On January 21st and 22nd, I attended the inaugural DeliveryConf in Seattle Washington.
Over the course of two days, there were four keynote sessions1, one at the beginning and the other at the end of each day. There were 9 other speaking slots (5 on Tuesday, 4 on Wednesday). with three tracks for each slot, for a total of 27 talks. Each talk was thirty minutes long, followed by a unique 20-minute “group discussion” huddle (more on this in a bit). The location, a hotel in Seattle, didn’t make it easy to walk from one conference room to another. So the “rule of two feet” was impractical to apply. (Not that I regretted any of the talks I attended.)
The “Group Discussion” was a unique feature of this conference, one that I hadn’t seen before. After each session – keynote or regular talk – the facilitators invited anyone from the audience to walk up to the front of the room and form a loose circle. The facilitators then seeded the conversation with three questions, although the people in the circle were largely free to share any information or ask any questions relevant to the subject of the session. The idea of the huddle wasn’t to provide feedback on the talk but rather to continue the discussion on the subject of the talk. The microphones were held by volunteers (mic-runners) and no one – not even the original speakers – were allowed to hold the mic themselves during the group discussion. The purpose of this was to minimize grandstanding, and I believe it largely worked as intended.
The three seed questions were:
- What challenges have you faced?
- What successes have you enjoyed?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you like to see in the next two to five years?
I participated in the group discussions of most of the talks (at least seven), and found the experience delightful and edifying. I would like to see more conferences implement something similar.
There was a live-transcript of the talks via the Thisten mobile app, which I didn’t download. The primary purpose was to provide a readable transcript to people with disabilities. In hindsight, it would have been valuable for me to use it, too, to follow the talks I could not attend (due to parallel tracks).
The conference was funded by sponsors (vendors with booths) and by the conference tickets paid by non-speaking attendees (USD 449 for early bird registration, USD 499 otherwise).
Synopsis of talks
This is a thematic unification of what I experienced, rather than a discrete description of each talk.
There were a few general ideas that were interlaced with conversations throughout the conference.
Continuous integration, continuous delivery, and DevOps practices have gone mainstream. The speakers and attendees represented small startups, large banks, government agencies, and everything in between. The talks emphasized the practical ways of improving the CI/CD metrics of one’s organization, regardless of how advanced or primitive the current state at one’s organization is.
The value of using the four aspects of software delivery performance pioneered by DORA – deployment frequency, lead time for changes, time to restore service, and change failure rate – was also a constant theme.
Culture was an oft-used word, both in aspiration and frustration. Dave Farley mentioned it while describing his vision:
“CD is about the Continuous Delivery of ideas.”
The desire that CD needs to be made simpler was expressed on several occasions, none more effectively (or humorously) than by Bryan Liles in his keynote at the end of Tuesday. Despite this desire for simplicity, there was general acknowledgment that things are quite complex right now. To me, nothing illustrated this more starkly than the healthy (but unmistakable) difficulty in defining continuous delivery succinctly that was experienced by the four participants of the Wednesday morning panel discussion.
There was plenty of technical stuff at hand, from GitHub actions, using value stream maps to visualize your CI/CD pipelines, testing in DevOps, DevOps for tool-builders, to ML and DevOps.
Maryam Umar’s talk (in which she was assisted by Jez Humble) on baking quality into software spawned the liveliest and most valuable group discussion.
There were two talks that topped my list in both entertainment and information value. One was delivered by Jessica Kerr. Its title was “Taking care of code … more and more code”. The talk is memorable because Jessica shares so much code publicly on her GitHub site, and because she gave me (and perhaps many others) the neologism “symmathesy” 2.
The other was the talk by Cora Fedesna on lessons learned by a dev doing “opsy” things. Cora combined her significant dev chops (Docker, Java, Kubernetes, …) with her sparkling humor to deliver a talk that received resounding applause.
Networking and socializing
The opportunity that conferences present to (re)acquaint with friends old and new is more important than attending lectures. In this regard, DeliveryConf did not disappoint me at all.
It was nice to catch up with Aubrey Chipman (Netflix) and Abby Bangser (MOO), with whom I have always had valuable repartees. Max Anderson (Credit Karma) was there, too. Dave Farley may describe himself as a curmudgeon, but I am always happy to see him in person for he’s inescapably compelling.
Jez Humble, of course, is an information fountainhead. What I like about running into him are his excellent listening skills and his pithy workmanship with words both spoken and written. (Exhibit A: he told me he didn’t recognize me at first “because of your rearranged facial furniture”.)
I only discovered that Kief Morris was there literally after the conference officially ended; I’d have loved to catch up with him more. Similarly, it was good to see Dr. Rebecca Parsons on stage, however, I missed the opportunity to talk to her in person.
Of the new people I met, James Heimbuck, Chrys Sills, and Casey Lee gave me the most of their time – for which I’m grateful. Richard Lewis thanked me for the questions I raised, which is humbling. Julian Dunn and I bonded over lunch and his rather unique career path as a Product Marketing Manager with a technology background. Sonali Shrivastava, Amanda Edades, and Lynn Cyrin were also open about sharing their thoughts with me. Jeff Miller and I were able to find a quiet corner during a break and he showed me some cool front-end stuff he’s worked on.
Brooke Treadgold took time to talk to me about her experience being the Transformation Lead at ANZ in New Zealand. She also answered a question on the conference’s Slack channel.
Willem van Bergen made the most effective use of the networking time by starting an impromptu “birds of a feather” session about how to maintain/retire Ruby-on-Rails monoliths. I hope to hear good things from him and his team at Shopify.
The conference wouldn’t have happened without the organizers. Ken Mugrage, Sasha Rosenbaum, Jason Yee, and the several volunteers deserve my gratitude for their efforts in putting all of it together. Thank you!
I’m grateful to my colleagues and managers at SPR for their support and encouragement that allowed me to attend this conference.
- Keynote session: A session that does not share its timeslot with any other presentation at a conference. It may be a speech delivered by one or two speakers, a panel session, a performance, or some other format. ↩
- “The capacity of living, sentient organisms to interact with and learn from one another” ↩