Training for the Future — SolarWinds TechPod 008

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Host Alex Navarro discusses what skills tech pros can develop now to position themselves, and the organizations they serve, for future success with Head Geek Leon Adato and Cal Smith of SolarWinds.

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Cal Smith

Guest | Senior Director, SolarWinds Academy

Leon Adato


Leon Adato is a Head Geek™ and technical evangelist at SolarWinds, and is a Cisco® Certified Network Associate (CCNA), MCSE and SolarWinds Certified Professional (he… Read More

Episode Transcript

Announcer: This episode of SolarWinds TechPod is brought to you by the 2019 IT Trends Report. Find it at

Alex: Coming to you from SolarWinds headquarters in Austin, Texas. I’m Alex Navarro with SolarWinds TechPod. On this episode of Tech Talks I’m visiting with Head Geek, Leon Adato.

Leon: Do not discount the value that five minutes has.

Alex: And Cal Smith, senior director of SolarWinds Academy.

Cal: There’s sometimes that fear factor involved with the certification.

Alex: We’re talking about the future. What skills tech pros can develop now to position themselves and the organizations they serve for future success. I’d say the steps are: identify the necessary training, then it’s probably about securing the time, money, and support needed to make it happen. What do you think?

Leon: That’s the work of the work, right? You know, in, you know, in order to have $1 million and live a happy life, the first thing you need to do is get $1 million. Like, the hard part is securing the time, the money, and the support. You really are in IT because you want to continue to learn and grow and try new things and discover and explore. That’s what for, at least for me, it is all about.

Alex: Well then that’s probably why you’ve been in it for 30 years.

Cal: I hear this quite a bit and it’s very much, I don’t have time, but if it’s important to us, we make the time.

Alex: And I think that’s such a valid point that you both bring up, especially because in this year’s IT Trends Report, which is our sixth one, an overwhelming number, 80% of the tech pros that we surveyed say they just don’t have enough time or budget to train.

Cal: You can learn in small segments or you can learn in large chunks. It’s not about having to go to a class for five days in order to get that information. The information is there. Right?

Leon: Right. And, and I’ll just, you know, I started off in IT giving computer classes for like a day, you know, like I need, I need to know word perfect right now, you know, so, and that was still eight hours and at the end of eight hours people are drained. They really are. So, I think that sometimes dividing it up, although it seems it may feel like, oh, it’s really scattered. Sometimes you’re able to divide time up into these really nice bite-sized chunks. However, you have to be ready for it. Do not discount the value that five minutes has. We, there are lots of five minutes segments in everybody’s day—whether you’re waiting in line for lunch or waiting in line at the bank or you’re waiting, you know, at the doctor’s officer you’re waiting on hold. Or, for IT people, it may be waiting for your code to compile or for that, you know, cloud instance to come up or whatever it is. You’ve got these five minutes segments and you can learn, you can leverage this time, but you have to be ready for those five-minute segments to come. That means that you have to have the book, have the PDF, have the Kindle, whatever it is, like ready sitting by your side so that when, when that five minute time comes, you can jump right into it and then right out of it again.

Cal: I hear it in the industry, where it’s millennials only who learn in small chunks now.  And so, I think we generalize it somewhat, but things are getting carved up into smaller pieces now just because of that.

Leon: I am not a millennial.

Alex: Spoiler alert.

Leon: I am way, way, way, not a millennial, but however, I do want to remind everyone that millennials are 37 years old. So, like really, you know, you can’t, you know, kids these days. I mean, yes, you’re right. 37 compared to, you know, dinosaurs like me are young. However, it’s not exactly like, you know, they’re still in high school. I really think that dividing things up into bite-sized chunks is how lots of people have always learned. It is simply something that is facilitated by YouTube and quick hit videos and snippets and like whatever. And, and Twitter, we’ve discovered simply one more modality of getting information, not that that method of learning didn’t exist. It was just not facilitated by traditional learning techniques that we had say, you know, when I was in elementary school and dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Cal: Well, and that’s it, right? It allows us now to get the piece of information that we need to learn the section. Instead of having to go be a car mechanic, you might be able to learn how to replace one piece on the car, and so you have the information at your fingertips now to learn the exact information you need and not necessarily the entire piece.

Alex: The other big hurdle that tech pros are having to overcome is budget, right? We talked about time, you need to find the time to upskill, but then also you need to have the backing, the support. And so, what advice could you offer in terms of either getting your organization on board for the money that needs to be spent or ways for tech pros to just kind of take charge of that career development for themselves?

Cal: I’ve had many times where people have told me, well, I wanted to take training, but we didn’t have budget and I, my response is, did you ask? You never asked me for that training, and they said, well, I just assumed we didn’t have budget for that training. Always ask. Then, also look at how the value of that training, what it’s going to bring to your job, and what you can do to show your management what you’re going to be able to accomplish or what you’re going to be able to do by taking this training and the skills that you’ll have from there.

Leon: And I think that sometimes as it pros, we say, hey, we need to upgrade to, you know, SQL Server 2016. There’s no budget for that. Oh, well there must not be budget for anything else. No, that’s not how budget works. As IT people, I think we assiduously stay away from anything that smells of business, but it’s important for us to understand the business if for no other reason than we want to be able to make our case. You may think, oh, I really, really want to get my, you know, Linux certification just as an example, right? But you have 15 Linux admins and there’s, you know, it doesn’t improve revenue doesn’t reduce cost, it doesn’t avoid risks. However, you have no people who know Linux and also understand info security. Like however that happened, right? All of your SysAdmins are, are really good at administering Linux and Unix, but they really don’t care about security so much. So if you said, look, I really need to learn Linux so that I can then pivot to be the security person and that’s a risk, right? And that helps us avoid cost in terms of lost data or whatever it is. Suddenly you framed it in a way that not only makes the, makes the training that you want, um, palatable, but also compelling, right? You know, if I go to the CIO and I say, buy me a pony, you know, I want to find a way to convince him to buy me a pony. In this case, the pony is training.

Alex: Not an actual pony. Just to clarify.

Leon: Not an actual…Well, I mean some people do want ponies. I mean, like, if that’s your thing, it’s not really an IT project necessarily, but I’m not, I’m not going to disrespect the pony.

Alex: I thought you were going to blow us away with an amazing business case for it, for buying him a pony.

Leon: Right. So the, I, I think the idea here is, uh, you want to first of all ask is there, is there training budget, find out what the maybe guidelines or what the, uh, what the options for training are in the sense that, you know, oh, we don’t have a budget for training, but we did actually buy a company, a company license of this all online course, you know, oh, well that, that would be training. Can I use that? Yes, you can use that. That one’s free. Okay, fine. Like sometimes it just means asking in different ways because people don’t always think the same way. What you need to do though is understand that the business is moving based on certain pressures that IT sometimes doesn’t see. And those boil down for at least for me to how do we increase revenue? How do we reduce costs, how do we avoid risk? And if you can frame the training you need in one or more of those, the business is much more likely to do it. First of all, because you’ve just made it a business case. Surprise. You’re a business speaker now. But also, because you’ve enabled your boss to speak to their boss and make a compelling case as well.

Take some time to explore the 2019 IT Trends Report for yourself. Find it at

Alex: Since we’re on the topic of upskilling and all the different ways that you can do this, um, how would you differentiate and how would you rank training versus experience versus certification?

Leon: Sigh.

Alex: It’s a thinker.

Leon: Um, okay. So, sorry, let me take a step back. Cal, you go first on this one.

Alex: He’s tagging you in, Cal.

Cal: I always felt like nothing beats experience, but sometimes you can’t get to the experience part without taking some training or knowing what you’re doing. Right. So it’s always, you know, that’s the double-edged sword because you could, some people get it through experience, some people get it through going to school and it’s not just taking a training class, it’s whether you went to school for that, that industry or whatnot. Um, I think that both of them are great ways. I’ve met people in the industry that are not, one is better than the other from where people have come from. And I really think that certification is a way to show that you have those skills without having to go into, some interviews and really get tested or having that employer trusting you that when you have that certification and that certification is backed up by a body to say that you do have those skills and that since you went through that we trust the knowledge that you have.

Alex: I feel like the whole kind of three layer approach that we’re discussing with training experience and certification, that’s definitely got to be behind the whole brain child that is the SolarWinds Academy.

Cal: The one thing that I think is amazing since starting to work with SolarWinds was that training is included with your software purchase. We don’t charge extra for that training year. It’s included with your maintenance and we want you to get the training you need in order to set up the software and get it working so that you can see the value of the software and the power that you have there. And so, it is all included. We have multiple courses. I’ve attended conferences where they’ve asked the question of who in this room has 100% attach rate on your training? And I was the only one that got to raise my hand during that conference. It was amazing.

Leon: Hashtag humble brag

Alex: Wow.

Cal: It’s so great to be able to say that that we have, we have that training. It’s something that other companies sell and are trying to make revenue on, but we want it so that our customers get up and running and see how great our software is.

Leon: The layered approach when it comes to SolarWinds is that we have THWACK, which is this amazing community where they don’t just talk about the SolarWinds software. They talk about, you know, hey, I just got a firewall and I’ve never written an ACL before. Can someone talk me through that? You can ask questions about what, where should I start? And then we have the Success Center, which gives you the high level information and then we have the, uh, the Academy, which gives you that depth training and then we have the certifications, you know, so we really do fit into that, that model of, uh, feedback loops just driving you further and further into layers of expertise and awesomeness.

Alex: Is there anything about the SCP program or the Academy in general, that most people don’t know or maybe that they’re surprised to find out?

Cal: I go to the trade shows and people come up to me and say, uh, someone’s left my team, I don’t have anybody that’s ramped up on the software. How much is it going to cost me to get them trained up? And my response is always, well, you’re in luck because the training with the Academy is included with your maintenance. And so that is, uh, the secret right there is that we have the training. We want you to, you can take it as many times as you want and as many people at your company can take it as you need to. It’s all there in the Customer Portal.

Alex: So, there’s obviously different ways that people like to learn and that means that there’s going to be a whole plethora of options out there in terms of, okay, well I’m ready to start my training, I’ve got my game plan together, I’ve got buy in from my organization. What next? So, are you going to go the free lab route? Are you going to go the traditional classroom route?

Leon: The answer is, it depends if this is, if this is something that I have a sense of, okay, let me take that back. Speaking personally, it depends on what the area of learning is. So, data science doesn’t really appeal to me. But lots of people do and they’re asking about it and they’re taking all these data science classes and then they’re realizing maybe they’re not as mathy as they thought they were. And Thomas LaRock who is very mathy, just passed every single one of the Microsoft data science courses and got his certificate and all that stuff. So, I said, okay, so when someone’s getting started, what do they want to do? He says, honestly, don’t start with the courses. Start by learning how to use pivot tables in Excel. Just learn that and then find some data that you really like and then see what kind of information you can pull out of those pivot tables with that data. That is a wonderful first step into data science.

Leon: Now I’m not saying, hey, all of you become data scientists. I mean, that’s cool if you want to, you do you, you do you. But but the point is, is that that’s a really simple piece of advice that an expert in the field could give you that doesn’t require any money, really. Almost no investment of, of serious time except locate what are these pivot tables and how do I make them happen? And then playing around with them and seeing, all right. Yeah, this is really cool. And then you move onto the next thing.

Cal: Asking someone to be your mentor I think is such a powerful thing to look at is what you were saying, Leon, is that people have this knowledge and finding someone that you would like to learn from and asking that question, would you mentor me in this area? And I’ve found that that’s been so powerful for people to learn and build that relationship with another person.

Leon: Those shadowing experiences, I call them ride-alongs. I don’t know why it just made, make sense that way.

Alex: Add an element of danger.

Leon: Right, exactly. And I, uh, it, it because sometimes they really are risky in a lot of ways. However, um, I’ve had a lot of success with my own managers saying, Hey, I’m going to do a ride along on, you know, next Thursday with the storage team or whatever. I really need to understand what they’re all about. And, rarely does a manager say, no, no, no, you can’t go hang out with those people. We don’t, we don’t, we don’t, uh, sorry. We don’t mingle with that sort. They’re not our people.

Alex: Stay in your box.

Leon: Yeah. No. Rarely does that happen, especially if it’s not like, Hey, I want to leave this group and go to that group. If you say, I really need to understand what they’re doing. It, it affects my job. It, you know, I want to be a better partner with, with them. Um, and that’s a great way to, to do it. Um, and then of course there’s, there’s other methods of learning that again aren’t that seven day, $90,000, whatever commitment.

Alex: If you’re attending a conference for work, maybe there’s training that will be included with that as well.

Leon: Social media is a great place to start. So you know, what does your average day like? What is it, you know, what do you normally do? What are the best parts of the job? What are the worst parts of the job? And, and find out, does this sound like me? Does this sound like something that really, and, and by the way, if it does sound like you, the next step is, all right, so I’m sold, what do I do next? Where would I start?

Alex: Well, I like the idea too of having that group environment because you’ve got the accountability, right? Factor going for you. And then you also have your own group where you can reach out, like you were saying, Leon with questions or you can just bounce ideas off of another set of people who have a completely different perspective than you do.

Cal: Like Leon said, you see these jobs and say, well, this person seems very successful in what they’re doing. I want to go that route. But then if you are able to spend a day with them or even shadow what they’re doing, you realize, I really don’t like this or, this is exactly what I want to do. And so I think it’s really try to use those resources as well at your own company to see what you can do and see if you really are interested in that area.

Alex: Thank you so much for visiting with us guys. I really appreciate it.

Alex: And thank you for listening. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Tech Talks, SolarWinds TechPod. I’m Alex Navarro.

Announcer: And remember, wherever you listen to podcasts, you can subscribe, rate, and review SolarWinds TechPod.