Thu Apr 2, 2015

Speaker Tag

This was my first time speaking at a tech conference and my first time attending ChefConf. In short, the conference was well organized and I had a great time speaking and meeting new people. This year’s conference was held in Santa Clara, California at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I had any number of remarkable experiences, and I think Chef, the organizers, and the Chef community at large should be very proud of how the conference turned out.

”It’s all about the people”

This phrase could be heard uttered here and there throughout the conference, including during talks and the keynotes. The phrase is rather innocuous and friendly, but what does it mean, and what did it mean at ChefConf? Nathen Harvey and his team of community organizers embodied these words planning for and executing on the conference. Some of the things that stick out firmly in my mind are little.

Little Things

On the first day, after picking up my badge, these were two items tucked away in my speakers bag: a short letter from Chef thanking me for speaking, and a flyer for the Chef “Ambassador Program”. The letter was a nice gesture to me; however, the Ambassador Program was a nice gesture for everyone who attended ChefConf and simple to understand: place a sticker on your badge and become an ambassador. The sticker indicates people should feel comfortable approaching you. I like to think I don’t have much trouble connecting with others, but I’m fully aware there are people who do. The ambassador program was a simple way to make attendees (potentially traveling alone) feel welcome.

This is what I think was meant when people say “It’s all about the people”: it’s about these little things that make the community more cohesive. Additionally, I think Chef did a good job at making ChefConf a “Safe Place”. I put this phrase in quotes because - what does that mean? It means establishing a code of conduct and then living by it. It means making a safe place for everyone in the community regardless of sexual orientation, religious affiliation, gender, or OTHER. While in some areas there may always be improvements to be made in the (Caucasian male dominated) tech industry, I feel Chef did an admirable job upholding the principles in their code of conduct and made everyone feel included.

On the second night of the conference VMWare hosted a party in Levi’s Stadium, effectively turning a bar into a nightclub. The nightclub was a great time but it was the game night held in the hotel that made me think “it’s all about the people”. Dungeons and Dragons, board games, LEGO, DevOps Against Humanity, and other card games. I attended both events, and both events were a great time, well attended, and well received. Again, this is a little thing: offer an alternative to a nightclub-like party for individuals who want to just hang out and share a good time playing games. In my opinion, this was very thoughtful and precisely what it means when someone says “it’s all about the people”. Hats off to Chef for living by the words they say and for creating a cohesive community that, quite frankly, is just a lot of fun to be around.

Impressions as a first time speaker

Speaking at ChefConf2015 was a great opportunity for me. I got to speak with a friend, co-worker, and now co-presenter Bridget Kromhout. Our presentation was titled “Cooking Up Drama” and focused on cooperation, chef, and docker. It was truly gracious of Bridget to offer for me to co-present with her. As someone who is virtually invisible in the tech scene it’s an amazing opportunity to be hoisted on the shoulders of giants. Perhaps my last statement is a bit over-dramatic but this experience has certainly granted me experience, exposure, and many new friends.

Peter & Bridget

I have had some experience speaking in front of people before and generally that sort of thing doesn’t bother me too much. I have also attended talks (mostly in academia) where the crowd was a bit aggressive, and this was certainly a fear of mine. My goal was to make sure our talk was not a waste of time; people are paying a lot of money to attend the conference after all. This was also a fear of mine. Finally I was presenting with someone who talks at a lot of conferences and I didn’t want to be responsible for her having a “bad” talk added to the list. Thankfully none of these fears became a reality and Bridget and I worked very well together in both preparation and presentation of our talk.

When the talk was all over and the dust settled I was blown away at the positive feedback we received. There was a line of people ready to ask questions after we left the stage and we were told things like: “great talk, it was very useful”, “it was like you two had a mind-meld during the talk”, “you both must have practiced a lot together” (Bridget is in Minneapolis and I’m in Philadelphia), “I thought it was the best talk I attended”. WOW! I was and still am completely humbled by how our talk was received. I think the biggest piece of praise I received was “It didn’t seem like this was your first talk”.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous to give a talk at ChefConf. In fact I was a bit apprehensive until I met Nathen at the speaker office hours on Google hangouts. I can’t really explain why, but after talking with him and some of the other speakers the anxiety just melted away. This effect was amplified even further at the conference, and by the time I stepped onto the stage I felt perfectly fine. I would attribute this to the Chef community being a great bunch of humans and caring enough to make speaking at ChefConf a remarkable experience.

DevOps & Culture

ChefConf2015 was a conference about the tool (Chef), obviously, but also DevOps and culture. “DevOps” could have been the word of the week. There is a movement happening right now in the software industry focused on “velocity”: delivering faster, accurately, and in a repeatable way - hence an automation tool like Chef is ideal. Where this idea falls flat on its face is when you realize that buying a tool, any tool, will not make this just happen. Many organizations need to make fundamental culture changes in order to gain velocity. Therefore it is in Chef’s best interests as a company to not only produce great software, but also promote the ideals and values that surrounded DevOps culture.

The word “DevOps” has become nebulous and its meaning changes depending on where you look. Adam Jacob, CTO for Chef, gave a remarkably entertaining and novel keynote where he focused on what DevOps really means to him, in short: “A cultural and professional movement, focused on how we build and operate high velocity organizations, born from the experiences of its practitioners.” Furthermore there is a GitHub repository that outlines “Chef Style DevOps Kung Fu”.

I’m not a skeptic when it comes to DevOps, although I try to be careful with “buzzy” words, but I think Adam’s keynote was really great and I get the message. I was also really impressed to see companies like Walt Disney and GE talking about the changes they have been making to how they operate in order to speed up their velocities. I think we use cutting edge tools at DramaFever and therefore I was greatly impressed to see the folks at Disney using similar tools. For me it means that startup culture and corporate culture are beginning to converge, and maybe that is a good thing.

My final word about chefconf is “go”. Go next year, because it was a lot of fun and you’ll certainly come away with something useful you did not have beforehand.

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