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I've been a sysadmin for the better part of a decade, but only in the past few years have I really been interested in really bettering myself and the profession. To that end, I joined LOPSA (it was cheaper than USENIX or SAGE), but I don't have the time to attend either SCALE or LISA, so I don't feel like I'm really getting "the experience".

I enjoy the fact that I support LOPSA, which I feel is a group with a very positive goal, and I want to get involved, but there's no way my company would pay the registration fee to the conference, and I can't afford a few thousand twice a year (plus airfare and accomodations).

I'm wondering what you think of your professional memberships, if you have any, and what advice you could give to someone who wants to get more involved and improve the state of systems administration.

Edit

I marked Arclight's response as the answer, but just because his response is the sort that I was looking for. I'd still love to hear more people's input on this. I don't want the question ignored just because one person gave a really great answer.

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I've started a community wiki to list the available groups, serverfault.com/questions/20356/…. –  pgs Jun 5 '09 at 8:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I have found a lot of value in SAGE, USENIX, and LOPSA, primarily in the degree of professionalism, technical skill, and support within the community. In 1998 I moved from being a statistician and web developer for a large dot.com to being a sysadmin and had the great fortune to have an employer that would pay my way to LISA. In 2001 I presented a paper on reliability modeling; the next year I was on the LISA program committee. At present, I'm on LOPSA's Board of Directors.

Speaking only for myself, your membership in a professional organization is what you make of it. The national organizations may focus on issues that seem much higher level than the focus of the average sysadmin, but in some ways that's their purpose - to look at how other professions have developed, to find ways to raise the standard of performance of the profession, to focus on notions of ethics and standards of conduct, to show the state of the market (I'm thinking specifically of SAGE's annual salary survey), etc.

My feeling is that the bulk of sysadmins are in your position - it's unlikely they'll fund a trip to LISA even though the "hallway track" is well worth the price of admission. And again, not stumping for my organization specifically, there's a great value in organizing your local sysadmins. I suggest informal dinner, drinks, and "recovery" (aka cathartic ranting) to start with. I know from my experience with Austin's LOPSA chapter that just getting a few sysadmins around a table with burgers and beer does wonders for establishing a community without flying halfway across the country to the Big Conference.

Rarely are the sysadmins in competition with each other, even if their employers are. Usually people are very willing to help each other because there's a sense that we're all in the same boat with regards to management, budget, users, vendors, software, etc. And when push comes to shove in the market, it's better to have contacts who know you and your skill level and your personality before you need a job than after. IMO the national groups should foster the development of local groups, I have championed this within LOPSA though I have not been as successful as I would have liked and I blame nobody but myself in that regard. Regardless, you don't need a national organization to build a local community. Find four people, meet regularly, and build up as you can. Where a national organization can help is to contact members that live near you and help build your local. They can also provide speakers and suggest presentation topics and lessons learned from other locals. But ultimately what you get out of the organization is what you put into it, whether that's writing a paper, volunteering, forming a local organization, or sitting through interminable teleconferences trying to set national policy and administrative hoo-hah ;)

The Big Conference is but once a year but your local peers are near you all year round. While I may be an advocate for the national organizations in general and one in specific, I strongly encourage you to work locally to develop a community that supports each other and raises the standard of excellence of the sysadmin profession. If you have to choose between action and membership, choose action.

Again, this is my personal opinion, not that of LOPSA nor the LOPSA Board. Apologies for the disclaimer but you know those lawyers and their picky "whereby"s and "heretofore"s. :)

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I've been a USENIX member; I found ;login: occasionally interesting, but similarly to your experience, without the wherewithal to attend the events it was pretty pointless.

As to improving the state of systems administration, I suggest writing good answers on serverfault. :)

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Thanks! I've been trying! :-) –  Matt Simmons Jun 2 '09 at 2:36

The same goes for us living outside the US. I am a member of USENIX & SAGE, but there's no way in the world I am ever going to be able to go to LISA or any major conference; that said, I do enjoy reading ;login, and the SAGE mailing list has this wonderful level of concentrated clue that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere (and I'm sure LOPSA is the same).

However, as of this year, I won't be renewing, as any benefit gained really isn't worth the money, which is unfortunate, because ;login is, to my mind, almost worth the price of admission. Almost, but not quite.

It really makes me wish that USENIX had just a ;login subscription, with no other benefits.

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1  
I see you're in New Zealand; you might find the SAGE-AU conference easier to get to. See www.sage-au.org.au and sage-au.org.au/display/conf/Home. –  pgs Jun 2 '09 at 7:29
    
Thanks for that. I was aware of SAGE AU, but never really thought of attending (how's that for ignoring what's in your own back yard). I'll do some investigation. –  Gavin McTaggart Jun 2 '09 at 9:18

I am a big fan of user groups - most are free.

There are also some pay groups like SIM (Society for Information Management) if you want to start moving up the management ladder.

Online groups are great as well via sites like LinkedIn - and they are free.

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I work for legal industry and am a member of the user group that is specifically to that area. I found it's very useful. And most exciting thing is most of the members in that user group are extremely active. So I am a big fan of the user group that targets to the area where you work.

I am not a big fan to the regular user group, however. ServerFault is an exceptional though because it's really not a typical traditional user group.

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I'm not a member of any professional organizations. There's several out there that offer what look like great benefits, but I simply don't have the time to take advantage of them, so I won't spend the money to join. I always wish I could when they send me info, but it's simply not possible. :-(

The user groups in the area seem pretty good too (and are mostly free), but the same lack of time issue prevents me from ever making it to meetings.

This is the same problem I hear from everyone I talk to. Seems like the best way to increase participation would be to find a way to get rid of the need to sleep and/or eat! Lack of interest is not the issue, it's the complete lack of available time that keep many professionals away.

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