Interview with James Turnbull, Chair for O’Reilly Velocity Conference

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O'Reilly's awesome Velocity conference, come to San Jose from June 19-22, focuses on the "magic in the background": DevOps, Security, and Systems Engineers. You'll have a chance to learn from engineers at Dropbox, Slack, Microsoft, Intel, Twitter, and more! As our systems grow increasingly large and distributed, Velocity helps you develop ways to build, manage, and continually adapt to this new reality.

I had a chance to talk to Velocity Chair James Turnbull about Velocity's focus and how it can help developers like yourself!

Want to experience Velocity? Use discount code PC20DWALSH for a 20% off discount!

"Velocity" is a good name for a conference that focuses on Ops and Systems Engineering because technology is moving so quickly these days.  What awesome new technologies will we hear about at Velocity?

This year at Velocity we've broadened our scope to embrace a bit more of the stack. We're still focused on velocity and performance but we're looking beyond just front end performance towards a full stack, end to end, view of your applications and services. We've also embraced the concept of resilient engineering, and sharing insights with attendees about building the fastest and most durable systems. So this year you'll see some of Velocity's traditional strong points, performance and operations, as well as exciting talks on edge computing and networks, content delivery, distributed data, new computation models and technical leadership. We're trying to weave together an event that reflects the complexity and depth of the systems that the attendee's organizations are building and managing today.

I'm primarily a front-end developer but recognize it's important to be aware of security and what's going on behind the scenes.  How can other front-end devs like myself feel confident in coming to Velocity?

We think it's important that every engineer, mobile, front end, back end, operations, security, etc, understand that their technical and design decisions impact other components in the system. Velocity aims to promote a holistic view of systems, for example where a front end engineer working with a back end engineer building an API, understand how they can best consume and shape that API to suit their needs while ensuring the back end is performant, scalable, and secure. To this end Velocity welcomes folks who work on all parts of the stack and we make the program as approachable and diverse as possible.

What are a few of the major technologies or tools that DevOps professionals are using these days?  What can we study up on before we head to Velocity?

Infrastructure as Code and containers have probably been the major themes in DevOps tooling in the last couple of years. We're seeing a lot more tools that focus on representing infrastructure in code and bringing your infrastructure development and deployment in parallel with your application development. The increased coordination and collaboration are making Engineering teams more productive and using the code abstractions are making it easier to manage infrastructure at scale.

With the growth of Docker and Kubernetes, we're seeing a real explosion in the use of containers and, by extension, a movement towards the use of microservices. Containers are lightweight and especially useful for creating consistent development, testing and production environments. Their enablement of flexible, easily deployable, and independent microservices has been a bonus for many organizations.

For attendees looking to do some pre-study, there are some excellent tutorials and books on containers and Infrastructure as Code and on broader DevOps topics you'll find some cool podcasts like Arrested DevOps or The Ship Show that'll help introduce the field to you.

If there's one bit of DevOps advice you could give to web developers, what would it be?  What are we frequently getting wrong?

Web developers are uniquely positioned in our community. They are the glue between backend services and the user experience. That makes your work especially impactful and your connection to the end user is incredibly useful to others working on the rest of the stack. The best DevOps advice I can give web developers is to share their work and insights with the teams managing the backend and infrastructure which your code runs. Good performance, security, and scalability only come from all teams sharing a single objective and understanding how their pieces interact; a collaborative design. This collaboration will also reap rewards during outages, deployments and product planning.

Networking is a huge benefit to going to conferences but some new developers may be too shy to join conversations or introduce themselves.  What tips can you give for conference networking?

That's a hard question! I'm an introvert so I totally understand how exhausting and stressful interacting with new folks can be. I can share some ideas on how best to interact with speakers and attendees.


First, be engaged! Don't sit glued to your laptop during talks. Look at the speaker, they are brave enough to get up and share their ideas, so give them your attention and time. As a speaker, it's also so much more empowering to look out at an audience of folks looking back at you!

Interested in being a speaker but nervous about committing to a full session? The Ignite program is for you! These are 5 minute, 20 slide, lightning talks that are a great way to ease into speaking

If the session has a Q&A ask a relevant, brief and clear question. Q&A isn't an opportunity for you to share a story… Any question that starts with "This is more a comment than a question…" is exactly that … not a question! :) If you don't get a chance to ask your question it's okay to wait for the speaker after their session to ask it. Just be polite and patient and respectful of their time, some speakers are mentally exhausted after speaking and just want to go hide but others are happy to do an extended post-session Q&A. Be respectful too if they have to go. Most speakers will provide a Twitter handle or contact details, if you really need an answer to a question it's easy enough to follow up later on via one of those mediums when a speaker might be less swamped.


I think the golden rule of conference interaction is politeness and respect. A lot of amazing conversations happen in what's traditionally called "the hallway track" in between sessions and in the mornings, meal breaks and evenings. Being part of those conversations is usually just a matter of politely introducing yourself and asking a question. To facilitate networking Velocity also has Speed Networking before the Wednesday keynotes. Lunch breaks, especially the Birds of a Feather (or BoFs!) sessions which sit folks with an interest in a specific topic together at a table, are also especially good places to get to know some of your fellow attendees. Topics range across the board and you can also spontaneously create your own session on a topic of interest to you!

But please be especially conscious and respectful of other's interest in interacting. If someone isn't interested in talking or interacting, don't press the issue. The Velocity conference has a Code of Conduct that gives guidance on what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

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