Carolyn Van Slyck

DevOps Days Chicago 2015

I just attended DevOps Days Chicago 2015 and loved it. My usual MO for a conferences is to go with friends and keep to myself. So I was quite surprised that I came away having met dozens of people and bubbling with excitement about the experience.

DevOps Days is a two day event with presentations in the morning, followed by ignite or lightning talks, and then the rest of the day is dedicated to open spaces. I had never heard of open spaces and honestly my gut reaction was that it sounded like something that I would hate. Unstructured social interactions with strangers? Eek! I could not have been more wrong and this turned out to be my favorite part of the conference.

It starts with a call for suggestions. Anyone can come up to the front and write down a topic on a sticky note. They don’t need to (and really shouldn’t) have prepared anything, be a subject expert and aren’t required to lead, or even attend, the discussion. Just throw out an idea and whoever is interested raises their hand to show their support. The conference organizers go through the suggestions and find appropriately sized venues and times for each. Some only get a handful of participants and they’ll meet up in a small conference room, while those that drew a larger crowd remain in the main conference area.

Below is a sample of the topics:

  • Share your DevOps war stories!
  • When would I use a virtual machine vs. Docker?
  • Are you using DevOps tools on Windows? Come commiserate with me!
  • Let’s talk about the challenges of DevOps in an enterprise environment.
  • Postmortem experiences and best practices.
  • How do you handle blogging on behalf of your company?

There were so many topics that it was a tough choice deciding on which to attend. At times I didn’t have much to contribute but enjoyed listening, such as during the war stories and postmortem discussions. Whereas in others, I had a lot to share, mostly around my PTSD from attempting to tackle DevOps from the ground up in an enterprise Windows environment. Maybe I did have some war stories after all… 😂

So instead of avoiding eye contact and pretending to look at “important things” on my phone, the small group of people, all interested in the same topic, helped create a very inclusive, comfortable atmosphere in which it was easy to participate. Some had a lot of experience and could assist with questions like “How do I start doing postmortems?”. Others could quickly chime in with their preferred tools and tricks for working with Chef/Puppet/Ansible/SaltStack on Windows. Also it was okay to simply admit “We really want to embrace DevOps but there is only so much that can be done when it is just us peons who are bought in”, without any good answer on how to fix things.

At the beginning of the conference, they stressed that your badge was stamped with “Participant” rather than “Attendee” for a reason, and in the end that is really why I enjoyed DevOps Days so much more than any other conference. Instead of passively absorbing the talks, grabbing swag from the sponsors, then slipping away quietly into the night with no one the wiser that you were even there, I came away having met new people, learned that I wasn’t the only one struggling, helped others by sharing my experiences and left sure in the knowledge that I had made an impact. If I hadn’t attended, the conference would have went a little different, and I am looking forward to playing my part next year.