Conference Report: PuppetConf 2013, by Jennifer Joy
It has been a long time since I was in the sysadmin space. Any further clarification would reveal I have been through far too many iterations of technology (I'm pretty sure you can date sysadmins with a swift core sample and counting the rings caused by each swing between centralized and decentralized architectures).
The problem of managing large numbers of systems, especially diverse systems, is not new. Having been out of the systems game for over 10 years (ok, now you know, but I'm not telling you when I started!), I wasn't sure what to expect at this conference. Being one of those exceptionally lazy people who hate to do repetitive tasks, I'd glommed onto cfengine and used the heck out of it long before it was fashionable. I understood those basics, but now I'm back in the systems world and dealing with virtual machines which seem to multiply like rabbits. Puppet seemed to have a buzz, and I was excited to learn about it. How was it different, what was new, what is so great about it?
I can answer that in a word: momentum (forums, conferences, devotees, enthusiastic employees, continuous change and improvement). Router vendors (Juniper and Cisco) are beginning to integrate it - if we can have IT and Developers getting along (more about this later) can you imagine the systems and networking folks on the same page? Yes, this needs to happen. If you have a super complex environment: Puppet. If you have a super simple environment: Puppet. Just do it. I'm new to it, so I can't give you the low down techie reasons, yes there are modules and an abstraction layer and in my programmer's mind I know that's good. If you know a lot about Puppet and want to know more, just quit reading now and search for YouTube in this post and go watch the more advanced videos!
What was I totally not expecting: a conference with a side of DevOps. I'm not going to spend too much time on definitions, since probably most people reading this already know and if you don't, you know how to find out more because you are my people - you know how to find answers to questions, solutions to problems and where the best bar is in a given 25 mile radius. A nutshell version would be: breaking down the barriers between developers, IT and QA in part by being able to quickly react to developer needs. And one way to do that is automation.
I will say this, if you've been under a rock like me, you might want to pursue some of these titles:
And maybe read this page as well.
DevOps sounds really cool and something I'd like to be in, because to me there is no greater thrill than trying to make people more efficient in their jobs. Yeah, I have really exciting Friday nights, too. Now, I don't work in a software building world, but my ears were perked throughout the day and my mind was keyed in because while my environment has nothing to do with software development the principles are the same, and maybe this is true for you as well.
I started a new job in April, and my team is currently in 100% Hair on Fire mode. My current tasks are trying to make some changes in how things are done, including production data analysis and improved testing (of a vendor's product we deploy) which are definitely not Hair on Fire tasks. I have found it extremely frustrating because my boss only works in pure interrupt mode, my team won't return instant message-based questions half the time (because they aren't about things burning ) and emails go straight into the fires of hell, which I assume are what are keeping the hair on fire, but I'm not entirely sure. If everyone is so busy trying to put out fires they can't stop for a moment to bring a new team member up to speed or even help move tasks forward that will pay off in the long term, and not short term, red flags should be going up. Let's just say I see a sea of red.
This is the acid test for an organization. Let's circle back to IT/Ops. If your boss does not recognize that something like Puppet is a necessity, even though it is a diversion away from immediate gratification (for example, tickets closing like falling dominos), then it's time to put on those walking shoes. This is a bad place to be. For that matter, if closing 100 tickets a day is more important than figuring out why they are 100 tickets to close every day, join the rats leaving the ship. (I accidentally wrote shit, maybe that's more appropriate.) Things like Puppet are gateway drugs to DevOps because that means you are in an environment that gets it. If you want things to get better, somehow you have to keep spinning the daily grind but be allowed to go sideways before you can move ahead. Automation is basic; if you can't get this going your organization is critically ill. However, automation is but a small piece of a highly political world that requires exceptional communication skills, understanding of processes and method of the people you support and a never-ending adaption to a moving target. Nobody said it would be easy.
I probably should have said this earlier, although no one has ever accused me of linear thinking. PuppetConf 2013 was awesome. And if you want to get in on the awesome, they will be putting talks up on YouTube although they aren't there yet, but if you can't wait, you can see talks from previous conferences now. Aha - just announced: 2013 talks are at http://puppetlabs.com/resources/puppetconf-2013. I may be an introvert, but meeting fellow travelers on the same road is a shot in the arm I can't get anywhere else. Maybe I don't do what you do, but your passion and problems are going to enlighten me if I listen. And perhaps I can help you, although this time I was the sponge.
Again, stepping off to the side, this hotel was one of those fancy ones with stores full of things for rich people who can buy pretty things. I walked into one that carried Chinese art (mostly old, and mostly jade carvings) on one of the breaks, and had a long and interesting conversation with the proprietor and in the end I walked out knowing a lot more about jade and with a signed copy of one of his books as a gift. My point is simple: Don't zombie-walk through life or a conference. Go to a conference with a mind to solve your problems, but also talk to people and see what they're doing. You never know when an indirect approach will help you and I have never found it boring to listen to people when they talk about things they care deeply about. Passion is perhaps tossed around too often these days, but I could feel passion at this conference and it is a good thing.
For automation 101 start with this one: Getting Started with Puppet . I have some notes, and if people are interested in me writing them up as a blog post, badger me in the comments section. If you think you do not have time for this talk, again, you have to move sideways before you can move forward. Find at least one hour in the day for going sideways. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in life is all the work is going to be there and if you don't look out for you, no one else will.
Having been the ridiculously young, female person in the crowd, it was a little harsh to realize, while I'm still female, I am no longer young. I'm not old yet either, but I wanted to <god help me> pinch the cheeks of those dyed hair, tattooed young ladies, and those who were not dyed or tattooed, but certainly young, and tell them, don't lose the faith -- be strong, grow more women in the field, mentor everyone <all genders, all races>. But they exuded a confidence I did have not at that age, and I'm not worried about them, although we should all be concerned that the tech fields are inclusive. And yes, women's shirts - women's conference shirts, women's vendor shirts, WHAT?! Thank you. For a culture that embraces the diversity of its people, that's a first for me: clothes that fit. Nice! Bonus: one of the nicest looking conference shirts I've received, I like it.
I don't have a solution to the problem of what to do if your company doesn't pay for conference like this (I was stuck paying my way and was exceptionally grateful for the gift of a free entry). Of course, yes, this is red flag time. PuppetConf, USENIX Lisa, and others (would love to know about them) aren't a boondoggle, they aren't just an escape from work, they are an infusion of new ideas, new people to stay in touch with and, in my opinion, they are a critical part of escaping company culture so you can improve company culture. One person I met a long time ago at a USENIX conference was the author of this blog, and I wouldn't trade that connection for anything.