ChefConf 2019 from an Engineering Perspective

Wow! I made it to ChefConf 2019!

It was an incredible experience, filled with high-energy from not just the Chef folks themselves, but from the amazing group of Chef collaborators, customers, and community members. I am an engineer at Chef–not sales or customer solutions so I do not have the continual customer interactions of those folks–so it was particularly delightful to be able to meet folks from all over the country and, indeed, the world (from as far away as Johannesburg and Shanghai, no less!!).

In my daily life, while monitoring the hub-bub of Slack activity that is Chef, customer or community issues frequently surface that I or my fellow engineers will enthusiastically jump on to understand, isolate, and provide aid. Helping Chef community members succeed is how we succeed. But it rises to a whole other level getting to see this happen live, and not just as an observer, but as an active participant!

I was not sure going into my first ChefConf how–or if–I would be able to make a difference. I am sharing this not to say “Ooh, look how cool I am!” but rather to say “I did these modest things, and other Chefs did a whole lot more so that we can collectively make your experience in the ‘Chef kitchen’ as good as it can possibly be!”

  • Monday, I attended the  Chef Automate introductory workshop so that I could note any pain points and bring those back to my development team.
  • I was also there was to be a resource in case there were questions beyond the knowledge (vast though it was!) of the well-practiced instructors, Jodi and Tom. And there were a couple questions that came up that I could answer, as well as a couple that I could not. But I hopped on Slack to confer with my colleagues and found answers to those, too.
  • During the week, I helped out at the Chef Booth for a couple shifts. There is where I really had a chance to hone my “That’s a great question; let’s find you an answer” skills, thanks to the keen group of solution architects standing at the ready.
  • There was also a chance to support the ChefUX team with their user interviews, by being a note-taker, allowing the UX designer to focus on having a conversation with the user. They were doing usability studies to get feedback on stuff we have in active development, to help ensure that we are delivering what is most useful from the point of view of YOU, our customer.  And even there, I found a couple actionable things to take back to my own development team.
  • On Thursday, I went to HackDay with the intention of again being there to help out if needed. A couple folks who I had met earlier in the week asked me about a particular issue they had. I was ready with my erudite “Hmm, I don’t know that one” response, but it was immediately followed with “But you are in just the right place. Hop up to the microphone on stage, ask your question,  and you will not be disappointed.” And each time, they heard from other community members eagerly willing to engage.

Having this chance to hear directly from customers how they use our products was amazing. It was also quite gratifying to hear all the great stories from customers about how Chef is supporting their businesses in tremendous ways!!

Attending any conference is a significant time investment, of course. Obviously, I am biased by the fact that I work for Chef but, from my vantage point, our customers attending this year’s ChefConf found it an investment that paid off in spades, getting practical information to take away with them not just from the formal presentations but from each other as well. I feel a great sense of satisfaction that I was able to play a very small part in that, and I can’t wait until next year!

You can view the recordings from ChefConf 2019 on our Youtube channel, and look out for more info about ChefConf 2020.

Michael Sorens

Michael Sorens is a Chef senior software engineer working on ChefAutomate, and is passionate about productivity, process, and quality. He enjoys spreading the seeds of good design wherever possible, having written over 100 articles, more than a dozen wallcharts, and posted in excess of 200 answers on StackOverflow.