Posts Tagged 'Interview'

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


August 28, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: It’s all about personality with server build technician Yoan-Aleksandar Spasov

Are you ready, folks? It’s time, once again, to lift our cloud high and put some SLayer sparkle into your sky. Last week, we went Under the Infrastructure to introduce you to Mathijs Dubbe, a sales engineer in Amsterdam. This week, we’re staying abroad in The Netherlands so you can meet Yoan-Aleksandar Spasov, a server build technician who’s been with us just shy of a year.

SoftLayer: Tell us about a day in the life of a server build technician.

Yoan-Aleksandar Spasov: It’s very different in Europe, because we rotate between three shifts depending on which month it is (as far as I know in the states, you get a permanent shift, so you only stay on that shift). We start in the mornings, evenings, or nights. You begin by picking up what’s left over from the shift before, so hopefully it’s not too big of a hand-off. We have a task list that lists the primaries and secondaries for each person on shift. Of course, there will be people who are better at transactions, hardware, or maintenance. So you get to do what you are good at, and you get to working. If you’ve been with Softlayer for a while, you’ll end up being good with everything.

SL: What shift are you on right now?

Spasov: I’m on the evening shift, so I start at 2 p.m. and I work until 11 p.m. Each shift is very different. During the day shift, you have management available to you so that you can do more projects. The evening shift is more customer-oriented because the states are just waking up, and we’re getting all those orders; there are a lot of builds and servers that need attention. The night shift is quiet and it’s mainly maintenance, so you have upgrades and things like that.

SL: We didn’t even think about that. That does make it pretty different.

Spasov: Yup.

SL: What’s the coolest thing about your job?

Spasov: There are so many things, to be honest. For me, it’s been awesome because I’m very young and I just started, so this is one of my first real real jobs. I had no real data center knowledge before I started. I started from scratch, and the whole team taught me. That’s one of the coolest parts of my job – you get awesome training. The other thing is that you get to work with amazing people and amazing teams. Everything else is hardware. We have awesome gear that you don’t get to see everywhere. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. It’s a privilege to work with that many components and that volume of components.

SL: How’d you get into this role? Since you didn’t have any prior data center experience, what’s your background?

Spasov: I had some hardware experience. I built PCs. I’ve always liked computers and electronics, and then I got into servers, and I’m learning something new every day.

SL: This piggybacks a bit on what we just talked about, but what does it take to become a server build technician? What kind of training, experience, or natural curiosities do you need?

Spasov: You must have amazing attention to detail; that’s very important. You have to follow protocols, which are there for a reason. You have to learn a lot. It’s not only just basic knowledge that you need to know, but it’s also the ability to find the knowledge and research it in the moment, whenever you have issues to deal with or any problems. You have to be able to reach out to other people and be able to look into documentation so we can learn from previous occurrences.

SL: Did you need a specific degree? We get this question a lot on our YouTube channel, and people are always asking, “How did you get that job? What kind of training do you need for that job? Where do you start for that kind of job? Do you have to go to school for this?”

Spasov: Having a technical degree or technical knowledge is good; that’s a definite plus. But even if you start without any hardware knowledge, you can build on the training from the company. It’s very specific with SoftLayer because we have our one-of-a-kind internal management system. You can’t learn about it anywhere else besides our company. If you knew other systems, you might try to draw parallels between the two, and that’s not going to work. It’s completely different. And that’s what makes SoftLayer so unique.

SL: Tell me something that you think nobody knows about being a server build technician.

Spasov: I have a feeling that a lot of customers think that there isn’t a person on the other side and that it’s all automated. But there’s a personality behind every update. There’s someone thinking about it and what to write and how to communicate with the customer to make them feel better, more secure, and to show that they’re in good hands.

SL: That’s a really good point. We’ll bet a lot don’t realize how many people go into making SoftLayer “SoftLayer.” It’s not just processes.

Spasov: That’s right.

SL: Do you have a plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Spasov: I’m going to hide in the data center because I’m sure we’ll have the supplies. Our office manager stocks food for us, so I’m sure we’ll last a while.

SL: [laughing] That’s a good plan.

Those saucy SLayers get us every time.

We’re feelin’ it. Are you feelin’ it? (You know you are.) Then come back next week for the latest and greatest Under the Infrastructure, where we’re peeling back the cloud layer like it’s going out of style.


August 21, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Get International with Sales Engineer Mathijs Dubbe

Did you have oh-so-much fun meeting client services rep Neil Thomas last week? We sure hope so.

The fun continues because now you’re in for another sweet SLayer treat. This week in Under the Infrastructure, peek into the world of sales engineer Mathijs Dubbe. He’s based in Amsterdam and has been holding down the fort there since April 2015.

SoftLayer: How’d you end up at SoftLayer, Mathijs?

Mathijs Dubbe: I was an infrastructure and data services consultant at a data center and cloud hosting provider in the Netherlands, so [the sales engineer opportunity at SoftLayer] was pretty similar to what I was already doing. I’d known [about SoftLayer] for quite a while already. I’d seen it before and checked out what they were doing, and it sounded like fun. I’d seen the YouTube videos, with truck days and setting up pods, and that appealed to me. It was innovative.

SL: What does a typical day look like at SoftLayer in your shoes?

Dubbe: When I get to the office, I look at the tickets that remain from the last shift and clean them up. I’ll start my day by checking my email and seeing what my colleagues in Amsterdam are up to. During the day, there will be conference calls and meetings, things like that.

SL: How many black SoftLayer shirts do you own?

Dubbe: Three.

SL: That’s pretty good. Your collection is getting started! At this point, you’re still wearing other clothes to work besides SoftLayer shirts? Because there are some people who only wear SoftLayer gear.

Dubbe: When I have enough shirts, I’ll probably do that [laughs]. I’m currently in the IBM building, so I like to show off the brand.

SL: You’ve gotta represent, right?

Dubbe: Yeah.

SL: What have you learned working at SoftLayer?

Dubbe: A lot of stuff, actually. Related to international business, my former employer was fairly regional, but at SoftLayer, there are many international customers and that’s quite fun. I’ve learned about different kinds of people with different languages and accents; people working in Israel on Sundays. In a technical sense, it’s similar to what I did, but the technical stuff is always architected in a different way. I’ve learned quite a bit since I got here.

SL: We agree with your point about the international scale. You’re dealing with an office in Singapore and an office in Amsterdam and dealing with different languages and everyone in between, so it’s pretty dynamic.

Dubbe: I like that, too.

SL: What was the last costume that you wore?

Dubbe: [laughs] Costume? I dressed up like a road worker once.

SL: You did? For what?

Dubbe: For Carnival in February. I’m not usually the kind of guy that goes [to those sorts of things], but sometimes it’s fun. It’s not like anything they have in Brazil, though.

SL: That sounds like a really good time.

Aren’t SLayers the greatest? (We know you’re nodding.) That’s why you’ll want to stay tuned for our next installment of Under the Infrastructure, where we’ll wade waist-deep into the SLayer cloud.


August 14, 2015

Under the Infrastructure: Nerding out with Client Services Rep Neil Thomas

Sure, we know SoftLayer is your most favorite cloud provider under the sun. (And we totally heart you back.) But how well do you know us—the individual brains and brawn beneath our cloud? Yeah, we had a feeling you’d give us that blank look. Luckily for you, we’re going to fix that snafu. Starting right now.

Today we're launching a series that’ll introduce us to you, one SLayer at a time. Enter ”Under the Infrastructure.” We SLayers are a diverse, fascinating, and storied bunch. So come on in, kick off your shoes, and get to know the gang.

To kick things off, you’re going to meet Neil Thomas, a client services representative who has been stationed at our global headquarters in Dallas (DAL11, for those keeping score at home) for six months.

“That’s Liam. He’s a chunk, and outside of work, he’s my whole world.”

SoftLayer: So, Neil, tell us about a day in the life of a client services representative.

Neil Thomas: The client services team is responsible for many things. The most important one being, in my opinion, customer education. We are tasked with contacting new customers at set intervals (five days, 30 days, and 90 days from account creation) and making sure they stay informed on the platform's offerings and capabilities. I come in each day, log into all my tools and websites, and start calling new customers—anywhere from 30 to 80 customers a day. We also help identify new sales leads and handle some customer complaints, as long as they don't require a representative from accounting or support.

SL: So your inbox is definitely not at zero.

Thomas: Correct! It's busy, but it's satisfying being able to help customers with what they need.

SL: What's your favorite thing about being a SLayer, half a year in?

Thomas: Everyone here seems die-hard dedicated to what they do, and that seems to bring the whole team closer together. I love that for such a large company, everyone seems so close-knit. Coming from a 50-employee MSP, I didn't think I would find that here.

SL: That is definitely the SoftLayer way!

Thomas: And everyone seems to actually care about what the customer is going through and what the customer needs. Most companies tout that they are about that, when in reality, it's all bottom line.

SL: What have you learned since working at SoftLayer?

Thomas: I come from a technical background, having been a systems administrator and working a ticket queue. While I was comfortable talking on the phone and handling customer service needs, I've really had to develop my interpersonal skills to engage the customer and get them to open up. The SoftLayer employee atmosphere has helped me do just that. I didn't have much sales experience, and the guys in the sales department have really helped me understand what it's like to have a good conversation with a customer.

SL: Was it difficult for you?

Thomas: It was difficult at first, but it gets easier every day. There's a tremendous amount of support from my teammates and leadership to help me grow in the ways that I need to grow.

SL: Describe your work space for us.

Thomas: I'm a nerd. Always have been, always will be. My cube has a plush Tux (the Linux mascot), a remote controlled Ferrari Enzo, and a few collectors' edition PEZ dispenser sets. The cubes are low enough to socialize with employees or pop up for a quick question, but not tall enough to make you feel isolated from the rest of the world, like a normal cube farm would be.

SL: If we weren't all nerds, we wouldn't work at SoftLayer, right? Nerds are the best.

Thomas: I wholeheartedly agree.

SL: What would you do if you were the lone survivor in a plane crash?

Thomas: Everyone says that you should buy a lottery ticket in situations like that. I think it should be the opposite, because if you've survived a plane crash, then obviously that's sucked up most of your luck.

SL: Good point.

Thomas: Assuming I'd crashed in a place that was an easy rescue, or had been randomly happened upon were it to crash on a deserted island, I'd more than likely take a long time off and spend it with my wife and my son, Liam. I'm a workaholic, though, so even if I got a book or movie deal, I'd still keep my day job and work the rest of my life.

SL: Would you make up a Lost-type story or would it be strictly factual?

Thomas: It would probably end up being a mix of both. The systems admin in me would want to stick to the facts, while the sci-fi nerd in me would want to embellish. I'd probably throw a mix together and let people’s imaginations run wild.

SL: You gotta take creative license when the situation permits.

Thomas: Definitely.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Join us for our next segment of Under the Infrastructure, where we’ll keep diving into the deepest depths of the cloud, SLayer by SLayer.


March 23, 2015

Redefining the Startup Accelerator Business Model: An Interview with HIGHLINE’S Marcus Daniels

In this interview, SoftLayer’s community development lead in Canada, Qasim Virjee, sits down with Marcus Daniels, the co-founder and CEO of HIGHLINE, a venture-backed accelerator based in Vancouver and Toronto.

QV: Y Combinator has become an assumed standard for accelerators by creating its own business model. What do you think is both good and bad about this?

MD: Y Combinator (YC) not only created a new model for funding tech startups, but it also evolved the whole category. Historically, I like to think that Bill Gross's Idealab represented accelerator/incubator 1.0 and YC evolved that to 2.0 over the past decade, resulting in a hit parade of meaningful startups that are changing the world.

The good is that YC has created a “high quality” bar and led the standardization of micro-seed investment docs for the betterment of the whole startup ecosystem. It proved the model and has helped hundreds of amazing founders with venture profile businesses that are changing the world.

The bad is that there are now thousands of accelerators/incubators globally running generic programs that don't help founders much. More than half have a horrible rate helping startups raise follow-on capital and almost all never had a single exit from a startup they invested in.

HIGHLINE has a strong track record in our short history and now sees a big opportunity to be amongst the leaders in the evolution of the accelerator industry.

QV: Many accelerators focus on streamlining a program to process cohorts of companies at regular intervals throughout the year, every year. Often, the high throughput these programs expect means they must select companies from applications, rather than the approach you seem to be taking. Can you explain how HIGHLINE is sourcing companies for investment?

MD: HIGHLINE gets over 800 applications a year and targets about 20–30 investments during that time. Out of our last 12 investments, all had either come from referral partners or the team hunting the best founders to be part of our portfolio. Over the years, we have moved from the ideation stage, which comprises the majority of inbound applications, to the MVP in market stage, which is our sweet spot now. We will also focus on low-volume, high-touch advisory support, which is why a lot of time is spent building relationships with founders and adding value to MVP-stage startups before investing helps curate better deals.

QV: Traditionally, investment vehicles (such as VC firms and accelerator programs) have been run by financial industry types, but it seems that you are taking a more entrepreneurial approach with HIGHLINE and constantly evolving your business model. What can you tell me about this?

MD: The best accelerator leaders globally are past entrepreneurs who have some investment experience given how hands-on you have to be with the companies. Without the experience of starting and growing ventures, it is really hard to help tech founders navigate the daily challenges. Also, the best founders get to choose, and they want to work with other top founders in a long-term mentor/advisory/coaching relationship.

QV: How does being “VC-backed” differentiate HIGHLINE from other accelerators?

MD: Having several VCs as investors, such as the BDC and Relay Ventures, gives us an edge in several ways. Firstly, they are not only a great quality referral network for deals, but also a huge help in getting our companies venture-ready—even if they may not invest directly. Secondly, they allow us to internally focus on a specialization in helping venture profile businesses raise follow-on capital, as opposed to the glut of programs that are optimized for entrepreneurial education and lifestyle job creation. Lastly, they put big pressure on the whole HIGHLINE team to both get results for shareholders and build something unique that can be a category leader over the next decade.

QV: Our country is physically large and this seems to have created differentiated tech startup scenes between its cities. How does HIGHLINE collapse the geographic divide by having a physical presence in both Vancouver and Toronto?

MD: HIGHLINE tries to curate and unite the best digital founders, institutional investors, and ecosystem partners across Canada. We position our offices in both Vancouver and Toronto as portfolio hubs for founders who want to be headquartered in Canada, but want to take on the world. Most importantly, we spend time in all major Canadian startup ecosystems and have plans for unique events to bring our curated community closer together.

- Qasim

January 19, 2015

Asia Startup Series: It's All About Making the Most of Your “Professional Social Life”

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 2 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1: Drawing Board Events: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Australia is a hotpot of ideas and over the years a number of local startups have shot to fame. Seedstarsworld released this overview of the Sydney startup scene. In April 2014, Insight Venture Partners invested US$250 million in a Sydney-based email marketing company. Much more recently, U.S. venture capital fund Technology Crossover Ventures invested US$30 million in an Australian online hotel distribution company. With all the momentum Down Under, this seems like a great time talk about one Australian startup that has a pretty cool idea to share.

Working with startups is brilliant because there are no limits to how much one can blur the lines, extend the lines, distort the lines, join two lines to reinvent the boring the stuff, or bring in something brand new. ChannelPace is perhaps one of my favorite examples of such line-blurring ideas.

Picture this: As a business, it is imperative that you have a complete track of who your customers, your prospects, and even your potential employees are. When the world recognized this, we saw some really nice CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools come to market. The problem, however, with such tools is that the contact ownership is with the business, while the relationships are built by the people (the sales, marketing and support teams). Attrition is a reality, and when an employee leaves a company, the contacts, relationships, and information they’ve made often slip through the cracks. Of course that individual could continue to nurture those relationships through popular social channels. But keeping track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of contacts is nearly impossible, especially if the contacts themselves change companies.

And, this is where ChannelPace, an Australian-based startup, managed to merge and blur the lines. Greg Furlong, CEO of ChannelPace, attended SoftLayer’s Melbourne data center launch party last October, and that's where we started discussing the unique value his startup provides. Greg defines ChannelPace as the world’s first crowd-sourced contact management system.

He said, “The contacts we make during our working lives are some of our most valuable assets. And at its core, ChannelPace is designed to enable users to get their contacts organized in one place and available across all their Web-capable devices. The premise is that individuals own contacts, and our system enables sharing between users at the same company, thereby harnessing the knowledge of co-workers. When a ChannelPace user moves to another company, they take their contacts, and an imprint is left behind.”

This cloud-based system has the best of both worlds: a CRM system and a social channel. Contacts may be entered in the same manner as a traditional CRM system, or via business networking, in a manner similar to LinkedIn. Only one record is ever kept of a business card, keyed on the unique email address, and then people with the same contacts or in the same company all participate in updating the information—all without necessarily being connected to or aware of each other. Crowd-sourcing ensures information is always up-to-date, which is more efficient and effective, giving companies and individuals a competitive advantage.

Here is a snapshot of my conversation and the innumerable email exchanges with Greg:

The crowd-sourcing concept was great, but why would an organization appreciate and implement this system if they were no longer contact owners?

Greg: The first pillar of the ChannelPace system, contact management, provides people with a place to enter their business contacts. As the only way into the system is via a work-issued email address, we bring users from the same company together by creating a dynamic CRM system where everyone in the same company’s contacts are pooled. Individuals still “own” their contacts, but now everyone in the same company has access to the contact knowledge of all other ChannelPace users in their company. When you leave your company, you lose access to the shared knowledge. When you start at a new company, your contacts are now pooled with other ChannelPace users at your new company. In this way, we are providing a contact management system where users have an active interest in using it, as it is their information. Traditional CRM relies on users within the company keeping information updated. ChannelPace does this also, but we extend the updating reach to any other users around the world with access to the same contacts, which makes it more reliable and relevant.

Why did you decide to build ChannelPace as a cloud-based system?

Greg: We began building the company in 2013 with a mission to disrupt the CRM industry and displace dominant players like LinkedIn, Google+, and Salesforce. In order to compete at that level, we realized that ChannelPace needed a scalable, global cloud infrastructure platform that was nimble, reliable, and easy to implement. Hence the move to cloud. We were also looking for local presence, redundancy on multiple continents, load balancing, and as workloads increase in specific areas, high scalability. We considered numerous cloud providers including SoftLayer, Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Rackspace and Microsoft’s Azure. Finally, we decided to sign up with SoftLayer.

Why SoftLayer?

Greg: Two of ChannelPace’s priorities were global reach and scalability. ChannelPace now operates in 56 countries, and SoftLayer’s growing number of data centers and global network makes it easy for us to expand and grow our business. Also, SoftLayer’s network-within-a-network architecture is quite unique and enables us deliver unlimited traffic “on network” between servers in different data center locations around the world. When you’re looking to make an immediate impact on an industry, it’s important to work with a provider who you truly consider to be an extension of your business.

The system has immense potential. What are your growth plans for ChannelPace in 2015?

Greg: Like any other startup, we want to focus on aggressive market expansion and customer outreach. We have set high targets for ourselves, and towards that we are currently developing iOS and Android apps to extend the ChannelPace service to mobile. We also have a couple of tweaks and innovations in pipelines and 2015 is going to be super exciting for us.

I think it's great that my work life now has the potential to become a “professional social life!”

–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

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