#23 - Link Roundup, 8 May 2020


Winter/spring semester is here, and our team is onboarding (completely virtually) new student interns. For the student working most closely with me, we’ve been very careful to spell out very specific goals for the first month or so, and scheduling lots of one-on-one chats with the whole team. So far it seems to be working well, but it’s definitely slower than the usual onboarding process! I’ll report back how it goes - are you bringing on interns (or new hires) now? What approaches have you been taking?

On to the roundup:

Managing Teams

How to Get Your Team to Challenge Your Ideas - Dave Bailey

We’ve talked before about the importance of having your team being comfortable to disagree with you and offer alternative suggestions. One thing I like here is two sets of suggestions, depending on whether you tend towards over- or under-assertiveness:

For the typically over-assertive

  1. Adopt the question reflex.
  2. Aim for balance in hearing everyone speak.
  3. Avoid generalization.

For the typically under-assertive

  1. Over-prepare.
  2. Learn some facilitation techniques/helpful phrass
  3. Be vulnerable.

Confusingly, I tend towards a bit of both — overassertive in group settings like meetings, and underassertive when speaking one-on-one with individual team members — so this breakdown that I can use contextually is helpful.

The Meetings and Rituals that Actually Make a Difference when Working Remotely - Sofia Quintero, EnjoyHQ

After two months of working remotely for many of us (at least in North America) it’s a good time to take stock and see if our new distributed team meetings are working well. Here’s a look at what one team does that’s been fully distributed since 2015:

  • Check-ins (online text “stand-up” report): ~2min daily
  • Standup: ~15 min team meeting daily (as much for the face time as the standup)
  • One-on-ones: they do 1 hour individual meetings monthly, which IMHO isn’t frequent enough
  • Retrospectives: 1 hour team meeting monthly - what went well/what went wrong
  • Weekly whole-team emails from the manager

My team (like a lot of ours, I think) works quite independently on quite different pieces of work, so I don’t know if team-wide retrospectives would be useful, and for the same reason I’m not sure about the checkins. On the other hand, I do annual “Christmas letters” looking over the year as a whole, and they seem well-liked; I wonder if something more frequent (maybe monthly, rather than weekly?) would be worth thinking about.

Managing your own career

Stop Zoning Out in Zoom Meetings - Sarah Gershman, HBR

Without the social cues of being near other people, it’s hard (especially after weeks of this!) to stay focussed on an hour-long virtual meting. In this article, Gershman gives fairly concrete advice - just give yourself something to do as part of the meeting. Make a plan ahead of time to contribute in a concrete way. With that plan, it’s much easier to stay engaged. She makes five specific suggestions:

  1. Define your value beforehand
  2. Acknowledge previous statements [i.e. - be listening!]
  3. Connect the dots of others comments
  4. Bring your attention back
  5. Ask questions

Of course, if the meeting isn’t worth your focus and effort for that period, well then fair enough, but in that case should you even really be attending that meeting?

Growth - Fred Wilson

A VC describes growth he sees in several of his new technical leaders. He sees two different syndromes in them; it’s much easier for him to grow the “Deer in headlights” new leader as opposed to those suffering from the incorrect confidence of “I got this”.

Relatedly, if you find yourself managing a new team, this from Claire Lew is a good primer on getting ready for a first team meeting.

Research Software Development

Codespaces - GitHub
GitHub Introduces Codespaces, Discussions, and Extends Security Features - Sergio de Simone, InfoQ

There were some announcements at GitHub Satellite 2020 this week. Codespaces, a development environment within GitHub itself, with a lightweight in-browser Visual Studio Code or connectable remotely to your own VS Code, looks really cool.

The new Github Discussions looks a lot like Issues, but allows threaded Q&A and — this is something that people who need to prioritize feature requests have wanted for a while — upvoting. (Woohoo!)

Discussions look to be live on GitHub teams pages now and will be in beta soon for public discussions; Codespaces is in free beta (you can request an invite), not clear when GA is or when or pricing will be announced.

How I Do Performance Reviews for Software Developers – That Are (Hopefully) Fair - Gergely Orosz

A good article on how one technical manager does performance reviews for software developers, but there’s no quick wins here — the key is to have very clear expectations as to where the developer should be in their skills and what they should be accomplishing.

Complexity has to Live Somewhere - Fred Hebert

You can contain complexity and move it to where it causes the fewest problems, but inherent problem complexity can’t be refactored out of existance.

Research Computing Systems

New Study Exposes Hidden Costs of High-Performance Storage - HPCWire

Panasas commissioned a survey by Hyperion on HPC centres’ criterion for purchasing storage systems. The results are predictably grim; storage continues to be a weak spot for most research computing clusters, with routine downtimes and difficulty hiring staff. Maybe that’s partly because the criteria people mostly use for buying the systems are performance and cost to the operator. I think this is one area where the needs of systems operators and those of researchers aren’t very well aligned…

Penguin Computing to Virtually Showcase and Demo at OCP Global Summit 2020 - HPCWir

Interesting to see long-time HPC-on-demand service provider Penguin demoing Open Compute systems at the upcoming summit. OCP is an effort largely started by hyperscalers to further commoditize servers by defining standards for servers (“compute modules”), hardware management, firmware, PDUs. This could be very helpful if it continues to propagate into research computing environments more generally. Has anyone else started to see OCP systems routinely showing up in RFPs for procurements?

Product Management and Working with Research Communities

A graduate student perspective on overcoming barriers to interacting with open-source software - Oihane Cereceda, Danielle E.A. Quinn

It’s easy to forget how confusing and intimidating it can be to work with open source projects for the first time - filing an issue, submitting a PR (is this change too trivial? Am I submitting the PR right?). This is a description from the point of view of a grad student on the issues with interacting with open source communities for the first time

Emerging Data & Infrastructure Tools

PostgreSQL, Oracle … graph query language standards adoption begins - Alastair Green

One of the reasons graph databases have been a little slow to take off in research computing (IMHO) is lack of a standard - sure there’s well established tools like Neo4j but what if that goes away?

In 2021 the SQL standard is widely expected to add SQL/PGQ, for defining property graphs in SQL; this is already implemented in PostgreSQL and Oracle. From there, GQL proposes a Neo4j-like graph-specific query language that makes use of these property graphs.

No-cost online AWS training pathway for researchers and research IT - AWS

AWS has posted a research-computing specific pathway through some AWS training material (6hr 55min worth of material plus 7hr 30min of additional optional material). Interesting to me (and the right approach IMHO) is they don’t go the route others take of introducing VMs-as-servers and then use ParallelCluster to emulate an on-prem cluster; instead, on the compute side they go right into containers, AWS Batch, and Kubernetes. On the storage side they cover FSx for Lustre, EFS, and S3.

Calls for Papers/Proposals/etc

VMworld Call for Speakers - Deadline 15 May

VMworld is a conference series with some relevance to many of us but likely wouldn’t schedule travel for; with a virtual VMWorld this year, and an AI, ML & HPC Track, it might be worth attending. If you have anything to talk about involving VMs, Kubernetes, microservices etc. (doesn’t have to be VMware specific), it might be worth submitting a speaker proposal. Speaker notification is 23 June.

Events: Conferences, Training

ContainerCamp 2020 - May 22 - $25/$99

A day worth of talks about containers and services.

Postgres Vision - 23-24 June, Free

I bet that at least one of the software stacks you support or work with involves PostgreSQL; with this year’s conference free and online, it’s worth taking a look at once the schedule comes up.


A quantum computing simulator for laptops or servers, that also works well with the cloud providers’ quantum computing systems, for if any of your reseachers or team members want to start playing around with small quantum circuits.

Yes I know, we’ve all already got our favourite Zoom backgrounds now, but are you sure you don’t want one from the BBC: a Dr Who’s TARDIS one for meeting with some technical staff; and maybe a Yes, Minister background for meeting with the VPR?

A nice description of database consistency models brought to you by the team that very much tries to break database consistency.

Good tutorial on SSH port forwarding for those of us - ok, me - who always has to think for a minute about whether to use -L or -R for a given use case.

Oh and speaking of SSH, OpenSSH 8.2 now “just works” with U2F/FIDO2 keys.