’t assume to know everything about a person. We may see their actions, but we cannot always understand their motivations, their reasons, the things that drove them to this moment. My fellow Head Geek Thomas LaRock writes about this here, comparing people’s motivations to a “MacGuffin” used in storytelling.

 

Finding out the reasons and motivations of those around us may make it easier for us to accept their decisions and actions, but it’s not necessary. What is necessary is accepting that each member of our team has those reasons and motivations in the first place, even if we aren’t privy to them; that those reasons and motivations are valid (at least to them); and that we need to respect them. We don’t have to agree with them. But until we know what they are, we can’t dismiss them as pointless, useless, or non-existent.

 

The Adventure Continues

That’s certainly not all I have to say on the subject. Stay tuned for the next issue.

 

Until next time, true believers,

Excelsior!

 

1 “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” 2018, Sony Pictures Entertainment

 

SWUG began in 2016 as a largely-volunteer effort, cobbled together using spare time and budget by a core set of dedicated SolarWinds staff and THWACK fanatics. The effort hit its stride in 2017, standardizing the format, honing the style, and gathering data from attendees.

 

And then in 2018, all hell broke loose. SWUG went to more cities than ever before, presenting on a wider range of topics and inviting speakers from every corner of the SolarWinds organization, and even inviting some of our MVPs to take the podium and share their valuable knowledge and experience with the audience.

 

And it was that last part—the variety of speakers—that caused a very small but beloved change for me. As Head Geek, I had the best seat and the best job in the house: emcee. I got to introduce each of our speakers, frame their topics, and then stand back and watch in awe as each and every one of them brought the house down with their skills and knowledge.

 

The introductions themselves became something of a labor of love for me. This group of superstars needed more than a simple recitation of their name and title. They needed to have their praises sung and their accomplishments shouted from the rooftops so the SWUG attendees understood just what an incredible individual they had in front of them, and how deep the SolarWinds bench truly was.

 

However, in retrospect, I may have gone a bit overboard. But I'll let you be the judge. Because as we move into 2019, SWUG is once again evolving, and it might be time to set aside these introductions in favor of some new form (note: I say "might").

 

Nevertheless, I submit for your reading pleasure "A Year of SWUG Introductions", i.e. all the ways I introduced speakers at the 2018 SWUG events.

 

Consistency Is the Key

In many cases, I was remarkably consistent when we had regular speakers such as Chris O'Brien, Steven Hunt, and Kevin Sparenberg:

 

Chris had two main variations:

  • A man whose name is literally part of the source code for NPM, who is known as the father of NetPath, PM Chris O'Brien.
  • A man whose name is literally part of the source code for NPM, who had an Easter egg built in his honor, PM Chris O'Brien.

 

Similarly, Steven (aka "Phteven"):

  • My kayfabe arch nemesis Steven Hunt, Windows fan boy, and Principal Product Strategist (Systems).
  • My kayfabe nemesis and, conversely, my little Linux protégé, PM Steven Hunt.

 

And Kevin only had this one intro...

 

  • The only person here who's landed gentry as well as a SolarWinds PM, a former customer, and a THWACK MVP, his Lairdship Kevin Sparenberg.

 

...until the very last one, because it was such a special moment for him:

 

  • This year he's acquired more titles than some people change shoes. He's also the only person here who is both a member of landed gentry as well as a former customer, SolarWinds employee, and a THWACK MVP. Please help me congratulate him on his 10-year THWACKniversary and welcome our DM of community (or THWACKbassador), his Lairdship Kevin Sparenberg.

 

Variety Is the Spice of Life

For the UX team, I just kept doing variations on a theme:

  • Combine the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes with the empathic skills of a Betazoid ship's counselor, you pretty much end up with our manager of UX, Tulsi Patel.
  • Cross rainbows and sunshine with a Betazoid ship's counselor asking, "How does this wireframe make you feel?" and you pretty much have Kellie Mecham, User Experience Researcher.
  • Combine the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes with a Betazoid starship counselor asking, "How does this wireframe make you feel?" and you pretty much have Katie Cole, User Experience Researcher

 

While at other times I was clearly at a loss

(admittedly, these all came from one of the first SWUGs where I barely did any introductions at all):

  • On Drums, SE extraordinaire Mario Gomez.
  • Director of Cinematography and Certification, Cal Smith.
  • Itinerant food critic and Fed SE, Andy Wong.
  • Chief roadie Kyle Lohren, video production manager.

 

For the guest MVP speakers, I tried to roll out the red carpet:

  • From Atmosera comes a person who's been an MVP as long as I have: Byron Anderson.
  • From Loop 1, we have a programming force of nature and an avid learner of all the things, THWACK MVP Steven Klassen.
  • When I was at Cardinal, Josh joined our team one month before I ended up getting the Head Geek job. He's had every right to punch me in the face, but I lucked out because he's not only Canadian, he's just an all-around amazing guy as well as a THWACK MVP, Josh Biggley.
  • He began his IT career with a walk-on role in Star Wars, but now he divides his time between monitoring and specializing as a Mini Cooper stunt driver. Please welcome THWACK MVP Richard Phillips.

 

The “Bodyguard to the Stars” shtick ended up being a go-to for newcomers

(Those I may not have known well enough to tease):

  • Bodyguard to the stars with top secret clearance, Federal and national Sales Engineer Sean Martinez.
  • Bodyguard to the stars and former stunt driver for Tom Cruise, Federal Sales Engineer Arthur Bradway.
  • Bodyguard to the stars, world-famous He-Man cosplayer, and Virtualization PM Chris Paap.

 

Saving the Best For Last

But for many folks, I let the originality flow:

  • A pretty pink unicorn with rainbow painted brass knuckles and top-secret clearance, Head Geek Destiny Bertucci.
  • Forget about knowing where the bodies are buried or who has the pictures. This person knows which NPM questions you got wrong – Nanette Neal, Program Manager for SCP.
  • Formerly a Calvin Klein model, before he gave up fitted pants for NetFlow packets - Product Manager Joe Reves.
  • Just like Locutus, it takes incredible willpower to escape the Borg collective known as the SolarWinds sales group, and yet Robert Blair did the impossible and is now our Customer Advocacy Manager.
  • Whenever you see Tom Cruise doing a mountain climbing scene, you're actually watching his stunt double, Product Manager Serena Chou (they're about the same height).
  • We sometimes find him sleeping in his car, not because he's fallen on hard times, but because he simply loves his Jeep that much. Please welcome Network Management Product Manager Jonathan Petkevich.
  • Clocking in at 6'5", he's officially the tallest person in our department and therefore the most important to us because he can reach the really good Scotch up on the tall shelves - Senior web properties manager Ben Garves.
  • Out at conventions he has fun playing the role of Patrick Hubbard's kayfabe arch-nemesis, but in the office, he's got veto power for every new feature or upgrade – Our VP of product strategy Mav Turner.
  • In D&D one of the most interesting PC's is the multi-classed character. At SolarWinds we value our multi-class staff. She started out as a UX illusionist and is now part of our rogue’s gallery of product marketing managers -Katie Cole.
  • What happens when someone with a degree in mechanical engineering takes a right turn at San Antonio and ends up at a software company? You get a product marketing manager who can tech you under the table. Lourdes Valdez.

 

Last But Not Least

And finally, as I have done at every SWUG this year, I'd like to introduce and Thank the people who make THWACK a reality every day:

  • And of course, Ms. THWACKniss Everdeen herself, the heavenly source of THWACK point blessings, Community Cat Wrangler Danielle Higgins.
  • And of course, the woman whose THWACK ID sends everyone into spontaneous giggles, who can repeat, from memory, every post ever banned from THWACK – Wascally Wendy Wabbot... I mean Abbot.

 

If you were able to join us for a SWUG this year, I hope this brought back some fond memories. And if you couldn't make it out to join us, I sincerely hope you'll have that chance in 2019. Read more from SWUG Head Master, Kevin Sparenberg, on what you can expect at these events this year.

 

Or just cut to the chase and join us for FREE at a SWUG in 2019:

As we stand here, in the dawning moments of a new year, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the acts of generosity, enthusiasm, and bravery of our community in sharing their personal stories, observations, and lessons. Through them, the members of THWACK have transformed the last 31 days into an exercise in reflection, contemplation, and growth. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this group, and part of a company that fosters these types of conversations.

 

While I have the individual post summaries and a selection of comments below, I wanted to share some statistics with you to emphasize just how engaged everyone was in this dialogue. From December 1-31, the Writing Challenge generated:

  • 1 lead post each day from 31 different authors, including 14 THWACK MVPs
  • 1,257 comments
  • 22,083 views
  • ...from 1,931 people
  • ...spread across 19 countries

 

Some other informal statistics* worth noting:

 

  • 127 people mentioned “Back to the Future,” “Doctor Who,” and/or “The Butterfly Effect”
  • 4,846 expressed concerns about altering the past
  • And 1,332 also worried they wouldn’t be who they are today if they had encountered their younger selves

 

Based on the data, we can rest easy knowing that the THWACK community will not be the one to screw up the timeline, should technology advance sufficiently to permit traveling to the past.

 

However, as we travel into the future in the normal fashion, one second at a time, I’d like to wish you all, on behalf of the entire SolarWinds team, a very happy New Year, and hope you experience nothing but joy, prosperity, and peace in the coming year.

 

- Leon

 

*Remember kids, 52.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

 

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**** The Authors *****

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Danielle Higgins, Manager of the Community Team

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/28/day-29-what-i-would-tell-my-younger-self-perspective-from-a-millennial

We can’t always know what experiences led someone to become the person they are. But when we are privileged to discover the details, it cannot help but bring us closer. That’s exactly what Danielle did in her post, giving a frank and pointed description of her youth, and the messages she would tell that young woman. It’s emblematic of Danielle’s personality that those messages center around hope, reassurance, trust, believing, and focus.

 

Allison Rael, Marketing Communications Manager, Content Marketing

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/29/day-30-

Alli outs herself as a card-carrying member of the international order of worriers and offers some background on it. But she immediately pivots to a breathtaking observation that I think we all (and especially those of us who are also members of the worrier’s club) can take to heart:

 

“I’ve gradually come to realize that when you worry less and live more, amazing things start to happen.”

 

She lists out some of those amazing things—both from her past and her present—and then comes up with this gem:

 

“In most cases, my worries are just head trash holding me back.”

 

“Head trash.” I’m definitely going to use that one in the future to frame my less helpful thought patterns.

 

Jenne Barbour, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/30/day-31-

Finishing up both the week and the challenge itself, Jenne begins by sharing her family’s Yuletide tradition (re-watching the Harry Potter series) and how the theme of the challenge this year naturally blends with the idea of Time-Turners in the Harry Potter mythology.

 

As so many have done, Jenne understands that, while our own past is something which cannot and should not be changed, offering reassurance to our younger selves so that we can face our challenges with a measure of comfort would be a blessing.

 

Her final words are the perfect way to wrap up the series, as well as my summaries:

 

“And as we have traveled through time to meet ourselves today, I like to think our past selves would be pretty impressed by how we’ve all turned out. By how we’ve met obstacles both big and small, celebrated wins, learned from losses, and how we cherish our families, friends, and the good things in life, however we see them. And as we head into a new year—into the very future itself—I hope we all choose to encourage ourselves to be strong, to believe in ourselves, and to remember that we are enough.”

 

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*** The Comments ***

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Day 29

Laura Desrosiers Dec 29, 2018 5:30 AM

I grew up being told I would be a failure, which I believed for a very long time, but when I went back to school 10 years after high school and found out I was able to achieve, I started to push myself for more. Everything you have stated in the list in the article is so true and I just have to begin following your advice. I will print that off and hang it in my office as a reminder to myself no one is perfect, you don’t know it all, and you can thrive at what you do.

 

Jan Pawlowski Dec 29, 2018 1:44 PM

I’d add to 8 by saying own your failures as well. Celebrate the wins, but own your failures. This will teach you humility, and people will respect you much more for it.

 

Olusegun Odejide Dec 29, 2018 8:09 PM

Very good article. I love the list, especially No 1. You don’t need to fix everything, you need to let go sometimes, sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

Day 30

Phillip Collins Dec 30, 2018 8:28 AM

Your letter speaks to me. I can see myself in it. How right your Grandpa was. All my life I have allowed my worries to dictate my actions, except one brief period. The last 3 years of college I was able to let worry go and enjoy my life. Many good this came of that time. I pledged a great fraternity, made several wonderful friends, met and married my beautiful wife. None of this would have happened if I didn’t let worry go and just live my life. For whatever reason, I was not able to continue this after graduating. I often look back on those 3 years and try to understand what I was able to do then I can’t seem to do now. I wish they would come up with a pill to help you keep things in perspective. Why worry about what you cannot control. Do your best, learn and grow, enjoy the life you have been gifted.

 

Holger Mundt Dec 30, 2018 5:16 PM

Thanks for your encouraging words to worry less. As a native southern German worrying is deeply rooted in my genes.

Always a good reminder to let aside those worrying thoughts.

 

Laura Desrosiers Dec 31, 2018 4:51 AM

I worry way so much about things. I will stay up all night wearing holes out in the carpeting pacing the floors. This is going to be my New Year’s resolution. Don’t worry so much and live more.

 

Day 31

Mark Roberts  Dec 31, 2018 7:17 AM

A great post, which for those that have read more than a dozen of the articles this month (go back and read them all if you haven’t btw), it has been interesting to see that common thread of not taking this opportunity to tell their younger self to do much or anything differently. Everyone can recount times of pain, loss and missed opportunities, but that those life experiences and challenges have brought them to the place, physically and emotionally they are happy and proud to be.

 

Jeremy Mayfield  Dec 31, 2018 7:56 AM

It is interesting to think about what could have been, but the truth is we will and can never know. We are who we are, where we are, and the how’s and why’s matter little. All we can do is strive to be better moving forward. The future is not written, but the past, as you referenced, is set in stone.

 

Jan Pawlowski Dec 31, 2018 8:22 AM

I think too often we concentrate on “What might’ve been,” rather than what is. We can all relate where we wish a certain situation had gone differently, or an outcome had been different. It’s all too easy to blame things on past discrepancies that have brought you to where you are today. In truth without those happenings, you wouldn’t be where you are, nor the person you are today. Every day is a school day, it’s your choice if you learn or not.

Over the course of December, the THWACK community had the privilege to peek inside the personal thoughts and formative moments of many of our members. The ideas, stories, and emotions they shared with us were sometimes raw with honest sincerity, often amusing, and always relevant and engaging.

 

As monitoring aficionados, we are sensitive to patterns, seeking to discover the signal that may lie, undetected, beneath the "noise" of unrelated data. And sure enough, as the days progressed, certain themes surfaced again and again in both the lead articles and the comments. While I identified a few of them in yesterday's post, I'd like to focus on a particular one here.

 

Catherine O'Driscoll may have phrased it best on day 10:

"I found it quite difficult to pass on just one piece of advice when there is so much I wanted to tell my younger self; to prepare her for and to protect her from. But then I realized that if she doesn’t go through it, then we wouldn’t become the person we are today."

 

The idea that we cannot go back, cannot undo what we have already done, because it will fundamentally change who we are, came up time and time again. And here, on the first day of 2019, I'm going to challenge that idea, in the hope that it allows us to set a goal for ourselves in the coming year that could have far-reaching consequences.

 

Recently, I read an essay where the author laid out the following logic:

 

First, for any action, there are many downstream consequences—some expected, others not. Some of the results of an action are intentional, while others are not. And some of the outcomes of that action can be understood as empirically "good," and others not.

 

So how are we—the individual who performed that initial action—judged? Are the expected, intentional, and "good" outcomes ascribed to us, or the ones on the other side of the equation? Or are we credited with all outcomes and results? Or a mixture of both?

 

The answer, this author states, lies in our reason for taking the action in the first place.

 

If our reasons were to harm or hurt or otherwise "do bad," then those are the results that we, in a sense, get "credit" for. The fact that our action might ALSO have had helpful or positive results is less a credit to us, and more a credit to fate, Karma, nature, luck, Divine providence, etc. And, obviously, the reverse is also true.

 

But let's say that, at some point in the past, we acted wrongly with the intention to harm, and that action had a mixture of reactions both bad and (unintentionally) good. Sometime later (moments, days, or even years), we look back at that moment and feel true, sincere, honest regret. We reflect on that moment and learn something about ourselves that we understand much change.

 

And we change it.

 

We work on ourselves. Grow. Improve. Mature. That moment in the past becomes an object lesson for us, and impels us to become better than the person we once were.

 

NOW, standing in the present moment, how is that action judged? As it turns out, all the positive results—unintended though they may have been—can be ascribed to us and the negative ones (while not disappearing entirely) fade into the background. This is the critical idea behind reformative, versus punitive, consequences. Behind repentance. Behind forgiveness.

 

Looking back at that theme that came up again and again—that we cannot offer advice to our younger self because it would fundamentally change who we are today—I say that if we use those past moments as motivation to change who we are today, then we HAVE changed our past selves. We have reached back through the years and changed the past. Not by changing WHAT we did, but changing the MEANING of what we did.

 

And in the words of the author,

"Time then becomes an arena of change in which the future redeems the past and a new concept is born – the idea we call hope."

 

My hope is that over the course of December, you found more than just some interesting stories, or chuckle-worthy reading. I hope in either reading or writing the words that were shared, you found a catalyst for positive change that can lead you toward hope and happiness in your life in the coming year and beyond.

 

From everyone at SolarWinds and the THWACK community,

we wish you a very Happy New Year and the best to come in 2019.

 

P.S.: Use this link to catch up on any part of the 2018 December Writing Challenge you may have missed.

This is our last full week of the challenge (as well as the last full week of 2018) and I'm committed to making the most of every moment, every insight, and every comment—all of which have been both a joy and a privilege to read. Here is my summary of both the lead authors and a selection of comments. Thank you to everyone who took the time during a busy holiday week to check in and participate.

 

- Leon

 

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**** The Authors *****

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Sydney Moorhead, Copy Editor/Content Specialist, Corporate Marketing

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/21/day-22-

Sydney is one of the younger authors to contribute this month, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a wealth of wisdom she's already acquired to share with her younger self. I thought her observation that, "There will always be things that are hard, but your ability to deal with them will get better," was especially poignant. As was the wise-beyond-her-years awareness that, "Things happen for a reason." But what really got me was this piece of advice:

 

"Follow the writing, wherever it takes you."

 

Steve Carleson, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/23/day-23-

Steve's post is a reminder of how deeply a careless comment can affect others, how we need to be kind with our words, and how we need to work—and support each other—as we overcome some of the setbacks of our childhood. It's also important to remember that we all may work in the same industry, but we come to it from different directions, which is why Steve's advice to himself is so interesting and touching:

 

"It is OK to push yourself; it is OK to want to learn more! Never let anyone else tell you to stop trying to improve yourself."

 

Sascha Giese, Head Geek

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/23/day-24-

Sascha began with comforting words that I think we all would have appreciated when we were young: "So, young Sascha, you survived it. Why have you been so scared in the first place?"

 

But then I feel he offered advice which is clearly specific to his experience as a young adult, but again, is valuable for many (perhaps all) of us:

 

"So, young Sascha, learn to cook earlier," and even more tellingly: "So, young Sascha, don’t waste your life living in a snail shell. Get out there, see things, experience things, and explore the world."

 

At the end of his letter, Sascha comes back to that message of comfort and re-assurance,

"Oh, and finally, young Sascha, everything else you do is right. Some decisions won't be so smart, but they will always feel right by the time you make them, and it always comes out for the better."

 

Adam Timberley, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/24/day-25-

Like many who have considered what they would tell their younger self, Adam was concerned about irrevocably altering the chain of events that led him to become who he was. But his response to this was both unique and (I think) brilliant:

 

"So rather than advise myself, I choose to simply reassure myself."

 

But the method that he would send this reassurance was pure, undiluted, awesome geekery:

 

"I would appear to myself as a ragged old man with a swirling cloak, a long staff, and a wispy grey beard. Someone familiar, wise, ancient, 8-bit."

<**insert picture**>

 

His reason for not changing this may be the best part of his thought process:

 

"I would keep it positive. I wouldn't want to be rich. I wouldn't want to be poor. I wouldn’t want to change things, no matter how bad or good they get. I don't believe in fate or destiny; I believe that we are all creatures of endless possibility."

 

Diego Fildes Torrijos, Product Marketing Specialist, Product Mktg

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/25/day-26-

 

Like Zack Mutchler's Day 15 entry (https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/14/day-15-proverbs-quotes-and-general-silliness), Diego chose to inspire his younger self with wisdom culled from the words of others.

 

Diego pre-pends his list of quotes, however, with some deeply insightful thoughts about the nature of life, passion, empathy, and goals. I found the most powerful one to be this:

"Do not regret listening to and empathizing with people that do not know how to do the same back. This is anyone’s greatest strength, because you learn from listening to others."

 

Tiffany Nels, Chief Communications Officer

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/26/day-27-

Tiffany's mantra to her younger self, "Compare and despair," is only made more impactful by the incredibly personal examples she uses to illustrate her journey to this piece of wisdom.

 

I thought her admission that she is imperfect in following her own advice sometimes, but continues to try, was wonderful and refreshing. But her description of the impact on her life when she could achieve it was what made me go back and read the entire essay again.

 

"I stopped sweating every tiny difference, every little choice, and just settled into what was right for me."

 

Mark Roberts, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/27/day-28-

Mark struggled a bit with the idea of offering advice to his past-self that might mess up all that was good in his future, but I loved his reasoning for this. He was less concerned about sci-fi concepts and more about the impact to his current self: "Preventing negative thoughts, which most often come from looking back at regrets from your past, can have dramatic impacts on people’s lives." However, he also reasons that "you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes." And with that in mind, he powers through his doubts to send that note to his 1985-self.

 

While his advice did include a few very specific items (Take the train to Manchester, and say "yes" to the dance invitation at the Rose Wilmot Disco), the real insight comes when he tells himself to embrace who he is. His introverted (shy) nature is not the weakness that he thought it was in his youth. Instead, "Many of the positive things you achieve in life and the influence you have on your family, friends, and relationships are based on your thoughtfulness and empathy."

 

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*** The Comments ***

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Day 22

George Sutherland Dec 22, 2018 8:51 PM

Hang on for a wild ride. The world lays before you at 25... Stay alert for the hidden opportunities that await you.... they can and will be the best.

As one English Major to another...Use your skills to help meaningfully communicate to others... 41 years after graduation it is an integral part of what I do each day.

 

Joshua Smith Dec 24, 2018 2:46 PM

Thanks for sharing. There's a lot of wisdom in your post. Don't let anyone discount your wisdom because of your age. Stay level headed!

 

Jan Pawlowski Dec 23, 2018 5:46 PM

Sometimes in life you get to where you are, then decide that it's not where you wish to be. I know I’ve been there. I changed path a little later than mid-twenties, but the sentiment is the same. Just be honest with yourself, as whilst at 25 or so, you think you know everything. Truth is, that you learn each and every day, until the day you die, or at least that's what I’ve learned so far. Who knows what tomorrow will teach me.

 

Day 23

Olusegun Odejide Dec 23, 2018 1:54 PM

Very insightful write-up. It is amazing how much influence people in one position of leadership or authority could have on us growing up. This is a wakeup call in using such position wisely and also to us to encourage ourselves and others not to settle for less. Excellent work is rewarding. It is surely OK to push yourself.

 

Richard Phillips  Dec 24, 2018 10:15 PM

"Never let others tell you to stop or quit trying to improve yourself." So true. We so often give others power over our lives. Most of the time we have the power to move forward or change things, but if we give others power over ourselves we will eventually lose power ourselves, or at least feel so strongly that we have lost our own power that it will take something big or major to get power back into our lives. The best way to prevent this is by being proactive along the way. "Never let others tell you to stop or quit trying to improve yourself."

 

George Sutherland Dec 23, 2018 1:01 PM

I had two teachers in high school that made all the difference. One taught math the other physics, both Jesuit priests. Both believed in me! Both unlocked my desire to do better. Both gently push me and that made me push myself even harder. The younger George only vaguely appreciated their efforts. The older George acknowledges their insight and vision of me in the future.

 

Day 24

James Kump Dec 24, 2018 10:47 AM

It takes courage to set aside the world's predisposition on yourself. It takes getting over fears. But, even in later life, you do want to strive to "Be Adventurous." Sometimes it takes life knocking you down to come to that realization.

 

Peter Monaghan, CBCP, SCP, ITIL ver.3  Dec 24, 2018 12:21 PM

"Happy Christmas!" A very European greeting. It reminds me of Christmas's long ago, making calls to my Scottish and Australian aunts and uncles around Christmas. I don't hear it enough anymore... Be adventurous indeed! Europe offers wonderful advantages by having so many different countries in close proximity. You can be exposed to so much and you don’t have to travel very far. Kudos to you.

 

Holger Mundt Dec 24, 2018 12:26 PM

Ich wollte mal Arzt werden...daher auch noch der „HerrDoktor“, eigentlich hätte ich das auch gerne probiert, aber Elektrotechnik/Informatik war so schön einfach in der nächstgelegenen Stadt zu studieren. Und ich dachte mir, mit dem Auslands-Schuljahr in den USA war ich doch schon abenteuerlustig genug. Ich gebe dir Recht, man kann nie genug Abenteuer haben, mein pickelgesichtiges jüngeres ich hätte ruhig auch abenteuerlustiger sein können! In diesem Sinne: frohes Fest! Auf den nächsten Glühwein im nächsten Jahr.

 

Day 25

Phillip Collins Dec 25, 2018 5:13 PM

It has always been my philosophy to accept responsibility for my actions and move on. It doesn’t help me to dwell on those actions, whether good or bad. Each day is a new day and new challenges will come with it. I can learn from the past, but I can’t change it. Understanding this and focusing on the future are important to me.

 

Peter Monaghan, CBCP, SCP, ITIL ver.3  Dec 25, 2018 11:03 PM

On a somewhat unrelated note, esteemed CNN journalist Jake Tapper started a tweet thread a couple of weeks ago by announcing that this is about the time many high school seniors find out that they have been rejected by their first choice in universities. But they should not to be disappointed because it can be a hidden blessing. Fellow journalists, other media types, politicians, entertainers, and athletes tweeted back 1,000's of times with stories of how first rejections turned out to be a great success. In the end, things work out. Twitter

 

Thomas Iannelli  Dec 26, 2018 1:05 PM

I believe that I am here to enjoy life and, in doing so, bring as much joy and comfort to those I interact with as possible. I am not responsible for their emotions, but I should try not to do harm. Like the little thing about making those shirts meech is reacting to in Radioteacher's picture above. I sought the input of fellow MVPs and felt I had the will to make it happen. It wasn't just her seeing us wear the shirts, it was the way we all felt wearing them for her and the whole UX team. Fantastic! That was enough.

 

Day 26

Thomas Iannelli  Dec 26, 2018 7:33 AM

Be reasonably confident, above all, to protect yourself from stupidly confident people.

OMG - This all the time! Then they see your doubt as weakness instead of your experiencing informing you that things never go exactly as planned. At the same time, I have been stupidly confident about something, but thank Galileo for #7 in your list jamesd85, I listened enough to learn I was wrong.

 

Steven Melnichuk Dec 27, 2018 12:43 PM

Number 1 is the hardest...how many people can truly say they love what they do...

 

Phillip Collins Dec 26, 2018 9:03 AM

You’ll never be happy until you find your passion. My father thought he wanted to go into business management. He obtained his degree and was given a great opportunity. In the end he was stressed, miserable, and unhappy. He left an opportunity to become JCPenney’s youngest store manager to pave roads where he grew up. He was never happier. Doesn’t matter what you end up doing. It just needs to be something that makes you happy. Each career decision I’ve made has reflected on this and each has been promising. No job is perfect, but there is one right for you.

 

Day 27

Jamison Jennings Dec 27, 2018 9:15 AM

We need to be comfortable in our own skin and accept the fact that we are each unique. It's healthy to take an honest assessment of where you are and where you want to be, but when your only goal is to be the carbon copy of someone else… then that's when it takes the unhealthy route.

 

Allison Rael  Dec 27, 2018 12:50 PM

Social media started really becoming a "thing" when I was in middle school and high school, and has become something of an addiction for me and for many in my generation. It's so easy to compare our lives to other peoples on social media, but it's important to remember that what you see on social media is NEVER the full story. Social media is merely a filter through which we present the parts of our lives that we want other people to see, "like," and comment on. I am happier when I am off social media (I have a horrible habit of coming back to it though), and that's probably because I am subconsciously comparing my full life to the selected parts of their life that people are sharing. Your advice, to take a step back before comparing, is going to be at the forefront of my mind the next time I pop on Facebook!

 

Zack Mutchler  Dec 27, 2018 9:37 AM

Very insightful, and kudos for finding your solace! I strongly believe that a significant level of discomfort in our lives comes from us looking over the fence at what we perceive to be greener pastures (and the ones we think are less green; judging others is exhausting). I've learned, mostly through failure, that appreciating my own blades of grass is much more satisfying than worrying about my neighbors'. I'll be here if they need help watering, but otherwise I wish them well and hope for the same.

 

Day 28

Richard Phillips  Dec 28, 2018 7:35 AM

It's nice that you would use the letter to encourage yourself. I too am an introvert and it often feels like that's the "wrong" way to be. But I've learned to accept (and love) the way that I am. Now I have the freedom to be who I am and not worry about it.

 

Nick Zourdos  Dec 28, 2018 9:40 AM

Introverts unite! Our shyness is our power. I am thankful every day that I married a fellow introvert. I can't imagine how stressful life would be otherwise.

 

Jake Muszynski  Dec 28, 2018 9:53 AM

"Say yes to that dance" is good advice for almost any young person.

Here in the third week of the challenge, I continue to be awed, impressed, and humbled by the insight and honesty our community is sharing with each other, both in the “lead” articles each day, and in the comments below them. The outpouring of love, support, wonder, joy, and curiosity is a microcosm of the THWACK community as a whole.

 

You folks are truly the best group of folks on the planet, and everyone here at SolarWinds is honored that you choose to share your experiences with us.

 

Here is just a taste of each of the articles (and just a handful of comments) from the past week. If you missed a posting, or haven’t had a chance to keep up, I hope this summary will inspire you to take another look.

 

  • Leon

 

***********************

**** The Authors *****

***********************

 

Zack Mutchler, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/14/day-15-proverbs-quotes-and-general-silliness

I like the way Zack started the week off, not with a specific piece of advice or set of instructions to his younger self, but by showcasing the wisdom in common (and some less-common) phrases and sayings which he wishes he'd paid more attention to in his younger years. My favorite?

 

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” – Erin Majors

 

Paul Guido, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/15/day-16-reading-writing

Paul's single piece of advice to his younger self is something that resonates with me a lot: “Read and write for fun when you’re young and never stop!”

 

But, as with so many of these lead essays, it's the context Paul includes that adds richness and satisfaction to the advice itself.

 

Robert Mandeville, Senior Product Marketing Manager

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/16/day-17-what-i-would-tell-my-younger-it-professional-self

Robert's advice to his younger self is one which many of us, regardless of age or stage of our career, would be well-served to take to heart: To understand the business in which we work - the goals, the numbers, the things which are important to those leading the company.

 

Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/17/day-18-

Patrick takes a step back through time to speak with his younger (and snarkier) self, to talk about the dreaded "friend zone." But instead of leaving it at a simple dating tip, he makes an amazing leap to take that sage advice into the realm that should sound familiar to many IT practitioners.

 

Kathleen Walker, Product Marketing, Principal

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/18/day-19-

The thing that struck me most about Kathleen's advice was less what she said (although the message is powerful in its own right, and definitely praiseworthy) but to whom she is saying it. Of course, Kathleen is addressing her younger self. But the message is also meant for her younger daughter, who she wisely recognizes is "...the closest I’ll get to my younger self."

 

Shelly Crossland, Marketing Manager, Corporate Communications

Shelly's honesty, hopefulness, and sincerity—traits that we who get to work with her daily know and love—shines through in this post. Most tellingly, she observes: "I continue to make the same mistakes and learn the same lessons. I am no wiser than you, I’ve just lived longer and am finally starting to notice the patterns in my life."

 

Thomas LaRock, Head Geek

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/20/day-21-

Finishing up this week, my fellow Head Geek opens with what is very likely the most uniquely delivered piece of insight I've seen this month:

"You’re a jerk. Now, it’s not your fault you’re a jerk. But it is your problem. And the sooner you recognize you have this problem, the better."

 

But "Tom the Elder" is gracious enough to provide a solution to this challenge: Empathy.

 

Like all of the other essays we've had a chance to enjoy this week, you'll have to read the rest to fully appreciate Tom's wisdom.

 

***********************

*** The Comments ***

***********************

That's it for the lead essays, but the comments this week were no less insightful, deep, heartfelt, or meaningful. Here are just a few that caught my eye.

 

Day 15

Holger Mundt Dec 16, 2018 11:58 AM

The kangaroo proverb: with an empty bag, you can make the biggest leaps

-> don't get too attached to material stuff or stuff that holds you back. Once you get rid of it, you can achieve great things.

Jan Pawlowski Dec 17, 2018 5:23 AM

There are many quotes around this similar one that I’ll post, but I think Epictetus said it best; “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR A MAN TO LEARN WHAT HE THINKS HE ALREADY KNOWS.”

 

Phillip Collins Dec 17, 2018 7:16 AM

Great list. I know I learned a lot from my grandfather. Just knowledge pasted down from real world experience. That's where most of these quotes originate.

Day 16

Laura Desrosiers Dec 16, 2018 7:57 AM

Yes, times have changed. Modern technology has improved things but has also ruined things. Double-edged sword.

 

Catherine O Driscoll Dec 17, 2018 7:00 AM

I used to love reading when I was younger and would often be found on the sidelines of my siblings GAA matches with my nose in a book as opposed to watching the game. With the advancements of technology, I don't read as often and have turned to audio books or podcasts for the drive in and out of work. But I miss curling up with a good book so my Christmas wish list this year definitely has a few books on it.

 

Mark Roberts  Dec 17, 2018 8:29 AM

Up until the age of probably 14/15, I had read only 1 book from cover to cover for pleasure. Every other time it was because I had to. Something I am doing my best to instill in my two children is ready for fun, as it opens your mind to so much. It was such a delight the day we watched the first Harry Potter film together and my daughter spent the next 20 minutes explaining all the good bits they had left out, how much better the book was and how different she had visualized the story in her mind. We are now working our way through each of those films as and when they read the books. I cannot help feeling I missed out by not reading for fun from an earlier age. Having said that, some of the technical books I read now, cannot be described as fun reading, which can be described as eating overcooked dry turkey compared to a juicy medium fillet steak (I thought I would drop in a Christmas analogy).

 

Day 17

Phillip Collins Dec 17, 2018 7:19 AM

This is a key selector when I am hiring someone. Do they know how to determine business needs? Being able to do this is very important. I can teach someone how to configure a router or work with Office 365, but it can be hard to teach them to take a business need and apply technical knowledge to solve it.

Joshua Smith Dec 17, 2018 8:23 AM

I can check the box on all of those points, except my role. Over the past couple of years, it seems like my "role" has been more or less, a grey area that isn't explicitly defined in my job description. It can be frustrating when you're trying to establish clear direction. You have to know where you are before you can move to where you want to go. Nonetheless, I agree that we all need to know what our business is and own it passionately. Thanks for the article.

 

George Sutherland Dec 17, 2018 3:55 PM

"It's about the business stupid!" rule #1 for IT.

 

Day 18

Joshua Smith Dec 18, 2018 8:08 AM

  1. Bravo. I can remember being told each one of the 3 friend zone statements from bosses at some point in my career, in many different ways as well. We just have to keep trying to break the cycle and escape the "job" friend zone. One thing that I've found is, if you have sincere management, and you're able to take something off of their back, you can at least get one foot out of the door of the friend zone.

James Kump Dec 18, 2018 11:03 AM

Whoa! This article struck as serious cord. janobi comments are spot on as well. We all enjoy the challenge of making everything work and for me the synergy created from implementing technology and people to solve problems is my greatest joy. But, there needs to be a balance.......

Nick Zourdos  Dec 18, 2018 10:56 AM

For now, I'm comfortable with the relationship I have with my job. It's casual, not too serious, yet satisfying... a 'fling,' if you will. Moving into a serious relationship with my career would most certainly guarantee better compensation, but I'm careful not to let my work relationship get in the way of my personal relationships. My wife and I have made the decision to live on less so that we can spend time and grow together, and we couldn't be happier!

 

Day 19

Jan Pawlowski Dec 19, 2018 4:21 AM

Accepting praise and a compliment is something I especially find hard, and will always downplay it, or make the comparison of "I'm not as good as..." It's easier to deal with criticism, than praise. But I guess they're both learning opportunities.

 

Jeremy Mayfield  Dec 19, 2018 8:48 AM

Great advise. IT can be a thankless job. We know what we did saved time, money, efficiency, etc. Many do not see it or take for granted things which we might make look or seem easy. Sometimes the compliment seems fake or strange since we rarely get one. I strive to make sure my employees know they are appreciated, and it is nice to receive compliments. So, I know I always say thank you, if they are sarcastic or not.

 

Zack Mutchler  Dec 19, 2018 8:59 AM

Great advice, bookmarked to share with my daughter tonight.

 

Day 20

George Sutherland Dec 20, 2018 10:12 AM

The problem is not having fear... that is normal and wise.... The real problem is making sure it does not consume you, that is dangerous. The younger me had periods of fear that I ignored... sometimes to my own peril.... but it taught me to respect the fear and act accordingly. Thanks to my younger self... I am very adept at it!

 

Diana Simpson Dec 20, 2018 10:49 AM

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' " - Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Peter Monaghan, CBCP, SCP, ITIL ver.3  Dec 20, 2018 10:30 AM

It's perfectly normal to be afraid. But fear doesn't always have to stop you or hold you back. Some people like to "conquer" fear. I am not sure how that is possible. Others have, "No Fear!" Go so far as having bumper stickers saying as such. No fear is impossible. I think it is more realistic is to recognize and identify your fears and understand how they affect your behavior and thoughts. That way you can manage them while trying to overcome and reach new heights.

 

Day 21

Jan Pawlowski Dec 21, 2018 8:54 AM

Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another - think this quote says it all really. We could all be more empathetic to others. Every day is a school day.

 

Kevin Kremer Dec 21, 2018 9:09 AM

'There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.' - Fred Rogers

 

Joshua Smith Dec 21, 2018 10:49 AM

Wonderful article and wonderful advice. Empathy isn't something that should be glossed over. Too often we find ourselves not looking at other perspectives....and perspective is "everything." I've gotten a lot better about this over the years. My younger self lacked humility and perspective. I would most certainly add this to the list of things I'd tell my younger self. Thanks for writing this article!

All of the thoughts in week 1 were so deep, so thoughtful, so wonderfully personal and insightful that it's hard to imagine this week matching it. And yet, if you were following along each day, you know it did.

 

Once again I'm going to divide my summaries between our incredible lead authors and the insightful and honest comments that the THWACK community shared.

 

***********************

**** The Authors *****

***********************

 

Kevin Sparenberg, Technical Product Marketing Manager and THWACK MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/07/day-8-cherish-the-small-things

Kevin begins with what is becoming a common theme among all us nerds, geeks, and sci-fi fans on THWACK—a statement about the dangers of time travel and altering past events:

 

"There are going to be things that you cannot avoid, pivotal moments in your life..."

 

But then he takes a turn, and this begins what was, for me, an emotional ride:

 

"...and for most of them, the pain of the event is outweighed by the experiences you gain beyond them."

 

The pain he's alluding to is laid bare in an essay on Kevin's personal blog: https://blog.kmsigma.com/2018/11/18/a-time-for-reflections-thanks/. Once you know the content of THAT post, the next words in his Challenge essay are a punch to the gut:

 

"In your future there is going to be pain—pain that defies logic to the deepness and sadness it creates—and you’ll think that it will break you. You’ll ask yourself questions that start with “What if I…?” You’ll berate yourself with statements beginning like “If I had just…” All I can say from this side of the fence is that those questions are good, healthy even, but don’t lose track of the good in life. You are stronger than you think. Just take the time to appreciate the small things in life between the big stuff."

 

To Kevin's credit, he doesn't lapse into non-stop foreshadowing. And some of his insights are truly inspiring (and once again, wonderfully personal).

 

"Watch people, I mean really watch people, and how they interact with each other. Stop thinking about how much of a baby your cousin Barbara is when she sings along with Cinderella. Just look at the joy that she has dancing around the room singing along with the mice."

 

But perhaps the most important piece of advice he gave his younger self comes at the very end:

"P.S. – Remember to comment your code. You don’t know that this means yet, but trust me, it’ll save you hours and hours of time later in life"

 

Josh Biggley, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/08/day-9-dont-be-afraid-to-fail

The rawness, the purity, the sincerity of the wisdom and advice that folks have been sharing, both in the lead articles and the comments below, continues to take my breath away. While I don't know what the posts tomorrow (or for the rest of the month) will hold, few so far match Josh's insight:

 

"Of all the advice that I've heard, of all the advice I could give, ‘Don't be afraid to fail’ is the single most important lesson we can learn in every part of our lives. Accepting failure is a profoundly humbling experience and it begins with acknowledging that we cannot know everything nor can we always make the right choices for any given situation. Deciding that failure is an option allows each of us to accept failure in others. Instead of viewing mistakes as limitations, we can begin to recognize them as an exercise in discovery."

 

But the advice to embrace failure—taken alone—can seem like a sentence to a life of disappointment and struggle, which is why Josh's final piece of advice is so necessary, containing both confidence and hope:

 

"To my younger self, in whichever multiverse you exist and have yet to take those first steps, don't be afraid to fail. Always be learning. Push yourself. You've got this."

 

Catherine O'Driscoll, Customer Marketing Manager

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/09/day-10-walk-before-you-run

Like so many of our lead writers, Catherine struggled with the idea of offering advice that was so specific that it would change the course of our lives and fundamentally alter who we are. But I thought her solution to this conundrum was wonderfully unique and inspirational:

 

"I decided to give advice that is relevant to what is to come but also still allows younger me the freedom to make those mistakes, take the unpaved path and live her life as only she can!"

 

And what was that advice? It was short and to the point, but also focused and relevant. The essence of it was, "What I wanted to share with you is that you might not always have someone there to catch you. So, in everything you do, don’t jump in head (or face) first. Take the time to learn the steps and walk before you run...or in our case crawl before you walk!"

 

Destiny Bertucci, Head Geek

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/10/day-11-yeah-youll-never-do-that

Destiny is the second of the Head Geeks to chime in, and also one of the few (so far) not to worry too much about "breaking the timeline" with her advice. I also found it fascinating that she focused on a single pivotal moment in life when everything changed.

 

"To myself, well heck, looking back I loved every trial. Every teary-eyed moment of rejection of ideas and every win that started to outweigh the losses. In the end I’d just tell me ‘Yea, you’ll never do that medical stuff’ and to follow my heart instead of the dream I thought I once had."

 

Richard Schroeder, MVP

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/11/day-12-what-i-would-tell-my-younger-self

Like I said, many of our authors fretted about the effects of telling our past selves about the future. Like Destiny, Richard took the road less traveled, and fully embraced this possibility, offering up advice that is at once incredibly specific to his situation:

 

"Don’t get into the front passenger seat of any vans without seat belts and you won’t lose your eyebrows (and you won’t get to enjoy having them sewn back on in the E.R.) after you fly face-first through a windshield in 1975"

 

...but also useful for all of us to keep in mind:

 

"Never buy a new automobile—the depreciation makes it a bad investment. Buy one that’s two years old, with mileage between 20,000 and 30,000. Buy less than you want, and only what you need, and be done with a car or toy loan in two years or less."

 

...whether that's our younger selves or our present-day incarnations.

 

Chelsia Johnson, Senior Marketing Communications Manager

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/12/day-13-jomo-the-joy-of-missing-out

From the first word, I was struck by the difference and originality of Chelsia's take on our theme; as I read further, her raw honesty and sincere assessment of the choices she had made and how she would go back and offer her younger self advice spoke to me in a way that few of the essays have.

 

At the heart of it, was the idea of embracing "JOMO" (the Joy Of Missing Out), and how that would have helped her in the intervening years:

 

"I’ve learned that while I may miss an inside joke here and there, and I might not be tagged in every photo to hit social media, I am a much better friend (and human) when I am not over-extended and saying yes to every invitation. Because you can’t show up when it really matters if you’ve exhausted all your energy. You can’t provide the support we all need at some point when you’re sleep deprived and living latte to latte."

 

Matthew Quick, Sales Engineer

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/12/13/day-14-take-care-of-the-needs-of-others-before-ones-own

I loved how, in true geek fashion, Matt derives life lessons from pop culture sources—in this case, a single episode of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. I also appreciated that Matt isn't trying to tell his younger self some new piece of information that he could never have known, but instead that he should take to heart something he already knew:

 

"...take care of others first. Everyone says Karma is a…well…negative thing, but it can also be good. Making sure that your friends and family are taken care of and that they have what they need should come before yourself."

 

***********************

*** The Comments ***

***********************

That's it for the lead essays, but the comments this week were no less insightful, deep, heartfelt, or meaningful. Here are just a few that caught my eye.

 

Day 8

Zack Mutchler  Dec 8, 2018 10:34 AM

Such a strong chunk of advice. Especially for those of us who can't seem to naturally make these connections, being mindful of how others relate can be eye opening and provide valuable lessons and insights. Thanks for being my friend and cheerleader, buddy.

 

Jan Pawlowski Dec 10, 2018 6:08 AM

Remember none of us are perfect, and in the words of Bill and Ted, "Be excellent, to each other."

 

Joshua Smith Dec 10, 2018 7:54 AM

"Not everything will make sense right now..." - This... this is something I wish people would've told me at times. Even now, I can think of times that I wish some people would've told me this in my professional life. Always consider the possibility that there are intentions and plans that you just aren't going to know about until later.

 

Day 9

Tregg Hartley Dec 9, 2018 11:11 AM

We are encouraged to fail. We work in an integration environment. Failure is going to happen. Just document it so you don't repeat it.

 

Matt Riley Dec 10, 2018 9:34 AM

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – RFK

 

Diana Simpson Dec 10, 2018 9:46 AM

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." Henry Ford

"Success and failure are both part of life. Both are not permanent." Shah Rukh Khan

 

Day 10

Thomas Iannelli  Dec 10, 2018 5:42 AM

I might tell myself this, "Don't be so concerned about what your classmates think of you. The vast majority of them won't be in your life for long. Don't treat them lightly or bad, but don't let their opinions carry so much weight. Just be you."

 

Peter Wilson Dec 10, 2018 9:51 AM

When I was learning to SCUBA dive many many years ago, we were taught a simple mantra for when things would eventually go wrong underwater.

 

STOP

BREATHE

THINK

  1. ACT.

 

It works for pretty much every situation.

 

Louise Cannon Dec 11, 2018 4:31 AM

I'm not sure I could ever talk myself out of running before I could walk. Running is too much fun! And the face-plant is always worth it ;-)

 

Day 11

Jan Pawlowski Dec 11, 2018 7:54 AM

Overcoming challenges can be the greatest achievement in life. I got a degree in Business and Management, and never used it. I should've studied computer science or similar, but it was hard, and I wanted the easy life. Wasn't until 8 years later that I realized that I had the ability and inclination to do IT properly, so I got back on that horse, and set a path, small achievable goals along the way, so I wasn't daunted by the mountain I had to climb. Few years later, and I’m now designing and implementing networks, having worked my way up from service desk, with multiple qualifications in multiple fields. Who could say where I would've been had I done what I really should have? Probably not in IT.

 

Nick Zourdos  Dec 11, 2018 8:39 AM

I love hearing the stories of those who migrate to IT from other fields. In our IT department alone we have a former accountant, project manager, event coordinator, teacher, and even someone who was an Air Force pilot.

 

Diana Simpson Dec 11, 2018 10:05 AM

Great article Dez! Like kremerkm (I work with that yahoo), I also have my BA in Communications (Com Management with minors in psych and marketing). I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out (and if you ask me today what I want to do when I grow up, I still have no idea), but I have evolved from PC support to network design to network security and technical writing. Back in high school and college I told myself "nah, I'll never do that" about writing—but here I am.

 

Day 12

Ryan Wagner Dec 12, 2018 8:30 AM

The section on finances is especially good. I wish I had been more financially responsible when I was single and could have worked extra and set aside the money without having to sacrifice family time. There's another piece of advice: work extra, get your education, and save hard before you get married. If you can barely support yourself, you most certainly cannot support a family. Trust me, financial stability will make married life a lot easier. (I'm pretty sure the only reason I'm still married is because my wife is a saint.) Loans and credit cards are a trap to avoid at all costs. If you can't afford it right now, don't buy on credit, save for it and pay in full.

 

George Sutherland Dec 12, 2018 9:51 AM

  1. Rick... your thoughts mirror mine in many ways.

 

The most important is relationships... my wife is my best friend... 41 years married.

 

Diana Simpson Dec 12, 2018 10:45 AM

There a quite a few things I wish I had done differently....maybe have kids earlier (than in my early 30s), definitely hire a wedding planner than doing it myself (try moving a wedding date 4 x thanks to a was-to-be-sister-in-law complaining and then pulling the plug on their wedding plans while I was on my honeymoon) ...bought stock...

 

Your five questions/guidelines are great! I wish more people would follow it...

 

Day 13

Richard Schroeder  Dec 13, 2018 12:50 PM

I lived that too-full-schedule in the 1970s and 8's. My "Pocket Monthly Minder" 18-month calendar had multiple entries for nearly every evening and weekend. It began feeling tight. Confining. Eventually, I decluttered my schedule, my weekends opened up, and the stress at home reduced dramatically. Now I've found a good balance of family, work, fishing, and occasionally being in four bands at the same time. It sounds like a lot, but my time is my own now, instead of others'.

 

Phillip Collins Dec 13, 2018 1:24 PM

About 5 years ago I stopped working weekends to spend time with my family. It was the best decision I have ever made. My son and I are now closer than ever. Too much of the time prior to that was centered around work. Now my goal is to work when at work and live my life when away. It isn't easy at times, but it is best for me.

 

Ethan Beach Dec 14, 2018 1:30 AM

Sometimes to say no is difficult. There have been many times I didn't have the funds or had an early morning and didn't say no to try and fit it. In the end, I do not associate with those friends anymore and went through a lot trying to be friends with them. Missing out isn't always missing out in the end.

 

 

Day 14

Ryan Wagner Dec 14, 2018 8:25 AM

My Grandfather lived on a principle of "Never lend, only give." He had money and always gave it away. Not once in the 36 years that I knew him did I ever see him loan money. He gave away large sums to those who needed it, but he never asked for payment in return. His generosity and example is the reason that I practice the same philosophy. He died a man of honor at 96 years old and I will never forget his example. Be considerate of others. Never lend, only give.

 

Mike Ashton-Moore  Dec 14, 2018 8:38 AM

Yep, the Golden Rule. With so many religions containing this you'd think it would be more widespread, but sadly the current self-centered world view seems the political standard in many places nowadays. Channeling a recent class I attended.... "You have no choice about setting an example—only the example that you set."

 

Diana Simpson Dec 14, 2018 9:27 AM

As a mom, this is a daily thing...taking care of everything before me... but you do need to take a timeout for yourself once in a while....

Where are you in your career arc right now? Trusting simple statistics, I can say that the majority of you are either just starting out, or somewhere in the middle. Relatively few of those reading this essay will be at, or near, the end (whether that means retirement is on the immediate horizon or you are looking at pivoting into something completely different).

 

So, for that majority of you who are not-done-yet, I want to ask you: what will you leave behind? How are you planning for your graceful exit? How are you ensuring that your colleagues (those who also aren't-done-yet) will continue to be successful without you to call on?

 

To be honest, this wasn't a question I’d considered very much, until I met a very special person in the SolarWinds booth at Cisco Live! last year.

 

He had clearly been around the data center a few times, about a decade and a half ahead of me, career-wise. We spent a few minutes amicably playing what I call "IT sonar"—where you get the depth and breadth of someone's experience by reminiscing on the tech you've seen come and go.

 

But then he turned to the demo station, because he had a few questions. The things he wanted to know were interestingly specific. They didn't center on the latest-and-greatest. He'd heard about our most recent features, and he and his team were using them. He was at Cisco Live!, and knew about THEIR most recent announcements, but wasn't particularly concerned about how WE could monitor THAT.

 

This was notable because, if I'm being honest, people visiting the SolarWinds booth usually fall into three categories.

  1. People who want to know about our stuff.
  2. People who want to know if OUR stuff can help with this OTHER stuff they just heard about and/or are buying.
  3. Fans who just want to say, “HI,” bask in the orange glow of #MonitoringGlory, pick up our latest buttons or stickers, and pose for a selfie.

 

Curiosity piqued, I asked him what was up. What was he REALLY trying to do? His answer came as a surprise, "I built this thing, but I'm going to retire one of these days," he said.

 

By "this thing" he meant all of it. The whole IT environment at his company. He took them from dumb terminals to PCs running Arcnet to Novell servers on Ethernet and all the way to today. He had a hand in all of it. He knew where the important bits were and where the cables were buried.

 

What got me most was the WAY he relayed this. He wasn't bragging. He wasn't justifying himself. He wasn't bringing up long-forgotten accomplishments as a way of proving he was still relevant. He was calm, confident, and clearly didn't need to prove anything. He told me he'd found his niche at the company long ago, and worked hard to gain and keep the trust and respect from both management and his peers. This gave him the freedom to make decisions in his lane, as well as reach out and help folks whose work fell outside that lane. He also described how he had worked to keep his skills sharp through the successive waves of IT trends, without falling into the bad habit of chasing the latest fad.

 

The problem, he told me, was that he realized there was no way to teach his coworkers—some of whom were young enough to be his grandchildren—everything that was in his head. And he realized it would be a waste of time to do so.

 

"There's just stuff," he said, "that isn't worth anyone's time to learn, or to carry around on the odd chance that it will be important a year or three from now. But even so, that stuff is still running. And it's going to break. And they'll need to know about it when it does."

 

I started to make a joke about documentation, and he told me that was just as bad as trying to teach it to somebody. Burying a piece of information, whether in a binder on a shelf or on a page in a labyrinthine SharePoint site, is a great way to feel good about knowledge that nobody is ever going to read.

 

He explained that his idea was to replace historical knowledge—what he called "tribal memory"—with tools that would keep track of the "what" (the devices, applications, and elements); handle the "when" by notifying the right people at the right time (meaning when something had gone wrong); and then point them in the direction of "how" by including links to walk-throughs, diagrams, or even just having very clear descriptions in the body of the alert message or ticket.

 

His job was to understand the "which." Which of the tasks and technical areas under his purview were repetitive busy work that could be automated (mostly) away, and which were skills that he needed to ensure the team acquired.

 

I joked about how the cool kids today would call it “technical debt.” He took that gag and ran with it, explaining that his goal, like lots of folks contemplating retirement, was to pay off his entire technical mortgage and have a title-burning party.

 

With that frame of reference, we had an amazing conversation. I'd like to think I was able to help him out a little.

 

But when he walked away and I started scribbling the notes that would eventually turn into this essay, I could think of just one word to describe what it all represented: "Legacy." For IT practitioners, that has some very specific connotations—technology from a bygone era that’s still around, still requires support and maintenance, but is no longer a platform on which new solutions can be built.

 

But of course, there’s the more universal meaning to “legacy:” The things (whether physical or intellectual) that we leave behind after we’re gone. And I realized that our documentation, our code, our integrations, and our installations are no less a legacy than the money, photos, investments, homes, cars, antiques, artwork, or businesses left to others when we die.

 

And as I was scribbling my notes, I thought about making THAT the end of this essay—something like, "What will be left behind when you leave? Will you leave your inheritors saddled with your technical debt? Are you thinking about how that legacy reflects on you?"

 

But then it occurred to me that, as impressive as the tools and automation this guy was building was, it wasn't the most important thing he was leaving his team. That wasn’t his legacy at all, not by a long shot.

 

I remembered the impression he left with me: calm, confident, not needing to prove anything... of having found his niche... of having gained and kept the trust and respect from both management and his peers. Recognizing how to make decisions in his lane, and using his secure position to help others.

 

Maya Angelou famously said,

 

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

So NOW I will ask you, all of you "not-done-yet" readers as well as the "almost-there" ones, to take a moment before you close this essay and ask yourself, "What is MY legacy going to be? What am I doing, today, that will be left behind when I leave?"

Welcome to the week 1 wrap-up of the 2018 December Writing Challenge! If you missed the initial announcement, the structure of our third annual community event has changed this year. Instead of offering a new word each day on which everyone can reflect, we're taking a single idea and hearing everyone's unique view of it: “What I would tell my younger self.”

 

You can head over to the special forum we've set up just for this event or start with my summaries below and follow the links wherever your whimsy leads you.

 

I'm dividing my summary into two sections: the authors and the comments.

 

 

******************

The Authors

******************

 

 

Leon Adato, SolarWinds Head Geek and THWACK MVP

Day 1: Slow Down You Crazy Child

I had the honor of leading off this year. I wrote a few things. I would love it if you checked it out, and maybe even left a comment or two.

 

 

Joe Kim, EVP Engineering and Global CTO

Day 2: Navigating Ambiguity is Critical as a Technologist

Joe's message is bold, broad, and not just applicable to his past self but to his future self as well, and therefore advice we all can follow now.

 

“The future is hard to guess, so don’t.”

 

Along with that he offers two more pieces of solid advice:

  1. Focus on the “HOW.”
  2. Continue to add to your toolbox.

 

 

Charlcye Mitchell, Product Manager

Day 3: Show Up & Pay Attention, Inspiration is Everywhere

Charlcye leads the team responsible for the SolarWinds online demo (demo.solarwinds.com). This quote immediately jumped out at me, not only because it was incredibly motivating, but in one sentence it captures the spirit of that team and what they accomplish every day: "Inspiration is everywhere, but you’ll rarely see it if you aren’t looking for it."

 

But she didn't stop there. She went on to challenge her younger self with four more questions. (As some of you know, I'm a big fan of The Four Questions):

"Find an unanswered question that excites you; Fill your time with unfamiliar experiences and learn new skills; Teach other people; Discover more things to be grateful for."

 

 

Matthew Reingold, MVP

Day 4: Post-Recollection

Matt kept it short and sweet, and this line really caught me short: "Don’t let the bad stuff make you forget about the good stuff." We also got to hear a bit of the background and lessons learned that led to this being such an important piece of advice for him, personally.

 

 

Nick Zourdos, MVP

Day 5: Burning a Candle at Both Ends...With Napalm

Nick first acknowledged the obvious reality of offering advice to our past selves, which would effectively change the trajectory of our life. Not only that though, but he underscored how inseparable our past experiences are from our current selves, and how that isn't a truth that can be casually waved away: "The point I’m trying to make is that the past makes you… you, and that’s worth something."

 

With that point acknowledged, however, he nevertheless offered some heartfelt words that might have eased the path for him in his younger years:

"Make time for life. Friends, family, relationships, and your own mental health are so much more important than good grades in your college years."

 

 

Thomas Ianelli, MVP

Day 6: Let's Go Get Ice Cream and Have a Little Chat...

In a pattern that is familiar to any of us who work regularly with our MVP community, Thomas took Nick's idea even further, moving past the thought that changing our past selves does us a disservice, and digging into the idea (with citations and references) that we may not even remember our past selves clearly:

"What do you really know of this person anyway? They are as much a stranger to you, as you are to them. They are just the collection of stories you have recited for years, about significant moments."

 

This led him to give voice to something that I think we all, as IT practitioners and especially those who work in some type of teaching capacity, have run up against:

"It is difficult to remember what it was like not to know."

 

Finally, a footnote to his whole analysis is worth repeating here, because it is wonderfully geekworthy:

“*Any discussion on the merits or risks of time travel should include a warning that anything changed in the past can have unforeseen ripple effects dramatically altering the future, including your very own existence in the present."

 

 

Jez Marsh, MVP

Day 7: Always Remember

Like many of our lead writers so far, Jez struggled with the far-reaching implications of altering the timestream. Nevertheless, he found a message which was both specific to him and yet general enough that he felt it wouldn't cause too many ripples: "Est Sularus Oth Mithas,” a quote from the Dragonlance Chronicles meaning, "My honour is my life."

 

I found the meaning behind this message to be wonderfully insightful. "We are, at times, our own worst enemy. Receiving this bolt from the blue at that time of my life would help me defeat the lingering self-doubt and regain my mojo a little sooner."

 

 

******************

The Comments

******************

 

***** Day 1 *************

 

zackm

By definition, the people nearest you are the most important. They are the ones who chose to show up, to stay, to be in your company. Give that choice the respect it deserves.

Such a hard, yet important lesson. Being mindful and not taking your support system for granted is a huge sign of emotional maturity that we all should be striving for.

 

rschroeder

Dear Younger Me:

A world of good will come from treating everyone as you want to be treated.  A world of hurt follows if you don't.

 

Don't get tangled up in things that aren't enjoyable and interesting and beneficial to someone.  While you have your entire life ahead of you, it's too brief to waste on petty squabbles or major ones.  Spend no time worrying about things you can't change.  They're in the past.  Learn from them, modify your behavior so you don't repeat them, and move on.

 

Take a note from a song James Taylor recorded; consider making it your motto.

"The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it."

 

tallyrich

I'm an auto racing fan and there's more than one story and/or illustration of drivers learning that you slow down to go fast. Just what does that mean? If you drive just as fast as you can, you don't hit your lines, you don't brake at the best times, you accelerate too hard, etc. When you slow down - in other words, focus on doing things right - you hit the best lines because that is a focus, you brake at the best times because that is a focus, you accelerate best because that is a focus. So, slowing down actually makes your lap times better. The same too with IT work. I've been guilty of rushing through a project only to later see my mistakes and have to redo or repair what I've done. When we slow down and take things carefully and methodically, we are at our best.

 

***** Day 2 *************

 

lokempa

Thanks for the heads-up Joe.

At this point in my life I was about to stop diversifying and wanted to narrow my development in this field (IT), but after reading your experience, I now believe that the diversification that I am aspiring to achieve will further my development more, that aiming for carrier development.

Thanks for laying out there this game-changing perspective.

 

smttysmth02gt

This is a tricky one for me. My previous department was dissolved and I was moved to a different team, after 11 years with my company. It's hard to forge your own path when you're held inside a box and not allowed any growth at all. It fosters complacency and apathy. I think some people might read "so don't (predict the future) and presume that nothing can be done...” I've been there. I'm fortunate to have leadership that wants to foster growth in many directions now.

 

rnoel

This is a terrific read.  Joe outlines and explains two specific ways we can be better people going forward.  I appreciate that he is concise, makes his points and supports them.  I'll read this more than once.

 

***** Day 3 *************

 

tallyrich

So often people view everything from the angle of "what's in it for me." Once we begin to look at what we can bring to others our purposes will become more apparent.

 

jscott9074

I find point 3 most important, giving folks guidance on their own journey...

 

df112

In my experience (YMMV) I always learn the most when I'm teaching others.  Sometimes you're literally only slightly more knowledgeable than the person you're teaching, but having to teach a concept requires you to wrestle with the knowledge, the right way to convey it, and to come up with multiple analogies or ways of communicating it. You don't really understand something until you can teach it, and teaching it always highlights deficiencies in my own learning or understanding as well as helping to bring more clarity my knowledge.

 

***** Day 4 *************

 

zackm

One of the long-lasting lessons I've taken from a leadership course I attended in the Marines:

At any given time you have up to 360 choices of direction for lateral movement. Pick one. People who sit in the same spot are the easiest to hit.

(paraphrased to clean up for public consumption)

The point being, when faced with any challenge, you have to make a decision, and preferably quickly, because ANY decision is action, and action begets action. Waiting for the perfect situation usually results in a lot of waiting, in my experience anyways.

 

rileymat

Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'

 

pcollins07

I agree, hesitation is natural and something I am very good at. I think it has helped more than harmed. It gives me the chance to think before I leap.

 

***** Day 5 *************

 

rileymat

"Diamonds may be formed under pressure, but never forget they are not formed overnight."

 

tinmann0715

How do I deal with burnout? I literally ran up a mountain! I am not suggesting that for everyone but it has made a huge impact on my approach to life and work since. It was also a #bucketlist and fed into a lifelong desire that I mentioned in my Day1 post.

I as well went through intense stressful periods of my life that has altered my personality permanently... for the worse. Unfortunately I was never able to return and I do miss my old self.

 

janobi

Life is full of choices, whichever you choose can be viewed as the wrong one.  Live life for the moment, and do what makes you happy.  Live life without regrets.  Having worked 16-18 hour days to try and "help" the company, to be overlooked, and undervalued, you soon find out to stop.  Take stock.  And most importantly, do what makes you happy, as no-one else in life will.  If that means working loads, and learning great. But then don’t worry about the things you may miss by not experiencing them.  Alternatively, work hard, play hard and use your time wisely.  There is no simple one answer, there is no silver bullet.

 

***** Day 6 *************

 

vangt33

Choices are made, reality hits hard when you grow up.  Time goes on and that broadens the vision to make you realize what you could have done better.

 

EBeach

What does the younger us know that we don't? As you grow you change, was it for the good? Are you still the same person? What a great concept to think about. I moved around a lot when I was young being in a military family. As we moved I would meet new friends that would have an impact on me and change who I was. Who could I have been if I stayed in Hawaii where I was born? Would I still be the man I am in the tech field do what I am doing? This writing challenge gets me thinking, please stop I don't like this.

 

df112

Great post tomiannelli. It's funny, you absolutely nailed something that has been semi-haunting me (in a good way) recently. I've been thinking a lot about memory bias and am I falling prey to it, and to what extent current events and circumstances are biasing my memories one way or another.  It's an interesting question to think about, and like you, I'd like to go back and ask my younger selves at various points in time what my thoughts and feelings were at the time they were happening.  Not sure if a diary would help or not - you don't always see what's salient at the time. Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

 

***** Day 7 *************

 

orionshark
Let's do our best to change the future to the best possible place to be for our next generation . :-)

nickzourdos
Jez I think you're the first person to mention timing. I'm surprised none of us other ultra-analytical IT pros thought of that!

tarabot
Very nice! If I could, I think I'd do the opposite and have my younger, more optimistic self remind my current self that life is really pretty good and that I should be more appreciative.

“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.

A magical thing. And sweet to remember.

We are nearer to Spring than we were in September.

I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.”

- Oliver Herford

 

Here on the eve of the darkest month, when cultures across the world celebrate light in an attempt to brighten the short days and long nights, we want to bring some illumination to our THWACK® community too, in the form of the December Writing Challenge. In my announcement, I described how this challenge has been an uplifting event each year, and how many of us—both inside SolarWinds and in the THWACK community at large—look forward to it as a chance to reflect on the past and connect, both with each other and with our goals for the coming year.

 

I don't need to repeat the instructions (you can read them in the announcement, here), but I hope this post gives you a final reminder to keep an eye on the December Writing Challenge forum starting tomorrow and each day during December.

 

Rather than a word-a-day style writing prompt like previous years, this year's challenge has a single idea: "What I would tell my younger self." We're excited to read everyone's contributions, ideas, and discussions.

 

See you in the comments section tomorrow!

It is often observed that, "The practice of writing begets more writing," which I, at least, have certainly found to be true. But more than that, the act of writing creates connections to readers (not to mention other writers) in unexpected and delightful ways. Perhaps this is because writing is always personal, even when giving over nothing but relatively dry facts and processes. There's always a perspective, a point of view, buried in the most mundane of procedures. So how much more so when the topic is something deeply and specifically personal?

 

Which is why so many members of the THWACK® community look forward to this time of year: for the chance to read, and even participate, in the December Writing Challenge.

 

That's not just idle speculation or opinion. As with all things at SolarWinds, we have solid facts and data to back up that observation. Last year the 2017 Challenge attracted:

  • 32 days of posts by a select group of 26 authors (including 12 THWACK MVPs).
  • 41,000 views
  • 1,700 comments
  • Over 255,000 THWACK points awarded

 

But beyond the raw figures, the challenge opened a window into the private lives and personal thoughts of the participants. We read about hopes and dreams, successes and setbacks. Each day’s entry allowed us to catch a glimpse of the person behind each THWACK ID and avatar.

 

This year will be no different, even as the format changes slightly. Rather than a new word each day, the 2018 Challenge features a single writing prompt:

 

“What I would tell my younger self.”

 

Each day, a featured writer (whether from the SolarWinds staff or our THWACK community) will share their thoughts, and the community is then encouraged to respond with responses, comments, or advice of their own. Participants will earn THWACK points (2,000 for writing the featured article, 200 for commenting).

 

At the end of the week, a summary article on Geek Speak™ will highlight some of the more engaging contributions.

 

Because a society without rules tends to descend into chaos (or in the case of THWACK, a passionate debate about who is the greatest starship captain of all time), let me clarify how this will work:

  • Each day a select author will post to the 2018 Writing Challenge Forum, which you can find here.
  • The post will appear at (roughly) 12:01 a.m. CT (GMT -6).
  • Once that post appears, the community is encouraged to offer their thoughts in the comments.
    • Commenting will earn you 200 THWACK points.
    • One comment per person per day will earn points.
    • You are free to continue to comment but points are earned only for the first comment per day.
  • You have until midnight U.S. CT (GMT -6) to comment.
  • For weekend posts, you have until Monday at midnight U.S. CT to comment for the Saturday and Sunday posts. That way, people who take their weekends seriously are not penalized.
  • If you have questions, feel free to post them in the comments below.

 

So sharpen your pencils, gather your thoughts, and get ready. Because December 1st is only 5 days away!

In honor of Stanley Martin Lieber, z''l

Known to most of the world as "Stan Lee"

1922-2018

 

When we first moved into the Orthodox Jewish world, we were invited to a lot of people's houses for a lot of meals. The community is very tight-knit, and everyone wants to meet new neighbors as soon as they arrive, and so it was something that just happened. Being new – both to the community and to orthodox Judaism in general – I noticed things others might have glossed over. Finally, at the third family’s home, I couldn't contain my curiosity. I asked if everyone we had visited so far were related. No, came the reply, why would I think that? Because, I explained, everyone had the same picture of the same grandfatherly man up on the wall:

 

Image source: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, from Wikipedia

 

Our hosts were now equal parts confused and amused. "That's Rabbi Moshe Feinstein," they explained. "He's not our grandfather. He's not the related to anyone in the community, as far as we know."

 

"Then why on earth," I demanded, "is his picture on the walls of so many people's houses around here?"

 

The answer was simple, but it didn't make sense to me, at least at the time. People put up pictures of great Rabbis, I was told, because they represent who they aspire to become. By keeping their images visibly present in the home, they hoped to remind themselves of some aspect of their values, their ethics, their lives.

 

 

 

 

***********************

 

Several years later I was teaching a class of orthodox Jewish twenty-somethings about the world of IT. They were learning about everything from hardware to servers to networking to coding, but I also wanted to ensure they learned about the culture of IT. It started off as well as I'd hoped. When I got to sci-fi in general and comic books specifically, I held up a picture:

Image source: You'll Be Safe Here from Something Terrible, by Dean TrippeImage source: You'll Be Safe Here from Something Terrible, by Dean Trippe

 

"Can you identify anyone in this picture?" I asked.

 

Their responses were especially vehement. "Narishkeit" (foolishness) said one guy. "Bittel Torah" (sinful waste of time) pronounced another. And so on.

 

"Well I can name them all," I continued. “Every single one. And you know why? Because these aren't just characters in a story. These are my friends. And at a certain point in my life, they were my best friends. At the hardest times in my life, they were my only friends."

 

Now that they could tell I was serious, the dismissiveness was gone. "But not only that," I continued. "Each character in this picture represents a lesson. A value. A set of ethics. That big green dude? He taught me about what happens when we don't acknowledge our anger. That man with the bow tie? I learned how pure the joy of curiosity could be. And the big blue guy with the red cape? He showed me that it was OK to tone down aspects of myself in some situations, and to let them fly free in others."

 

Then I explained my confusion about the Rabbis on the wall, and how this was very much the same thing, especially for a lot of people working in tech today. And to call it narishkeit was as crude and insulting as it would be to say it was stupid to put up a picture of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein when you're not even related to him.

 

Then I explained where the picture came from. How author Dean Trippe came to write "Something Terrible" in the first place. At this point, my class might not have understood every nuance of what comic books were all about, but they knew it held a deeper significance than they thought.

 

Going back to the picture, I asked, "This picture has a name. Do you know what it's called?"

 

You'll Be Safe Here.

 

That, I explained, was what comic books meant to me – and to so many of us.

 

That’s the world that Mr. Lieber – or Stan Lee, as so many knew him – helped create. That’s the lifeline he forged out of ideas and dreams and pulp and ink. That lifeline meant everything to a lot of us.

 

Ashley McNamara may have put it best: "I repeated 1st grade because I spent that whole year locked in the restroom. The only thing I had were comics. They were an escape from my reality. It was the only thing I had to look forward to and if not for Stan Lee and others I wouldn’t have made it."

 

 

The truth is that "Stan Lee" saved more people than all of his costumed creations combined.

 

And for a lot of people, that's the story. Stan Lee, the man-myth, who helped create a comic empire and was personally responsible for the likes of Spiderman, Captain America, the X-Men, the Black Panther, and so on.

 

But for me there's just a little bit more. For a Jewish kid in the middle of a Midwest suburban landscape, Mr. Lieber had one more comic-worthy twist of fate. You see he, along with his cohort – Will Eisner, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg), Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Bob Kane (Kahn) – they didn't just SAY they were Jewish. They wove their Jewishness into the fabric of what they created. It obviously wasn't overt – none of the comics were called "Amazing Tales of Moses and his Staff of God!" Nor were Jewish themes subversively inserted. It just... was.

 

Comics told stories which were at once fantastical and familiar to me: a baby put in a basket (I mean rocket ship) and sent to sail across the river (I mean galaxy) to be raised by Pharaoh (I mean Ma and Pa Kent). Or a scrawny, bookish kid from Brooklyn who gets strong and the first thing he does is punch Hitler in the face.

 

And underlying it all was another Jewish concept: “tikkun olam”. Literally, this phrase means “fixing the world” and if I left it at that, you might understand some of its meaning. But on a deeper level, the concept of tikkun olam means to repair the brokenness of the world by finding and revealing sparks of the Divine which infuse everything. When you help another person – and because of your help they are able to rise above their challenges and become their best selves – you’ve performed tikkun olam. When you take a mundane object and use it for a purpose which creates more good in the world, you have revealed the holy purpose for that object being created in the first place, which is tikkun olam.

 

When you look at the weird, exotic, fantastical details of comic books – from hammers and shields and lassos and rings to teenagers who discover what comes with great power; and outcast mutants who save the world which rejects them; and aliens who hide behind mild-mannered facades; and Amazonians who turn away from beautiful islands to run toward danger – when you look at all of that, and you don’t see the idea of tikkun olam at play, well, you’re just not paying attention.

 

Stanley Lieber showed the world (and me) how to create something awesome, incredible, amazing, great, mighty, and fantastic but which could, for all its grandeur, still remain true to the core values that it started with. In fact, in one of his "Stan's Soapbox" responses, he addressed this:

 

“From time to time we receive letters from readers who wonder why there’s so much moralizing in our mags. They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading, and nothing more. But somehow, I can’t see it that way. It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all – old time fairy tales and heroic legends – contained moral and philosophical points of view. At every college campus where I may speak there’s as much discussion of war and peace, civil rights, and the so-called youth rebellion as there is of our Marvel mags per se. None of us lives in a vacuum – none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us – events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives. Sure our tales can be called escapist – but just because something’s for fun, doesn’t mean we have to blanket our brains while we read it! Excelsior!”

 

Excelsior indeed.

To Stanley Martin Lieber, Zichrono Livracha.

(May his memory be for a blessing)

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