LISA2005 Diary: Sunday

by Thomas A. Limoncelli

The Usenix LISA 2005 Conference is happening this week. This is the big Open Source system administration conference. I'm trying to summarize each day's activities. Sunday I attended the day-long "Workshop on Managing System Administrators"


"Workshops" at LISA are day-long sessions that let like-minded people talk about a particular topic for an entire day. Some of them are mini-conferences onto themselves, with scheduled speakers, discussion, etc.

Cat Okita and I co-facilitated the 4th Workshop on Managing System Administrators. Unlike other workshops, this one is more like a support group. In fact, it's confidential. That way we can all talk freely about problem employees and situations.

What I can say, however, is that this workshop had about 16 people, mostly managing 2 to 12 system administrators. Everyone attending was either an ex-system administrators or currently trying to figure out how to be both a manager and a system administrator simultaneously.

The workshop began with everyone taking 5 minutes to explain their situation and list their issues. The issues were accumulated on a noteboard. Issues included things like how to hire people, managing "difficult" employees, how to be technical and a manager at the same time, finding time for "vision" work, finding time to mentor, integrating new subteams into the group, career management (including "I've grown bored. What should I do?").

The issues were grouped into categories. We then multivoted to determine which topics were most interesting to people. Then we literally spent the rest of the day tackling these issues, offering to share our experience to learn from each other.

To break up the day there are two breaks (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) where cookies and soda is provided. The lunch that was provided was a very good Mexican buffet.

At the end of the workshop we went around the room and had each person
name one thing they learned today that they're going to do when they return.
Without breaking confidentiality, here are some of the things that were said:

  • Make a new attempt at working with [name of other division] now that I understand their culture a bit better
  • Arrive an hour before my officemates so I can work without interruption
  • Start MBWA (Manage By Walking Around)
  • Use a flat Wiki structure
  • Use the suggestions about how to get senior people to document procedures


At night about 30 of us went out to dinner at an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet. I was able to network with people that work for Google, which I will be an employee of on Jan 16th, so it was really useful to talk with them ahead of starting there.