[svlug] [svlug-announce] SVLUG Sep 03: Rob Barret: System Administrators are Users Too

stevegt@svlug.org stevegt at svlug.org
Thu Aug 28 22:24:56 PDT 2003

We're pleased to announce the next meeting of the Silicon Valley Linux
Users Group!  


  System Administrators are Users Too


  Wednesday, 03 Sep, 7pm-9pm or so.


  Rob Barret, IBM Almaden Research Center

  Most human-computer interaction work has focused on end users of
  computing systems. Another important class of computer users,
  however, is the cohort of administrators who design, build, maintain
  and troubleshoot computer systems. These highly-expert users are
  vital for the operation of our "e-everything" world, yet little
  effort has gone into studying their work and developing tools that
  help them be effective. This is especially important because the
  labor associated with operating large computational systems is
  increasingly outstripping the cost of the technology itself.

  Our research group is performing a series of ethnographic studies of
  system administrators in their work environments. This presentation
  will include results from these studies, as well as information
  developed at a CHI2003 workshop on system administrators as users;
  this workshop brought together researchers, developers, and
  practitioners from industria and academia.

  From this group and from our own work, a consistent set of paradoxes
  is beginning to emerge. First, tremendous effort has gone into the
  design of powerful GUI tools for system administration. Many tools
  have been developed and validated with established user-centered
  design methodologies. Yet field studies repeatedly find system
  administrators ignoring these tools and falling back on the standard
  command shell and least-common denominator tools such as 'grep' and
  'vi'. Second, system administration is a highly collaborative
  activity, with a heavy dependence on instant messaging, email,
  telephone, and face-to-face interaction. Yet system administration
  tools rarely include collaboration aids, instead seemingly assuming
  that these workers toil away silently and alone. Third, effective
  operation and problem resolution requires an accurate mental model
  of how the system functions. "Situation awareness" theory dictates
  that a model starts with sensory input, develops with mental
  comprehension, and results in predictions of system behavior. Yet
  large-scale systems have few and unintegrated sensing mechanisms,
  and are too complex for any single person to comprehend, resulting
  in unpredictable behavior.

  This presentation will illustrate each of the three paradoxes with
  examples from field experience, and offer suggestions for how the
  HCI community can move forward to resolve them.


  Rob Barrett is a Research Staff Member at the IBM Almaden Research
  Center in California where he works in the Services Research group
  that aims to bring value from human-computer interaction research to
  the IBM Global Services organization. His current work focuses on
  the user experience of system administration and human aspects of
  autonomic computing. Previous work includes an intermediary approach
  to designing web applications, optimization of pointing devices,
  track-following servo systems for tape data storage, and
  atomic-scale imaging. He holds a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from
  Stanford University and has earned masters and bachelors degrees in
  physics, electrical engineering and theology. He has over 40
  refereed publications and 16 patents in fields ranging from applied
  math to physics and computer science.


Cisco Building 9.  The land of NUMBERS.  The VINEYARDS conference
center.  The side we are on is the Silver Oak/Jordan conference rooms,
where a large Cisco fountain is usually not turned on.  Directions on
how to get there are listed at:


We've tried our very best for these directions to be accurate.  If you
have any improvements to make, please let our Web Team know!
web-team at svlug.org


It's best if you arrive close to on time, as otherwise there may not
be someone posted at the door to let you in.  After the speakers end
their presentation there is usually a Q&A session, time for job
seekers and employers to meet, and often a few door prizes.  When the
meeting is over people are encouraged to chat a bit, but also to exit
the building so Cisco can lock up.  Don't worry, a lot of us go to
dinner afterward so there's plenty of time to chat outdoors or

We look forward to seeing you there!

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