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Geek Speak

104 Posts authored by: Leon Adato Expert

Recently a coworker was giving a talk and he just froze up. When I asked him about it later, he said, "What happened yesterday has never happened before. It was like my throat clenched up and I couldn’t get words out. It psyched me out."

 

For just a moment, I'd like you to think about a time you failed. Like, REALLY failed. I don't mean a small "I took the wrong exit on the highway" goofs. Or the "I forgot my Mom's birthday" mess ups. I'm also not talking about a time you were part of an organizational or team failure where you look back and think, "Why didn't I speak up? Why didn't I step up?"

 

I'm also not talking about failures which were embarrassing, but in retrospect sweet and kind of normal. Like the time a certain freshman asked out the homecoming queen to prom. (Yes, I did. No, she didn't accept, but she was nice about it. Everyone else in the hall by the quad where I decided to ask her? Not so much.). Nope. I want you to think about a moment when you really really blew it. Dropped the ball. Failed to deliver.

 

Now, as you sit there, possibly wallowing in uncomfortable feelings (and maybe even feeling resentful that I brought it up), I'd like to suggest that you understand something really important:

 

It happens to everyone.

 

As evidence, I'd like to present a few case studies, including the one with my coworker.

 

Case #1: Yours truly.

In my senior year of college, I heard about an off-Broadway production of "Sweeney Todd" that was being produced by some folks I'd worked with previously.

 

That sentence deserves to be un-wound for those who aren't familiar with the New York theater scene.

1) Off-Broadway means getting paid, but it also means getting your Actor's Equity card. This is a Big Deal.

2) "Being produced by some folks I'd worked with previously" means I had a potential leg-up in the audition process. Getting cast wasn't a sure thing, but an in is an in.

3) "Sweeney Todd" was (and still is) my all-time favorite production.

 

Given my age and vocal range, I would be auditioning for Toby, my all-time favorite part who sings my all-time favorite song ("Not While I'm Around") in my all-time favorite play. I planned, I prepared, I rehearsed. As a senior in a large theater program, I had all the tools I needed—coaches, head shots, the works. I showed up for the audition. I knew two out of the four people in the room. We made some small talk. They asked if I was ready. The piano started.

 

I missed my entrance.

 

No biggie, everyone said. It happens. The pianist started over.

 

I missed it again. And again. The pianist tried to mouth the words to help me. No dice.

 

Confidence plummeting, panic rising, it was like I was underwater. I couldn't hear the notes any more. Couldn't find my voice.

 

I muttered an apology and got out of there as fast as I could. As I walked down the street I tried to wrap my head around what happened. There was no sugarcoating it, no handy excuses. I had bombed what should have been a sure thing. Instead of a home run, I had struck out on a slow-mo’, underhand toss, softball pitch.

 

Wallowing in my sense of defeat and embarrassment, the only thing I had to fall back on was a story my Dad had told me.

 

Case #2: My Dad.

This is a story about my Dad, Joseph Adato. THE Joseph Adato. Which sounds funny until you realize he's kind of a big deal in classical music circles (for examples, start with this book. And this one.)

 

He started playing drums at 10. At 18, he was playing in New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony of the Air on an as-needed basis. So then one day he gets called up to the big leagues. There was a full-time opening in the New York Philharmonic percussion section. Slam dunk, right? He shows up, music under his arm. Everything is set. His long-time teacher and a few other orchestra members are sitting there. All faces he knows. 

 

He bombed it.

 

When he told me the story, he said, "It might as well have been bugs on the page. I had NO IDEA what I was looking at."

 

He knew the music. He probably could have played it from memory if he thought about it. But he honestly could not tell what he was looking at. He apologized, walked off, and went home.

 

Case #3: Lily Tomlin

Back in the 80s, I had the pleasure of seeing Lily Tomlin perform her one-woman show "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." The show itself was amazing, but at the very start, something incredible happened that changed the way I looked at "failure" from that point forward.

 

Ms. Tomlin came out on stage and began her monologue. And then, mid-sentence, she stopped. Took a deep breath. Said (mostly to herself), "umm...."

 

It was clear she was off, that something wasn't clicking for her. And what she did next stuck with me. She looked out at the audience. Not the way people look when they are performing—kind of a hazy "stare at the back wall" kind of way. She looked around at the people sitting in the audience. She acknowledged them.

 

At that moment, even as a theater student, I had no idea what would happen next. But I knew it wouldn't be any of the cliched responses you see or hear about—people freezing, running into the wings in tears, covering their face in their hands, etc.

 

Ms. Tomlin just stood there, smiling, taking us all in. Then she said, "I know this is going to sound funny, but this is a little overwhelming for me today. Do you mind if I just grab a glass of water for a second?"  Someone from the wings came on and handed her a bottle of water and she walked to the front of the stage, sat on the edge, and made small talk. With us. She asked about the weather outside, how traffic was getting to the theater, that kind of thing. Then about three minutes later, she said, "Okay, I think I'm good. Thank you," and she got up. She said, "Let's get this thing started," and she launched into her opening monologue.

 

Lessons Learned:

With my two failure stories (mine and my Dad's) under my belt, I thought long and hard about what I'd just witnessed. Here's what I learned.

 

First, if you are overwhelmed, or scared, or confused, own it. Don't try to shove it under an emotional rug because the result is that ALL of your emotions become inaccessible. Even if you are giving a quarterly report, you need to be fully present as a human being or bad things start to happen.

 

Second, remember that everyone wants you to succeed. Think about going to the circus. Do you WANT to see the tightrope walker fall to their... well, not death, but their embarrassment? No. You want to see the struggle, you want to know it's not all fake, but you want to see them succeed. You are literally CHEERING for them to succeed.

 

We're all like that. We watch someone up there giving a talk and we want them to be brilliant, to teach us, to make us laugh. And when they misstep, we don't immediately write them off. We think, "Come ON! You can DO it!"

 

So when YOU go up there, remember that is what is in everyone's mind. Every single person in that audience is silently hoping that you will be incredible. They are cheering you on. The applause has started before you say your first word.

 

If you keep that in mind, A LOT of the jitters go away. It becomes clear, and even urgent, that you work through any challenges, whether they last a moment, an hour, or a week.

 

All of this—my experience and my Dad’s and Lily Tomlin’s—was a large part of the conversation I had with my coworker as we talked through it. Let's be clear, his freezing up wasn't the end of his life or his career. It wasn't even the worst part of his week. (Hey, we all have weeks like that, right?) I told him, "So yesterday happened, but ‘yesterday’ has happened to everyone. Dad. Adele, Elvis. Pavarotti. All of them. You're in good company."

 

He said, "I hate to rejoice in your story of epic failure, but it's comforting to know I'm not alone."

 

I replied, "You aren't. You're rejoicing in the normalcy of it, in the reassuring consistency of the human condition and experience."

 

But the next time he got up to speak, it was clear he was approaching things differently. No, he didn't stop in the middle and say, "This is really overwhelming." He didn't need to. He was on top of it. But sometimes that's the point. If he did need it, the trick was there for him to use.

 

Sometimes, just knowing we have a tool in our back pocket makes the difference between success and failure.

 

The SolarWinds trademarks, service marks, and logos are the exclusive property of SolarWinds Worldwide, LLC or its affiliates.  All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

 

Leon Adato

Happy IT Pro Day!

Posted by Leon Adato Expert Sep 18, 2018

As we all know, lists and their thinly-veiled derivatives, listicles, drive social media. Post the "Top 5 Kinds of Bellybutton Lint" and you'll probably get at least a few clicks from people with 5 minutes and nothing better to read. One of the popular lists going around right now are "The Smartest People I Know Do xxx"-type lists. Attributed to everyone from Bill Gates to Abraham Lincoln, they supposedly offer a window into the habits of the rich, famous, powerful, and successful.

 

Of course, many of these kinds of lists have as their honored ancestor the book which arguably started the self-help book trend, Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

 

Early in my career, I was dutifully reading through it when my boss, Maria, asked me, "What makes anyone think that Covey, or the people he used as sources for that book, were actually effective?" I was caught up short. I mean, the book had already sold over 25 million copies. But my boss knew her stuff, and she was, like all the best tech professionals, asking to see the data before she wasted a single processing cycle on executing those instructions.

 

I thought about what she taught me, as we were ramping up for IT Professional Day 2018. It's not that Covey's book or those listicles are necessarily wrong, it's just that they're just not demonstrably true, either. There's no data. Which is why I'm so proud of the Tech Pro Day survey (https://www.solarwinds.com/resources/survey/tech-pro-survey-north-america). Rather than ask thought leaders or folks in tech management what they THINK would be effective, we asked boots-on-the-ground IT pros what they do and how they relate to the tech that makes up so much of their world. The survey applies data to understand what effective and engaged IT practitioners are doing, both to be effective and to keep themselves feeling engaged.

 

What we learned painted a picture of the habits highly effective tech pros.

  1. We help others. Even when it's not strictly our job, we answer help tickets and take "drive by" questions.
  2. The user is never far from our mind. Their experience, their needs, the tasks they are trying to complete are paramount.
  3. When new tech comes on the scene, our first thought is how to use it make things better close to home—the business, our day-to-day tasks, and so on.
  4. But our second thought is how to use it to make the world better—education, housing, healthcare, the environment, and more.
  5. We honestly love the tech we've built a career around, so much that we use our free time to build our skills; we incorporate tech into our home projects; and we even leverage tech to make our vacations more, well, techie.

 

More than anything, what showed through the data was how engaged we are with the industry. Not content to wait for the latest innovation to roll into our shop (or over us like a techno-tidal wave), we actively seek it out, play with early betas, share ideas on forums, and to generally be the best at what they do.

 

You could say that the number one habit of highly effective IT professionals is to be Tech PROactive.

 

So, however YOU plan to celebrate, acknowledge, or observe IT Pro Day this year, everyone here at SolarWinds want you to know that it's no baseless rumor, no urban legend, but hard data-sourced fact: Your skills are essential to the business and your work is appreciated. You are awesome.

 

 

 

THWACK.com

It was LinkedIn that reminded me how long it's been. A sudden flood of "Congratulations on your work anniversary" messages (thank you, by the way, to everyone all the well-wishers) hit my inbox, little popup messages lining the bottom of the dedicated tab in Google Chrome. My first thought was, "has it been that long?" which was followed almost immediately by, "OF COURSE it's been that long."

 

It's similar to the thought parents think about their kids: "Where has the time gone?" followed by a rush of memories, each one distinct and unique, carrying their own particular imprint on our emotions. Every one of the more than 1,460 days is there, if I think hard enough about it. Not all of them have been perfect days. In many moments, I was not at my best. No matter how much fun I have at it, work is still work.

 

But what amazing work it's been.

 

Over the last four years, I have had the joy and privilege to meet so many amazing people, many of whom you've gotten to know along with me: experts in the field who have the ear of thousands; brilliant minds within SolarWinds who are setting the course of our products and inventing, sometimes out of whole cloth, new methods of doing things we had only imagined a few years ago; and people who have transitioned from one to the other (and sometimes back again). But along with those who shine brightly and capture our attention—be it in blogs, videos, webinars, or eBooks—there are incredible people I work with every day who are quietly brilliant, consistently awesome, dependably insightful. These are folks who avoid the spotlight (and a few who actively run from the room if a camera is turned on), but who are passionate and driven and engaged and skilled. And this job has allowed me to work with all of them. To learn from them. And occasionally teach them something, even if it's on the history of Dungeons & Dragons, or how to correctly pronounce "challah."

 

Second only to the people is the work itself. When I told my wife about the job after my first interview—how I'd be writing for publications, blogging, creating video content, and speaking at industry events—she said, "I hope you didn't tell them you'd have done all that for free!" I would have, but I wouldn't have had the chance to do it quite so much. In four years, I've had the chance to create 12 eBooks, write 254 essays or blog posts, and appear in 176 videos. Yes, yes, #humblebrag. I'm celebrating my Head Geekiversary. I think I've earned a little bit of workplace pride.

 

I've had four glorious years to venture out to conventions and user groups and meet people who use SolarWinds products to solve their very real, very important challenges. To help celebrate (and as often as I can, publicly share) their successes and to hopefully be part of resolving any of the challenges they've faced. To marvel at the arc of their careers, whether they were just getting started, somewhere in the middle, or reflecting back after many years.

 

And you know what? After all this time, it's still my dream job. It's still every bit as thrilling to me today when I get to tell people "I'm a Head Geek for SolarWinds" as it was back on that very first day (My name is Leon Adato, and I'm a SolarWinds Head Geek ).

 

So thank you again to everyone who messaged me with "congratulations," both for the kind words and for the chance to stop and take a moment to appreciate just how wonderful it's been.

 

The SolarWinds trademarks, service marks, and logos are the exclusive property of SolarWinds Worldwide, LLC or its affiliates. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

("The Echo Chamber" is a semi-regular series where I reflect back on a talk, video, or essay I've published. More than just a re-hashing of the same topic, I'll add insights as to what has changed, or what I would say differently if I were doing it today.)

 

Back in March 2018, I gave an online talk about monitoring, mapping, and data visualizations in general titled, "If an Application Fails in the Datacenter and No Users Are On It, Will it Cut a Ticket?" If you'd like to listen to the original, you can find it online here: http://video.solarwinds.com/watch/GUHjEnraRAJCKYMDHkDK8D.

 

The talk focused on the power that visualization has in our lives as humans navigating the world, but more importantly as IT practitioners practicing our craft. It looked at how the correct visualization can transform raw data not just into "information" (meaningful data that has a context and a story) but further into action.

 

Looking back now, I realize that I missed a few opportunities to share some ideas—and I plan to correct that in this essay.

 

What Is a Map, Anyway?

In the webinar, I focused on several methods of visualization and how they help us. But I never quite defined the essential features that make a map more than just a pretty picture. For that, I'm going to turn to the preeminent voice speaking about maps as they relate to technology and business: Simon Wardley (@SWardley on Twitter). In short, he states that a picture must portray two things to be a map: position and movement.

 

The best example of a map that doesn't look like a map but IS one, according to Mr. Wardley's definition, is a chess board. If you showed a picture of a chess game at any point in play, it would convey (for those who can read it) both the current position of pieces and where each piece could potentially move in the future. Moreover, to someone VERY familiar with the game, a snapshot of the current board can also provide insight into where the pieces were. All with a single picture. THAT is a map: position and movement.

 

With that definition out of the way, the next missed opportunity is for me to dig into the specific different types of network maps. In my mind, this breaks down into three basic categories: physical, logical, and functional.

 

Mapping the Physical

Mapping the actual runs of cable, their terminations, etc., may be tantalizing in its concrete-ness. It is, in fact, the closest visual representation of your "true" network environment. But there is a question of depth. Do you need every NIC, whether it has something plugged in or not? How about pin-outs? How about cable types? Cable manufacturers? Backup power lines? And of course, it's nearly impossible to generate this type of map automatically.

 

Mapping the Logical

Most network maps fall into this category. It is less interested in the physical layer than the way data connections behave in the environment, and therefore more accurately represents the movement of data even if you can't always tell how the cabling work.

 

Mapping the Functional

This type of map is the one your users and systems administrators want to see: one that represents the way application traffic logically (but not physically) flows through an environment. That said, as a network map, it's sub-optimal because application servers aren't always physical. The depth of the map is in question, and it's purposely obfuscating the network infrastructure in favor of showing data flows, so it's usefulness to network engineers is minimal.

 

For IT practitioners, the question that sits at the core of ALL of this—when to use maps, what kinds of maps to use, what tools to use to make those maps—is a single question:

"What will create those maps automatically, and keep them updated with ZERO effort on my part?"

Because, in my humble opinion (not to mention experience), if a map has to be manually built or maintained, it is more likely NOT to get built and it is almost certainly NOT going to be maintained, which means it is out of date almost as soon as it's published.

 

And take it from me, having a map that is wrong is worse than having no map at all.

 

As a side note, I recently revisited these themes in a larger way as part of a new SolarWinds eBook - Mapping Network Environments, which you can find here.

 

Hey everyone, I've had a chance to decompress and gather my thoughts from Cisco Live US 2018 (#CLUS18, as the cool kids say). So, pour yourself a liquid refreshment, sit back, and let me tell you how it went.

 

Location, Location, Location

After two years in the climatological hellscape that is Las Vegas (June clocks in at about 110 degrees!), Orlando made a refreshing change. And I'm told that our week at Cisco Live was pretty typical: It hovered around 90 degrees, was humid enough that you could use a jet ski to get from the hotel to the venue, and there was a torrential downpour each night around 5 p.m. Not that I'm complaining. OK, maybe a little.

 

However, folks down near the house of the mouse have mastered the art of A/C—you never went into hypothermic shock from walking into a store, bus, or convention center. You just walked in and it was... good. Nice. And the afternoon rains tended to cool everything down, but they didn't stick around long enough to completely trash whatever nighttime plans you made.

 

The View from the Booth

I'm going to write more about this elsewhere, but the thing that struck me most was that software defined networking (SDN) seems to have finally arrived (at least for some) in the enterprise. This was the first time a customer—a real live, breathing, non-carrier customer—came to the booth and told me they were running SDN in their production environment. And they were REALLY running it: 2 production and 2 dev environments. That shows me SDN (via Cisco’s ACI and yes, it’s different, but close enough for this conversation) is finally finding a place in the typical enterprise, not just ISPs.

 

Meanwhile, folks who visited the booth had an insanely positive response to the SolarWinds story. Make no mistake, scalability is an evergreen topic that comes up at EVERY show. But with the improvements introduced in NPM 12.3 (and NTA 4.4, and NCM 7.8), it was such a fun conversation. It was the first time that people told me “Oh, THAT much? Oh, we don't need THAT much.” Automated mapping put a smile on people’s faces. And the interface code snippets were the sleeper “take my money” hit of the convention.

 

This year we had a prime spot and got to view a lot of the typical #CLUS antics up close. Of course, people came to us to help satisfy their #SocksOfCLUS cravings. #KiltedMonday was extremely well-attended (and included our own Kevin Sparenberg). And this year saw the first ever #ColumnsOfCLUS trend, where people took selfies next to the columns with SolarWinds information on it for fun, fame, and even prizes.

 

Heard it Through the Grapevine

This year I heard some amazingly compelling stories from attendees that helped me understand the boots-on-the-ground reality for network specialists.

 

One person I spoke to has been in networking for over 3 decades. This was his first Cisco Live since San Diego in 2015. He attended the full week including the Sat/Sun sessions and came away both impressed and slightly depressed. His comment was that “DNA looks amazing. We have to have it. But Cisco needs to understand that for guys like me, there’s an 8-year lead time. Going to DNA isn't like replacing our 3650s with 4900 series devices one at a time as budget permits. To make this new technology work, all our infrastructure has to change. I work in the medical sector. We’ve got money. But it’s hard to justify new gear when the current gear is still passing packets. I’ll keep an eye on it, but it ain’t happening right now.”

 

Another IT pro had a more hopeful story for me regarding his growth. He was working as a substitute teacher back in 2009, when on a lark he interviewed for a level 1, third shift NOC position. He used that third shift time to learn everything he could, made a couple of smart job hops, kept pushing for more challenging projects, and is now a lead network engineer at his company. But because of his NOC experience, he remained the go-to person for monitoring at each job. That's what allowed him to have access to the new equipment, and to be part of setting up and maintaining that gear.

 

There were some interesting stories (i.e., gossip) to be overheard both on social media and as I passed people in the halls between sessions. For example, there was this comment on Twitter:

 

"I just heard @ChuckRobbins say that the transition to ACI and orchestration is incredibly complicated. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been shouted down by @Cisco engineers for saying the exact same thing. Refreshing to hear from the top."

 

Cisco’s developer network, aka DevNet, announced that it had reached 500,000 members since the program was created in 2014. That is also noteworthy. Life as code indeed!

 

The #SWUG Life

Cisco Live's total domination of Orlando meant that space was at a premium, which left Danielle Higgins—our stalwart THWACK guru and SWUG coordinator—with a challenge. We knew we had to get our SolarWinds users together, but WHERE? In the end Danielle picked what I believe to be the perfect location, @ThePub (http://experiencethepub.com/orlando/), where we could get a drink AND our geek on. After a long day of sessions, demos, and conversations, The Pub was a welcome setting.

 

The Home Fires Were Definitely Burning

While I was rolling around Cisco Live, my kids were trolling me from home. What started at Cisco Live US 2017 and continued through Cisco Live Europe 2018 hit perhaps (I hope) its pinnacle at #CLUS18. They posted sad faces. They played Quidditch from my rooftop. They slow-mo sledgehammered my network gear. The Cisco Live social media team awarded them "Best remote attendee," but I now need to figure out how I'm ever going to feel safe leaving home again.

 

   

Final Thoughts

The theme of the opening keynote was "chaos and wonder" (you can view that keynote here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T6tnH4Whtw) and I'm OK with that. Anyone who has worked in IT gets the “chaos” part. Anyone who has been watching the industry these last 4 years also understands that pretty well.

 

But the “wonder” part… that makes me happy. As IT practitioners and networking specialists, what we are able to do—what we GET to do—on a regular basis is still insanely cool. Sometimes it’s legitimately the stuff of science fiction. And while many of us treat it as “ho-hum, that’s my day job,” to folks who are NOT in IT, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

 

And it is. Sometimes we need to recapture and revel in the sheer wonder of what we do.

A recent conversation on Twitter struck a nerve with me. The person posited that,

 

"If you're a sysadmin, you're in customer service. You may not realise it, but you are there TO SERVE THE CUSTOMER. Sure that customer might be internal to your organisation/company, but it's still a customer!"

 

A few replies down the chain, another person posited that,

 

"Everyone you interact with is a customer."

 

I would like to respectfully (and pedantically) disagree.

 

First, let's clear something up: The idea of providing a "service," which could be everything from a solution to an ongoing action to consultative insight, and providing it with appropriate speed, professionalism, and reliability, is what we in IT should always strive to do. That doesn't mean (as other discussions on the Twitter thread pointed out) that the requester is always right; that we should drop everything to serve the requester's needs; that we must kowtow to the requester's demands. It simply means that we were hired to provide a certain set of tasks, to leverage our expertise and insight to help enable the business to achieve its goals.

 

And when people say, "you are in customer service" that is usually what they mean. But I wish we'd all stop using the word "customer." Here is why:

 

Saying someone is a customer sets up a collection of expectations in the mind of both the speaker and the listener that don’t reflect the reality of corporate life.

 

As an external service provider—a company hired to do something—I have customers who pay me directly to provide services. But I can prioritize which customers get my attention and which don’t. I can “fire” abusive customers by refusing to serve them; or I can prohibitively price my services for “needy” customers so that either they find someone else or I am compensated for the aggravation they bring me. I can choose to specialize in certain areas of technology, and then change that specialization down the road when it’s either not lucrative or no longer interesting to me. I can follow the market, or stay in my niche. These are all the things I can do as an external provider who has ACTUAL customers.

 

Inside a company, I can do almost none of those things. I might be able to prioritize my work somewhat, but at the end of the day I MUST service each and every person who requests my help. I cannot EVER simply choose to not help or provide service to a coworker. I can put them off, but eventually I have to get to their request. Since I’m not charging them anything, I can’t price my services in a way that encourages abusive requestors to go elsewhere. Even in organizations that have a chargeback system for IT services, that charge rate must be equal across the board. I can’t charge more to accounting and less to legal. Or more to Bob and less to Sarah. The services I provide internally are pre-determined by the organization itself. No matter how convinced I am that “the future is cloud,” I’m stuck building, racking, and stacking bare-metal servers in our data center until the company decides to change direction.

 

Meanwhile, for the person receiving those services, as a customer, there’s quite a range of options. Foremost among these is that I can fire a provider. I can put out an RFP and pick the provider who offers me the best services for my needs. I can haggle on price. I can set an SLA with monetary penalties for non-compliance. I can select a new technical direction, and if my current provider is not experienced, I can bring in a different one.

 

But as an internal staff requesting service from the IT department, I have almost none of those options. I can’t “fire” my IT department. Sure, I might go around the system and bring in a contractor to build a parallel, “shadow IT” structure. But at the end of the day, I’m going to need to have an official IT person get me into Active Directory, route my data, set up my database, and so on. There’s only so much a shadow IT operation can do before it gets noticed (and shut down). I can’t go down the street and ask the other IT department to give me a second bid for the same services. I can’t charge a penalty when my IT department doesn’t deliver the service they said they would. And if I (the business “decider”) choose to go a new technical route, I must wait for the IT department to catch up or bring in consultants NOT to replace my IT department, but to cover the gap until they get up to speed.

 

Whether we mean to or not, whether we like it or not, and whether you agree with me or not, I have found that using the word "customer" conjures at least some of those expectations.

 

But there’s one other giant issue when you use the word “customer,” and that’s the fact that people often confuse “customer” with “consumer.” That’s not an IT issue, that’s a life issue. The thing to keep in mind is that the customer is the person who pays for the service. The consumer is the person who receives (enjoys) the service. And the two are not always the same. I’m not just talking about taking my kids out to ice cream.

 

A great example is the NFL. According to Wikipedia, the NFL television blackout policies were, until they were largely over-ridden in 2014, the strictest among North American sports leagues. In brief, the blackout rules state that “…a home game cannot be televised in the team's local market if all tickets are not sold out 72 hours prior to its start time.” Prior to 1973, this blackout rule applied to all TV stations within a 75-mile radius of the game.

 

How is this possible? Are we, the fans, not the customers of football? Even if I’m not going to THIS game, I certainly would want to watch each game so that the ones I DO attend are part of a series of experiences, right?

 

The answer is that I’m not the customer. I’m the consumer. The customer is “the stadium” (the owners, the vendors, the advertisers). They are the ones putting up the money for the event, and they want to make their money back by ensuring sold-out crowds. The people who watch the game—whether in the stands or over the airwaves—are merely consumers.

 

In IT terms, the end-user is NOT the customer. They are the consumer. Management is the customer—the one footing the bill. If management says the entire company is moving to virtual desktops, it doesn’t matter whether the consumer wants, needs, or likes that decision.

 

So again, calling the folks who receive IT services a “customer” sets up a completely false set of expectations in the minds of everyone involved about how this relationship is going to play out.

 

However, there is another word that exists, within easy reach, that is far more accurate in describing the relationship, and also has the ability to create the behaviors we want when we (ill-advisedly) try to shoehorn “customer” into that spot. And that word is: “colleague.”

 

A colleague is someone I collaborate with. Maybe not on a day-to-day basis or in terms of my actual activities, but we work together to achieve the same goal (in the largest sense, whatever the goals of the business are). A colleague is someone I can’t “fire” or replace or solicit a bid from another provider about.

 

“Colleague” also creates the (very real) understanding that this relationship is long-term. Jane in the mailroom may become Jane in accounting, and later Jane the CFO. Through it all she remains my colleague. The relationship I build with her endures and my behavior toward her matters.

 

So, I’m going to remain stubbornly against using the word “customer” to refer to my colleagues. It de-values them and it de-values the relationship I want to have with them, and the one I hope they have with me.

Leon Adato

Footloose at CLUS

Posted by Leon Adato Expert Jun 8, 2018

CiscoLive! US ("CLUS") is literally right around the corner, set to open in sunny Orlando in just a couple of days. So it's time for me to run down the things I'm hoping to see and do while I'm hanging with 24,000+ of my closest friends and associates!

 

First, based on the recent enhancements to Network Insight in NPM and NCM, I've got a solid reason to dive deep into Nexus technology and see what treasures are there for me to find. As a monitoring engineer, I find that I often approach new technology "backward" that way--I'm interested in learning more about it once I have the capability to see inside. So now that the world of VDCs, vPCs, PACLs (port-based ACLs), VACLs (VLAN-based ACLs), etc. are open to me, I want to know more about it.

 

And that takes me to the second point. I'm really interested to see the reaction of attendees when we talk about some of the new aspects of our flagship products. The scalability improvements will definitely satisfy folks who have come to our booth year after year talking about their super-sized environments. If folks aren't impressed with the Orion Mapping feature, I think I'll check for a pulse. Orion Service Manager is one of those hidden gems that answers the question "who's monitoring my monitoring?" And by the end of the show, Kevin and I will either have the "Log" song fully harmonized, or our co-workers will have us locked in a closet with duct-tape over our mouths. This, of course, in honor of the new Log Monitor tool (Log Manager ).

 

Something that has become more and more evident, especially with the rise of Cisco DevNet, is the "intersectionality" of monitoring professionals. Once upon a time, we'd go to CiscoLive and talk to folks who cared about monitoring and cared about networks (but didn't care so much about servers, applications, databases, storage, etc.). We'd go to other conventions, such as Microsoft Ignite, and talk about folks who cared about monitoring and cared about applications/servers (but didn't care as much about networks, etc.).  Now, however, the overlap has grown. We talk about virtualization at SQL Saturdays. We discuss networking at Microsoft Ignite. And we talk about application tracing at CiscoLive. Or at least, we've started to. So one of the things I'm curious about is how this trend will continue.

 

Another theory I want to test is the pervasiveness of SDN. I'm seeing more of it "in the wild" and while I believe I understand what's contributing, I'm going to hold that card close to my chest just now until after CiscoLive 2018 is over. We'll see if my theory tests out as true.

 

Believe it or not, I'm excited to talk to as many of the 24,000 attendees as I can. As I wrote recently, meeting people and collecting stories is one of the real privileges of being a Head Geek, and I'm looking forward to finding so many people and stories in one place.

 

On the other side of the convention aisle, I'm also looking forward to hanging out with all my SolarWinds colleagues in an environment where we're not all running from meeting to meeting and trying to catch up during lunch or coffee breaks. Sure, we'll all be talking to folks (if past years are any indication, more or less non-stop). But in those quiet moments before the expo floor opens or when everyone has run off to attend classes, we'll all have a chance to re-sync the way that can only be done at conventions like this.

 

Speaking of catching up, there's going to be a SWUG again, and that means I'll get to meet up with SolarWinds users who are local to the area as well as those who traveled in for the convention. SWUGs have become a fertile ground for deep conversations about monitoring, both the challenges and the triumphs. I'm looking forward to hearing about both.

 

And then there's the plain goofy fun stuff. Things like Kilted Monday; folks risking tetanus as they dig through our buckets of buttons for ones they don't have yet (there are three new ones this year, to boot!); roving bands of #SocksOfCLUS enthusiasts; and more.

 

I'm just relieved that my kids are going to lay off the shenanigans this year. They caused quite a stir last year, and I could do without the distraction of mattress-surfing, blowtorch-wielding, chainsaw-swinging teenagers at home.

   

Recently, ITWorld asked me to share some thoughts on "IT's Worst Addictions (And How to Cure Them)" (https://www.itworld.com/article/3268305/it-strategy/worst-it-addictions-and-how-to-cure-them.html). While I had shared a number of thoughts on the topic, space and format restricted the post so that only a couple of my ideas were printed. I wanted to share a more complete version with you here.

 

Sensitivity First

The tone of the original article was fairly light, using the word "addiction" in it's informal, rather than medical, context. This is understandable, and in that framework it's easy to lapse into AA-style thinking/language that conflates “IT addictions” with true  addictive behaviors and issues. I think doing so would be unfair to individuals (and their families,  friends, and coworkers) who are dealing with the very real and very serious impact of real addictions every day. I want to avoid trivializing something that has caused so much real trauma and pain, stolen years, and lost lives.

 

At the same time, I recognize that the obsessive behaviors we’re discussing can be remarkably similar to true addiction. Therefore, traditional conversations about addiction may be a source of guidance and wisdom for us.

 

In this post, I hope it's clear that this is a line I'm treading sensitively so that it's clear I'm not making light of a serious topic.

 

That said, over the course of my career I have noticed there are certain behavioral traps and anti-patterns that IT professionals fall into.

 

Let’s start with the IT pro obsessions that everyone thinks of that I have no desire to talk about, because they are well-known and have been chewed over thoroughly:

  • Everything to do with your phone (duh)
  • Communication channels (email, slack, work IM, etc.) (duh)
  • Coffee (duh)

 

Those are the obvious ones. Now let's look at some that are not so obvious:

 

Checking that screen one more time

What “that screen” is differs for each IT pro, but we all have that one thing we compulsively check. It could be the NOC dashboard; it could be the performance tracker for our “baby” system; it could be the cloud statistics. One would hope that for many, it’s the monitoring dashboard.

 

The latest and greatest

This refers to the compulsive need to update, whether we can make a valid financial justification for it or not. Again, the specific manifestation varies. It could be the latest phone, tablet, or laptop, the newest phone service (Google Fi, anyone?), the fastest home internet service, or pro-sumer grade equipment.

 

Monitors

(The hardware kind. I wouldn't ever say you could have too many SolarWinds monitors!)

There are very few IT pros who would say "no" to adding one (or four) more screens to their system, if they had the option. Better still, this desire does not hinge on how many screens one already has. More is always better.

 

Training/Certifications

As strange as it sounds, some IT pros have to be on top of the latest learning. That means lifetime subscriptions to online courses, obsessively upgrading certifications, and more.

 

News

Many IT pros are hopeless news junkies. It may manifest in a single area (politics, sports, tech trends, entertainment) or a combination of those, but the upshot is that we want to know the latest updates, whether they come on our mobile device, the third screen of our main computer, or good old fashioned wood pulp dropped at our front door each morning.

 

Collectibles

Once again, this obsession has a nearly infinite number of variations, including LEGO sets, watches, comic books, figurines. and more. Many IT pros have “that thing” that they go out of their way (and often break their budget) for.

 

(It should be noted that SolarWinds, with our ever-expanding array of buttons and stickers sporting unique ideas, happily feeds into this obsession.)

 

Community

Contrary to the stereotype of the nerdy loner, IT pros tend to be very dedicated to building and being part of a community (or several). While these communities often have an online component, most focus on (and culminate in) an IRL meet-up where they can share stories, offer support, and just bask in the glow of like-minded folks. These communities might be vendor-supported (SWUG, CiscoLive, Microsoft Ignite, etc); vendor-agnostic but professionally oriented (SQL Saturdays, DevOpsDays, PHP.ug, etc.), non-professional but infinitely geeky (D&D conventions and Comic Cons rank high on this list, but are by no means the only examples); or otherwise focus on cultures, medical challenges, car ownership, and more. The point is that IT pros often become deeply (some might say obsessively) involved in these communities and seeing them thrive.

 

The sharing corner

So what are YOUR compulsive IT distractions? Let me (and the rest of us) know in the comments below. Based on feedback, I may even pull together some thoughts on how we all can address the negative aspects of these behaviors and become better for the effort.

I was off last week to celebrate Pesach / Passover so I thought it would be a good time to offer you a taste of an upcoming eBook I'm working on, "The Four Questions of Monitoring," which uses that holiday both as its inspiration and as a thematic framework. I'll be publishing snippets of it here and there.

 

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

(image courtesy of Manta)

 

Once a year, Jews around the world gather together to celebrate Pesach (also known as "Passover,” "The Feast of Matzah,” or even "The Feast of the Paschal Lamb”). More a ceremonial meal than actual "feast,” this gathering of family and friends can last until the wee hours of the morning. The dinnertime dialogue follows a prescribed order (or "seder,” which actually means "order" in Hebrew) that runs the gamut from leader-led prayers to storytelling to group singalongs to question-and-answer sessions and even—in some households—a dramatized retelling of the exodus narrative replete with jumping rubber frogs, ping-pong ball hail stones, and wild animal masks.

 

At the heart of it all, the Seder is designed to do exactly one thing: to get the people at the table to ask questions. Questions like, "Why do we do that? What does this mean? Where did this tradition come from?" To emphasize: the Seder is not meant to answer questions, but rather provoke them.

 

As a religion, Judaism seems to love questions as much (or more) than the explanations, debates, and discussions they lead to. I'm fond of telling co-workers that the answer to any question about Judaism begins with the words, "Well, that depends..." and ends two hours later when you have three more questions than when you started.

 

The fact that I grew up in an environment with such fondness for questions may be what led me to pursue a career in IT, and to specialize in monitoring. More on that in a bit.

 

But the ability to ask questions is nothing by itself. An old proverb says, "One fool can ask more questions than seven wise men can answer." And that brings me back to the Pesach Seder. Near the start of the Seder meal, the youngest person at the table is invited to ask the Four Questions. They begin with question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The conversation proceeds to observe some of the ways that the Pesach meal has taken a normal mealtime practice and changed it so that it's off-kilter, abnormal, noticeably (and sometimes shockingly) different.

 

Like many Jewish traditions, there is a simple answer to the Four Questions. At the surface, it's done to demonstrate to children that questions are always welcome. It's a way of inviting everyone at the table to take stock of what is happening and ask about anything unfamiliar. But it doesn't stop there. If you dig just a bit beneath that easy surface reasoning you'll find additional meaning that goes surprisingly deep.

 

In Yeshivah — a day-school system for Jewish children that combines secular and religious learning — the highest praise one can receive is, "Du fregst un gut kasha," which translates as, "You ask a good question.”

 

This is proven out in a story told by Rabbi Abraham Twersky, a deeply religious psychiatrist. He says that when he was young, his teacher would relish challenges to his arguments. In his broken English, the teacher would say, “You right! You 100 prozent right!! Now, I show you where you wrong!”

 

The impact of this culture of questioning does not limit itself to religious thinking. Individuals who study in this system find that it extends to all areas of life, including the secular.

 

When asked why he became a scientist, Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics, answered,

''My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me, 'Did you ask a good question today?' That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist!''

 

The lesson for us, as monitoring professionals, is twofold. First, we need to foster that same sense of curiosity, that same willingness to ask questions, even when we think the answers may be a long time in coming. We need to question our own assumptions. We need to relish the experience of asking so that it pushes us past the inertia of owning an answer, which is comfortable. And second, we need to find ways to invite questions from our colleagues, as well. Like the Seder, we may have to present information in a way that is shocking, noticeable, and engaging, so that people are pushed beyond their own inherent shyness (or even apathy) to ask, "What is THAT all about?”

 

The deeper message of the Passover seder speaks to the core nature of questions, and the responsibility of those who attempt to answer. "Be prepared,” it seems to say. "Questions can come from anywhere, about anything. Be willing to listen. Be willing to think before you speak. Be willing to say, 'I don't know, but let's find out!' You must also be willing to look past trite answers. Be ready to reconsider, and to defend your position with facts. Be prepared to switch, at a moment’s notice, from someone who answers, to someone who asks."

 

Once again, I believe that being exposed to this tradition of open honesty and curiosity is what makes the discipline of monitoring resonate for me.

Leon Adato

Traveling With Joy

Posted by Leon Adato Expert Mar 12, 2018

Recently, two people I respect very much tweeted about travel, and how to remain positive and grateful while you do it. You can read those tweets here (https://twitter.com/UberGeekGirl/status/961080557063909377) and here ( https://twitter.com/jbiggley/status/961204675352686592).

 

When I saw Jessica's first tweet, I wanted to respond, but thought, "She doesn't need my noise in her twitter feed. But when Josh jumped in with his thoughtful response, I had to join in. If you prefer tweets, you can find the starting point here. For old-fashioned folks who still like correct spelling, complete sentences, and non-serialized thoughts, read on:

 

First, you need to understand that I have some very strong opinions about how someone should carry themselves if they are lucky enough to get to do "exciting" travel for work. When I say exciting travel, I mean:

  • Travel to some place that YOU find exciting
    or
  • Travel that someone ELSE might find exciting

 

Here's why I feel so strongly:

 

As I've written before (http://www.itproday.org/what-makes-an-it-professional/), my Dad was a musician. His combination of talent, youth, and connections (mostly talent) gave him the opportunity to join a prestigious orchestra, one that traveled extensively from the time he joined (in 1963) until he retired 46 years later. My dad went everywhere. He was escorted through Checkpoint Charlie twice in the 60s. He wandered around cold-war, iron-curtain Moscow around the same time. He traveled to Australia, Mexico, all over Europe, and, of course, to almost every state in the United States.

 

It was a charmed life. To be sure, he worked hard to get where he was and made sacrifices along the way. But at the end of the day, he got to play great music with talented colleagues in front of sell-out audiences around the world. It was SO remarkable, that people sometimes had a hard time believing that was all he did.

 

Because I would "go to work" with him from time to time (which meant a lot of sitting in the green room, wandering backstage, and standing next to him during intermission when he'd come out for some fresh air, I was privy to him meeting audience members without really being part of their conversation, which would often follow a very specific pattern:

 

"So what do you do during the day?" they'd ask, figuring that he--like the musicians they probably knew--did this as a side gig while they worked an office job or plied a trade to pay the bills. When they found out that this was ALL he did, that he got paid a living wage to perform music, their sense of amazement increased. That's when they would begin asking (i.e. gushing) about the traveling. While some of these people were well-off, many were folks who often had never left the state where they were born, let alone the country, let alone been on a plane. That's when it became hard to watch.

 

He'd shrug and say, "I get on a plane, sleep, get off the plane, get on the bus, go to the hall, rehearse, eat, play the concert, get on a bus, go to the next town, sleep, get up, rehearse, eat, play. I could be in Timbuktu or Topeka."

 

From my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, I'd watch the other person deflate. They had hoped to feel a sense of wonder imagining the exotic, the special. Instead, they had the dawning recognition that they might as well have been talking to a plumber about the stores he visits. (No disrespect to plumbers. You folks rock.)

 

As I grew up and settled into a career in IT, I never thought I'd have the kind of work that would give me opportunities to travel the way my dad did. Which is why, years later, I stood crying under the Eiffel tower. Not because of the wonder of the structure, but for the miracle that I was standing there AT ALL. I was overwhelmed by the sheer impossible magic of being in a role where traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Paris was possible in any context other than a once-in-a-lifetime, piggy-bank-breaking vacation.

 

A three-month project in Brussels followed Paris. A year in Switzerland came after that. In between were shorter trips, no less inspiring for being closer to home. Just getting onto a plane and taking off was an adventure in itself.

 

And through it all were the people. As Jessica said in her tweet, "Thousands of unseen humans help me get to my destination." I was meeting these people, hearing their stories, and being asked to tell mine.

 

In those moments--in the Lyft on the way to the airport; checking in at the hotel; sitting next to someone on the shuttle to the car rental area--I'm reminded of those moments when I stood next to my dad during intermission. While there are many things about the man that I admire, he's not infallible, and there are definitely habits of his that I choose not to emulate. This is one of them.

 

So I try to write (sometimes more than is strictly required of me) when I go to new and different places. When I have the time and focus, I write before I go about what I hope to see/do/learn; and then I write again afterward, detailing what I saw, who I met, and how it went.

 

As Head Geek for SolarWinds, I write these essays partly because it's actually my job. (Best. Job. Ever.) But I also do it because I'm aware that jobs like mine are unique. I want to provide a vicarious experience for those who might want it, so that they can share a sense of wonder about the exotic, the special.

 

I also write so that, if someone has chosen to forego these types of opportunities, either due to ambivalence, anxiety, or uncertainty, that maybe they might find motivation, reassurance, or insight; that in reading about my experiences, they might realize they have more to gain than they thought.

 

Finally, I write about my travels for myself. To remind me that, like both Jessica and Josh said, in each trip, thousands of things go right and thousands of people are helping me get where I need to go. To remind me of the wonder, the exotic, the special.

 

And the blessing.

Claw_Marks.png

 

(This is the fourth and final part of a series. You can find Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here.)

 

It behooves me to remind you that there are many spoilers beyond this point. If you haven't seen the movie yet, and don't want to know what's coming, bookmark this page to enjoy later.

 

New IT pros may take your tools and techniques and use them differently. Don't judge.

 

One of the interesting differences between Logan and Laura is that she has two claws that come from her hands (versus Logan's three), and one that comes out of her foot. Charles speculates that females of a species develop different weapons for protection versus hunting. Logan seems unimpressed even though he just witnessed Laura taking out at least three soldiers with her foot-claws alone.

 

The lesson for us is to remember that tools are there to be used. If it achieves the desired result and avoids downstream complications, then it doesn't matter if the usage diverges from "the way we did it in my day.” Thinking outside the box (something my fellow Head Geek, Destiny Bertucci, talks about all the time https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/thwack-event-session.jspa?sessionId=1017) is a sign of creativity and engagement, two things that should never be downplayed.

 

Your ability to think will always trump the capability of your tools.

 

Yes, Logan is stab-y and can heal. But Charles, at the end of his life, can still flatten a city block.

 

And it is here where we descend into the realm of "who would win in a fight between Superman® and God?" This is, admittedly, a realm that the SolarWinds THWACK® March Madness bracket battle has been willing to take on for several years in a row

(https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/bracket-battle-2--gamer-edition_tht

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/sci-fi-bracket-battle

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/bracket-battle-2016-oh-captain-my-captain

https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/bracket-battle-2017-sidekicks),

 

but I'm going to go there anyway. Logan/Wolverine® is one of the darlings of the X-Men® (and Marvel®) franchise. He's captured imaginations since his first appearance in 1974, and appeared in countless comics with the X-Men and solo. But even within the context of the X-Men movie franchise, he's far from the most powerful.

 

Magneto: “You must be Wolverine. That remarkable metal doesn't run through your entire body, does it?”

 

No, it's pretty clear that the most powerful being, certainly in Logan , but also in the mutant-verse, is Charles. Again, the ability to contact every human mind on the planet is nothing to sneeze at, and it puts healing ability and metal claws to shame.

 

Here’s what I want you to take from this: your ideas, thoughts, and ability to reason are the things that make you an IT powerhouse. It doesn’t matter that your PC has a quad-core processor and 128Gb of RAM. Nobody cares that your environment is running the latest container technology, or that your network has fiber-to-the-desktop. You have a veritable encyclopedia of CLI commands or programming verbs in your head? So what.

 

You are valued for the things that you do with your tools. Choose wisely. Think actively. Engage passionately.

 

It's never about what you do (or what you have achieved, fixed, etc.). The story of your IT career has always been and will always be about who you met, who you helped, and who you built a connection with.

 

The movie Logan is not, at its heart, about stabbing people in the head with metal claws, or car chases, or mutant abilities. While there is plenty of that, the core of the movie is about two men coming to terms with themselves and their legacy, and how that legacy will affect the world after they are gone.

 

It is a movie about the very real father-son relationship between Logan and Charles - how they love each other but wish the other could be "better" in some way. They understand that they cannot change the other person, but have to learn to live with them.

 

It is also about caring for another person: about whether we choose to care or not, about how we express that care, about how those feelings are received by the other person and reciprocated (or not).

 

Once again, I am invoking the blog post by fellow Head Geek Thomas LaRock: "Relationships Matter More Than Money" (https://thomaslarock.com/2017/05/relationships-matter-money/).

 

"When you use the phrase, "It's not personal, it's just business," you are telling the other person that money is more important than your relationship. Let that sink in for a minute. You are telling someone, perhaps a (current, maybe soon-to-be-former) friend of yours, that you would rather have money than their friendship. And while some jerk is now getting ready to leave the comment “everything has a price,” my answer is “not my friends.” If you can put a price on your friendships, maybe you need better ones.

 

Why are you in IT? Odds are very good it's not for the money. Okay, the money isn't bad, but no matter what the payout is, ultimately it’s probably not enough to keep you coming back into the office day after day. You are in IT for something else. Maybe you like the rush of finding a solution nobody else ever thought of. Or the pure beauty of the logic involved in the work. Or the chance to build something that someone else wanted but couldn't figure out how to make for themselves.

 

But underneath it all, you are probably in IT because you want to help people in some meaningful way.

 

That's the IT lesson we can take from Logan. The climax of the movie isn't when Laura shoots X24 in the head with an adamantium bullet.

 

It's when she clutches Logan's hand as he's dying and cries out, "Daddy!" in her loss and grief, and he accepts both her name and love for him, even if he doesn't feel he's worthy of either.

 

We are here - on this planet, in this community, at this company, on this team, on this project, doing this job - to forge connections with the people that we meet. To learn, mentor, befriend, lead, help, teach, follow, grow, foster, mentor, and so much more. The rest are just technical details.

 

1 “Logan” (2017), Marvel Entertainment, distributed by 20th Century Fox

It was a very full week at CiscoLive--not to mention an additional full week in Spain, which I'll get to in a minute--and I have a lot to share.

 

First and foremost, and this is not meant to be a slam on Munich, I had an amazing time just BEING in Barcelona. Sure it was a little warmer. Sure, I speak a little Spanish as opposed to zero German. And sure, there were three kosher restaurants instead of the one in Munich. But even beyond that, the pace, the layout, and even the FEEL of the place was different for me in a very enjoyable way. I was incredibly happy to hear that CLEUR will be in Barcelona again next year, and hope that I get to be part of the "away team" again.

 

The Big Ideas

At every convention, I try to suss out the big themes, ideas, and even products that make a splash at the show. Here's what I found this time:

 

DevNet! DevNet! DevNet!
I think I talk about DevNet after every CiscoLive, but gosh darn if it's not noteworthy each time. This year, my fellow Head Geek Patrick Hubbard rightly called out the announcement about IBN. No, read it again: NOT big blue. Intent-Based Networking: https://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/introducing-the-cisco-network-assurance-engine. The upshot of this announcement is that the network is about to get smarter than ever, using data, modeling, and (of course) built-in tools to understand and then ensure the "intent" of the networking you have in place. And how will you interact with this brave new intent-based world? Code.

This leads me to my second big observation:
The time for SDN has come

Every year (since 2014) I've been trying to figure out how SDN fits into the enterprise. Usually when I talk to a group, I give it a shot:

    • "How many of you are thinking about SDN" (usually, most of the hands go up)
    • "How many are using SDN in the lab?" (in most cases, one-half to two-thirds of the hands go down)
    • "How many are using it in prod?" (typically all but three hands go down, leaving just the folks who work for ISPs)

 

This time I had a ton of people--enterprise folks--coming and asking about SDN and Cisco ACI support, which tells me that we have hit a tipping point. I have a theory why (grist for another article), but it boils down to two main things. First, Cisco has done a kick-ass job pushing "DevNet" and teaching network folks of all stripes not to fear the code. People came to the booth asking "does this support python scripting?" Scripting wasn't an afterthought; it was a key feature they needed. Second, SDN experience has filtered down from networking engineers at ISPs to mid-level technicians, and companies are now able to enumerate the value of this technology both on a technical and business level. Thus, the great corporate adoption of SDN is now starting.

 

Being a NetVet is every bit as cool as I thought it would be
Besides causing vendors to stare at your badge for an extra two seconds, the biggest benefit of being a NetVet is the lounge. It is quiet. It has comfy couches. It has it's own coffee machine. It. Has. My. Name. On. It.

 

The View from the Booth

So that sums up the major things I saw at the show. But what about the interactions in the SolarWinds booth? SO MUCH was packed into the three days that it's hard to pick just a few, but here goes.

 

TNG, and I don't mean Star Trek
One of the fun things about a show like CiscoLive is getting to show off new features and even whole new solutions. Three years ago I got to stand on stage with Chris O'Brien and show off "something we've been playing with in the lab," which turned out to be NetPath. This time, we had a chance to get initial reactions to a new command line tool that would perform traceroute-like functions, but without ICMP's annoying habit of being blocked by... well, just about everything. While we're still putting on the final coat of paint, the forthcoming free "Traceroute NG" tool will perform route analysis via TCP or traditional ICMP,  show you route changes if the path changes during scanning, supports IPv4 and IPv6 networks, and more. Attendees who saw it were blown away.

 

Hands Up for BackUp!

We also got to take the lid off an entirely new offering: cloud-based backup for your important systems. (https://www.solarwinds.com/backup) This isn't some "xcopy my files to the cloud" kludge. Using block-based backup techniques for screaming fast (and bandwidth-friendly) results; a simple deployment strategy that supports Windows and Linux-based systems; granular permissions; and a dashboard that lets you know the disposition of every system, regardless of the size of your deployment.

 

Survey Says?
A great part of booth conversations is comparing experiences and discovering how frequently they match up. This frequently comes out as a kind of IT version of Mad Libs.

  • I was discussing alerts and alert actions with an attendee who was clearly part of "Team Linux." After pointing out that alerts should extend far beyond emails or opening tickets, I threw out, "If your IIS-based website is having problems, what's the first thing you do?" Without even a pause they said, "You restart the app pool." That's when I showed SAM's built-in alert actions. (Afterward we both agreed that "install Apache" was an equally viable answer.)
  • When Patrick asked a group of four longtime SolarWinds users to guess the most downloaded SolarWinds product, the response was immediate and emphatic: "TFTP Server." I could only laugh at how well our customers know us.

 

"I'm here to ask question and chew bubblegum (and it doesn't look like you're giving out bubblegum)"
As I have noted in the past, CiscoLive Europe may be smaller (14k attendees versus ~27k in the United States), but the demos go longer and the questions are far more intense. There is a much stronger sense of purpose when someone comes to our booth. They have things they need to find out, design choices they want to confirm, and they don't need another T-shirt, thank you very much. Which isn't to say we had swag left at the end. It was all gone. But it took until the last day.

 

More Parselmouth's than at a Slytherin Convention
This year I was surprised by how often someone opened their questions with, "Do these solutions support Python?" (For the record, the answer is yes: https://github.com/solarwinds/orionsdk-python) Not that I was surprised to be asked about language support in general. What got me was how often this happened to be the opening question. As I said earlier, Cisco's DevNet has done an incredible job of encouraging the leap to code, and it is now framing many networking professional's design choices and world view. I see this as a good thing.

 

La Vida Barcelona

Outside of the hustle and bustle of the convention center, a whole world awaited us. As a polyglot wannabe, the blend of languages was multicultural music to my ears. But there wasn't much time to really see the sites or soak up the Spanish culture because the convention was demanding so much of my day.

 

Which is why I decided to spend an extra week in-country. My wife and I traveled from Barcelona to Madrid, and even spent a day in Seville to visit the apartment where she was born and spent the first few months of her life.

 

We saw some amazing sites:

 

Including some views that GoT fans like jennebarbour will find familiar:

 

 

 

Ate some incredible food:

 

And generally just enjoyed all that Spain had to offer. The only hiccough was the weather. It was kind of like this.

 

For Clevelanders like us, it's pretty normal. But I'm pretty sure the locals suspected we brought our weather with us, and were glad to see the back of me when we finally packed up and headed back home.

 

Until next year (which will be in Barcelona again), and until the next trip.

(pictured: patrick.hubbard, ding, andre.domingues, and the inimitable Silvia Siva.)

 

It's time for another edition of Leon's Log, where either I preview a trip I'm about to take, or summarize one I've just been on. My goal is to help those whose budgets don't allow them to attend these conventions to get at least a few insights into what was shown; and for those who are considering going, get a window into the value of the event.

 

Taking a break from Berlin (where it's been held the last two years), CiscoLive Europe (or #CLEUR, as you'll see it mentioned on Twitter and elsewhere) will be in Barcelona, Spain this year, running from Sunday (yes Sunday) 1/28 through Friday 2/2.

 

Barcelona in February is hardly an oasis, but staring out my office window at the snow-covered streets of Cleveland (Jenne Barbour now insists I live on Hoth), the average Spanish weather of 5°-14°C  (about 41° - 57° F) is definitely a step in the right direction!

 

I mentioned the convention opens on Sunday this year, with a dedicated set of  DevNetExpress classes (https://devnetevents.cisco.com/event/DevNet-Express-Barcelona-DCI-Jan-2018). My travel plans don't allow me to make it for that, and I'm definitely going to miss it. Despite that, I am hoping to hit at least one programming session because everyone looks like they're having so much fun every time I go into the DevNet Zone.

 

One of the things I've been lax about keeping up to date with are Cisco's SDA and SD-WAN strategies. I feel like this is the year I should hit some of the sessions on this. I've even been invited to swing by the dCloud booth, crash on the dCloud couch, and get a demo of DNA Center and Viptela.

 

Another thing I'm looking at are the keynotes and showcases, to see if I can suss out any major themes.

  • The keynote will be given by Rowan Trollope SVP and GM, IoT and Applications
  • Innovation Showcases titles include:
    • Unlock the Power of Data
    • Reinvent Networking
    • Changing the Security Equation
    • Delivering Intent for Data Center Networking
    • Enabling a Multicloud World
    • Emerging Technologies are Game-Changers for Technology Services
    • Rise of the Network APIs
    • The Rise of the Team: Speeding up Work in the Disruptive Economy
    • Transformation Through Innovation
    • Unlock the Value of IoT Data

 

I'm pretty sure there are some underlying messages, right?

 

While I know I said this last time I'm looking forward to finally FINALLY getting NetVet status this year. I've gotten my email asking to confirm my past attendance, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is my year to get the coveted red ribbon.

 

I'm going to miss seeing my long-time convention buddy Roddie Hasan (@eiddor), but he had to skip out on this event. Not to worry, we already have plans to catch up at CiscoLive US in Orlando in June.

 

AND OF COURSE, going to Spain means I have a chance to sample the culture and cuisine. While traditional paella and tapas may not be on my #kosher menu, there are a few restaurants in the city that have options, and I'm planning to share pictures of everything I can sink my teeth into.

 

Finally, I'm doing something fairly unique for these kinds of trips: You see, my wife was born in Seville while my father-in-law served in the air force. So this is a chance for me to bring her "home" and visit the first house where she laid her head at night. While we're at it, we'll try to take in as much of the country as time will permit.

 

¡Y también podré practicar mi español!

 

If you are planning to attend CLEUR, please drop me a line and plan to stop by booth WEP 1A to say hi, talk monitoring, and of course grab some of the usual slate of convention goodies.

 

iStock-545578770.jpg

 

(This is the third part of a series. You can find Part One here and Part Two here.)

 

It behooves me to remind you that there are many spoilers beyond this point. If you haven't seen the movie yet, and don't want to know what's coming, bookmark this page to enjoy later.

 

Having tools without understanding history or context is usually bad.

 

On the flipside of using tools creatively, which I will discuss in the next part of the series, is using tools without understanding their context or history.

 

There are two analogs for this in the movie. First is how Charles can't remember the Westchester Incident. He continues to operate under the assumption that Logan is tormenting him for some reason, forcing him to live in a toppled-over well, and then dragging him cross-country when they are discovered. In reality, they'd been hiding from the repercussions of Charles' psychic outburst. But lacking that knowledge, Charles is ineffectual in helping their cause.

 

The second example is "X24,” an adult clone of Logan and something of a mindless killing machine. X24 is Logan without context, without history, without a frame of reference. And therefore, he is without remorse.

 

Both of these cases exemplify the harm that can come when a tool is operated by a user who doesn't fully understand why the tool exists or everything it is designed to do. It is nmap in the hands of a script kiddy.

 

As "experienced" IT professionals (that's code for "old farts"), one of our key goals should be sharing history and context with the younger set. As I wrote in "Respect Your Elders" (https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/geek-speak_tht/blog/2015/06/04/respect-your-elders), everything in IT has a reason and a history. Forgetting that history can not only make you less effective, it can be downright dangerous. But newcomers to our field aren't going to learn that history from books. They're going to learn it from us if we are open and willing to share.

 

Lynchpin team members become force-multipliers, even if their specific contribution wasn't the most impactful.

 

In the movie, Logan shows up at a final battle. He doesn't defeat everyone and technically all the kids should have been able to hold their own. But when he appeared, it galvanized them into working together.

 

A little earlier I mentioned that the mutant kids are able to hold their own against an army of reavers, robotically enhanced mercenaries intent on capturing and/or killing the children before they reach the Canadian border.

 

I should have mentioned that they are just barely holding their own. Before long, most are captured. It is only due to the timely arrival of Logan that they are able to regain the upper hand. And even then, Logan is the one who has to take on X24, their most powerful adversary.

 

Granted, it is Laura who ultimately ends the conflict with X24. Granted it is the kids who disarm, disable, or kill the bulk of the soldiers.

 

But Logan's appearance changes the tide of the battle. Before he arrives, the kids are being picked off one by one. The reavers control the situation, they understand each kid, and are able to neutralize their abilities with precision. After Logan appears on the scene, the reavers are fighting on two fronts and it disrupts their efforts, causes them to make careless mistakes, and ultimately costs them the fight.

 

In this moment, Logan is known as a "force multiplier," a tool, technique, or individual who dramatically increases the efficacy of the team. In effect, a force multiplier makes a group work as if they have more members, or have members with a greater range of skills, than they actually possess. While the concept is most commonly understood within military contexts, the fact is that many areas of work benefit from the presence of force multipliers.

 

In IT, we need to learn to acknowledge when a technology, technique, or even an individual (regardless of age or experience) is a force multiplier. We need to also understand that a force multiplier isn't a universal panacea. Something (or someone) who is a force multiplier in one context (day-to-day operations) isn't necessarily going to have the same effect in a different situation (rapid deployment of a new architecture).

 

It's okay to lie as long as you're telling the truth.

 

There are times in your IT career when you're going to need to lie. Not a little white "because the birthday cake is in the kitchen and we're not ready for you to come in yet" lie. Not a bending of the truth. I’m talking full-on, bald-faced lie.

 

You're going to get the email instructing you to disable someone's account at 2:00 p.m. because they're being let go. And then you're going to see that person in the hall and exchange pleasantries.

 

A co-worker will confide to you that they just got an amazing job offer, but they're not planning on giving notice for another two weeks. After that, you're going to be in a meeting with management offering staffing projections for the coming quarter, and you are going to feign acceptance that your co-worker is part of that equation.

 

Going back to the dinner scene on the farm with the Munroe family, the exchange about the school goes something like this:

Logan: “Careful, you're speaking to a man who ran a school… for a lot of years.”

Charles: “Well, that's correct. It was a… it was a kind of special needs school.”

Logan: “That's a good description.”

Charles: (indicating Logan) “He was there, too.”

Logan: “Yeah, I was in it, too. I got expelled out three times.”

Charles: “I wish I could say that you were a good pupil, but the words would choke me.”

 

From the Munroes’ point of view, this is a father and son reminiscing about their past. And you know what? It IS a father and son reminiscing about their past. All of the things they say have an emotional truth to them, even if they are a complete fabrication.

 

IT pros have access to so many systems and sources of insight that our non-IT co-workers can’t "enjoy." Therefore, we must endeavor to maintain the emotional truth of each situation, even when we have to mask the details.

 

But that isn't all I learned! Stay tuned for future installments of this series. And until then, Excelsior!

 

1 “Logan” (2017), Marvel Entertainment, distributed by 20th Century Fox

While the Word-A-Day  Challenge has only completely it's second year, it is already a labor of love for me. Last year the idea struck (as they so often do) in an unanticipated "a-ha!" moment, and with barely enough time to see it realized. As I explained at the time, the words were re-cycled from another word-a-day challenge I take part in yearly.

 

This year was different. I had time to think and plan, and that was especially true of the list of words I wanted to present to the THWACK community. I knew they had to be special. Important. Meaningful not just as words can be in their own right, but meaningful to us in the IT world.

 

As I selected the words for the word-a-day challenge, I looked for ones with a particular feel and heft:

  1. They had to be clearly identifiable as technology words
  2. More than that, they needed to be words which have an enduring place in the IT lexicon
  3. And they needed to also be words which have a significant meaning outside of the IT context

 

In addition to hoping that words with those attributes would inspire discussion and offer each writer a variety of options for inspiration,  I was also curious to see which way the ark of conversations in the comments would bend for each. Would the community focus solely on the technical aspect? Would they avoid the tech and go for the alternate meanings? Would there be representation from both sides?

 

To put it in more concrete terms, would people choose to write about backbone as an aspect of biology, technology, or character? Would Bootstrap appeal to folks more as a method or a metaphor?

 

To say that the THWACK community exceeded my wildest imaginings would actually be understatement (a crime I've rarely been accused of). Here at the end of 31 days of the challenge, the answer to my question is a resounding "all of the above". In writing, images, poems, and haiku, you left no intellectual stone un-turned.

 

More than that, however, was how so many of us took a technical idea and suggested ways we could use the same concepts to improve ourselves; or conversely, how we could take the non-technical meaning of a word and apply THAT to our technical lives. And through it all was a constant message of "we can do better. we can be better. we have so much more to learn. we have so much more to do."

 

And even more fundamentally, the message I read time and time again was "we can get there together. as a community. we can help each other be better."

 

For me, it brought to mind a quote by Michael Walzer:

"We still believe, or many of us do, what the Exodus first taught...

- first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt;

- second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land;

- and third, that 'the way to the land is through the wilderness'.

There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching."

 

 

I would like to thank everyone who took time out of their hectic end-of-year schedules - sometimes in their personal time over evenings and weekends - to comment so thoughtfully. And in that same vein I'm deeply grateful to the 22 writers who generated the 31 "lead" articles - 12 of whom this year came from the ranks of our incredible, inimitable, indefatigable THWACK MVP's. If you missed out on any of the days, I'm listing each post below to give you yet another chance to catch up.

 

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the dedicated THWACK community team for helping manage all the behind-the-scenes work that allowed the challenge to go off without a hitch this year.

 

I am humbled to have had a chance to be part of this, and I'm already thinking about the words, ideas, and stories I hope we can share in the coming year.

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

Leon Adato
Eric CourtesyIT
Peter Monaghan, CBCP, SCP, ITIL ver.3
Joshua Biggley
Craig Norborg
Ben Garves
Kamil Nepsinsky
Richard Letts
Kevin Sparenberg
Jeremy Mayfield
Patrick Hubbard
Rob Mandeville
Karla Palma
Ann Guidry
Matt R
Jenne Barbour
Thomas Iannelli
Allie Eby
Richard Schroeder
Jenne Barbour
Abigail Norman
Mark Roberts
Zack Mutchler
Rainy Schermerhorn
Shelly Crossland
Jez Marsh
Michael Probus
Jenne Barbour
Jenne Barbour
Erik Eff
Leon Adato

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