2019 is shaping up as a “coming home” year for Chef. After recently reaffirming its commitment to an open source strategy, the company is gearing up for the best ChefConf yet. ChefConf, scheduled for May 20-23, is coming home to Seattle and many of the Chef favorites including Adam Jacobs, John Willis and more will be speaking.
I had a chance to catch up with Nell Shamrell-Harrington, principal software development engineer and community engineering lead at Chef, who gave us a great preview of the whole event as well as her own presentation, and shared what her most anticipated sessions and activities are.
You can still register for ChefConf, as well as get more information at: chefconf.chef.io/
As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
Alan Shimel: Hello, everyone, this Alan Shimel, DevOps.com, and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat.
Today’s DevOps Chat is all about the upcoming Chef Conference, and I’m happy to be joined by Nell Shamrell-Harrington, Principal Engineer at Chef. Nell, welcome to DevOps Chat.
Nell Shamrell-Harrington: Hello, Alan! Greetings from Seattle. It’s fantastic to be here.
Shimel: Yes, it is. How’s the weather in Seattle?
Shamrell-Harrington: Surprisingly sunny today, and it wasn’t raining when I came in, so pretty darn good for Seattle in April.
Shimel: Absolutely. Well, look—in April, April showers. But, you know, the whole weather in Seattle thing is a bit of a fallacy. You know, they get—
Shamrell-Harrington: What I tell people, when they ask me does it rain a lot, I said, “Yes, but it’s not, like, soaking rain. There’s a constant mist in the air that gets in to your bones and makes you cold.” So, you learn to deal with that, but yep, greetings from beautiful for today, at least, Seattle.
Shimel: Good for—[Laughter] good for you. Alright, so now, the big news is, we are, what, about a month, maybe a month and a week, a month and 10 days out of ChefConf, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: We are indeed. I need to write my keynote. [Laughter]
Shimel: I would say, let’s get started, yeah—might be a good idea. And this year, after ChefConf having kinda wandered around for a few years to Chicago and Austin and I think Santa Clara I was at one and a bunch of other places, you guys are coming home to Seattle, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: We are indeed, and we are very excited about this. We look forward to welcoming the entire Chef community to our home of Seattle.
Shimel: Absolutely. And when we say coming home now, you know, I think it’s figuratively and literally and kinda philosophically.
Shimel: As ChefConf really represents a sort of coming home for Chef in a lot of ways, do you agree?
Shamrell-Harrington: I agree. We made the recent announcement—which I know you covered on a previous episode—about 100 percent of our product code now being open source. And one of the reasons we did that was, Chef was created through the open source community. Chef—I mean, the open source community built every piece of the foundation that Chef stands on, so we are returning to those roots with open sourcing 100 percent of our product code and a lot of the discussion about that will be at ChefConf in our geographical home as well.
Shimel: Yep. And, you know, I mean, the open source, reaffirmation of the open source commitment, I think, is one part of it. I think another part of it, though, Nell is—you know, look, I’ve run DevOps.com now for five, six years, right? And when I first got into DevOps, you know, Chef was one of the blocks of granite, if you will, upon which the DevOps foundation or the DevOps world was kinda built.
And over the years, you know, there’s been a lot of shiny toys that have come, as such happens in the tech space, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: Of course.
Shimel: And you sort of say, “Yeah, you know, that was—you know, Chef almost was old and what is it doing to stay current? Is it still relevant? And there’s Kubernetes” and all of these things. But to me, this ChefConf represents a bold, provocative, confident Chef coming, in their home court, kinda like the Hawks, right, coming out of the—
Shamrell-Harrington: Very much so, or their home stadium, but yes.
Shimel: – with the 12th man, and saying, “Hey, man, we’re still here, we’re still kicking, but we’re still innovating, we’re still true to our roots, and we’re still helping people with DevOps.” Fair?
Shamrell-Harrington: Absolutely. I believe that is completely fair. We are walking this DevOps journey together, both the Chef community and Chef the company as well. And this is bringing us back into sync.
Shimel: Cool. So, let’s dive in a little bit. You mentioned the open source commitment, and we have covered that before. Give us some—you know, and you’re gonna keynote, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: I am, indeed. I’ll be keynoting, I’ll be first up on day two. So, make sure to be there on time.
Shimel: Can we get a little preview without getting in trouble?
Shamrell-Harrington: Absolutely, we can. So, I will be discussing developing software through a community. When I was starting to brainstorm this talk, I was worried that—you know, I’m a Principal Engineer. I’m very used to giving technical talks. I was worried people would respond with, “Why are you giving a cultural talk?” And I realized, open source community, it’s not cultural or technical, it’s both. And that’s really where the magic of working in open source Chef has come.
We work on fantastic technologies, we work with fantastic technologies including Kubernetes, Terraform, and so many more, but we do it with amazing humans.
Shimel: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Nell, you’re not allowed to mentioned your keynote, but give me what you’re looking forward to, the top three things at ChefConf this year that you might be looking forward to. And if you wanna do five, feel free.
Shamrell-Harrington: Absolutely! Well, for ChefConf itself, I’m really looking forward to the Community Summit on Monday, May 20th. That’s when we get together, we hold a bunch of open spaces, we talk about what Chef is doing and where we as both a company and a community wanna go.
So, there’ll be a lot of talking at the summit on Monday, and then on Thursday, we have our hack day. It’s not a competitive hackathon, it’s more people getting together in groups and building something together. So, after we talk on Monday, we’ll start building what we’ve discussed on Thursday, and I hope to see everyone there.
Shimel: Great. So, that’s one.
Shimel: What are some of the others?
Shamrell-Harrington: As far as the sessions go, we have sessions from people from retail, government, banks, major cloud providers, and so much more. A few that I am particularly looking forward to are “A Habitat for Democracy.” That’s going to be by Chris Alfano of Code of America. They use Habitat to help them—they use Habitat for civic hacking, essentially. So, looking forward to hearing more from him.
Another one is, “FIPS Doesn’t Have to Be a Four Letter Word” from Keith Walters of TapHere! FIPS is Federal Information Processing Standards. It is as boring as it sounds, but it is extraordinarily important for our government customers, especially those who work in particularly sensitive areas of the government.
And then the third one, I mentioned how Chef, it doesn’t compete with things like Hashicorp, Terraform, or Kubernetes, it works with them. And one talk I’m particularly looking forward to is, “Terraform and Chef.” That’ll be by Seth Lippman and Andy Herm of Oracle.
Shimel: Very cool! You know, I will say, FIPS may not be boring, but it is expensive. [Laughter]
Shimel: In my previous life, we had to have our information assurance, as the U.S. Army calls cyber security, our information assurance solutions FIPS certified for the encryptions and stuff. And that was an ordeal, to say the least, so, I’m interested to—I’d love to listen in on that one.
You know, you mentioned Terraform. There’s a lot of stuff coming out of the Linux Foundation recently now—
Shimel: – between Cloud Native and now this new CD Foundation that’s spun up out of Linux Foundation. It really is, you know, this whole move to Cloud Native is, in many ways, in my mind, anyway, Chef and some of the foundational work you guys did kinda laid the groundwork for the move to a Cloud Native world.
Shamrell-Harrington: Very much. You know, the groundwork, the reason Chef was founded, the reason Cloud Native was founded is, we had this still radical idea that working with technology did not have to be as painful as it normally is.
I remember I reached out to Gene Kim on Twitter after I read The Phoenix Project and I told him, “You know, it actually made me physically cry,” the first half at least, because it was so familiar. All that pain of dealing with both technical debt and cultural debt.
And what we’ve said at Chef, what Linux Foundation is saying, what other Cloud Native foundations are saying is—there is a better way. It does not have to be this painful. And we’re working to make a world where it’s not as painful as it has been to run technology.
Shimel: Amen. You know, I remember sitting with Gene Kim reading a manuscript of Phoenix Project, and you know, those characters in there are composites of real people.
Shamrell-Harrington: Oh, yes.
Shimel: And when you—you know, when you think back to who the real people are, I mean, it is dead on. I mean, truth is truth is truth.
So, I’m assuming there are gonna be people in our audience who are absolutely attending ChefConf, but there are also people who have attended them in the past, but then there’s also gonna be a lot of people who have never attended a ChefConf listening in. And, you know, for those who haven’t—shame on you.
Shimel: [Laughter] But beyond that, you know, you’re missing a great time, because it’s not all sessions, ChefConf.
Shamrell-Harrington: Very much.
Shimel: ChefConf is very much a community, a bit of a love fest, if you will, around Chef, right? And there’s always some great social activities. Can you give us a preview, maybe?
Shamrell-Harrington: Sure. Two of the ones I’m looking forward to, I believe it’s on Tuesday, we’ll be holding game night. We started doing those at ChefConf a few years ago, and I’ve always appreciated it. I have hearing loss, so, when I’m in a big, crowded, very loud party, I can’t have conversations with people, because I’m only getting every third or fourth word, depending on what frequency their voice is.
But with game night, it’s quieter. People are more focused, there’s something to do. I’ve met coworkers—or people who became my coworkers a year later through game night. It’s a wonderful way to connect on a deeply personal level with other attendees and other employees of Chef.
Shimel: And it’s fun.
Shamrell-Harrington: It’s absolutely fun. I think we’re gonna have, something we’ve traditionally had a Chef game night has been a gamed called Artemis, which is—I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this, but it’s kind of like a Star Trek LARP without actually being Star Trek. [Laughter] But there’ll be board games as well, card games, Adam Jacob always runs a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It’s gonna be a wonderful world of geeky fun.
And then, on Wednesday, if kinda the traditional party is more what you enjoy, we’ll be holding the community celebration. And because we want to highlight the wonderful things Seattle has to offer, it will be catered by Tom Douglas. For all you foodies out there, you know that’s a very, very big name, both in Seattle cuisine and nationally and internationally.
And we have two classic Seattle bands playing. The first is Mudhoney, and the second is Deep Sea Diver. They will be playing the celebration, and we are very much looking forward to hearing them and sharing that with our community.
Shimel: So, providing a little translation in the background, right? If Tom Douglas is there, there’s a good chance there might be some killer salmon.
Shimel: He makes—I was actually privileged, he did—I forgot what event or gathering I was at. But they brought Tom in, and he showed us how to fillet a salmon.
Shamrell-Harrington: Oh! What a wonderful experience!
Shimel: Yeah, that was pretty cool. And then, of course, we went to one of his restaurants for dinner, and it wasn’t terrible. But beyond that, the Chef party—and that’s usually like the last night or the night before the last day kind of thing.
Shamrell-Harrington: Yeah, it’s the night before the hack day.
Shimel: Yep, and that’s always a great party, because by then, you know, the sessions are in, people have networked around a bit, have talked about a lot of the technology, and it’s a good time to have a good time, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: It is, absolutely. Whenever I’m speaking at a conference, I always enjoy the conference after my talk much more than the conference before my talk.
Shimel: Right. Well, because before, you’re all tensed, keyed up on doing that. You know, Nell, you mentioned Adam Jacob, and I’m sure some of the folks sitting out there are saying, “Well, I heard Adam’s not the CTO any more. What’s he doing there?”
Again, I think it talks to the power of Chef. I think it talks about Chef reaffirming its roots and all of that. It’s that—yes, Adam is not the CTO any more. He’s out doing his Foundation thing. But he is going to be there, he is presenting, if I’m—
Shamrell-Harrington: He is. He’s presenting on day two as well.
Shimel: What other kinda—John Willis is speaking as well. John, I think, was, I wanna say, employee eight or nine at Chef back in the day.
Shimel: And he’s also speaking, as well as he will be there on behalf of Digital Anarchist, which is a video platform John and I partner on—
Shamrell-Harrington: Oh, great!
Shimel: – and we’ll be doing interviews. Yes, we’ll be doing interviews all through ChefConf, so look for the little video set, if you wanna say hello to John or check out some of the videos we’re shooting.
What about training, though? Isn’t there training or something going on earlier?
Shamrell-Harrington: It is, indeed. Monday, which is the day of the Community Summit, along with the Community Summit, we’re running several training sessions. So, if you wanna learn more about Chef, you wanna learn more about Chef and Kubernetes—all sorts of topics. If you wanna get hands on before the sessions begin so you get familiar with the technologies that people are going to be presenting, that’s a great way to do it.
Shimel: Absolutely, absolutely. So, you know, Nell, interesting—look, you’re a perfect person to speak to the ChefConf crowd, right? Because it is a fairly engineering focused crowd, right?
Shamrell-Harrington: It is. It’s historically been primarily practitioners, though that is starting to change. We’re getting what we call decision makers as well, but it is primarily an engineering crowd.
Shimel: You know, someone could be a practitioner and a decision maker.
Shamrell-Harrington: Absolutely! [Laughter] Absolutely. And they make the best decision makers.
Shimel: I guess they call that diversity, but anyway [Laughter]—in a funny kind of way. Anyway, but there’s really something for everything at Chef there. What I’m trying to get at is, I don’t want people listening to this who are saying, “Well, I’m not geeky enough for that” or, “I’m not an engineer” or, “I’m not a developer,” right? If you’re at all interested in how software is getting done, how today’s winning teams are doing it—I mean, there’s something there for you at Chef.
If I can ask you—and we didn’t talk about this beforehand, so I don’t mean to put you on the spot—give me what you think is one session that, frankly, you don’t have to be an engineer for, and you’ll still get a lot out of it.
Shamrell-Harrington: The one I would recommend is, “Bridging the Great Divide: Using Chef as a Spark for DevOps.” That is going to be given by Brittany Woods of CARFAX, and I believe will illustrate not just their technical transformation but their cultural transformation, because the two of them go hand in hand.
Shimel: Absolutely. I gotta tell you, to this day still, one of my favorite ChefConf presentations was the guy from, was it Alaska Air, or Air Alaska? I always mix those—
Shamrell-Harrington: It’s Alaska Airlines, yeah. The keynote a few years ago?
Shamrell-Harrington: I remember that, the CTO of Alaska Airlines. That was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.
Shimel: It was. That was a really good one. Anything else we wanna highlight?
Shamrell-Harrington: I would say, if you deal with technology at all, whether that’s as a developer or as an engineer or something else entirely, ChefConf is the place for you. We are obviously going to be highlighting Chef solutions for how to do technology better, but that’s not the only thing we’ll be doing. If you wanna meet a lot of other people who are having the same struggles as you, solving those struggles in new and different ways, please come to ChefConf.
Shimel: Excellent, excellent. You know what we haven’t done, though, Nell? We never told anyone where to go to get the information.
Shamrell-Harrington: Ah! Head on over to—let me check it real quick—ChefConf.chef.io. Or, if you Google ChefConf, you should get the correct ChefConf. If you see that it’s a conference for food chefs, that’s probably not the right one, [Laughter] but check out ChefConf. It’s in Seattle at the end of May, and we would love to see you there.
Shimel: Absolutely. And there’s still—there’s still tickets, I mean, you—
Shamrell-Harrington: There are absolutely still tickets.
Shimel: Cool. Hey, Nell Shamrell-Harrington, thanks for being our guest on this episode of DevOps Chat. Continued success with Chef, and looking forward to a rock and rolling ChefConf.
Shamrell-Harrington: Thank you so much, Alan. Great to be here, and looking forward to seeing everyone at ChefConf.
Shimel: Fantastic. We’ll talk to you soon. This is Alan Shimel for DevOps.com with this update on the upcoming ChefConf conference. You can get more information at, I guess it’s ChefConf.chef.io, or just Google ChefConf.
Until then, or until next time, you’ve just listened to another DevOps Chat.