Results tagged “chimit”

If you study system administrators and are interested in presenting a paper about it, don't forget that the deadline for CHIMIT '10 is July 3, 2010. (The conference is Nov 12-13, 2010)

People study system administrators? Yes! They do. They want to know how we communicate, how we work, and what tools we use and what tools we dislike.

What is CHIMIT? CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) is the area of research that studies how people interact with computers. For example, usability research falls under the academic category of CHI. CHIMIT is an annual conference for CHI researcher for the Management of Information Technology.

What is CHIMIT '10? It is a conference! The next one is in San Jose, CA from November 12-13, 2010. Is it nearby to where the Usenix LISA conference is held, making it easy to attend both. It is an ACM conference in cooperation with Usenix and SIGCHI.

Can I attend if I'm not a researcher? Absolutely. In fact, we want system administrators to attend. Researchers want to interact with us. Also, it's fun to watch them present about us. The education goes both ways. (and the conference usually has a panel of sysadmins)

Flyer about the conference: flyer in PDF form

More info about the conference:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

CHIMIT (2007,2008,2009) is a conference for researchers that study the habits and workflows of IT workers in an effort to find ways to make them more productive (they call this "human factors in IT"). Anyone trying to make my work easier is alright in my book.

At the most recent conference I moderated a panel of system administrators who had been in the audience watching the first day of presentations. It was our turn to "speak up" about what we had seen.

One of the useful things that came out of this panel was a list of "signs that a product was designed to be easy for system administrators to install and maintain."

Here is a short version of the list:

  • as a command line interface
  • has an API so it can be remotely administered
  • has a "silent install" mode so it can be cleanly deployed
  • has a config file that is ASCII so it can be stored in a revision control system; and the same file can be input INTO the system.
  • has a clearly defined way to do backups and restores.
  • has a clean way to monitor for up/down issues (know when there is an emergency) AND vital statistics that relate to scaling/latency (know how to debug slowness) AND historical monitoring (be able to predict far in advance when we need to buy more capacity)

What would you add to this list?

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Academic study of SA

Dear fellow sysadmins,

The surest sign that sysadmins are mis-understood is how difficult it is to install, debug, or maintain various products.  Any sysadmin can tell if the installation process was designed as an afterthought. Any sysadmin can point to a variety of... I'll be polite and say... "design decisions" that make a product completely and utterly impossible to debug.

I've talked with product managers about why their product is the speedbump that slows me down when debugging a problem that is buried in a network of 150 devices from 15 different companies.  In the old days I was told, "that's why you should buy everything from one vendor... us!" and in today's multi-platform arena I'm told, "but our goal is to make our product so easy to use it you don't need to debug it."

I'm sure that last sentence made you cringe.   You get it.

I've explained how GUIs are bad when they prevent the basic principles of system administration: change management, automated auditing, backups, and unfettered debugging.  We have practices and methodologies we need to implement!  Don't get in our way!

The more enlightened product managers understand that the easier it is to automate the installation of their product, the easier it is for me to buy a lot of their product.  The more enlightened product managers understand that an ASCII configuration file can be checked in to SubVersion, audited by a Perl script, or even generated automagically from a Makefile.  Sadly, those product managers are rare.

One would think that companies would be investing millions of dollars in research to make sure their products are beloved by sysadmins.

I like to think that somewhere out there is a group of researchers studying this kind of thing. I imagine that they find sysadmins that volunteer to be videotaped as they do their job.  I imagine the researchers (or their graduate students) pouring over those tapes as they try to understand our strange ways. I imagine Dian Fossey studying not Gorillas in the Mist but Sysadmins at the Keyboard.

These researchers do exist.

I've seen them.

For the last two years they've met and exchanged ideas at a conference called CHMIT.

Some of them actually video tape sysadmins and examine what is it about products that make our lives good and !good.

My favorite moment was watching a researcher describing their observation of a sysadmin the heat of a real outage.  The sysadmin closed the firewall's GUI and connected to the command line interface in two different windows.  In one they kept repeating a command to output some debugging information. In the other they typed commands to fix the problems. This was something the GUI would never had let him do without risking carpel tunnel syndrome.  The researcher beamed as he explained the paradigm we were witnessing.  He sounded like he had been lucky enough to catch the Loch Ness Monster on film but what he had captured was something more valuable: photographic evidence of why sysadmins love command lines!

The person sitting next to me sighed and said, "Oh my god.  Is that why nobody uses the GUI we spend millions to develop?"
I love this conference.

These researchers study people like me and it makes the world a better place.

More than researchers attend.  Sysadmins make up a large part of the audience.
This year CHMIT 2009 will be in Baltimore, MD the days following LISA 2009 which by amazing coincidence is also in Baltimore, MD.

Will you be there?  I know I will.

Mark November 7-9, 2009 on your calendar.  Registration opens soon.  Papers can be submitted now.

Tom Limoncelli

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences