Submitting to Systems We Love

September 30, 2016 - by Bryan Cantrill

We've been overwhelmed by the positive response to Systems We Love! As simple as this concept is, Systems We Love—like Papers We Love, !!Con and others that inspired it—has tapped into a current of enthusiasm. Adam Leventhal captured this zeitgeist in a Hacker News comment:

What catches our collective attention are systems we hate, systems that suck, systems that fail—or systems too new to know. It's refreshing to consider systems established and clever enough to love. There are wheels we don't need to reinvent, systems that can teach us.

Are you tantalized by Systems We Love but you don't know what proposal to submit? For those looking for proposal guidance, my advice is simple: find the love. Just as every presentation title at !!Con must assert its enthusiasm by ending with two bangs, you can think of every talk at Systems We Love as beginning with an implicit "Why I love…" So instead of a lecture on, say, the innards of ZFS (and well you may love ZFS!), pick an angle on ZFS that you particularly love. Why do you love it or what do you love about it? Keep it personal: this isn't about asserting the dominance of one system—this is about you and a system (or an aspect of a system) that you love.

Now, what if you don't think you love anything at all? Especially if you write software for a living and you've been at it for a while, it can be easy to lose the love in the sluice of quotidian sewage that is a deployed system. But I would assert that beneath any sedimented cynicism there must be a core of love: think back to when you were first discovering software systems as your calling and to your initial awe of learning of how much more complicated these systems are than you realized (what a colleague of mine once called "the miracle of boot")—surely there is something in that awe from which you draw (or at least, drew) inspiration! I acknowledge that this is the exception rather than the rule—that it feels like we are more often disappointed rather than pleasantly surprised—but this is the nature of the job: our work as software engineers takes us to the boundaries of systems that are emerging or otherwise don't work properly rather than into the beautiful caverns deep below the surface. To phrase this in terms of an old essay of mine, we spend our time in systems that are grimy or fetid rather than immaculate—but Systems We Love is about the inspiration that we derive from those immaculate systems (or at least their immaculate aspects).

Finally, don't set the bar too high for yourself: we are bound to have a complicated relationship with any system with which we spend significant time, and just because you love one aspect of a system doesn't mean that other parts don't enrage, troll or depress you! So just remember it's not Systems We Know, Systems We Invented or Systems We Worship—it's Systems We Love and we hope to see you there!