I spent last Thursday and Friday morning at the DevOpsDays conference. It was a good experience, and featured some truly excellent presentations, including an opening keynote by Sascha Bates that set the tone for the conference (it’s all about the empathy and inclusion), Dan Slimmon on Conway’s Law, Jeff Sussna on Promise Theory, and Ian Malpass on dealing with failure without scapegoating. Plus more – full list here, including videos of the talks. I wasn’t able to stay for the afternoon open spaces, unfortunately. Parenting is more important than careering. I also wasn’t able to stay for the social event Thursday night, which I would have liked to do.
I had a really good time, and it was very much worth it.
Something bugged me about it. Sascha’s keynote set the tone that pretty much every other presentation echoed: what DevOps is about, at its most essential, is the idea that we should come together rather than break apart. As Katherine Daniels asked in her presentation, “do we really need a new word for not being dicks to each other at work?”
In the spirit of that, here are the constructive criticisms that I supplied in the post-conference survey. I also spent a few minutes with Bridget Kromhout, one of the organizers, giving her this feedback in person.
I really do intend this as constructive criticism. I think DevOpsDays was an excellent conference, and I’m glad that I went. I intend to go to future instances, and will recommend it to people.
I think that it’s less than it could be, and thus I offer the following criticisms.
1. Inclusion is a great theme; remember that it also means those over 40, those who use Windows, those who are not liberals, and those who do not drink. Subtle messages mean a lot, and the overall tone of communication conveys that the modal person in the community is young, Mac-using, liberal and a fairly heavy drinker. Think seriously about whether you want to send this message.
Disclosure: I’m 48, Mac-using, liberal and a drinker. Please think carefully about why I would have problems with the issues I noted above – you were (mostly) speaking to me.
2. Speaker introductions should provide background on who the person is and what they’ve done that’s relevant outside the community as well as inside it. Having @littleidea introduce Patrick meant a lot to many in the room, but nothing at all to me, because I had no idea who @littleidea was. Still don’t, because he gave me no reason to care. I got the sense that I was watching some people have a conversation, rather than having someone introduce a speaker for a closing keynote.
3. Drinking as a theme was troubling. I don’t have a problem with drinking, but the emphasis on it was making me uncomfortable. I got the distinct impression that I should have been at the party on Thursday night, and that those who were hung over or who missed Friday entirely due to recovering from drinking were culture heroes. This is almost certainly not the message you wished to send.
4. There were a lot of in-jokes and inside references that made it clear that I was a newcomer to this community. Previous conferences I’ve attended (Velocity, Glue, Agile Day, Agile Coach Camp, and others) have made a point of providing explanations of the in-jokes that helped me become an insider. If your desire is to grow your community (and I believe it is), then you need to think about whether your community is seen as welcoming, and whether it provides ways for newcomers to learn about it and become part of it.
Think about the fact that I just used “you” when talking about the community. I clearly don’t consider myself a part of it, despite having attended the conference. Why is that? Is it something that you can affect?