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DevOps Days Vancouver 2013 Retrospective
by Phil Whelan

Phil Whelan, November 19, 2013

DevOps Days Vancouver It has been a few weeks since DevOps Days Vancouver 2013. The dust has finally settled after a great event and I have been playing catch-up on getting Stackato 3.0-beta out the door. The event went pretty much like clockwork, except for a few brief technical issues at the beginning. The talks, the food, the Open Space sessions were all well received. I am pretty confident that we can classify this one as “a success”.

From the very beginning we did not know what to expect from doing this event in Vancouver. Leading up to the DevOps Days Vancouver I was head down deep in the logistics of running the first conference I have ever been involved in. As the event approached I admit I was thinking more about sandwiches, coffee, chairs, printed signs, large post-it notes, sharpies and live-streaming than subject matter of "DevOps".

The morning of, everything was in place, an awesome group of volunteers, caterers and technicians turned up to setup. By 8am people were coming in. The breakfast area was getting crowded and it suddenly hit me... people are here! This thing is actually happening! By the time we started, the venue was at capacity and throbbing at the seams.

We packed out the 170 seat theatre and had extra seats for overflow. We also had a large video screen and audio in the atrium, so folks could hang out there and not miss a thing.

During the first break it became apparent that most attendees and sponsors had not expected this to be too much of an event. Everyone I talked to, especially the sponsors, were buzzing, saying that if they had know it was going to be like this, they would have done much more. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be excited to be there. There is definitely something to be said about lowered expectations.

The Right Crowd

With DevOps Days, the "line-up" does not just include the speakers, which were all great btw. The line-up includes every attendee. As we sold tickets, I kept a close eye on who was coming. This is something, as an organizer, you have little control over, but it is important for the Open Space sessions and general success of the conference that you have the right crowd. We definitely had the right crowd.

Word spread through the Polyglot Vancouver meetup group, the Ruby meetup group, Twitter and general word of mouth. It was apparent from the beginning that the brand of "DevOps Days" pretty much carried itself.

A Necessary Evil

DevOps Days Vancouver Sponsors

I have heard it said that sponsors are "a necessary evil" of a grassroots event like DevOps Days. Luckily none of our sponsors were evil, as far as I could tell, but they were all definitely necessary. Without ActiveState writing that first cheque and DemonWare following quickly behind, this event would not have made it off the runway. Deposits needed to paid early on before we had speakers or attendees, or really any idea of what we were doing. It was blind faith and a strong desire for this event to take place that drove those first two sponsorships.

Other sponsors came in afterwards and each one seemed to come in at a critical cash-flow time. While people were very interested in the event, I could sense that most people were thinking "is this really happening?". In the final few weeks, when tickets were flying off the shelves and there is a buzz around the event, suddenly everything became much easier. In fact, now that we have 2013 under our belts and a small fund for deposits in the bank, 2014 should be a breeze to get off the ground, in comparison.

2014

Many people have asked about 2014. They were even asking me during the event. At that time I was not even thinking past the end of the 2013 event. Did I want go through with this again next year? Would ActiveState allow me to spend so much time on it again? Which speaker is up next? Does the coffee need refilling again? Is it time to set up the chairs? Where did I leave my tea? I would have to leave thinking about 2014 until 2013 was out of the way.

There is still a strong demand for this to happen. I have spoken so several people who attended the event, other organizers and volunteers. It seems assumed that 2014 will definitely happen and who am I to stand in the way of assumption. Let's do it!

I think we are going to have to scale up the event from 200 to 300. This will mean a bigger venue.

I really liked the Vancity Theatre for many reasons. The actual theatre was great. It had large comfortable seats, huge screen, great sound, large stage area and great technical support. I also found the large video screen in the atrium, outside the theatre, was fantastic for hanging out, but staying engaged in the event. It was also helpful for us organizers knowing what was going on inside the theatre.

Where the Vancity Theatre fell short for us, was with the Open Spaces, which is obviously not what a theatre is designed for. Our Open Space area inside the theatre, around the stage, worked really well. The "Green Room" space was also good, but the other spaces around the atrium got a little noisy and it was hard to separate the sound. This is because we had to cram so many Open Spaces together in close proximity.

Another limitation of the venue, solely due to our late booking, was that we had to be in at 7am and out and clear by 5:30pm, since the theatre was booked to show movies in the evening. It took some good planning to make sure we could handle this constraint. 120 comfortable (non-folding) chairs needed to delivered and picked up each day. All sponsors needed to do setup and teardown each day (thanks!). The vast amounts of excess food we had needed to be packed up and taken away by a charity. We needed to vacuum, put all the furniture back where it came from and get 190 people out of the venue. I enjoyed the "Go! Go! Go!" challenge of this, but I think I went over the logistics of this process too many times in my head prior to the event, when I could have been sleeping.

Thanks to the amazing bunch of volunteers we had, we were clear by 5:20pm both days. You would never have known we had been there.

The Talks

We managed to livestream all the talks, including the Ignite talks to livestream. The stream was recorded and cut up into individual talks and has been posted on Vimeo. Unfortunately we had to lower the bitrate on the Friday, so the quality is not as high as the Saturday, but the audio is good. We also have the slides.

Talks - Friday

DevOps Lessons Learned
- Michael Collins

Living System or Build Factory
- Chris Maxwell

Comparative study of analytics algorithms for anomaly detection in the data center
- Toufic Boubez

Sensu Intro
- Sean Porter

The Ignites - Friday

Open Spaces - Friday Videos

Talks - Saturday

From Vagrant to Production
- Mark Eijsermans

Test Kitchen 1.0
- Fletcher Nichol

Amazon OpsWorks - Use cases and Chef Integration
- Yuichiro Mori, Garrett Eidsvig and Chris Barclay

Building for Operations
- Reinhardt Quelle

The Ignites - Saturday Videos

Open Spaces - Saturday

DevOps Days Vancouver Open Spaces

Can You Wait?

If you are itching to do more DevOps Days and you cannot wait until 2014 you have several options.

Conclusion

Which ever city DevOps Days happens in, it seems to be a big success. Prior to running DevOps Days Vancouver, I attended the Atlanta DevOps Days and I got a lot out of it. Other ActiveState employees have attended DevOps Days around the U.S. and we are never disappointed. This is due to a global passionate community and the guiding hand of people like Patrick Debois in the global DevOps Days organizing team.

DevOps Days Vancouver Organizers

DevOps Days was the first DevOps Days to occur in Canada. This is something we are very proud of. I hope there will more DevOps Days events in Canada and we are happy to assist anyone who wants to make that happen.

As we start planning for 2014, we would love to hear your feedback on 2013 and any ideas for 2014. The theme for 2013 was "keep it simple, get it done". This worked well and we will probably continue this philosophy next year. We were very strict with sponsors, sticking strictly to the sponsorship PDF that was created at the very beginning. We did not try to do anything fancy and made sure all the basics were covered first. I would recommend this strategy for anyone organizing a DevOps Days. It meant that in the last few weeks everything came together and we had put ourselves in a position where we could loosen our belts and upgrade many aspects, such as the catering and evening event, which we had previously been conservative with.

Thanks again to everyone who was involved in DevOps Days Vancouver 2013. It really was a community affair and brought out a different side of the tech community that has not been seen before at this scale.

See you in 2014 or hopefully before!

Thanks

To the rest of the organizing team - Jenny Yang - Sean Rousseau - Dave Whiteley - Natalie Murray - Kelcey Damage - Saem Ghani - Jonathan Thorpe - Patrick Debois

Sponsors - ActiveState - Demonware - Hootsuite - CA - AnsibleWorks - Polyglot Vancouver - Unbounce - Colony Networks - Opscode - Pulse Energy

Vendors - Bon Chaz - Salmon's Rentals - Playfullscreen - Vancity Theatre

And thanks to the volunteers!!

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Phil Whelan has been a software developer at ActiveState since early 2012 and has been involved in many layers of the Stackato product, from the JavaScript-based web console right through to the Cloud Controller API. Phil has been the lead developer on kato, the command-line tool for administering Stackato. Phil's current role is a Technology Evangelist focused on Stackato. You will see Phil regularly on ActiveState's Blog. Prior to coming to ActiveState, Phil worked in London for BBC, helping build the iPlayer, and Cloudera in San Francisco, support Hadoop and HBase. He also spent time in Japan, where he worked for Livedoor.com and met his wife. Phil enjoys working with big data and has built several large-scale data processing applications including real-time search engines, log indexing and a global IP reputation network. You can find Phil on Twitter at @philwhln, where you can ask him any questions about Stackato. Alternatively, email at philw at activestate.com