Posts Tagged 'Slayer'

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.


June 10, 2015

Work Life of a Customer Support Technician

My day as a customer support technician begins very early. I leave home at 6 a.m. to start my shift at 7 a.m., relieving the overnight shift. Customers start calling, opening tickets, and chat sessions almost immediately after I log into one of our systems, either LivePerson Agent Console, Cisco Phone Agent, or SoftLayer’s ticket management system, which is dependent on employee scheduling, specialty, or customer traffic.

Should our customers ever need help, we are prepared and up-to-date as possible on what’s going on with our internal systems. Every morning I check for any notices received via email from different internal teams about updates to the network, server upgrades, or emergency maintenances that could be relevant to the tickets and questions of the day. Besides current update notifications we use to address customer questions and concerns, we also use our external wikis (also known as the KnowledgeLayer) for existing information should we need it. As customer support technicians, we also have unprecedented access to troubleshooting, managing, and restoring customers’ various services to the peak of their performance.

Thank you for calling SoftLayer. How can I help you?
At the beginning of the week, the phone starts ringing around 7:30 a.m., and then it starts to pick up—Monday’s are usually the busiest.

When a phone call comes in, I verify the caller and then try to get a grasp on the nature of the situation. Sometimes, for example, it’s a customer needing help troubleshooting an eVault backup solution. In most situations, I ask if they have checked the official tutorials posted by SoftLayer on how to set up eVault (or other topic at hand). Whether they have or not, I then walk the customer through the steps. Some topics can be a little confusing, and depending on the level of technical difficulty and the customer’s knowledge, I sometimes take care of the job for them. Some issues can be difficult, but that’s why we’re here. In regards to the eVault solution, thankfully, it comes with a help file containing screenshots to help customers of any technical level grasp the configuration process.

We also receive calls that aren’t one-on-one, but rather from an entire IT department of a company. In one particular instance, I received a call asking for help to change the boot order on a couple of production servers. Rebooting without permission can have catastrophic effects on any live data being written to servers. We need permission first. After receiving approval via ticket, I worked with the IT team as they turned off applications safely on their respective servers so that I could in turn reboot one-by-one and change the boot order from the BIOS as needed. (SoftLayer's customer support technicians change the boot order because the BIOS on servers are protected to prevent manual tampering with server hardware.)

One last example—hard-pressed system administrators working against the clock to deploy their load balancers need VIPs set up as soon as possible, so they can handle the traffic to their blooming social media website. In this case, depending on the type of load balancer, I first check with sales on the pricing. Then I open a ticket to get customer approval for the costs of the IPs. If it’s a Netscaler VPX load balancer, we inform the customer to order portable IPs within the same VLAN as their load balancer. Once confirmed, I get to work. Thankfully, Citrix Netscaler has a very easy to use interface that allows migrating portable IPs for use plus they take effect almost immediately.

No matter the customer or the situation, we always practice working in a professional demeanor to make sure we efficiently address the problem. Once I finish helping a customer, I follow up with a summary of what had been done and then make sure everything is working as needed. A summary of my actions is also posted on the ticket for customer future reference.

Opening a Ticket
We aim to give an initial response within 15 minutes of each ticket being opened. Tickets not only provide a great way to follow up with a customer, but they also provide a platform for directly sending the customer helpful guides, steps, screenshots, and explanations that would have not have sufficed over the phone call.

Tickets allow customers to specify the queue and title of the ticket, which narrows the issue to the department they feel would best answer their question. For example, if a customer opens a ticket saying they can't see all their devices in their device list with a title “devices not listed,” it gives us clues about the nature of the problem. By opening a ticket with the support group, instead of, say, the sales group, we know that this isn't an issue with ordering servers or ordered servers.

To troubleshoot the devices-not-listed above, I would check if the user who opened the ticket is a master user for the account. If not, then it is without a doubt a permissions issue or limited permissions set by the master user. To resolve an issue like this, the master user on the account would need to update permissions.

But that’s not always the case. If it’s not a permissions issue, then as customer support technician I'd be limited in the support I can offer. The issue for the devices not being listed could potentially be an internal bug, which is a job for SoftLayer’s development team. Once escalated to them, they would oversee the problem. During the escalation, the customer support team keeps the customer informed. We also work as the “go-to" between SoftLayer’s internal teams and customer.

Once the devices-not-listed issue has been resolved, SoftLayer’s development team would mark the escalation resolved. My team would then follow up with the customer to verify that the issue is resolved. This multi-step, inter-department interaction (depending on the severity of the problem) can take as little as a couple of hours to sometimes days. Regardless of the length of time, the customer is always kept in the loop of any changes or updates.

After ensuring the issue is resolved, we inform the customer that if there are no more replies within four days, the ticket automatically closes. This provides ample time for the customer to review the conversation and join in later if need be.

Quitting Time
As a customer support technician, I never know what question or concern might arise, but we try our best to always help the customer as best we can.

My shift begins to wind down around 3 p.m. when the next shift takes over. Our customer support technicians work late into the night and into the morning, 24x7x365.


March 16, 2012

SLayer 101: A Whirlwind First Week

Having been client in the past, I already had some idea of how amazing the SoftLayer team was. Every interaction I had with the company was fantastic, and though I've worked with hundreds of service providers in different industries, I can wholeheartedly say that the service I received at Softlayer was better than any I'd ever experienced. As you can imagine, that left a pretty phenomenal impression on me.

When the opportunity came up a couple of months ago to interview with Paul Ford and the Community Development team, my response was almost instinctual: I jumped at the chance. Having met him and several members of the team in San Francisco in the past (picture below), I knew the kinds of individuals he surrounded himself with — incredibly smart, talented, hard-working, and just downright COOL people. That's right ... Seldom do you find a team in a corporate environment where you can actually say the people are all awesome — people you would want to hang out with even if you didn't work with them.

Josh and Paul

After going through the interview process, I hopped on a plane to Dallas to visit the Alpha headquarters. In the whirlwind of introductions and training sessions, I was surprised how productive the trip ended up being. I met most of the folks I'll be working with on a regular basis, and I had the opportunity to learn more and more about what Community Development is doing. And I was blown away at how much of that work was being done for other companies. The impression I get is that the impact Community Development is having on the business community is real, it's measurable and it's making a difference. It's impactful. From mentorship to event sponsorship to expert recommendations about infrastructure and architecture, nowhere in the industry can you find a company that works so hard for its customers. Trust me. I looked. Nowhere.

When I returned to San Francisco (where I live and will be based), I happened upon the Game Developers Conference where SoftLayer was present in a big way. I grabbed lunch with an existing client, I could tell their interaction with our team was no different from mine when I was a customer: Both sides clearly work together to find a solution that works for everyone. The interaction seemed to transcend the traditional "client-vendor" relationship, and it was clear that the Softlayer team was deeply committed to the client's mission and product offering.

Learning all of the different ways Softlayer is helping them (beyond providing server and hosting solutions) was would have been astounding ... If I didn't already kind of expect it from my experience. I couldn't help but be ecstatic about what's to come.

I met with the team at the GDC booth and got some more first-hand perspective about how we're embraced by the community. Walking the show floor and coming back to our almost-always-crowded booth (after seeing so many other booths quiet and empty) reinforced my feeling that I joined one of the most exciting companies in the industry. Our Server Challenge kept the booth BUSY for the entire time I was at the show — both days.

GDC Server Challenge

Observing how our team engaged the visitors drove home a point I touched on earlier: That SoftLayer employees CARE about every client and prospect. They asked questions about the attendee's business, what the business's needs were, and (most impressively to me) held back on "the hard sell." And that's pretty unique in itself.

As I embark on week number two of my employment (and beyond), I can't wait to learn more and more so I can become an integral part of the team. If you're ever on the West Coast and want to talk SoftLayer, hit me up!


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