KubeCon North America 2023 Retrospective: What A Difference A Year Makes!

Adriana Villela
7 min readNov 17, 2023
The Bean” in Chicago. Photo by Adri Villela.

In late October 2022, I found myself in Detroit, traveling by plane for the first time since the pandemic had started, as a newly-minted Developer Advocate, new OpenTelemetry (OTel) contributor, attending my very first KubeCon.

Fast-forward to early November of 2023: KubeCon Chicago. What a difference a year makes:

  • I now have three KubeCons under my belt — Detroit (2022), Amsterdam (2023), and Chicago (2023)
  • I’ve attended the last two KubeCons as a CNCF Ambassador
  • I was a speaker at KubeCon Chicago!

The following is a recap of my personal experience at KubeCon Chicago.

Bouldering Gym Visit

I am an avid boulderer. If you’re not familiar with bouldering, it’s a type of rock climbing whereby you climb without a rope. The walls aren’t super high (“only” about 4.5m tall), and the floors are lined with big fluffy mats for when you fall . And believe me…you WILL fall. Whenever I travel, I make it a point to visit the local bouldering gym, and this trip was no different. I managed to sneak in 3 veeeery early-morning bouldering sessions at First Ascent Block 37.

First Ascent Block 37 bouldering gym in Chicago. Photo by Adri Villela.

Co-Located Events

Although KubeCon itself didn’t start until Tuesday, Monday was host to a number of co-located events. These mini-conferences take place the day before KubeCon starts, in the same venue as KubeCon, usually confined to a smaller area of the conference center. You need an all-access pass to attend the co-located events, giving you the ability to float between these mini-conferences. It also gets you a ticket to the main event — KubeCon.

The number of co-located events was quite substantial, catering to just about every area of cloud native. Just to give you an idea, there’s Istio Day, ArgoCon, Cloud Wasm Day, and Observability Day, just to name a few. I spent most of my time at Observability Day. Both because I looooove Observability, but also because I was a speaker at Observability Day!

I gave a talk with fellow OTel End User Working Group co-lead, Reese Lee, entitled, “Observe Thy CI/CD Pipelines”. We wore matching “I ❤️ CI/CD” T-shirts which was a total spur-of-the-moment thing. We actually spotted these shirts at the Argo booth from the ArgoCon side of the conference center. I mean, what a perfect talk prop?? I was so happy to see that our topic resonated with so many folks, as they came up to talk to us afterwards and ask questions. You can check out the recording of our talk here. You may notice a cat theme. Reese’s cat Taco made for a great slide model. 😻

Fun times at Observability Day!

Ambassador Breakfast & Conference Kick-off

KubeCon itself ran from Tuesday through Friday. This is my second KubeCon as a CNCF Ambassador, and one of the perks of being an Ambassador (among many!) is that we all get together for breakfast on Day 1, before the start of KubeCon. It’s such a great way to meet fellow Ambassadors. We also take a group photo, and then walk to the Day 1 Keynotes together. Big shoutout to Katie Greenley, who runs the Ambassador program, and puts all of this together!

CNCF Ambassador breakfast at KubeCon in Chicago.

My favourite keynote was the panel entitled, “Environmental Sustainability in the Cloud is Not a Mythical Creature”. Y’all…this panel definitely highlighted how the nature of our jobs, and even our very presence at KubeCon has an environmental impact. Moral of the story: being mindful of resource consumption can go a long way. The stats shared during the panel were mind-blowing. Here are some that I jotted down:

  • VM rightsizing achieved 45% carbon reduction
  • Data centers consume 1–2% global power
  • Telecom operators consume 3% of global power
KubeCon Day 1: Welcome and Keynotes. Photo by Adri Villela.

Solutions Showcase

I spent a ton of time in the solutions showcase. When I attended my first KubeCon last fall, I hardly knew anyone. Considering that I’ve been in tech for 20+ years, it’s pretty shocking. Yup, I worked in a big ’ole corporate bubble for many years. And now, after spending the last 18+ months becoming more involved in the community and putting myself out there, I was blown away to realize how many people I knew at this KubeCon. These were folks with whom I had spoken and collaborated, and KubeCon is where I got to say hello to them in-person. The power of community, y’all!

Meeting friends old and new at KubeCon in Chicago!

Platform Engineering Talk

As if giving a talk at Observability Day wasn’t awesome enough, I also gave a talk on Day 2 for the Platform Engineering track with my co-worker and partner-in-crime, Ana Margarita Medina. The talk was titled, “Empowering Users Through Platform Engineering”, and Ana and I decided to forego the traditional talk format, by doing a little roleplay. I played the role of the Platform Engineer, and Ana played the role of the Developer. We even had custom T-shirts made. Besides it being a fun way to deliver the talk, we wanted to really highlight each persona’s struggles when it came to requesting resources (Developer) and delivering resources (Platform Engineer).

Our talk demonstrated how an open source tool called Kratix can be used to alleviate these developer experience (DevEx) pains. It is based on my own personal dabblings with Kratix and the OTel Operator. I have to give a huge shoutout to Abby Bangser and the Kratix developers for helping us with some of the technical details of this talk. Also, Abby demonstrated some mad clapperboard skills to help kick off our role-playing.

The high point for me was when we asked our audience to help us close out the talk with my signature sign-off, “Peace, Love, and Code”. George Miranda caught this wonderful moment on camera. It was definitely my favourite photo of the whole event! Jennifer Riggins of The New Stack wrote a wonderful recap of our talk here.

Ana and I gave a talk on Platform Engineering!

OTel Observatory

One of my goals at KubeCon was to create some content around Observability. I have to admit that at the start of the conference, I didn’t exactly know what that would look like. I had this vague plan to accost people at random at the conference center and ask them some fun Observability-related questions. And then I saw it: the OpenTelemetry Observatory booth. This booth, sponsored by Splunk but separate from the Splunk booth, had a few tables, stools, a whiteboard, and some OTel pins and stickers. This was the meeting place of OTel contributors and practitioners.

And so, a new idea was born: creating a “Humans of OTel” video. I spent a chunk of my time at this booth, interviewing various folks involved in OpenTelemetry with the help of Reese and Ana. I got to meet some new OTel folks, like one of the original OTel Collector contributors, Constance Caramanolis, and Amy Tobey, creator of the OTel CLI. The OTel CLI allows you to add tracing to your Bash scripts, and Reese and I just happened to have mentioned it in our CI/CD talk! Talk about fangirl moment!

Overall, the interviews were fun, informal, and at times had some hilarious video-bombing moments. You can check out the final video here!

Work and play at the OTel Observatory.

Final Thoughts

KubeCon Chicago was a blast. It was great to be back as a CNCF Ambassador, and to connect with Ambassadors old and new. I am also so thankful for the opportunity to speak at Observability Day and at the main conference. I know how hard it is to get accepted as a speaker at KubeCon, so I am extra extra grateful for this opportunity. Of course, it also means that the pressure is on to give a talk that resonates with folks, and I’m so glad that it did, in both cases.

This week has reminded me that a lot can happen in the span of a year. It has also reminded me of how important it is to foster a sense of community. I wouldn’t be here without it. I’m most definitely looking forward to the next KubeCon in Paris in 2024!

For quick a recap of my time at KubeCon check out this 90-second-ish video that I made.

And now, please enjoy this photo of my rat Phoebe, who in her old age, has enjoyed many many cuddles from her humans.

Phoebe knows where the cuddles are at. Photo by Adri Villela.

Until next time, peace, love, and code! ✌️💜👩‍💻

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Adriana Villela

DevRel | OTel End User SIG Maintainer | {CNCF,HashiCorp} Ambassador | Podcaster | 🚫BS | Speaker | Boulderer | Computering 20+ years | Opinions my own 🇧🇷🇨🇦