Authors: Dirk Petersen (Oregon Health and Science University), Eduardo Zaborowski (Jackson Laboratory)
Abstract: The blog Codinghorror wrote in 2007: “Choose good defaults, and users will sing the praises of your system and how easy it is to use. Choose poor defaults, and you'll face down user angst over configuration, and a host of tech support calls as well.”
We will discuss how choosing good defaults can help us increase the productivity of our less sophisticated users. Ultimately, we want HPC to be more inclusive and welcoming toward an increasingly diverse user community, for example from life and social sciences background. We will track progress of this community at the Github repository dirkpetersen/power-of-defaults
Long Description: “Civilization advances by adding things we can do without thinking of them.” Do you think that this simplified version of Alfred North Whitehead’s famous quote is still true today, after more than a century? If you support IT systems and interact with users you may feel that we are advancing a bit glacially as you are probably already providing training, documentation, office hours and other outreach sessions, and you are still getting as many questions as ever. SaaS solutions can replace some of the work of systems administrators, but user interfaces will be there as long as there are users. Web-based science gateways have been developed for HPC environments to avoid confronting inexperienced users with command line interfaces that require them to read, learn and memorize too much. But have we already done enough to provide the average user with a setup that will work for them out of the box? Have we provided good defaults? Should the default settings work best for the expert user or for the new or infrequent user? Do we know how many minutes pass between the time a new user receives their credentials and the time they submit their first HPC job? What is their first impression when they log in? What should users think of a system that presents directory names in a barely readable dark blue color by default? Night vision goggles are required but BYOD? And is our expectation that every user who is embracing the command line interface is going to embark on a long journey from apprenticeship to knighthood at which state they will customize their environment with elusive bash prompts? Or is there a path for users to become reasonably productive a little sooner and with less drama? In this BOF we will be discussing good default settings not only for an HPC system but also for technologies that connect to HPC systems as users rarely make use of fancy customizations. How should local scratch spaces be setup? What is the best way to get an interactive session on a GPU node? Is copying files rocket science or does it require a web UI? Does everyone need to understand the concept of wall clock time before submitting a job? What is the philosophy behind error message like “command not found?”. Why do I only learn about ProxyPass after 10 years as a user? We will discuss if there are some simple improvements such as using terminal user interfaces (TUI) that can contribute to increase user satisfaction. Good default values help reduce errors and by showing a representative value during user input, they serve as just-in-time instructions. In some cases, good defaults can lead to simpler documentation or to instructions that never have to be written in the first place.
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