CANDIDATE FOR DIRECTOR
Jon "maddog" Hall
In 1975 USENIX was formed. Computers cost millions of dollars, and the bulk of
the research and development for computer systems was done in research
universities or research departments in corporations. Networking was just
beginning to get off the ground, and for UNIX systems UUCP was king. Even ten
years later you could still describe how to communicate to your system by the
number of "hops" away you were from ucbvax, decvax, or some other large UUCP
hub. Developments in computers took years to research and even longer to deploy.
System administration was a black art, usually done by the same people who built
and programmed the computers--the "Gurus."
Today things are different. Computers are in many homes, and the World Wide Web
brings new developments every day. People no longer have to travel to
conferences to discuss ideas and events. People who before could not afford to
participate in the development of computer science now find it within their
means. Now system administration has turned into a livelihood, often separate
but no less important than the building and programming of the machines.
I mention system administration specifically because of the recent issues around
SAGE and the USENIX Board. Various members of the SAGE Board wish to move boldly
ahead and offer new programs and benefits, but feel there are constraints placed
upon them by the USENIX Board. This has led to a call for separation of the two
groups, which is felt by many to be the only way forward.
I do not feel that separation of SAGE from USENIX is necessarily the best way to
go, but neither will I vote against separation if it is shown to me to be
necessary, fiscally sustainable, and governmentally sound (i.e., a clear
charter, vision statement, business plan, etc.).
There are people in USENIX who feel that for the most part the format of USENIX
should stay as it always has been, with each conference built around some
successful hands-on tutorials, a set of refereed papers developed around a
nine-month time frame, a set of invited talks, and a set of BoFs. They feel that
it is all right for the USENIX name to be known only to a few academics.
On the other hand, there are people who believe that we should move forward and
experiment with distance learning, CD-ROM-based courses, Web-based broadcasts of
our conferences, Wiki sites for members' discussions, and other utilizations of
the resources that we have to serve as broad an audience as we can. There are
people who are concerned that only a small percentage of software engineers in
any company know what USENIX is, or for what it stands. I fall into this latter
I believe that we should move forward to be more of an educational organization
rather than just a showcase for research. We should make many more liaisons with
universities, not only as outlets for our own fine tutorials and classes, but as
a brokerage house for theirs. We have started to do this, but we need to do more
We have to recognize that there are other groups of people out there doing
computer science research that do not necessarily fit into the USENIX style, and
even if they did would not want to visit our traditional conferences every year.
We need to find ways of making USENIX relevant for them.
We need to have more corporate sponsors, not so much for the money they pay as
dues (although money is nice), but to have them be more active with sending
their engineers and researchers to our events, both as conference attendees and
There are people who are afraid that if we reach out to the less
research-oriented people, somehow we will taint the USENIX name and the
reputation that goes along with that name. I feel that we can overcome this by
the proper use of branding, retaining the brand of "USENIX" for the
research-oriented conferences and meetings and applying a different brand to the
other events and conferences.
We do have to make sure that we are fiscally sound. The recent downturn in the
economy and the (hopefully) temporary fall-off in conference attendance has
shown us that fiscal responsibility is necessary. But there is no reason why new
events and programs cannot be at least self-sustaining.
My background is not as research-oriented as some other people's. I have been a
programmer, systems analyst, system administrator, product manager, technical
marketing manager, and educator. Therefore I sometimes take a different stance
on an issue than others may. But I do listen, and try to make the best decision
I can. In the past I have: