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LISA Workshops: The Round Table of LISA

Originally we hoped to have an article from Noah Meyerhans about what an experienced sysadmin can gain from going to LISA.  Unfortunately, family commitments have kept Noah away-- but we're pleased Mark Lamourine has stepped in with an article on an underappreciated feature of LISA.  We wish Noah all the best.  Enjoy the article! -- Ed.


Mark Lamourine <markllama@gmail.com>

LISA Workshops: The Round Table of System Administration.

According to myth, King Arthur created the Round Table to emphasize the equal status of all who sat in council with him. Today the LISA workshops are a place where people of all levels can talk about the topics that interest or concern them. In fact he first LISA was actually a workshop run by Rob Kolstad and Alix Vasilatos in 1986. (I wasn't there)  Since then LISA has grown into it’s own conference and institution.  The tutorials and conference talks get much of the attention, but the workshops are still there and they provide access to something that’s still at the heart of what LISA is about: community.

I’ve been attending LISA conferences on and off since the mid 1990s, but its only in the last 5 years or so that I’ve started attending workshops.  I wish I’d started sooner but I understand my path (and my error). My impression of the workshops when I was even aware of them was that they were where the real experts got together to talk about things that were over my head.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Back in the Dark Ages before 1s were invented,  as a newly minted syadmin I jumped at the chance to attend the tutorials. The opportunity to get proper training and to meet others who were learning how The Experts worked their magic was the big draw.  After attending the tutorials and the tech conference for a number of years I’d learned enough that the tutorial selection didn’t seem to offer much to me, so I switched to just the conferences.  Finally one year when filling in my registration form I noticed the workshop selector buttons.  Curious and finally confident that I might have something to contribute, I decided to take a chance.

I’ve always been interested in configuration management and education.  I’d worked with John Roulliard in the 90s on a tool called (prosaically enough) “config”.  When I was at Genuity just before Y2K I wrote an automated package build tool for Solaris packages so that I could ensure that all of our deployed software came from approved source code.(I really hope its died).  Later I became passingly familiar with cfEngine and Puppet.   I was also peripherally involved with the Great Sysadmin Certification Wars.  All of these gave me some experience and a lot of dissatisfaction with the results. So when I saw the Configuration Management and Education workshops on the list I checked the boxes.

I really expected to be a lurker among the elite, but with the very first introductions it became clear that we were all invited to participate.  It also became clear that everyone hoped to learn something and that no one really expected magical solutions.  The purpose was to raise questions, have discussions and learn from the experiences of everyone else in the room. I was hooked.

Since then I’ve participated in those two workshops regularly, though I’m making a couple of changes this year.  Over time my interests have changed and so my selections have as well.  Configuration Management is still at the top but I’m replacing Education with a couple of new workshops on Sysadmin Tiers and Improvisation for Sysadmins.  The title of these made me curious and I’m hoping to contact the workshop leaders to learn more about what to expect.  When I do, I’ll tell you what I find..

To learn more about this years workshops I reached out to Cory Lueninghoener. Cory helps lead the production high performance computing group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He has held several roles in the planning of LISA conferences over the years, most recently as the workshops coordinator for LISA 2014.  He agreed to answer a few questions about his impressions and experiences with the workshops as an attendee, leader and now coordinator.  Cory can be reached at cluening@gmail.com.

 

ML:   How long have you been involved with LISA?

CL: The first LISA I was able to attend was in 2006, but I was involved in a few projects that had been presented at the conference in the years before that.

ML: When did you start attending or leading workshops?  What was the first one to draw you?

CL: I started attending workshops during my very first LISA, attending the Configuration Management Workshop.  I had been slowly getting more deeply interested in configuration management by that point, and that workshop was one of the draws that year.  After a couple of years of attending the workshop, I started to help lead it in 2009 and have been involved with it ever since.  Meanwhile, I've been the conference-wide workshops coordinator twice now, in 2010 and 2014.

ML: Now stuff about the workshops. What makes the workshops different from the other activities at LISA?

CL: Workshops are a full-day or half-day time set aside for members of a community to sit down and talk shop.  Unlike tutorials and technical talks, workshops give everybody a chance to talk to everybody else in the room in an equal setting.  They're a great way to spend a day diving deep on a topic alongside peers who share the same interests.

ML: Who are the audience for workshops?  What can they expect to take away and what should they bring?

CL: The audience for workshops is wide.  Very wide!  Workshops can be about very technical topics, like security or high performance computing; or they can be about very social topics, like Women in Advanced Computing or DevOps.  Attendees are generally people who are already familiar with the topics being discussed, but they are also a great way for new system engineers to quickly immerse themselves in a particular community.  Take-aways are as varied as the topics of discussion: this year's System Administration Skills Tiers workshop plans to develop a series of modern system administration job skill tiers, while the Government/Military workshop aims to give government workers and contractors a forum to talk about problems and solutions in their fields.  No matter what, everybody can take away a new list of contacts to keep the conversation going well after the conference.

ML: Anything else you'd like people to know?

CL: This year's lineup is a mix of old favorites and some awesome new workshops.  Take a look at the list on the LISA '14 website:

https://www.usenix.org/conference/lisa14/workshops

This year also marks the final Advanced Topics Workshop after its 22-year run.  If you're somebody who has attended ATW over the years, you'll want to sign up early!


Cory Lueninghoener helps lead the production high performance computing group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He has held several roles in the planning of LISA conferences over the years, most recently as the workshops coordinator for LISA 2014.  He can be reached at cluening@gmail.com.

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