Community Guest post By Paula Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer at Syntasso

It’s a strange feeling when you realise that even though you’ve worked in a space for more than 4 years, you’ve been in a very small bubble…but that’s what happened to me this year!

Back in 2017, I was Director of Platform Services EMEA at Pivotal when we announced PKS (Pivotal Container Service) at VMworld, the forerunner to VMware’s Kubernetes-based Tanzu platform. And although I spent a lot of time over the next few years talking to customers about Kubernetes and helped drive our Kubernetes education offerings, I did not personally participate in the broader Kubernetes community.

That all changed this year after I left VMware and co-founded a new startup, Syntasso. From my time at Pivotal, being a Cloud Foundry Ambassador, and participating in the Cloud Foundry community (under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation), I experienced first-hand the value and importance of working with and contributing to a community, but was not sure where to start with Kubernetes. Then in May 2021 I watched a great panel discussion at KubeCon EU by Kaslin Fields, Kohei Ota, Kat Cosgrove and Matt Broberg where they discussed “Non-code Contribution In The Kubernetes Community”. 

(tweet from May 2021 that I posted after watching the panel discussion at KubeCon EU)

This gave me the encouragement I needed and I found my way to a Github page which talked about Kubernetes Community Days. Having been an organiser of DevOpsDays London for the last few years, I hoped that some of my past experience would come in handy so I took the leap and contacted the organisers.

Reading through the list of organisers names for the UK event, I didn’t know any of them personally and so I was uncertain of how my offer of help would be received. But it turned out to be a risk worth taking: they welcomed me with open arms, adding me to their organisers Slack channel and inviting me to their next planning meeting. And 4 months later we ran the Kubernetes Community Days UK 2021 event: 27 speakers, 2 tracks of talks, 6 free technical workshops, 341 registered attendees, 1000+ YouTube views of content to date.

Now that the dust has settled on the event, I’m happy to share what I learned along the way and provide some recommendations as well as some suggestions on things to avoid!

In terms of recommendations, the first thing to highlight is how important it is to have a team of people to share the load. There is a lot of work to do in running an event and I was very lucky to be part of an amazing group of co-organisers who really worked together to get everything done. Some of the things that worked well included:

  • Speaker line-up: we were keen to have speakers representing different parts of the UK, as well having a diverse range of voices, and the combination of our CfP as well as directly reaching out to people in the community worked well
  • Code of conduct: we set a mandatory field on sign-up for attendees to agree to follow the code of conduct (we used the Linux Foundation CoC), we shared it with our speakers via email, and specifically reminded folks of it in the welcome remarks each day
  • Low barrier to entry: we took the decision to make attendance to the talks and all of the workshops free of charge and used sponsorship to cover the full costs
  • Supported local charities: we selected two UK-based charities to donate our left-over proceeds to, and also offered each charity a speaking slot at the conference for them to highlight the great work that they do
  • Great content delivered smoothly: in order to provide a good experience for our speakers we gave them the option of either pre-recording or presenting live. For those that presented live (the vast majority), we created individual calendar invites with the Zoom call details included which worked great as all speakers joined the right call at the right time!! 

(Photo of the stickers we printed featuring our KCD UK logo)

A few of the bumps we hit along the way included:

  • Logo: our original logo included the union jack colours which led to some negative feedback, but thanks to our co-organiser / designer Josh Michielsen, we were able to quickly change to a logo featuring the national flowers of the countries of the UK instead
  • Hybrid event: our plan to make the event hybrid and run watch parties across the UK didn’t work as well as we’d hoped and we only ended up with two watch parties
  • Holidays: running an event in September is tricky as lots of folks take holidays in August which meant getting responses from people or having everyone around to keep things moving was sometimes challenging
  • On the Day: we left planning on-the-day responsibilities to the end which meant some folks were not available and there was a bit of juggling around of duties
  • Swag: we had originally hoped to send swag to attendees in advance, but we ended up confirming the details very late which meant folks will have a while to wait before they receive it.

Overall, the event came together and we received fantastic feedback from both speakers and attendees. I personally really enjoyed the whole experience, particularly working with a wonderful group of kind and welcoming co-organisers, as well as being able to bring together a great range of speaker content and workshops for free to the community.

(Page from my Page-a-Day calendar that sits on my desk)

My first experience of contributing to the Kubernetes community has been lovely. I’ve met some great people, learned a lot, and I would strongly recommend folks who are hesitant to take a leap of faith and jump in wherever you can. I’d like to thank everyone involved and also the CNCF for all of their guidance and support. Looking forward to KCD UK 2022!