Puppetize Live 2018
I'm writing this on the plane home from Amsterdam after an exciting, challenging, educational, and ultimately successful week. For those that don't know Puppet conducted a grand experiment this year: instead of hosting a multi-day, multi-track conference (nee Puppetconf), our annual celebration was a single-track, live streamed event that ran for 22 hours across 3 cities. A lot of people had a lot of feelings about it, so I'll stick to speaking for myself and my experiences in this post.
When I first heard about the new format I was genuinely excited. I attend a lot of conferences of varying quality and formats, and I appreciated how Puppet was trying to 1. Increase community involvement and the accessibility of PuppetConf, 2. Reach out on a global scale rather than happen just in the US, and 3. Focus more on content and less on the 'party'. Each of these goals aligned strongly with my personal values and those of the company, and I had never heard of a conference trying this format so was interested to see how it would go. It was and is a great idea.
We got a lot of negative feedback throughout the conference process, from when we announced it through the conference itself. I don't want to harp on it here - we've talked about it enough internally and I'd only be spiralling in the same eddies of negativity. I was surprised and disappointed in the Puppet community, and while I heard only 1/10th of the abuse our organizers got it changed my expectations going into the event for the worse, and made me equal parts defensive / wary / pressured / upset.
I was lucky enough to be sent to AMSTERDAM to talk about Bolt, the project I work on, and even luckier to be going with some really fantastic coworkers.
A quick aside, while we're talking about coworkers. International travel is stressful. Running a conference, especially an experimental one, is stressful. Doing both of these at the same time is borderline insane. The people I work with didn't just put on a fantastic event, they did so with compassion, humanity, empathy, and selflessness. They were calm and kind in the most strenuous, frustrating, nerve-wracking circumstances. They communicated clearly, were respectful of everyone involved, and pulled off an international event with barely a hiccup. But most of all, I really enjoyed getting to travel with them. It's so rare that you can say you work well with everyone on your team, let alone that you enjoy spending 18 hours a day in a foreign country for a week with your team. I can't believe how fortunate I am to work with humans who are so nice, understanding, and friendly, and who I still want to go to dinner with at 8pm after getting up at 6am and rehearsing together for ~10 hours.
Ok, gushy aside over. I got into Amsterdam on Sunday, and spent most of Monday and Tuesday rehearsing my keynote demo and prepping for my Bolt talk. Tuesday night was the first 'official' event of Puppetize, a pre-event meetup at a cute nearby pub. There were maybe 3 or 4 dozen people there, a mix of Puppet customers, open source Puppet users, and Puppet employees. Maybe it was because I was so jet lagged still, maybe it was because of the aforementioned animosity towards the new event, maybe it was cultural differences, or maybe it was just my imagination, but it felt like a lot of the people I talked to were weirdly....skeptical? I couldn't tell if they didn't think I was technical (no surprise there weren't a ton of female engineers...), if they weren't sure what the event was about, or if these things are just more awkward than I remembered. Thinking back to the Puppet Contributor Summit last year, it felt like everyone I talked to loved Puppet, and was really excited about the work we were doing - or at least interested in our new tools. For whatever reason, this event felt more like people were asking "Prove to me that this was worth my time". It wasn't all bad, I had some interesting conversations, but it was less good than in previous years.
The next morning we got up bright and early, and arrived at the venue before any of the coffee shops had even opened. We all paced around nervously while A/V set up, and then we got to have our makeup done. Yeah! Puppet hired a makeup artist to make sure we didn't look shiny on camera, and she was nice enough to do a full face of makeup for me. I've never had my makeup done before, and it was an entirely new and mostly pleasant experience. I felt so nervous that she would do something I didn't like - you should have seen my face when she pulled out a curling iron - but of course she did a great job and it ended up being really fun and feeling very luxurious to have someone do my makeup.
Then it was time to go! We all watched the keynotes progress backstage, going out in turn as it was our turn. My role was to run 2 out of 4 product demos, first of Bolt (the easy one, obviously) then of Continuous Delivery for Puppet Enterprise (CD4PE). I thought the demos went well, specifically because we had been rehearsing so much in the last few days. I hit all my talking points, I sounded confident and knowledgeable, and I felt I showed both tools in their best light.
After the keynotes we got to mingle with attendees for a bit, which is always the best part of conferences. People were excited about Bolt, which was exciting for us, and there was a good mix of easy-to-answer technical questions and interesting-to-consider questions about where we would take the project from here. I had never heard of Choria before, but we fielded a lot of questions about it's compatibility, as well as how Bolt could replace some of MCollective's functionality. A lot of folks I talked to were on old versions of Puppet (3.8 or earlier), and while they were trying to upgrade there were a lot of challenges, MCO's deprecation being one of many. The other topic we heard a lot about was credential management, and developing workflows for authenticating bolt with different parts of their infrastructure.
Next up was talks, and mine was last in the morning set. I'll be honest, I didn't really hear much of the other 2 talks since I was buzzing with so much nervousness and excitement about my own talk. While I'm a practiced public speaker, this talk felt like it had higher stakes than many of my other talks: rather than being for a bunch of strangers, I knew many of my coworkers and friends would likely watch this talk, and that it could really impact the success of our project. I wasn't nervous that my talk wouldn't go well, but that it wouldn't be well received or that if it didn't go well it could have real consequences.
But once I took the stage, I was in my comfort zone. Bolt is the easiest topic in the world to talk about since it's the thing I spend most of my waking hours thinking about. I wish I had polished my demo more, and used VMs instead of a canned demo (for obvious reasons, if you watch). But demo flubs are nothing new in tech talks, and I thought overall that I showed Bolt off well. I crammed a lot of features into not a lot of time, and while others on my team could probably have done a better job I felt I had done the best I could (again, demo aside).
After talks, there was lunch and more mingling with users. Now more people had more easy-technical questions about bolt, and it was exciting to hear some folks had already downloaded and started playing with it. One of my favorite things about the project is how easy it is to understand, explain, and get started with, which makes those first user experiences fun rather than frustrating. A member from my team, Nick, was fielding questions as well, and after the adrenaline of both talks that morning and lingering jet lag I felt pretty zoned out by the end of lunch. I took a walk and a long lunch, and made sure to be back in time for Paula and Helen's talk that afternoon.
Though I'd already seen a practice version, I really enjoyed their talk. It was funny and informative, and focused on making life easier for our community and contributors. As always, I'm a sucker for an open source software talk, and thought they did a great job! I'm reasonably certain it was their first time speaking, too, and you'd never know it from their performance.
I left to hang out at the Puppet booth a bit and answer questions about Puppet during the last talk. Then was our after-hours event, Puppet Connect. I think there was supposed to be a community aspect to this event, similar to a mini-contributor-summit, but it ended up falling a bit flat. In the end I just spent more time talking to users, some of whom were familiar faces by now, and then we headed out to a celebratory dinner. With that, the curtain had closed on Puppetize Live 2018!
We had a lot of positive feedback about the event during it. I heard so many times that folks would never be able to go to San Francisco for a week for PuppetConf, but could easily travel anywhere in Europe for a day or 2. After so much negativity, this feedback made my heart sing since that was the whole point! I was so glad that people who would not have otherwise been able to participate were able to come.
The positive side of the live stream is that everything was published online pretty shortly after airing. It was great to be able to refer folks to talks that had happened in other timezones, and know that it would only take 25 minutes of their time to get caught up on a topic or tool.
Puppetize Live felt a lot smaller than PuppetConf, and while I didn't necessarily miss the 'party' aspect of PuppetConf I did miss the feeling of a large Puppet community coming together and celebrating. This felt more like a glorified meetup than a conference, and while a more intimate event was great in some ways it overall made the experience feel more empty. I didn't feel the same sense of awe at how our software was impacting the world, but felt more like I was trying to convince people it was worth their time.
Similarly, the Puppet open source community felt much smaller and like a 'side event'. The contributor summit last year felt big and important, and made the community feel vibrant. Puppet connect was by comparison tiny, insignificant, and dominated by long standing community members (so it didn't feel like there was really room for me at the table, literally and figuratively), and felt like an afterthought. This also made the open-source and community aspects of Puppet feel understated, and I wished we had more emphasis on what our users were doing with Puppet than the new products.
Lastly, I was disappointed with the live-stream and slack participation. It seemed like not many folks watched, and even fewer commented in channel. Those who did comment would comment on what they didn't like about talks, rather than asking questions or talking about the technology. It brought out people's troll-iest behavior, which was disheartening.
I'm proud of the event we held and of my role in it, and disappointed that it felt like that didn't resonate with our community. I had a lot of fun, and feel a renewed connection to working for Puppet as a company and working on Bolt as a project. I love my job, and felt a renewed sense of purpose after Puppetize. But I also felt disheartened by the lack of enthusiasm from others, and hope that as an organization we can find new ways to get people pumped about our software.