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Announcing the THWACK 2019 December Writing Challenge!

Level 17


Not too long ago, a copy of Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer” made its way around the SolarWinds office—passing from engineering to marketing to development to the Head Geeks, and even to management.

Amid chuckles of appreciation, we recognized Munroe had struck upon a deeper truth: as IT practitioners, we’re often asked to describe complex technical ideas or solutions. However, it’s often for an audience requiring a simplified explanation. These may be people who consider themselves “non-technical,” but just as easily, it could be for folks deeply technical in a different IT discipline. From both groups (and people somewhere in-between) comes the request to “explain it to me like I’m five years old” (a phrase shortened to “Explain Like I’m Five,” or ELI5, in forums across the internet).

There, amid Munroe’s mock blueprints and stick figures, were explanations of complex concepts in hyper-simplified language achieving the impossible alchemy of being amusing, engaging, and accurate.

We were inspired. And so, for the December Writing Challenge 2019, we hope to do for IT what Randall Munroe did for rockets, microwaves, and cell phones: explain what they are, what they do, and how they work in terms anyone can understand, and in a way that may even inspire a laugh or two.

At the same time, we hope to demonstrate a simple idea best explained by a man who understood complicated things:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

Throughout December, one writer—chosen from among the SolarWinds staff and THWACK MVPs—will be the lead writer each day. You—the THWACK community—are invited to contribute your own thoughts each day, both on the lead post and the word itself. In return, you’ll receive friendship, camaraderie, and THWACK points. 200 to be precise, for each day you comment on a post.*

You’ll find each day’s post on the December Writing Challenge 2019 forum. Take a moment now to visit it and click "Follow" so that you don't miss a single post. As in past years, I’ll be writing a summary of the week and posting it over on the Geek Speak forum​.

In the spirit of ELI5, your comments (and indeed, those of the lead writers as well) can be in the form of prose, poetry, or even pictures. Whatever you feel addresses the word of the day and represents a way to explain a complex idea simply and clearly.

To help you get your creative juices flowing, here’s the word list in advance.

Everyone here on THWACK is looking forward to reading your thoughts!

  1. Monitoring
  2. Latency
  3. Metrics
  4. NetFlow
  5. Logging
  6. Observability
  7. Troubleshoot
  8. Virtualization
  9. Cloud Migration
  10. Container
  11. Orchestration
  12. Microservices
  13. Alert
  14. Event Correlation
  15. Application Programming Interface (API)
  16. SNMP
  17. Syslog
  18. Parent-Child
  19. Tracing
  20. Information Security
  21. Routing
  22. Ping
  23. IOPS
  24. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  25. Telemetry
  26. Key Performance Indicator (KPI)
  27. Root Cause Analysis
  28. Software Defined Network (SDN)
  29. Anomaly detection
  30. AIOps
  31. Ransomware

* We’re all reasonable people here. When I say “a comment,” it needs to be meaningful. Something more than “Nice” or “FIRST!” or “Gimme my points.” But I’m sure you all knew that already.

Level 13

Thanks adatole​!  Looking forward to it.

Level 15

Looking forward to the challenge.

I like the ELI5 concept.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert EinsteinpastedImage_0.png



Level 15

When do we know if we got a requested topic?

Level 12

Nice. Fifth.

I am really going to enjoy some of these subjects and will probably read everything.

Here's hoping for an ELI5-flowetry cross-post, adatole

Level 14

Thank you, Leon, for doing this again.  My mind is already swimming with ideas. 

Level 13

This is going to be awesome.  Thanks adatole​ !

Level 17

Paging jreves​ and ams.norman ...

Level 9

This should be an interesting exercise. What you write versus/what we perceive.

Product Manager
Product Manager

We're working on it 😉

Level 14

adatole​ thanks for doing this again. It is one of my favorite THWACK features.

Level 9

do the dates align to the numbers?  sturdyerde

So today is Netflow?

Level 8

Hmm, i posted one for today word but it dosnt seem to have appeared, nor have any others

Level 15

adatole​ So when it's our turn to post, we just post it or do we send it to you first? 

Level 9

It looks like it needs to be approved before it posts.

Level 9

the nice with ELI5 is that all you have to do is explain it Minecraft

hey, there's a thought, can I post a minecraft video

Level 14

Great.  I've always wondered what some of these terms actually mean.     

Level 15

m having issues getting to the Day 22 and I do not see day 23, anyone else?   Day 22 just gives me a message you are not authorized to be here. 

Level 14

Each time I read the title to this (Explain Like I'm Five) I'm reminded of Galaxy Quest's sad scene:   Galaxy Quest - We pretended, we lied. - YouTube

Level 12

thanks for the post

Level 14

adatole​, I really did enjoy this event.  However, no points awarded.

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.