Posts Tagged 'Team'

June 8, 2012

Fundraising Success = Pink Hair

Last Saturday, June 2, SoftLayer participated in the Pink Soles in Motion BBQ Cook-Off. The infamous 3Bars BBQ crew loaded up the grills and set out for Harley Davison of North Texas in Carrollton to raise money and support for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Because SoftLayer was the BBQ cook-off's presenting sponsor, the pressure was on for our BBQ team to have a great showing, and their brisket didn't let us down:

SoftLayer + Pink Soles in Motion

If you didn't catch my last blog post about the event, Pink Soles in Motion is a Dallas-based team that has set out to raise $200,000 this year for the Susan G. Komen foundation. For the past two years, they've been the top fundraising team in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and we want to help them make get a threepeat. In addition to participating in the BBQ cook-off, we set an internal goal to raise $5,000 to fund breast cancer education, research, treatment and awareness.

Because we only had two weeks to raise the money, we thought we'd have to throw in an extra incentive to help inspire donations to meet our goal: If we raised $5,000, the 3Bars BBQ team would have to professionally dye their hair pink.

When the dust settled and all the numbers were counted ... We had to make a trip to the salon:

SoftLayer + Pink Soles in Motion

We reached our goal of $5,000, and Technology Support matched our contributions. To sweeten the pot even further, SoftLayer donated an additional $4,000, amounting to $14,000 in donations to the Susan G. Komen foundation via the Pink Soles in Motion team! I should send a shout out to 'Sparky,' 'Skinman,' John, Don and Raleigh for following through with their end of the bargain ... And I should probably apologize in advance for giving that picture a permanent residence on the SoftLayer Blog.\

If you live in Texas, you're probably familiar with the saying, "Go big or go home." Our SLayers went big. Given the fact that the SoftLayer community came through with so much support, an avant-garde 3Bars logo even made it into one of the hairstyles:

SoftLayer + Pink Soles in Motion

The SoftLayer 3Bars BBQ flag was displayed proudly (with a little bit of its own pink flair), and we couldn't have been happier with how well the event turned out ... And it should certainly put a dent in Pink Soles in Motion's $200K fundraising goal this year.

Thank you to everyone who donated to help us reach our goal, and Technology Support, you guys rock for matching our contributions! We hope you keep some of the pink-hair pictures close at hand for the next time you see any of these SLayers. I'm sure they'd love to autograph a copy just for you. :-)

-Natalie

Categories: 
June 5, 2012

New SoftLayer.com Design: Build the Future

If you've been reading the SoftLayer Blog via an RSS feed or if you find yourself navigating directly to the portal to manage your SoftLayer account, you might not have noticed that the our main website has been updated again — and in dramatic fashion. Last fall we gave the site a slight refresh ... This time, we did a total rework.

We took the site in a new visual direction, with graphics and messaging to complement our mantra of customers using our platform to create their vision — to build the future.

SoftLayer Homepage

The new look — referred to as "SoftLayer at Night" by my fellow SoftLayer developer friend, Seth Thornberry — was designed to reflect our core identity, and it retires the faithful red, white and grey theme that has served us well for more than three years. The new style has received rave reviews from customers, partners and employees, and even if there has been some criticism — everyone has an opinion nowadays — we can generally chalk it up to people simply not liking change.

Highlights of the Redesign:

  • A dramatic new home page design, including visually rich "hero images" (where you see "The InnerLayer" heading if you're reading this on the SoftLayer Blog)
    SoftLayer Homepage Hero Image
  • Expanded main navigation menus at the top of each page
    SoftLayer Homepage Top Nav
  • A new lower-order navigation system on the left of all content pages
  • SoftLayer Homepage Side Nav

  • [For typographically inclined] The new design also leverages web fonts functionality to incorporate "Benton Sans," the corporate font used in print, interactive and other marketing communications.
    SoftLayer Homepage Side Nav

The new design was executed in-house, and our workflow was pretty traditional ... We like to roll up our sleeves. Page templates were created as PSD files and then hand-coded in HTML, PHP, JavaScript and CSS on top of the same framework we use for the SoftLayer Customer Portal.

During the development process, we used our new GIT code repository to facilitate the merging of all of our code onto our staging server. Since it was our first time to use GIT in a major way, there was a bit of a learning curve. The first few merges had to be reworked after finding a few errors in commit messages, but after we got a little practice, the subsequent merges went off without a hitch. The final staging merge was a breeze, and given the struggles we've had with SVN in past projects, this was a huge relief.

When it came time for the design's official launch, we ran into a hiccup related to our automatic regression testing system and problems with cached CSS files, but these issues were quickly resolved, and the new-look SoftLayer.com went live.

It took a lot of hard work from (and a lot of caffeine for) a number of people to get the new site out the door, so I'd like to make sure credit goes where it's due. Our lead designer Carlos ("Los") Ruiz did a majority of the design work, and the implementation of that design fell to Dennis Dolliver (Website Developer), Charles King (SEO Manager) and me. I should also send a shout-out to the entire marketing team who jumped in to help to proof content, test pages and keep everyone sane.

What do you think of the new design? Stay tuned for more website improvements and additions!

-Brad

May 18, 2012

The Weekly Breakdown - Behind the Scenes at SoftLayer

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

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

SoftLayer Weekly Breakdown

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

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK

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

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

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

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH

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

  • John Doe

8 Years!!!!!!!!

  • Jane Smith
  • Bill Scurvy

5 Years!!!!!

  • Kermit the Frog

1 Year!

  • Miss Piggy

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

SL SPOTLIGHT

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

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

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

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

SL Praise

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

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

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

Great customer services. On numerous occasions was pleasantly surprised.

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

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

I Love SL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Natalie

May 7, 2012

Syncing (Not Sinking) with SoftLayer

I've been with SoftLayer for two months now, but somehow I still find myself in the "honeymoon phase" of company pride and spirit. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to compete in the 12th Annual Texas Dragon Boat Race with many of my coworkers, and I learned that teamwork is more than just "working well together."

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat Racing is a lot more brutal than it looks. While a good team will look like they're effortlessly and rhythmically gliding through the water, they're still pushing their bodies to the limit ... Just watch some of our SLayers try to hobble around the office today, and you'll see that the competition wore us out. The experience was more than just a good time (and a reason many of us are still sore); it reinforced to several of us — especially newer employees like me — that SoftLayer is more than just a "company" or an "employer."

SoftLayer's founders wanted to create a an environment — a culture — unlike any other, and from my perspective, they were phenomenally successful. You don't have to take my word for it, though. SoftLayer is a regular on those "Best Companies to Work For" lists, specifically because the company encourages employees to get smarter, get healthier, have fun and and enjoy coming to work. Now that I think about it, I need to get the management team to provide some free Bengay the next time we get out in the dragon boats!

The dragon boat races provided me an opportunity to meet and get to know some of the SLayers I hadn't met yet, and it was wild to see how quickly we shared a sense of camaraderie and pride to be SLayers as we raced down Buffalo Bayou in Houston.

Beyond the fun and physical exertion of the weekend, one valuable lesson I think we all took away from this experience is that staying "in sync" can prove to be difficult at times. Once we learn to anticipate each others strokes, we became a stronger team ... The obvious parallels to our day-to-day responsibilities at SoftLayer should speak for themselves.

I'm proud to be a SLayer and thankful that SoftLayer creates both an extraordinary place to grow our careers and an awesome environment to make great friends. I hear we might be planning to continue this tradition, and if so, SoftLayer can count on us to be there to support our coworkers. If you're interested in joining us, we have positions for all sorts of skill sets (and I'm proposing we give additional brownie points to applicants with rowing experience)!

- Cassandra

Categories: 
May 2, 2012

Social Media and the SoftLayer Server Challenge

I've been working at SoftLayer for almost ten months now, in my relatively short tenure, I've written hundreds (if not thousands) of tweets covering a broad range of topics and events ... As a Social Media Coordinator, it's an integral part of my job. Given what I've learned about hosting in the past year, I'm constantly surprised by how second-nature this intimidatingly technical industry has become. I guess that's what happens when you're immersed in a technology-focused company like SoftLayer.

Beyond sharing technical news and content about what's happening in the world of cloud computing, I'm also responsible for keeping our customers in the loop about all of our trade shows, conferences and events. If you've been to a technology trade show in the past year, you probably saw SoftLayer. We sponsor, attend or exhibit at more than sixty events every year, and it feels like I have been to them all. I know the ins and outs of every event on our schedule well before it begins, regardless of whether that event's down the street or in an exotic location like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam or London (Interesting fact: In the past week, we had events in all of those locations).

Social media is one of the ways our customers and followers can keep a pulse on SoftLayer's activity and growth. We travel the world to share how we help customers Build the Future, and as a part of the social media team, I get to help introduce that conversation. Let's use Internet World as an example.

Last week, a group of SLayers traveled to London to attend Internet World. To prepare for Internet World, I tried to schedule and share as much relevant content about SoftLayer with the #iwexpo audience to generate awareness and drive traffic to our booth. At larger shows like Internet World, we typically have a conference session or speaking engagement, and on the expo hall floor, you'll usually see a crowd like this one milling around our booth:

Internet World 2012

The Server Challenge generates its own social media — from word-of-mouth "you've gotta try this" conversations at the show to the typical "social media" channels like Twitter and Facebook. The gamifiction of rebuilding a miniature SoftLayer server rack is one of those interesting, entertaining and innovative ideas that seems to be unique to the mad scientists at SoftLayer. Invariably, the competition "ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," and at Internet World, we had the most dramatic competition conclusion ever ... But we'll get back to that in a minute.

From a social media perspective, the folks who stop by SoftLayer's booth want to watch the leader board as the show progresses. The expo hall may be open for several days, so it might be tough to keep an eye on the Server Challenge leader board ... Attendees then trust us to keep them informed via social media. Every day, we post the latest times to beat, and when we look at our analytics, it's wild to see the number of people clicking through to see the current top ten times. It doesn't seem like much, but a few hundred people at Internet World wanted to know what this table looked like throughout the whole show:

Internet World 2012

The top two times you see on the final leader board caused the late-show dramatics. Joseph Waite clocked a fantastic 1:03.68 to secure the top spot on the board in the middle of Day 3 at the show, and Rob McEwen stepped up to the challenge for his Day 3 attempts about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled close of the expo hall. With about 25 onlookers, Rob stopped the clock on his second attempt with a time of 1:02.14 ... Good enough for first place.

The problem: One of the drive trays was not installed all the way.

Because we want to make sure the winner has everything installed correctly in the fastest time, we had to add 5 seconds to his time for the mistake, and we gave him one more chance to complete the challenge to be fair to him. Unfortunately, the final attempt didn't beat Joseph's 1:03.68, so the new iPad was destined for Joseph. While Rob was a little bummed, he understood the reasoning for the decision, and he committed to stopping by our booth next year to win his iPad outright.

I was a few thousand miles away from all of this activity, but I felt like a major part of it given my social media involvement in tracking and sharing the latest updates. The best part of my job is when I get to interact with our customers, whether it be face to face or virtually. I want the messages you see on @SoftLayer and facebook.com/SoftLayer to be entertaining, interesting and helpful. We want you to feel connected to what's happening at SoftLayer and what we're all about.

Speaking of giving you insight into "what we're all about," I can't wrap up this blog about Internet World without sharing a little "insider" information about the SLayers at the booth: They're pretty competitive. They ran their own internal Server Challenge:

Internet World 2012

And if anyone is curious about the fastest time we've ever had in the Server Challenge, you can see it right there at the top of the list. Though to be fair, Kevin's probably done it a few thousand times.

-Rachel

March 30, 2012

Very Casual Fridays

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

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

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

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

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

  • Omelet Chef and Bacon Buffet

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

  • Bring your Dog to Work Day Mandatory Policy

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

  • 3 Bars Logo Bow Ties

    Classier swag ... for the discerning gentleman.

  • Air Hockey, Table Tennis and Foosball Tournaments

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

  • More Cake

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

  • Preemptively Remove Brown M&M's from DAL05

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

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

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

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

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

-Nalin

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 15, 2011

Fighting SPAM and Abuse on a Global Network

For better or worse, one of the most engaging posts on the SoftLayer Blog is "We are a No-Spam Network," written by Jacob Linscott in June 2007. When it was posted, it celebrated a completely clear Spamhaus listing page – quite an accomplishment for a large hosting provider (for reasons I'll illustrate below). Since the post was published, it has become a hotbed of conversation about any and all abuse-related issues. Google "SoftLayer SPAM," and you'll see the post show up as the second result, so a lot of Internet passers-by will come across the post and use the comment section as a platform to share abuse-related concerns they have for us.

That engagement is a double-edge sword: It's good because we hear the concerns people have. It's bad because the post was meant to be a celebration of the continuous work that the abuse department does, and uninitiated visitors seem to consider it a unilateral claim that we've beaten spam once and for all. In the course of responding to comments on that post, I shared an analogy to convey what it's like to run abuse for a large hosting provider:

Scenario

Let's say you're the security manager for a huge mall. This mall has 100,000 stores with people walking in and out 24x7x365. In this scenario, there are "good guys" and "bad guys" who walk into and out of the mall, and every person looks exactly the same. Some of those people are store owners while others are customers of those stores. As the security manager for the mall, you want to maintain the safest, most well-maintained mall in the world, so when you find bad guys walking in and out of your mall, you do everything you can to kick them out and keep them out. Sometimes those bad guys are store owners who attract and send the wrong crowd; sometimes they are bad guy customers of a good guy store owner.

How would you manage your mall? It's not possible to differentiate whether a store owner will be a good guy or a bad guy when they're applying to lease space in your mall, so you can't "keep the bad guys out" in that regard. You can't have a security team of 100,000 people monitoring what's happening in those 100,000 stores, much less have someone individually check the millions of visitors streaming in and out of the stores. What's a security manager to do?

If you look at how Las Vegas casinos address that concern, it's clear that your best bet is to install security cameras and have a team monitoring them all the time. You might not be able to watch everything at the same time, but you can document what's happening around your mall and respond if you notice something unusual (or if someone calls in to report that they've seen bad guys coming from a store in your mall).

That's the position we're in.

SoftLayer Abuse Team

SoftLayer's network is the mall, the stores are servers, the store owners are our customers (who are often responsible for several "stores"), and the good guys and bad guys are traffic into and out of the network. We try to differentiate good guys and bad guys, but even if we know that all good guys have purple eyes and all bad guys have neon green eyes, it's still difficult to look 26,000+ store owners in the eye every day as they're walking into and out of the mall.

We staff a team of people intent on clearing the bad guys from our mall, and we know that even though good guy store owners may inadvertently host their own bad guy customers, they want to remove those customers from their store as well, so they appreciate us helping them pinpoint those customers so they can be removed.

We keep an eye on our security cameras and get our security guards to the stores where bad guys are reported as quickly as possible. If no one reports that the people coming out of store #73,403 are all bad guys, it's hard for us to know that they aren't good guys ... Which is why we encourage anyone and everyone to report abuse-related concerns to abuse@softlayer.com so we can mobilize our security force.

As Edmund Burke once said, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Or more colloquially, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Given that illustration, the abuse team deserves a LOT of credit for the work they do behind the scenes. They are constantly investigating reports and working with customers to get remove any and all content that violate SoftLayer's MSA, and too often, that can be a thankless job. Fighting abuse is an ongoing process, and while the nature of the beast might suggest the overall war will never be won, we're always getting faster and stronger, so the individual battles are easier and easier to win.

-@khazard

October 31, 2011

3 Bars | 3 Questions: Amsterdam

Within days of signing on to join the SoftLayer team in Amsterdam, I was on a plane to Dallas. With our facility coming online November 7, the onboarding process had to be accelerated, and the trip to our global headquarters provided an excellent crash course in SoftLayer's strategy and vision for the future. The trip also provided Kevin an opportunity to record a "3 Bars 3 Questions" interview with me after he talked to Michael Ong, the SoftLayer's APAC general manager.

Because I hadn't been a SLayer for too long, he took it easy on me, and we had a great discussion about SoftLayer's strategy in Europe and what customers can expect from our continued global expansion:

In the next week, you'll get a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of our final Amsterdam data center preparations leading up to our November 7 "Go Live" date. If you haven't already seen the "Amsterdam Ready to Launch" blog or the instant-classic "SoftLayer is Coming to Town" video about our international expansion, take a few minutes to check those out.

If you're based in Europe, have a significant customer base in Europe or you've just always wanted a server in Amsterdam, you can pre-order your first AMS01 dedicated server or cloud server right now, and you'll be one of the first in your neighborhood to enjoy our newest facility!

-@jpwisler

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