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Chris: Hi, everyone, and welcome to another TechPod. Today’s episode is called “It’s All Tech to Me.” And I am Chris Bowie. I’m one of the product marketing managers here at SolarWinds, and I’m joined by my lovely co-host, Sean Sebring. Sean, won’t you give a little intro about yourself?
Sean: Yes, Sean Sebring, senior solutions engineer specifically for our ITSM products and co-host of the SolarWinds TechPod.
Chris: Woo-hoo. So I think that a couple of the topics which would be interesting to talk about today, Sean, were really how to talk tech as a nontechnical person and how to talk tech with nontechnical people. I think those are two quite different things, and you and I come at those from very different perspectives in terms of you being a techie, me not so much, not having studied technology or had a degree in computer science or anything like that. So I think we’ve got quite a good groundwork for a fun conversation today.
Sean: And I think that one of our previous TechPods we did, which was IT Pro Day, everyone’s an IT pro at some level, so I’m sure to somebody, even a nontechnical person could be considered a technical person. And I think that perspective is one of the important things to consider. And to be honest, not to be too cheesy here, but I think confidence will come into play. But they are excellent perspectives to have because to somebody, it’s not tech, and to somebody, it’s too technical. And it’s just a great way to look at things.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a good point. I think a fun question to start with is “How do you describe your job to your family around the Thanksgiving table?” We’re coming up to that time of year, everyone’s trying to catch up on; what have you been up to? How do you, Sean, explain what you do in simple terms?
Sean: This one’s a fun one. It’s hard to talk about yourself, so I’ll pretend somebody says it about me. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But one of the ways that I try to describe what I do is I translate. So go figure, this is great for the topic, and it’s translating nerd talk, so to speak, geek talk, tech talk into terms that are understandable to anybody so that anybody can understand it. And I think a lot of it is very useful and valuable, particularly for what I happen to do, which is fortunate, in sales. For what I do, selling technology, we need to be able to sell to anybody, and that person may not always be technical.
Sean: So it’s a very handy skill, and I’m not saying I’m the best at it, but it’s a good skill for anyone to have. And I think it’s what’s going to make this conversation pretty fun is talking about some of the ins and outs of it and realizing that you probably do it more often than you realize and that it can be done at any level because even if you’re an expert at something that has nothing to do with technology, you are still technical at that, and you have to be able to describe that to somebody. So when I talk to family or friends at the Thanksgiving table, it’s a translator.
Chris: I love that. I think that’s a very good point. And you especially are very good at speaking in analogies; just from the past couple episodes we’ve done together, you bring in Jurassic Park or you’ll bring in another fun analogy that just makes it easier for folks to understand. And just to reinforce that point of speaking about tech to nontechnical people, I think the term, what is it? Be brief, be bright, be gone comes to mind because you really want to get your point across quickly. You want to make sure that you’re really highlighting the key value props, especially in my line of work in product marketing, you want to make sure the value props come across really clearly and plainly, especially if you’re speaking to sellers who might not have a technical background.
Chris: And you want to make sure that the functionality of the products also directly correlate to customer pain points so that when they’re having conversations with customers, they start recognizing that language and thinking, oh, okay, I’ve learned about this particular pain point, and I know which solution can solve for that problem. So definitely, I completely, completely agree with what you’re saying. It’s just about trying to reframe something technical in an easy-to-understand and bite-sized way.
Sean: Chris, what was that phrase again? Say it one more time for me.
Chris: Be brief, be bright, be gone.
Sean: Be brief, be bright, be gone, no, I like that.
Chris: I didn’t coin it, it’s not my phrase.
Sean: Hey, that’s okay. I almost put it down, but just using my own brief notes. I had to keep it simple, which is be brief and then goal- or results-focused. So that’s the “be gone.” You’d mentioned earlier, what’s the pain point? We want to focus on a specific outcome, so what are we trying to explain? What’s that end result? And I think that’s super important, too. Be brief, be what?
Chris: Be bright.
Sean: Be bright. Okay, I can do that. I’m sunshine yellow.
Chris: Exactly. So that’s really, what’s the key differentiator? What’s something that’s really exciting that’s going to capture their attention when you’re speaking to folks like that?
Sean: One of the ways that I like to start off, and this starts in my sales process, too, so if I’m going to work with somebody who’s telling me their pain points, a lot of times, especially the less technical they are, they may not even realize what they need. So leading them with questions is the best way. So asking them questions as the technical expert might be one of the best ways to start. Let them at least give you their high-level introduction to what they want to know about. They may have an initial question, or they may present an initial pain point or problem. And that’s always important, you need to hear that because if someone just puts in a ticket that says “Help,” you’re still going to have to ask a question that says, “With what?” So you need to get that “with what.”
Sean: But after they present “with what,” then you get to lead questions, you start to get the inference of what’s going on. Lead with another question so that you’re saying, okay, now I need to extract the right information so I know what the problem is or I know what I need to explain or teach or share with you. So questions is one of the best ways. It also, just from a psychological way, helps them to understand or gets them to start asking themselves the question because they may not have thought about that before. I have a good example of where this is especially useful, and it’s with reporting, reports. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think of reports as storytelling. A report is there as a tool to help tell a story. It’s got a visual component, usually. You can also think of them as a table view, too, but either way, they’re there to represent data to help you tell a story.
Sean: Folks will come up to me in the ITSM space and say, “I need a report that looks like this.” And they are dumbfounded sometimes when I say, “Why?” Who’s the audience of this? Who reads it? Who digests the report? And for what purpose? Do you have metrics, or is it just interesting? And sometimes, they don’t quite know, but stepping back and realizing, “Well, why do we do this?” might help them understand that they need to just rethink, what are they actually asking a question about? What don’t they understand that they want to understand?
Chris: I think that’s a really interesting point. I am now curious to know your origin story, how did you come to be a senior solutions engineer? What made you the Sean Sebring we know today?
Sean: So my background as far as starting technical was playing StarCraft on my computer or maybe even Baldur’s Gate. Pretty old games, well, not that old, but anyway, it gives a date. So I played some games on my computer, and neither of those had anything to do with my first jobs, which was working at a restaurant and then being an electrician for a brief amount of time. But I got an opportunity to work for a video game company, which led into just talking to people. And again, this is actually a perfect way to go back to something I brought up earlier, which is everyone’s a technical expert at something, and technical doesn’t have to mean technology. It just happens to be what we mostly focus on here because, hey, we’re SolarWinds, we sell technology. So when we think about that, what I did was I supported a video game. To the person on the other side of that asking for help in the game, I’m the technical expert.
Sean: And it’s not actually technology they have questions about; it could be a quest or an item or just, “Hey, where did this go?” And maybe I’m using technology to deliver what they’re getting, but it’s not actually from a technical experience, I’m just using my UI. To everyone, someone is more technical, and that’s really where I had started. And then what got me further into it is just sitting behind a computer for so long. You eventually become a little bit of a technical expert. And this is where I say that anybody is more of a tech person than they realize because just using something and developing some tribal knowledge of your own, you’re going to become more technical than you realize. And so if you just give yourself a chance to try sometimes, you might realize that you had it all along.
Chris: That’s a very, very good point, and it reminds me of how I stumbled into tech. My background is nonconventional when you think about working in tech, I say nonconventional, but I haven’t surveyed everyone that works at SolarWinds, so I can’t definitively say that’s the case. But my degree was in art history, and I was very much arts- and theory-minded, never really thought technology was something that I could get into. But I was very fortunate enough to get the job at SolarWinds in the demand gen marketing team, which really plunged me into the world of tech and software and having to understand on-prem software, which was something that was a completely new world to me, but I just found myself gradually asking more questions, being more curious, wanting to know more about how the products worked technically. And that led into my evolution into product marketing, where I wanted to be more hands-on with actually creating content and being more in the forefront of strategy of features that are released or products that are taken to market. So that’s how I found my way into tech as well.
Sean: So to get your art history degree, so to speak, I’m not sure if that’s exactly what it is, did you get an art history degree?
Chris: Yes, I did.
Sean: So to get a degree in art history, tell me what technology you used. I’m sure you had to use something, it wasn’t all just textbooks and going to a museum that had dusty sculptures in it.
Chris: No. So I was quite fortunate that I was of the generation that got to leverage computers to do my research predominantly. So I’d be referencing JSTOR, that’s where you can access a lot of journals online for learning. And my degree, by the way, was in East-Asian arts specifically. So the university I went to was a School of Oriental and African Studies, and so it was a very nonconventional degree, anyway. And so a lot of the resources that I needed to access, thanks to the internet, I was able to do so easily without having to, I don’t know, travel abroad and source materials directly from China and Japan. I was able to find resources that were translated online.
Sean: And that’s another perfect scenario of, if you need a technical expert at finding some antiquated art history knowledge, I know who to go to first. So you are now-
Chris: I might be rusty these days, but yes.
Sean: You’re still much more my technical senior when it comes to that. But I think that’s great. Yeah, no, and it’s also fun for us as co-hosts to get to talk a little bit about each other’s backgrounds and get to know each other. And I think that this also gave us an opportunity to use some analogies to just represent how technical doesn’t have to just be about technology. I think technology has created its own intimidating silo of folks who say, “I am technology-oriented, I am a technical person,” when my five-year-old is better at navigating her Amazon Fire tablet than I am. She’s the technical expert when it comes to that.
Chris: I bet she’s an absolute whiz.
Sean: How would you describe around the Thanksgiving table what you do, just out of curiosity?
Chris: Yes, I’m glad you threw that question back to me. I think for me, it’s mostly about storytelling and understanding customer pain points, as I’ve mentioned before, so what I would tell family is that I write content, whether that’s long-form content, whitepapers, blogs, to really tell the story of how our solutions solve for customer pain points. And I also would tell them that I do a bit of research into the market as well, just to really understand who our competitors are. It’s not a very glamorous explanation, but that would probably be how I would describe it. And then they would be tuning out in a second, they’d say, “Okay, I don’t what the products that you own do, so let’s move on.”
Sean: Well, marketing research is another thing where I wouldn’t intentionally tune out, but immediately, it starts to sound like The Peanuts teacher to me. Wah-wah-wah.
Sean: Again, that just goes back to you’re able to do something technical that I’m not.
Chris: So I think another thing that really drew me to tech and tech marketing in particular is just the broad range of responsibilities and jobs within a job that you can access. So you could be someone that’s really data-driven, analytics focused or someone that’s more creative and likes to think of campaign ideas, someone that’s quite strategic and likes to think of broader go-to-market strategies. So it’s a really varied role, and I’m pivoting some of those answers to describe what I do in product marketing, but that’s really one of the things that attracted me to tech marketing in particular is just how varied it is.
Sean: Well, and one other piece, and this is actually perfect for what I wanted to bring up next, is eye-catching, is a way I’ll put it, eye-catching. When you think about marketing, something has to be eye-catching because that’s the form of communication that we lead with is visual, for the most part, especially marketing, I would imagine, is it has to catch the eye. And since we’re talking about “it’s all tech to me,” typically, we’re thinking of it from a technology perspective, is technology is graphical for the most part nowadays. We have roles and even C-level positions dedicated to user experience. There’s UX, everything’s about UX. So a lot of technology, and I think that for the most extreme nontechnical people, which again, we’re talking about technology, they may not realize that it’s all buttons. I’m oversimplifying it, but it’s all buttons nowadays, for the most part. It’s learning a UI, it’s learning buttons, which is again maybe where video games helped me in my journey to become a tech expert, so to speak, is learning that everything is just a different series of inputs.
Sean: And inputs are just pressing buttons, and pressing buttons is playing video games. So if we take it all the way back, playing video games, you’re a coder. Just kidding. But in the same sense, it makes me think, and this may show actually how nontechnical I might really be, is how do we make a computer? We use other computers. So technology has made technology even more simple, and let’s let that sink in for a minute. That’s a weird thing to think about. But technology has made using technology even easier. So it’s not nearly as technical as most people think nowadays, it’s just understanding a specific space.
Sean: A lot of my family history is from Texas, we’re hat makers, and that’s something that’s very technical. And if someone walked into the hat shop and said, “How do you make a hat?” If they gave them a quick 15 to 30 minute description and even maybe walkthrough of what steps they would do, I can guarantee you that the retention would be about the same as someone who walked into a network closet and said, “Can you tell me how all these pieces work?”
Chris: I think you’re spot on, to be honest. It’s all about the expertise of that person, so you could apply that to any industry, couldn’t you? I’m sure. And that’s one of the things that I really like, just to circle back to technology for a moment and what you said earlier about, you’re never the expert in the room, there is always someone that you can learn something from. And I found that to be especially valuable when I was starting out in product marketing at SolarWinds, just not being afraid to ask questions. And I know that we’ve chatted about this before, but being the person that says, “Okay, I feel comfortable in not knowing the answer to this, admitting that, asking for help.”
Chris: One of the things I did to try to get up to speed on the products that I support was going into the demo, prodding around with the online demo, and then asking my PM, “What does this do? What’s this widget? What does it mean? How does that contribute to the wider story of the solution itself?” It’s really important to know your limits but in a good way. I think that limits are there for you to move past them and to grow from. So I think not being afraid to admit gaps in your knowledge is a real strength in technology.
Sean: It’s a spectrum. You’re a technical person, but you can gain that technical knowledge. So the way you were just describing that, actually, in a sense, you were… I’ll say it this way, a technical person who in that specific scenario was a nontechnical expert. And so you outlined some very, very, very important things which I’m going to lead with keeping an open mind. And the reason I say keep an open mind is because you may not know the answer, and that’s okay. Ask questions. So just like when you’re a technical person talking to a nontechnical person, you ask questions to learn what they’re trying to know or what their current level of knowledge is so that you can explain it, to be a better nontechnical person in this scenario, do the same thing, asking questions. I mean, as humans, we’re curious people, so the best way for us to learn is to ask, not necessarily to be told.
Sean: So if you ask a question, that means your mind’s thirsty for that answer. And so it’s just going to make that answer that much more valuable than if someone just told you, where there may not have been a spot for that answer to go. It’s a little bit easier for someone to learn if there was an initial question in the first place. The other part of what you said, well, it was just, actually, never mind, I go back, it’s just “ask questions.” That’s an excellent way to do it. But you were talking from that persona of the nontechnical person, and I wanted to very much call out and even point back to our IT Pro Day that you can still, and this is why I said spectrum, be a nontechnical expert but a technical person who is ramping that knowledge. And I think you said that, ramping. So it’s all tech to me, it’s all tech to me. And that means that just because I’m at the lower end of the knowledge spectrum on a certain piece of technology doesn’t mean I can’t eventually be towards the top or a leader in that space.
Chris: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I had several very humbling moments when I had my exciting opportunity of getting to go to my first trade show this year that was in Las Vegas. I was put with a really fantastic group of people at SolarWinds, mix of sales, marketing, solutions engineers, and it was a great bunch. But what I got to do, which I haven’t had that much exposure to yet, was speaking to customers firsthand. And as you know, Sean, a lot of our customers are practitioners, they’re IT pros themselves, they might be network admins, they are technical folks, they know what they’re looking for, they know what questions they want to ask, and so in many cases, people would come to our booth, and they’d say, “Tell us about what’s new.” I would give a little bit of context and background as to why we were at the trade show and what we were excited to tell them about.
Chris: And then they might plunge into a specific question or issue they were having with their SolarWinds solutions, and they might get very specific very quickly. And so I had to be comfortable with saying, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find you someone who does.” So that’s what I mean when I say it was humbling because in many situations, things would quickly escalate to quite a technical in-depth conversation, and I had no problem with putting my hand up and saying, “This is very interesting and very important, let’s find you someone who can really help you delve into that question in more detail.”
Sean: I like that, and I want to expand on it because there’s an opportunity there, and it’s resonating with everything that we’ve been discussing. So take that exact scenario, for example, because I deal with that scenario a lot, and sometimes, I’m the person in the same shoes you were because I deal with certain pieces of technology or areas, for example, network, where I’m not an expert. So what I first ask is, “What is your question?” And that sounds like how you’d start it as well. What’s the question? I don’t know the answer to that, but I will help get it. I’m always going to be met with, when I go ask the appropriate expert, “Why? Why do they want that? Why do they want to use that?” And this goes back to asking questions in the first place is sometimes if somebody says, “I want a shovel,” they don’t really want a shovel; they want a hole. And they need a shovel to make a hole, to dig a hole.
Sean: So it’s not somebody asking you for a shovel, what they’re really asking you for is “How can I make a hole? I’m used to a shovel; if you’ve got one, I’ll use it, but I need a hole. Do you have a way for me to dig a hole?” And so that’s a perfect scenario, and I think it’s one where you can be a tech person without being the technical expert right there by not knowing the answer. That’s okay, like you said, it’s very humbling, and it’s very acceptable to not know the answer. And technology, you’re never going to know every answer. But when you are met with a specific topic you don’t know the answer to, it’s also important to ask, “Why?” Not just “What’s your question?” but “Why do you need it? Why are you asking?”
Chris: That’s a very good point. And thinking about the broader context is absolutely essential. You’re right because we have lots of solutions and we could say you need a shovel, here’s a shovel. But yeah, I completely agree, asking the wider context, so you actually want to dig a hole, what are you digging a hole for? What’s the purpose? And then it finds out they want to do landscaping work in their backyard and they want to put a deck. And so it really widens the conversation, and you start to put together the pieces as to why they wanted that shovel in the first place. Excellent analogy, Mr. Analogy King.
Sean: And you took that, and you were already a tech person because you just took it even one level higher. You said, “Why do you want a hole?” That’s perfect. That’s exactly how we get better at being tech experts is asking those questions. One of the ways you brought some of this up was, how does a tech person talk to a nontechnical person? And I want to comment something else on that. And it’s just about a skill that I see folks need maybe some polish on or just some self-awareness sometimes. I mean, it’s a note that both you and I had in different terms of the way you brought it up at the beginning, be brief, and I said keep it simple. So when you’re explaining something or talking to someone nontechnical, whatever the reason might be, of course you need to get that, make sure you’re not overexplaining.
Sean: Sometimes as a technical expert, you’re very passionate, and so you want to flex your knowledge maybe whether you realize it or not. And we have to be careful about that. You may want to flex your knowledge, or you want to explain in such a way that you’re educating them on more than they need to know. And it’s very important to be brief. It’s very important to make sure that you’re answering the question or delivering the appropriate result and you’re not teaching just because you’re passionate about it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for that. Get a podcast, join TechPod, come be a guest. We’ll give anyone an opportunity to talk at length.
Sean: But I think when you’re talking to that nontechnical person, it’s very important to make sure that you’re specific and keeping it simple when you’re giving that answer. Otherwise, you may overwhelm them, and we’ll go back to The Peanuts sound. It’s all just going to become noise; instead of “it’s all tech to me” in a good way, “it’s all tech to me” in a wrong way.
Chris: I do think that’s quite a difficult skill to learn,for people that don’t have that skill, I’m not saying I do or don’t, but I’m always open to learning. How would you recommend going about that? How would you recommend being more brief and succinct when you’re trying to get your point across to nontechnical people? How do you approach that, for example?
Sean: Analogies definitely help, but that’s also a little bit of a skill. So I think that the best way to do it is when you’re asking questions, because questions are going to be your best tool, they always will be. First ask questions to identify what they want to know and why. And then as you’re attempting to explain it, you can try to use other questions to help make sure that they’re keeping up or staying along, does that make sense? So I’ll call them milestone questions. Did that part of the explanation make sense? Are you still with me? So doing just a pulse check on where they’re at and keeping up with the technology conversation. Is there anything I need to help explain a little better so that this is clear and understood? I think really questions are the best. Of course, if you’ve got means of communication such as, something we brought up earlier, visual, visual helps a lot.
Sean: If I’m explaining something to somebody and we’re both on camera and I can see that glazed-over look that’s clearly telling me they’ve lost interest and/or they’re overwhelmed with trying to take notes and figure out what in the heck we’re still talking about, that’s a very important part too, which if you’re in a professional scenario and communication is a part of your job, it’s difficult for many introverts, but I highly encourage folks to gain comfort in using that visual component because as humans, it’s very important, and there’s so much communication that takes place nonverbally, that’s going to help a lot. A couple of tips there, questions, visual cues, and then analogies if you can. And analogies, again, are a tricky one; if you’re not comfortable with them, don’t try, that’s okay. But I think you’ll find that you use them in your own mind more than you realize. So figuring out ways to articulate how you think of something is probably analogy you didn’t realize you were using all along.
Chris: That’s very nice. That’s a very nice way to cap that off. And when you were speaking about visual cues, this is a different… I’m taking this in a different trajectory, but I imagine you do a lot of demoing in your day to day of product functionality. So when you’re thinking about demos, how do you make sure that you keep your listeners or you keep the folks on the phone engaged when you’re going through an in-depth demo, for example?
Sean: Engagement, I guess, would be the first and biggest word, which you can break off into bite-sized pieces of what involves engagement. And again, that’s that, communication is how many directions?
Chris: Is that a question?
Sean: It’s at least more than one, it’s at least more than one.
Chris: I failed, I failed the test. I don’t know.
Sean: No, that’s okay because there isn’t… I guess there’s not really a specific answer, but it’s at least more than one. It’s not one-way. We’ll put it that way.
Chris: Two-way street, two-way street.
Sean: There you go.
Sean: Again, another thing, I’m so happy you brought it up because it gives another perspective of it, especially being in sales, is that when I have new hires that I’m training or folks that are joining the team and they’re super nervous because they’re doing a mock demo showing me when I’m the expert of showing them, that creates another sense of anxiety for the person. And what often happens is they just run, just go. They’re trying to overanalyze and feel like, oh, I’ve got to complete this, or show everything, or you get nervous and so you just… And this is where I was mentioning, you start explaining things that aren’t relevant. So making sure you understand, again, what’s the question when I’m demoing? I hopefully already understood what are your pain points so I can show you answers to that, that’s going to help maintain the engagement. But then throughout, after I show an answer or a feature that could help address somebody’s pain point, stop and ask, “Do you think that would be useful?
Sean: Do you think that would be helpful? Would that solve what you guys are looking for?” And keeping those questions as open-ended as possible, not just yes or no questions, which are the ones I happened to bring up, but do you see how this would solve or how could this solve for you? Those are ways to force that engagement, and that engagement’s important because, and again, I brought up an analogy earlier, a mind is more receptive when it has a question. That question creates a hole, and then an answer can fill the hole. Whereas if there was no question asked in the first place, it’s hard to just insert what you want them to hear, that it’s not as successful as someone who said, “I have a question” and then you deliver the answer to it.
Sean: So making sure that it’s not just a demonstration, they are called demos. And I would prefer for any interaction I have to be just that: an interaction, an engagement is dynamic. In fact, I keep my camera on while I’m demonstrating, and I love it when they keep their cameras on because if I see nods, I know I’m showing the right things, if I see people not paying attention, I’ll ask more questions because engagement’s so important. Again, no matter what topic you’re talking about from a technical perspective, if they’re not able to hear you or if they’re not listening, it’s not going to be a successful talk.
Chris: That’s exactly right. You captured that really well. Thank you.
Sean: One other thing that I like to help emphasize, and questions are a part of it, and we keep bringing up questions, they’re the most important thing, I think, when you’re talking technical no matter what because we need to answer a question. It’s like science, you need to answer a question, write down the hypothesis, all this stuff. On that note, you could think of the hypothesis as one of the things I’d mentioned I do up front from a demo, which is the goal or results focus. What is the outcome someone is looking for? And it doesn’t have to be from a demonstration or for a sale, it could be for anything, someone just asking a question. And we actually have some excellent scenarios coming up because observability is a newer part of how technology is being managed. And a lot of people have questions about “What is observability?”
Sean: And in describing that, I’ve seen it as a challenge for many people, even if they’re the expert at answering the question. And it’s because they don’t know what questions people have about observability in order to answer them. So “What is observability?” is a huge question. It’s broad, and it’s going to require several different angles to answer. So breaking down sub-questions to “What is observability?” will help answer that. And I think that that’s a perfect example of something that we could use to help describe this. So on that note, Chris, you’re actually a product marketing person in the observability space, is this something that you could give us a little bit of background on?
Chris: Yeah, of course. So observability traditionally is seen as correlating metrics, traces, and logs and really pulling together data from all parts of your infrastructure across your network and systems and applications to proactively gain insights to really drive mean time to resolution and increase and accelerate problem-solving in your environment. So one of the things that Hybrid Cloud Observability does really well, and we’ve taken lots of feedback from customers about what they’ve wanted because as you know, SolarWinds has a really rich monitoring history for network and systems, is what we’ve done is we created a comprehensive and intelligent solution that really helps you correlate those insights into one product.
Chris: So gone are the days of having to try to get your different vendors to talk to one another if you have one solution that monitors your network performance and you have one solution from a different vendor that monitors your server performance. Now you get all of that just in one single solution that’s super simple and easy to use. So what we’re trying to really express to customers is that you don’t have to build your own observability solution with Hybrid Cloud Observability, we offer that platform and we also offer several dashboards within that that can correlate those insights all together in one place.
Sean: So I want to play Q&A with you on this topic. Would you say that observability replaces monitoring? And you can keep it brief.
Chris: I would not.
Sean: You would not say that? Why?
Chris: No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say it replaces monitoring. I would say it’s the next evolution in monitoring because monitoring is extremely important and it lays really the foundation for observability. The difference between observability and monitoring in my mind is observability layers in a lot more automation, so AIOps, machine learning capabilities, to then help users be more proactive. They don’t have to be sitting at their computer all day trying to figure out, “How do these different disparate data sources talk to each other? How can I really get to the meat and bones of any issues that are happening?” They can really filter through that noise and try to get their answers more quickly. I don’t know if that was very succinct, but from my perspective, observability really brings in automation, and that’s how it differs from traditional monitoring.
Sean: So the succinct is it brings in automation and that it is not an interchangeable term with monitoring. Monitoring might even be a component of or a data point for observability?
Chris: I would say it’s a building block towards—
Sean: A building block.
Chris: Yeah. But more of a building block towards observability. It lays the foundation, you can’t have observability without monitoring. I think a lot of people would agree with that. So observability is really what you apply to monitoring to help users get more proactive insights quickly and helps them filter through the noise, especially when it comes to alerts. I think that a lot of people can relate to experiencing overwhelmed deluge of alerts. They think, okay, what is actually something that I need to pay attention to? Observability and Hybrid Cloud Observability in particular solve for those issues really well by helping you identify what truly are anomalies.
Sean: So I have some excellent questions that are going to continue the conversation of observability. So I want to take this from the angle of a technical person and nontechnical person and see how observability can be consumed by both or utilized by both because I would imagine that, and help me answer this, does a technical expert still need to be involved in using observability tools?
Chris: That’s a two-parter, yes and no. For Hybrid Cloud Observability specifically, you’re always going to need the practitioners and the users to really be able to understand the different components and functionality of the solution, from their network to their systems and applications. You will need someone with that expertise to drill down into that data if that’s required. However, there are opportunities at a really high level through dashboards, for example, that distill the really key points at a really high level for folks like executives who maybe just need to… They need that 10,000-foot view. They don’t need to be boots on the ground seeing exactly all the data points all the time. They just might need a chart that has very digestible data. And for example, we have an executive dashboard that does that really well within the solution.
Sean: So I think that that’s a good way to look at this is, this is one, we’ll call it a platform of technology, maybe, maybe that’s not the right term, but one concept of technology: observability. I mean, it requires, or it’s intended for parties of both. Of course, monitoring would be the practitioners fairly exclusively, what is my segment? Monitoring the network and its performance, but then the network and its performance contribute to other services, and those services are what those executive folks care about. And so part of that observability piece is intended for being consumed by a nontechnical group of folks. So one technology intended for both parts, it’s intended to help solve or provide functionality to better monitor and address and see what’s going on in the network. And then the tool itself is digesting that. This came up earlier, technology makes technology better. It’s going to produce a digestible result for nontechnical parties.
Chris: That reminds me of the line that I used earlier, which is “be brief, be bright, be gone” because like you said, having a view that really distills the key data into one view that’s not necessarily designed for practitioners or for experts is absolutely essential.
Sean: Now that we’re talking about a difference in persona, practitioner versus let’s just continue with maybe executive or leadership, a friend of mine is in HVAC, and I’ll say that he’s more on the practitioner level, if we’re going to relate it to our technology counterparts, so at the practitioner level. If the superintendent on a job site asks a question, “What’s wrong?” This is a perfect scenario where especially you want to be brief, so you want to be bright, and you want to be gone. So it’s an excellent analogy for it because they don’t want to know how your day went, they don’t want to know how it happened, they want to know what happened.
Sean: What’s keeping this project, this job, what’s keeping this from working? What’s keeping this from getting done? So thinking of it in that scenario, if you were going to summarize it for executive leadership, it’s common to accidentally feel the need to babble. But what do they want? They want an answer, they want a result. And so it’s a good scenario to think about. And I think that, again, talking about analogies, talking about changing it up from being technology-oriented, in any profession, there’s going to be technical and nontechnical and reasons for communicating between those two.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. And there are different advantages for an observability solution that plays into those different personas. So having a unified view across your environment, that might be something that a practitioner would particularly find useful. Tools consolidation, so being able to limit how many different vendors you leverage, might be useful from a procurement standpoint or from leadership. They would like to know that they’re investing in one solution that can scale with the company and grow with the company as our business needs dictate. So I think that’s absolutely spot on to think of it from that perspective.
Chris: Now that we have chatted a bit about different personas and roles in a company, I think a good segue is that we know companies cannot function if everyone has the same skills. So Sean, how important do you think it is to have folks from different educational backgrounds within a technology company? From my perspective, it’s really important to have that diversity of thought, and I think bringing folks in from different backgrounds, different industries, who have different strengths, I think is really important. Our earlier conversations about our nonconventional backgrounds really just triggered that question in my mind.
Sean: I think there’s almost never a scenario where versatility isn’t awesome, is not the best, diversity isn’t the answer. I think it’s always the answer. We were actually talking about it right before we started chatting today offline. We were talking about, I just took an assessment as part of a training course, and it’s things that many people have probably done before. It’s a personality test of sorts, and it broke it down into four quadrants. And they used color to represent, they had red, yellow, green, and blue. So it’s a perfect way to look at and respond to the question you brought up because when I took the assessment, I felt myself as a red and a yellow. Actually, that’s what the assessment results yielded. I didn’t have any real choice in it until I finished. But as a red, that’s fiery red, someone who’s a little bit more extroverted, a little bit more go, go, go.
Sean: And then the yellow is a little bit more optimistic, cheerful, excitable, and very involved, needs praise. And one of the first things I thought about was one of the opposites of the red, which is the more go, go, go, a little bit more assertive, was green, which is a little bit more on the empathetic side and nurturing side. And when we do these shows together, I had diagnosed you, Chris, as being a green, which I think is wonderful because they say it’s complementary, which I think is a perfect way to put it. It’s complementary to the way we can work together, is how you help prepare for episodes. Without that, we both might be so go, go, go. There’s no prepare, there’s no note-taking. So really, this is also an opportunity to give credit to all of the work that Chris does pre-show to help come up with topics, questions, and things of that nature. Thank you very much.
Sean: But it also helps to answer that we need each other. We can’t all be the same. In fact, there’s an episode of Family Matters that is from the ’90s. I don’t know if anybody’s familiar with Steve Urkel, but there’s an episode of Family Matters I think of where Steve Urkel wanted everyone to be like him. And eventually, at the end of the episode, it was filled with Steve Urkels, and it was not the result that Steve Urkel was looking for. So we can’t all be the same, we can’t all be the same. You don’t want everyone to be the same. You want likeness but you also want complimentary. And you’re not going to find complementary without diversity.
Chris: Isn’t it terrible that when you were giving that description about Family Matters, my brain went to SpongeBob in an episode where Squidward wanted a world of Squidwards and he thought that that was utopia. He thought it was perfect. And then very quickly, he realized he needed a Patrick and a SpongeBob to mix things up a little bit.
Sean: Analogies, they do wonders.
Chris: I think that that’s a nice way to bring back the more human element to technology, just as we were discussing earlier and thinking about how lots of people from different walks of life and different backgrounds in terms of education, I think that that’s super valuable to have. Sean, so my favorite part, well, I don’t want to say the solely favorite part of every episode because it’s all great stuff, but one of my favorite parts is the rapid-fire questions. So I’m just going to throw a couple at you, and feel free to fire them back at me. But one that I really like asking folks is would you rather travel to the past or the future?
Sean: I will honestly answer this one, instead of trying to think too much, I’ll just let my gut respond and say past. For some reason, I am, just like most people, unfortunately, I think I want to take the knowledge that I have and apply it. Even if it was to go relive my own existence and see how things would’ve played out differently, and maybe that’s just a curiosity aspect of it as well. I’m curious if I could take the knowledge I have and do things different, do things better. But the past, it just sounds so interesting. Also, the ’80s would’ve been really cool to have had as my prime, my 20s. Instead, that’s when I was born again, to date myself. But I just want to be accepted in a jean jacket. I want to wear a denim jacket and it’s actually… It’s the trend.
Chris: I think that’s spot on. And I would agree with you, I think asking myself the rapid-fire question, the past as well for me, and not necessarily to relive anything, I’m a ’90s baby, but also, I’m someone that’s really drawn to nostalgia and especially ’80s nostalgia. So for me, just being able to be a fly on the wall or even to go back in time and experience what life was like, pre a lot of these technological advancements that you and I take advantage of today, even just like having a phone that does absolutely everything, I would just be so curious to know how I would function. Would I be wishing that I was back in 2022 within five minutes, or would I enjoy the freedoms of not having everything in my pocket, having to find things more manually?
Sean: Well, you’d truly get to laugh with a little bit more knowledge that, yes, I will carry a calculator with me everywhere that I go. So I actually wanted to ask you this whether we did rapid-fire or not, but it’s related to one of our rapid-fire questions. So what are some of your passions outside of technology? And I’m going to focus this on art. So you are an art history major, and I probably know the answer still, but concert or a really, really nice art museum?
Chris: That’s a very, very good question because both… I mean, I could be in the mood for both at any one time, but I’m going to say an art museum, just because that’s where my roots are. And I find a lot of zen, for example, I went to the Chicago Institute, which is actually… It’s funny, I was going for Lollapalooza in Chicago, but I went to the Art Institute right before the concert, so I really did both things. But I thoroughly enjoyed just walking around the quiet halls of a museum and just thinking about art, thinking about history, that was really special. And then I went to Lollapalooza and had lots of fun at the concert.
Sean: A splendid mix of introvert and extrovert.
Chris: I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert.
Sean: I’ll accept that answer. I know some folks like that as well, so accepted. I have one, oh no, this was going to be—
Chris: One for me to ask you?
Sean: No, you have to make up your own.
Chris: Go find your own.
Sean: I have a rapid-fire-ish question for you: have you ever seen TED Talks? I’m sure you have.
Sean: Do you have a favorite TED Talk, and do you want to just tell me the topic of it? You don’t have to go into all the details of it.
Chris: I actually do not. And I’m really exposing myself here because it’s been years since I’ve truthfully watched a TED Talk. So that’s not a great question for me because I don’t have one that comes to mind. But I would love to throw back that question to you.
Sean: Okay. So I do. I was hoping you would’ve thrown it back anyway, and we’ll have to get you some TED Talks and in more current. But my favorite TED Talk was one I actually didn’t watch until after I was told about it. And it had to do with a gentleman who went to college, and on his first day of orientation, there was someone standing there, and they gave him a lollipop, and they said something inspirational. It was just something that was kind that stuck with that student for the entire career. And then years and years later, that same student had come back and was delivering TED Talks, and the professor, whoever was there at that orientation moment, didn’t remember this student but said something kind and inspirational.
Sean: But in that moment, they pulled out a lollipop and he gave it to that professor and said, “You gave me a lollipop moment, you inspired me when I was terrified on my first day of school, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to complete college. In that moment, what you said inspired me throughout my entire college career.” So a lollipop moment, one, because it’s an analogy that I can use in other situations, and I love analogies. But two, because I think it’s good motivation for us to always be kind because you never know who you’re going to be able to inspire, and you never know how that’s going to affect the person.
Chris: That’s a really good point and a lovely way to close out, I think. I really enjoyed our conversations about “it’s all tech to me.” Thanks, everyone, for tuning in today to our TechPod. Sean, I really enjoyed our chat today, how about you?
Sean: Thank you, Chris. I had a great time as well. Thank you all for listening.
Chris: And that’s it for our episode today of the SolarWinds TechPod. Thanks again for listening.