PuppetConf speaker Grace Andrews on getting up & running with Puppet Enterprise — fast!

Grace Andrews, a technical solutions engineer at Puppet, spends a lot of time with customers who are just learning how Puppet Enterprise works, and how to take advantage of it. In her PuppetConf talk, Up and Running with Puppet Enterprise in 45 Minutes or Less!, Grace will show how to install Puppet Enterprise and start managing key resources in less than an hour. She will cover the basics of Puppet code, using the GUI, and how to use the Puppet Forge.

In advance of PuppetConf, we asked Grace to answer a few questions about her eclectic background so you could get to know her better.

Aliza Earnshaw: When and how did you first get started with Puppet?

Grace Andrews: I honestly first got started with Puppet after my last professional engagement ended. I knew I wanted to stay in tech, and I’d met Luke before so I thought, “Why not Puppet?” I looked into it and applied for an internship here. In the process, I started doing some research into the market and the product.

Aliza: Earlier in your career, you got deeply involved with empathetic technologies, a term I'd never heard before. Can you tell us what that means, and how you got involved with empathetic technologies?

Grace: You’re really asking some great questions today Aliza!

Well, empathy is literally my way of life. I’ve always tried to bring the concept into everything I do. When I got my first tech job in University Computing and IT Help Desk at my college, I was hired specifically because of my disposition. They needed someone who could empathize with students and professors, and handle crises.

Let me give you the quintessential example. It’s midterms, and folks are stressed out and working hard. While working on their midterm paper, a student spills coffee on their laptop. Sadly, they’re already running late for class and can’t come by until the next day. By the time they get there, the sugar they love to put in their coffee has started to make everything a mess, and has seeped through the keyboard. Now, they’re unable to even turn on their machine. Long story short, they’ve corrupted their hard drive, and we’re only able to save some of the files on their machine. BUT, they’ve lost all of their pictures and the most recent draft of their paper.
Needless to say, this is a terrible outcome and it’s hard news to deliver. Some of the folks I worked with would deliver this news deadpan and without even saying, “I’m sorry this happened.” I was different. I empathized, and was fueled by this to do everything in my power to help. When I gave bad news, they could see it in my face — I was sad about what they’d lost, too. It’s amazing how much that helps. It really does make a difference when you feel like the other person cares.

That’s when I officially got started with the idea of empathy in technology. Since then, I’ve been refining my understanding of how this works. I’ve now expanded the definition to include software and the problems it solves. Basically, an empathetic technology is one that solves the problems of a group of people or sector that hasn’t been addressed effectively before. It’s building technologies that aim to make life better, and interactions between humans and machines better.

Aliza: I know you are also passionate about open source technology. How does that relate to empathetic technologies?

Grace: I love open source tech. The relationship between open source and empathetic technologies is actually quite apparent once you look at through an empathy lens. People are taking a foundational product or software and enhancing it in a way that improves their work and life. They’re then sharing this with the world, inviting others to build upon the work they’ve added. This behavior is an example of collaboration, and is fueled by personal experiences. The “finished” product becomes a collection of that knowledge and personal understanding. Empathy is literally being baked into open source.

Aliza: In your current job, you're always helping people learn Puppet. What's your top advice for anyone who wants to get started with Puppet?

Grace: Well, I’d tell them that there’s a lot to learn and you can never know enough. It’s amazing how nuanced the product can be, and the diversity of applications that exists. The best thing to do is to understand what your needs are and what would make your life easier. A lot of times, people come to us with a perception that Puppet can only do a handful of things. When they start telling us about their infrastructure needs and we explain to them how Puppet can help with that, there’s always a “I didn’t know Puppet could do that” moment.

Aliza: What are the most common problems you see when teams are trying to improve their configuration management?

Grace: The most common is communication and ownership. To elaborate, configuration management usually requires cross-organizational communication. In many companies, the technical and operational teams sit separately and work independently, and managing an infrastructure requires effort from people who may not always work together. It can be tough to get an entire other team on board with your plans, and using the same or similar tools. Then there’s the question of who owns and maintains what. There’s a need to know who to go to for problems, and when you dissolve those barriers or even shift them a little, folks can get a little uneasy, which is understandable. Making the mental shift in order to take advantage of the full power of collaboration comes from feeling the pain of not doing so.

Aliza: Is there a mindset or approach to configuration management you think is most helpful?

Grace: A flexible and creative mindset. If you say things such as, “This is how we’ve always done it, why should we change...” then configuration management is going to really going to challenge that. If you walk in with an open mind about how tools and workflows can be used to improve your working life, then you’re in the right headspace and won’t mind learning and applying the new concepts that are necessary for effective configuration management.

Aliza: What's a fun fact about you that we might not know, but would like to?

Grace: Hmm, I’m not sure. Maybe a fun fact is that my brother forced me to help him rebuild the family computer when I was 10. He wasn’t satisfied with some of the internal components and he decided to remedy that!

Aliza: What's the most interesting thing you've read recently?

Grace: There’s not just one, but more of a theme in the things I’ve been consuming. I’ve been reading a lot about the state of the world, especially immigration conflicts and law enforcement. Social justice is a personal passion of mine. I won’t push my political agenda (today), but I want to say how thrilled I am about technology revolutionizing the way in which we create public safety. The use of cameras in all contexts: storefronts, streets, dashboards and bodies are changing the landscape when it comes to “eyewitness” accounts and are a form of empathetic tech. I’ve been very interested in how this can be done without sacrificing privacy. I’d like to see the quality of the images captured improve, but I’m inspired by how technology can participate in justice. If you google “body cams,” you’ll find a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading.

I want to say that technology has changed the world; now it’s time for us to make it even better.

Aliza: Go ahead, tease us: What can we look forward to in your talk about getting up and running with Puppet Enterprise in 45 minutes?

Grace: Well, hopefully you’ll find accessible information on how to finally get that proof of concept or work project off the ground with Puppet. Everyone’s going to leave with a baseline understanding of the installation process, how to use Forge modules and how to leverage the user interface. The more tantalizing news is that I’ll have a repo set up that’s done a lot of the heavy lifting and creates a three-VM environment with Puppet installed and running!!! It’s going to make the session even more engaging and interactive.

Aliza Earnshaw is the editorial director at Puppet.

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