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Re: My question for LOPSA board candidates

[Note: This is a first draft and needs a lot of editing but I know I'm not really going to come back and edit it so I might as well post it today.]

LOPSA had their first "meet the candidates" a few weeks ago. I had blogged ahead of time the question I was planning to ask.

The question:

"I'd like to know about your experience with community-based projects. Please tell us about a project that you took responsibility for seeing through to completion. Please, only projects that are "done" or have reached a self-sustaining mode only. One or two sentences is fine. It doesn't have to be a project where you thought of the idea or even did all the work: just one where you assured it reached the finish line."

The answers were: [note: I did minimal spell correction and reformatting. In a live chat one doesn't expect every sentence to be Shakespeare but I felt it was worth correcting any word that my Mac underlined in red.]

Martin James Gehrke: On a majority of my community-based projects, the challenges have been people related, rather than technology related. Working toward a general consensus can be very difficult. Using the PGH local chapter as an example, we still squabble over the best meeting times.

Evan Pettrey: Starting the Baltimore/DC of LOPSA would be a good example for myself. first 6 months or so were challenging (for both getting people to attend as well as securing speakers). However, our membership has now nearly outgrown our current location, the word is spreading on its own, and we have speakers secured all the way through October.

John Boris: I have two to speak of recently. 1) The first is this year's PICC conference. As chairmen I kept the volunteers on track. I learned early on that good leaders have great people under them. I made sure their work was recognized and that they didn't overwhelm themselves. 2) Outside of work I put together a spring football league for 8th grade boys. I got it together from scratch to where now it is the model here in South Jersey. I rarely have to attend the games as I meet with the other board members and keep the goal in front of them. Teach the boys fundamentals of the sport and get them ready for High School.

Kent Brodie: Total re-computerization of my church. Meant going from 2 old DOS machines with some no-longer-available church management software to include modern machines, modern and supported software. I oversaw and/or was involved in the proposal, planning, acquisition, and installation of the entire deal. 80% of the work was people-skill related....

Matt Disney: Two things. First, my best work on that was probably in college when I was doing tech stuff for student government and established a benefit that was very popular, well-received, and lived on for about 6 years after I graduated. Second, I like to think a lot of the stuff I work on as being community-based, just at work. So each time I've left a job, I've left it with a healthy community.

My evaluation: When it comes to volunteer work, past performance is a good indicator of future performance. Some people "work hard" and others "get stuff done". An organization full of people that "work hard" goes out of business because everyone always thinks they "work hard". Successful organizations are made up of people that get stuff done. I encourage you to read the above statements carefully: some of the candidates were not able to say a single specific thing. I'm more impressed by the people that were able to name projects related to LOPSA, this shows they are already involved.

Later I asked another question:

If LOPSA received a grant for $10 million dollars next month, what should LOPSA do with it? (projects, not investment strategies)

Martin James Gehrke: Use it to hire some fulltime employees to help legitmitize ourselves and run the day to day, perhaps hire lobbyists to help get our voice heard in DC. make student membership free because in encourages students to actually see SYSADMINs as a profession to pursue post college. I'd also love to support some of the FOSS projects that we use in our daily administration (config mgmt, bind, etc)

[My calculations are that this would consume 15% of the grant.]

Evan Pettrey: I think it would be great if LOPSA would give back to the local chapters. Perhaps they could provide money for the chapters to take their groups out for dinner and drinks after meetings to show our appreciation. Additional money would be spent on springing up additional local chapters, publishing a monthly magazine (think LOPSAgram but with more time and investment put into it), advertising within professional outlets. The biggest investment would go into building a datacenter using a carefully though out standard of best practices as set forth by LOPSA. This would be used to demo to others in the industry how things can be improved and show what is possible with collaboration.

[My calculations are that this would consume 3-4% of the grant if we don't include the datacenter because it would be cheaper to write 100 case studies of existing data centers.]

John Boris: I would use it to help build a strong instructional plan for a young person to enter the field and this plan would be coupled with an acredited online Sysadmin College. It would also be partnered with one or more Universities/Colleges across the country.

[My calculations are that this would consume 20% of the grant.]

Kent Brodie: party like it's 1999. seriously: I have constantly been advocating spreading the word, advertising. I'd use a bunch of money for the sole purpose of name recognition. I'd also start setting up actual in-the-vendor-place booths at a variety of technical conferences as well. in addition, I'd turn some of the key roles of LOPSA to paid positions. Honestly, volunteers can only do SO much.

[My calculations are that this would consume 10% of the grant.]

Matt Disney: 1. Pay off our debt. 2. Establish a financial plan where we make money off our money. 3. Apply some of that money in a responsible way toward membership service management (e.g. pay people to answer the phones/emails). 4. Establish an endowment for system administration education including internships. 5. Bootstrap more training conferences.

[My calculations are that this would consume 1% of the grant plus whatever is spent on the endowment .]

My evaluation: This question evaluates the vision of the candidate. It exposes what the candidates feels the grand, long-term, vision of the organization should be. From these answers it seems that the candidates think the "big goal" of LOPSA is: to manage paperwork, to lobby in DC, to impress students, to fund open source projects, to feed pizza to our members, to increase the number of chapters, to publish a magazine, to advertise about LOPSA, to build a data center that shows off best practices, to establish an online sysadmin college, to gain name recognition, to have booths at other people's conferences, to replace volunteers with paid staff, to pay off our debt, to manage paperwork, to provide scholarships, to create more conferences.

To be honest, that's lame. LAME! Cross-reference that list to the mission of LOPSA ("to advance the practice of system administration; to support, recognize, educate, and encourage its practitioners; and to serve the public through education and outreach on system administration issues") and only 2-3 actually fall within the mission; most are ambiguous or tactical steps towards achieving a mission, and the rest have nothing to do with the mission.

Between now and the election I recommend that all the candidates read the mission and understand it. Either plan adopting it as your personal mission or draft a plan to change it.

Think bigger!

Here's some "big thoughts" that every candidate should have on their mind: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 347,200 sysadmins and growing. Our goal should be to have 100% of them be members of LOPSA. With a moderate membership fee we could be a huge lobbying organizations: educate congressional staff, make our presence known, and influence public policy (i.e. laws). We could establish a media campaign that would reshape the negative image that IT workers have in society, brings us new respect within business, and educates young people about what a great career choice being a sysadmin is. We could sit down with universities and establish a common curriculum standard, an accreditation program, and establish a network of researchers focused on system administration.

Lastly LOPSA doesn't need big money to do these things. We need big thinkers. We could do all of this by partnering with the top CIOs of the U.S. who would find value in having better trained, more consistently skilled, people to hire. We could apply for grants to major funding sources and make the case for the societal benefits to be gained from all-of-the-above, as well as help them understand the perils of a future without excellence in technology management.

LOPSA could start small with any one of those projects and focus, focus, focus to make it happen. Be creative. You don't need a million dollars in rent to have a lobbyist in DC: you can beg to use a desk in a like-minded organization. You don't need to own a university to teach sysadmins: get the professors that are teaching system administration together via phone and start establishing curriculum guidelines. Find a major CIO who is about to retire and recuit him/her to make one of these their legacy project. You don't need a PR agency to get a lot of press, you need to make sure that every New York Times reporter remembers you as the person that returns calls quickly so his/her 3pm deadline is never in jeopardy and soon every article has a quote from a LOPSA-identified spokesperson.

To get to 347,200 we need to create projects that recruit thousands of members each year. Most of new new members come via the conferences and the local chapters. At the current rate, we won't get to the 50% mark for a century.

At our current trajectory in 10 years we'll be "the world's largest user group".

Is that what we really want to be?

Think bigger!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LOPSA

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