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The Last Day of LISA14

Well, it's been a long, full week and it's time for me to leave the chilliness of Seattle for the chilliness of Brooklyn. I find that the more I learn at a conference, the more tiring it tends to be as my brain desperately tries to process everything while running on not nearly enough sleep (as I said to fellow blogger Hugh, my brain is over). It's also an interesting experience going to a big conference as an introvert - as amazing as it has been to meet so many smart sysadmins, at some point I want to run and hide back in my hamster ball.

So what did I get up to on the last day of LISA14?

I started out my morning with a talk on Embracing the Checklist that hit on some very interesting points about how the same tools can give very different results based on the context and culture that they're used in. A company could start mandating lots of checklists (hello, ITIL!) in response to an incident, which is likely to be seen as a punishment and resisted, regardless of any potential benefits. That kind of thing is too often seen in company cultures that have too much blame and not enough trust, which leads to resentment of the tool. Nobody wants to feel like someone is saying to them, "Hey, we don't trust you to do your job competently so we got you this checklist to make sure you don't screw it up AGAIN, GEEZ." No way - blamelessness is the way to go! But checklists can be awesome, and they have immense value in codifying processes so our squishy, tired human brains don't have to try to remember everything. As Tom Limoncelli points out so well in his book on time management for sysadmins, you can't remember so many things, so stop trying to and just write them down!

Speaking of Tom, he did a book/sticker signing during the morning break today, where it was documented that I am a very mature adult who never ever photobombs other peoples' pictures. I was too late in line to get a dead-tree version of the cloud book, but I did get a signed sticker and, thanks to the wonder of the internet, there will be my own copy of the book waiting for me on Monday to put the sticker in!

The reason I wasn't farther up in line is that I couldn't bear to pull myself away from Ben Rockwood's talk, I am Sysadmin (and You Can Too). He did a lot of great ranting about people who claim that system administration is dead (I mean, we had devops, and now we're apparently post-devops, so who even knows). But devops and post-devops and the like aren't job titles, they're philosohpies of operations or culture. Instead of dying, the field of system administration is changing and evolving to keep up with the new technologies and complex systems we have to administer. It's a very good thing that the field is evolving, and that change is part of what made this year's LISA program so compelling.

After lunch I had a very technical afternoon being camped out in Grand Ballroom C, learning about everything from Hadoop operations (which will certainly come in handy as I start helping Etsy's Hadoop team with their operational needs) to Linux performance analysis, from containers to a really well-done talk from J. Paul Reed on making sure your team is instrument rated (a term that apparently comes from one of two ways to fly and land planes, one being visual and the other being instruments). If I've learned one thing from Monitorama, it's that every ops-related conference needs at least one talk with lots of airline disaster stories, and LISA14 did not disappoint in that regard. Of course, now I'm sitting at the SEA-TAC airport only slightly concerned about my upcoming flight home, but it's probably fine. At least I've got a great new conference-inspired reading list to distract me on the way back.

The day finished off with a great closing keynote from Courtney Kissler of Nordstrom on moving towards a culture of continuous improvement. After so many technical talks in my afternoon, a detailed discussion of cultural changes was a great way to end the day (and the conference) for me. Even though I have worked in big enterprise organizations and know firsthand what they can be like, it was still shocking to hear the Nordstrom "before" story of things like app releases only once or twice a year. It was a really inspiring story of change though (reminded me of a real-life Phoenix Project) and a good reminder that even us "unicorns" shouldn't get complacent about our culture because there's always ways that we can keep improving.

And really, isn't continuous improvement a big part of why we go to conferences like this?

Overall, this was a fantastic first LISA experience for me. It was especially great to get to finally meet my fellow conference bloggers in person, and I hope to see even more people back on my favorite coast for LISA15 next year!

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