Last week, I attended my first in-person KubeCon at KubeCon North America 2023. I learned a lot and it gave me a lot to think about in connection with my team’s work.
I work as a software developer on a platform team. We maintain the tooling that deploys our main customer-facing application and a number of smaller auxiliary services. I went into it hoping to learn new things that I could bring back to my team to inform our platform development process.
My company paid for me to attend KubeCon. I live in Chicago, so I didn’t need travel or accommodations. It was quite nice to be able to sleep in my own bed each night.
This was my first time attending KubeCon, or any other conference, in person. Back in 2020 when I was an intern, I attended virtual KubeCon, but that was a different experience than being there in person.
I knew that for me to get anything out of the conference, I would need to take notes during each session. This would not only serve as a record after the fact, but also help me process the talk as it happened. I handwrote notes using a tablet with a stylus. I think this was the single best decision that I made in preparation for KubeCon, because it let me have an engaged experience, and my notes proved invaluable when collating my thoughts at the end.
I also looked at the schedule when it came out and selected one or more sessions to attend in each timeslot. Sometimes I changed the plan on the fly, but it was useful to have a plan and know what was interesting and hopefully relevant.
I happened across this blog post of conference tips by David Morrison. It was useful for me to set my expectations. I particularly liked tip #4: build in time to rest. As the conference wore on, I ended up skipping more and more of the keynote each morning as I learned that the information provided was not particularly relevant. This helped me get more sleep in the mornings.
There were a lot of things I liked about my experience at KubeCon. For one, I took away a lot of thoughts about platform engineering, data/sharding, and observability. Seeing what other companies do and what open source tools exist helped me think about what my team could do.
I appreciated that there were a wide range of talks to choose from on the schedule. A number of sessions I attended were topical to my team’s work, while others were less relevant to my particular work but still relevant to my company.
Key to my experience was my colleague who attended with me. It was invaluable to have someone else to discuss and plan with. He was also more outgoing with strangers than me. Thanks to him, I was able to speak with a couple vendors at the conference and learn more about the deployment solutions that they offered. I was otherwise pretty shy at the conference, and I think I might have liked to speak more with other attendees.
The presence of AI at KubeCon this year was disappointing but not entirely surprising. The parts of the keynotes that I saw took a decent amount of time to try to connect Kubernetes and cloud-native software to the rapidly metastasizing AI craze. For the most part, I was able to avoid this topic in the sessions by choosing the right ones to attend.
Talk relevance was a little bit unpredictable. A few of the sessions I was most excited about beforehand turned out to be let-downs. They weren’t necessarily bad sessions, but often they were just not applicable to me and my team in the way that I had hoped. Some disappointing sessions turned out to be very general and high-level when I was expecting something specific, and others were specific but in the wrong way. However, the unpredictability went both ways. A number of talks that I was not hyped about ended up being favorites. I’m glad I attended sessions even when I wasn’t particularly excited about them.
Other miscellaneous thoughts:
This seems to be a pretty common conference thing, but I was a little surprised at the production on this event. Particularly for the keynote auditorium, the lighting, screens, and custom-cut conference logo made it clear that event production was working with a good budget.
When I learned that the conference would have food, I made the incorrect assumption that it would be catered food of the caliber that I’ve had at company events in the past. It was not; rather, it was airport-quality sandwiches. Still, the food was free, and I was hungry, so I’m not complaining.
From the perspective of someone who lives here, it was interesting to see how attendees interacted with the city. For the most part, they seemed to stay within the conference center and only venture out to a select few destinations. I saw a post on social media from someone who had gotten boba at the worst boba place I’ve ever been to. It seemed like the attendees who had flown in were not really in Chicago somehow.
This was a good experience. I was able to bring my takeaways back to my team, and I think they will factor into our future work.
There are a lot of CNCF projects that I know nothing about. It’s an impressive ecosystem of open-source projects.
I think I would have gotten even more out of this experience if there had been a larger group of people attending from my company. We could have covered more topics and made more connections. But that doesn’t take away from the good experience that I had.
In the future, I’d love to speak at a conference. I wanted to apply to speak this year, but I wasn’t able to find something I felt I could speak about. I’m hoping this will change.
At my next conference (whatever that may be), I’d like to have better questions for the speakers. Talks seem to be a good way to connect with people who have ideas and experience that I could learn from.
All in all, it was a good experience and I’m happy to have attended.