DevOpsDays Austin Recap: Getting Back to Basics

What’s old was new again at DevOpsDays Austin last week, with the 7th annual conference featuring fewer attendees, the elimination of sponsor tables, and a format that put the focus back on knowledge-sharing and human interaction. Running May 3–4 at the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the conference was an interesting exercise in returning to the roots of DevOpsDays, and the payoff was quality presentations and conversations. Read on for a few of the highlights.

A New “Summit” Format

Driven by a desire to make conference interactions more valuable and to weed out attendees who wouldn’t be truly engaged, the organizers of this year’s DevOpsDays Austin decided not only to sell fewer tickets and eliminate sponsor tables; they also decided to forgo preselected talks. Apart from a few scheduled keynotes, we the conference-goers were able to select the talks we wanted to hear.

Surrounded by thirty-one boards on Thursday morning representing 31 preselected finalists, we were each given 10 stickers with which to vote for our favorites. The most highly decorated boards made the cut, with 21 talks ultimately selected, and you better believe I was relieved to be among them!

Thanks to the voters, I delivered “Pick Any Three: Good, Fast, and Safe. DevOps from Scratch,” on Thursday afternoon, discussing how we do DevOps at Threat Stack. My presentation was a variation on the one I gave at DevOpsDays Rockies, which you can watch here:

Other talks that brought in the votes included Victor Trac’s “Kubernetes 201: You have Kubernetes up and running, now what?,” which capitalized on one of the conference’s major themes. While the hype in past years was all about Docker, there was a clear shift this time around. “Kubernetes” seemed to be on everyone’s lips, with attendees expressing some major FOMO about implementing this technology of the moment.

The Keynotes

With three pre-selected keynotes anchoring the DevOpsDays Austin content, Google’s Luke Sneeringer got things started on Thursday with “Pluggable Components in Docker.” (Okay, so maybe Docker wasn’t entirely absent from the conversation.)

This was followed on Friday morning by “Moving From Boxed Software To A Cloud Service – A DevOps Tale” by Steven Murawski, who will forever be remembered as they guy who’s keynote was interrupted by a tornado warning. In the midst of him explaining Visual Studio Team Services’ journey from boxed software to a continually evolving service, we were all rushed to the first floor of the building and told to stay away from the windows. Only in Texas. Murawski, however, managed to regain our attention without a hitch once the threat passed and we returned to the conference room.

It was John Willis’s keynote, which came afterwards, had me most amped up, though. Titled “The Divine and Felonious Nature of Cyber Security – A DevSecOps Story,” John shared information on how people are looking for advanced persistent threats (APTs) and are missing the mark by ignoring basic hygiene (such as not patching simple vulnerabilities). It’s the companies that are adopting modern, advanced SecOps practices, he said, that are able to keep up with the many vulnerabilities identified in open source projects.

The importance of integrating security practices early in the development process is something that we constantly preach at Threat Stack, but it was nice to have John validate and recognize our tenet at an event like DevOpsDays Austin. In fact, it was heartening to see how many speakers and attendees had security on their minds, whereas the conference used to focus much more on automation and tooling.

Open Spaces

Open Spaces — a series of self-organized conversations — have always been a big part of DevOpsDays, and the sessions this year in Austin felt even more intimate and worthwhile thanks to the conference’s decreased size. With topics proposed by attendees in the moment, small groups met for off-the-cuff conversations on everything from Kubernetes (there’s that word again!) to hiring practices to mental health in the tech world.

Along with my friend J. Paul Reed, we led an Open Spaces discussion called “TalkPay/PayTalk” on Friday afternoon. Based on a similar event that has been done at the Denver DevOpsDays, “TalkPay/PayTalk” serves as a way to get engineers to anonymously report salary data in a particular region, which allows participants to see where they fall on the spectrum. One outlier, in particular, on the low end of the salary range, was able to recognize that she was being undervalued and started looking for a new job before even leaving the event.

The Hallway Track

I hate to admit that I wasn’t able to attend as many Open Spaces as I would have liked, but I was continuously sidetracked by other attendees I ran into in the halls. It turns out that the hallway track was just as informative and interesting as any of the talks or organized discussions. Thanks to the new conference format, it seems attendees were winnowed down to those who were highly motivated in getting as much as possible out of the experience. This showed in the quality of both the talks and the casual conversation, which is exactly what the organizers were going for.