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October 16, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Provisioning support technician Robert Molidor brings kindness to computers

After a few weeks in Amsterdam, Under the Infrastructure is bringing it on home to Texas. This week, we’re chatting up provisioning support technician Robert Molidor. He’s stationed in our DAL07 data center in Plano, where he’s been a SLayer for a little over two years.

Ready to meet him?

SoftLayer: What does “provisioning support” mean?

Robert Molidor: The provisioning support team provides level one support to technicians working in our data centers globally. Essentially, we support the provisioning process from build to final boot. If there is something we cannot handle, it gets escalated to other departments.

In addition to providing internal support, our team is also responsible for training new and old server build technicians. We have a group that does onboarding training and a group that does continuing education. All of our training is done remotely, so we don’t actually travel. Instead, we use webcams, chat, and email to connect with the people we’re teaching.

SL: How did you end up in this particular field in the wide world of tech jobs?

Molidor: I came across this position by chance. I had been experiencing a serious lull in employment opportunities and had been working in food service for almost 10 years. My education was doing nothing to help. After two years at Starbucks, I was fed up and shot a message out on Facebook. A buddy of mine responded, “What do you know about computers?” Little did he know I had been an enthusiast my entire life. We met up to discuss the position and a couple months later, I started at SoftLayer as a server build technician.

About a year went by, and I had been told many times to check out provisioning support because I would fit in well. I was hesitant, but decided to go for it. After speaking with the manager of the team and the regional manager that supervised my data center, it was agreed that I would make the move. At the beginning of the year, I was sitting at my new desk.

This job has taught me a ton and I am now with a team of people running continuing education courses. We help other techs gain the skills they need to lead their teams. It’s a lot of fun. My peers and I get to talk to people all over the world and hopefully leave them with a deeper understanding of how to better troubleshoot and respond to situations in their daily routines.

I really enjoy working on my current team, and the position really does suit me well.

SL: What special skills do you need to be successful as a member of a provisioning support team?

Molidor: I wouldn’t say any special skills are needed; it’s more general skills. It’s important to have an understanding of a wide range of possible situations and the ability to find solutions. That said, experience with internal management systems (IMS) and working in the server rooms is a huge advantage.

Our department requires that you’re a self-starter. Our boss isn’t telling us specifically what to do all day, so one needs to be on top of his or her own game and be ready to produce results in his or her own way. Some of us do support, some of us do onboard training, the rest of us do support and continuing education. This department relies on your interests and specific abilities to compliment the team as a whole as long as it’s within the scope of our function. At least that’s how I see it.

One characteristic of people that do well on our team is the ability (or perhaps tendency) to be kind to people. We deal with technicians all day that don’t quite have all the information they need, so it’s our job to help them solve whatever problems they are having and teach them how to fix it on their own the next time. This can really try a person's patience and the ones that enjoy it here have that patience to give. It can be a very rewarding yet challenging job.

SL: How many SoftLayer shirts do you own?

Molidor: I think I have three? Wearing SoftLayer swag is cool, but I’d much rather earn shirts by volunteering or attending events and seminars.

SL: Where would you go in a time machine?

Molidor: This topic could get pretty deep so I’ll leave it with this: I would go forward in time about 50 years to get a feel for how technology has developed. With that information, I would come back here and try to innovate change in an effort to be an integral part of what’s to come.

A technologist for the ages. We pick ‘em well.

-Fayza

October 13, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 16

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

The dawn of a new era
IBM’s fearless leader, Ginni Rometty, took the stage at the Gartner Symposium last week to discuss the where Big Blue is headed.

What’s in store for IBM? Rometty called it the “cognitive era.” In that vein, IBM is forming the Cognitive Business Solutions group “to build cognitive innovations across industries.” About the new addition, Rometty said, “Digital business and digital intelligence equal the cognitive era.”

Pretty exciting stuff, if we do say so ourselves. Read more about it here.

Tackling mobile cloud security with AT&T
IBM and AT&T are working together on a mobile cloud security solution to improve mobile app and data security in the cloud.

How are they going to do it? Caleb Barlow, vice president of IBM Security, said, "To help protect organizations, employees, and data, IBM Security and AT&T are delivering a tested and easy-to-deploy set of complimentary tools. We’re giving enterprise mobile device users stable, private access to data and apps in the cloud.” The approach will allow workforces to be “productive without compromising security and the mobile user experience.”

What are these tools Barlow references? Learn about the partnership here.

Tangled up in Big Blue
The world’s most famous supercomputer is following Rometty’s lead—Watson’s all about cognitive computing, too. Except Watson has Bob Dylan in his corner of the ring.

Wait, what? Bob Dylan? Yes, you read that correctly. The Jeopardy winner jokes with Dylan in a new IBM video.

-Rachel

Categories: 
October 7, 2015

Give me a MOOC with social proof

I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating the technologies needed to deliver e-learning, and it’s been a real eye-opener as to what’s hot.

I thought the only way to investigate was to try out a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for myself. After all, “eating your own dog food” is an essential skill for any entrepreneur.

Most of my learning in the last 20 years has been through the School of Life—I haven’t been in formal training for a while. Going back to school (or at least digital school) has been a fascinating experience. MOOCs, as offered by the likes of Coursera, iVersity and Udemy, represent a real step change in learning technology.

We all have areas of interest beyond technology; mine is global politics and development. (So keen am I on this subject that after a recent hackathon, I started running an employee advocacy program for the United Nations: the UN Social 500.) I enrolled in a Coursera course, Configuring the World, to learn how data drives political decisions. Perfect for a startup founder offering automated statistical release software!

The course covers eight weeks of lectures with reading material for each week and a quiz at the end of the week. You can watch the videos in normal or double-time on the web, or you can download them to your mobile device of choice to watch on-the-go.

Having the content accessible via mobile turned out to be essential for me. I thought I was going to block out the time at work (two hours every other day), but client needs always felt more pressing. In the end, I found that perching the phone above the sink whilst doing the washing up worked best (although I frequently have to dry my hands to press play on the next video).

As head of a company offering digital services, the mobile need has been a great lesson for me. You can’t always expect your users to either have Internet access or the time to sit at a desk. Mobile offers the experience offline on a smartphone and is utterly necessary if you want to retain your customers.

The second key I picked up from the course has been the value of interaction with others. It is in the discussion forums that you can review the lectures, ask questions, and extend the conversation beyond the confines of the curriculum.

I’m a social person, so you’d think I’d love the discussion forums. While helpful, they aren’t enough for me. They lack a killer feature, which is a social proof mechanism: a way of comparing my progress with other participants. On Twitter, I have a social proof mechanism: I can compare numbers of followers. That may be an overly simplified score (what’s the value of a follower anyway?), but at least it allows me compare progress via some standard metric.

What I really craved was a similar mechanism in my course. Not because I particularly wanted to compete—I’m not aiming to be top of the class—but because I wanted to make sure I am keeping up. Are my quiz scores worse or better than the average? Am I watching enough of the lectures?

The traditional way for us technologists to solve this problem is to offer a dashboard. You know the type: a page of multiple bar graphs, dials, and gauges.

The trouble with these types of data dashboards is that it is pretty difficult for the user to figure out whether he or she needs to do anything or not. The insights are not exactly “actionable.” If one gauge has gone up and another has gone down, is that good or bad overall? Moreover, should I be panicking?

Dashboards of this nature also tend to be fairly passive. Unless you remember to check them regularly (and who does?), they are quickly forgotten. I would prefer to see a single composite score (much like what Nike+ does for running or Klout for social media) that has an embedded weighting method for the relative importance of each metric. For my MOOC example, watching videos is important, so that should be worth 60 percent of the score. Scoring well on the quiz also counts, which should be worth 30 percent of the score. That leaves 10 percent for the discussion forums.

Now that I have a score, it should be sent to me each week (no passivity here), and I’ll know whether I’ve done well or badly. Even better: show me how I compare versus others across the world or in my country on a leaderboard. Then I will really have a social proof mechanism to help guide my behaviour.

-Toby

Toby Beresford is CEO and founder of Rise.global, a social utility to share the score. Rise provides an automated statistical release service to create composite single scores and to distribute the results via web, social media, and email. Rise scores and leaderboards have been used across enterprises for multiple use cases including employee advocacy programs, partner management, e-learning, audience development, digital marketing, and digital sales enablement. Rise is a member of the SoftLayer Startup Catalyst program.

Categories: 
October 5, 2015

The SLayer Standard Vol. 1, No. 15

The week in review. All the IBM Cloud and SoftLayer headlines in one place.

It’s time to Box.
Which cloud platform will offer Box first? We will! Our new deal with Box helps the company expand its customer base and further its IBM partnership. Whitney Bouck, general manager at Box, said, “This is a fabulous step in the right direction and satisfies the majority of customers in Europe that have maybe been uncomfortable with a U.S.-only data centre approach.”

EVRY one gets cloud.
IBM will be the go-to provider for EVRY Partners’ cloud infrastructure offerings. The services will start running in SoftLayer data centers in 2016. “Our partnership demonstrates how IBM’s expertise, technology and services can help EVRY adapt to new market conditions and opportunities while having trusted infrastructure services supporting the ongoing operations,” said Martin Jetter, senior vice president at IBM Global Technology Services.

With new platforms comes cloud growth.
How does IBM expand its global business solutions? With cloud, of course. Sanjay Rishi, managing partner at IBM Global Business Services, said, "Our new IBM Cloud Business Innovation Center will help us co-create with our clients, addressing their unique needs with tailored solutions, delivered on the cloud for fast results."

Welcome to the family!
Cleversafe, a data storage vendor newly acquired by IBM, is the next step in providing customers a way to “build a hybrid bridge to the cloud.” IBM discussed the benefits of Cleversafe in a press release, saying, “The company uses unique algorithms to slice data into pieces and reassemble the information from a single copy, rather than simply making multiple copies of the data, which is how storage traditionally has been done. As a result, Cleversafe can store data significantly cheaper and with greater security.” We would like to welcome Cleversafe to the IBM family!

-Rachel

Categories: 
October 2, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Growth account manager Matthew Miller is a problem solver

We’re creeping up on two months into the series, and Under the Infrastructure has introduced you to seven SLayers. We’re a pretty diverse and interesting bunch—if we do say so ourselves.

This week, we’re staying in amazing Amsterdam and chatting with growth account manager Matthew Miller. Fast approaching his six-year mark at SoftLayer, Miller is a born and bred Texan who moved to Amsterdam almost four years ago. He’s not a fan of the weather, but, well, this Dallas-based company wishes the whole world could be Texas.

SoftLayer: You’re a growth account manager. What does it mean to be a growth account manager?

Matthew Miller: We are responsible for worldwide growth account activities, which include revenue generation, long-term customer relationship management, retention, and business development with Internet-centric and tech-savvy companies. Our daily activities include vetting current Softlayer accounts and proactively engaging the accounts with the use of different communication methods to identify new sales opportunities and grow existing portfolios.

SL: You’re pretty much a relationship builder.

Miller: Correct.

SL: So what particular skills and talents, do you think, make a successful growth account manager?

Miller: Great communicator, problem solver, and trust. Most of the customers we deal with have so many problems, they don’t know where to start. You need to be able to communicate. But I don’t mean that as in just talking [laugh]. I’m talking about being able to explain things within the customer’s range. There are customers we deal with on a daily basis that have different levels of knowledge when it comes to technology and our business as a whole. So being able to understand your customers needs, while being able to explain it to them on their level, really helps build trust and confidence.

SL: So you kinda have to be, like, a technology whisperer. You have to understand what they’re looking for and interpret it.

Miller: To a degree, yes.

SL: What do you think is the coolest thing about your job?

Miller: Every day comes with its own little challenges. Not every day is the same; that’s the excitement of being in this position. You’re not going to have the same day yesterday as you do today. One day it could be super busy, the next day you’re selling, the next day you’re dealing with problems—there are always different day-to-day operations.

SL: Diversity in work responsibilities definitely makes life more interesting. Sort of on the flip side, what do you think is the most challenging thing about your job?

Miller: Customers [laughs]. We deal with customers all day, and that requires me to take the good with the bad. That’s the beauty of the job. One day you’ll be helping out a customer and they’re happy with our service, while you have another customer who’s struggling and is not happy. It’s part of the challenges we deal with daily.

SL: If you woke up and you had 2,000 unread emails and you could only answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?

Miller: I’d start from the top and go down.

SL: You would? There wouldn’t be any sort of filtering in looking for specific names or companies or subject lines? You’d just start at the top?

Miller: Well, yeah, because if I can only do 300, it’s first come, first served.

SL: OK. In case anyone ever needs to get your attention and this 300 rule is implemented, they’d better email you a lot.

Miller: I hope I don’t wake up with 2,000 emails [laughs].

We think 2,000 of you should email Matthew right. this. second.

-Fayza

September 25, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Fueled by chocolate, EMEA senior marketing manager Michalina Kiera lives on a diet of planning, monitoring, and executing regional tech strategies

Sure, we’re the cloud that’s built to perform. Yes, our network of networks is fast, resilient, and seamless around the globe. But our machines are nothing without human energy—because our teams are second to none. And you’d better believe that we’re going to brag, brag, and brag some more about the folks that comprise them in the latest edition of Under the Infrastructure.

This week, you’re meeting Michalina Kiera, another gem in our Amsterdam office. She’s been going strong with SoftLayer for over three-and-a-half years, and leads strategic marketing efforts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

SoftLayer: Describe your role at SoftLayer in 140 characters or less (the length of a tweet).

Michalina Kiera: Oh gosh, that’s why I’m not on Twitter—text length limitations make me twitch. I’m going to try, let’s see. I’m a transmitter and receiver in one, with cognitive thinking being part of the process. I stay tuned to what the EMEA technology market needs today and tomorrow, match it with what SoftLayer has to offer, and translate it into a compelling story with a goal to get people to the edge of their seats if they are not using SoftLayer yet.

SL: You’re a bit over the character limit, but that’s good enough for us. Tell us about a day in the life of a senior marketing manager in the EMEA region.

Kiera: If I’m not traveling or attending or speaking at some conference, then I’m at our Amsterdam office. I start in the morning with some tea (no coffee for me, thank you; I live on chocolate instead). Then I’m reading and writing tons of emails. Participating in tons of meetings online, on the phone, and face-to-face. All those are internal and external: with my colleagues, customers, partners, contractors, etc. Once a week, I’m going through reports on campaigns we’re running in the region, the number of servers humming in our European data centers, and the customers from the region that are deploying the servers around the world.

I’m busy coming up with new ideas to deliver on strategic goals, bouncing those off the team, and planning, monitoring, readjusting, and planning. In between, I always go through my daily pill of the news from the technology and marketing world—I rely on Google Alerts and religiously check LinkedIn Pulse, as it intelligently curates content for me from many sources that I used to check individually and adds the featured articles, blogs, and channels from people and organizations I either respect or need to stay tuned to.

Lunchtime is almost always in front of my screen, typing with one hand, eating with the other. It sounds sadder than it actually is—I enjoy the pace and the busy-ness! If the system overloads, I unwind watching a TED Talk.

It usually gets even busier in the afternoon, as the U.S. team comes to the office. And then my husband calls to tell me that it’s time to close the shop and come home—which I do with pleasure, as I love my little family to the extreme.

SL: How many black SoftLayer shirts do you own?

Kiera: Fourteen. Three cardigans. One dress. And one hoodie.

SL: What’s your best Server Challenge time?

Kiera: I’m more a fan of games in 11000001000101110010. With that in mind, I’ve brought in an idea that is currently in production; it should see the daylight soon, but shhhh—for now.

SL: What did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?

Kiera: I had volleyball training five hours a day (I was on a professional team), rollerblading (usually over the weekend, after the volleyball game). I hung around with my friends from the neighborhood. I sang along with Michael Jackson holding a hairbrush for a microphone. (Don’t judge me.)

I was hooked on Nintendo—the good ol’ cartridge-fed machines—playing Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Adventure Island and Mortal Kombat. I also played PC games, from Phantasmagoria to MDK to Jack Jazz Rabbit—although I think when I was 10, it was the era of DOOM and Duke Nukem. My nerd-self expressed itself by going through math riddles for fun.

I have no idea how I found the time to do all of that. I prefer to think the days were simply longer.

Yes, all of our employees are just as ambitious and multitalented as Michalina. You’ll just have to stay tuned to the Under the Infrastructure series to keep up with them.

-Fayza

September 18, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: EMEA regional sales director Jonathan Wisler champions putting the customer first and the return of Disco Fridays

It’s time for the latest and greatest Under the Infrastructure! We’ll be honest: introducing you to our crew always gets us exclamation-point excited. (Sorry we’re not sorry.)

Up next is a chat with Jonathan Wisler, EMEA regional sales director in our (bursting at the seams) Amsterdam office. He’s originally from California, but he’s been in the Netherlands for about 10 years—and with SoftLayer for about four of those. He’s grown our Amsterdam location from an empty space to a bustling place.

But we’ll let him tell you the story himself.

SoftLayer: What was it like being SoftLayer’s first European employee?

Jonathan Wisler: After I interviewed, I went to Dallas for training, and it was all very exciting. I found out this was a great group of people doing fantastic things. Then I got back to Amsterdam and sat down in an empty office with an empty data center. I had mixed feelings: part of me was super excited—“OK, we’re part of a movement; I can get started!”—and the other part of me said, “What did I sign up for?” So it was both exciting and intimidating at the same time.

And now, the first [Amsterdam] data center is nearly full and we have a total of six data centers in Europe. The office is overflowing, so we’re expanding into the IBM offices, and we’re opening up some space in the coming days. It was a very exciting journey and it’s also very exciting to see the growth.

I have to admit: the first day I got back from Dallas and sat down in Amsterdam in an empty office, with an empty data center—it was a bit intimidating [laughs].

SL: How has SoftLayer changed or stayed the same since you started with the company?

Wisler: It’s certainly been an evolution. It’s evolved significantly, and you see the scaling in action. When I first started, we were the second international launch, only one month behind Singapore—so it went from a U.S.-based company to an international company virtually overnight.

Now, in Europe alone, we have five different locations, global teams, and we’ve integrated into IBM. The SoftLayer kernel is now scaling exponentially—not only inside SoftLayer as an organization, but we’re building and scaling inside IBM as well. It’s fantastic to see that it’s mushroomed and virtually exploded in terms of growth.

So naturally, what comes with that is that you see all different types of personalities and different types of cultures, all working together and getting the SoftLayer buzz, so to speak. They’re feeling the growth and developing the cloud movement.

SL: We’ve had monumental, volcanic change. Has anything stayed the same?

Wisler: The core definitely has. We were on a call last night to resolve some customer issues. We’re working across time zones, we’re working across regions, and we’re working across IBM and SoftLayer. But the fantastic thing is the glue that is our customer-first attitude. The first thing we said was, “OK, we need to solve the problem for the customer, we need to do it within hours, not days, and we’ll work out the internal things later.” That kind of core value has not changed, and I think that’s the key to our success. It’s awesome and it’s refreshing.

SL: What’s the best thing that you’ve learned over the course of your time at SoftLayer?

Wisler: Be flexible. If you look at where I started with Softlayer about four years ago—myself and an empty data center—at that time, we weren’t yet a part of IBM, one of the largest technology companies in the world. With where we were then and where we are today in terms of scale, focus, and what we need to do to close deals and fill up data centers, I’ve had to be flexible. Stay flexible, stay fast. And be adaptable, because you have different customer cultures and different internal cultures. SoftLayer has a very strong culture. So you need to be able to work across those.

SL: What’s the best prank you’ve ever pulled on a fellow SLayer?

Wisler: We started small and scaled fast, so pranks were luxurious. We’ve played some jokes on each other and we’ve had a lot of fun, but I don’t know if they’re pranks that would go in a blog [laughs].

SL: You don’t want your coworkers to anticipate your next move. We get that.

Wisler: Exactly. But it’s actually a good idea. When we first started in the SoftLayer office, we had Disco Fridays, which were always quite good. We’d have a sound system there, and the music would go on. As we got more crowded, that was harder to do. But we’re setting up some new office space in the IBM office, so I’m going to invest in a bigger sound system. And lights. Disco Fridays are back on again.

But now you’ve got me thinking about what kind of prank to pull.

SL: Why do tennis balls have fuzz?

Wisler: So when you smack them, they make a funny sound; that “oomph” sound. I don’t know. Is this a prank I should be expecting?

SL: [Laughing] It would be a little difficult to organize an international prank of…tennis balls.

Wisler: If I get a package in the post from you, I’m going to be a little leery.

SL: You should be.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make a quick trip to Academy for, uh, not tennis balls. Definitely not tennis balls.

-Fayza

September 11, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Customer support technician Steve Nolin is on your side

There are over 1,500 employees at SoftLayer. Can you believe it? That’s over 1,500 brains, 3,000 eyeballs, and over 6,000 workstations, devices, and gadgets all working toward a common goal: doing our best by our clients. (That’s you.)

Customer support technician Steve Nolin knows a thing or two about prioritizing the most important part of our business. He’s been at SoftLayer for about a year, and he’s based in our Houston office.

Let’s meet him.

SoftLayer: Tell us something no one knows about being a customer support technician at what some would argue is the most awesome cloud company ever.

Steve Nolin: We don't know everything you are doing on your server, but we will see if we can point you in the right direction. Given the range of services and different hardware and software combinations we offer that interact with each other, it can be a challenge to make sure everything communicates properly. With computers, you can do things in various ways with varying degrees of success or failure.

SL: How has SoftLayer changed (or stayed the same) since you began working here?

Nolin: I have only been here a year, so it hasn't changed that much, other than offering some new products like endurance storage. We have had some changes with how back-end issues are addressed by the developer and information systems teams. This helps get issues resolved faster and makes it more integrated with the ticketing system. That is always a good thing.

SL: What’s your favorite thing about being a SLayer?

Nolin: Although it would make things a lot easier to only have to deal with one platform, we support various software and hardware, so there is always something new to learn. I also like the IBM Think Academy and other learning tools offered so I can increase my skill set.

SL: What’s the best prank you ever pulled on a fellow SLayer?

Nolin: I usually try to stay busy working the phones, chat, or tickets, so I don't really do pranks. But we do have NERF wars when it is slow. I had to throw the darts by hand when I first started, but my Secret Santa gave me a gift card, so I have my own NERF gun to do battle with now.

SL: What did you have for breakfast?

Nolin: Since the doctor said I had to watch my blood sugar and get more exercise, I had to cut out my #22 from Whataburger. I have found the sausage and pancake on a stick along with a banana, 2 percent milk, and coffee to be a good alternative. Other days I will have bacon, egg, and cheese Toaster Scrambles instead of the sausage and pancake on a stick.

Now you know the real secret to our smashing success: a hearty breakfast to start the morning. So what’ll you uncover in next week’s Under the Infrastructure? You’ll have to tune it right here to find out.

-Fayza

September 4, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Solving real problems with software engineer Neetu Jain

Do you love getting to know us in our Under the Infrastructure series? We certainly hope so, because we’re having a blast lifting the veil on our cloud layer.

Lest you think only male employees work at our fine company, this week we’re introducing you to software engineer Neetu Jain. She’s been with us a little over a year and a half, and she calls our Dallas headquarters home base.

SoftLayer: Why did you choose to become a software engineer?

Neetu Jain: When I was first introduced to programming, I felt it was pretty empowering (like, “You had me at “Hello!”). I could make the computer do whatever I wanted if done properly with a reasonable goal in mind. So that I guess lured me into it, and after that, it was a natural progression. I did my bachelor’s in electronics because I was fascinated by embedded electronics all around me, but computer science was instant gratification. You don’t have to wait at all to see the results of your creation—just run the code!

SL: You can manipulate computers. You’re like the Wizard of Oz.

Jain: In many other fields (such as construction), you must depend on people, resources, and waiting, for things to happen. Due to long turnaround cycles, sometimes it can take years before you see you see the fruits of your work. But if you can just sit down at your computer and make it happen, you have a much shorter turnaround time!

SL: Absolutely.

Jain: So, you know, it was like, “This is pretty cool.”

SL: We agree. So what’s your favorite thing about working at SoftLayer?

Jain: It’s about getting to learn new technologies. There’s a tremendous scope for learning in this domain, and you get opportunities to learn because Softlayer is growing so much.

SL: What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out in software engineering?

Jain: Ask questions. In the first year I joined the cloud domain, I was like, “OK, I’ll learn.” I wasn’t asking around too much. I wasn’t asking for feedback. I realized after a year that I had to make myself more visible. I had to ask more questions. If I had questions, I couldn’t just sit around and wait for the answers to come. I needed to ping people and be more proactive. The first year, I didn’t do that enough.

SL: People are really receptive when you’re asking questions, and they’re willing to help?

Jain: You’ll find some people who are and some people who are not. [Laughs] At least you get that information. Initially, I was working at my desk, doing and learning my stuff and waiting to prove myself. There’s nobody coming to you and asking what you’re doing, and you don’t have any visibility as a result. But if you’re proactive, people know about you, you can tell them what you’re working on, and you can ask questions about what’s going on in their world, and thus, you get to make a connection—which makes the workplace more enjoyable.

SL: We think a lot of people view software engineering as an antisocial profession.

Jain: Yeah, it is, because you can sit on your computer all day, and not talk to anybody.

SL: But you’re saying that asking questions and actually interacting is going to help you.

Jain: It does a lot. In my case, I joined the product innovation team, which was a small team. Then I was moved to another team, and they had absolutely no idea what I was working on. So, if I would’ve been more proactive and connected with them, then I could have eliminated that scenario.

SL: What do you predict or hope for the future of software engineering?

Jain: I’m the oracle now! [Laughs] I want software engineering—or, basically, any engineering—to solve real problems. I went to a hackathon, and most of the ideas were like, “Share your playlist on the road” or an Internet of Things kind of thing, like, “Take periodic pictures with geographically separated friends on the go,” and this and that. What struck me was that we had so many resources, so many amazing brains there—maybe we could have worked on more realistic issues?

There are so many things we can solve. I volunteer at a lot of organizations, especially ones that work in India: Vibha, Association for India’s Development (AID), Systers, etc. Many of the issues they face can probably be better solved through a meaningful use of technology.

For example, Annakshetra basically takes leftover food and provides it to the poor. But there’s one basic problem: how does it test the food to know if it’s fit for consumption? There needs to be a low-cost, easy-to-use solution, because if somebody gets sick, nobody’s ever going to come again. How about a low-cost litmus test where you can test and say, “OK, it’s germ-free”? I thought this should be an easily solvable problem. Why don’t we solve these kinds of problems in a hackathon rather than somebody going on a road trip sharing playlists?

SL: That’s a really good point.

Jain: Even though it was a great experience, I was a tad disappointed with the fact that there were so many of these ideas. I ended up there by accident with a friend, totally unprepared, and it was my first. I started asking questions like, “What can a smart car do? Can a smart car detect if there’s a baby inside?” (There are a lot of babies dying in locked cars due to exposure to extreme temperatures.) So if a smart car can detect whether there’s a baby inside, whether the car is locked, and whether the temperature is rising, it can send push notifications.

That’s the idea I pitched, but [the attendees] were all young grad students; none of them found it interesting—only the handful of parents and pet owners did. But in my view, that’s a real problem.

SL: It makes sense. Why don’t we figure out how to solve real problems for real people?

Jain: You could say that “real” is subjective, but I wish there was somebody who’d say, “We have limited resources; we are going to solve these problems rather than those.”

SL: Now you make us want to be software engineers.

Jain: In any field, we can all solve these problems. It’s about directing someone to think that way—you know, “While you’re thinking about this, think about that, too.”

SL: If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Any superpower at all.

Jain: To read people’s minds. [Laughs] I don’t like when people say one thing and mean something else. I am like, “I want to read your mind. What exactly do you mean?”

SL: That’s a very software engineer stance. “Now let me get behind that to understand why you said that.” That would be ours too.

Saving the world through software? Don’t say SoftLayer never taught you anything.

-Fayza

September 3, 2015

Cloud, Interrupted: The Official SoftLayer Podcast

Have you ever wondered what happens when you put three cloud guys in a room to talk cloud? Our curiosity was insatiable, so doggone it, we went and did it. We hereby officially present to you our brand new podcast: Cloud, Interrupted.

Join Kevin Hazard, director of digital content, Phil Jackson, lead technology evangelist, and Teddy Vandenberg, manager of network provisioning, as they wreak havoc interrupting the world of cloud.

In case you’re a skimmer, here’s the highlight reel:

  • [00:00:05] Phil isn't a Stanley, but he is a germophobe.
  • [00:01:44] Are we interrupted by the cloud or are we interrupting the cloud?
  • [00:03:22] We have goals with this podcast, we swear.
  • [00:04:34] Teddy drops the bass.
  • [00:05:58] What's a better word for "cloud" than "cloud"?
  • [00:08:12] Where social interaction influences the real world: Meet "passive computing" and the trifecta.
  • [00:10:44] Who cares what Phil has to say?
  • [00:11:51] Phil reminisces about that time he explained web hosting to the Harris County Tax Office.
  • [00:16:02] Then Teddy's analogy was used against Phil.
  • [00:19:21] IBM to the rescue!
  • [00:20:45] Oops. He had to do it again.
  • [00:23:11] New and old technologies get lost in translation. "To the cloud!"
  • [00:25:54] You exist in the cloud more and you will start to understand the cloud more.
  • [00:30:31] Now this is a podcast about Costco.
  • [00:31:03] Wait a second. Who's Kevin? And why isn't SoftLayer on Snapchat?
  • [00:32:56] Teddy's relationship with IBM is complicated, but the cat is fine.
  • [00:33:45] Hot tip: Unplug both ends of your telephone cable and reverse it.

We hope you dig it.

-Fayza

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