Why I'm Going to LISA

It feels like a blog post saying that I’m going to LISA is long overdue - the four years that I’ve been waiting and wanting to go have felt longer than they actually have been. Four years ago was when I, as a QA engineer with a development background and only a very modest amount of Linux experience under my belt, accidentally became a system administrator. I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about LISA, but I can only imagine it was while I was sitting in the data center making vaguely panicked Google searches for “halp how do I sysadmin”. I’d first heard of USENIX back when I was in college and knew it as a well-respected organization, so a conference about the very subject I was trying to learn sounded like exactly what I needed.


The lineup for LISA ‘10 had caught my eye for a variety of reasons. I’d just figured out how to keep myself (and my data center) from catching too much on fire by reading Time Management for System Administrators, so I wanted to attend Tom Limoncelli’s The Guru is In session on that same topic. A survey of system configuration tools? How could that not be hugely informative for someone who had just inherited 200 servers with not so much as a bash script to keep them all wrangled? There was just so much content packed into that week (and the schedule even mentioned a board game night!) that I, being very much a n00b at system administration, wanted more than anything to go. At that point I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know about the field - I just wanted to go to every single talk and tutorial and workshop and soak in all of the knowledge to be found there.


Unfortunately, due to budgets and schedules and conflicting priorities and all of those other troublesome real-life sort of things, I didn’t get to go to LISA that year, or for several years after. Of course, I read the blog, I looked through the slides and watched the videos that were posted afterwards, and I lived vicariously through the tweets of people I followed on Twitter who were there. But, as I’ve learned over the years from the conferences that I’ve been to since then, there’s something very different about being there in person that you can’t get from looking at PDFs of slides or even watching a live stream of the conference (as great as those things are).


This year, everything has lined up so that I do get to go, and boy am I excited! By now I’ve been to enough conferences that I’m well aware of the hassles of travel and the piles of emails that will accumulate while I’m gone, and I have every confidence that LISA will be absolutely worth it. It’s not just that I’ve wanted to go for years and now I finally get to make that happen - this is still hands-down the best conference to go to for system administrators.


This year especially, there’s so much great stuff going on in the conference program it would be ridiculous for me to not be excited about it. I’ll be hard-pressed to figure out which talks I want to go to more (maybe between now and then I’ll figure out how to clone myself so I can actually go to all of them). From every sysadmin’s favorite contact to see on their phone in the middle of the night, we have PagerDuty talking about outages, discussing best practices for both during and after incidents. Dealing with outages is something we can always get better at, and as little fun as they are, it’s important to talk about them (and without them, what else would we have our blameless post-mortems about?). Lars Lehtonen’s discussion of burnout should be incredibly valuable, especially in an industry that can be as demanding as ours is. Of course Gene Kim’s keynote on devops patterns is going to be great. Yes, devops is everywhere and a lot of sysadmins rallied against it for a while (you might know me from rants such as “Devops is Dead” and “Seriously stop saying devops”) but even though the term is a buzzword, there’s a lot of really important conversations to be had around those ideas.


On that note, it’s great to see themes like devops and culture being emphasized so much at LISA this year, and that makes me even more excited about it this year than I was about previous years. Technology is changing rapidly these days and it’s important that our industry be able to adapt and keep up with that. It’s especially heartening to see the Ada Initiative’s ally skills workshop and building communities for women in the workplace on the schedule, not just because of my inability to grow my own neckbeard but because these are important topics that need to be discussed. I’m glad to see LISA encouraging that - it’s making our community better both technically and culturally. It’s going to be a great week!

And for those of you thinking that I don’t sound nearly cynical and jaded enough to be a sysadmin, never fear! Next up we’ll have Noah Meyerhans, a veteran system administrator and LISA attendee talking about his own reasons for coming to this year’s conference - he’ll make you believe in unicorns and LISA once more.