One thing I love about conferences is finding out what other people are doing in industry and getting exposure to new ideas. I like to get external feedback on my work because I find it to be helpful. Here’s some highlights from where I’ve been and what I’ve heard so far in 2015, including Alterconf, RSA, A Data Presentation Course with Edward Tufte, and DevOpsDays NYC.
My first stop was Alterconf in Atlanta this year. I try to support local events and knew I would gain a lot of perspective from the presenters that I probably wouldn’t find elsewhere. There was a lot of discussion about age bias and discrimination for both younger and older people as we all move through those stages during our lives. Starting a culture of continuous learning early in life was a consistently supported goal among the presenters and attendees.
My other take away from alterconf is people may or may not be comfortable representing or discussing the different groups they belong to with anyone. Introverts can have a very difficult time talking tech at an event, for instance. Several speakers at the conference made note of the fact that we will occasionally step on each other’s toes due to what are ultimately misunderstandings and we should be quick to apologize, provide space, and try not to get too upset when someone makes a mistake or appears uncomfortable. I was encouraged to see the consensus lean towards discretely and respectfully bringing any issues up if necessary instead of public exposing someone. Even snapping at a manager in a meeting over a wisecrack about a father ‘babysitting’ his own kids does more harm than good. You shouldn’t stomp on anyone with both feet over failed build either. Having a calmer conversation with a smaller audience if possible was the advice I heard repeatedly throughout the day.
We’ve been having more conversations around anxiety and burn out as a community and talking a lot about comfort, learning, and danger zones. I’m going to openly admit I was more nervous than usual going into alterconf as a white cisgendered heterosexual male. It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know what cisgendered meant before the event. The anxiety quickly passed after I found my seat and realized there were plenty of people there just like me. At a minimum all of us were passionate about technology. It was a very open and welcoming space and I gained a lot of perspective that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There are 5 more sessions scheduled this year if you may be interested in gaining some perspective from a broader range of people that are also passionate about tech.
DevOps Connect @ RSA was a uniquely awesome experience. I met a lot of security folks coming into the DevOps space for the very first time which was encouraging to see. I also got an up close look at the security industry and why they need to gain some insight from a DevOps perspective. The expo floor was the most commercialized one I’ve ever seen at an event. It reminded me of a midway at a state fair. I wouldn’t have been shocked if someone had called me in for a go at the ring toss. Most of the sales pitches sounded like magic beans to me, bolted on for instant risk mitigation.
The one vendor that separated themselves as an exception to this was Tufin. Tufin’s security orchestration suite is a comprehensive solution for network security management providing visibility, change tracking, analysis and auditing for firewall policies, network devices and cloud platforms. It also provides automatic firewall change management and application connectivity management. It assures a tight security posture, rapid service delivery and regulatory compliance across all enterprise platforms.
I haven’t taken it for a spin myself, but Tufin definitely impressed me with their demo and orchestrated approach to the problems security is currently facing.
Certification was also a consistent topic of conversations at RSA. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding in this space between arbitrary compliance and compliance that legitimately mitigates risk or provides a return on invested time and energy. This sentiment echoed through Secretary Jeh Johnson’s keynote, as he announced the opening of a satellite cyber security office in Silicon Valley and an invitation to cooperate with concerns surrounding encryption.
Data Visualizaiton Workshop with Dr. Tufte
My next stop was Boston for a data visualization workshop with Dr. Edward Tufte. When I told him I was a devOps engineer working on dashboards in an enterprise environment I could tell he was curious but may have not heard the word devOps before. The person I was speaking with before Dr. Tufte came by mentioned a health care system that still faxed data between offices and the problems it caused with younger employees that had never used a fax machine before. It was obvious to Dr. Tufte that they should switch it to a web based system, and the frustration with compliance and risk concerns that prevent that change from happening were not lost on him. For lack of better words and opportunity, I offered this as the type of problem devOps is currently trying to solve. The perspective I gained from the session that followed was from an experienced professional that can fully appreciate the current state of the art. I believe I appreciate it now more than ever, for which I’m thankful.
The topic of discussion was ICE, or Inclusion, Complexity, and Empathy, based on a post by Dave Zwieback from earlier this year. The talks focused on how to try to cooperate better between teams both at home and abroad and suggestions on how to handle departments that are more territorial in addition to dealing with our own stress levels.
Attendees seemed particularly grateful towards John Willis and Justin Lintz for talking about burn out and anxiety in our industry among heavier topics. If you’re inclined to start a conversation about these types of health issues in your community then you probably should. I try to shut up and listen as much as possible, and that’s often helps more than one would think. If you have a venue to show John’s video before an open spaces event all you have to do is book the room and be available. Creating an opportunity to discuss these issues is a huge step forward in my opinion.
But wait! There’s More! I’m giving an Automating Enterprise Security Talk at Gluecon outside of Denver later this month. I spoke about this at devOps Connect @ RSA but I always update my content between talks as I get more feedback from folks. If you happen to be at Gluecon this year we should have a conversation over coffee, a beer, or a meal. From my experience a chat tends to be more fun in person than online, as I for one get tired of staring at screens all day.