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A Chat With USENIX Community Manager Rikki Endsley (Video) 40

Posted by Roblimo
from the greybeards-and-college-students-and-lots-of-beer dept.
Rikki Endsley has been Community Manager for USENIX since September, 2011. She also edits their magazine, ;login:, writes for publications ranging from Linux.com to Network World, and is a long-distance runner to boot. But this interview concentrates on USENIX, a worthy organization that does a great job of helping its members (and the entire Unix/Linux community) stay up to date technically and, with its job board, keep USENIX members employed. Toward the end of the conversation, Rikki mentions some of the intangible but valuable benefits people get when they attend USENIX events. (Remember: If you don't have time to watch the video, can't see the video or just don't like video, you can click on the "Show/Hide Transcript" link and read a text version of the video.)

Robin”Roblimo” Miller: What does USENIX do?

Rikki Endsley: We are an advanced computing organization and we do a lot of training and workshops. It is a membership-based, non-profit organization. So members get benefits in addition to the ones that we just provide to the community at large. Members get our magazine, ;login:, which is bimonthly. They also get access to our jobs boards, which is another huge benefit. But the organization, the training, we provide open access to the documents, the papers, the research papers, which is a huge service not just for members, but membership helps sponsor that, though, and to provide open access to research. I am their Community Manager. I started that at the beginning of last year, well the end of 2011, I guess, and then a few months ago I became the managing editor of their magazine also, their bimonthly magazine ;login:.

Robin: Oh, okay. There is a Community Manager. I have always thought of USENIX as a community. That is what it is, is it not?

Rikki: It absolutely is. And it is quite an old community, an old tech community, and I think a lot of newer people in the tech field might not have heard of it though, and so that was one of the many reasons they got me on board; to make sure that in addition to keeping the members that we already have in our community that we were appealing to other people who might not have heard of us. The way people consume media has changed quite a bit the last few years, and the way people participate in organizations has changed in tech organizations, or the way people attend events if they are able to attend events, all of that has changed quite a bit. And so we are just trying to make sure that we are on top of the changes and are inclusive and bringing new people on board also, people who might not otherwise be able to attend events -- like students for example. There are student grants and that sort of thing, making sure students even know that those are out there.

Robin: It has been a number of years since I went to a USENIX event. I remember that for a long time, I was the entire media presence at LISA and some USENIX events. Has that changed? Are you getting more people out there reporting on them?

Rikki: I don’t know how many tech journalists we get or official reporters, but with social media now, we have quite a bit of coverage. We have our own bloggers and attendees that cover it for us, and then vendors who might be there, or companies who send speakers or universities who have representatives, are pretty good about covering the events. And so we are getting a nice diverse range of coverage. When I first had gone to LISA quite a few years ago when I worked at Sysadmin [magazine], a lot of the social media options were not there. So, you are welcome to come, we would love to see you at all the events.

Robin: I would love to come. I have no budget right now.

Rikki: Well, I think that goes around quite a bit. That is where social media is able to fill in that void.

Robin: Sorry for that. One thing that I did notice even then and this is a big topic of conversation, was the missing Microsoft generation. There were the greybeards, there were the guys, the guys my age, with the beards, the ones you could drop me into a crowd, and I would disappear, the maddog people. And then there were the young ones, and in the middle there was nobody. How is that coming? Are the young ones jumping in pretty good?

Rikki: Yeah, I think we have a really nice mix. You know, with the student grants... I think are very helpful. I was a student quite a few times and couldn’t have traveled, so I think security for example, our security event last year, I think we had 84 student grants awarded. We have vendors who contribute to that also and help us provide those and then Google helped us to do some grants for women at LISA in addition to our student grants. So I think that’s also helping us get some people who might not otherwise be able to attend. We are also able to do some streaming options now too, so that people who can’t attend in person are able to participate remotely.

There is a quite a bit of age range and mix of people at the events, I think. One of the new initiatives that we have, that we kind of started last year, and is a big focus for this year is our ‘Women in Advanced Computing’ focus where we’ve done some panels at our events. We did that at Federated Conferences Week and we did it at LISA and we definitely have some more plans for that in the next year, more streaming. It is kind of old school in that sense. I don’t think you see a lot of tech organizations anymore in associations like that, membership based like they used to, but it is still very relevant I think.

Robin: What is your membership, $120 a year something like that?

Rikki: Yeah, there are different rates, because we have the corporate rates and student discounts and that sort of thing, and then we also have our LISA group, that’s sysadmin focused, and the options are all listed on our website.

Robin: I remember LISA when it was kind of like, it seemed to be an outgrowth of the sysadmin guild, which seemed to be headquartered in the Baltimore home of a guy named Jon Lasser, an old and good friend. So I went to a lot of those things from very very early on. You know, nowadays even the job board, it seems to me, I might be wrong, but isn’t the job board alone for an individual member worth $120 a year?

Rikki: Oh, absolutely. The job board is one of the biggest benefits. And the magazine you know, I got my start in publishing, and then technology by working on Sysadmin magazine, and that is how I got familiar with USENIX anyway, because I was going to LISA then, so we partnered with them. And the magazine... I was just thrilled, I still am, almost giddy to be working on a magazine, because it is very old school publishing in that it is very focused on the reader, and the content and high quality articles. So I think that’s also a huge benefit but definitely the job boards, particularly now in this economy, any help you can get. And then, also, companies are looking to hire. That is also a great way to reach quality employees.

Robin: Is that a plug for the companies to come hire the members?

Rikki: Absolutely. Why wouldn’t they want to?

Robin: I don’t know. I think you are right. I am a booster, I am not a sysadmin, I am a reporter who just covers this stuff.

Rikki: Right.

Robin: But I think USENIX is probably about the best group out there, and tell me, because I am too biased, every time I have gone to a USENIX event, I found it great and fun and learned a whole heck of a lot, and met wonderful people. But tell me, when is the next one coming up?

Rikki: FAST is coming up in February. Our file system event. And the registrations are already open. The next LISA will be in November. We are all still recovering from the LISA we had in December in San Diego. And it was I think the best yet, but we say that every year, but it was just very exciting. Even though being in December was a little challenging I think, you know with the holidays coming, but it was a lot of fun.

One of the coolest things I think about LISA and a lot of our events, but LISA in particular, are that travel budgets are pretty tight these days, and companies often aren’t able to send people; I am really surprised at how many people I talked to who used their own vacation time and paid their own way to come to LISA in particular and some of our other events. And I think that the thing that people get out of it most in addition to the tutorials and everything is the 'hallway track,' but it is hard to articulate that to somebody who has never been to these events.

But I do think that the biggest value that somebody gets out of an event like that is the ability to meet people who are able to solve your problems or that you are able to network with later when you need something or you are hunting for new employees or you are hunting for students, interns, or any of that.

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A Chat With USENIX Community Manager Rikki Endsley (Video)

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  • by Saint Aardvark (159009) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @03:34PM (#42619977) Homepage Journal

    I respectfully disagree. I've been to four LISA conferences (sysadmin conference run by USENIX) since 2006, and I see very little that is comparable; there are the various LOPSA conferences (LOPSA-EAST [lopsa-east.org], Cascadia IT Conference [casitconf.org]), but they're simply not at LISA's scale. Want to hang out with a thousand other sysadmins? Get training from Ted T'so on recovering borked disks? See what Google is up to -- or the small IT shop at the university down the coast with 1/20000th the budget? There's simply nothing else out there that matches it.

    As for the rest of the conferences, all I know is the summaries I've read in ;login: and the material that I've watched/listened to on their website [usenix.org]. (And btw, HUGE kudos to USENIX to opening access to their proceedings, talks and papers.) But at the very least, they make damned interesting reading, and have made me very curious about things that are going on outside my narrow focus.

    I don't have the breadth of experience you do; I concentrate on system administration because I love it, and I've been doing it less than ten years. I'm definitely an interested amateur (at best) when it comes to topics like security, or file systems, or OS design. But I'm always surprised how much of USENIX conference material touches on areas of interest or direct relevance to me, and at the very least browsing their papers is a wonderful introduction to some research and work I'd miss otherwise. I'm sure (with the exception of LISA) there are more focused conferences, or better known ones (DefCon is one that springs to mind). But I can't agree that USENIX is "past its sell date".

    (And in passing, thanks very kindly for all the work you've done for the Open Source/Free Software community. Kinda boggles my mind that I'm debating you...)

  • by Bandman (86149) <.bandman. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @04:23PM (#42620459) Homepage
    I would suggest to anyone who thinks that USENIX conferences are solely for graybeards who walk around wearing suspenders, flipping nickels at people, then you should take a few minutes to read through the training program [usenix.org] from LISA12. Not only is there the old standard Linux stuff, there are also great classes on building AWS infrastructures, cloudstack, PowerShell, and tons more. It's really pretty great.

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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