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Elbow Taps, Airhugs and 5,000 KubeCon Friends

October 26, 2021

A recap of my time at the CNCF’s signature conference, KubeCon + CloudNativeCon NA 2021.

What an amazing week at the first in-person KubeCon + CloudNativeCon since the pandemic started. This KubeCon set a precedent as one of the first major conferences to bring back an in-person component! The theme this time around was Resilience Realized, and they put this on display at the top of the convention hall. Choosing a theme that aptly shows that as a community we can come back together in a big way after the challenging time we’ve had over the last 18 months. This theme was boosted by a number of talks on building diversity and inclusion in your communities, finding your place as a contributor, and handling burnout when you need to.

KubeCon Banner-1

The total number of attendees for the event has risen consistently over the years. I believe around 24,000 people attended KubeCon NA 2021, and about 5,000 attended in person. While this may still sound like a lot after being home for the past year and a half with just our pets and house plants, it was great to see so many people in person with proper social distancing and safety measures in place.

KubeCon Speaker Tag-1

It was noticeable that inclusion and safety were big components of the planning for this year’s event, including a mandatory health screening before entering the event. When you walked in on the first day to register, you were presented with the option to decorate your badge with stickers for your pronouns and social distance comfort levels. Using a traffic light system for social interactions was kind of genius! When you are caught up in the excitement of the event, it’s easy to reach out for a handshake without thinking about it. The wristband system made it very easy to quickly change the handshake to an elbow tap or friendly wave.

COVID Social Distance Bracelets-1

This year I had planned to skip the pre-conference co-located events, instead opting to try and get some work done at a coffee shop. But alas, the tweeting and energy from the event eventually lured me in to pick up my badge early and check out the convention center.

Kubecon Prep-1

Day One begins!

Keynotes started promptly at 9 AM, and you could easily spot a posse of cloud native folks walking toward the event in their matching tech t-shirts and company-branded swag. I was able to easily navigate my way through the daily health screening since I had already done it the day before, but a few other attendees seemed to have some trouble downloading the Clear app and uploading their vaccination records. I will say this system, when everyone is set up, is very efficient and effective.

COVID Vaccination Record

The CNCF kicked off the keynote in a big way! Lights, music, acting and so much more, for a second I had forgotten I was at a conference and thought this was the warm-up act at a concert. Which it kind of was, after the obligatory accounting of the CNCF metrics, representatives from a local Native American tribe took the stage to share two traditional songs in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

KubeCon Keynote-1

After the excitement of Day One’s keynote, I made my way over to the sponsor floor to meet the Styra team. Like many other people who changed roles in the middle of a pandemic, I hadn’t met many of my teammates in person before. This was the first time most (if not all) of us were meeting in person, and of course, I had forgotten to wear the Styra shirt we all planned to wear on day one. On top of this, I was running around while everyone was on booth duty and missed the only team photo, but we can just imagine I made it into this photo.

Kubecon Styra Booth-1

Luckily I was able to meet everyone on the team at one point or another. After grabbing some Styra swag, I made the rounds around the sponsor hall to say hello to Twitter friends and ex-colleagues. The day continued with a full session of attending talks, meeting Open Policy Agent (OPA) community members, and there was a well-deserved nap at my hotel. Followed up by an outdoor happy hour co-hosted by Styra, Kong and NS1. This was a fun event filled with merch handouts, gift card raffles, a live DJ, and all the tiny burgers you can eat.

Open Source Open Bar KubeCon

On to Day Two!!!

I was excited and up VERY early because I still hadn’t finished my slides/demo for the talk I was giving the next day. I’m a serial procrastinator, and presenting at conferences is no exception. After a couple of hours in Google Docs, I head over to the convention center just in time for the 9 AM keynote. The day’s announcements contained less fanfare, but many project updates and call-outs for community members and how to get involved.

KubeCon Cloud Native Keynote-1

Maybe it’s my love of community, or preference for in-person talks, but I spent the entire day in the 411 theater room listening to talks about the community, community metrics, and even one on burnout. This room was great! It was configured just like a lecture hall, every seat had power and a small tray for your laptop to take notes.

Kubecon Session-1 Kubecon Resources-1

Kubecon What is Burnout Session-1 Kubecon Open Source Session-1

Now the moment I have been excitedly anticipating, the OPA meetup! Without enough time to go home and drop off my bag, I opted to head to First Draft Tap House early to finish a couple more slides for my upcoming presentation. At 6 PM on the dot, OPA fans began to show up! We exchanged names, poured drinks, swapped our stories of OPA and tech in general. People continued to join the party over the next two hours and we ended up with eight OPA fans!! A great turnout for an impromptu OPA meetup. By far my favorite moment of KubeCon.

OPA Kubecon Meetup

The final day begins

Another early wake-up for me, by 8 AM I have all the materials ready for my talk. I just needed to practice and put some polish on it. As I sat in my room speaking out loud to my imaginary audience, I made a bunch of small adjustments and slowly gained confidence that everything was coming together. I was out the door at 10 AM to grab a coffee and make my way to the convention center. Moving from place to place, I anxiously awaited my 11:55 AM presentation time. At 11:20 AM I found a nice corner to sit in and meditate for 15 minutes before heading into the theater room. Then it was showtime!

Kubecon Styra K8 Session-1

PHEW!!! Everything went off without a hitch. It was a nearly full room, a successful live stream, and a flurry of tweets from my moderator Kaslin. A huge weight dropped off my shoulders as I answered the questions in the room and wrapped up my first KubeCon presentation, and also my first presentation in front of a live audience!

After I packed up and moved back to the sponsor floor, a general feeling of winding down is apparent. Booths were slowly disappearing, there were last-minute efforts to ditch as much swag as possible, and everyone was saying goodbye and giving hugs. Even the Styra booth was mostly boxed up at this point. I said my goodbyes to my teammates and made my way to my last talk of the conference; the OPA Maintainer's Talk. Joined by my teammate Bill Mann, we watched Ash Narkar (OPA Core Maintainer) and Rita Zhang (OPA Gatekeeper Maintainer) talk about all the accomplishments of the team and what’s on the road map for the future.

OPA, Gatekeeper and Kubecon-1

Just like that, as quickly as it started, it ended. This week had been so amazing. I was lucky to have met so many OPA users and community members, attend talks from talented speakers and contributors, and just generally be in a place with such great energy. Thanks to the CNCF team for putting this event together, they did a spectacular job and I can’t wait to see everyone at the next KubeCon.

Kubecon Swag

Want to learn more about Open Policy Agent? Follow the community on Slack or try out the Styra Academy for OPA courses from the founders themselves!


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