SysAdmins: Then, Now, Always — SolarWinds TechPod 066

Stream on:
When you started as a systems administrator, you might have connected servers, swapped out hard drives, run down spare components, and dragged around a crash cart. Those days might not be completely over, but the chances you physically interact with your systems grow smaller and smaller each day. In an era of virtualization, cloud-first, and software as a service, where does this leave the lowly systems administrator? These questions and more are discussed and debated by Technical Content Manager for the SolarWinds® Community Kevin M. Sparenberg and SolarWinds Manager of Information Technology Noel Barbee on this episode. How you do your job may have changed, but the role in your organization is as important as ever.  Related Links
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
Noel Barbee

Guest | IT Manager, SolarWinds

Noel Barbee, Head of Global End User Service at SolarWinds, a seasoned leader with over 18 years of experience in IT Support Operations. Certified in… Read More

Episode Transcript

Kevin:  Welcome to this SolarWinds TechPod. I am the host today and my name is Kevin Sparenberg. You probably know me, but I’m the least important person in the room today. The most important person in the room today is Noel. Noel, people on TechPod probably know who you are but let’s give them a recap, shall we?

Noel: Hey Kevin, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, my name is Noel Barbie. I run end-user services for Americas at SolarWinds. I’m a service delivery manager. So it’s a fancy job title for being a help desk manager for our internal Solarians here.

Kevin:  Well, it’s not a light lift because let’s be serious, almost anyone in IT probably, and I’m being very gracious here, has probably spent some time on a help desk, or as a help desk manager, or a help desk supervisor, or a insert title here. Everyone’s cut their teeth, I think is the term I normally use when I talk to people on it, and it is the single most thankless job if anything has ever gone wrong. The fact that you actually work that team, run with that team, and are responsible for that for the Americas, I mean clap to you, sir. It is not an easy gig.

Noel: It is not an easy gig but it’s a testament to our team. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and they haven’t kicked me out yet. Well, 15 years of managing help desk and IT support operations. Yeah, at times it is a thankless job but is a good job. I’ve seen so many people start as help desk technicians and become DevOps engineers, or security analysts, or database administrators, or project managers, you name it. What I really like to do is serve people and actually serve our team so they could get better and achieve their goals.

Kevin:  Yeah. Well, one of the ones you didn’t mention on your shortlist there is SysAdmins.

Noel: Yes.

Kevin:  They are the oft-maligned infrequently celebrated, but that’s not the purpose. Today is SysAdmin Day, so we are celebrating all things sysadmin-

Noel: Absolutely.

Kevin:  There are many, many good things about being a sysadmin. There are many, many… I’m not going to say bad. There are many very tough days. You and I were talking a little bit before this, where we have had good experiences. We’ve had not-so-good experiences. We have had those days that are absolutely fantastic where everything goes smoothly and you’re like, “You know what? Queue is empty. Let’s all kick off 15 minutes early. We can beat some of the traffic. We can all go home. Anyone want to go see a ball game? I got some tickets…”

Kevin:  There are great days but they’re also balanced almost completely by the really horrific days where things just don’t work out well. I want to ask you, and we’re not going to stay on the subject of this, but I want to know, what was your worst day? You don’t have to tell me the company. You don’t have to tell me, but what was your worst day? This could be anywhere in your IT, because everyone has these horror days.

Noel: Yeah, young in my career I managed our SCCM server, which is our computer manager server.

Kevin:  I know SCCM.

Noel: And my job was to push out patches, critical patches to our entire department and that didn’t go so well because it wasn’t our fault. Microsoft released a bad patch. I had a task to create a script to uninstall that patch, that bad patch.

Kevin:  Yeah. Rollback.

Noel: Yeah, roll. Do a rollback. But I accidentally deleted the whole patch server database.

Kevin:  That’s a bad day.

Noel: Yeah. That’s a bad day. And so systems were crashing left and right and we didn’t have the infrastructure to fix it.

Kevin:  So you get to rebuild from backup. Yay.

Noel: Yeah and here’s the thing. We didn’t have a backup because I was in charge of backups too, but I wasn’t doing that.

Kevin:  Oh no.

Noel: So I was in over my head a little bit. I learned really quick about change management process, about not freaking out and just holding your composure, and doing things correctly. So that was probably my worst day.

Kevin:  And owning it.

Noel: And owning it, yeah.

Kevin:  That’s a big thing. I… same thing. Well, not the same thing. Also Microsoft infrastructure. I had a complaint. This is, I’m going 15 years, so anyone who’s listening to this if you know Microsoft Exchange, you know where I’m going to go with this. I went and we had a specific mailbox database store that was acting badly. And I was trying to basically dismount it so I could remount it. This is in the 2000’s… Yeah, I think it was Exchange 2003 days, so I was trying to dismount it so I could remount it. And it was just sitting there not going anywhere. And this particular server had four databases on it and I’m like, “Whatever, I know what’s happening here. We’ve got a clean backup. I know it was run 15 minutes ago. Worst case scenario is everyone’s upset for a while. We restore to a backup, everyone just shifts around.”

Kevin:  So I went onto the server and it was like I said, I was trying to dismount and it didn’t work. And I said, “You know what? I’m just going to kill the store process.” And I’m like, “Cool, no problem.” I kill the store process. Of course, all of the databases go offline instantaneously. And everyone’s like, “What happened?” And I’m like, “I was a little too aggressive and I didn’t double check,” because most places I worked before only had a single database store. So it was just this one thing that when you move from small shop to medium-sized business or even enterprise, your thought process has changed. Change management you brought up? Brilliant scenario. It’s one of those things you just have to start thinking about when you work with a larger space.

Noel: Even with emergency changes, you need to communicate that. And people like us, we want make everything right quickly. And sometimes that’s a downfall of the system administrator, that you want to fix stuff, but sometimes you don’t understand the consequences. Something’s wrong and you’ll compound the issue.

Kevin:  Yeah. It’s the rock and the lake with the ripples. You don’t necessarily know where they go.

Noel: Yeah, yeah. And you learn the hard way. It took me about a good five, 10 years in my career to slow down and make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you make those critical changes.

Kevin:  I’ve had this discussion recently with someone, and I’m going to take a slight aside here, is that IT people, typically when we get started and almost especially if we start on a help desk or a small shop Systems Administrators’, we are very much mentally in break/fix mode.

Noel: Break/fix.

Kevin:  This is break. This is broken. Let’s fix it right now. And then as you mature, move up your roles, or even as you personally mature as an adult or further in your career, you think maybe even these smaller things should be thought as pseudo projects. Even if you’re talking about an emergency change. If I got emergency change, I need to swap out all the firmware on all the edge routers across my entire infrastructure, I mean, I could immediately get on the console and start doing that. But is that necessarily the best way, even for an emergency change? Maybe I need to think about this.

Noel: Yeah. And that’s where service delivery comes into play. System administrators are operational mind first, quick fix, like you said. But we should be thinking how we deliver a better service to our end-users, like change management, should we document work. Communicating that you’re doing the change and when you started and when you’re starting.

Kevin:  So many bad days.

Noel: Let’s not do it during production hours on business agreement. It’s more than just clicking on the keyboard and clicking on the mouse making the change.

Kevin:  No matter how gratifying those clicks are.

Noel: Yeah, exactly.

Kevin:  There’s a human element to it that IT people, when they get started, forget because they’re all about the tech. There’s a process. And sometimes I’ve occasionally said, this is the process of being a good IT citizen.

Noel: Yes. That’s a great way of putting that. I’ve never heard. I might use that.

Kevin:  You can totally steal that.

Noel: IT citizen.

Kevin:  Yeah. It’s part of you being-

Noel: We should make a flag.

Kevin:  We should. Because when you get brought into a part of IT, you’re given a specialty, whether that is first line help desk, whether that is 24-hour support, whether that’s system administrators, whether it’s a NetEng, SecOps, doesn’t matter what you do, that job is not your job. And I know that doesn’t really make sense. I wish I had a slide I could show.

Noel: The duties as a sign on your job application?

Kevin:  Well, the other duties assigned is part of it, yeah. Because there’s always going to be that one thing that the boss comes in and says, “I saw this thing and you should totally try it out.” And you’re like, “I’m busy now.”

Kevin:  I mean, when you get down to it, IT’s job is… If I was a network engineer, my job is not to make sure all of the firewalls have the latest firmware and have the right ACLs. My job is to make sure that my users, whether they’re customers or internal, can get access to the services they need to do their job to forward the business.

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  So it doesn’t matter which, and I’m air quoting this, which “IT Silo” I’m in, the overall job is still the same. My job is to make sure that my end-users, whether they’re external because they’re customer customers, whether they’re internal because they’re just working on process documents or working on webpages, that they can do their job. If we fail as IT, that’s what breaks down. The business breaks down.

Noel: The business break down and one of the beauties of being a system administrator or working in help desks working in the IT that you see things from end-to-end, from conception to operation. So you’ll see everybody who touches the actual product or solutions. And so you don’t work in a vacuum. You’re supporting the company. You’re supporting the ISR who’s trying to sell our products to different end-users. But they’re using the platform that you’re supporting. So you’re touching not only just the application but the people behind the application as well.

Kevin:  Yeah. Or the IVR that handles the incoming routing for the phone system so when people call support line, they get routed to the right people in the right groups, or the product managers who are busy making video calls and talking to customers about futures, or the CEO, the CTO, all the C-Suites to make sure that they can have their reports, so they can do their jobs and make the business-steering decisions. And it’s not just a SolarWinds thing. This is an anywhere thing.

Noel: Anywhere. Yeah, any industry.

Kevin:  The titles may change, but your job in IT is to provide services for your organization so your organization can-

Noel: Be successful.

Kevin:  Let’s go in the Way Back Machine. 35, 40 years ago, thankfully neither of us were working in IT at that time.

Kevin:  We are not that old.

Kevin:  No, but 35, 40 years ago, this was still being done, but it was done with paper. And that’s when all the assistants, all the clerks, those were the people that were the lifeblood. Now those people have shifted to different roles-

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  … and IT has taken off some of the, again, air quote, paperwork-

Noel: Paperwork.

Kevin:  … and processes, and as long as we continue to do that, the business will continue to be successful. And in theory, businesses can accelerate faster because if IT infrastructure’s there to support it, it’ll just keep going.

Noel: Yeah. So like you said, 30, 40 years ago, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, digitalizing it helped with that. I totally agree. IT is critical in any company because we’re doing the technical automation stuff. So yeah, Kevin you’re absolutely correct. 20, 30 years ago saw a whole shift of digitalizing. You’re talking about administrative assistants used to actually manually track appointments. Now we have Outlook and Microsoft Teams that does all that. And so that’s a heavy burden on the IT to make sure those services are up and running.

Kevin:  Yeah, especially for those higher-level people but it’s really interesting. And I’ve been in the industry basically since high school. I think a lot of people are in the same boat and you all start off on a help desk. And if you start off on a help desk, you’ve always had that bad call. You’ve always had that one person, no matter what you could do, you weren’t going to make them happy. Now whether it was a policy thing like, “No, I’m sorry. Our company can’t do that.” Or “No, IT is not authorized to do that”, which has happened. I think everyone’s had a call like that.

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  Or the flip side of that where nothing you could do could make this person happy. You could go to their house, cook them a Thanksgiving dinner-

Noel: And it’s not good enough.

Kevin:  And it’s not going to be good enough.

Noel: And I could cook pretty good.

Kevin:  Exactly. And I can’t, so hopefully, you got that call. But there’s one of those things that IT help desk specifically, but also SysAdmins, NetEngs, all of these people are so far behind the scenes sometimes, the help desk is honestly the face of IT in a lot of organizations and the SysAdmins are the first face beyond that.

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  And the NetEng is a little beyond that. And it’s one of those things that if IT is done right and well, no one knows you’re there.

Noel: Yeah. Nobody knows you’re there because they don’t need you until they actually need you, but when they do need you, you need to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and so that’s why I tell-

Kevin:  Empathy.

Noel: Empathy.

Kevin:  There you go.

Noel: Empathy’s huge.

Kevin:  The word is not used enough in this industry.

Noel: Empathy and being a servant is huge in our industry. What do I need to do to make their job better?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Noel: And sometimes you do get disgruntled employees and it comes with the territory and it’s very, I would say 0.5%.

Kevin:  Yeah. It’s low.

Noel: It’s low. Especially [inaudible] because I get paid to say .0001% yeah. Everybody got-

Kevin:  You got five nines of happiness.

Noel: Everybody in SolarWinds is amazing, really. It’s the best company I’ve worked. But when those difficult circumstances do come up, we have to put them first.

Kevin:  Yeah. Because they’re not angry with you.

Noel: No.

Kevin:  They’re angry with the situation. Now, granted, if a server dies on me that was perfectly healthy yesterday. I have every right to be angry at that server because it’s not a person. So I will be angry at that machine that all of a sudden decided, “My hard drive wasn’t feeling up to it today.”

Noel: And sometimes it’s human error too. And you talked about accountability and making emergency changes during the middle of the day. So sometimes we handle difficult customers, but sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot as well too. And when we do, and it will happen, how we learn from it.

Kevin:  Yeah. And how you either change your process, document it out, and hopefully whatever error you made is not a resume-generating event.

Noel: No.

Kevin:  It’s a term that I’ve heard Tom LaRock use and I will steal it to the end of my days because it’s absolutely perfect to define when something goes horrifically wrong, but there are scenarios that you need to be agile. You need to be like, “Okay, that’s not working. Let’s try this.”

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  Honestly, I still to this day attribute good IT technicians very much to mechanics, that this path doesn’t seem to be working out. It might be some other related thing. Let me troubleshoot down that path.

Noel: Yes, and the really good technicians do that. They’re agile. So if something doesn’t work, they use fact-based analysis to come up with a different solution, but there’s a lot of different ways to solve a solution or solve a problem.

Kevin:  Yeah. And one solution may be better than another. And that’s the thing you learn by doing.

Kevin:  All right. I want to ask you… I’m going to pose a question to you. So one of the things I ask when we have our SolarWinds User Groups is one of the things I poll very early on. I ask people in the room, how many of them worked on a help desk. And I ask them just to raise their hands and if they don’t want to, if they want to abstain, they abstain. And then I ask them to keep that hand up and I also ask them if they’ve ever worked in retail. So anyone who hasn’t worked in, but then in retail, please raise your hand. And then anyone who’s worked in food service front of house, not back of house. Yeah. Raise your hand.

Kevin:  Almost universally, everyone in that room’s hand goes up and I don’t mean it because they are starter jobs or right out of high school jobs. I mean it because those are jobs where you learn to care. Empathy is first and foremost. It’s either take care of your customer if it’s retail or food service, or it’s close the ticket because you’re taking care of the customer on the help desk, almost everyone does. And successful IT people, you just meant empathy. They have enough empathy to be invested in the person to get a solution, yet not so much that they get pigeonholed into, “I’ve got to fix this one person’s problems all the way down to, they can’t figure out how to Bluetooth connect their car to their phone.”

Noel: You need to provide them a solution quickly. Every job interview I have conducted… It’s actually my favorite thing to do because I love people and I love meeting people. So I’m weird. I tell people all the time I tell my wife and her friends and my family members, I’m nothing but a customer service director that happens to know about IT. That’s all I am and-

Kevin:  I wish more IT people had that mindset.

Noel: Well, and the thing is the people, the Solarians or any employees in this industry, IT, if they have that mindset, they’re the ones that are going succeed. When they put people above technology and you use technology and improve technology to serve people.

Noel: Our CEO Sudhakar, is very people-centric. And we’re using technology to serve our people better. And so people should go first, technology second. But in order to serve people better, you better learn about that latest technology.

Kevin:  It’s almost a cycle.

Noel: It’s a cycle.

Kevin: Its people are first, and then we investigate a tech and see if that tech will help the people, not for the sake of tech.

Noel: Correct. Not for the sake of tech.

Kevin:  Now don’t get me wrong. I have run bleeding edge stuff before and had absolute blast learning about it. But when someone came back to me and said, “Hey, is this something that’s actually benefiting you?” I’m like, “Well, yeah because it’s cool.” And they’re like, “How’s it benefiting your job?” “No, it’s not.”

Noel: It’s not.

Kevin:  It’s not but it’s something interesting and maybe six months from now it would be something that could help out. Microsoft’s Flow is one of those things.

Noel: Oh, I love Microsoft Flow.

Kevin:  It’s called Flow now. It used to be called something else. I was like, “This is a neat thing.” And they’re like, “How’s it going to help?” I was like, “I don’t know.” And then I found a way it could help me in turn. I was like, “This is a way it saves.” And that’s the kind of thing that I really think IT, people if they have the right mindset if they’re happy if they’re good at their jobs and want to improve in their jobs, they’re always just interested enough to follow a trend. And I think the evolution from a frontline technician to a sysadmin and then from a sysadmin to a virtualization infrastructure and then possibly over to a storage admin or DBA or whatever, I think it’s such a logical progression. I remember going to school and not being like, “I want to learn how to do databases,” because that wasn’t a thing. You had to be exposed to it, be like, “This is cool and I want to know about it.”

Noel: So my personal experience, I always wanted to be ano-right. Ano-right first very tech job was internet tech support. For two and a half years taking calls for elderly people and how to connect to their internet. That was my introduction to tech. And so I worked for a telecommunications company and that was my first tech. Now I always wanted to be a network engineer.

Noel: So I got my CCNA. I got my bachelor’s in network engineering and I could never break into network because I’m going to be a network engineer. I don’t know anything about networking. I have book sense. I have my certs, but I couldn’t break in because I didn’t have that experience. So a help desk job and I got referred to apply for that help desk. And one thing led to another and I don’t use my network.

Kevin:  No.

Noel: I know about network. I know about switching.

Kevin:  But that also means you can have a logical conversation with the network infrastructure team and when you see something online about, I don’t know, a new Azure endpoint connection or something coming in AWS or something that GCP is making, you can look at that and be like, “I know kind of where this applies and if I think it might have value for our company, I can participate in an intelligent discussion about it. I may not know everything. No one’s going to.”

Noel: Yeah. Nobody’s going. I guess what I’m saying is, I was just like everybody else. I’m going to study this and I’m going to become an expert at networking. And the majority, like with your poll, the majority of people start at help desk and they have to learn the basics from end-to-end, how everything works with each other before they can specialize in something.

Kevin:  Honestly, the one skill I find that, and it’s only new help desk technicians, the good ones will pick it up fast is general troubleshooting. And I think of this in a very generic way. I think if it binary way. It’s like, “Well is it doing this or this?” All right, so then we go down that logical tree. Is it doing this or this? We go down that logical tree. And eventually, that will lead you to a most likely solution.

Kevin:  The other people that basically just throw darts, I’m like, “You’re never going to get it.” And if they have a script, sometimes it’s worse, sometimes it’s better, depends on the organization. And I’ve been really, really pleased with SolarWinds. Granted, I came from a high IT background, network engineer, systems engineer, admin, mail. Honestly, I still complain sometime about the way the mail is set up but that’s because I have the way why I would like it.

Noel: Okay. Gotcha.

Kevin:  As opposed to what is right for the company. And that’s just a me thing.

Noel: Kevin, don’t get yourself in trouble on this.

Kevin:  That’s why I’m not putting in a ticket, man. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But I have this… same thing early on, week two, we’re still using everything on-prem. I’m like, “Can I please change my display name?” Because the middle initial in my name’s important to me. There is another Kevin Sparenberg.

Noel: Oh, you were that person. That’s right.

Kevin:  I am. Yeah.

Noel: Actually we made that change.

Kevin:  You did yeah, but I had to find out who to make it through. And I was like, “This is easy.” And it took longer than it should have. And I’m like, “Why is this just not done? This is like click, click done.” And I’m like, “I know there’s not a process for adding my middle initial to a display name.” And that’s me. That’s me because I came from a place where I could pivot on something of that nature so quickly. And I think it’s something that people, and I don’t want to give them wrong impression about SolarWinds because we sell software.

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  So they think, possibly erroneously, that we’re not like other businesses, that we’re not like other organizations, and realistically, the part that actually builds and sells the software is a very small sector of the organization. A lot of us are people like this in the creative spaces and you and the support, me in the documentation, and some of the writing on a community.

Kevin:  There are very specific things and every role has a different need and the industry changes so quickly. So the Flow thing, just to go back to that, like when that was announced and I saw what it was capable of, I’m like, “This is cool.” And I could’ve ignored it. And then I would’ve been stuck doing stuff the old way. And I’m tired of talking to people. And I know a lot of people who are listening to this, people I run into, are tired of doing things-

Noel: I’m still thinking about the old name of Flow.

Kevin: Its Power Automate?

Noel: Power Automate.

Kevin:  Power Automate. That sounds right. I know. Okay. We’re going to table that for now.

Kevin:  So we will go through and we will have these discussions with people. We will try to bring information back and we will look at emerging technologies and we will say, “It’s good, but it’s not for now.” And that was one for me where Microsoft and the SharePoint and even AWS and their functions, their Lambda stuff and things like that, and I’m like, “This is cool, but me, Kevin, right now, can’t see a business case for it.” And it’s because I don’t have the vision.

Kevin:  And I want to go back, this is way long ago, I will tell you I’m sharing, this is a very sad story for Kevin. I will share with you the one technology that got out in front of me and I was like, “It’s a fad. It’s not going to be that important in five years,” virtualization. How wrong I could have been. I’m like, “Why would people need this? Why don’t you just buy servers sized the way they should be?” This is my mental logic. “Why would you spend 10 times for a server that you’re going to basically get the same performance out of as opposed to running all these racks?” And this was Kevin who never actually looked at the power and cooling bill at a data center.

Noel: Yeah, absolutely. The physical aspect of it, but just speed agility for the developers to do what they need to do, tear it down, build up, tear it down, build up.

Kevin:  Same thing with cloud. I was behind the thing. I’m like, “It’s a really good idea,” but I and these are areas that I felt outpaced me because I didn’t give them enough of a shake because of what my role was at the time. Have you run into something similar where you haven’t been able to… Like something came in and you were like, “Oh, I heard about that.” And then all of a sudden it’s like, “This is important.”

Noel: No, usually the emerging technology, especially cloud, I’m like “Bring it on. Oh, my end-users don’t have to log into VPN to create a ticket? Oh, they could log into SolarWinds Service Desk anywhere in the world and create a ticket?”

Kevin:  I actually manage it on my phone.

Noel: Exactly.

Kevin:  That’s how I manage my queue.

Noel: Exactly. Oh, I don’t have to image 100 laptops. I could do it, all through Azure, still in the box. And so I’m like “Bring it on.” Yeah.

Kevin:  And if it requires a little extra work, a little learning to get there, that’s why you have testing. That’s why you have pilot sites that’s why you basically, and everyone does it, you try on a portion of IT itself to make sure it works.

Noel: Trial by fire, man.

Kevin:  Sometimes. And that way your end-users don’t do it. And so when you run into that, now you’re talking a lot of emerging techs. I assume you’re reading a lot of web pages and blogs and how-to videos and stuff. Is that how you learn best or do you learn in another way?

Noel: I’m part of some forums. YouTube is my friend. I probably watch live YouTube and even they have full classes on YouTube. Different technologies on just real people, just like a Joe Smith that’s running a help desk or a technical person that wants to put their experience and they make a video on it. And I listen and sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not, but that’s my modality of learning that LinkedIn Learning is also-

Kevin:  LinkedIn Learning.

Noel: LinkedIn Learning is just amazing.

Kevin:  I have just started scratching the surface, but I really liked that, but I still am in the old-school that if I need to learn something that’s really in-depth and really nuanced, I still need a book. And I don’t mean a PDF. I mean, I need an actual paper, three pounds wham on your desk to flip through, so I can put post-it notes, so I can highlight things, so I can make little notes in like… That’s still the way I learn, but that’s how I learn concepts.

Kevin:  But I learned by doing, breaking, fixing, breaking, fixing, succeeding.

Noel: I try to learn from other people mistakes.

Kevin:  Yes.

Noel: And so I’m more of a classroom and just listening to other people and collaborating on ideas and learning technologies along the way.

Kevin:  Yeah, of course.

Noel: But not myself. I think that’s how I learn best. And I’m not a book guy. I’m a video guy. I’m more audio and visual person and we learn differently, but we’re getting to the same… The thing is that we keep learning. We’re continuing learning. If you’re not learning, you’re dead. If you’re not learning in this industry, you’re going to fail.

Kevin:  So there’s a frequent joke I see online that when IT people do a great thing, management walks through and says, “Pizza party,” you do not celebrate that way. When there’s real successes, you actually-

Noel: No, we take the team out. We actually… What I like to do is just public acknowledge the team.

Kevin:  Now you’re not talking just to IT. You’re talking, tell the whole org.

Noel: To the whole org because they have to know. It’s a win. They don’t know the work and sometimes the hours behind the scenes, our team put in to make a project successful. And our team is not looking for the pizza parties and the parties, which is good. Give me free pizza.

Kevin:  I mean, free food’s fine. I ain’t going to say no.

Noel: Pepperoni pizza, I’ll take it. Or we’ll go to a movie, but you’re looking for acknowledgment. “I’m doing a good job and feel value as a company.”

Kevin:  And you call the people out individually. You don’t say, “Hey, this is admin team.” You say, “Joe and Eric and Brian and Carmen, and all of these people did the hard work.”

Noel: Yes.

Kevin:  “And they’re the ones who… I’m just here reporting it.”

Noel: Correct. Our global director Brodi Taylor and my colleague, Jonathan Kenneally out of Cork and Vishkul out of Manila, we set a good culture from that. I’m going to brag on my team. I’m going to brag on team, but I’m going to protect my team when things go wrong and so that creates synergy with the team. It creates trust and loyalty and they work that much harder to serve our end-users.

Kevin:  Anybody, really.

Noel: Anybody, yeah.

Kevin:  So how long have you actually been with SolarWinds?

Noel: Three years and a few months. It feels like 10 years.

Kevin:  Yeah, it does. I mean, we’re talking IT time, so that’s at least one career of working for anyone else.

Noel: Yeah, it feels like a full decade.

Kevin:  So are there more hectic times of the year at a software company versus are there, because obviously, we have release schedules we hit up. Are they more busy there? Are they more busy around the holidays? Are they more busy in the middle of the summer? When are your hectic times or are you so streamlined that everything has the same amount of crazy throughout the whole year?

Noel: Same amount of crazy throughout the whole year because we’re an agile company. So if it’s not, the E-team wants to hit off global kickoff meetings and set that up for the first time. And then we have RTO, return-to-office prep. Oh, we want to deploy YubiKeys to half the company. We need to upgrade everybody to Windows 11. There’s something always that’s going on.

Noel: But I say this because you would think that during the summertime, people are off, less tickets do come. But remember we’re a project-based company as well too. There’s a lot of different initiatives that we have to knock out. It seems like something new every month that we have to do so to answer your question. No, we’re always busy, but we do it. I mean, that’s a good thing. That’s why we felt like we’ve been here for 10 years because it’s not boring and we’re always learning something. We’re moving everything to the Cloud right now. We have 20 Secure-by-Design projects going. So there’s always something. It’s like what bubbles at the top?

Kevin:  Yeah. What’s today’s priority?

Noel: What’s today’s priority?

Kevin:  And it’s not like today’s priority is something is on fire. It’s like, “I can devote a little extra time today to this thing.” And I love the summer analogy because everyone’s like, “Oh, everyone takes long vacations in the summer.” When your end-users take long vacations, that means IT won’t get as many cases. They won’t get as many incidents, which means I can devote time to my projects. Especially if those also interrupt any type of work thing. Do you know the number of changes I did over the summer is amazing because people are not going to be impacted. So I think it’s having that mindset halfway between break/fix and halfway between project management and being able to go back and forth, and-

Noel: Have the discussions. And that’s an art too. Communication is key. All right, what’s priority? We want to make sure that the wheels on the bus are still going round and round, but are we improving the air conditioning on the bus? Does the windows go down? How we’re optimizing and making the bus better as it’s going down the street to its destination?

Kevin:  Exactly.

Noel: So we want to make sure that everything’s working, but also improve at the same time, which is a art, we go back and forth.

Kevin:  Yeah. And that’s the dial we have with ourselves. Sometimes we’re going projects. Sometimes we’re going break/fix. Sometimes things just go sideways. Sometimes, I don’t know, a floor switch just melts down, the backplane fries on it, and it’s all hands on deck to swap in a new one and configure it. But it’s being able to prioritize that stuff and then recognizing the people that have sacrificed their time, their energy, stayed late, got up early to do that. Emergency changes are one of my least favorite things to do, but some of the most critical ones and thankfully where I come from, they were applauded because they knew this was absolutely necessary. You guys did fantastic work. And it went out to, in our organization because it wasn’t really IT-centric, it went only within IT, but it still went to a hundred and some odd people. And you were recognized for your diligence on it.

Noel: You recognized for your diligence and it doesn’t stop there. After emergency changes, the same person is continuing in process to improve, so you don’t have to do that emergency change the next time. We should really honor our system admins for doing all that work and I feel the average person doesn’t understand how many hours, how much it takes to make companies successful.

Kevin:  I think they appreciate it with silence, which sounds horrible, but because they’re not yelling at you, that means everything is working. So for the average person, if they don’t have to contact you, you’ve been successful and they are essentially thanking you by not telling you what’s broken.

Noel: And that’s fine. And we know that going in.

Kevin:  And that’s why it’s important for IT professionals to thank other IT professionals.

Noel: Correct. And that’s why we’re doing this because we love all-

Kevin:  Hey last night or two nights ago, I had a problem connecting to the wifi where I’m staying and I called their help desk. And they got me connected. I said, “Cool.” The MAC address, the IP, and had everything ready. And they’re like, “All right, you’ll be done until blah, blah, blah.” I was like, “Great,” and I said, “Can I talk to your manager?” And they were like, “What?” And you know where I’m going with this? They were like, “Okay.” And I got their manager on the phone. I was like, “I just want to let you know that Brian was fantastic.”

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  You probably don’t get enough calls from people that say your help desk, your support SysAdmins, your NetEngs, your anyone is doing a good job because everyone calls you when they’re complaining. I want you to know they did a fantastic job and I appreciate your help. And we can close the case now.

Noel: I love it when I get those kudos from our customers and what I do when we get those emails or Team messages or just casual conversations, I make sure to include the person who gave good experience or good customer service with my boss and my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss.

Kevin:  And if it’s someone from a different department that you heard good things about, you wrap in everyone, that’s involved-

Noel: I wrap in everyone and just to-

Kevin:  It’s not even all the big wins.

Noel: No, it’s the small wins.

Kevin:  Because those projects that go great yeah, everyone’s really happy when, “Oh, guess what? Auto migration of mail moved from this system to this system.” Or, “Hey, we transitioned from this internet to that internet.” Those are big things and they’re wide sweeping, but just having someone who had a positive experience, especially when they were probably having a bad day, I don’t know if there’s anything more gratifying as someone in the IT space.

Noel: We actually create a division in SolarWinds for customer experience and Matt Hahn is running that because we are so laser-focused, not only on the technology of the system administration but the experience, customer experience, which goes hand in hand.

Kevin:  Yeah. There’s a definite link between actual happiness and the kind of CX, the customer experience, UI and UX, and all… At the end of it, it’s a human interaction with a piece of technology and you’re just proctoring.

Noel: I love this conversation.

Kevin:  This is fun is how we do it. Now, I feel like we’ve covered nearly everything though. All right. You got any questions for me?

Noel: But what trends are you seeing? You talk to so many different IT professionals, system engineers, developers, IT executives, you talked to a vast amount of different people. What trends are you seeing that’s going to come to fruition in the next 12 to 24 months that we’re going to focus on?

Kevin:  Industry-wide we have our IT trends report, which basically we poll everyone out there but anecdotally, there’s been fear that I’ve been talking with people who are, because they’re so used to having hands-on, on gear, they’re afraid of basically giving cloud providers that, I don’t even want to say access, but that role. They’re literally letting Azure and AWS and GCP and IBM and everyone else, they’re letting all of those cloud people essentially be their hands in a data center. And even if they’re co-lo, you could still technically go to that room, get inside the cage, and do stuff.

Kevin:  There’s an inherent fear when a portion of your responsibility is taken from you and given to someone else. And I think it’s more of a visceral thing than it is a technology thing because I mean, I’ll be serious, the last two, three years I worked at my last company, the number of times I actually went to a server and plugged in a crash cart was incredibly rare. It was all RDP or SSH. You got to it in a different way because it was in a colo. If you had to go there, it was because you were putting in a new server or swapping cables, things you had to do in that space.

Kevin:  And I think the one thing that is the most interesting to me is probably a combination of two things. Number one is containerization in the cloud. It is incredibly interesting. Now containerization, on-prem certainly very interesting, but doesn’t have the scale or the breadth that you can actually do in Cloud, if it’s built, right. If it’s built wrong, it can go catastrophically wrong. I’m not going to say I’ve seen it, but I’ve read articles that it can go very bad very quickly and it just has to do with scaling and doing your testing right.

Kevin:  And the other one is, I alluded to it earlier. I think Amazon still calls it Lambda. Although that may have been a code name. The serverless functions that you basically just put out there. And the way that you can basically build systems, and I’m using systems in a very generic phrasing here when you can build systems that don’t necessarily have servers, but you connect them in a visual way.

Noel: Correct.

Kevin:  The number of people that I know that work very much still in config management lines or work in the registry or work in config files or work in file system or work out of a database that stores things, those people that when you tell them you’re not going to have that anymore, it’s basically going to be this completely ephemeral thing that you can never actually really download because it can never run in your infrastructure because it’s only made to exist there, there’s a fear there, but there’s also such a power to that. As long as you work with that, and I think the number of people that will take advantage of serverless stuff, especially doing some of the AI things in the ML, more the ML stuff I think than the AI, because just doing mass statistical analysis is mind-numbing, to me at least.

Kevin:  But being able to take advantage of those big data providers that can actually crunch through those numbers, I think it’s something that we will warm to, but we will have to have someone go out and show us, “This is how you can do it right with an actual business” and a cool case. You give us something cool and like, “Ah.” And I don’t mean like the Netflix one. Because Netflix has all of this great stuff, their ML that goes through and determines, this is probably what you’ll like, this one doesn’t like, people like this. That’s great. That’s statistics, but everyone can do that.

Kevin:  But I’m talking about something that actually fits in a weird business space. And I always go back to automobiles. It’s like, “Hey, I need a service order. This is my VIN number.” Go out to the service thing, pull in the service history from these three people then check me whether I have any recalls. That’s just a really horrific simplified scenario but being able to take that information, but still maintain a level of privacy with it is somehow uniquely identified. The amount of information that is capable just from the amount of silicon we have crunching numbers with ones and zeros… The next 10 years is going to be crazy. And the more we put into the Cloud and…

Kevin:  It’s not going to be a Sky Net thing but there is a like I said, there is an inherent fear because you’re literally taking away the things I can’t touch. Microsoft’s not going to let me roll up in Redmond and go ahead and touch the things because that’s not what I pay them for. I pay them to manage it.

Noel: One more question. One more question. The future of technology talent, are we struggling finding… We, I mean industry-wide-

Kevin:  Industry-wide yeah.

Noel: Finding qualified people to do events, technology system admins developing, or do we need to build from the ground up? I mean, what’s your thought process of the future in tech from a [inaudible]? You have a talent.

Kevin:  I mean, I’ll always take more talent but realistically, I think we’re in a weird space because again, rewind 10, 15 years, and if you were going to do true systems admin, you learned one of two things. You learned Windows infrastructure. You learned Linux infrastructure. This is the days after NetWare was no longer really acceptable, so you basically had a choice of two. So if you were looking for someone in the sysadmin space, they were in one of those two buckets. Now, we can’t even talk about those buckets because you have the Cloud thing. You have AWS. You have Azure. You have IBM. You have-

Noel: GCP.

Kevin:  You have Azure AD. You have all the GCP. You have the authentication, the Kerberos that’s anywhere you want it. You can have the realm stretching across…

Noel: That’s now.

Kevin:  That is the today thing. So I don’t think we’re at a lack of talent. I think that maybe it’s partially on us about defining what a job need is. And I mean this in a very specific like I’m posting. I need someone to do this thing. I think people have so much stuff that we now cram in other duties as assigned, that even if they hit the top three, most of the time, they at least deserve a talk. Because even though they don’t hit all of them ask them about what wasn’t in that job posting, because people will have talents that will probably surprise you. They’re going to have passion projects, they’re going to work on the side or collective that got them a little interested.

Noel: Do they have the space to pursue those passions? And do they have the space to actually be trained on different, now fast-moving technologies. And we struggle with that. We push so hard that sometimes we need to step back and have where people go to training, even though we have these training dollars because technology is moving so fast.

Kevin:  The number of times I’ve gone to people, and thankfully no one here, but I’ve gone to people and I say, “Why aren’t we doing this?” And they say, “Because it hasn’t been done that way before and that’s too new.” That is not a good mindset if you want to be agile and if you want to continue in IT. And that’s what we need to really wrap everything back around. This is all about making the best of the situation, given your resources, given your processes, and making sure you recognize the SysAdmins because they’re doing all the work when you don’t know they’re doing all that work. So we bring it all back to the sysadmins because we are here celebrating Sysadmin Day. What would you look for? What kind of things make a good sysadmin?

Noel: Somebody that’s passionate about [inaudible]. You have to be on top of the new technology, but probably more importantly, somebody that’s passionate about [inaudible]. Somebody that wants to improve our employee base and help them to become successful in technology. And that takes a lot of empathy that we’ve talked about, but a strong work ethic because we have to learn it along the way while you’re fixing somebody’s issue.

Noel: And so systems admins is not just your local Geek Squad. No, we’re geeking out right now and we love technology, but it’s more to it. Somebody that’s passionate about learning. Somebody that’s passionate about improving and adding value to.

Kevin:  I cannot agree more strenuously with that. I think you’re right. Passion first for the tech, passion for helping people, and a desire to learn. You tick those three boxes and you can be successful pretty much anywhere you want to be. But especially in It.

Noel: Especially in IT and man, there’s a lot of opportunity. We’re looking for good people.

Kevin:  Everyone.

Noel: Everyone is and it’s okay if you want to be a network engineer but don’t have the experience. Start at the help desk.

Kevin:  Yeah, please do. Because you may also find that, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe you’re really passionate about this new cloudy thing.

Noel: Or like, “Oh, I should be a dev-ops guy.” Or “I like, Azure more than Cisco devices.” Or “I’m really into audio-visual technologies so I want to be on the video team. So a help desk is one of the great jobs that you can see everything work from. I couldn’t advise that more, suggest that more to somebody wanting to start their IT.

Kevin:  It is one of the best first stepping stones, even if you just want to try that maybe this IT thing is for you, and I can’t agree more with that.

Kevin:  All right. So that’s going to wrap us for that episode. Again, I’m Kevin Sparenberg.

Noel: My name’s Noel Barbee.

Kevin:  Thank you very much and we will see you next time.

Noel: Take care guys.