Under Infrastructure Posts

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.

-Fayza

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.

-Fayza

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.

-Fayza

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.

-Fayza

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.

-Fayza

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