I attended KubeCon 2021 in-person, here are my top 6 takeaways

on October 21st 2021
Blog
•  events

Last week’s KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2021 was one of the first major tech conferences to offer an in-person option since the start of the pandemic. Most events were available via the MeetingPlay app, and show planners did a really good job blending physical and virtual experiences, so there was something for everyone.

While the vast majority of attendees (approximately 20K online vs 3,300 physically) chose the virtual format due to travel restrictions, or to honor their comfort level, the in-person experience for those of us who took the plunge was … refreshing. 

I was one of those plungers, and this boots-on-the-ground blog recaps six takeaways from last week’s KubeCon 21. Also: 

1) A green light for more (safe) in-person events

Anyone jonesing for an in-person event, but still feeling some pandemic-related reluctance, should feel optimistic about the future of conferences. Based on my KubeCon 21 experience, I can say with confidence, it IS possible to gather safely in large numbers. Of course you need to follow health & safety requirements, and apply the common sense behavior we’re all familiar with by now (i.e. wear a mask), but we can do hard things. 

Also, if you’re going to gather in large numbers during a pandemic, location matters. Last week’s KubeCon 21 was held in Los Angeles, Calif. – once a COVID-19 epicenter that, thanks to high vaccination rate and strict masking, now boasts some of the country’s lowest transmission rates. The CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) chose well.

2) Quantity isn’t everything

The notable difference between KubeCon 21 and the many premier conferences I’ve attended over the years was the amount of foot traffic on the show floor. The show buzz was palpable. The exhibitor floor was covered in fully-staffed booths. People with “safe” green bands were shaking hands. But there were fewer people roaming the floor. 

I wouldn’t call this a bad thing at all: The folks who attended were highly-technical and dedicated to learning about new products and trends.

In my books, safe location + unicorn attendees = successful show.

3) KubeCon 21 felt like old times (aka two years ago)

Aisles that weren’t crammed to the gills and mask-wearing aside, everything else felt pretty familiar.

  1. The event was packed with informative sessions (recaps here).
  2. The keynotes were inspiring, and at times newsworthy (recaps here).
  3. There were parties! 
  4. There were shoulder-to-shoulder team dinners where appetizers were physically shared.
  5. Physical booths are back! Booths are once again a place where you can: 
    • Watch a live demo.
    • Catch up with old colleagues.
    • Meet new colleagues face-to-face for the FIRST time (a common theme this year!)
    • Grab a new sticker for your laptop (the sticker wall was also a good source.) 
    • Play a game to win a prize.
    • Watch a performance. 
    • Get an espresso.
    • Practice your hacky sack and corn row skills. 
    • Experience the “booth crawl.”
    • Pokemon Go (yes, it’s still a thing
    • I could go on and on … all the booth stuff happened.

4) Love notes and theCube

Nothing says “WE’RE BACK” like a sitdown with theCube. Chronosphere co-founder and CEO, Martin Mao, and key investor, Jerry Chen from Greylock Partners, sat down with theCube on Wednesday to break down what separates Chronosphere from the rest of the observability market, and to discuss our new $200 million Series C funding and new distributed tracing capabilities.

5) Observability and other key themes

Sessions and new products revolved around a few top-of-mind issues. Here are a few, with a drill-down on what we see as the most important theme (observability).

  • Need to improve security throughout the app modernization life cycle efforts such as OpenSSF.
  • Enthusiasm around the FinOps project and help with managing visibility and cloud costs in a cloud-native container environment.
  • Buzz around emerging observability products and support for OpenTelemetry. Our KubeCon 21 live blog delves into observability sessions in more detail here.

6) Inclusivity themes abound at KubeCon 21

A diverse set of employees means you have a diverse set of skills, and you solve problems more effectively – but with the turmoil of the past two years, it’s been easy for companies to ignore this wisdom and default to a status quo workforce. Take this one stat for example: Today the percentage of women in tech jobs hovers in the mid-20s to low-30s, and women make up less than 5% of professional developers, according to The New Stack

Kudos to CNCF for taking this social justice issue head on. Discussions around proactively being inclusive swirled everywhere at KubeCon 21 – whether it was during a keynote, a session dedicated to the topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or impromptu expressions from those in attendance.

  • EmpowerUS – this Wednesday panel of women talked about how to overcome the barriers women face when pushing to move up and ahead in the tech world.
  • Expressing it on the Cloud-Native Kindness wall – There was actually a wall with hand-written notes of kindness plastered all over it. Notes expressed everything from gratitude toward a specific person to being happy to be part of a big-tent organization. 


KubeCon + CloudNativeCon EU 2022 in Valencia, Spain is just around the corner. Hopefully trends will continue and we will see even more of you in-person next time.

Photo credit: CNCF Flckr shared drive.

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