What’s Up With The Chef Community Summit?

With the Chef Community Summits (Seattle and London) fast approaching, I wanted to share my experiences as a new member of the Chef community about the value of the Chef Community Summit.

Last fall, I attended the Chef Community Summit in Seattle. It was my first Chef community event larger than a user group. I really didn’t know what to expect, especially given the schedule which was two days of open spaces. I was excited to meet more of the Chef community. I was worried that, as a Windows Server admin, I wouldn’t find discussions that would be relevant to me. I was nervous that my short exposure to Chef would make it difficult to join in or marginalize my contributions to the discussions.

I didn’t have to worry – the Chef Summit really cemented for me what it means to be part of the Chef community. There were people with a wide range of Chef experience (though, to be fair, most of the audience was pretty familiar with Chef). The Summit started out with an opening circle, where the format and plan for the event were discussed and people were allowed to submit suggestions for topics. I was surprised to see several topics suggested on Windows Server related topics – especially around testing and remote management – and they weren’t from me!

I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to contribute to discussions or that my views would be discounted as uninformed. That was totally not the case. In several sessions, there was an active attempt to draw out comments from those who were very new to Chef. I was floored by how welcoming the whole group was and how respectful people were to each others’ opinions. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but the majority of my experience at Chef Summit was “delightful”.

Objectively, I was concerned about how productive two days of open spaces could really be. I liked the concept of open spaces, but they were always a side thing at conferences I attended for those who didn’t have a session to go to in a particular time slot. At Summit, the only option was going to be an array of open spaces. It was the most invigorating set of two day meetings I could have ever attended. With open spaces, there is no stigma to leaving a conversation if it didn’t meet your needs or was going in a direction you were not concerned about. You were welcome to roam between sessions or find a conversation in the hall or curl up in a nook and decompress. The format and openness of the discussions gave me a great bit of insight into the views and problems of people working with Chef.

I go to a lot of conferences and have been going to conferences for quite some time across my career in IT. Chef Summit is the event that had me most engaged. The PowerShell Summit (and formerly PowerShell Deep Dive track at Quest’s TEC conference) is the only event that comes close to offering that type of engagement. The big difference between the events is that the results from the Chef Summit directly influence the direction of Chef projects. One of the major concerns at last year’s Summit was the testing story on Windows nodes. That became a major effort for Fletcher Nichol (lead on the Test-Kitchen project – who later came to work for Chef as the engineering lead for the Chef Test-Driven Infrastructure team) as well as Chef engineers and other community contributors like Matt Wrock. Windows guest support in Test-Kitchen shipped before ChefConf this year as a direct result of an open space session at Chef Summit. Not everything is product or code related. There was a session on how to teach Chef and how people new to Chef learned Chef. That discussion fed back into how Chef delivers training – influencing updates to our training materials and classes to this day. Not every single session changed the world, but they did share something that was important to the people in the room, including Chef employees. And every session did produce value. I thought maybe this was a one-off kind of thing. After all, this was a pretty unique experience. But I was also able to attend the Chef Summit in London a few weeks later and this experience repeated itself.

So, I find myself eagerly waiting for the next Summit, so I can hear what you have to say about Chef, running operations, and what I can do to help make that experience more delightful. The conversations we will have are what matter to you and running your environment. I can’t wait to see you there.

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Steven Murawski

Steven is a Principal Software Development Engineer for Chef on the Community Engineering team and a Microsoft MVP for Cloud and Datacenter Management.