LISA14 Workshop Leaders Interview

If you've taken a look at the Workshops available at LISA this year, you’ve probably been impressed by the wide range of subjects being covered. As a small sample of what's on tap, Mark Lamourine interviewed three workshop leaders to find out more about their background and what attendees can expect.

Valerie Aurora: Ally Skills Workshop

Valerie Aurora is co-founder of the Ada Initiative and will be at LISA14 to teach the Ally Skills Workshop (which she describes as "my favorite part of my job").

How did she get started? She attended an ally skills workshop herself, run by Caroline Simard, at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The leader took a group of senior male executives through a role-playing scenario: a woman makes a suggestion that the group ignores, then a man makes the same suggestion and gets credit for it. Aurora describes what the workshop leader wanted the group to accomplish: "The group's job is to speak up and say, 'Hey, I'm glad you're picking up on Sarah's idea. Sarah, could you tell us more about what you're thinking?'”

"That was exciting enough," Aurora continues, "but what struck me was that after the scenario was over, one of the men said, 'Well, this is an extreme case - I'm sure something this blatant doesn't happen that often.' This entire room full of women started to shift in their seats and mutter - it was like thunder rumbling in the distance. Caroline asked everyone who'd seen this exact situation happen to raise their hands. More than half the room raised their hands. I've never forgotten the look of astonishment on his face."

That inspired Aurora, along with Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner, to create a similar workshop aimed at Open Source community members. Aurora is thrilled by the reaction she's getting. "One [participant] even asked their HR department, ‘Can we get more training like that?’ As someone who passionately hated most corporate training, that warmed my heart."

Why should people attend this workshop? Simple: it takes all of us to improve the community. If you're already familiar with the problems women face, you can learn ways to make things better; even if you're doing a lot of things right, you can still learn more. Being an ally is a process, not a fixed state, and just like technical training there's always room to grow.

Clay England: HPC Compute Cluster Workshop

Next up we have Clay England, who's leading the HPC Compute Cluster workshop. He's Team Lead of the Linux clusters team at the National Center for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. You might think that someone who works at Oak Ridge, for heaven's sake, is there to tell you the right way to do HPC. But that turns out not to be the case.

England explains: "I’m employed by an institution that has a very large infrastructure for supporting HPC systems. However, my experiences and how we manage clusters at ORNL are not the only or necessarily the best way that all institutions should manage their clusters. This workshop is about sharing experiences from all perspectives, large and small."

When asked for an example, he responds: "Because my institution is so large, we are often not agile in changing our admin software stack, whereas an admin at a research university may have more flexibility in their choices. I would like to hear about their experiences so that I can share that knowledge with my colleagues as we look to the future to decide how we’re going to manage our infrastructure."

What can people expect from the workshop? "In general, I hope that all admins who are managing or expect to manage a compute cluster of any size will attend. I want them to share their experiences, both positive and negative. The full day workshop gives us enough time to cover a wide range of topics specific to HPC clusters -- schedulers and resource managers, system provisioning, system monitoring, procurement and acceptance methods, and so on. I try to make this workshop as open as possible, to meet the needs of all the participants."

Piotr T. Zbiegel: Security Workshop

Piotr T. Zbiegiel is a Senior Security Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, and works closely with the Leadership Computing Facility to protect the 5th most powerful supercomputer in the world. He ran the first Security Workshop in 2012, and has a strikingly similar recollection: "What I remember most about the workshop is the great conversation we had within the workshop and the connections that were made. The whole week of the conference I kept running into workshop participants who greeted me with kind words about the workshop, which is always gratifying."

He continues: "I think workshops are valuable because they are interactive. When you get a group of people with wide ranging experiences together you get a chance to learn from each other. Unlike a paper presentation or training session, the workshop format allows knowledge to flow between participants rather than from the presenter to the audience."


What ties these workshops together is human interaction: men and women in the Ally workshop; security people and users (promoting good behavior) or attackers (bad behavior); and even HPC (learning the user's needs, providing the best tools to them, and helping them learn how to use them well). All of the workshop leaders express the desire both to teach what they've learned but also to learn from others and participate in a discussion. This is what makes the workshops such a valuable part of LISA.