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Geek Speak

133 Posts authored by: Leon Adato Employee

In my last post I gave some background on one of my recent side projects: setting up and then monitoring a Raspberry Pi running Pi-Hole. In this post, I’m going to dive into the details of how I set up the actual monitoring. As a reminder, you can download these Server & Application Monitor (SAM) templates from the THWACK content exchange:

 

 

Also, the SolarWinds legal team has persistently insisted I remind you that these are provided as-is, for educational purposes only. The user agrees to indemnify the author, the author’s company, and the author’s third grade math teacher of any unexpected side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, ability to fly, growth of extra limbs, or attacks by flightless water fowl.

 

Setting Up Monitoring

As I said at the start of this series (**LINK**), on top of enjoying what Pi-Hole was doing for my home browsing experience, I also wanted to see if I could collect meaningful monitoring statistics from an application of this type.I started off with the basics—getting the services monitored. There weren’t many, and it looked like this once I was set up.

 

 

In the end, the services I needed to monitor were:

  • pihole-FTL
  • lighttpd
  • lightdm
  • dhcpd

 

Because monitoring services is sort of “basic blocking and tackling,” I’m not going to dig too deep here. Also, because I’ve provided the template for you to use, you shouldn’t have to break a sweat over it.

 

Next, I wanted to capture all those lovely statistics the API is providing. The only way I could do this was by building a script-based component in SolarWinds SAM. Now I’m no programmer, more like a script-kiddie, but I can sling code in a pinch, so I wasn’t overly worried…

 

…Until I realized I didn’t want to do this in Perl. It’s one thing to shoehorn Perl into making JSON calls because I wanted to prove a point. But since I wanted to put this template on THWACK for other folks to use, I had to do it in a scripting language that hadn’t celebrated more anniversaries than my wife and I had (31 years and going strong, thank you very much. My marriage, I mean, not Perl.). So, I took a good, hard look in the mirror and admitted to myself it was finally time to hunker down and write some code with PowerShell.

 

Jokes aside, for a project where I knew I’d be interacting with web-based API calls to return XML style data, I knew PowerShell was going to give me the least amount of friction, and cause others who used my code in the future the least amount of grief. I also knew I could lean on Kevin Sparenberg, Steven Klassen, and the rest of the THWACK MVP community when (sorry, if) I got stuck.

 

I’m happy to report it didn’t take me too long to get the core functionality of the script working—connect to the URL, grab all the data, and filter out the piece I want. It would look something like this:

$pi_data = Invoke-RestMethod -Uri "http://mypihole/admin/api.php" 
$pi_stat = $pi_data.domains_being_blocked 
Write-Host "Statistic: " $pi_stat

Now I needed not only to pretty this up, but also to add a little bit of error-checking and adapt it to the conventions SAM script components expect. Luckily, my MVP buddies rose to the challenge. It turns out Kevin Sparenberg had already created a framework for SAM PowerShell script components. This gem ensured I followed good programming standards and output the right information at the right time. You can find it here.

 

As I began to pull my basic script into the SAM template, I immediately ran into a problem: Raspberry Pi doesn’t run PowerShell, but the script was attempting to run there anyway.

 

After a bit of digging, I realized the problem. First, I was monitoring the Raspberry Pi itself using a SolarWinds agent. When you do that, SAM “presumes” you want to run script components on the target, instead of the polling engine. In most cases, this presumption is true, but not here. The fix is to change the template advanced options to run in agentless mode.

 

Once that was done, the rest was simple. For those reading this who have experience building script components, the process is obvious. For those of you who don’t have experience, trust me when I say it’s too detailed for this post, but I have plans to dig into the step-by-step of SAM script monitors later!

 

Looking Ahead

At the time I was playing with this, script monitors were the best way to get API data out of a system. HOWEVER, as you can see on the SAM product roadmap page, one of the top items is a built-in, generic API component.

 

I think I just found my next side project.

If you’ve read my posts for any length of time, you know I sometimes get caught up in side projects. Whether it’s writing an eBook, creating a series of blog posts about custom SolarWinds reports, or figuring out how to make JSON requests in Perl, when my ADD and inspiration team up to conspire against me, I have no choice but to follow. The good news is I usually learn something interesting along the way.

 

That’s what this series of posts is going to be about—yet another trip down the technical rabbit hole of my distractibility. Specifically, I implemented Pi-Hole on a spare Raspberry Pi at home, and then decided it needed to be monitored.

 

In the first part of the series (today’s post), I’m going to give some background on what Pi-Hole and the Raspberry Pi are and how they work. In the next installment, I’ll cover how to monitor it using SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM).

 

If you’re impatient, you can download all three of the templates I created from the THWACK content exchange. The direct links are here:

 

Please note these are provided as-is, for educational purposes only. Do not hold the author, the author’s company, or the author’s dog responsible for any hair loss, poor coffee quality, or lingering childhood trauma.

 

What Is a Raspberry Pi?

This is a whole computer on a 3.5” x 2.25” board. For those who haven’t had exposure to these amazing little devices, a Raspberry Pi is a small, almost credit-card-sized full computer on a single board. It has a CPU, onboard memory, GPU, and support hardware for a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and network connection.While most people use the operating system “Raspbian” (a Linux Debian variation), it also supports several other OS options built off variants of Linux, RISC, and even Microsoft Windows.

 

What Is Pi-Hole?

Pi-Hole software makes your home (or, work, if your IT group is open-minded enough) network faster and safer by blocking requests to malicious, unsavory, or just plain obnoxious sites. If you’re using Pi-Hole, it’ll be most noticeable when advertisements on a webpage fail to load like this:

 

BEFORE: pop-overs and hyperbolic ads.

 

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

AFTER: No pop-overs, spam ads blocked

 

But under the hood, it’s even more significant:

 

BEFORE: 45 seconds to load

 

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

AFTER: 6 seconds to load

 

 

Look in the lower-right corner of each of those images. Load time without Pi-Hole was over 45 seconds. With it, the load time was 6 seconds.You may not think there are many of these, but your computer is making calls out to these sites all the time. Here are the statistics from my house on a typical day.

 

 

The Pi-Hole software was originally built for the Raspberry Pi, but has since extended to run on full computers (or VMs) running Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, or Fedora; or on docker containers hosted on those systems. That said, I’m focusing on the original, Raspberry Pi-based version for this post.

 

What Is This API?

If you’ve already dug into APIs as part of your work, you can probably skip this section. Otherwise, read on!An Application Programming Interface is a way of getting information out of (or sometimes into) a program without using the normal interface. In the case of Pi-Hole, I could go to the web-based admin page and look at statistics on each screen, but since I want to pull those statistics into my SolarWinds monitoring system, I’m going to need something a bit more straightforward. I want to be able to effectively say directly to Pi-Hole, “How many DNS queries have you blocked so far today?” and have Pi-Hole send back “13,537” without all the other GUI frou-frou.SHAMELESS PROMOTION: If you find the idea of APIs exciting and intriguing, then I should point you toward the SolarWinds Orion Software Developer Kit (SDK)—a full API supporting the language of your choice (Yes, even Perl. Trust me. I tried it.). There’s a whole forum on THWACK dedicated to it. Head over there if you want to find out how to add nodes, assign IP addresses, acknowledge alerts, and other forms of monitoring wizardry.

 

How Does the Pi-Hole API Work?

If you have Pi-Hole running, you get to the API by going to http://<your pi-hole url>/admin/api.php.There are two modes to extracting data—summary and authorized. Summary mode is what you get when you hit the URL I gave above. It will look something like this:

 

{”domains_being_blocked”:115897,”dns_queries_today”:284514,”ads_blocked_today”:17865,”ads_percentage_today”:6.279129,”unique_domains”:14761,”queries_forwarded”:216109,”queries_cached”:50540,”clients_ever_seen”:38,”unique_clients”:22,”dns_queries_all_types”:284514,”reply_NODATA”:20262,”reply_NXDOMAIN”:19114,”reply_CNAME”:16364,”reply_IP”:87029,”privacy_level”:0,”status”:”enabled,””gravity_last_updated”:{”file_exists”:true,”absolute”:1567323672,”relative”:{”days”:”3,””hours”:”09,””minutes”:”53”}}}

 

If you look at it with a browser capable of formatting JSON data, it looks a little prettier:

Meanwhile, the authorized version is specific to certain data elements and requires a token you get from the PiHole itself. You view the stats by adding ?”<the value you want>” along with “&auth=<your token>” to the end of the URL, so to get the TopItems data, it would look something like this:http://192.168.101.10/admin/api.php?topItems&auth=0123456789abcdefg012345679

 

And the result would be:

You get a token by going to the Pi-Hole dashboard, choosing Settings, clicking the “API/Web Interface” tab, and clicking the “Show Token” button. Meanwhile, the values requiring a token are described on the Discourse page for the Pi-Hole API.

 

Until Next Time

That’s it for now. In my next post of the series, I’ll dig deep into building the SAM template. Your homework is to repurpose, dust off, or buy a Raspberry Pi, load it up with Pi-Hole, and get it configured. Then you’ll be ready to try out the next steps when I come back.And if you want to have those templates ready to go, you can download them here:

 

Recently, I was building out a demonstration and realized I didn’t have the setup I needed. After a little digging, I realized I wanted to show how to track changes to containers. This meant I needed some containers I could change, which meant installing Docker.

 

If this sounds like the usual yak shaving we IT professionals go through in our daily lives, you’d be right. And even if I told you I’d never spun up my own containers—or installed Docker, for that matter—you’d probably still say, “Yup, sounds like most days ending in ‘y.’”

 

Because working in IT means figuring it out.

 

I’d like to tell you Docker installed flawlessly; I was able to scan the documentation and a couple of online tutorials and get my containers running in a snap; I easily made changes to those containers and showcased the intuitive nature of my Docker monitoring demo.

 

I’d like to say all of those things, but if I did, you—my fellow IT pros—would know I was lying. Because figuring it out is sometimes kind of a slog. Figuring it out is more often a journey from a series of “Well that didn’t work” moments to “Oh, so this is how it’s done?” Or, as I like to tell my non-techie friends and relatives, “Working in IT is having long stretches of soul-crushing frustration, punctuated by brief moments of irrational euphoria, after which we return to the next stretch of soul-crushing frustration.”

 

That’s not to say we who make our career in IT don’t get lucky from time to time. But, as Coleman Cox once said, “I am a great believer in Luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.”

 

As we work through each day, solving problems, shaving yaks, and generally figuring it out, we amass to ourselves a range of experiences which—while they may be a bit of a slog at the time—increase not only our knowledge of how this thing (the one we’re dealing with right now) works, but also of how things work in general.

 

While it’s less relevant now, back in the day I used to talk about the number of word processors I knew—everything from WordStar to WordPerfect to Word—close to a dozen if you counted DOS and Windows versions separately. At the time, this was a big deal, and people asked how I could keep them straight. The answer was less about memory and more about familiarity born of experience. I likened it to learning card games.

 

“When you learn your first card game,” I’d point out, “it’s completely new. You have nothing to compare it to. So, you learn the rules and you play it. The second game is the hardest because it completely contradicts what you thought you knew about ‘card games’ (since you only knew one). But then you learn a third, and a fourth, and you start to get a sense of how card games in general work. There’s nothing intrinsically special about an ace or a jack or whatever, and card games can work in a variety of ways.”

 

Then I’d pull it back around to word processors: “After learning the third program, you realize there’s nothing about spell check or print or word-wrap unique to MultiMate or Ami Pro. And once you have a range of experience, you’re able to see how WordPerfect’s ‘Reveal Codes’ was totally unique.”

 

Which makes a nice story. But there’s more to it than that. As my fellow Head Geek Patrick Hubbard pointed out recently, those of us who mastered WordPerfect discovered learning HTML was pure simplicity, specifically because of the “reveal codes” functionality I mentioned earlier.

Image: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-3B6KHm5x3JQ/WrrSvt1pIAI/AAAAAAAABvw/wQLhAE28Aak8AkI13Ylg0M8iJmZofgV5ACLcBGAs/s400/2-revealcodes.png

 

Anyone who knows HTML should feel right at home with the view on the bottom half of the screen.

 

Having taken the time to slog through WordPerfect (which was, in fact, the second word processor I learned), I not only gained skills and experience in using the software, but I unknowingly set myself up to have an easier time later.

 

And this experience was by no means unique—meaning I personally experienced many times when a piece of knowledge I’d struggled to acquire in one context turned out to be both relevant and incredibly useful in another; and my experience in this regard is not unique to IT professionals. We all have them. The experiences we have today all feed into the luck we have tomorrow.

 

So, on this IT Pro Day, I want to salute everyone in our industry who shows up, ready to do the hard work of figuring it out. May the yaks you must shave be small, and the times you find yourself saying “Wait, I already know this!” be many.

The summer is full of important dates, from national holidays to family vacations to birthdays and anniversaries big and small.

 

In a few short days, one such birthday is coming up—an event noted and even celebrated by people across the globe. I’m speaking, of course, about July 31—Harry Potter’s birthday.

 

In considering the legacy of the Harry Potter stories, there are many lessons for the IT practitioner. Examples include:

  • The importance of robust physical security of our most precious on-premises assets, like data and philosopher’s stones
  • The need for security protocols to detect and trap bugs within the system
  • How a strong core team with diverse skills can help overcome threats both big and small

 

But one lesson stands out for me, here in the days after news broke about the latest internet fiasco, FaceApp. I’ve written before about the many poor choices made by social media companies and app developers – especially when it comes to security, privacy, and transparency. On a personal note, because of those concerns, I left the Facebook platform completely about a year ago.

 

With those two things out in the open, I’d like to suggest that, of all the Harry Potter characters, it’s the humble but capable Mr. Weasley who exemplifies both how we got to this point, and how we might make better choices in the future.

 

As for how we got here: of all the people we meet in the Potterverse, it’s Arthur Weasley who most strongly embraces technology. From his tricked-out Ford Anglia to his willingness to try using “stitches” as part of his recovery from a near-fatal snake bite, Arthur’s enthusiastic openness to innovation and alternative solutions puts him on the cutting edge within the wizard community.

 

But, as his obsession with collecting plugs (and his fascination with things that run on “eckeltricity,” as he calls it) shows, he often doesn’t fully understand how the technology he’s so captivated by works. I’m sure anyone who has worked on a help desk for more than 15 minutes can tell similar stories.

 

While this lack of understanding doesn’t lead to any serious consequences for Mr. Weasley—and thankfully, the same can be said for most end users in most organizations on most days—we who work in the IT trenches can certainly see where the dangers lie. And it explains how FaceApp, and similar breaches over the past few years, happen; and keep happening; and happen seemingly overnight (I say “seemingly” because FaceApp itself has existed since 2017 and this was not its first controversy). Like Arthur Weasley, some folks are open to new things, and willing to enthusiastically embrace advances allowing them to live on the cutting edge. But their lack of familiarity with the underlying technology causes them to misunderstand the risks.

 

And all of this leads up to why I think it’s so wonderfully ironic for Mr. Weasley himself to give the simple, yet effective lesson on how to keep our digital lives safe in these uncertain times.

“What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

 

After discovering how his daughter has been pouring out her heart (and, it turns out, her life essence) all year to a sentient diary possessed by an evil wizard, Mr. Weasley offers up the commonsense rule we all should keep in mind when considering installing a shiny new app; clicking the funny online survey to see which type of dog you are; or tapping the mesmerizing button offering a download of the movie not yet out of theaters.

 

It’s why understanding where “it” keeps its brain—whether the “it” in question is an app or website or vendor—is so important. As we saw with Cambridge Analytica; Google listening to audio recorded by Google Home devices; weather apps selling user data to the highest bidder; a Facebook API bug exposed photos of 6.8 million users;  and now this latest issue with FaceApp, there is no reason to expect the industry to finally step up and be more careful.

 

For those reading this and fretting over whether it’s too much to ask simple end users to become expert technologists, I would underscore how the FaceApp issue wasn’t even where or how the data—the “brain”–was being kept. It was in the terms of service.

 

What I’m talking about is more than another case of the adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s also the reality that (as another adage goes) “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

 

So, even if the end user can’t determine where it keeps its brain, we must always remember we know where WE keep OUR brain, and we should use it conscientiously before adding the next shiny new eckeltricity plug app, to our collection.

Looking back across the months since SysAdmin Day 2018, it’s obvious we’re all dealing with a remarkably different (in some ways exciting, in others, horrifying) IT landscape than the one we had a year ago.

 

Sure, all the familiar landmarks are there: routers still route, switches still switch, and servers still serve (even the serverless ones!). We continue to get pulled into way too many meetings and yet management continues to consult us far too little or far too late for us to effectively help and direct the business to make good technical choices. “123456” and “password” continue to be the most commonly used (and hacked) passwords.

 

But at the same time, the tools, techniques, and technologies shaping (and often interrupting) our days are different in ways that can catch us up short. Ransomware attacks have more than doubled since this time last year, targeting larger organizations and demanding significantly larger payouts. The inexorable push to the cloud is made more challenging by the continuously changing list of cloud providers, offerings, and options. And, while we don’t have to worry about being enslaved by our robot overlords (yet), the increasing sophistication (not to mention commoditization) of solutions leveraging machine learning mean we’re constantly having to reevaluate our vendors and solutions to ensure they’re keeping up with the latest business-enhancing capabilities.

 

Closer to home, our environments ain’t getting any simpler. Technologies both real (SDN, IoT), nascent (5G, AI), and imaginary (flying cars) vie for our attention. Vendor updates, upgrades, patches, and hotfixes continue to demand our attention. And I swear, if one more exec asks me if a problem could be solved by incorporating blockchain...

 

Speaking of executives, businesses are relying on IT more than ever—hoping and even demanding technology provide ever-greater lift to the bottom line. To be sure, we’ve seen how the proper application of IT wizardry can create incredible advantages in the marketplace, but “why can’t we do our own ‘Prime Day’-type thing” is becoming the new version of “but that’s how Netflix does it.”

 

Meanwhile, the users (remember them?) require more of our support—and system resources—than ever. I’m old enough* to remember when BYOD was a contentious issue. “How will we support every hardware platform and software configuration under the sun?” we asked. Little did we know we’d also be supporting anything with a screen.

 

I don’t say all this to make you feel worse, but to point out a simple reality: we SysAdmins need to (and, if we’re honest, have always had to) find ways to do a lot with a little. The only way it gets done is when we augment our individual abilities. At the end of the day, the two most effective ways to do this are with a team of like-minded SysAdmins, and with the very thing we provide to the rest of the organization: tools and technology.

 

Having a solid team (squad, posse, gang, etc.) gets a decent amount of press, so I’m going to leave that aside for a moment and focus on tools. No matter whether you’re blessed to be part of an amply staffed department, or if you’re an army of one, “y’all” (as we’re wont to say here at SolarWinds) are a finite resource. If you want to have a hope of wading through the pile of tickets in your queue, you’re going to have to find something that is, as the military puts it, a “force multiplier.”

 

Need to know what changed and when on all your switches? You can do the telnet-tango all night, or you can have automation rip through every router in an hour. Don’t have enough eyeballs to see when a server is sawtoothing? I bet there’s a server monitoring solution that’s got your back. And if you haven’t automated application restarts, you’ll be scheduling carpal tunnel surgery long before your list is down to even the low hundreds.

 

Whether the tools to fit your needs are free (“Free as in beer,” in the words of Richard Stallman), freemium, or full-price is up to you. What I’m offering is my humble opinion that, if you do a task more than once, you should already be thinking about how you’d automate it, and if a system fails the same way twice, you should already have a plan to monitor it.

 

Where do you find out how to do this? How to even get started? That brings us back to the topic of teams. Great news: the answer is (electronically) all around you, even if you’re a lone wolf in the data center. We SysAdmins are a worldwide community, a tribal affiliation transcending geography, culture, language, or operating system. You can find other members easily on social media and online forums. Jump on any of those, explain the work you’re trying to stop doing, and almost before you hit “send,” the suggestions will be rolling in. Yes, I even have a few of my own.

 

But WHICH tool you choose isn’t as important as this simple fact: when you find you’re falling behind, stuck on a process or issue, you should be asking yourself, “I wonder if there’s an app for that.”

 

*To be fair, my high-school-aged son is old enough to remember this too. Mostly because there was a point in time when I’d come home from work and complain about it almost nightly.

THWACKcamp is Back! - YouTube

 

Here at SolarWinds, convention season is just beginning to heat up. Whether you’re lucky enough to travel to these shows or are just following our exploits online, you’ll see us across the globe—from London (Info Security Europe) to New York (SWUG), Vegas (Black Hat) San Diego (Cisco Live!), San Francisco (VMworld, Oracle World), and Singapore (RSA)—demoing and discussing the best monitoring features, whether they’re brand-new or just new-to-you.

 

But there’s one conference that, for us, is circled in red marker on our calendar: THWACKcamp 2019, which is so very happening October 16 – 17, 2019.

 

Running the Numbers

Now in its 8th year, THWACKcamp has grown in both quality and quantity each year. Last year, we saw more than 2,300 people attend, consuming 22 hours of content accompanied by real-time discussions in live chat. On top of that, people kept coming back for more, and viewed the recordings of those same sessions over 16,000 more times after THWACKcamp 2018 ended.

 

This coming year promises to be our most ambitious one yet—and not just because we expect more attendees, more content, or more amazing giveaway prizes.

 

Brand New Formula, Same Great Taste!

First, I want to talk about the things that AREN’T changing.

 

THWACKcamp 2019 is still 100% free and 100% online. That means you don’t have to beg your boss for budget, risk one of TSA’s “very personal” pat-down procedures, fight flocks of other IT pros thronging to the next session, or deal with less-than-optimal hotel options.

 

The event is still going to be two full days packed with content and live segments. A legion of SolarWinds folks ranging from Head Geeks to engineers to product managers will be on chat to field questions, offer insights, and take conversations offline if needed.

 

And of course, we’re still going to have some awesome prizes to give away throughout the event. (Look, we know you come for the information, but we also know the prizes add a whole ‘nother level of fun to it and we’re not about to give that up either. We have as much fun brainstorming what cool swag to give away as you do winning it. That said, this thread on THWACK.com will let you offer your ideas on what you’d like to see us give away:  https://thwack.solarwinds.com/message/419618#419618

 

SO... what about the “new and improved” part of THWACKcamp?

The thing you’ll notice most is every session is going to take the time it needs, rather than conforming to a standard 30- to 40-minute window. This allows us to intersperse deep-dive topics with quick 10-minute how-tos, and even a few funny “commercials” to make sure you’re paying attention.

 

The second thing you’ll notice is that we’ve broken out of the studio. We love our set and still have a bunch of the sessions there, but you’ll also see us in discussions in lounge areas, outside, and maybe even on-location at events. IT professionals are rarely “at rest” and THWACKcamp reflects that this year too.

 

Both of those elements allowed us to make one other big improvement: a single track of sessions each day. We’ll be able to cover more topics and ensure that everyone is in the right “room” at the right time to hear all the THWACKcamp-y goodness.

 

And the last thing you’ll notice is how THWACKcamp will be even more interactive than ever. During the sessions, we’re adding an interactive question-and-answer system called Sli.do. If you’ve attended a SWUG (and if you haven’t, you really should! http://THWACK.com/swug), you know exactly how this works. We’ll use it to get your feedback in real-time, find out how many people prefer one feature over another, and you’ll be able to post your own questions for our staff to answer, where it won’t get lost in the mad banter of the live chat window. Speaking of chat, it’ll still be there, in a THWACKcamp “watercooler” section, where you can talk about your experiences with SolarWinds modules, ask for tips on configuring ACLs, or debate the supremacy of the MCU vs. DCU.

 

Take My Money!

By this point, I hope you’re shouting at your screen “BUT LEON, HOW DO I SIGN UP???” If this is you, maybe have the barista bring you a decaf on the next round. And while you’re waiting, head over to the THWACKcamp Registration page THWACKcamp 2019. You’ll be able to sign yourself up for the event and see the full schedule of sessions.

 

But you’ll also gain valuable insight and information between now and October 16. We’ll be sharing exclusive blog posts, videos, and even behind-the-scenes images to give you insight into how an event of this magnitude goes together, and prepare you to get the most out of the THWACKcamp experience.

 

Also exclusive to folks who register will be “Ask Me (Almost) Anything” sessions. After you complete your registration, you’ll get access to that same Sli.do system I mentioned earlier. Once again, using Sli.do, you will have an opportunity to submit questions or upvote questions from other folks. We’ll host five live on-camera sessions between now and October 16 to answer those questions for you. But remember, you only get access to that after you register.

 

So, what are you waiting for? Go register now: THWACKcamp 2019! And don’t be selfish, either. Share that link with coworkers, colleagues, and friends in IT who may be thinking “No way am I going to make it to a conference this year.” Sure you are. Here at SolarWinds we’ve got a solution for you, just like we do for so many of your IT challenges.

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

 

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**** The Authors *****

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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.

 

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*** The Comments ***

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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!

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