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May 8, 2010

» Liveblogging: Tech Women Rule!

I am moderating and liveblogging the Professional IT Community Conference panel called Tech Women Rule! Creative Solutions for being a (or working with a) female technologist.

One point to keep in mind: The goal is not equality for equality’s sake. The goal is to have a diverse range of experience to make your company/project/whatever the best it could be.

That being said, these issues are not just around women; they are about anyone who is “different”, whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, cultural.

So what are some of the solutions?

0) Better align expectations with reality. Are you expecting more from someone who is one gender than another? If a woman makes a mistake is it worse because she has to prove herself? Is it worse because she is representative of her gender? If she does something good is the achievement elevated more because of her gender? Either is bad.

1) Respect people for who they are. Everyone deserves respect; if someone is not at your technical level, they still deserve respect.

If someone says something that is completely wrong from a technical perspective, do not assume that they have no idea what they are talking about. It could be that they are the exact case in which that technical scenario is appropriate for them. If they are correct, your attitude will be refreshing and you might learn something. If they are indeed wrong, ask them about a scenario in which their thinking falls apart, or otherwise guide them through learning why what they are saying is wrong.

2) Be nice. Don’t condescend.

3) Be helpful. “RTFM, n00b!” is not helpful, and certainly does not follow rule #2.

4) Don’t do #1-3 for women only. Don’t treat women nicely because they’re women, and be a jerk to men because they’re men. Being helpful is good for anyone, not just women.

5) Cooperate, do not compete. Whether you are co-workers, working together on a software project, or just in a conversation, the game of “one-upping” another is a lot less useful than working together.

6) When hiring or when in an interview, concentrate on skills, not knowledge. “Skills” refers to attributes such as their ability to listen, how judgmental they are about a legacy system, whether they are open to new ideas, whether they disdain anything that is not cutting edge, and even technical skills such as thinking patterns, research patterns, algorithms, etc.

If someone says “I don’t know” in an interview, ask them “how would you go about figuring it out?” If someone says “I think it’s x and y” ask “how would you confirm/test that?” If a backup failed, do they start the backup over or do they try to figure out why it failed?

Are they thorough? Do they follow through? It is a lot easier to teach knowledge than it is to teach something like “debugging skills”.

7) Specifically encourage people to speak up. Train yourself to NOTICE when folks are not speaking up, and ask them if they have any suggestions or ideas.

8) If you are running an IT conference, specifically ask qualified women you know to speak, not about “women in IT”. If you hear of an IT conference, tell specific women you know that you think they would be a great speaker. Get women to speak at local user groups to get practice in a less intimidating space.

Read HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux

You Just Don’t Understand
The Male Mind at Work
How to succeed in business without a penis: a guide for working women (this is a humor book)

Join and/or send messages to Systers, the world’s largest e-mail list of women in computing and technology fields.

May 7, 2010

» Liveblogging: Senior Skills: Python for Sysadmins

Why Python?

- Low WTF per minute factor
- Passes the 6-month test (if you write python code, going back in 6 months, you pretty much know what you were trying to do)
- Small Shift/no-Shift ratio (ie, you use the “Shift” key a lot in Perl because you use $ % ( ) { } etc, so you can tell what something is by context, not by $ or %)
- It’s hard to make a mess
- Objects if you need them, ignore them if you don’t.

Here’s a sample interpreter session. The >>> is the python prompt, and the … is the second/subsequent line prompt:

>>> x='hello, world!';
>>> x.upper()
>>> def swapper(mystr):
... return mystr.swapcase()
  File "<stdin>", line 2
    return mystr.swapcase()
IndentationError: expected an indented block

You need to put a space on the second line because whitespace ‘tabbing’ is enforced in Python:

>>> def swapper(mystr):
...  return mystr.swapcase()
>>> swapper(x)
>>> x
'hello, world!'

partition is how to get substrings based on a separator:

>>> def parts(mystr, sep=','):
...  return mystr.partition(sep)
>>> parts(x, ',')
('hello', ',', ' world!')

You can replace text, too, using replace.

>>> def personalize(greeting, name='Brian'):
...  """Replaces 'world' with a given name"""
...  return greeting.replace('world', name)
>>> personalize(x, 'Brian')
'hello, Brian!'

By the way, the stuff in the triple quotes is automatic documentation. A double underscore, also called a “dunder”, is to print the stuff in the triple quotes:

>>> print personalize.__doc__
Replaces 'world' with a given name

Loop over a list of functions and do that function to some data:

>>> funclist=[swapper, personalize, parts]
>>> for func in funclist:
...  func(x)
'hello, Brian!'
('hello', ',', ' world!')


>>> v=range(1,10)
>>> v
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
>>> v[1]
>>> v[5]
>>> v[-1]
>>> v[-3]

List slicing with “:”
>>> v[:2]
[1, 2]
>>> v[4:]
[5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
>>> v[4:9]
[5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
Note that there’s no error returned even though there’s no field 9. If you did v[9], you’d get an error:
>>> v[9]
Traceback (most recent call last):
File ““, line 1, in
IndexError: list index out of range

Python uses pointers (or pointer-like things) so v[1:-1] does not print the first and last values:

>>> v[1:-1]
[2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

The full array syntax is [start:end:index increment]:

>>> v[::2]
[1, 3, 5, 7, 9]
>>> v[::-1]
[9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1]
>>> v[1:-1:4]
[2, 6]
>>> v[::3]
[1, 4, 7]

Make an array of numbers with range

>>> l=range(10)
>>> l
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Make a list from another list

>>> [pow(num,2) for num in l]
[0, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81]

append appends to the end of a list

>>> l.append( [pow(num,2) for num in l])
>>> l
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, [0, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81]]
>>> l.pop()
[0, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81]

extend takes a sequence and puts it at the end of the array.

>>> l.extend([pow(num,2) for num in l])
>>> l
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81]

A list can be made of a transformation, an iteration and optional filter:
[ i*i for i in mylist if i % 2 == 0]
transformation is i*i
iteration is for i in mylist
optional filter is if i % 2 == 0

>>> L=range(1,6)
>>> L
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
>>> [ i*i for i in L if i % 2 == 0]
[4, 16]

Tuples are immutable lists, and they use () instead of []
A tuple always has 2 elements, so a one-item tuple is defined as

Dictionaries aka associative arrays/hashes:

>>> d = {'user':'jonesy', 'room':'1178'}
>>> d
{'user': 'jonesy', 'room': '1178'}
>>> d['user']
>>> d.keys()
['user', 'room']
>>> d.values()
['jonesy', '1178']
>>> d.items()
[('user', 'jonesy'), ('room', '1178')]
>>> d.items()[0]
('user', 'jonesy')
>>> d.items()[0][1]
>>> d.items()[0][1].swapcase()

There is no order to dictionaries, so don’t rely on it.

Quotes and string formatting
- You can use single and double quotes inside each other
- Inside triple quotes, you can use single and double quotes
- Variables are not recognized in strings, uses printf-style string formatting:

>>> word='World'
>>> punc='!'
>>> print "Hello, %s%s" % (word, punc)
Hello, World!

Braces, semicolons, indents
- Use indents instead of braces
- End-of-line instead of semicolons

if x == y:
 print "x == y"
for k,v in mydict.iteritems():
 if v is None:
 print "v has a value: %s" % v

This seems like it might be problematic because of long blocks of code, but apparently code blocks don’t get that long. You can also use folds in vim [now I need to look up what folds in vim are].

You can’t assign a value in a conditional statement’s expression — because you can’t use an = sign. This is on purpose, it avoids bugs resulting from typing if x=y instead of if x==y.

The construct has no place in production code anyway, since you give up catching any exceptions.

Python modules for sysadmins:
- sys
- os
- urlib/urlib2
- time, datetime (and calendar)
- fileinput
- stat
- filecmp
- glob (to use wildcards)
- shutil
- gzip
- tarfile
- hashlib, md5, crypt
- logging
- curses
- smtplib and email
- cmd

The Zen of Python
To get this, type ‘python’ in a unix environment, then type ‘import this’ at the commandline. I did this on my Windows laptop running Cygwin:

cabral@pythianbos2 ~
$ python
Python 2.5.2 (r252:60911, Dec  2 2008, 09:26:14)
[GCC 3.4.4 (cygming special, gdc 0.12, using dmd 0.125)] on cygwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import this
The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters

Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Readability counts.
Special cases aren't special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it's a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea -- let's do more of those!

This was liveblogged, please let me know any issues, as they may be typos….

» Liveblogging: Seeking Senior and Beyond

I am attending the Professional IT Community Conference – it is put on by the League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA), and is a 2-day community conference. There are technical and “soft” topics — the audience is system administrators. While technical topics such as Essential IPv6 for Linux Administrators are not essential for my job, many of the “soft” topics are directly applicable and relevant to DBAs too. (I am speaking on How to Stop Hating MySQL tomorrow.)

So I am in Seeking Senior and Beyond: The Tech Skills That Get You Promoted. The first part talks about the definition of what it means to be senior, and it completely relates to DBA work:
works and plays well with other
understands “ability”
leads by example
lives to share knowledge
understands “Service”
thoughtful of the consequences of their actions
understands projects
cool under pressure

Good Qualities:

Bad Qualities:
[my own addition - no follow through, lack of attention to detail]

The Dice/Monster Factor – what do job sites see as important for a senior position?

They back up the SAGE 5-year experience requirement
Ability to code in newer languages (Ruby/Python) is more prevalent (perhaps cloud-induced?)

The cloud allows sysadmin tasks to be done by anyone… developers can do sysadmin work, and you end up seeing schizophrenic job descriptions such as

About the 5-year requirement:
- Senior after 5 years? What happens after 10 years?
- Most electricians, by comparison, haven’t even completed an *apprenticeship* in 5 years.

Senior Administrators Code
- not just 20-line shell scripts
- coding skills are part of a sysadmin skill
- ability to code competently *is* a factor that separates juniors from seniors
- hiring managers expect senior admins to be competent coders.

If you are not a coder
- pick a language, any language
- do not listen to fans, find one that fits how you think, they all work…..
- …that being said, some languages are more practical than others (ie, .NET probably is not the best language to learn if you are a Unix sysadmin).

Popular admin languages:
- Perl: classic admin scripting language. Learn at least the basics, because you will see it in any environment that has been around for more than 5 years.

- Ruby: object-oriented language for people who mostly like Perl (except for its OO implementation)

- Python: object-oriented language for people who mostly hate Perl, objects or no objects. For example, you don’t have to create a String object to send an output.

But what if you do not have time to learn how to program?

- senior admins are better at managing their time than junior admins, so perhaps managing time
- time management means you’ll have more time to do things, it doesn’t mean all work work work.
- Read Time Management for System Administrators – there is Google Video of a presentation by the author, Tom Limoncelli.

Consider “The Cloud”
- starting to use developer APIs to perform sysadmin tasks, so learning programming is good.
- still growing, could supplant large portions of datacenter real estate
- a coder with sysadmin knowledge: Good
- a sysadmin with coding knowledge: Good
- a coder without sysadmin knowledge: OK
- a sysadmin with no coding interest/experience: Tough place to be in

Senior Admins Have Problems Too
Many don’t document or share knowledge
Maany don’t do a good job keeping up with their craft
Cannot always be highlighted as an example of how to deal with clients
Often reinvent the wheel – also usually there is no repository
Often don’t progress beyond the “senior admin” role

….on the other hand…..
cynicism can be good…..

learn from the good traits
observe how others respond to their bad traits
think about how you might improve upon that
strive to work and play well with others, even if you don’t have a mentor for good/bad examples.

Now he’s going into talking about Patterns in System Administration….