ChefConf 2017: Technical Artists at Work

In May, we spent three days in Austin, Texas, at ChefConf 2017 learning about DevOps culture, workflow, infrastructure automation, and continuous application delivery.  The event, hosted by Chef, was the best technology conference we’ve attended this year (for reasons both technological and not – see below! ;).

Keynote speakers included executives from Chef, Microsoft, Google, Verisk Analytics, and more. Workshops touched on managing DevOps teams, along with ways numerous Chef tools can help your organization remain compliant, secure your infrastructure, and take advantage of new automation features.

Here are three key things we learned from this year’s event.

Continuous Integration Solutions

We left feeling that, at this point, Chef's offerings have matured facilitation of a full CD pipeline approach to a very viable state. The latest updates to Chef Automate & Habitat have sharpened significantly for an end-to-end Continuous Development/Continuous Automation solution. Case studies from companies that implemented Chef, an exploration of new toolsets and features, and a look at their roadmap for the future provided a lot of insight into the latest DevOps trends.

A few key things we noticed in the breakout sessions:

  • Comprehensive dashboard views inside Chef tools
  • Compliance dashboard for a thorough overview of risks and compliance issues
  • Heavy focus on power and clarity in solutions
  • Habitat now includes a builder service, adding yet another capability for managing the CD pipeline with Chef tools
  • Habitat automatically incorporates all dependencies
  • Updates and point-in-time backups are applied automatically in AWS OpsWorks, a fully- managed Chef Automate service.

Sessions were also awesomely heavy on live demos, providing a richer learning experience than slides alone could offer. For instance, a demo of adding a compliance check for a new vulnerability took less than one minute to add a new test and re-test the infrastructure environment.  

In a session focused on Habitat, speakers stressed the key difference between a “choreography” and an “orchestration” in a tool. While the two terms share similar meanings, the differences in approach create different results upon execution.

Orchestration involves a top-down approach where a person issues a command and awaits a response. This approach is an older development model. Choreography, on the other hand, is a more collaborative process. Think of it as asking a band to play a song. You don't ask each band member what to play. Instead, you ask the musicians and let them self-organize to create beautiful music. This is Habitat!

DevSecOps Trends

We especially liked the focus on security and DevSecOps. A few highlights:

  • Inspec can be run on schedule, which means continuous compliance
  • Inspec declarative language is human readable and auditor compliant
  • Chef is now an official contributor to the “DevSec Project”  ( to provide template cookbooks for hardening and compliance

Culture And Camaraderie

A final key takeaway from ChefConf is the ability to look inside company culture to reveal how it impacts employees. Chef takes cues from Google, both in being a hip company and treating employees like royalty.

To me, Chef’s team is a collective of technical artists. They’re among the best of the best in the ways they plugs into the open source community. By engaging with the greater community, the team is able to foster an environment of innovation and collaboration. Just as collaboration makes for a better experience with Chef’s tools, the company also creates an environment to foster innovation among the greater DevOps community. Chef’s roadmap, current project status board, and Dev team Slack channel are all public. Anyone is welcome to create recommendations and interact with the team to request the features and knowledge you want to have.

The company is totally transparent to the community and works with the community as peers. If we had to guess, we’d say Chef CTO/Co-Founder Adam Jacob had much to do with this community-first methodology.

This culture was reflected in the conference itself. Just like other leading-edge tech companies, there was no shortage of ping-pong tables, skee ball, giant Jenga, and bean bag chairs. In the Habitat lounge, you could enjoy a cold brew while checking out a demo.

Making each and every person at the conference feel welcome and valued was intertwined in the very fabric of ChefConf. The event’s code of conduct expressed diversity and inclusiveness among its core values, in addition to ensuring that no attendees felt discriminated against or harassed.

Commitment to creating a welcoming environment for all didn’t stop with the code of conduct. Dedication to inclusiveness was reflected everywhere from the specially made “inclusive bathrooms” signs to actions in each session.

Before a session began, everyone in the audience was asked to stand and clap to welcome the speaker to the stage. It may have been a small show of goodwill, but this simple action made a huge difference for everyone in the room. Every speaker mentioned how a warm welcome set the stage for a more engaging talk. And it showed. The speaker’s comfort was clearly reflected in the quality of the session.

Warm and friendly vibes carried through to the very end of the conference. Once the final keynote wrapped up, the more than 1,500 audience members stood up to partake in a giant group hug.  

Organizers also spared no expense for the Chef Community Party. They reserved the entire Stubbs venue. For those of you familiar with Austin, you know this was no small feat or budget. Bands and DJs performed on outdoor and indoor stages, and there was plenty of food and drink for all.

The result of the focus on culture? Chef attracts the best talent and encourages unique people, which leads to true innovation. After spending time with the Chef team, we couldn’t help but think, "Ok, THESE are our people." After this year’s informative, inclusive, and downright fun event, we’re counting down the days to next year’s conference.