System Administrators are Users Too (30 May 2003)
From this group and from our own work, a consistent set of paradoxes is beginning to emerge. First, tremendous effort has gone into the design of powerful GUI tools for system administration. Many tools have been developed and validated with established user-centered design methodologies. Yet field studies repeatedly find system administrators ignoring these tools and falling back on the standard command shell and least-common denominator tools such as 'grep' and 'vi'. Second, system administration is a highly collaborative activity, with a heavy dependence on instant messaging, email, telephone, and face-to-face interaction. Yet system administration tools rarely include collaboration aids, instead seemingly assuming that these workers toil away silently and alone. Third, effective operation and problem resolution requires an accurate mental model of how the system functions. "Situation awareness" theory dictates that a model starts with sensory input, develops with mental comprehension, and results in predictions of system behavior. Yet large-scale systems have few and unintegrated sensing mechanisms, and are too complex for any single person to comprehend, resulting in unpredictable behavior.
Article URL: http://hci.stanford.edu/cs547/abstracts/02-03/030530-barrett.html
(Rob Barrett (IBM Almaden Research Center))
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