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2020: The Year IT Pros Were Built For

The theme for IT Pro Day 2020 is “You Were Built for This” and, while we knew it could be relevant in almost any minute of any day of any year, it seems exceptionally, especially apropos now. We, who make our lives and earn our livelihood in tech, find ourselves the most well-suited, and the most prepared, and (we hope) the most valued. It’s fair to say no one was expecting 2020 to unfold the way it has. Luckily, as entire offices were shut down the vast majority of IT professionals were at least partially prepared when the shoe dropped. But how prepared were we, really? We reached out to our SolarWinds THWACK® community for feedback, and boy did we get it! Just under 350 IT pros answered our survey about their experiences. I want to spend some time sharing specific observations from those responses along with some of my own perspective of the stories over the last few months as a way of framing what IT Pro Day is all about, and how we truly are “Built for This.”

We Are Prepared

More than half (61%) of survey respondents felt they were at least “semi-prepared” for the move. But despite having already laid the groundwork they faced a situation where they needed to scale up what they had, rather than invent it from scratch. Interestingly, the poll found that only 34% of IT pros were “very prepared” for the switch to a fully remote workforce. Proof We’re “Built for This” While nobody could have predicted the entire world would be sent home for months, IT doesn’t always require that level of specificity to be nimble. It only takes one experience with a system failure (even if it’s the hard drive on our home computer, where two years of baby pictures were stored. #AskMeHowIKnow) to drive home this reality: technology, while amazingly cool and exciting, can also be incredibly fragile. We start to notice, and even seek out, those vulnerabilities, in an effort to mitigate them. Where possible, we get the business to invest in backups, secondary systems, and failovers. When this isn’t not possible, we think through contingency plans and work-arounds. How were almost 90% of us at least “somewhat prepared?” When our business asked for the ability for a few key people to work from home, many of us immediately jumped to, “What about making it part of our DR strategy? How about in the event of a snowstorm or other weather event?”

We Are Adaptable

Despite the fact that many of us were ready for something, almost 30% said that they encountered issues they weren’t expecting along the way. These surprises ranged the gamut from licensing and hardware shortfalls to the need to rush back into the locked-tight-as-a-drum office building to save plants and even fish. Under the pressures of increased use and business criticality, IT pros also discovered applications and even whole platforms not up to the task. We were asked —as the voices of IT and de-facto tech leaders within companies, communities, and especially in their families—to help sort out issues with Wi-Fi signal strength; how to set up desk-based equipment on a dining room table; why two monitors were causing a circuit breaker to trip; how to stay focused during the day; and (conversely) how to avoid working 16 hours at a stretch. The list is endless. Proof We’re “Built for This” On the TV show “The Flash,” the character Leonard Snart (aka Captain Cold) is famous for saying:

There are only four rules you need to remember: make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.

Snart would have made an excellent IT pro. In a few short weeks the majority of workforces were entirely operational from home. In many cases, this made companies recognize the critical role IT professionals play in keeping the business running and making it profitable, and here too IT folks have stepped up—taking their seat at the table where leadership make the decisions fundamentally affecting how business gets done. As each twist and surprise surfaced, the folks working in IT—individually and collectively—shared their experiences and brainstormed the best path forward. At SolarWinds, we saw this on the THWACK community, on social media, and on the more private chat channels. In response, companies have adapted their purchasing and fulfillment practices; they’ve accelerated their move to cloud-based resources, systems, and solutions; they’ve adjusted the way internal ticket systems and workflows worked. (Although, surprisingly, only 52% believe this shift will accelerate the move to the cloud.) In some situations, especially as the pandemic was just starting to have an impact, we were happy and even excited to share our experience. This was a chance for us to share hard-won lessons with those less savvy. We wrote blog posts, published eBooks, and shared tips on social media. Because one of the truths of tech work is: nobody learns or grows on their own. Everyone was taught by someone else. And in our appreciation for those who taught us, many of us are eager to share our knowledge with others. We in IT intuitively understand what Sir Isaac Newton meant when he said, in 1675:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Having once benefited from that heady view, we’re eager to offer the same (or better) vistas to those in our circle.

We Are Able to Laugh

Not all the surprises were business-impacting. Some of them were simple oversights. And some of those oversights had unexpected, but amusing, outcomes. Many of us who’ve worked remotely could have predicted a few of them: pets and children making their presence known on video calls; unanticipated appearances by housemates; and noises ranging from unexpected body functions; to gardening operations; to the sudden deafening roar of a 750cc engine being tuned in the garage. And of course, there’s one ubiquitous phrase. If there was a bingo card for 2020-isms, “sorry, I was on mute” would be the free square in the center. Proof We’re “Built for This” As much as IT practitioners have a deep appreciation for cold logic and hard facts, it has always been in service to our humanity. We build computer networks to facilitate human connections; we create data repositories to augment our personal insights. So, when our coworker’s kids show up during our presentation, complaining that our slide doesn’t have any circles and those are his favorite, we stop for a minute and draw one for him. We show our coworkers how to create their own groups in the collaboration tool, so there’s a “Pets of Solarians” (or whatever your company calls themselves) team to share snaps of our non-human home-office coworkers. We wave to SOs, roommates, and house guests as they pass by in the background. We offer suggestions on room arrangements and lighting choices. And when our kid notices our coworkers’ kids in the background, and they start a quiet game of one-upsmanship to see who has the biggest teddy bear, we admit defeat and cede our camera—hopefully remembering to hit “record” because that stuff is pure gold, my friend. We make space in our schedules and on our systems to re-connect: “happy hour” video calls, “off-topic” chat rooms, and time during the weekly stand-up to check in on how we’re doing emotionally.

We Truly Are Built for This

IT work is largely about learning to leverage the things in us that drew us to technology in the first place and applying it to situations and problems we didn’t expect and couldn’t predict. People who pursue a career in this industry are seemingly hard-wired that way, and so, as I said at the start of this essay, our theme of “You Were Built for This” could apply equally to any time or place. In the second half of a year that has redefined the word “unprecedented” and turned the phrase “these trying times” into an instant cliché, it seems almost presciently fitting. This is why, for the first year ever SolarWinds is launching its IT Pro Day Awards program. Designed to celebrate the contributions IT professionals—at any level—have made to their field this year. Whether it’s the Rookie, Rockstar, IT Mentor or Trailblazer of the year we want to know how they have kept the wheels of IT turning. Find out more and submit your nomination here:  https://slrwnds.com/ITProDayAwards Applications are open until the end of August and winners will be announced on IT Professionals Day holiday on September 15, 2020. On this IT Pro Day, and on all other days to come, we at SolarWinds wish you every success.
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…
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