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Leon: Every year, on the third Tuesday of September, the world waits by the door of the knock to see if the hibernating IT pro will see their ICMP echo. If they do-
Chrystal: That’s Groundhog Day, Leon. You just described Groundhog Day, badly.
Leon: Right. Sorry. I mean that, on the third Tuesday of September, everyone in IT celebrates the freedom from the tyranny of waterfall methodology.
Liz: I’m pretty sure that one’s Independence Day.
Chrystal: Again, badly.
Leon: We dress up as our favorite characters from movies and books?
Chrystal: Look, it’s not that hard. The third Tuesday in September marks IT Pro Day, which is a day we like to use to recognize all tech pros in the work that they do.
Liz: What’s different this year is that we ran a survey to find out how IT folks are holding up.
Leon: Because #COVID.
Liz: Hashtag COVID. The answers we got back ran the gamut. Some were insightful. Others were funny. Many were downright touching.
Chrystal: In this episode of SolarWinds TechPod, we’re going to take a look at what those answers reveal, and share some of our thoughts about the questions as well.
Leon: Now, normally, this is the part of the podcast where we give the guests a chance to introduce themselves and their company, maybe, give a shoutout for things that they’re working on. But, since we’re also the ones at Head Geeks, I wanted to shift that slightly. I’ve got a reason for this. I’d like to hear about the job you were all doing before you became a Head Geek.
Liz: Sure. That sounds great. Hey, guys. It’s Liz here. Before becoming a Head Geek, I was a solutions engineer with SolarWinds. I worked specifically with SolarWinds service desk and was helping customers and prospective clients get a better hold on how they could utilize the solution and become SolarWinds advocates. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. It was really cool and gratifying to see how teams were putting our technology to good use.
Leon: Awesome. Chrystal, how about you?
Chrystal: I’m Chrystal Taylor. I’m not the newest new person anymore. Before becoming a Head Geek, I spent the previous nine years working for a SolarWinds Partner. We did contracted SolarWinds work, so anything from “let me do an upgrade for you” to “let me figure out how to integrate a different type of ticketing system than the actual integrations allow.” I did all kinds of things during that nine years, and worked with tons of customers, and eventually, ended up leading the team of engineers. It was super fun and lots of good experience there.
Leon: I’m Leon Adato. Before becoming a Head Geek a little bit more than six years ago, I was a Monitoring Engineer for a large healthcare company down in Central Ohio. That’s what I did. Really, for all the jobs before that, I was a Monitoring Engineer for about 20 years before that and another 10 years before that that of just being an IT person. That’s what I did in my misspent youth.
Leon: There’s a reason why I wanted to do that as opposed to just talking about where we are or stuff like that, that’s the theme for IT Pro Day this year, is you were built for this. We get that a lot. We understand that SolarWinds, that, in a lot of ways, the challenges of 2020, were not only a defining moment for IT folks, IT practitioners. But, it’s also a moment of validation, because a lot of the things that have occurred to us in the past prepared us for right now. There was this payoff of, well, who knew that that weekend I spent playing with Perl, was going to pay off when I had to write this script that did this thing, or, whatever it is.
Leon: I wanted to take a moment before we dove into the survey questions, just to highlight the fact that each of us was doing something before we became a Head Geek. That the things that we were doing directly led to this role that we’re in right now.
Liz: Absolutely. I could not agree more. Being an IT pro prepares you so much for the changing things day to day, whether it be a natural disaster, a pandemic, a crash in the data center, whatever it happens to be.
Leon: A nightmare hellscape.
Chrystal: Absolutely, absolutely. I want to take us into the actual IT Pro Day survey. We got some amazing responses. Let’s start with some of the questions. Some of them really had us thinking about the nature and resilience of IT. Of course, we all know that from personal experience. Those experiences shaped us. This, probably, is shaping a lot of new-to-IT folks this year, I imagine.
Chrystal: The first question I thought was particularly interesting, was how has managing through COVID-19 changed the way you think about your technology environment? One of the reasons why I find it so interesting is, like I said, that we all have some event early on in our IT careers that shaped how we respond to things in IT—what we do, how we prepare for things, how we respond to them, as far as resolving situations that were caused by them.
Chrystal: For me, I was part of a few hurricane, natural disasters, working with clients that were up where Sandy was when that happened, even going a little bit further back. I’ve had a lot of those environments that I’ve been a part of that were caused by natural disasters, which definitely changed the way that I think about how we prepare for disaster recovery and how we prepare for high availability, and what do you do when you lose everything and you can’t recover it, and all of that stuff.
Chrystal: It kind of prepared me for a situation that we’re in right now, which is, “Well, let’s quickly turn this around and figure out what we’re going to do next,” because, maybe, we can’t change what happened, like we can’t change a hurricane came in and devastated everyone, we can’t change that the pandemic is here, but we can change how we respond to it.
Liz: I think that’s a really good point, Chrystal. Not from personal experience, but from working with customers, I can say one of the first things that I heard, it was actually from a school in Virginia Beach, shout out to my hometown area, they are prepared for hurricanes. When I was talking to them in the midst of the pandemic. It was around the time that we were initially pivoting in March, April. They were just starting their evaluation for a new solution. While they had their natural disaster recovery plans in place, they needed to make sure that they were set for whatever the future was going to look with the pandemic.
Liz: I think that it’s interesting, as well, that we have some folks that have understood what they need to do from a reaction perspective for those natural disasters, but the pandemic has totally flipped that. They have to take into consideration so much else.
Liz: One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed, not only from customers in an education area, but anybody who’s dealing with customer service and technology, they have to focus on the user experience. Clap, clap. That, to me, is one of the biggest pieces of change, because everything you’re doing has got to lead to a positive experience. There has to be adoption, because we’re all located everywhere.
Liz: I think, a lot of teams, especially for those who have never been remote, have a new framework in mind for how they’re going to deliver hyper-availability, great user experiences, customer service remotely, but also, how do we transition that back to the office.
Leon: That hits on to points that I wanted to make. First of all, what I noticed immediately was businesses got really clear really fast on what actually mattered to them. I think that we’ve, I don’t want to say, suffered, but we’ve dealt for many years now with buzzword bingo of digital transformation and how we’re going to alter. What do you even mean? Every business meant something else, and whatever.
Leon: All of a sudden, digital transformation became a very specific thing to—Liz, what you were saying—making sure that either our internal users or our external customers had a very particular experience with our business, with our corporation, and that they were able to do the things they need to do, that we were able to continue business. That became the crux of digital transformation.
Leon: Yeah, I know a lot of people experienced where budgets closed up. I think that budgets also opened up for the stuff that actually matters. It’s a family show. Got to remember that. This is actually a really amazing object lesson for IT folks on how budgets actually work. They’ve always worked that. They’ve always worked in the fact that the things that matter to the business get the dollars.
Leon: In fact, we had Keith Townsend on not too long ago. He said, he always tries to associate if there’s a SAP project, he always tries to get involved with that, because that’s where the money is. Even if his project doesn’t have anything to do, if he frames it as supporting the SAP rollout, he knows he’s going to get funded. I think IT folks are like, “Whoa.”
Leon: If it’s pandemic-related, not if I pretend or lie, but if I frame things in a way that says, “Hey, look. This needs to support our COVID response,” or whatever it is, it tends to get funded. That is an object lesson. That’s the other piece, is that one of the things that, Chrystal, you and I noticed almost immediately, because both of us are long-term remote workers. I’ve been for over a decade. You’ve been working remote for a decade. One of the first things we realized that there was a lot of people who’ve never done this before. Even though it’s not impossible, we knew there was going to be a lot of unknowns for them. We worked really hard to put together some information and we brainstormed internally at SolarWinds about what do we know about remote work.
Leon: So, we put together this guide. The focus was not, “Here’s a really cool tech thingy that you can use right now to make your friends jealous.” No. It was, “This is what people need to understand to work remote. Do you know where the outlets in your room are? Do you have proper lighting? Do you have a microphone?” “I don’t need a microphone.” “Trust me, dude. You want a microphone. External keyboard, external monitor, and a really comfy chair.”
Chrystal: Yeah. Really, speaking to that, as everyone’s also getting used to working from home, this particular incident of COVID-19 has also driven home the fact that many IT pros, us included, are the IT support for, not only our immediate family, but our extended family and our communities. You, Leon, I know are for your community.
Chrystal: You may have had to answer a bunch of questions that you never got before because people didn’t work from home. Now, so many people are working from home that didn’t know how and don’t know what they’re looking for, and all of that. Now, you’re having to support that as well.
Chrystal: I think that that was an interesting turnout. I’ve heard it all the time over the years. You’re on the phone with somebody and somebody comes into the room, or somebody calls them, and says, “Hold on. It’s my wife.” Then, afterwards, they get back on with you. I’ve had that happen with customers all the time. “It’s my wife.” The wife will call. She’s asking me a question about this. “Well, that’s normal.” “My phone’s having a problem. I’m going to have you fix it, because you’re in IT. You know how to do this.”
Chrystal: It was really, really ramped up during COVID-19. Now, everyone you know that’s not in IT, and even those that are in IT, are probably asking you questions about what you would recommend, and all that stuff. I just think that’s super interesting.
Chrystal: We have additional pressure put on to us as IT pros that we may not have had. Not only are you learning to work from home yourself, you’re also having to support all of this technology in your home. Maybe, you had it, but it wasn’t all at the same time. How often did that happen?
Leon: Even if you have a friend who’s like, no, no, he doesn’t work remote. Well, these kids are.
Chrystal: Yeah, exactly.
Leon: The spouse is, the mom, dad, brother, whatever. You’re still supporting people one way or the other.
Liz: Totally. I think that’s a lot about what we saw from that shift in management. Looking at another question that came out of the survey, “Assuming this is the new different, what do you think the future of IT in your organization will look like?” I know that we’re always looking at forward-looking statements, what does beyond look like? Imagine. You see reading rainbow across the screen.
Liz: I think that it’s a really important time. I know we’ve talked about this collectively with other users in our communities, but also with customers. We’re in a time now where people had to respond quickly. But, now, we legitimately are prepping for what’s next.
Liz: Everybody went through that digital transformation, whether they had planned to or not, like you were mentioning, Leon. I think now that we’re in a position of knowing what’s going on, we’ve been in this, and many of us have been working remotely now for the first time, that’s me over here, for seven months, we legitimately need to look forward to what’s next.
Liz: For me, when I take a look at this question, I think what I am so hopeful for and what I’ve seen prevail through all of this with IT is they actually have a seat at the table. They’ve been the gatekeeper for technology for so long. But, because they had the chance to show legitimate success, they drove the business forward when we really needed a momentum driver, and to keep people operational and successful. They’re able to help other departments internally adapt, and it heightens collaboration.
Liz: I’m a huge proponent of collaboration across departments. I think this really humanizes IT and gives them that voice at the executive level. They’re no longer just helping get things done with technology. They’re able to show what you can do and how others can move forward. There’s so much to say about their agility and their ability to enact change. I think it’s a real great opportunity for others to interact and be involved.
Leon: One of the long-time pundits in IT, Bob Lewis, has a thing that he said for a long time. “There are no IT projects. There are only business projects that have an IT component.” I think it became clear, and I like the fact that you mentioned, like the gatekeeper. IT, for a long time, was just the Department of No. Like, “No, you can’t have that. No, we can’t do that. That’s not secure. That’s not feasible. That’s not whatever.” We’ve transitioned during this from the Department of No, or the gatekeeper, to being the enabler.
Leon: The business says, “I need this” and “We believe them,” which are both things that may not have been true in the past. Now, we’re like, “I believe that you need this. Let’s talk about how we can make this happen.” We recognize the business value of it. They recognize that we are a key component. All of that.
Leon: I also hate the phrase, “new normal.” I’m just over it. That’s why I’ve heard, “the new different.” But, the phrase that I like the best is, “the next normal,” because it recognizes something that I think that in IT, we know, which is this reaction of, “Oh, my God. Everything’s changed. Now, what?” “Oh, we call that Tuesday around here.” Whether it’s, again, we’re moving to the cloud, or it’s object-oriented programming, or it’s client server now. I could name wave after wave after wave of everything’s different time to retool. This is just another transition. Although, it’s one that, I think, more people are noticing than, normally, just us.
Liz: Exactly. I think, talking about what do we think the future is going to look like, even if we’re not talking about ourselves, I think it’s going to be really interesting over the next few months to next year. You’ve always seen big projects being planned out. You don’t move to Office 365 overnight, but we had to move to remote work overnight.
Liz: Because of that, I think we’re going to see a lot of people are going to reevaluate the systems that they have in place, from their VPN, to what apps they have available, to what they’re using to do chat, even. They’re going to reevaluate the efficacy of those things, because you’ve now had this thing that was supposed to only be for a couple of weeks, has now is listed in the US, at least, it’s now lasted seven months. Because it’s lasted seven months, now we’re starting to see all of the flaws and those patches that we made to make it work.
Liz: I think it’s going to be really interesting. Seeing all of those conversations, I’m really, really glad with the seat-at-the-table conversation as well, that IT is going to be a big part of this. They can say, “Well, what will work? Let’s figure out what the business actually needs.” Yes, we covered the needs in the beginning, but, now, let’s talk about what the business wants.
Liz: We can transition a little bit to look into the, what do people actually want? What’s going to make your job easier? And into making the job easier, what can we automate to increasingly make it easier for us to work in disparate conditions? If everybody goes back to the office tomorrow, which we all know is probably not going to happen, what does that look like? What is it going to look like in the future, which, I think, is going to be a bit more flexible. We’re going to see a bit more of this support of work from home or work from anywhere, because honestly, if you can work from home, you can work from anywhere with an internet connection, in most cases.
Liz: If that’s the situation, and their businesses are going to become more flexible, what does supporting that look like. We can start to look towards that and look towards supporting that, and finding applications and hardware that supports that in a better way than the patches that we’ve been making up to this point.
Leon: I’ve heard people now refer to, when they’re not going to be home, as, “I’m working remoter. I’m always remote, but now, I’m remoter.” “I’m working from the bungalow where my family and I are taking a week off just to try to decompress, or whatever it is.” It’s more remote than usual.
Leon: The comment about balancing, the phrase that I’ve heard used a bunch of times. Actually, one of our SolarWinds coworkers, Faria, on a different podcast, who said, “work-life blending.” That companies are now understanding that the traditional eight-hour day is not feasible. There’s a lot of people who are like, “Look, I got a five-year-old and I’ve got an eight-year-old.” They can only keep themselves occupied for so long. “I’m going to get most of my paperwork and reporting done from 3 a.m. until 8 a.m., when they get up. Then, you’re going to get me if you get me, and you’re not if you’re not. I’m going to wrap up after they’re in bed.”
Leon: Work-life blending, rather than work-life balance. Work life balance means there’s a sort of equivalence. You get eight hours. Then, I get eight hours for myself. Then, later, ostensively, eight hours to sleep. Now, it’s just, “It’s a day. Today is going to happen. Sometimes, I’m at the doctor. Sometimes, at my desk.”
Chrystal: I agree. I think, the acceptance of “life happens” by businesses, that is one of the great outcomes of being forced into this remote work situation, is that businesses are now forced to say, “You have a doctor’s appointment. Well, go to your doctor’s appointment. Your kid’s going to come interrupt you? Fine, I’ll talk to you in 30 minutes,” or whatever.
Chrystal: The fact of the matter is that we all are human. Even if you go back a few months to that newscaster, that whole situation with the newscaster where the kid comes into the room and very quietly, she does the thing with the kids. That is phenomenal. Phenomenal. That is phenomenal. Acceptance as we are humans. We’re not automatons. We don’t just work, and then, that’s it.
Chrystal: Unfortunately, it intrudes in our day-to-day. And it was before, but there wasn’t really an acceptance of it. It’s like, “Well, you need to take the day off, then.” Well, I think, going back, there’s going to be a lot more flexibility now. I, for one, am fully supportive of it.
Leon: I think this takes us to, again, the business side of it. The last question that I think we can offer our thoughts on before we get to what the survey respondents’ thoughts are, this question is really interesting because it asked the same question from a business perspective, looking beyond COVID-19, once again, looking beyond, how prepared do you think your IT team is to manage unexpected change? The thing that immediately resonated with me was that every experience we have as IT professionals prepares us for the next thing.
Leon: I have a little bit more gray in my hair than you two. I’m going to pull age rank for a minute and say that I was there for Y2K. I remember the months of preparation and retooling and analysis and investigation, talking with vendors, doing testing, things like that. We did that. From the outside world’s perspective, “Y2K was a big nothing burger. Nothing ever came.” That’s because we worked our butt off. That’s why it was a nothing burger.
Leon: That absolutely prepared the folks who went through it for the unknown, the unexpected, the thing that takes priority. Also, it prepared us for the reward of prep. I think that a lot of companies are experiencing the reward of prep, that when they were asked, “Hey, a couple of the executives really want to be able to work from home in the evenings, if something comes up. Could we do some sort of telecommuting thing?” IT is like, “Yeah, I can see that going a little further.” They got the VPN concentrator. They made sure that they had 100 seats, instead of 10. They made sure that it was expandable, if it needed to.
Leon: That’s why you hear so many businesses like, “COVID hit on a Thursday, and we were all working remote by the next Monday.” Well, that just didn’t fall out of the sky. That was because a lot of IT people were using those experiences and looking ahead, and saying, “We’re just going to get this in now while we can.”
Liz: I also think it was really interesting, though, if we look at how your team is segmented and who’s actually there. We had folks who were really experienced and we’re ready to handle these things. But, we also had some greener folks. I think that that’s a great union of experience of personalities. Because, again, kind of talking about this notion of what’s being brought to the table, there was a really great mind-meld, if you will.
Liz: We had some folks who had had traditional plans in place. This is what they know. This is what they experienced. But then, you might have some greener, and even, in some cases, younger folks who are saying, “How can we do it faster? How can we expedite delivery? How can we do it well?” I think bringing these two pieces together helps really manage the unexpected, be it for today, tomorrow, or for 2021. I like that idea as well of the team’s makeup and the level of experience really playing into that, too.
Chrystal: I think, adding on to that, I think that, a lot of times, what we’re going to see now, not only do you have disparate perspectives from, if you have a lot of experience versus being new. They’ll often see things that you don’t see, because you would not think of that after this many years. You immediately go from A to D, instead of B or whatever. A lot of times, you’ll skip steps, because you know, “This is where it’s going to be.”
Chrystal: I think another thing that we’re seeing a lot of is more of those blurred lines. It’s been a very slow progression of blurring lines between the silos. I think that this kind of expedited that as well, blurring those lines a bit more. Like you said, it’s bringing in more collaboration. It’s not just between IT teams. If we’re just talking about IT, just seeing all of those people working together and talking about what they’re going to do next, and making preparations for, “How we’re going to make this work.”
Chrystal: I think, Leon, your point about all the things that they’ve done up to that point to prepare for “unknown” really helped them prepare for the “now known” situation that we’re in. I, for one, I’ve heard tons of people talking about getting it done overnight, because they already had systems in place. It was already ready. Then, the ones that weren’t prepared, they were still able to get it done rather quickly, because the whole world was now on the same side. We’re all on the same situation.
Chrystal: It may not always be that way. Every situation that you run into may not be on a global scale. This happened to be on a global scale. Lots of teams external to yours are ready to support those needs, because everyone needs it.
Chrystal: They’ll charge you a premium, but everybody needs it.
Liz: I love what you mentioned, too, about breaking silos. I have said that. God knows how many webcasts, blogs, what have you. I think this was the nudge that needed to happen for a lot of teams that had been operating in that vacuum. I think that that’s going to help propel how they manage whatever comes next.
Liz: I actually just spoke on a recent TechPod to a team that had to start thinking beyond their operations group. You’re tasked with supporting everybody. You have to go beyond what your job description says in order to deliver your best, and not only make you successful, but make your organization successful. I think that that’s a real testament to our theme of IT Pro Day of being built for anything. Well, it’s clear that we have a lot of thoughts around all these questions.
Liz: But, let’s get to what we really want to talk about, and that’s your answers. It was incredible to see in all the survey responses how many different threads really helped to weave together the idea of all IT pros being built for this. While we may all be at different stages of our journeys in IT, there’s also a lot of shared experiences that bring us together as a community of IT pros.
Liz: We found that some of the responses were really surprising. I think others fell in line with many of the conversations that we’ve been having throughout the past few months. One of those questions that I really liked and was interested in some of the answers was, how has managing through COVID-19 changed the way you think about your technology environment? I think, for this one, I honestly was surprised that we didn’t have a higher volume of respondents that said, “Our internal processes require rethinking.”
Leon: Of course, you would be surprised at that.
Liz: You know me too well. Only 31% said that it has pushed rethinking and retooling. Honestly, I’ve heard the opposite in so many of my conversations. I’ve also evidenced a lot of teams eliminating legacy manual processes and extending automations beyond IT. I find that to be so surprising because, for me, it’s kind of like a, “Durrr, don’t you need to rethink and revamp what you’re doing?”
Liz: I don’t know. I just found that to be really interesting, because I feel like, kind of as Chrystal had mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of discussion around what applications are we using, what’s working well, where can we refine things, or what can we, maybe, eliminate? I’m hearing a lot about application and process cleanses that teams are doing to make themselves better. I always I would just personally love to hear if there was an other box, what they’re not rethinking, and what’s working well.
Chrystal: I was surprised by that as well. Shouldn’t you always be thinking about improving?
Liz: Continuous improvement, #ITILs.
Chrystal: Yes, always be improving.
Leon: On the other hand, especially Liz, because ITSM and ITIL is your jam, I think that’s why it jumps out at you so much where other people, like, “Wow, it really hurts when I go like this. I don’t know why.” It’s because your process sucks.
Liz: Just ice it.
Leon: Just, “I didn’t even notice the process over there. That’s what that is.” It’s a little obvious because of the space that you occupy. Whereas, other people, they might understand the symptom but they don’t understand necessarily the cause. That could have something to do with it. But, again, COVID has, and these changes have given us a chance to re-look at everything about our business and our processes from a different perspective and a new light. Maybe, we know that those things that had been hidden by the having conversations over cube walls before.
Chrystal: Honestly, I’m surprised that a lot of IT pros are not taking the opportunity that is available right now of that light being shined on IT to be able to say, “These things that I’ve been complaining about for years, well, now we have an opportunity to look at changing that.”
Chrystal: Following along with that, I was wondering about the, it was 28% of respondents said that they don’t need to consolidate. I thought that was really interesting. It kind of goes along with our internal processes don’t require rethinking thought process. You’re saying you don’t need to consolidate, you don’t need to make improvements, there’s no way to kind of make things better. Is it kind of a mentality of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”
Leon: It’s absolutely that. One company I worked at, they had core switches that were 10 years past end of life, not end of sale, not end of support, 10 years past end of life. When I asked about it, they said, “They’re still passing packets. I don’t know what more you want out of them.” And there’s like 937 security patches that haven’t and can’t be applied. Again, it hasn’t caused me pain right now, therefore, it’s very hard to get people to prioritize preventative.
Leon: On the other hand, I will say 77% of the respondents to this question indicated that something needs to change. Now, it wasn’t all one answer. If you combine those answers together, 77%, yeah, we got to change something. Maybe, a little. Maybe, a lot. Somewhere in there, change needed to happen.
Chrystal: I appreciate that the majority of respondents said that something does need to change. I think that that’s a clear indicator of what do we need to move forward so that were not in this reaction position any longer but we’re a couple of steps ahead of the game. I think that there’s some silver linings in there.
Liz: I do want to say that the least surprising response in there of the number, the sheer number, of no impact responses really speaks to what we’ve been talking about, was that digital transformation was already occurring. People were already making plans to kind of move forward. So, I think that the number of no impact responses goes right along with, while we were built for this, you are already preparing, you were already moving in the right direction. Maybe, that’s why you haven’t experienced an impact.
Leon: That was then. Now, there’s the now part, the next question that I wanted to look at. Assuming this is the new normal, the next normal, what do you think the future of IT in your organization will look like? There were two numbers that jumped out at me. One was 40% of the respondents said, “no impact,” which, again, goes back to how this whole new normal is just like another day in IT. Like, “Yeah, things are going to change. We’re going to roll with it. That’s how it works.”
Leon: But, 40% said that they expected more responsibility and being included on the business side, which goes back to what we were saying about IT recognizing the seat it has always had, or always had the possibility of having at the table and that makes me happy.
Leon: The other number was the 53% of people who expected greater collaboration. I know that this is going to make Liz very, very happy, that they see that they’re going to have to work together. I also want to believe, I choose to believe, that it’s because they see the result of what they can accomplish when they work together.
Liz: Well, I think they have to see that result in order to want to incite greater collaboration. The proof is in the pudding, right? I don’t know. For me, it’s been really cool, some of the customers that I got to work with when COVID was initially unfolding here in the US in March. Then, I look at how some teams are heading back to office or schools the past few weeks. They’ve been in full momentum of returning, be it in person or virtual.
Liz: I have loved seeing the extension of using IT and all that IT has to offer, those applications they support, being among them, really helping other departments and whoever it is that they’re serving on the other end of the line, have a great experience, and again, be successful in whatever it is that their day-to-day responsibilities entail.
Liz: You have some teams that have never worked with HR before. All of a sudden, like Chrystal mentioned, a flashlight came into the picture and said, “Hey, this piece of the equation isn’t working together so well.” There was a real chance for these two teams that, ordinarily, have a very, very different set of responsibilities and day-to-day asks. But, they came together and they found a means to drive efficiencies and make the process better.
Liz: I think seeing that greater collaboration, then, just kind of trickles wildfire, and you have other teams that are catching on board and saying, “Well, why aren’t we a part of this? Why aren’t we also making these changes, so that we’re better for November? We’re better for 2022?” I think that that’s just the coolest story.
Chrystal: Yeah, absolutely. How many times have we seen people come together in different ways? Even before COVID, I’ve been part of many conversations to get monitoring into other places. So then you have to have conversations with people in the network team and the systems team and the database team, and whatever you have to have conversations and collaboration on what you’re going to monitor, and how that monitoring is going to affect your day-to-day processes, including, hopefully, automation of reaction to those things.
Chrystal: So, some of that was already starting to occur, and I think, getting the light shined on the situation by the fact that we were all pushed remote really gave way to open the floodgates to say, “Hey, well, we’ve worked together before on this monitoring thing. What else can we do? What can we make work better?” Everybody would love a few extra hours in their day that you don’t have to spend doing menial tasks and doing things like set up automation. Automation comes in many forms and can be automated for many different departments. Looking at the service desk integrations with your monitoring, which Liz and I are going to talk a lot about tomorrow.
Chrystal: Looking at that just very briefly, we are going to talk about that you can automate tasks to where it can say, “So and so’s password has expired,” or, “This person no longer works for the company.” HR puts in a ticket it goes and disables our account and takes them off of the monitoring, and whatever. There are so many tasks that you can automate to save everybody just that much time. You say five minutes here and five minutes there. Really, it all adds up. You don’t really notice it at first, but how many people want to work a bunch of overnights?
Liz: Well, and time is value. I think, while value isn’t one of the answers to this question, I think that is kind of the unspoken theme through so many of these answers. We’ve found a way to drive value in some form. I’ll get off my value chain now.
Leon: No, no, no. It speaks to the idea that, again, the business which isn’t an entity, the business is or used to be a building. It’s a collection of individuals who have all agreed to all work on the same big project that makes money. The business, as a whole, has become really clear about what matters and what doesn’t matter.
Leon: When something is identified as mattering, all of a sudden, people are like, “Well, how do we solve for this? How do we do this?” I’ve heard conversations of “non-technical people” say, “If I can make my phone do this with this, this, then, that, then, how can we can’t…” You know what? You just described the workflow. You just described the automation flow. Yes, we can absolutely do that now that you’ve identified it. He says, “You mean, all I have to do is tell you what?” “Yes, that is exactly what I need you to do in IT. I can’t make this stuff up on my own.”
Leon: Suddenly, the business, at large, is realizing that so many things that are repetitive, that may not be noticed because it’s part of your day. You come in, you get your cup of coffee, you say hi to George, you sit down, you click these 14 buttons, because that makes the thingy happen, and that’s what you do when the coffee is still hot. Then, you do this. Then, you do that.
Leon: Now that all those routines have been disrupted, people are like, “Why do I? I don’t-
Leon: … like clicking this 14 buttons? That’s not fun anymore. I have more important things to do.”
Liz: Exactly. I think, through all of this, we’ve hit a lot of the squares on our COVID bingo during this TechPod. But, I think this is another question from the survey that we all felt was really important to cover. That was, what single thing do you feel best prepared you for the unprecedented situation introduced by COVID-19? We hit two squares in that question alone.
Liz: Before I yell, “Bingo,” I think there were actually a lot of answers that resonated for me just with this one question. One of them being having cloud-based solutions which did not require a change to our existing remote office connectivity, this is a huge topic of conversation. I know, actually, for those of you on Instagram, we had the, this-or-that compare for IT Pro Day, and it was cloud-based or on-prem.
Liz: But, in a lot of the conversations, in all seriousness, those teams that had a lot of cloud-based platforms on hand, I think, helped them have a really smooth transition. They were able to be pretty nimble in how they adapted. I think adaptability, as well, was one of the other big trends that’s going to help teams feel comfortable and confident moving beyond COVID-19.
Chrystal: Yeah. I really just want to point out that this was a write-in response question, which was fantastic, because, oh, my god, the number of individual crazy responses. When we did see a couple of trends in those responses that kept coming up, that they were able to adapt because that’s what we do as IT pros. As we mentioned several times already, you have changes and you got to adapt. You just got to figure it out. I think that it was phenomenal.
Chrystal: I had a few that really resonated with me. There were so many responses that we’re talking about, that they were already on track to provide flexibility and mobility in the public sector. Not so much in the private sector, because we know there’s a lot of restrictions and red tapes in that area. Digital transformation was already occurring. I think that that was obvious. IT space was ready to evolve. It was already on its way. It was already moving in the same direction, as I said earlier.
Chrystal: The other thing that really, really got me was that someone responded with experience, years of experience, this disaster was not any different than other disasters. It’s just lasting longer. Our systems are strong and redundant, designed to be resilient. That quote right there really brings home to me the fact that this could have been Hurricane Sandy. This could have been Y2K. This could have been any of those other disastrous, catastrophic events. It’s just another one.
Chrystal: The world is not a stagnant place. There are always unexpected things. There’s always unexpected things with the weather, with people. People make their own decisions. People make mistakes. People make mind-boggling ideas come to fruition. Those things keep the world moving forward. If we don’t continue to adapt, which we’ve proven in IT that that’s what we do, we adapt.
Chrystal: Really, it’s an adapt-or-die situation right now. If you’re a business and you’re not able to adapt right now, unfortunately, you’re probably going to go under. We’ve seen it already. How many restaurants in your area have closed because they haven’t been able to do delivery or online orders, or whatever, because it’s not a possibility. You’ve already kind of seen it.
Chrystal: I really, really like the idea that this is no different. This is no different than any other disaster, as far as IT support goes. It’s different from other disasters in other ways. As far as IT support goes, it’s no different. You just have to find the way to make it happen. Now, hopefully, we can look to improving how we support situations like this in the future.
Leon: It’s different in scale, but it’s not necessarily different in nature. The things that we would do to respond to this disaster are very similar, if not the same, as the ways that we would respond. The difference is that it would be one company or it would be a region or an area.
Leon: The things that jumped out at me was the sheer volume of people who said, “We were ready for this because we already had testing in place. We already were piloting. We were already whatever.” Then, also, the similar volume of people who said, “The thing that got me through this was my ability to adapt, or my team’s ability to adapt.”
Leon: Two other comments, specific comments that jumped out at me. One just warms the cockles of my heart, “Having become more familiar with network monitoring through the deployment of SolarWinds, my understanding of the environment was much greater than it was before.” I’m making the little heart symbol here on the podcast right now. Aww.
Leon: The other one that got me, this is just in IT Pro day, we’re not really asking for any particular thing. This person took the time and they said, “Being surrounded by incredible, talented, humble, and motivated coworkers with leadership that makes sure our needs are being met along the way, with the business’s needs.”
Leon: First of all, I’m so happy that there are people who feel that way about their jobs. I’m so happy that they took a moment to recognize it. It was just like, “Wow, cool.”
Chrystal: And, so happy that they feel that way about their coworkers.
Liz: I feel the same way. I think a lot of us can say that. Particularly, I appreciate all the support that we’ve had internally as well. I think that that’s been a huge mile-marker. But, I think kind of book-ending that comment was another one that somebody said. It was about customer service customer. Service could be construed as, either, external or internal. I look at it internally, based on kind of my experience, both with customers, but also, what we’ve received from our internal support staff.
Liz: To not totally lose this respondent’s quote, they said, “Customer service, being able to work with people towards mutual benefit.” I think that that’s a really important image to convey through this entire experience as well. Everybody is driving towards the same thing, delivering value, creating success. I think that that’s a huge and really remarkable takeaway from this entire experience and beyond.
Chrystal: I really like the mutual benefit part of that as well. It really shows that disaster is really bringing people together. They do a shift in our perspective, a shift in our mindset. Any way that we can work together to make it better for all of us, I think that, especially in the US, our culture has become such a me-me-me culture. It’s become, how can I make it better for me? Can I leave at 5 o-clock? Can I leave at 3 o’clock? I don’t want to sit in Austin traffic for an hour and a half, so I’m going to leave at 3:30. There’s all of this kind of mini-me, how can I make it better for myself?
Chrystal: I like the fact that somebody out there, and hopefully, more than one somebody, somebody out there is looking more for mutual benefit, not only for them but for their business and for their customers, and for their internal customers as well, of how can we all get better from this? How can we all get something good out of this? I think that that is a phenomenal thing. I definitely think that’s a great, positive note to end that conversation about that particular question on. Those, phenomenal.
Leon: I agree. This is the TechPod Lightning Round. Any final thoughts? Well, anything that you want to add before we wrap it up?
Chrystal: I think that we pretty much said it all. I think that we, as IT practitioners, IT pros, former IT pros, all of that, we were built for this. Stuff is hard, and it keeps getting thrown at us. 2020 is, unfortunately, not over yet. As Leon knows, because I’ve told him, there’s been more going on than we could ever possibly imagine.
Chrystal: As adaptable as humans are, not just in IT, but humans themselves are adaptable. We’re going to see it in the support of our schools as they’re going back. Liz mentioned it. They talked about it. My son had his first day back in person today. He’s been in digital school for a couple of weeks. I think that what I’ve been doing is trying to give all parents advice of have a little patience.
Chrystal: Even as IT pros, I think that we forget that, in most situations, most of the school districts, at least, that I have had talks with their IT professionals, it’s not that many people supporting the entire district. There’s a few people. Let’s say it’s a small group, three or four people, that support an entire district. All of a sudden, they now have to support every child in that district with a laptop or with working from home. It’s been hard. It’s been a struggle. They are not done figuring it out, as I told Leon.
Chrystal: Just last week, our school made a change on us that we were not prepared for, right before school was about to go back in person. Everyone’s still figuring it out. Unfortunately, even though we’re seven months in, we’re all still figuring it out. Hopefully, we’ll continue to look for ways to make it better and to improve our situations, and we’re going to come out of this having grown and understood and, maybe, understanding people a little bit better even.
Chrystal: I think it’s easy to withdraw a little bit, but it’s also easy if you just take a few minutes, to have a little bit of empathy for somebody else and know what their situation might be. If you just think about what your situation is right now and think, “Oh, my gosh. Well, if I’m dealing with this, what are you dealing with on that side of things?”
Chrystal: I just think that having a little bit of compassion for our IT pros out there and for everyone that they support and their frustration as well, it will help us all become better humans, and that’s what I’m here for.
Leon: I’m going to take the other side of that, which is that the theme this year for IT Pro Day, You Were Built For This, not only you were built for this. What I mean by that is, don’t feel like you’re the only one who is built for this. Don’t feel like you have to carry it on your shoulders. We’ve seen an enormous outpouring of support, and, I’ll even say the “L” word, love on THWACK for people just offering words of encouragement, words of support.
Leon: Also, I think it’s important because I know how IT people get, that you don’t get stuck in the trap of feeling like you are the only one who can fix this. You are part of a community. “Built for this” means the community, the team, your colleagues, your friends, your external sources on social media are also built for this. Therefore, you should feel comfortable leaning on them and asking for advice, asking for help.
Leon: One of the things I tell all the new people who are getting into IT that I work with, is pick a number. That number might be 30. That number might be 40, whatever it is. Pick a number of minutes that you will truly struggle with something. I’m not talking about just digging a ditch is digging a ditch. But, when you are struggling, you are stuck and you’re spinning your wheels. Pick a number, and say, “That’s how many minutes I will do this before I ask for help.”
Leon: Know your number, so that you don’t feel like, “If I don’t solve this, I’m never going to be done. I’m never getting out of this, and I have no idea what I’m doing.” Know that, again, my number is 30. I work on something for 30 minutes. If I can’t do it, that’s when I start asking people, and I keep asking until I find somebody who can, at least, give me some sort of point in the right direction.
Leon: Remember that “built for this” means, I’m a Northerner, but I’m going to say this semi-ironically, all y’alls are built, we’re all together built for this. We all have this together. We all are going to take a piece of it and get it done. Liz, as the newest member, you get the final word.
Liz: It’s really hard in just a couple of sentences to totally close out with final sentiments on, “you were built for this,” and who we heard from. I think the biggest takeaway that I have from this year’s IT Pro Day and every experience that has been thrown at all of y’alls, all of our ways, is, despite having an extended set of responsibilities put on our plates, be that supporting your child at home and supporting your day-to-day job, or be that supporting a new application, or be it administering a brand new project, you are so capable.
Liz: The aspect of resilience from all of this has been truly incredible. To Leon’s point, I think, not only do you ask for help, you adapt, and you keep moving forward. I think that that’s exactly where we see IT pros being built for this and built for more.
Liz: Kind of wrapping up IT Pro Day, you took this on head first and you did it with grace, humility, and, in some cases, wit. I’m so excited to see what you were built for that’s coming next.
Leon: That’s all we have time for today. Check out more IT Pro Day content at itproday.org. Chrystal, Liz, it is never disappointing when we get to put down our keyboard and just talk. I feel like we could do this all day long, but our audio and video staff is giving us that, “Wrap it up already. I want to get some lunch.”
Leon: Thank you, both, so much for joining me and joining our audience. To everyone who took a moment out of their day, thank you for listening to SolarWinds TechPod. Please, take a moment to subscribe wherever you listen to find podcasts.