Posts Tagged 'Office'

January 16, 2012

What I've Learned About Leading

What does it take to be a good leader? What kind of leader do you want to follow? Throughout my life, I've gravitated toward leadership positions. Even when I was young, I tended to take charge of a group to achieve a goal or accomplish a mission ... though most of the "missions" in my younger days happened to be some sort of mischief. Having participated in the Boy Scouts and JROTC, I joined the Marine Corps where I served for seven years, and throughout my life, I've been fortunate to have more than my fair share of incredible mentors.

When my service in the Marine Corps concluded, I "enlisted" at SoftLayer as a data center technician. My primary responsibilities included building severs to order and installing software for our customers in four hours or less, and it was all pretty foreign to me. I had a lot to learn about the technical side of operating a data center, but based on my impression of the company, I was confident that I'd be in good hands.

Because I always find myself asking for more challenges and additional responsibility, I transitioned into a Customer Systems Administrator role. The CSA position required a lot more learning (at a breakneck pace), and in addition to the technical aspect of the job, I found myself learning just as much about the 'soft skills' required to provide the great customer service. Equipped with that knowledge (and a bit more experience), I pursued a leadership role on the team, and I made it my goal to use what I'd learned in the data center and in support to lead my team. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a challenge, but I've never backed down from one before.

I don't mean to make this post all about me ... my goal in sharing a little of my background is to give a little context for what I've learned about leadership. It goes without saying that I've been fortunate, both in the Marine Corps as well as with SoftLayer, to have some of the most intelligent, talented and sometimes downright enigmatic leaders. I've managed to pick up advice, tips and tricks for handling all of the curveballs that are thrown on a daily basis, and over my years as a leader, I've developed a few philosophies (an amalgam of some of the key points I absorbed from all of those who have led me in the past) that I try to abide by daily:

Lead by Example.

I make it a point to never ask someone to do something that I've never done or something that I'd never be willing to do. This is the keen avoidance of the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality. Failing to do this hands-down one of the easiest ways to lose your team.

Employ Your Team to Their Abilities. Empower Them to do Their Best Work.

It's very important to know your team's strengths and weaknesses and use those to make everyone better. Using the strengths of one team member, I can push another outside of his or her comfort zone to improve his or her overall skill set. I've also seen amazing results from providing freedom for my teams to make decisions. Not only does that freedom build trust, it also gives some real "ownership" to every person, and with that sense of ownership, each team member does better work. I've been a little surprised to notice this empowerment coming from the coffee juggernaut Starbucks: Starbucks baristas and store employees are encouraged to make real-time decisions in the interest of taking care of their customers.1

Keep Learning.

Leading a team requires that you stay on top of what they're doing. Always ask questions. Continue to research so you can be a resource for your team. Find opportunities to learn and take advantage of every one of them.

Most Importantly: Learn how to Have Fun.
I see this cliché often, so when you see, "Have Fun," I wouldn't be surprised if you just rolled your eyes. I'd be lying if I said that things were great all of the time ... Realistically in any business, there's going to be a time or two when the *&#@ is going to hit the fan. It's important to find opportunities to cut loose and relax a bit. Cooking steaks for the group during a long overnight shift, grabbing a bite after work or a providing a happy hour once in a while builds a great deal of cohesion outside the office walls. Providing a relaxed environment does not prevent your team from doing stressful work ... It actually builds camaraderie, and it will help the team get through those tough times. The brutal honesty is that if people aren't enjoying where they're at, they'll look elsewhere – leaders have to help foster an environment that enables success.

At the end of the day, these tips may not work for everyone. There are a plethora of studies out there pertaining to the different leadership styles, the different types of leaders and how they influence teams. What's important is that leaders need to be intentional about bettering their teams (and ultimately bettering their businesses).

Along the lines of continuous education, I'd love to hear the leadership philosophies you've learned in your experience as a leader. Leave a comment on this article to share what you think has made you successful.

-Matthew

1This comes from both observation and talking to current and past employees. I've never worked for Starbucks, so I can't cite a specific company policy to back this up, but that evident organic culture is probably worth more than a million company policies that would try to create that culture.

January 13, 2012

The Challenge of Conveying Culture

Last week, Cracked.com ran an article about "9 Quirky Things Every 'Cool' Workplace Is Required to Have." The post points out several seemingly trite characteristics of "trendy" and "fun" companies, and SoftLayer was one of the companies the author used to illustrate her point about quirky conference room names. The "obscure inside jokes" we chose as the naming convention for our conference rooms in our Dallas headquarters inspired this fantastic analogy:

I'm sure visiting vendors and consultants enjoy as much as adults enjoy hearing a gaggle of teenage girls joke about which one of them is the craaaziest.

The post's mock homage to "fun company culture" as seen by outsiders got me thinking ... Why do I think SoftLayer is such a cool place to work, and how could I talk about that in a way that didn't seem hokey or insincere? Given the cynicism of the Internet in general, it may be impossible to execute, so I realize that all I can do is give my honest take on why I enjoy coming to work every day:

SoftLayer's culture is defined authentically and organically by our people, traditions and stories.

I agree that red walls, orange couches and scooters in an office do not create a cool workplace, and I don't think our "obscure inside joke" conference room names make us cool either. When we moved to our new headquarters in Dallas, every employee at the company was encouraged to submit ideas for what we should name the rooms, and after voting on dozens of great ideas, the "inside joke" submission from SoftLayer General Council Suzy Fulton ended up winning (and Suzy was awarded an iPad for submitting the winning idea). The reason her naming convention won is what makes SoftLayer a great place to work: Each name gives a different piece of the overall story that explains, "This is who we are, what we do and where we come from."

Take our conference room named Muenster for example. Muenster is a small town in Texas where the annual GermanFest is held. The 3 Bars BBQ team breaks out their secret recipes to compete with other BBQ teams from around the state, and the coworkers that don't don aprons get to kick back and eat some awesome BBQ, enjoy a drink (or two... or three...) and have a great time. The event has been such a fun tradition that we wanted to incorporate it into our new office for the days we're not eating brisket fresh off the grill. It means something to SoftLayer as a company, and if vendors/consultants coming into the office don't appreciate it in the same way, we're pretty sure we'll survive. Naming conference rooms to the least common denominator would sure be functional, but in practice, it would be (ironically) "outside the box" for SoftLayer.

We're just group of people (with a few inside jokes) working together to create the best hosting experience in the business. We value both customers and employees. We like startups (because we were a startup a few short years ago), innovation, automation and BBQ. We have fun together, and as a result, we have plenty of stories to tell (and more obscure inside jokes to use for our next conference rooms).

Oh, and we're also "guilty" of having a few red accent walls, employees riding around on scooters (and Segways), Nerf guns, foam rockets, and foosball tables in our offices. If that means getting mentioned in the same (mocking) breath as Facebook, Yahoo!, Zappos and Twitter, we're in a pretty good spot.

-Summer

December 25, 2011

SoftLayer's 12 Days of Christmas

If you're just joining us, you may have missed our remixes of "SoftLayer is Coming to Town" and "Go Tell it on the Mountain" ... Both of which would be flying off the shelves these days (if our blog had shelves). In an effort to fill up some more space on a SoftLayer-only Christmas CD (and of course help rocket ourselves to a Bieber-level of fame), we've re-written the lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas and added a touch of SL style.

Given the festiveness of the season, we couldn't just post the lyrics for this song, so I walked around our Dallas office to capture a few SLayers delivering each one of the lines. When you click the play button, keep an eye/ear out to pinpoint which of our very own SLayers is a trained opera singer.

As our present to you, please enjoy SoftLayer's 12 Days of Christmas:

If you want to sing along, we have the lyrics below for each day ... If you know the format of the song, it can be pretty repetitive, so I'll just give you the list from the twelfth day and you can read from the bottom as the video is playing:

SoftLayer's 12 Days of Christmas (Twelfth Day)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, SoftLayer gave to me:
Twelve sticks of RAM,
Eleven CCIs,
Ten Gig connections,
Nine feet of cable,
Eight IP addresses,
Seven extra hard drives,
Six disk partitions,
Five-minute cloud provisioning,
Four hypervisor options,
Three network layers,
Two SSDs,
And a server chassis customized for me!

Thank you to all of the SLayers who participated in this video and we hope you had as many laughs watching this as we did filming. :-)

Merry Christmas!

-Summer

Categories: 
December 16, 2011

A Melting Pot of Techies

Now that I've had about twelve years of work experience, I'm at a point in my life where I can't really claim to be "young" or "inexperienced" anymore. Throughout my professional career, I've been exposed to many different types of work environments, and I must say that never have I encountered as diverse a work force as the one I work with now at SoftLayer *ndash; everything from family background to hobbies.

Since my first day at SoftLayer, I've been amazed to learn about all the different places my coworkers have come from. To name a few that stood out and to give you an idea of how diverse our team is, I have colleagues that are from Madagascar, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Korea, Japan, and even "Texas." It is fascinating to learn more about other cultures from them, and because we work together every day, I have a lot of great opportunities to do so.

To take this concept of diversity even further, as I got to know my coworkers more, I soon realized that our differences extended significantly beyond nationality since we have such varied personal hobbies and interests from all walks of life. I've gotten to know individuals that are into acting for short films, piloting airplanes, live-action role playing, skateboarding, cooking, car drifting, and barbecuing. You may not find this unusual if you've have encountered people with similar interests at some point in your lives, but to have them all in a single workplace is pretty incredible to me.

Despite all these differences in nationality and personal interests, we all share the same passion for computer hardware and software that is an integral part of the business services that SoftLayer offers. We could talk for hours on end about the different technologies, and even with all of our differences, SoftLayer's unified, inviting corporate culture makes it easy for us to share a passion for excellent customer support. If you talk to Lance, you'll hear him say that the customer experience is the only thing that matters to him, and when your CEO lives and breathes that mantra, it's easy for everyone to follow.

When I first heard about the plans to expand overseas into Amsterdam and Singapore, I was a little nervous at the challenge, but when I started to think about it, our business model has always involved employing diverse talents with a common goal that could be implemented essentially anywhere in the world with little difficulty.

SoftLayer has become a great melting pot of technical staff, and because new employees are rapidly assimilated into the team, their unique interests and personalities immediately become a part of the far-reaching (and growing) landscape of SoftLayer diversity.

Want to bring some of your diversity to our team? Right now we have 50+ open positions in almost every department of the company and in every location. Just promise when you join our team that you'll send me a message to introduce yourself!

-Danny

December 13, 2011

Do Your Homework!

As far back as I can remember, I hated homework. Homework was cutting into MY time as a kid, then teenager, then young adult ... and since I am still a "young adult," that's where I have to stop my list. One of the unfortunate realizations that I've come to in my "young adult" life is that homework can be a good thing. I know that sounds crazy, so I've come prepared with a couple of examples:

The Growing Small Business Example
You run a small Internet business, and you've been slowly growing over the years until suddenly you get your product/service mix just right and a wave of customers are beating down the door ... or in your case, they're beating down your website. The excitement of the surge in business is quickly replaced by panic, and you find yourself searching for cheap web servers that can be provisioned quickly. You find one that looks legit and you buy a dozen new dedicated servers and some cloud storage.

You alert your customers of the maintenance window and spend the weekend migrating and your now-valuable site to the new infrastructure. On Monday, you get the new site tuned and ready, and you hit the "go" button. Your customers are back, flocking to the site again, and all is golden. As the site gains more traffic over the next couple of weeks, you start to see some network lag and some interesting issues with hardware. You see a thread or two in the social media world about your new shiny site becoming slow and cumbersome, and you look at the network graphs where you notice there are some capacity issues with your provider.

Frustrated, you do a little "homework," and you find out that the cheap service provider you chose has a sketchy history and many complaints about the quality of their network. As a result, you go on a new search for a hosting provider with good reviews, and you have to hang another maintenance sign while you do all the hard work behind the scenes once again. Not doing your homework before making the switch in this case probably cost you a good amount of sleep, some valuable business, and the quality of service you wanted to provide your customers.

The Compliance-Focused Example
I still live, eat, and breathe compliance for SoftLayer, and we had an eye-opening experience when sorting through the many compliance differences. As you probably recall (Skinson 1634AR15), I feel like everyone should agree to an all-inclusive compliance model and stick to just that one, but that feeling hasn't caught on anywhere outside of our office.

In 2011, SoftLayer ramped up some of our compliance efforts and started planning for 2012. With all the differences in how compliance processes for things like FISMA, HIPAA, PCI Level 1 - 4, SSAE16, SOC 1 and SOC2 are measured, it was tough to work on one without affecting another. We were working with a few different vendors, if we flipped "Switch A," Auditor #1 was happy. When we told Auditor #2 that we flipped "Switch A," they hated it so much they almost started crying. It started to become the good ol' "our way is not just the better way, it's the only way" scenario.

So what did we do? Homework! We spent the last six months looking at all the compliances and mapping them against each other. Surprisingly enough, we started noticing a lot of similarities. From there, we started interviewing auditing and compliance firms and finally found one that was ahead of us in the similarity game and already had a matrix of similarities and best practices that affect most (if not all) of the compliances we wanted to focus on.

Not only did a little homework save us a ton of cash in the long run, it saved the small trees and bushes under the offices of our compliance department from the bodies that would inevitably crash down on them when we all scampered away from the chaos and confusion seemingly inherent in pursuing multiple difference compliances at the same time.

The moral of the story: Kiddos, do your homework. It really is good for something, we promise.

-@Skinman454

November 27, 2011

Change is Good

We are closing down 2011 and beginning to prepare for a new year that is bound to be full of exciting changes and growth for our company, and in the midst of the calendar change, I'm reminded that my two-year anniversary of becoming a SLayer will be here soon too. Has time flown?! So many things have changed in the past two years, so I thought it would be fun to think about some things that have changed since my first day on the job.

To give you an idea of how things have changed in our office alone:

  • Our last office had two kitchens and two microwaves. At our Alpha headquarters, we have six kitchens with twelve microwaves. It's so nice that I don't have to wait in line to heat up my lunches anymore.
  • In the Alpha office's main kitchen, we have a Sonic ice machine ... if you aren't from the southern part of the US, you might not know why this is so cool, but if you've had a Cherry Limeade delivered to your car, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
  • Previously, we had to share a bathroom with a few other companies. Now we're the only company in our building, and there are three sets bathrooms just for us.
  • When I started we had four conference rooms. Now we have sixteen ... Not even counting the conference rooms in our other locations!

Speaking of "other locations," it'd probably be worthwhile to talk about about a few of bigger changes that happened outside of the walls of the Dallas office.

  • When I started, SoftLayer was run by around 160 SLayers. Now we're over 650!
  • In January 2010, we were on one continent. Now we've added Asia and Europe presences to our foundation in North America.
  • Those international presences have helped us expand our data center footprint. We had three data centers (Dallas, Seattle and Washington, D.C.) when I started. Now we have thirteen data centers around the world, and in addition to those three markets, we now have SLayers in Houston, San Jose, Singapore and Amsterdam!
  • On my first day, our marketing team consisted of three people. Now we have more than fifteen people ... and looking to hire more.
  • Two years ago, we had around 6,000 customers. Today we have more than 25,000 customers located in over 110 countries!

I've been through a headquarter move, a merger, a huge network expansion and multiple product additions, but one thing that remains the same is our dedication to providing our customers with the best on-demand hosting solution in the world... and of course having fun while we are at it!

-Summer

Categories: 
November 18, 2011

Four Years of SLaying in Seattle

How are we already in mid-November? Did 2011 just fly by us or what? As we approach 2012, I will be celebrating my fourth anniversary with SoftLayer in our Seattle data center. Seattle was SoftLayer's first data center outside of the Dallas area when it opened four years ago, and since then, I've seen the launch of Washington D.C., the Dallas HQ + DAL05, San Jose, Singapore and Amsterdam ... while adding a few data centers in Houston and Dallas after the merger with The Planet last year. We've gone from ~15,000 servers when I started to around 100,000 servers in 13 data centers with 16 network PoPs on three different continents around the world. It's safe to say we've grown.

In the four years since our Seattle facility launched, over 60% of our original team – the folks our Dallas team trained – are still here. Being part of such a huge team and watching the SoftLayer roll out data centers around the world is exciting, and seeing our customers grow with us is even better. In the midst of all of that growth, our team is always trying to figure out new technologies and techniques to share with customers to help them meet their ever-evolving needs. The goal: Give our customers total control.

One great example of this focus was our recent launch of QuantaStor Storage Servers. We teamed up with industry leader OS Nexus to bring our customers a production-ready mass storage appliance with a combined SAN and NAS storage system built into the Ubuntu Server and provides a number of system features such as snapshots, compression, remote replication and thin provisioning. A customer could use this in a number of environments from virtualized systems to video production to web and application servers, or as a backup based server. If you're looking for a mass storage system, I highly recommend it.

If we've grown this much in my first four years, I can only imagine what the business will look like four years from now. A SoftLayer data center on every corner? Maybe we can get PHIL to figure out how we can put a SoftLayer pod in the space normally occupied by a coffee shop ... making sure to keep as much coffee as possible, obviously.

-Bill

November 17, 2011

#Winning - Celebrating SoftLayer's Awards

To quote Marva Collins, "Success doesn't come to you, you go to it." Since 2005, SoftLayer has consistently grown from $0 annual revenue to $350 million annual revenue, and that success hasn't gone unnoticed. This year, we've been honored to win several awards based on our revenue growth percentage, how great the company is to work for, and the success of our cloud offerings, so I thought I'd share a few of those recognitions with our customers – who have fueled our success.

Trophy Case

Company Growth
Let's start with the awards that recognize SoftLayer for its tremendous financial success in the midst of a tough economic environment. This year, SoftLayer was recognized as one of the fastest growing companies as members of Tech Titan Fast Tech, Inc. 500/5000, Dallas 100, and Deloitte Technology 500.

Tech Titan Fast Tech recognizes the fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and clean technology companies in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Fast Tech recipients are determined based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2008 to 2010. SoftLayer holds the #2 rank with a revenue growth percentage of 305%, calculated using the following formula [(FY'2010 Revenue- FY'2008)/ FY'2008 revenue] X 100%. SoftLayer won this award in 2008 and 2009 as well ... And based on the way 2011 is looking, we'll get another one next year.

Inc. 500/5000 ranks privately held, for-profit companies based on their revenue growth for the past 3 years. In 2010, SoftLayer ranked #155, and this year, we were #277 with a three-year revenue growth of 1,178%. The Inc 500/5000 list is also broken into industry categories and regions: SoftLayer ranked #21 in the IT Services category and #5 in Dallas.

Deloitte Technology Fast 500 lists North American companies each year based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth over a five-year period. This is the first year for SoftLayer to be on the list, and we couldn't be more excited about it. We're proud to hold #32 in this year's rankings, and we have our sights set on climbing higher.

Dallas 100 winners are selected by the SMU Cox School of Business to recognize privately held companies that headquartered in Dallas Metroplex. Similar to the Inc. 500/5000, the rankings are based on revenue growth over the past three years. In 2010, we ranked #5, and this year, we moved up all the way to #1! (Where we're supposed to be.)

Dallas 100

SoftLayer Culture
The financial success of the company is only one metric of our overall success as a business. We wouldn't be able to reach those amazing numbers without a great team, so when we get recognized for how amazing SoftLayer is to work for, I know we're doing things right. SoftLayer has been recognized twice this year for being one of the Best Places to Work. Not only are we part of the Dallas Morning News "Top 100 Places to Work in DFW," but we are among the "Best Places to Work in Texas." That's the kind of environment we wanted when we started the company a few short years ago. We hold the #10 spot for Mid-Size Companies on the DMN Top 100 Places to Work in DFW, and the "Best Places to Work in Texas" list will be released in February 2012.

Product Recognition
Oh, and as it turns out, amazing employees in a fantastic environment also create some of the most innovative products, so it should come as no surprise that SoftLayer was recognized earlier this year for our cloud offering: We are among the Top 100 Cloud Providers chosen by Alsbridge.

And when it comes to our dedicated hosting platform, you don't have to look very far to see that SoftLayer is "The Best Web Hosting Company" in the industry. If you agree, you can show a little love for us by nominating and voting for us in HostReview's 6th Annual Reader's Choice Awards.

While we want to celebrate our achievements, we also want to use them as fuel to continue the Challenging But Not Overwhelming (CBNO) work that got us to this point. We want to take the #1 spot on all of these lists in the near future, so keep an eye out ... And we'll start looking for a bigger trophy case.

Taking over the world one data center at a time!

-@lavosby

October 6, 2011

Raising Funds and Awareness - American Heart

SoftLayer is having a contest between all departments to see who can raise the most money for the American Heart Association. Each department (some departments were combined depending on the amount of employees in the group) was asked to think of a fundraiser, event or just some way the team could raise money for a great cause. Whoever raises the most money wins the grand prize of bragging rights around the office.

The Teams

  • Accounting/Finance
  • Marketing/Strategy
  • Administration/HR/Legal
  • Networking
  • CSA/Managed Services
  • Sales
  • CST
  • SBT/Infrastructure/Implementation
  • Executives (Officers and SVP’ s)
  • Systems – Windows/Linux
  • Facilities
  • Technology
  • Inventory

Most departments have done very well, but given my affiliation with the Marketing team, I want to talk about how amazingly we performed. The Marketing and Strategy team kicked off our fundraising efforts with a BBQ event that consisted of ribs, brisket and potato salad, an auction with some great prizes like Rangers tickets, Calloway Golf polo shirts and FC Dallas Tickets, and T-shirts for sale that read, "DEDICATED and we don’t just mean our servers" sponsored by SuperMicro:

AHA Fundraiser

AHA Fundraiser

And here are a few snapshots from the BBQ Event:

AHA Fundraiser

AHA Fundraiser

AHA Fundraiser

It's pretty clear that 3 Bars BBQ is a pretty big draw in the SoftLayer office.

Needless to say this event was a great success! The Marketing team didn't stop there, though. We had FOUR more auctions ... And we pulled out the big guns (two 600GB SSD hard drives and two 16GB iPad 2s). In my biased opinion, the Marketing team worked the hardest for our donations with sweat and tears ... mainly sweat – you know how hot it is outside in the middle of June in Texas.

To date, our team has raised a little over $7,500 in donations for the American Heart Association. You may say, “Wow that’s a lot of cash!” but one of the coolest ways we were able to raise so much money was that we didn't need to take cash: we got a mobile credit card device so the "I don't have cash on me" excuse was rendered useless! Yeah I know ... we are the smartest team ALIVE! After a few events, every department asked us to use our device for their fundraising efforts.

I am so proud of all the work the Marketing and Strategy teams have put into this fundraiser, and I'm especially proud to be a part of an organization that goes to such lengths to help out a charity.

Go Team SoftLayer!

-Natalie :-)

Categories: 
June 2, 2011

3 Bars | 3 Questions: SoftLayer Culture

In the first 7 episodes of the 3 Bars | 3 Questions series, you've had the chance to meet some interesting people who work for SoftLayer. In the last installment, Paul Ford chose "The Mitch" as the next participant, and that's a bit of a curve ball. "The Mitch" isn't exactly a SoftLayer employee, but he is a character born out of the Softlayer culture, so he qualifies for an interview:

Given our company culture and the time our team spends together in the office, these kinds of jokes are pretty common, and works is a lot more fun as a result. If you want to join the "tens" of fans referenced in the video, find "The Mitch" on Facebook and "Like" accordingly.

If you want to get your very own (extremely rare and valuable) personalized copy of "The Mitch," mail your head shot to "The Mitch" c/o SoftLayer Technologies, 4849 Alpha Road, Dallas, TX 75244. And yes, employees who haven't been lucky enough to receive a print are eligible to participate as well.

-@toddmitchell

EDIT: "The Mitch" is in high demand at the cPanel office: http://sftlyr.com/a9. They might need a limited-edition cPanel-specific run.

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