Category Archives: Conferences

Ad Astra Per Aspera – Leaving Boston

northeasterneduI really like working at Northeastern University, which is why I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving. On the other hand, life occasionally presents an opportunity to you that can’t ignore. This is one of those occasions.

A few months ago, I was sitting in a small room full of sysadmins planning LISA’15 when I mentioned, almost out of nowhere, that there was one company in the world that I would kill to work at. As luck would have it, my friend sitting next to me said, “Really? Because I know a guy. Want me to email him for you?” and I said, “Um, yes, please. ” Thus a story began that included numerous phone screenings, flying out to Los Angeles, and an all-day array of in-person interviews, the net result being that I am leaving Boston, moving to LA, and going to work…for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, otherwise known as SpaceX. Yes, THAT SpaceX.



At SpaceX, I’m going to be a Linux System Administrator, and from the sounds of it, I’ll be splitting my time between “normal” infrastructure stuff and helping to define a DevOps role with the Flight Software team who write the software that sends the rocket and Dragon capsule up to the Space Station. It’s…pretty difficult to overstate how excited I am.


I imagine that it will take a while to figure out what I’m allowed to write about, but the whole team was very enthusiastic about my visibility in the SysAdmin space, and they seemed to enjoy my blog and the fact that I took part in the community, so I don’t think anything there will change. I’m just really happy to get the chance to do this, for a company with a mission like SpaceX. It’s an incredible opportunity, and I feel very fortunate.

So here we go, on a brand new adventure. I’m sad to be leaving my friends in Boston, but I’ll be back soon – I mean heck, LISA’16 is in Boston, so it’ll be like a homecoming, right? Until then, the sky is the limit! Keep reading!



Stop Hating Your Work

I love meeting people at SysAdmin events. Having a blog that people read does mean that people have mostly heard all of my best stories, but it’s still fun getting to know new people and hearing what they’ve been working on. The single thing I hear most often is a question, and the question is, “Don’t you sleep?”

Time and time again, people will read my blog, see me making things, or doing things, or organizing, or whatever, and internally, they compare that to what they do, and they feel like they aren’t doing enough, or as much as I am.

Can I let you in on a secret? I feel like I do crap work most of the time. And I compare myself to others, and to their work, and I feel like what I do is often bad, sub-par, and not worthy.

Do you ever see something that just speaks to your soul? I saw a Tweet, of all things, that did that to me last year. Here it is:

The image from that post features the very first Iron Man suit from Tales of Suspense #39 in 1959, which Tony Stark built in a cave, with a box of scraps. It worked…to a point, but it wasn’t long before it got upgraded and replaced. If you’ve seen the first Iron Man
movie starring Robert Downey Jr, then this will all sound pretty familiar, because it was recreated in film.

It feels sort of childish to admit in an open forum like this, but the story of Tony Stark creating Iron Man is actually really inspirational to me. I like making things. I like building, and doing, and I really, really hate just about everything I create. Especially the early stuff, and Tony embodies the concept of continuous development and iterative improvement that are so vital to making things in 2015. So I try to learn from it, and in my spare time, I try to figure out how repulsor beams work on pure electrical charge.

Earlier this year, I decided that I was going to go to Boston Comic Con for the second year in a row. When I checked out the website, I couldn’t believe my eyes – along with the normal array of comics celebs, Boston was going to be playing host to none other than STAN LEE!

If you don’t know the name Stan Lee, you probably know the characters that he’s made – Spiderman, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Thor, and yes, Iron Man. When I saw that Stan Lee was going to be signing autographs, I knew I had to get one, but the only question was…what would I get signed?

I could always go get a relatively rare Iron Man comic and have him sign that. But none of the individual comics meant as much to me as the character itself. What would be perfect is if I could get that picture from Alexis’s picture above signed, but it’s a PNG, and the quality didn’t really lend itself to blowing up. After thinking for a few minutes, I realized, I didn’t have to use the picture above – I could just recreate it. So I did!

It took me a few hours to get it to the point where I thought it would be acceptable, and fittingly, it isn’t perfect, but here’s the final version that I made:

Click the image above to get the full-sized image. If you want to print your own (don’t sell this – Iron Man is the property of Marvel), you can download the EPS in glorious 41MB fashion from this link.

So yesterday, I visited Comic Con, stood in line for hours, and got to (very briefly) meet Stan Lee, who laughed as he signed his name to my new poster:


I actually printed out two versions – one to keep at work, and this signed one, which I’ll keep at home. Both of them will remind me that, even though I’m probably not happy with the state of whatever I’m working on at the moment, I shouldn’t listen to the negative voices in my head telling me to quit because it isn’t good enough. Thanks Stan!

Big Changes at USENIX LISA in the last 5-10 Years

We received an interesting email recently:

> Did the submissions process for LISA change
> in recent years? I recall going to submit a talk a couple years ago
> and being really put off by the requirements for talks to be
> accompanied by a long paper, and be completely original and not
> previously presented elsewhere. Now it seems more in line with other
> industry conferences.

Yes, LISA is very different than it was years ago. If you haven’t attended LISA in a while, you may not realize how different it is!

The conference used to be focused on papers with a few select “invited talks”. A few years ago, the conference changed its focus to be great talks. LISA still accepts “original research” papers, but they’re just one track in a much larger conference and have a separate review process. In fact, the conference now publishes both a Call for Participation and a separate Call for Research Papers and Posters.

If LISA is now “talk-centric”, what kind of talks does it look for? Quoting from the Call for Participation, “We invite industry leaders to propose topics that demonstrate the present and future state of IT operations. [Talks should] inspire and motivate attendees to take actions that will positively impact their business operations.” LISA looks for a diverse mix of speakers, not just gender diversity, but newcomers and experienced speakers alike. We have special help for first time speakers, including assistant with rehearsals and other forms of mentoring.

What about the papers that LISA does publish? The papers have different criteria than talks. They should “describe new techniques, tools, theories, and inventions, and present case histories that extend our understanding of system and network administration.” Starting in 2014, the papers have been evaluated by a separate sub-committee of people with academic and research backgrounds. This has had an interesting side-effect: the overall quality of the papers has improved and become more research/forward-looking.

Because LISA mixes industry talks and research papers, attendees get to hear about new ideas along before they become mainstream. Researchers benefit by having the opportunity to network and get feedback from actual practitioners of system administration. This gives LISA a special something you don’t find anywhere else.

Another thing that makes LISA better is the “open access” policy. Posters, papers, and presentations are available online at no charge. This gives your work wider visibility, opening up the potential to have greater impact on our industry. Not all conferences do this, not even all non-profit conferences do this.

Does that make you more interested in submitting a proposal?

We hope it does!

All proposal submissions are due by April 17, 2015.

Tom Limoncelli and Matt Simmons
(volunteer content-recruiters for LISA ‘15)

P.S. LISA has a new mission statement:
LISA is the premier conference for IT operations, where systems engineers, operations professionals, and academic researchers share real-world knowledge about designing, building, and maintaining the critical systems of our interconnected world.