Sysadmin Skill Tiers, Hallway Track and Work

Morning - The Main Event: Skill Tiers Workshop

Today's big planned event was the Sysadmin Skill Tiers workshop with Matt Disney.  Matt's interested in looking at the USENIX/LISA Core Job Descriptions with an eye to what needs updating for modern work practices and philosphies. There were people from large and smaller companies.  Most of us were actually in the position of needing to produce job descriptions both to define roles within our organizations and to attract people to fill them. (but not me).  We really got into the idea of how to define roles instead of just job descriptions (and then to re-compose those when we actually go to hire someone).  The roles that Sysadmins fill now are much broader than they were in the era of silos, and the skills we need for the tasks we are asked to do have also opened up.  We had a very lively discussion around the definition of an "Architect" role and how it would be distingushed from a Tech Lead or a Tech Manager.  We also showed a lot of passion in the discussion of the characteristics of Specialists and Generalists and their role in an organization.

Interlude: Lunch

Lunch was some very nice fish and steak and other stuff.  It was also nice to talk with Hugh the Aardvark(tm) about Neil Stephenson epics, The Universal Geek and quirky economics podcasts

Afternoon: Hallway Track and SimmonsDipity

I got the luxury of wandering around this afternoon and I wandered into my friend Matt Simmons' talk on Managing Your Users.  Did you know that the reason there are still ashtrays in airliner bathrooms?  Its because if someone breaks the rule and smokes, NOT having an ashtray can prove fatal, and they know that because it happened.  It pays to assume, (after you've carefully trained people to Do The Right Thing), that someone's still not going to. if that has dire consequences, it might still be a good idea to consider how to handle that. Actually Matt's talk was about how to get the best from your users so that you can get the best work done.  That means enlisting your users as your helpers in some counter-intuitive ways.  I think the talk was recorded and will be available soon.

I also wandered into the BUILD room.  These are attendees that are actually building the wireless infrastructure for the ballrooms for the Conference Program.  This is an interesting experiment in participatory learning. Branson and Brett are going to be giving a talk on BUILD on Wednesday afternoon. I'm interested to hear what they all have to say about it. Look for it on the schedule boards.

Interlude - Dinner, then BOFs - Not Creating Mindnorities [sic. ed.]

This is turning out to be a very full day.  I only planned one thing but stuff just keeps popping up at me.  I pulled down the Guidebook android app and loaded the LISA 14 conference information and POOF! Lots of activities at my fingertips and poking any one would get me a little pocket vibrate reminder that something *intriguing* was about to happen.  Matt's talk was just the first.

At the end of supper my phone shudders and tells me that it's time to go to the Young Professionals meetup.  As a not-young person who is only marginally professional I thought I would just be a lurking blogger (and I'm OK with that.)  When I got there I found Patrick Cable (not really old) and Tom Limoncelli (also not really old) having a discussion with a group of really smart ambitious young sysadmins. I think there were probably 10 or 12.  I arrived late so I missed any introductions. I think I instantly became the oldest person in the room.  It was a bit re-assuring to me that many of their concerns were the same ones I remember having myself.  it's hard to get senior people (especially when hiring) to take young people seriously. it's hard to convince people you can do good work when you can't claim what they consider to be "experience".  I don't think I had any good advice so I hope Patrick and Tom did.  I really need these people to be encouraged and continue in their careers because I hope to retire some day and I really want the world to be run by quality people like the.

We were interrupted by the folks who were coming for the Women in Advanced Computing BOF, which was the next thing that caused my phone to shudder. I think this was possibly the most important group I met today. I have two daughters and I want them to live in a world where just being women doesn't cause them grief in what ever profession they choose to enter.  

Carolyn Rowland lead the discussion.  She started off by describing her experience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. There were 8000 women there, doing all kinds of cool things but in the media the whole positive event was overshadowed by a couple of sessions involving men who run huge companies talking really badly about how they view women in their workplace.  

In our session there were more men there than women, but that's to be expected given the demographics. The ratio was probably 4:1. Not bad actually in our industry. I learned some terminology: "pipeline" means "talking about the process of trying to get girls to be involved in tech so that there will be more of them later".  This is a bit of a pejorative.  It ignores the environment into which these girls will grow.  The stronger question is "what can we do now to change the culture so that priming the pipeline is unnecessary".  This is hard because it means we (men) have to actually change the way we behave (and think) now.  With the women we deal with now. I admit I had my own learning moment (thanks to Tom Limoncelli again).  As always I struggled wiith myself to avoid trying to contribute too much when I really REALLY need to let other people talk. Never unimportant but more pointed here. 

It occurs to me that what we're discussing really isn't about the minority groups themselves, but about the perception of the privildeged set (me) that women, or young people (or whoever) are something different, to be put in the box of Minority merely because language or cultural conventions place them there.  I'm inviting all the people in my life to help me not build those boxes in my head and force people into them.

And the evening ended with me leaving a jacket that had been left in the BOF room near the folks doing yoga outside the hotel ballroom at 9:20 in hopes that one of them owned the jacket.  I didn't feel it would be appropriate to interrupt to ask.

Tomorrow  I have Wade Minter's workshop entitled "Improv: Think, React, Go".  I really want to learn how this relates to Sysadmin.

I'm tired.  Good night.

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