Attending an SSI All Hands Meeting

Author: Mario Antonioletti
Posted: 7 Mar 2016 | 09:24

On the 2nd and 3rd of March the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) held its first All Hands Meeting in Lyndhurst, near Southampton. This provided an opportunity for SSI staff - distributed between Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford and Southampton - to meet face-to-face and to collectively carry out a number of tasks that are of interest to the SSI. It proved to be an interesting and useful two days.

The SSI, as a distributed organisation, needs to ensure that it communicates effectively and efficiently both within and outwith. On the whole I think the SSI does a very good job about communicating with its external stake holders, better than EPCC on the whole I would say! For internal communications, as well as using the usual methods of emails and Skype calls, we also use Skype as a chat channel. Thankfully, we are moving to slack which offers a more sophisticated platform for chats. A long time ago, at the start of a project called OGSA-DAI, IBM, who we were collaborating with at the time, suggested that an IRC channel was set up for internal project communications.  At the time I remember thinking it was a somewhat quirky requirement but subsequently, I think, it proved to be a really useful tool for internal communications and team bonding. I must admit thought that I have often been accused of decreasing the signal to noise ratio - in my defence, I think this helps with the team spirit. In a similar fashion the SSI uses slack for its fellows and that has proved to be popular with both current (and past) fellows.

Other tools that have been heavily used are: an academic organisational GitHub account which gives rise to public repositories as well as some internal repositories. We also have an private SVN repository used for internal documents. There is a move afoot from TRAC, which has been the tool that we have used for project tracking, to Trello. Trello has a nice GUI but I am not enamoured by its functionality. Maybe I have not tried to use it hard enough. Google documents are heavily used for collaborative documents and spreadsheets. Generally, this works well but documents can proliferate and be hard to find.

The two days largely consisted of a number of "hacks" where activities were nominated by staff members of things that needed to be done, for example preparatory work for the collaborations workshop that is taking place in Edinburgh later in the month, discussions about how administrative data within the SSI was generated and curated and how it could subsequently be re-used to measure impact or how to visualise it, etc. Staff members choose which activity they would like to be involved in and 3 to 4 of these run in parallel. The aforementioned tools were used as well as flip charts (which were migrated to Google spreadsheets and documents). The hacks offered an opportunity to do useful taks for the SSI as well as yet another chance to get to know SSI staff members from the other locations a bit better. However, the hacks are mostly about producing outputs that are useful to the institute.

Finally, it was not just all work and no play with a walk being organised to see the New Forest ponies and by gum there are a lot of them! A big thanks to the Southampton SSIers for organising this event.

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