RootConf is a one of its kind conference for DevOps and SysAdmins, organized by Hasgeek in Bangalore. This year was the second iteration of the conference. For me, it was the first time at any DevOps conference. I did not propose a talk given that it is not my field of specialization, but I definitely have a good amount of interest in the field. I had an interesting experience being present there as a participant and have some observations to share. My views are limited to Day 1 of the conference as I was not present for the workshops and Day 2 of the conference.

Clash of technologies

A primary role of any such conference is to spark conversations. I believe RootConf 2014 has done a commendable job at it. The moderators council had carefully selected talks which covered multiple competing technologies in the DevOps world — including LXC, Puppet, Docker and Ansible.

The fun part was, while Benjamin Kero talked about the issues he faced with Docker in Mozilla and had moved on to LXC and Puppet based setups, Kamalika Majumder and Vinothini Raju talked about how they used Docker to test infrastructure code and perform continuous cloud-based multi-stack deployments. On that other hand, Day 2 featured a talk by Aditya Patawari on using Ansible (one which I missed, but it may have been interesting).

While this is great for experienced DevOps people to wade through, it presents myriads of choices for the newly-intiated DevOps, but does not do a good job at raising the curiousity, which brings me to the next observation.

Much configuration. Less concepts. Lesser depth.

I always appreciate when people say the “why” behind a technology, instead of the “how”. A quick scan through the talks selected, as well as those proposed on the funnel, brings forward an interesting observation. There are too many talks focused on how to configure and run a particular tool to achieve some quick end. Often the focus is on how “easy” it is to work with a particular product than its competitors.

Now that we are in the year 2014, it is relatively simple to go to the internet and find help manuals on configuring a particular tool. A DevOps guy may need to fidget with a tool’s configurations for a day or two before figuring out the exact configuration required.

While having a talk with Sameer Garg of Flipkart at the conference, he put forward an interesting thought. He said that he would like to see people talk about the technologies in-depth, by talking about the foundations or architecture that build those technologies. He suggested that instead of talking about how to setup up Docker, a talk on how Docker works internally, or how you can drop down to the kernel level to properly utilize multi-core support, would be more fruitful.

Nothing gets a new mind curious about a technology than hearing about the bones and muscles of a new technology from an experienced person in the field.

On that note, I enjoyed the talk on Vagrant by Vivek Parihar. He showed how you can solve a real-life problem with a technology and why teams would bother using it.

DevOps (and anyone else) need speaker-support

There was a good amount of information available in the talks that were presented, at least on Day 1. But, the flow of the information was not well-tailored.

Some DevOps guys may not be the best speakers, but there is huge enthusiasm in the DevOps community to share what they know. The RootConf team can have greater success by guiding this enthusiasm properly. For example, the talks would have been superior in quality if there would have been a speaker-support panel. That panel could have helped the speakers in refining their slides, compacting their content, and making sure the speaker made the point. Much like what I have read they do for the TEDx talks.

Also, collecting the slides early on, and presenting them through one central device would reduce downtimes caused by difficulties in setting up the projector with the speakers’ laptops. If anyone needs to present a live demo, they can always record a screencast or prepare an edited video and add the video as a slide in the presentation.

Higher expectations for the next RootConf

Adding these observations would not have been possible if there had not been an extremely well-coordinated plan and infrastructure throughout the event. Kudos to Hasgeek and hats off to the volunteer team who made this event a success. My expectations for RootConf 2015 has gone higher by a notch. If Hasgeek incorporates some of these suggestions, I’m sure the next RootConf would exceed expectations. Till then, it is time for me to learn in-depth about all these DevOps technologies.

Oh, and there were these cupcakes!

P.S. That flash talk on Emacs was a pleasant surprise. Let’s have more of those, somewhere else!