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[A Case for Going] Sleepless in Seattle

Community Manager

One month ago (May 7), I got up at an ungodly hour, spent about four hours in a metal tube hurtling through the air, and landed feeling tired. Getting from the airport to the hotel is all a heavy-eyed blur. However, my lethargy didn’t last long, because I was in Seattle for a free SolarWinds User Group (SWUG).

Hosting a SWUG frequently requires late nights and, occasionally, early mornings. Those sacrifices are small, because these events are some of the things I love most about this job. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, SWUGs are a labor of love. I won’t wax philosophical again here because I’ve already done so.

Some of us SWUG veterans still get a rush meeting with everyone and putting (user)names to faces. Your experiences fuel us and our desire to make great SolarWinds products. In addition, this year we went from a single-day event to a two-day event. Even though it’s two days of technical content, it’s still 100% free. And, we’ve doubled the number of conversations. For me, this was a welcome change.

Day 1

As the emcee, I got to kick off the festivities. I spoke about how your IT problems don’t matter, only your end users do. Yes, they may feel like a plague upon your world, but, at the end of the day, they’re the reason you have your job. This is just one of the multitude of reasons you shouldn’t lose focus.

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Brandon told us about everything what’s new for systems administrators and introduced everyone to a new addition to the SolarWinds portfolio. Your environments are constantly changing and expanding, and Brandon told the crowd about all the ways SolarWinds solutions help you do your job better.

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Next up was Joe, who told us all about the new releases aimed at helping the network manager. He introduced the room to the newest Network Insight and spoke about how NetFlow can be used to isolate problems on your network. If you want to talk about network traffic flow, Joe’s your man.

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After a lunch break, we threw it back to a Seattle local, Nicole, who told everyone about how SolarWinds is trying to help everyone stay on top of their security and compliance with on-premises and cloud offerings from SolarWinds. Security threats are constantly morphing and changing and it’s our job to help you be best prepared for whatever lies in your future.

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After Nicole’s presentation, we were off to our separate sessions. In the main auditorium, Joe took back to the stage and Kristin joined him. The two of them spoke about how User Experience (UX) and Product Management (PM) makes the sausage software at SolarWinds. Specifically, they wanted to make sure everyone knew how critical it was to have frequent input from the community, be it through UX sessions, beta participation, or early adoption of release candidates. Our goal is to make software that’s delightful to use. We can’t do so without the involvement of the community.

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In another room, Rich talked about how you can make sure your IT infrastructure is compliant based on your specific needs. Just because your organization doesn’t operate in healthcare, finance, or government, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards. Deviation from those standards can lead to configuration drift (both on network devices and servers) and make everyone’s life more complicated when something goes awry. With his expertise, Rich showed you how to navigate those waters and how best to wrangle these issues with SolarWinds products.

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In the final room, it was my turn to tell everyone why they should feel bad because their dashboards are bad. I provided a methodology for building good dashboards and introduced everyone to the people and places to find more information. I also showed an example of how to craft the excellent, yet elusive, “executive” dashboard.

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And so, we all retired for dinner and drinks. Another SWUG in the books, right? Not so fast. We still have another whole day left and there was some work to do in the interim.

Overnight, we opened a forum for people to submit questions to the SolarWinds AMA (Ask Me Anything) for the following day, but more on that later. For most of us, we grabbed some seafood, had a drink, and did some prep work and got ready for the second day.

Day 2

To kick off the second day, Head Geek Thomas LaRock told us all about how bad job postings are and are not our own fault. The logical progression of your career has ramifications on what you think of as your job description. Think about it this way: even if your title doesn’t change, the job you do today is very different from your job last year. As you take on more responsibilities, new lines appear in your job description. That bad description might be your fault, but at least you’ll enjoy the ride.

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Then I came back on stage for a tried and true session about alert tuning. I spoke a little bit about how monitoring is not the same as alerting and although monitoring everything is a good thing, alerting on everything is a very, very, very bad thing. The elements of a “good” alert can be elusive. I provided some tips and tricks on moving from alerting to good alerting.

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Following me to the stage, in her first ever SWUG appearance, we had Ashelena share all the resources available to SolarWinds customers. Everyone already knows about THWACK®, but how many people knew about the Customer Success Center or Orange Matter or the SolarWinds Academy? Ashelena clued everyone into the resources we, as a company, offer our customers. Growing in your knowledge shouldn’t be a solo journey, so allow us to help.

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Then it was time for the SolarWinds AMA (Ask Me Anything). Taking questions posed the night before and taking questions live in the room, the SolarWinds staff spoke about anything. Why was this thing included in that feature? Why doesn’t this thing support my device? How would you recommend doing this thing my company needs? Long story short, it was a great session and we’ll be including it in future SWUGs.

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When we broke for lunch the questions didn’t stop, which is just one of the things that’s great about attending a SolarWinds User Group. You get the chance to ask the questions most important to you of the decisionmakers at SolarWinds. It’s like a big red phone directly to the top.

Like day 1, the second day’s afternoon was broken up for individual sessions.

In the main auditorium, we were once again entranced as Tom spoke about the best way to cut through the noise in your monitoring data. Is this something I should be concerned by, or is this just a small blip in the status quo? Understanding and identifying the difference can help you stop chasing the red herring.

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Chris is one of our most experienced Technical Advisors and spoke in multiple sessions about how to scale your monitoring solution from a proof-of-concept install to a global monitoring solution. As your environment grows and evolves, your monitoring solution needs to scale with you. In recent years, migrating to a hybrid-cloud or adopting a cloud-first methodology are just a few of the ways environments grow. Chris has been helping customers scale up and out for years, so he was a logical pick for speaking with customers about all the details on how to best scale for their needs.

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One of the highlights of the event was a presentation by THWACK MVP Liam Luther. Although camera-shy, Liam showed attendees how he got into hacking the Orion® Platform for his own fun and profit, including examples he’s made over the years. In the two weeks since the event, he hasn’t slowed down and added ways to bring even more customizations to the Orion Platform. It was such a hit, we’ll be having other THWACK MVPs proctor their own sessions at more SWUGs this year.

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If you asked me the morning I left, if SWUG is worth the long hours and lack of sleep, I might have said “no.”  If you asked me the same question after greeting the first attendee, I would have laughed in your face. For me, it’s always worth it to get in touch with our customers.

For those of you who were able to join us at the Seattle SolarWinds User Group, thank you for attending. We had a great time meeting with everyone and look forward to speaking with you again. If you missed us in Seattle, then the good news is we’ll be traveling to San Diego for a Customer Appreciation Event at Cisco Live on June 11, New York on July 10-11, and Chicago on October 23-24. Sign up now for any of these free events and encourage your colleagues to do the same. One thing I’ve heard most often in the post-SWUG days is people wish they’d brought their coworkers with them.

The SolarWinds User Group is what community is all about. Collectively we’re smarter than any of us individually.

Now it’s time for this SWUG attendee to catch up on some sleep.

6 Comments
MVP
MVP

I've been to ~6 SWUGs over the years, even the very first "Beta SWUG". The Seattle SWUG was the first 2-day SWUG I have attended, and it was easily the best one to date. I appreciate the opportunity to ramble speak present, and actually had fun doing so. Turns out, it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, and I'm super glad I was allowed to do it.

Thank you,

-Will

Level 13

Hoping to attend a SWUG one of these days.  So far the timing/locations haven't aligned, but here's hoping.

Level 20

Is that where you live Will?

Level 12

This was my first SWUG. It was worth flying and paying for a hotel to attend. I definitely got more out of it than it cost to attend!

MVP
MVP

No sir, I flew in from San Antonio, TX. It was definitely worth the travel/time/resources too.

MVP
MVP

I've only been to 1 SWUG so far, but I'm looking forward to more. Meeting the staff is awesome, meeting other Thwacksters is great and really helps build the community and there is much knowledge to be gained through the sessions.

I love to see the posts from the events - it's kind of a mixed feelings kind of thing - I enjoy seeing what went on, who was there, etc, but on the other hand I feel like I "missed out."

About the Author
Kevin's first computer was the family TI-99/4A. He's learned computing the best way possible: by fixing his own broken machines. He was a SolarWinds customer for nearly 10 years before joining the company. He's worked the range of IT jobs: from the 3-person consultancy to the international law firm. Along the way, he's become a SolarWinds advocate and evangelist of monitoring glory. His passions include shooting archery, blacksmithing, playing D&D, and helping IT professionals leave at a reasonable time each and every day.