Posts Tagged 'Atmosphere'

October 10, 2012

On-Call for Dev Support AND a New Baby

I began working at SoftLayer in May of 2010 as a customer support administrator. When I signed on, I was issued a BlackBerry to help me follow tickets and answer questions from my coworkers when I was out of the office. In August of 2011, that sparingly used BlackBerry started getting a lot more use. I became a systems engineer in development support, and I was tasked to provide first-tier support for development-related escalations, and I joined the on-call rotation.

In the Dev Support group, each systems engineer works a seven-day period each month as the on-call engineer to monitor and respond to off-hours issues. I enjoy tackling challenging problems, and my Blackberry became an integral tool in keeping me connected and alerting me to new escalations. To give you an idea of what kinds of issues get escalated to development support, let me walk you through one particularly busy on-call night:

I leave the office and get home just in time to receive a call about an escalation. An automated transaction is throwing an error, and I need to check it out. I unload my things, VPN into the SoftLayer network and begin investigating. I find the fix and I get it implemented. I go about my evening, and before I get in bed, I make sure my BlackBerry is set to alert me if a call comes in the middle of the night. Escalations to development support typically slow down after around 11 p.m., but with international presences in Amsterdam and Singapore, it's always good to be ready for a call 2:30 a.m. to make sure their issues are resolved with the same speed as issues found in the middle of the day in one of our US facilities.

Little did I know, my SoftLayer experience was actually preparing me for a different kind of "on-call" rotation ... One that's 24x7x365.

In June 2012, my wife and I adopted an infant from El Paso, Texas. We'd been trying to adopt for almost two years, and through lots of patience and persistence, we were finally selected to be the parents of a brand new baby boy. When we brought him home, he woke up every 3 hours for his feeding, and my on-call work experience paid off. I didn't have a problem waking up when it was my turn to feed him, and once he was fed, I hopped back in bed to get back to sleep. After taking a little time off to spend with the new baby, I returned to my job, and that first week back was also my turn on the on-call rotation.

The first night of that week, I got a 1 a.m. call from Amsterdam to check out a cloud template transfer that was stuck, and I got that resolved quickly. About 30 minutes later, our son cried because he was hungry, so I volunteered to get up and feed him. After 45 minutes, he'd eaten and fallen asleep again, so I went back to bed. An hour later, I got a call from our San Jose to investigate a cloud reload transaction that was stalling with an error. I worked that escalation and made it back to bed. An hour and a half later, the little baby was hungry again. My wife graciously took the feeding responsibilities this time, and I tried to get back to sleep after waking up to the baby's cries. About an hour later, another data center had an issue for me to investigate. At this point, I was red-eyed and very sleepy. When my teammates got up the next morning, they generously took the on-call phone number so I could try to get some rest.

This pattern continued for the next six days. By the end of that first week, I got a call from work at about 3 a.m., and I picked up the Baby Monitor from the night stand and answered, "Dev support, this is Greg." My wife just laughed at me.

I've come to realize that being on-call for a baby is a lot more difficult than being on-call for development support. In dev support, I can usually documentation on how to resolve a given issue. I can search my email for the same error or behavior, and my coworkers are faithful to document how they resolve any unique issues they come across. If I get to a point where I need help, I can enlist the assistance of an SME/Developer that commonly works on a given piece of code. When you're on-call with a baby, all the documentation in the world won't help you get your newborn to stop crying faster, you don't get any clear "error messages" to guide you to the most effective response, and you can't pass the baby off to another person if you can't figure out what's wrong.

And when you're on-call for development support, you get some much-needed rest and relaxation after your seven days of work. When you're on-call for a new baby, you've got at least a few months of duty before you're sleeping through the night.

As I look back at those long nights early on, I laugh and appreciate important things in my life: My wife, my son, my job and my coworkers.

– Greg

September 20, 2012

Conferences, Culture and the SoftLayer Server Challenge

I can't begin to tell you how much fun I have when I get to represent SoftLayer at conferences. The days may be long, and my feet may go numb by the end of the day from so much standing, but the time seems to fly as I get to meet new people, give out SoftLayer swag and introduce/explain the (in)famous SoftLayer Server Challenge.

I've observed that at most tech conferences, attendees will wander up and down the aisles, avoiding eye contact and looking preoccupied with emails or Angry Birds on their phones. When they walk by the SoftLayer booth, something changes. They stop. They pay attention. They get engaged. It's hard to passively navigate around a crowd of people cheering on a Server Challenge competitor, and if you see another attendee your peripheral vision "wowing" us with his/her three-switch-ball juggling skills, you're going to get distracted from your Angry Birds game. The SoftLayer booth is a snapshot of SoftLayer's culture, and SoftLayer's culture is magnetic.

When we catch the eye of that previously disinterested attendee, we get to tell the SoftLayer story: "Oh this? It's a small version of a SoftLayer server rack with five SuperMicro servers in it. We've got more than 100,000 servers like these in 13 data centers around the world. Want to try and race to put it back together?" "This is called a switch-ball ... SoftLayer is an infrastructure as a service provider, so it doesn't really have a direct tie-in with SoftLayer's business, but it's the coolest giveaway you'll see at the conference." Whether the attendee is interested in the competition, hosting, servers or cool swag, we've started a conversation that we might not have had if we were just shaking hands and passing out brochures.

As the conference goes on, most booths see traffic decline. That's when the Server Challenge is usually getting the most competitive. Several of our competitions have been decided by tenths or even hundredths of seconds, and a few have been won by the last competitor on the last day as the PA announcement notifies attendees that the expo hall is closing. At Cloud Connect Chicago, I recorded three competitors who each had the potential to walk away victorious:

All three of those competitors had fun in the SoftLayer booth. The other attendees who stepped up to the Server Challenge enjoyed themselves, too. That's huge. That's extremely rare. That's why I love being a part of the rag-tag group SLayers who have the opportunity to spread the word about SoftLayer.

As I put together the quick video to show the competition from Cloud Connect Chicago, I wondered how the times compared with the other shows that have featured the Server Challenge this year. My "wondering" wound up becoming "researching," and this is what I found:

NAME SHOW TIME
Roger Weber GDC Europe 0:57.62
Rany Grinberg ad:tech San Franscisco 0:58.34
Dejian Fang Cloud Expo East 0:59.08
Darin Goldman HostingCon 0:59.28
Joseph Waite Internet World London 1:03.68
Scott Fossen Cloud Connect Chicago 1:05.51
EJ Fernald GDC San Francisco 1:06.06
Kenny Liao Web 2.0 Expo 1:06.41
Matthew Downing Cloud Expo Europe 1:08.16
Gary Barclay TFM&A 1:10.08

Every conference seems to be competitive, and it's amazing to see how close the times are between all of the conference winners in 2012. Server Challenge World Championship? While I start drawing up plans to try and make that a reality, I recommend you all print out blueprints and start training for the next time you come across a SoftLayer booth at an event.

-@khazard

Categories: 
June 19, 2012

Proud to be a SLayer

Changing a career can be a challenge, especially when it feels like you are starting from scratch. I know that feeling well. I'd always been interested in networking, IT and cloud computing, but it wasn't until I joined SoftLayer that had an opportunity to start building a career on top of those interests. I know you might've already read a few introductions and SoftLayer culture posts in the past, but I wanted to share my experience in joining the hardware tech team to give my own unique perspective on what it was like becoming a SLayer.

Like Jonathan, I joined SoftLayer in San Jose (SJC01), and despite my interest in the technology SoftLayer manages for customers on a day-to-day basis, I didn't have many of the skills I'd need in the data center. That's where the training program came into play ... I can't tell you how valuable it was to learn how SoftLayer approaches cloud and data center operations. My previous jobs were in manufacturing, so I was accustomed to working with hardware and machines, so after a bit of a learning curve, I started to feel comfortable with the instruction and hands-on challenges that were put in front of me during the training program.

Once I was able to start applying what I learned in training, I started feeling "at home" when I got to the data center. I'm one of the many people responsible for supporting data center operations, and while I'm more of a "hands on" person, I don't forget the "big picture" of the significance of that responsibility. SoftLayer servers are the lifeblood of businesses around the world, and I owe it to those customers to provide the best service I can when it comes to managing their hardware. If that starts feeling daunting, I can look to my peers and ask questions about any problem, and I know I'll get a quick, helpful answer. I know SoftLayer is built on innovation and automation, but the unstated "education" piece is what has appealed to me the most as an employee.

One of my favorite resources to consult on a daily basis is the SoftLayer wiki — SLiki. If I ever forget any technical specifications or get confused about how to configure a specific type of hardware, I fire up my browser and hit the SLiki. If I'm not sure how to troubleshoot a given transaction or want to learn a little more about a topic like cloud computing or object storage, I can search the SLiki and get the answer in no time.

When friends and family have asked me what it's like to work at SoftLayer, I tell them that I'm constantly amazed and impressed impressed by my coworkers. It's hard to explain in a way that doesn't sound corny, but everyone I work with seems to enjoy supporting customers, interacting with other SLayers and making the SJC01 data center run like a top.

Pretty recently, I had my first Truck Day, and it made me love working for SoftLayer even more. It was pretty awe-inspiring to see SLayers from every department in our office joining the SBTs at the loading dock to unpack, sort and rack a huge shipment of SuperMicro servers. Everyone was sweaty, and I'm sure a few people were pretty sore the next day, but after all was said and done, we all felt like we'd accomplished something significant for our customers.

I'm proud to be a SLayer.

-Cuong

June 14, 2012

My First Week as a SLayer in San Jose

As I write this post, I'm finishing my first week as an employee with SoftLayer. It might seem premature, but I think it's safe to say that it's the best job I've ever had. My friend Marcos gave me a great reference to get my foot in the door at SoftLayer in San Jose (SJC01) as a Server Build Technician (SBT), and I owe him a LOT for that help. Because first impressions are usually pretty significant, I thought I'd take a few minutes share my short experience with the company to provide a bit of perspective to anyone interested in "what it's really like" to work at SoftLayer.

To give you the best picture of what it's like to work at SoftLayer, I have to start with the other SLayers I've met. So far, my coworkers and supervisors have been easy to get along with, and they clearly know their stuff. SoftLayer's "Challenging, but not Overwhelming" motto isn't just for show ... I've got a long way to go to catch up with my peers when it comes to knowledge about the data center, but everyone around me has been so supportive that it doesn't feel too intimidating. The work environment is very casual, and while the tasks at hand are all serious, my coworkers are always telling jokes and fostering a friendly and welcoming work environment.

The second aspect of the job I should focus on is the day-to-day responsibilities I'm learning how to perform. In the data center, we're responsible for building and performing hardware maintenance on all of our customer servers, and a lot of our customer interaction is done via tickets. When a ticket is added to our data center queue, it's pretty wild to see an SBT claim it quickly and immediately spring into action. If a customer orders a new server in our facility, and that server configuration isn't readily available, we get notified, and we have to move quickly to make a hardware change so the server can get provisioned in under four hours. That's been my favorite part of the job so far.

I've always enjoyed putting computers together, so being able to do it on such a large scale (and having the chance to do it a few times per day) is a thrill for me. Even though I've built more than my share of computers in my lifetime, I still find myself learning a lot from the processes and procedures Softlayer has in place. It's pretty cool to see the inventory of high-power server hardware we have in our spare parts room, too.

Being new to a job usually involves a span of time where you feel like a "new guy," but that hasn't been the case at SoftLayer. The crew here at SJC01 has made me feel at home quickly, and they've been patient and helpful when I've had any questions. In fact, as I'm thinking about it, I can't say anything negative about my experience so far with Softlayer.

I'm excited about integrating into the team, and given how much my coworkers hang out during lunch, breaks and after work, I'm sure that'll happen quickly. I want to put on a big office potluck where I can bring down my barbecue grill and cook for them some afternoon ... And given SoftLayer's love of BBQ, I'd imagine that would be a big hit.

Man, all this talk of food is making me hungry.

-Jonathan

May 18, 2012

The Weekly Breakdown - Behind the Scenes at SoftLayer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned scholar in the field of psychology, said, "In large organizations the dilution of information as it passes up and down the hierarchy, and horizontally across departments, can undermine the effort to focus on common goals." That's one of the biggest reasons SoftLayer shares a weekly internal newsletter with SLayers in all departments and in all locations. Keeping coworkers informed of corporate activities (and "common goals") may not be very high on everyone's to-do list, but it's certainly at the top of mine ... literally. As Marketing Coordinator, I'm responsible for sending out a weekly update to ALL SoftLayer staff.

If you have a growing or geographically diverse team, rallying the troops around a shared message is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. If you're not sure where to start with your own internal newsletter, I'd be happy to dissect what goes into our "Weekly Breakdown" as an example you might build from.

SoftLayer Weekly Breakdown

The Weekly Breakdown kicks off with employee birthdays. We want to make sure all 700+ SLayers know when one of their coworkers is getting a year "better," and every month, huge birthday cakes are brought to every office to recognize the SLayers celebrating their birthdays. We haven't written a SoftLayer version of a cheesy-restaurant rendition of the classic "Happy Birthday" song, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK

John Doe 05/17
Jane Smith 05/17
Bill Scurvy 05/18
Kermit the Frog 05/18
Miss Piggy 05/19

In addition to employee birthdays, we'll also call out important days (like SoftLayer's birthday: May 5!) in the birthday section.

The next section in the Breakdown is similar to the "Birthdays" section, but it's a little more relevant to our business: "Anniversaries This Month." When you're hired at SoftLayer, you basically get a SoftLayer birthday, and we want to recognize how long you've been a SLayer:

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH

10 Years!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Doe

8 Years!!!!!!!!

  • Jane Smith
  • Bill Scurvy

5 Years!!!!!

  • Kermit the Frog

1 Year!

  • Miss Piggy

After we recognize the SoftLayer anniversaries, we have a section devoted to keeping employees informed of various activities going on at SoftLayer. That might be a recent press release, an update on holidays or an upcoming company event. This section is the go-to place for employees to know what's new with SoftLayer.

SL SPOTLIGHT

Did you know that SoftLayer employees can get a discount on dedicated servers and CCIs? Talk to any of our sales reps to get started. You will receive a [secret] discount off any dedicated server or a [secret] discount off any CCI!

The next few sections list available SL Job Openings, New Hires from the previous week, and Organizational Changes. Given that SoftLayer is still growing like crazy, we want to make sure all of our employees see the available positions in the organization so they can share with their network of friends or so they can see any opportunities they feel might better suit their talents and passions. It's always nice to know who is helping SoftLayer grow (new employees) and how they are growing with SoftLayer, whether vertically or horizontally (organizational changes).

The next two sections are dedicated to employees "personal" lives: Classifieds and Fundraising Events. These sections let employees list anything they are selling or giving away along with any fundraising activities or events that they, their kids, their neighbor or their dog are involved in. We've had classified items like car wheels, stereos and animal adoptions, and you can bet that employees were voraciously reading the "Fundraising" section when Girl Scout Cookie orders were being taken.

We wrap up the Weekly Breakdown with my favorite section: SoftLayer Praise. There are so many reasons why the section gives me joy. It's amazing how many wonderful comments our customers have about SoftLayer on a weekly basis, and it's a "pat on the back" for teams that may not interact directly with customers on a daily basis. Sharing all of the praise is great for morale, and those little compliments here and there go a long way to making our team continue working hard ... even if just to hear those comments again and again! Here are some of my favorite comments from the past few weeks:

SL Praise

As our business expands we look forward to working with SoftLayer on our projects for many years to come.

My server was down and did not want to come back online without an FSCK. Called support and got a real person on the phone within seconds who was knowledgeable - excellent! He was unable to get the FSCK to run so escalated it. Server Was back online within 10-15 minutes of calling. Thank you. Keep up the great service.

We have been a Customer since 2004 (since the days of servermatrix) and would like to thank you for the wonderful support that we have received over the years. Thank you for an outstanding customer experience!

Great customer services. On numerous occasions was pleasantly surprised.

You people are great!!! I am very Happy with your service. Since 1 year I never face a single server down issue.

Softlayer is the best hosting company I know of, which is why we are hosting with you. You are doing a great job.

I Love SL!

I definitely refer all my colleagues to SoftLayer. Service and quality are amazing!

@SoftLayer always has the coolest stuff at trade shows. I have a shirt from them that is cool enough for me to wear in public!!

SoftLayer it's been wonderful. We been having softlayer rocket battles ... #SENDREINFORCEMENTS

Those kinds of comments can put a smile on any SLayers face! :-)

If you have any wonderful comments to say about SoftLayer or an individual employee, don't be scared to tell us ... Your comment might just be featured in our next "Weekly Breakdown." Comment on this blog, use SoftLayer's "Get Satisfaction" page, tweet @SoftLayer or post to our Facebook page. We love to hearing from you and working hard to remain the "best hosting company [you] know of!"

As you can see, the Weekly Breakdown covers a lot of SoftLayer goodness in a given week. It takes a little work to keep a 700-SLayer organization on the same page, but that work pays off exponentially when the team is able to share accomplishments, praise and goals. I'd highly recommend you trying your own weekly internal newsletter ... Now leave us some SL praise!

-Natalie

May 4, 2012

From "Computer Guy" to SoftLayer Server Build Technician

As I sat down to brainstorm ideas for this blog, I began to think about where I was when I started a few years ago and where I am now. When I was hired, I knew next to nothing about the inner-workings of data center IT. I was just your average computer nerd, or "the computer guy" as I became known around the house and to my friends. I had plenty of experience with hardware, but I had no clue just how deep the IT rabbit hole went ... I jumped in anyway.

Before I give you an example of one of the challenges I had to tackle early on, I should back up and explain a pretty important observation I had about SoftLayer: Despite how cheesy it may sound, SoftLayer is a family. If you are willing to learn and have a good work ethic, SoftLayer will to take you under its wing, and the sky is the limit. I was willing to learn, and I'd like to think I have a good work ethic, so I took on a pretty ambitious task: Learn Linux.

As a Server Build Technician — the physical "hands and eyes" in a data center — you can't get by without an intimate knowledge of Linux. As it turns out, trying to learn everything there is to know about Linux is sort of like saying "Get to the end of the Internet." Even after a few years of working with Linux, I still learn new things almost daily, and I'm sure that I'll continue to learn as long as I'm surrounded by Linux servers and other brilliant technicians who can share their Linux expertise. I could probably write a whole series of blog posts about all of the crazy things I've seen Linux servers do, but I'll focus on this "intro" blog first. Since starting with SoftLayer, my tenuous grasp of Linux was strengthened and eventually validated by my Linux+ certification!

That's only one little example of the kind of environment SoftLayer creates, and I could share dozens more.

When SLayers are treated like individuals rather than "employees," the culture is different. Managers and supervisors LISTEN to your problems/frustrations and are quick to offer their help and advice. I can feel comfortable to express personal issues with anyone in management, and I've had a handful of heartfelt talks with higher-ups that I would never dreamed of having at previous jobs. As a result, I'm excited when I walk into work because I feel like I get to hang out and work with friends for eight hours every day.

My coworkers and I can joke around one minute, and the next minute, we can have a serious and thoughtful conversation about how we could improve our processes or serve customers better better. Not only does that experience make for a comfortable working environment, it also creates a net of trust among coworkers. You know without a doubt that you can rely on your coworkers for anything.

I know it sounds like I'm stretching the truth (and the blog word count), but to be honest, there isn't enough room on this page to describe exactly how awesome I think the people at SoftLayer are. I've made many, many friends and roughly zero enemies. That's a pretty good ratio if you ask me. If you are even a TINY bit interested in IT, there's no better place to get your career started (or continued) than SoftLayer. There are positions for every skill set and level, and it doesn't stop there ... You aren't locked into one position or department if you find yourself more passionately drawn to another area of the business. SoftLayer encourages you to branch out and explore your career options, and if you want to move up, you're encouraged and supported by management to put forth the effort.

TL;DR If you're interested in getting into anything IT related, SoftLayer has a place for you, and as a very happy employee, I'd highly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity.

-Broc

April 16, 2012

TechStars Cloud @ SoftLayer - DAL05 Data Center Tour

Last week was HUGE for the inaugural class of companies in the TechStars Cloud accelerator in San Antonio. The program's three-month term concluded with "Demo Day" on Wednesday where all of the participating companies presented to more than 300 venture capitalists and investors, and given our relationship with TechStars, SoftLayer was well represented ... We were even honored to present a few of the companies we've been working with over the past few months. All of the 20-hour days, mentor sessions and elevator pitches culminated in one pitch, and while I can't talk much about the specifics, I can assure you that the event was a huge success when it came to connecting the teams to (very interested) investors.

Demo Day wasn't the end of the fun, though. After the post-pitch celebrations (and a much-needed night of sleep), the teams had one more item on their agenda for the week: A visit to SoftLayer.

On Thursday, the teams piled into a bus and made their way from San Antonio to Dallas where we could continue the celebration of their successful completion of the program ... And so many of the teams could see the actual hardware powering their businesses. After a nice little soiree on Thursday evening at the House of Blues in Dallas, we put the teams up in a hotel near our Alpha headquarters promised them an informative, interesting and fun Friday.

After a few hours of sleep, the teams were recharged on Friday morning and ready to experience some SoftLayer goodness so...

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

They loaded up the bus and took a 10-minute ride to our corporate headquarters.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

Given our security and compliance processes, each visitor checked in at our front desk, and they were divided into smaller groups to take a quick data center tour.

I could tell that going on a data center tour wasn't the most exciting prospect for a few of the visitors, but I asked them to forget everything they thought they knew about data centers ... This is SoftLayer. Yes, that's pretty bold, but when each team walked out of SR01.DAL05, I could see in their eyes that they agreed.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The tour started innocently enough at a window looking into Server Room 01 (the first data center pod we built in DAL05). In the picture above, Joshua Daley, our DAL05 site manager, is explaining how all of SoftLayer's facilities are built identically to enable us to better manage the customer experience and our operational practices in any facility around the world. After a few notes about security and restrictions on what can/can't be done in the server room the group was led through the first set of secured doors between the facility's lobby and the data center floor.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

From the next hallway, the tour group observed the generators and air conditioning units keeping DAL05 online 24x7. Josh explained the ways we safeguard the facility with n+1 redundancy and regular maintenance and load testing, and the group was led through two more stages of secured doors ... the first with badge access, the second requiring fingerprint authentication. When they made it through, they were officially in SR01.DAL05.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

Josh explained how our data center CRAC units work, how each server row is powered and how we measure and optimize the server room environment. While that aspect of the data center could seem like "blocking and tackling," he talked about our continued quest to improve power efficiency as he shared a few of the innovative approaches we've been testing, and it was clear that the tour understood it to be easier than, "Plug in server. Turn on air conditioner."

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The teams got a chance to get up close and personal (No Touching!) with a server rack, and they learned about our unique network-with-a-network topology that features public, private and out-of-band management functionality. Many "oohs" and "ahhhs" were expressed.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The tour wrapped up outside of the data center facility in front of the Alpha HQ's Network Operations Center. From here, the TechStars could see how our network team observes and responds to any network-related events, and they could ask questions about anything they saw during the tour (without having to shout over the air conditioning hum).

When the final tour concluded, the full group reconvened in one of our conference rooms. They'd seen the result of our hard work, and we wanted them to know where all that hard work started. Because SoftLayer was started in a Dallas living room a few short years ago, we knew our story would be interesting, inspirational and informative, and we wanted to provide as much guidance as possible to help these soon-to-grow businesses prepare for their own success. After a brief Q&A period, a few of the TechStars Cloud participants (and some of their Dallas-based Tech Wildcatters cousins) presented a little about their businesses and how they've grown and evolved through the TechStars program, and we got to ask our own questions to help them define their business moving forward.

After the presentations at the office, we knew we couldn't just load the bus up to send the teams back to San Antonio ... We had to bid them farewell SoftLayer style. We scheduled a quick detour to SpeedZone Dallas where a few hours of unlimited eats, drinks, games and go-kart races were waiting for them.

We couldn't have had a better time with the participating teams, and we're looking forward to seeing the amazing things they'll continue doing in the near future. If you want to see even more data center coverage from Friday, be sure to check out "TechStars Cloud Visits SoftLayer" on Flickr!

-@PaulFord

April 6, 2012

Of Cage Nuts and Customer Service

Sometimes it's the little hardships and annoyances that really mold you. How do you react? Do you manage to work through them, or do you let them eat away at you to the point that you're more paralyzed by them than you are a bigger problem?

As a new hire, I was required to take part in a Truck Day — an experience that helps everyone in the company understand (at a base level) what is involved with the actual products and services we sell. If you've ever had the fortune of working on one, there are certain activities that can leave you feeling weary. For me, that weariness-inducing activity was working with cage nuts.

For those of you unfamiliar with cage nuts, they're small pieces of metal that accommodate screw-in server rails on a rack meant for slide-in server rails. Installing them is one of the most frustrating things ever ... They have two little clips that fit inside the rack, and you have to bend them to get them in. Here's a great illustration of how they work from an Oracle Sun Rack user's guide:

Cage Nuts

I'd installed them before, but never more than eight or so at a time. After Truck Day, I now have nothing but the greatest respect for the amazing people working in the data centers who have to do them in massive volumes. I don't think I've ever received as many tiny cuts on my hand as I did in the few hours I spent installing the relatively small number I managed to complete.

As a Customer Support Administrator (CSA), I spend the majority of my time sitting at a computer, helping customers with their servers and doing my best to resolve issues as they are encountered. Physically installing cage nuts isn't part of my day-to-day responsibilities (until the next Truck Day), but I realized that my job has its own "cage nuts."

A customer wanting to lease a server from us isn't particularly worried about the fact that cage nuts have to be meticulously installed in the rack, and they also aren't paying any mind to the fact I might have worked with a dozen customers in my shift already — And, certainly, they shouldn't. They're paying for a great customer experience and helpful, friendly service, so they don't need to take into account the context of our operations when they're simply asking for us to help them with a server reboot to finish the installation of an OS patch upgrade.

SoftLayer, as a company, has amazed me in that everyone I've met is not only willing to deal with their "cage nuts," but they will also do so without losing the smile from their face (even if there's some good-natured grumbling every now and then). In many of the places I've worked, this sort of task would be met with protest, foot dragging and a tired resignation to doing the work. That simply isn't the case here.

I'm definitely a newbie around here, and I'm still getting a feel for the culture, catching up on the inside jokes, and learning the ins and outs of the company (and the people in it). The one thing that was abundantly clear to me from the very first night, though: SLayers are truly dedicated to what they do, and the resulting work environment is one that fosters and rewards that dedication.

So in my estimation, how have the little annoyances — the cage nuts of our lives — molded SoftLayer and the people who work here? I'd say that not only do we work through them, we do so enthusiastically in the company of friends, proud of the fact that these seemingly small things are part of what has made this all possible.

I hope all of you work in environments that enable you to deal with the small things you see every day without cursing under your breath and feeling stressed. If you don't, maybe you should look into finding a place that does. I hear we're hiring.

-Gregory

April 2, 2012

On Cloud Nine: My First Two Months at SoftLayer

I'm on cloud nine at Softlayer. I know "cloud" is probably the most confusing term I can use about how happy I am to be a SLayer because I'm not talking about public cloud, private cloud, or bare metal cloud, but it seemed like the expression that best fit my mood. Beyond the "cloud" products we make available to our customers, there's a less obvious "cloud" at SoftLayer: What I've come to call "The Employee Cloud Nine."

I joined SoftLayer in January of this year, having worked for my previous employer for around ten years. In my 2+ month tenure, the treatment I've received has been astounding, and I don't need to look beyond my workspace to notice some immediate differences. At my previous job, I had three computers running 2007-version software, one Mac-bell scanner and a printer. At SoftLayer, I feel like I'm in a different world: Two widescreen monitors connected to a super-powerful computer running (gasp) current software. It's like I can say "goodbye" to the old days and hello to the twenty-first century!

Beyond the my immediate workplace surroundings, one of the most important distinctions between SoftLayer and every other place I've worked before is how accepting and friendly the team has been. On my first day, my team (and HR) welcomed me with open arms, and I didn't once feel like "the new employee." It reinforced how joining the team mirrors becoming a part of a family, and I think a lot of that culture has to come from the top of the company. It's clear that SoftLayer values us as employees, and because we feel valued, we're excited to come to work. Employees that are excited to come to work are happier, and happy people interact a lot differently than unhappy people that just go to a job because they have to. It also doesn't hurt that SoftLayer literally invests in every employee when it comes to benefits and insurance.

In this economy, it's hard to find companies that are still dedicated to their employees, so it's even crazier to see how SoftLayer takes "dedicated to their employees" to the extreme: Break areas with all your daily needs such as tea, water, juice, snacks and Sonic Ice. On my second day of employment, the company catered a lunch for the office. Recently, there was a tank/helicopter war ... Where else does that kind of thing happen?

I work in the Accounts Payable department. When I started, the team was beginning a pretty massive system conversion. It ended up going live without a hitch (after a few weeks of long hours). Our entire team (led by our fearless manager, Amanda Bell) celebrated the success of the project, and as a little bonus, our VP of accounting, Robert Burns, gave us a big surprise for all of our hard work (and while I know mentioning that begs the question, "What was it?" I was sworn to secrecy). Upon receiving my surprise, I saw a few of the folks from our executive management team in the hallway, and they mentioned that the smile I had on my face was the one they like seeing on every employee's face. :-)

By that point, I knew I wanted to share my initial experience as a SLayer in the form of a blog, but little did I know I'd have one more piece I'd need to include to paint an even fuller picture of my first two months at SoftLayer. I attended a training session where I learned about the company's history, got a better understanding of our products and services, and heard about even more of the benefits I get for being a SoftLayer employee. And I took a data center tour.

As an AP Administrator, I'm not well versed in the technical side of what SoftLayer does, but when I walked through the data center, I immediately recognized many of the products from vendors I pay on a daily basis. It was nice to be able to match up the name of the products I see on an invoice to an actual device to better understand what the checks are paying for ... That context really reinforced to me how I contribute to SoftLayer's growth and success, so it was a fantastic realization.

What I didn't expect from the training session was a chance to participate in the Server Challenge. While I didn't set any records, I was proud of my 2:42 finishing time, and I gained a whole new level of respect for all the effort that goes into racking and maintaining our servers ... And I'm even more impressed with all of the conference attendees that are able to finish the challenge twice as fast as I did.

I'm two months into my tenure at SoftLayer, and I'm still on cloud nine. If my experience is typical (which I'm sure it is), you'll see SoftLayer at the top of every "Best Places to Work" list for years to come!

-Fabrienne

March 30, 2012

Very Casual Fridays

One of the best things about working at SoftLayer is that we get awesome freebies. In the last year, I have seen a servers given away to authors of the best SoftLayer-themed Haikus, employees have won Apple iPads, solid state drives, extra vacation days, Napa Valley wine tasting trips and finely aged booze in fundraisers for the American Heart Association. On any given day, you'll see people handing out swag, snacks, beverages and catered meals. SLayers can get tickets to Rangers and Cowboys games, we have some great Happy Hour events, and our company parties are legendary. I thought I'd seen it all, but I was given something I never would have expected:

Chris (co-worker): "They gave you a tank?"
Me: "It's not a tank, it's a 1/24th scale REMOTE CONTROLLED BATTLE TANK TYPE 90, and it fires real missiles! I also got a coffee mug with a submerged octopus inside"
Chris: "But why would they gave you a tank?"
Me: "..."

Chris's incredulous tone was not surprising. I'm fairly certain the answer to his last question was not supposed to be, "So I'd bring it into corporate headquarters the next day, break it out around 5:00pm, and explore the (quite impressive) range of the 6mm missiles and their (again, quite impressive) ability to welt my colleagues."

Fast forward a few days, and in the midst of a celebration for the SoftLayer Engineering Team's completion of a recent project roll-out, a 1/24th scale battle erupted. As 20-30 members of the development team looked on (alongside our CTO and a few vice presidents who supplied "refreshments"), a convoy of RC Helicopters and my tank are in an all-out war. The battle tank misfires into a swarm of developers who scatter in chaos, and Chris peers over my cube wall ... "I can't believe they gave you a tank."

In light of those "unanticipated team-building exercises," I decided to jot down a few optimistic suggestions for Lance and the management that came to mind for how we could continue building SoftLayer's culture. Being comfortable and having a fun work environment improves employee productivity and reinforces the investment SoftLayer is making in its people, so we should totally be able to justify these! Here are a few ideas that came to mind (that probably won't cause anyone to loose an eye):

  • Omelet Chef and Bacon Buffet

    It's not just an old wives tale; numerous sources say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What better breakfast than all-you-can-eat crisp bacon and a Denver omelet cooked to order by a professional wearing a toque blanche and masterfully flipping frying pans?

  • Bring your Dog to Work Day Mandatory Policy

    Running home at lunch and/or after work to let out "Diesel" or "Delilah" cuts into employee availability. What's more, dogs in the office raise employee morale, subsequently improving productivity.

  • 3 Bars Logo Bow Ties

    Classier swag ... for the discerning gentleman.

  • Air Hockey, Table Tennis and Foosball Tournaments

    We have a lot of nerds 'round here, and exercise intended to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome can easily look like playing Foosball in slow motion. I propose we re-purpose the SLacker conference room and retrofit it with an arcade in the interest of improving employee health.

  • More Cake

    Forget Wheaties. Cake for breakfast a few days a week would provide a suitable alternative to the aforementioned bacon + omelet combo, and it would help soak up the all the free Frappacinos we drink.

  • Preemptively Remove Brown M&M's from DAL05

    "Welcome to SoftLayer. You're here because you're a rock star." - Lance Crosby, Employee Handbook, Page 1.

    When Van Halen added a blurb about brown M&M's to their tour rider, it wasn't (entirely) to show how awesome they knew they were; it was to quickly ascertain if a venue had read through the contract details ... If there were brown M&M's in the bowl, who knew whether their equipment would have been treated the way it was explained in the contract. Selectively banning certain colors of M&M's would be a great way to show visiting customers and vendors the attention to detail that goes on behind the scenes.

  • SoftLayer-Branded Shirts that Read, "I am a battle tank shooting survivor."

    I'm going to need about three of these ... stat.

If you want to join our team, we're hiring a ton of people right now: SoftLayer Careers ... Given the fact that there are 18 open positions for new SLayers in Dallas, it might be good to stock up on a few extra "Survivor" shirts.

-Nalin

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