Perspectives and Personas

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series #HPCMatters

Right now I am in India, a land of beauty filled with wonderful people. It has been said India is an assault on all of your senses, I believe that is true. The colors, sounds, flavors and smells exude the essence of foreign and exotic entrancing the American mind.

Have I mentioned, I’m loving it?

I love travel in general, as the world is a large and wonderful place just waiting to be explored. It broadens the horizons and opens the mind. What at first seems different and strange soon becomes just another manifestation of the wonderful tapestry that is humankind, the threads of which are interwoven with laughter and happiness, tears and sorrows, and shared soul of human experience, for in this world we are all interconnected and interdependent.

So, why am I discussing this on a technical blog? For one of the other gifts travel gives one:


Rubin Face Vase

Perspective is a powerful thing. It is the lens through which we view and interact with the world. We all have one. Most of us are quite comfortable in sharing ours, invited or not. We treasure it, and certainly don’t want to lose it. It’s our precious.

Until we travel…

Then it’s taken from us, roughed up, scratched, banged and at times smashed completely to pieces. Yet, somehow it seems to always come out the other end of the process enlarged and polished (or perhaps just replaced by an entirely new way of viewing the world). And, just like the old, the new is now ours, now our precious.

It can be a rather uncomfortable process. Perhaps growth is always meant to be.


I believe perspective has but one teacher, one master: experience. Each experience we have slightly shifts, buffs or polishes our perspective lens on the world. This is true both in our working days and vacationing hours—each new experience adding its part to the overall whole.

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered you will never grow.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, we grow and mature, both in our careers and our personal lives. The perspective, as well, continues to strengthen. Then, one day, we realize an important fact: we are not the same as anyone else. There is no one with whom we share our perspective lens. Even the most closely aligned still seem to suffer from a stigmatism here or a defect there. Our perspective is, in one way of thinking, utterly and completely alone… that is, if we let it. One of the marks of a maturing person is their increased ability and desire to temporarily borrow the perspective lens from another (desire is the real important part), thereby to temporarily see the world from a different point of view.


That’s why we teach software developers to create personas. We want to force them outside of their comfort zone, outside of their own perspective to see what they are doing in an entirely different light. This is particularly true if the persona in question is very, very different from the engineer. We encourage them to print off the persona description and picture, and to hang it in plain sight where it can hardly be forgotten. In just one of our projects we have defined named personas for the following roles:

  • CIO
  • Datacenter Manager
  • Linux/Unix System Admin – Infrastructure
  • Datacenter Administrator
  • Network & Security Administrator
  • Windows System Administrator
  • Cloud End User
  • HPC End User
  • Partner/OEM Business
  • Partner/OEM Technical
  • Professional Services Engineer
  • Salesperson

Wow! There certainly are a number of people needed to keep the ship running. Each of these has a name, a picture and a biography that tells us how they fit into the overall system.

But, I’m not really here to discuss software development techniques. I’m here to discuss HPC.

Then why have you just spent the last #&‡$†! paragraphs rambling on?

Here’s why: a persona is not just a tool to be used by product management to rally the troops or software engineers to remember who they are building this stuff for anyway. It’s not just a tool for a sales manager to put a face on the future customer for the sales team. No, a persona is much more than that. It’s a distillation of a perspective, and those perspectives matter.

So, here’s my question to you:

Do you, as an HPC administrator, have personas of who you are serving taped up on the wall of your office or cubicle (or cabin, as mine in India is being called)?

If not, why not? It’s far to easy for us to get caught up in the things we think are important or cool, and lose sight of what we are really trying to accomplish. Far better than the fictitious personas created by product managers and developers, we have the real thing. We have honest-to-goodness, live, breathing users, and they have stories to tell.

Jolene WhitecrestHere’s Jolene Whitecrest. Jolene is a meteorologist working on predicting the paths of the tropical storms in an attempt to warn people to safety sooner.


Bob JacksonHere’s Bob Jackson. Bob is a biochemist working on a cure for childhood leukemia.


Beth MorrisonHere’s Beth Morrison. Beth is an electrical engineer working on the next generation of solar panels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming.

These are real people doing real jobs, and our job is to support them in doing theirs. So the more we can see the world through their personal perspective, the better we’ll be able to facilitate them in accomplishing their goals.

Take time today to hang up one or two of your own real-world personas above your desk or monitor.

Remember #HPCMatters.

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