You’ve seen her on the keynote stage as co-chair of the 2018 KubeCon + CloudNativeCon events in Copenhagen, Shanghai, and Seattle. Now Liz Rice is settling into her new role as chair of CNCF’s Technical Oversight Committee (TOC). In this community spotlight, we’re celebrating Liz and her many contributions to the cloud native world.

Liz, who’s the Chief Open Source Officer with eBPF pioneers Isovalent, took time to tell us about her journey from open source contributor to TOC chair, to Governing Board member.

Please tell us a bit about how you got into the cloud native world.

My interest in programming started as a child when we got a ZX80, and from that point on I knew I’d work with computers. At the start of my career I worked on network protocol software, and then spent a few years at consumer-facing companies Skype and I was working on a TV and film recommendation service when I first heard of Docker from one of our neighbors at an accelerator, and ended up a few months later co-founding another startup called Microscaling, where we explored container auto-scaling (way before it was fashionable!). Then I joined Aqua Security, where I got really immersed in cloud native security.

Do you remember your first contribution to an open source project?

I couldn’t remember it, so I looked it up — the PR was called “Make social-friends-finder work with django-allauth” back in 2012.

Is there any advice you’d give to people who want to start contributing?

By the time I started wanting to contribute, I already had years of development experience, and my initial fears were more about the social side of it: I was worried about getting the process wrong, or unintentionally offending someone, or not having the credibility to have my changes accepted. Open source is as much about collaboration as it is about code, so it’s helpful to remember that you’re dealing with other people. I’ve seen people get disheartened because they tried to do too much at once without discussing changes first, creating a giant PR that’s hard to review. It’s a good idea to start with small changes, or by explaining first what you’re thinking of doing, rather than jump in with thousands of lines of code. But my experience of open source, particularly in cloud native, is that maintainers are generally excited that you want to contribute, so they’re likely to welcome you and point you in the right direction if you ask for help.

Why did you decide to get more involved?

The cloud native world is based on open source, so when I started working with containers I found myself using lots of open source code. I was also starting to do more talks, and it made sense to publish the demos and code from those so that people could try them for themselves. I love experimenting with ideas and building proof-of-concepts to see how things work or whether certain ideas might fly, and the feedback loop from people using and building on my work was really rewarding.

How did you become KubeCon + CloudNativeCon co-chair?

[CNCF’s former Executive Director] Dan Kohn reached out to me, and I jumped at the opportunity. My first co-chair was Kelsey Hightower, and I learnt a ton from him, particularly around trying to build a program that reflected what the community wanted to see (even though you can’t please everyone all of the time!).

Do you have any favorite moments from the KubeCons you co-chaired?

So many! In Copenhagen I remember asking the audience to help me pronounce the word “hygge” properly, and being amazed that people responded with such enthusiasm. It’s a real privilege – and SO MUCH FUN – getting to interact with so many people.

What led to your becoming TOC chair?

Once my time as co-chair came to an end, I really wanted to carry on being involved in some deep way with the CNCF, and I realised that I had built up some useful knowledge and experience. I had put together the project update keynote for three KubeCons, and that involved research across the whole breadth of the CNCF landscape. Whatever my inner imposter was telling me, I recognised that this knowledge was fairly rare. Combined with my general software engineering experience, plus some confidence-inspiring conversations with people who encouraged me to put myself forward, I figured it was worth throwing my hat into the ring.

What are your goals for this role?

One of our biggest challenges right now is dealing with the pace of incoming TOC work, which has increased dramatically as the cloud native ecosystem grows. TOC members are all doing this work alongside our full-time jobs at our various companies, so it’s a tricky balance! We’re working hard to streamline the processes, and leverage skills, time and enthusiasm from a broader range of folks to help us, through the CNCF SIGs. But it’s important to recognise that this work can’t be reduced to a simple pass-or-fail checklist; there will always be judgement involved – and the TOC members are elected for having the skills and experience to apply that judgement.

Also as the CNCF grows, and we have more end user members with more production experience to learn from, I’m keen for us to work more closely with them to make sure our project portfolio addresses their needs.

What message would you like to send to newcomers to the cloud native community?

Welcome! You won’t be unusual if you feel confused or overwhelmed at times, but there are a ton of people here who are really keen to help you find your feet.

Any fun facts about you that you’d be willing to share?

In my spare time I’m a decent cyclist and a very mediocre drummer!