Systems We Love

September 26, 2016 - by Bryan Cantrill

One of the exciting trends of the past few years is the emergence of Papers We Love. I have long been an advocate of journal clubs, but I have also found that discussion groups can stagnate when confined to a fixed group or a single domain; by broadening the participants and encouraging presenters to select papers that appeal to the heart as well as the head, Papers We Love has developed a singular verve. Speaking personally, I have enjoyed the meetups that I have attended—and I was honored to be given the opportunity to present on Jails and Zones at Papers We Love NYC (for which, it must be said, I was flattered by the best introduction of all time). I found the crowd that gathered to be engaged and invigorating—and thought-provoking conversation went well into the night.

The energy felt at Papers We Love is in stark contrast to the academic venues in which computer science papers are traditionally presented, which I accentuated in a candid keynote at the USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pointing to PWL as a model that is much more amenable to cross-pollination of ideas between academics and practitioners. My keynote was fiery, and it may have landed on dry tinder: if Rik Farrow's excellent summary of my talk is any indicator, the time is right for a broader conversation about how we publish rigorous work.

But for us practitioners, however well they are discussed, academic work remains somewhat ancillary: while papers are invaluable as a mechanism for the rigorous presentation of thinking, it is ultimately the artifacts that we develop—the systems themselves—that represent the tangible embodiment of our ideas. And for the systems that I am personally engaged in, I have found that getting together to them is inspiring and fruitful, e.g. the quadrennial dtrace.conf or the more regular OpenZFS developer summit. My experiences with Papers We Love and with these system-specific meetings caused me to ask on a whim if there would be interest in a one-day one-track conference that tried to capture the PWL zeitgeist but for systems—a "Systems We Love."

While I had thrown this idea out somewhat casually, the response was too clear to ignore: there was most definitely interest—to the point of expectation that it would happen! And here at Joyent, a company for which love of systems is practically an organizing principle, the interest quickly boiled into a frothy fervor; we couldn't not do this!

It took a little while to get the logistics down, but I'm very happy to report that Systems We Love is on: December 13th in San Francisco! To determine the program, I am honored to be joined by an extraordinary program committee: hailing from a wide-range of backgrounds, experience levels, and interests—and united by a shared love of systems. So: the call for proposals is open—and if you have a love of systems, we hope that you will consider submitting a proposal and/or joining us on December 13th!