THWACKcamp: Celebrating 10 Years of IT Learning — SolarWinds TechPod 061

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Join SolarWinds Technical Content Manager for Community, Kevin M. Sparenberg, and Head Geek, Chrystal Taylor, as they reminisce on the 10-year history of SolarWinds virtual event, THWACKcamp. Whether you’re curious about the type of content you can expect at this year’s event or simply want to join them on memory lane, this TechPod will answer the question: Why THWACKcamp?  Join the SolarWinds community, THWACK, in celebrating 10 years of THWACKcamp – the always free and completely virtual event for IT pros hoping to learn something new. Related Links
Chrystal Taylor

Host | Head Geek

Chrystal Taylor is a dedicated technologist with nearly a decade of experience and has built her career by leveraging curiosity to solve problems, no matter… Read More
Kevin M. Sparenberg

Host | Technical Content Manager, Community, SolarWinds

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… Read More

Episode Transcript

Announcer: This episode of TechPod is brought to you by SolarWinds THWACKcamp, our free, annual, digital IT-learning event. Join us March 2nd and 3rd for the 10th annual SolarWinds virtual IT-learning event. Register free at

Kevin: Welcome to SolarWinds TechPod, I’m Kevin Spielberg, technical content manager for the SolarWind THWACK community and I’m joined by SolarWinds, Head Geek, Chrystal Taylor. Chrystal and I have many, many things in common.

Chrystal: Like we’re passionate technologists.

Kevin: Very, very true. We both have the same taste in footwear.

Chrystal: If you say so, but more important for today, we were both customers before coming to work with SolarWinds.

Kevin: That is 100% correct. Today’s discussion is all going to be around THWACKcamp and how we got here. What were our individual journeys were like and why we’ve been coming back year after year, and this is not exclusively from an employee perspective, this from the customer side of the house, right?

Chrystal: Yes, definitely. Before we were employees and then maybe a little bit of reminiscing after we became employees.

Kevin: Because let’s be serious. There are many years in this. For the uninitiated, THWACKcamp is our 100% free, 100% online virtual conference.

Chrystal: For 2022, we’re holding our 10th THWACKcamp. We were doing virtual events long before they were the hip new thing. And yes, I did just say the hip new thing, like I’m 90. THWACKcamp, completely free and completely online is our normal, not the new normal.

Kevin: Okay. Folks, since this is a podcast, you can’t see me cringing at that phrase, but trust me, I am. Moment past, moving on. Since we were customers before, it’s probably where the very, very brief intro, on our previous engagements and production team. I know Chrystal and I always run over, so we’ll try and I’m emphasis try, to keep things brief.

Chrystal: Brief is not our forte, but we’ll do our best. My backstory, before I joined SolarWinds, I worked for a SolarWinds partner, in fact, and that means I got to work with hundreds of different customers on their Orion environments and that is how I came to work with THWACK in general, which is fantastic and if you are not on THWACK, I encourage you to go check out our THWACK community, even without THWACKcamp, but also THWACKcamp because it’s great. We’re going to tell you why.

Kevin: Unlike Chrystal, I came from a place where I was only one customer. I didn’t work with hundreds unless you count THWACK. In which case I got to work with not hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands of people working their way through their monitoring solution, and I got handed mine. I went to work one day, my boss came up and said, “Hey, here, we bought this cool new thing.” and like handed me, I think it was like 97 pages. He was like, “Here’s the admin guide, have fun.” I was like, “Cool, let’s have fun.” And I was like, “Because, I need another thing on my plate.” and then it turned out that I was really, really passionate about it. THWACK brought that out in me. THWACKcamp for me was, I heard about it probably within the first year, but we’ll dig into all of that in a little more detail in a moment.

Chrystal: Well, while we’re on the topic of things past, we’ll kick us off with the question of how and when did you hear about THWACKcamp for the first time?

Kevin: Probably spoiled it already, so my bad, but I think I heard about it… Like I said, I wasn’t the person who quote purchased the software. That was my boss. I didn’t get the regular emails. I didn’t sign up for any of that stuff. I got it via THWACK, so signed on THWACK a couple of months after, I know you should totally sign up a couple of minutes after you get SolarWinds put on your plate. But I remember seeing the advertisements and going, “Oh cool.” But of course, by that time, you’d been invited to 75 webinars and you’ve got 85 things going on and I’m like, “Eh, this is nice. I’ll sign up for it. Maybe I’ll go.” and I ended up going and being like, “All right, I should have totally canceled my other meetings.”

Kevin: Because, if we’re 100% honest on this, Chrystal can vouch, sometimes you go to these webinars, but not SolarWinds ones. Sometimes you go to these webinars and you only have half an ear on and this is one of those ones where I had half an ear on, I will not lie. I started with like, “It’s just going to be something fun to have on in the background while I do real work.” and then like 10 minutes in, I had to pause and be like, “All right, this is not a Rah, Rah, Sis Boom Bah thing.” This was a legitimate, technical, deep dive on the things that I care about and some other things that I didn’t care about yet, but sounded like I should have been paying attention.

Chrystal: Yeah, definitely. That is really funny that you mentioned that, because I think that is the danger everyone is in, in at least their first THWACKcamp or even if this is your first THWACKcamp and you attended other virtual events in the last year or whatever, you know that you fell into that trap also of not being able to pay as much attention as maybe you wanted to because the work doesn’t go away. It doesn’t stop and sometimes it’s just there. I first heard of the THWACKcamp, I attended the very first THWACKcamp way back in the day, back in the day, 10 years ago, more than 10 years ago, now.

Kevin: Let me get you your cane. You can tell us all about it, while you tell kids to get off your lawn.

Chrystal: Because I worked for a SolarWinds partner and at the time they were a startup, I really was self-taught. I used the heck out of THWACK to learn and ask questions and by answering other people’s questions I learned. I organically heard about THWACKcamp through the THWACK platform because I was just on it, so much as I was teaching myself and asking questions and helping other people. Then I encouraged everyone, that I worked with, all the other engineers, which there weren’t that many of us back then, but the five or six other engineers to attend THWACKcamp if they could, and it’s become the normal thing to do over there, is if they have the ability they attend THWACKcamp because they’re a Partner, but also it’s an incredible event.

Chrystal: It’s fun. It’s networking. It’s getting to talk to, and we use air quotes that you can’t see, but talk to people that you have interacted with through THWACK for the previous amount of time. That was what it was for me for the first time and of course learning more things. The very first one was in the very beginning, I had just started using SolarWinds six months before that, started using some of those SolarWinds products and it was eye-opening. I hadn’t attended any tech conference before, so it really set the bar for me, for every tech conference I’ve attended afterwards.

Kevin: That is a tough bar to meet because I remember the first one for me, and one of the ways I’ve seen it grow and change over the years, at least for myself was, it seemed, I don’t want to say small, but I think this is probably me saying it from now being on the inside perspective and having gone to several actual events before that time, actual go to a city, go to a conference hall, it felt small. The difference was, it was packed. It wasn’t like, “Oh, go to this hall and we’ll tell you about this one thing that’s coming up.” And you’re like, “Eh, I lost 45 minutes while I could have read something about that.” The thing with THWACK for me was, everything was dense. It was not the best analogy, but the only one that come to mind, it’s like a really bad cake.

Kevin: It was flavorful and full of big chunks. You know what it was, it was fruitcake. Since we’re just leaving from the holidays, it was fruit cake. It was incredibly dense. It was full of flavors. I got lots out of it, but you look at it and you’re like, “Eh, that’s a tiny package,” but it turned out to have so much more than I originally anticipated. I think I went in thinking that I would go to one session, two sessions. I’m like, “I can’t devote five hours to sitting through stuff like this.” and I went to a session, I was like, “I should have devoted seven hours to sitting through things like this.” I felt from the outside seeing how it grew and changed was.

Kevin: The content got more technical, but then it was interspersed with these top-level higher brain. I can’t think of the right terminology. Chrystal knows this. It’s the leadership-

Chrystal: Thought leadership.

Kevin: Thank you. Two words that go together perfectly, but Kevin can’t seem to stitch together a coherent sentence. The thought leadership stuff that made me stop thinking necessarily about the clicks and the bits and the bites, made me think about the way and the process that I was doing this work. That was one of the things that I saw change. There were so many sessions and I should have just blocked my calendar. Let’s be real. And you’ve seen similar things, I’m sure from the outside world?

Chrystal: Yeah. I think for me, one of the things that was readily noticeable, so every year, and you know about this now especially if you didn’t pay attention to it before, every year they do a survey after THWACKcamp is over for the attendees and you get to give feedback. The best thing about being part of this community is that, they actually pay attention to the feedback. As you watch THWACKcamp, one of my favorite things the following year, is to watch it and see how that feedback was impacted. Early days, if we’re going back years, there was some way more just fun and wacky bits that were silly and funny and they livened up the place for lack of better terminology there, but they weren’t necessarily the most technical things.

Chrystal: They were silly and they were fun and they link us together in a different way. We’re all having a good time and then mix in, you’d also have the hyper-technical content where you’re getting to learn more about your SolarWinds products and installations. Then they started sprinkling in more of way where tech is going, talking about machine learning and AI and observability and whatever else is top of mind, whatever’s top of things coming up and how that’s going to affect what you’re doing. All of that stuff sprinkles in together to make this wonderful cake of an event, and I serious-

Kevin: I’m so sorry. I brought up that analogy.

Chrystal: No, I want a shirt now that says, THWACKcamp is cake.

Kevin: And it’s not a lie?

Chrystal: And the cake is not a lie. It would make me so happy.


Kevin: Creative team. Get on that. Sorry.

Chrystal: That’s watching it change over the years, year to year. They’ve done all kinds of things and like you said, now that we’re on the inside, we can see how much goes into making those changes. But even before I joined, it got longer, it was one day and then it became two days and they added sessions for coffee breaks. They added tracks so that you could split your focus if you wanted to watch something over here and something over there.

Chrystal: They are not afraid to try new things and new platforms and I think that’s pretty incredible to be a part of, even just from the community aspect, even just from an attendee aspect, having attended so many of them, literally all of them. I can tell you that watching it change every year and some years the changes weren’t as good as other years. I won’t pretend I loved every change that happened, but then the next year they’d take that feedback and then they’d change it again. That’s what IT is about. IT is about change. We can’t just stay stuck. Being able to be a part of that, even just as an outside viewer and watch it evolve, has been phenomenal.

Kevin: I’m going to basically just copy-paste everything you said, and it was amazing to watch it shift. I like the thing you said, where we’ve got the constant feedback loop because that’s what THWACK is. One of the reasons we do THWACKcamp, and now I’m speaking the collective, we, as in SolarWinds, one of the reasons we THWACKcamp is because we love the community. We love the people that are in there and using our products and asking us the hard questions. To be brutally honest, if I don’t get at least a half dozen hard questions a day, I can get bored, because then it is copy paste answers. When people challenge me, and not just me, but challenge all of the other people, both at SolarWinds and on THWACK, that’s what I want.

Kevin: I will say, one of the things I didn’t like, and this is going back a couple of years, was when you had to choose your track, and I remember very specifically, I had my own problem on that day because I was in both tracks. This is when we were still doing everything prerecorded. We did the stuff in studio and I was in both. I was like, “I don’t know which one to join so I can help answer questions as the videos are being played.” And I ended up choosing wrong, because I had more fun doing that one, but it wasn’t the questions and the topic that resonated. When I say wrong, there wasn’t really a wrong choice. There was just a slightly more right choice. I came back afterwards and looked at the threads and I’m like, “Ooh, I should have chose this one.” That’s the idea of that.

Kevin: We do take this feedback seriously. First one as presenters, SolarWinds as a company, myself speaking for the THWACK community, we do listen to this stuff. It’s not a black hole. This is a two-way street. Although we are sending you the information in one direction, it’s not unilateral. We want that information back. Whether you like the session, love the session, absolutely hated the session, went over your head, wasn’t good for me, was fantastic, but I should have brought in my manager or my coworker instead because they’re the person that knows databases or what have you, then that’s the stuff we want to know because that’ll help us make sure we can get that content in front of people that it will help. The change year, every year it’s… Chrystal said it perfectly change is the only constant and especially change is the only constant in IT because on Monday I think I know my week’s going to look like, and by Friday, none of that happened.

Chrystal: That’s completely accurate. Stuff pops up all the time and with THWACKcamp, that’s true. Being on the inside last year and then now preparing for THWACKcamp this year, has given me a new respect for what it takes to put on an event like this from figuring out what resonated with people last year and the year before to try and see maybe what’s going to resonate this year because we don’t want to present content to you, the audience, that you’re not going to enjoy. The whole idea is to foster the community and to answer your questions and give you information that you want and need. If we’re not doing that, we do want to know. If we are doing that, we want to know. As the presenter, I think it’s been like some of the most fun is watching and being a part of the interactions during my sessions. That’s been incredible. I will have a story about specifically one session last year for later, but we’ll get there.

Kevin: I think it goes without saying that THWACKcamp from the inside can be exhausting. This is not saying anything about the work. The work is incredibly fulfilling, but it’s in a lot of ways like IT work, we just have to pivot the way we think about it. Instead of chomping down and upgrading 47 servers, we’ve got to help people craft these ideas into something that meets our timelines and it is the most fun, I think I’ve ever had at a job in my life, and that’s being a part of THWACKcamp. Both from the inside and the outside because I remember the second year, I went in with different expectations. First-year I was like, “I don’t know what I’m really dealing with. It’s just a virtual conference, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it’s free, register now.”

Kevin: And then year two for me, which I think was the second year, it may have been the third. It’s been many, many years now. I remember going in saying, “I need to go to these sessions and I’m also going to go to these sessions and I think this one will probably work for my buddy Tony or my friend Jonathan, or Alli over there or Rene from the help desk, she would totally benefit from knowing about this.” I would send those things out. I remember getting joke at that I was basically trying to resell THWACKcamp and I’m like, “That’s fine, it’s free. I’m asking you to block, 20 minutes on your calendar, 45 minutes on your calendar, maybe it occurs during your lunch breaks. Just grab an empty conference room, put on your headphones and go.”

Kevin: What I got each year is, I ended up going to sessions that I… I’m going to pick on database on this because I’m probably weakest when it comes to the IT space in database, and that’s just because I know enough to be dangerous and that’s enough for me. I remember going to a session and having someone talk about databases and finally getting an understanding of why my buddy Tony was so angry when I asked him about things. I should in theory know better, but my day was all doing switch ports and load up VLANs and messing with firewall rules and stuff like that.

Kevin: It wasn’t the database side, so it gave me an indication of what he was dealing with, and that created empathy and helped me to understand, what is a wait-time statistic? What are these three or four different type types of weights? What is the database operating system actually doing? Why is the Ram always at a hundred percent? These kinds of things that after I went to the session, which was not my top pick, it just was available in a time slot that I already blocked out. I was like, “This is incredibly helpful.” In that case, my expectations were low, but my outcome was humongous and it really changed the way I looked at interacting, not only with that particular technology stack but with the teams in general over that next year and I continue to try to foster that year over year.


Chrystal: I absolutely love that story. I think the same thing has happened to me because of my job being what it was, it was expected for me to attend though THWACKcamp. I knew I was going to attend it, whether anything else was going on or not. When we got to the point of having to choose tracks or choose sessions or any of that stuff, and then you wind up in a session that you didn’t think you were going to care about and then you come out absolutely learning something about it or like in your case it was database. It’s just like, “No, I don’t care about that.” I had been doing Orion administration for several years and I watched one that was in Orion 101 session, a few years ago-

Kevin: You totally don’t need that one because you’ve been doing it for a better part of a decade.

Chrystal: Absolutely. I was like, “There’s no reason for me to attend this. I’m just going to put it on the background and I’ll listen.” I just remember being, I don’t want to say floored, but the word floored is coming to mind of things that you forget about after a certain number of years or things that you didn’t necessarily remember were there, or maybe you never knew they were there. You learn something about, even though you’ve been doing it for years and those kinds of situations happen so often for me as an attendee and then speaking of expectations for other people, I think because of the nature of my previous job, I wound up telling customers all the time, “You should attend this. You should 100% go watch this.” You’re trying to get so and so’s equipment into your Orion.

Chrystal: Go watch this it’ll help you figure out what they need, what questions to ask. Even without you being consciously aware of it, it helps you understand what questions you should be asking people on other teams, if you watched one on Exchange or if you watched one on machine learning or whatever, and maybe that’s not your area of expertise, but there was a really memorable session a few years ago with Destiny Bertucci and you, I believe, which was talking about an approach to monitoring CIS admin, when you’re a network admin. It was a great session and it just gives you a new way of thinking about things like that. I think that all those types of sessions where even if you’re not going into it expecting to learn much of anything, it can change the way that you think about things and the way that you ask questions to foster, everything that you’re doing at work.

Kevin: Crosses those boundaries between teams, because IT is siloed. There is no single person that will know everything in your infrastructure. They can’t. If it’s a reasonable size infrastructure, they can’t know every nut and bolt. They can’t be Milton in the basement who knows where the staplers are stored, but it is something that can give you a peek into their specific curtain. Be like, “Well, the systems team says these kinds of things. What’s important to them?” And being able to be there even on the periphery of something like that, if you’re attending THWACKcamp and you have half an ear on for the sessions, you’re not super interested in, I’m going to tell you, you’re going to put that other headphone on because something’s going to be said, you’re going to be like, “Wait, wait, I should have been paying attention.” And that’s actually one of the things that I really wish I would’ve done going back.

Chrystal: That is where nowadays I can be thankful for THWACKcamp on-demand.

Kevin: The post-event, when we go through and be like, “You need to watch this, and actually if you’re interested, you can still watch last year’s.” That was the thing that shifted me when I was thinking about going back, what did I really wish I had done? And from the customer side of the house, I really wished I had told two things. Number one, I wished I invited other people. Like I said, I started doing that year two, but I didn’t take it super serious. If was just something, if you’ve got time, you should do this.

Kevin: I should have been a lot more… I’m going to use the word present. I should have been a lot more present at that time and be like, “No, no, no, I’m serious. You need to take the time to go and actually just cut some time out of your day and watch these things.” And the flip side of that, which is a direct tie-in is, I needed to block my calendar, better because it was virtual. I should have talked to the boss and said, “I would like to work from home today, so I don’t have the cube walkup,” because anyone who’s worked at a cube farm knows the walkup and then someone knocks on the foam side of your cube and you’re just… You’re chuckling because you know exactly what it’s like.

Kevin: And it’s like, “Hey, is the network down?” “No, it’s not down. The network is not down. I’m busy right now.” Or if I was at home doing the same thing, I could still do my work, take care of my trouble tickets, do whatever project I was working on but I could devote a little bit more of my attention to the actual event. I should have advertised better internally. I should have told other people that I worked with this. This was a thing and I should have been better about… Well, it’s something I still struggle with today, time management, I should have just blocked my time and said, “No, no, no. Can’t.”

Chrystal: I think blocking time is, well, it’s really hard first of all. But aside from a down event, you’re not going to be able to ignore that. But aside from that, a lot of times you can rearrange at least for the sessions that you really are interested in attending. Rearrange a little bit to make time for actually paying attention and I really say that because I think a thing that I slept on for too long, entirely too long is the interaction with community members live, so you can’t get this on-demand and it’s just chef’s kiss. It’s just so good. It’s so good. Everyone is so excited to be there. They’re so invested. You can ask your questions and get answers live, not to mention the prizes and things that you can win, which are also really great.

Chrystal: Not to mention all of that stuff, just the interaction constantly with those community members, getting that networking done, meeting another you at some other company, or even seeing managers and IT directors in more recent years, seeing more and more of those be in there and like, “Oh, I didn’t know that we could do this. I’m going to get somebody on that right away. I didn’t know that this was possible.” Having people talk about those things is really phenomenal. I think especially in more recent years, there’s been some more creative uses of things in the Orion Platform being shown, through SWQL and all that stuff.

Chrystal: Seeing how people use it and seeing use case scenarios and all that stuff, having real customers and other like the THWACK MVPs and stuff, come on and talk about how they use things and how they do things. Watching the chat completely explode with interaction and being a part of that and talking to them and sharing your stories, that to me is a thing that I didn’t invest enough in for a long time because it would be on a monitor, but I wasn’t participating in chat. I was listening, but I was also doing something else and because I didn’t participate in chat so much, I feel like I missed out on a lot of really good interaction that I could have had and that’s what I would recommend, if you are able to invest in interacting in the chat, it’s worth it.

Kevin: So much meme-worthy content came through those chat logs. Similar to you, I remember the first year I actually did block my time. I was sitting at my desk and because I couldn’t… I don’t think I couldn’t, I don’t think I thought to ask my boss if I could work from home. I had it on a screen and I popped the chat into a second window. I could just watch the chat roll by and then I could jump between sessions. I remember a tangent and I can’t remember which tangent, I just remember that that tangent went not 15 degrees, it went a full 90 degrees to the right. It took a hard turn, but it just kept going. I really enjoyed the sessions, especially early on when I was still getting my feel for what monitoring meant in a real production environment, was having the customer stories, having them come in.

Kevin: Even if they couldn’t show all of their stuff, because no one wants to… Can’t show you all their public IPS or that kind of stuff, totally fine. But they said how they used it and then they’d give us screenshots or steps that they went through to do these things. And I was like, “You know what?” Similar to you, I’m scratching my head. Be like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s because it had just never surfaced before. I didn’t see an example of it. You go every so often into the Orion demo, you see, “Oh, these new features bad. This is what this looks like. We got these cool new widgets. We got these dashboards. Yay. We got some maps. Cool. We could do maps now directly on the web. Awesome.” But you don’t think necessarily how it would work, how you could tweak it for your environment.

Kevin: It’s not so much that you can’t, it’s that your day job takes you away from just being able to take a step back and have a good think about it, and that’s what THWACKcamp did for me, gave me some ideas about how I could monitor, in those days it was like my dual-WAN routers because we didn’t have WAN routers that had two NICs and then an inside, we had two separate routers to produce our number of failure domains. It’s like, “I’m tired of getting alerts when the secondary one goes offline and the first one’s still fine.” And I was like, “This is a really annoying thing. I got to keep turning alerts on and off. I got to do…” And then someone came in and, this is years and years ago, came in and said, “You just do this thing.”

Kevin: And I’m like, “You can do the what thing?” I was like, “Wait a minute. I was like print screen, print screen, print screen,” and that was also before I realized that we were going to re-broadcast. I was like, “Wow, this is some amazing stuff and I should have taken the time to really disconnect myself from work as much as possible to really ingest this thing, and 100% being serious with everyone, that can be difficult in a virtual environment.” THWACKcamp has persevered… We’re talking 10 years here because we’re giving you that dense, fruitcake-like knowledge. I’m going to keep saying it. You’re not going to stop me, Chrystal. You can get that dense fruitcake, you can get that knowledge, and then if it takes you three days to digest it, mentally not, we are going to skip that part.

Kevin: If takes you a couple days to digest it, that’s great. You can write up a plan, go into a conference room, throw something on a whiteboard real fast, turn back around, watch the recap, find the people you talk to on THWACK during the event, and then ask them a question. Just send them a message. Be like, “I think you said this thing during the chat, how did you do it? What’s your scenario because I am a network engineer for a Fortune 100 law firm and we’ve got 16 sites and I think you said you were in finance, which is close enough to the way we do business. Can you talk to me?” And it’s building the connections outside of necessarily the content that I really, really love. Those are my favorite things, but not my favorite session.

Chrystal: What was your favorite session?

Kevin: My favorite session now, I’ve been doing this many years from this side of the microphone, and I’ve got two sessions. My two favorite sessions, the first one was a very, very tactical deep dive and it was with Tom Rock, SQL Rockstar. For me, it was how the Microsoft SQL database operating system lives on top of the operating system layer, which of course lives on top of the hardware abstraction, which lives on the… That kind of stack approach and him explaining to me, and I think the session was called SQL doesn’t have to be a black box or your database doesn’t have to be a black box. I remember going to that and saying, “I know stuff.” This is stupid, confident Kevin walking into the studio being like, “I know stuff.”

Kevin: Tom’s asking me to play a newb and I don’t have any acting creds, I don’t have my sag card, but whatever I can totally play the straight man in this. There was zero acting. I was like, “I’m sorry, man, you got to dumb this down on just a little bit more.” And it was fantastic. A similar one was about how NetFlow is important within your data center, as opposed to outside your data centers. Those were amazing for the content. And my favorite one in recent memory was the one I did about alerts. I think it was during last THWACKcamp. So THWACKcamp 2020. It was how to get your alerts noticed. I came up with this idea and it was ridiculous and I pitched it and I was like, “It’s going to be destroyed.”

Kevin: It was like, I wanted to be a motivational speaker talking to a bunch of alerts that were sitting in the audience who were having trouble and I was going to be there to help them. And they were like, “Oh no, this works great. We’ll totally set up the green screen. We’ll get you one of those like boom mics, so you’re not on the lab. You’re on the earpiece, the ones you always used to see for years and years.” I was like, “The content’s going to be good, but I get to play to up like an absolute, ridiculous jerk on stage. I’m going to love this.” And it was honestly, probably the most fun I’ve had in that studio ever because it was ridiculous.

Chrystal: That’s really funny.

Kevin: What about yours? You’ve got to have some good ones both from inside and now.

Chrystal: I do want to say that reminds me to give a total shout-out to our team because they are amazing at creating these crazy things that we do every year.

Kevin: And just organizing us, because if you haven’t noticed, are we over time yet? Probably. But if you haven’t noticed Chrystal and I, we don’t necessarily like to hear ourselves speak, but we like to have these conversations. Which is why we liked working on THWACK as much as we do and working with THWACKcamp as much as we do and the video and the production team, the audio, the people that do the animations, even down to the marketing team who come up with the clever stuff for social, it cracks me up and I’m super thankful that they helped get the message out there because the there’s only so many people I can email without being blocked. It’s easier to have someone else do that work for me.

Chrystal: Well, to get back to your question, what’s my favorite session. My favorite session as an attendee, pre-THWACKcamp 2020. It’s so hard to choose. I was running back through my memory and through a playlist on YouTube and things like that and just reminiscing on my own in preparation for this question because I knew we were going to talk about it. I watched anything Destiny Bertucci put on for THWACKcamp. If she put something on… I think she’s amazing by the way, just as a personal hero of mine. But I think that anything that she was going to do, I was going to learn something from, and so I watched anything that she put on and there was a session that Destiny was not in, that I love from a different perspective, which was a few years ago. You and Leon and Zach Mutchler, all friends of mine. Did-

Kevin: I know this session.

Chrystal: Did the API conversation and that session, is incredible for many reasons, because friends and that was incredible to watch. Three friends and-

Kevin: [crosstalk 00:35:29] Wheel of Scripting. It was such a ridiculous gimmick. Again, we post stuff and the creative teams are like, “That sounds pretty decent. Let’s do that.”

Chrystal: Yeah. But I learned so much from it. As you still know to this day, API is not my best friend and script and coding, also, not my best friend. They’re not my forte and I’m always striving to understand them better and mess around especially with the SWQL API. Anytime those sessions come up, I watched them and then you guys were in there, and then I was like, “Friends.” And so I could watch that also from a fellow THWACK MVP perspective and then just cheering on buddies from afar. It was like a double whammy for me. I learned a lot and it had silly gimmick and it was also, friends. It was great. That’s my favorite not-me one. Since I presented last year and I presented-

Kevin: How was that? Before you get too deep, how was it being behind the curtain for the first time?

Chrystal: Well, I’ll tell you that I have a problem with stage fright, so it stressful, but it was actually really fun. I did so many sessions last year. I did five.

Kevin: I was so thankful you came on board, so I didn’t have to do as many, joking. I was actually really excited because you and I had known each other for a long time. Five, six years at least and we had never had the chance to actually, other than the quicker aside, we never actually got to hang out, and that was the first year we got to really be in the same space, such good time.

Chrystal: Such a good time. I did I think five sessions last year and I also helped co-host and so that was a whole another challenge because that was live.

Kevin: The live cuts are as much prep as we can do, there’s still a teleprompter and if you haven’t noticed Chrystal and I are okay at reading from scripts, but okay is probably… If we were in school, it would be a C needs improvement.

Chrystal: We go off-script way more than we stay on script.

Kevin: I’m doing a time check right now. Sorry. Aside from the live cuts, which were of course petrifying, still are to this day. I think you and I might be sharing co-hosting duties again. We’re not sure yet. We’re still going through some of that stuff. It’s still going to be petrifying and exhilarating. Which session though?

Chrystal: I’ll tell you, my favorite session from a content standpoint was the one that I did with Mark Netherfield, which was custom properties revisited, which was him walking through his wizardy mind. It’s always fun to talk to him. I’ve known him for several years and worked with him for several years at my previous job. He just thinks about things in a totally different way. He likes to say that his goal in life is to automate enough things that he doesn’t have to actually work. That’s what he wants to do. He wants to automate as much of his Orion administration duties in whatever else duties so that he doesn’t have to actually work. It does the work for him and so that-

Kevin: This sounds strangely familiar you to a live cast you did.


Chrystal: Yeah. Getting to walk through his wizardy brain and he took us through a few examples that he’s done with the SolarWinds API and SQL and that was phenomenal because while I’ve seen it in action before, I’d rarely get a chance to actually understand how and why he did a thing, so that was great. But my favorite session that I did from an interaction standpoint was the live upgrade.

Kevin: You’ve heard me say that some sessions are recorded and then we have live cuts and some sessions will be live. This one was recorded but recorded in real-time.

Chrystal: It was recorded in real-time. We had a clock on the screen just so everyone would know that we were doing it in real-time, it was-

Kevin: We were speed running over running upgrades.

Chrystal:  Yeah. We wanted to be as honest as possible about it and the best part for me though, and again, I’m going to go back to interacting with the chat. The chat went crazy. So many people took the content from that session and the fact that it was so fast and so easy now, and they did their upgrades while we did the live one in session. All of that chat interaction where they were telling us how it was going and we were all cheering each other on, it was the highest of highs I could have got off of doing any session, is just inspiring people to do that. And then to talk about it, it was so good. I love that for me and for SolarWinds, but I love it. It was great.

Kevin: We did one. It wasn’t a THWACKcamp session but in a similar vein, I did something a while ago. I’m going to say it was last year. It was not too long after THWACKcamp. It had to be beginning of last year and it was all about, these are the reasons you need to upgrade and of course, everyone knows that you should upgrade because you’ll get CVEs gets closed and blocked, you go ahead get some new features, we’ve optimized some things, all the reasons you get to upgrade everything.

Kevin: I remember going into that, and that one was a webinar. That was really long but really interactive with the group and it was mind-numbing, the number of people that were like, “Well, I got SolarWinds people on the horn right now. I’m just going to go ahead and hit go.” And I’m like, “Number one for me, that’s incredibly inspiring because you have that faith,” especially for me and I told everyone in that session that I was coming in as a SolarWinds customer, not as an employee because I have been burned by upgrades going bad, it’s not just SolarWinds, everyone has every major manufacturer of software has one of those upgrades that is not quite what you think it was going to be.

Kevin: The number of people who said, “Well I started my upgrade five minutes after you got going and you gave me the reasons you should and the things to watch out for and by the time the session was over, my upgrade was done.” And these are customers that are monitoring a thousand nodes with 6, 8, 12 months of historical stuff, so their database is not trivial and it got done in record times. One of the things I think I’m most proud of for the company was the upgrade experience has gotten so, so much better.

Chrystal: The horror stories we could tell, but not today, that’s not for today. We’re not going to do that to the production team. That’s what it was like watching them do that, and then even after the session had ended those people who had larger installations that took a little bit longer than the 15 or 17 minutes, whatever it was, it was so short. Whatever it was for the live upgrade that we did, then theirs were longer. They were still in the chat for the rest of the day, people were doing upgrades and talking about it and everyone was cheering them on. There were a couple of people that ran into an issue and the chat was there. Employees and MVPs and other THWACK members were in there, answering questions, helping these people.

Kevin: Just any person who ran into a similar or identical message, like this is how I fix that, and that’s the power of community. It’s the reason THWACKcamp is a thing. We love it so much. That’s the past. Now we’ve got to talk about the future. What are we looking for to, for the future? What is this year showing?

Chrystal: This year’s showing, there is so much to look forward to this year and we can shamelessly plug our own sessions-

Kevin: Come join Chrystal and I, as we talk about things.

Chrystal: And stuff as we’re prone to do. Now we’ve got-

Kevin: And occasionally tangents.

Chrystal: Definitely that. We’ve got some great stuff going up this year. Sascha and I are going to be doing another career session, which will be tons of fun. I’m super looking forward to it. We’re going to be doing a comparison to gaming and careers in tech and if you haven’t read my blog posts on the topic, I encourage you to check that out, but it should be a very fun session and we’re really looking forward to that being one of the sillier ones. And then, of course, you and I have two sessions, which will be really good and I’m very excited about. One of which is the notification decision tree, which will be us telling you how to decide what kind of format you should be getting your notifications in-

Kevin: And we’re not talking whether it’s a page or a text or as if anyone has pagers anymore, I’m sure they exist. I’m I going to send an SMS message or am I going to send an email, it’s beyond that. This is one of those discussions where we’re not going to necessarily dig into the this is how you do this one thing, it’s the, why you want to do things in a certain way. The stuff from previous years inspired both of us on this one because we can talk about alerts all day long. We have talked about alerts all day along. If you’ve ever seen us at a user group or caught us in a booth at a trade show, we’ll talk to you for hours. We’ll talk to you till we get horse, you get horse, and then we got to go looking for water refills.

Kevin: That topic gets more distant than that and then we’ve got the other one, which is a hearkening back to my days that I’m sure you heard from your customer’s sides, working as a Partner where they were like, “I’m tired of dealing with this. Please help.” And for me, it’s not the network, but it’s still your problem and it is, and it isn’t, and getting to the truth of that and getting to the truth quickly and proving once and for all, it’s not the network, but still being a valuable resource in the additional troubleshooting, is important because the only constant in IT, is change and change is not always for the better. Sometimes people paste bad commands. It happens.

Chrystal: We both know from past experience that even if it is not the network and you’re the network admin if you’re responsible for the Orion Platform or your monitoring platform, then chances are, you’re going to get called on to figure out what the problem actually is. Hopefully, we’ll be helping with that.

Kevin: We will be in there doing the chat, both sessions. I think I’ve got one more. You’ve got the one with Sascha, which I’m super excited about because those are the things, that career progression. The leveling up of your career is something that I’ve always found really interesting because I have been thrust into various career decisions and not had to plot my own course. And I feel like if my career was more open world, then maybe I could have had a little more influence and it would’ve been better for me, both in the short and the long term.

Chrystal: I’m actually really looking forward to Liz’s sessions. Liz has, fellow Head Geek Liz Beavers has two sessions regarding the service desk. I’m really looking forward to. She has this, beyond IT concept, that she works on where it’s about bringing things other than just your IT into your service desk and how your service desk can really help you. The more she talks about it, the more I want to listen to her, talk about it. I’m really excited about those sessions as well.

Chrystal: There’s one that I found that I was really excited about, that is going to go through the history of, from monitoring to observability, which I think will be really interesting about APM and just talking about where we’ve come from and where we go, I find that really interesting in general. I’m looking forward to watching that.

Kevin: I’m a consummate documentary consumer, so being able to hear from people who have actually been doing the stuff in the early days of APM, where you were just watching puff counters and CPU on this processor, but what does that mean for the business? I don’t know. [crosstalk 00:48:37] And for me as the person who was responsible for setting up monitoring, I did as much as I was asked to do and stopped. I learned obviously since then that, that was not necessarily the right path. I should have been asking more questions. How critical is this for you? Do you need to know about these things? Does this affect another system? Is it part of a line of business thing that we need to worry about?

Kevin: Being able to help people get that level of visibility through their entire stack, based on these couple of things and taking some of the historical knowledge that you’ve captured in whatever your NMS is, and being able to use that to predict where things are going, is incredibly powerful, especially when you are wearing so many hats. Because IT people, you may think you have a job, but every single IT person, unless your organization is absolutely monstrous and staffed, unlike anyone I’ve ever heard of, you’re wearing more than one.

Chrystal: Absolutely.

Kevin: Both Chrystal and I will be presenting and attending this 10th THWACKcamp on March 2nd and 3rd, registration is now open. It’s still 100% free and it’s painless. Just go to to register and make sure you put in the sessions you want to attend. We’re all there. We’re filling out the agenda as we speak register for them, make sure you get your updates.

Chrystal: Yep. There’s definitely more information on those sessions in the agenda, so check it out. Like Kevin just said, it’ll get updated as we get closer, so you’ll have full information there and be sure to say, hi to us in the Chat and say, you heard about it here on SolarWind’s TechPod and interact in the Chat. We love it. We’ll be there. We’ll be around. We’re going to be in the Chat. We’re going to be talking to people and in the meantime, if you want to come find us on THWACK, we’re also there all the time.

Kevin: Thanks so much, Chrystal. I guess it’s time for us to get back to prepping for THWACKcamp.

Chrystal: It certainly is. Thank you for joining us on TechPod.

Kevin: Thanks, everybody.