ChefConf Retrospective

ChefConf 2015 has officially wrapped up.  This year’s conference was chock full of exciting announcements, astute content, good times, and that special brand of unique Chef community camaraderie.  I have to admit, I’m having ChefConf withdrawals.

My first day working at Chef was the day our very first ChefConf got underway.  I didn’t know much about Chef back then.  Clearly, by having accepted an offer, I’d already connected with enough people at the company to know it was where I wanted to work.  But I didn’t know much about what to expect after that.  What had I signed up for?

Having grown a thriving company and community around an open-source product, there was a palpable sense of accomplishment and forward-looking momentum at that first ChefConf.  But it wasn’t just coming from the folks working at Chef.  That energy also seemed to resonate just as fervently from the community.

ChefConf was full of friends… and laughs… and hugs… with t-shirts… and a sponsored beer hour… and those Ignite talks (omg I LOL’ed so hard!)… and everyone was so intelligent… and passionate… and NICE.  WOW they were so friendly, and insightful, and eager to help one another.  Just a week before, I was wondering if I’d made the right choice.  After that first ChefConf, I knew Chef wasn’t just where I wanted to work; it was where I belonged.  Coming into a new community with such a bang left a lasting impression.  So I’ve especially looked forward to ChefConf in subsequent years.

We’ve had four ChefConfs between then and now.  ChefConf 2015 was just shy of being quadruple the size of ChefConf 2012.  Where have we gone in that time?

Keynote Size

What stood out to me most about ChefConf 2015 was the sheer size of the community and the Chef ecosystem.  Every year I meet new people at ChefConf.  One of the other reasons I enjoy the conference is that a majority of employees at Chef also attend ChefConf.  In years past, I’ve gotten to catch up with so many of the co-workers I don’t typically see throughout the year since we’re so distributed.  This year, at every turn I encountered customers I’d personally worked with, former colleagues I didn’t know were now using Chef, new partners I’d met out in the field, a slew of already existing #cheffriends, and I made some new ones.  But I barely saw my Chef co-workers.  ChefConf is about so much more than just Chef now.

It got me to thinking that’s a bit analogous to what’s happening with Chef as an ecosystem.  Historically, we’ve focused on Chef the Configuration Management tool.  Now we’re looking at everything it takes to manage an entire application infrastructure stack:  Chef Provisioning, Analytics, Push Jobs, Test Kitchen, and Chef Delivery – all of which are driven by the underlying Chef automation framework.  And we’re looking at the integration necessary with various technologies and partners to make it all happen whether deploying to the cloud, on-premise physical resources, or containers.

We also saw a boom in the Partner ecosystem.  AWS, Cloudbees, and Microsoft all held workshops showcasing integration with Chef.  We had more sponsors than ever and more than I can list.  We announced our Certified Partner Program to scale the reach of Chef Professional Services; aligning with our partners not competing against them.  We had many fascinating presentations from partners and I, personally, was quite struck by Jeffrey Snover’s take on Powershell, Microsoft’s entry into the DevOps sphere, and how a passionate desire to solve customer problems has united Microsoft and Chef.  And that was after Microsoft discussing open sourcing Windows.  Wow!!!  And that’s only the beginning.

But I know what some of you might be thinking right about now: how about culture at ChefConf?  As any ideology spreads to a larger group, a predominant concern is typically that culture is somehow endangered.  That’s especially concerning when a group scales as quickly as the Chef Community has.

I remember the moment it dawned on me that Chef was exactly where I belonged.  It was during Adam Jacob’s keynote at our first ChefConf.  I think Adam exemplifies the spirit of helpfulness, insight, and empowerment that defines our community.  It was clear back then and I think it’s even clearer now.  Adam has a knack for wrapping up insights on how to be better at interpersonal relationships, technology, and business in ways that resonate.   I look back now at the messages he’s imparted over the years and I realize they’re all essentially about those same three things except now the message has matured.  Adam shares what he’s learned, owns his past mistakes, offers ways to improve, and moves discussion forward with an inclusive and refined idea that holds true to its original roots.

The Chef Community is maturing in a similar way.  We have many more customers now.  We’re Enterprise friendly.  We’ve grown to include many who may not have spent a majority of their time in open-source corners of the world.  But the community is still friendly, insightful, and eager to help one another.  The difference is that now we’re backing up those insights with data and science.  We’re helping one another with Diversity Scholarships.  And now our community friendliness trends on Twitter.


We may have fewer lolcats at ChefConf these days.  But they’ve given way to videos from both Chef and the community.  Instead we’re moving toward deployment GIFs.  And even those deserve some science behind them.

Perhaps “maturing” isn’t the right word? ;-)

Here’s what I know: four ChefConfs in and we’re doing things better, faster, with greater outreach and much more inclusion – with both people and technology.  Our momentum is increasing: the LOLs, the hugs, the friends, the tools, the ecosystem, and the talent to drive transformation.  And they all show no signs of slowing.

THANK YOU, CHEFCONF.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all who make it possible: those who work all year to make ChefConf happen, those who do their normal day jobs and contribute to the community at night, everyone attending, everyone who couldn’t attend and is with us in spirit, our sponsors, everyone who continues to push for greater inclusion and understanding, and to everyone helping to change the ways our businesses function.  YOU are the reason this is all possible.

Is it time for ChefConf 2016 yet?  Again!  Again!

Share your favorite moments, memories, and observations from ChefConf in the comments below.


George Miranda

Former Chef Employee