Deserted Island DevOps: An Online Technology Conference

Today, we’re delighted to welcome Austin Parker, Head of DevRel at Lightstep. Austin is a frequent conference speaker, podcast host, and organizer of the Deserted Island DevOps virtual event.

In this interview episode, we talked about the upcoming event, the speakers, and the insights attendees will get attending this hybrid event happening on September 14-15th, 2022.

Watch the full interview episode here.

Austin Parker

Head of DevRel at Lightstep

Austin, when did Deserted Island DevOps start, and who is behind the conference?

I got the idea for the event in April 2020 when the COVID pandemic was out there. Everyone got stuck at home and many people, myself included, were into Animal Crossing (Ed. Animal crossing is a social simulation video game series developed and published by Nintendo).

It was a comfortable and cozy environment just when everything in the rest of the world was falling apart. Working at Lightstep in developer relations, I could see that many of my industry colleagues couldn’t get together in person. So, I thought of doing a DevOps conference and Animal Crossing, where I could invite people to give their talk inside the game, and I’d stream it out on Twitch. I created a website for it, and during the first couple of days, hundreds of people showed up to register and submit to talk. That’s when I got committed to it. 

Over fifteen thousand people attended the event last year. In your opinion, what drives this massive interest in the event among the DevOps community?

The event wound up being super popular for a couple of reasons. One, you’re not watching other people talking about their slides to a camera which doesn’t feel very engaging or different. On the contrary, in our event, you’re watching attendees and the speakers’ little Animal Crossing avatars walk around and talk to you, which is a change. Two, it’s a limited platform, and if you go in and speak inside this game, you will have just eight little buttons to do different emotions. But those constraints inspired many creative talks, and many people played with their themes. This animated environment allowed speakers to be creative.  

Photo by Sara KurfeƟ on Unsplash

I know this year’s event will be a little different. Can you share what is it that you have prepared for the event attendees?

This year, it’s going to be a hybrid virtual event. Though, often when you hear people talking about hybrid virtual events, they mean attendees come in person and have the old classic conference experience or sit at home and watch a live stream.

I decided to flip this around a bit. Now, it’s a hybrid experience for the speakers – we are getting them to come in person, as many of them as they feel comfortable coming to a little island in a hotel where we’re building a little studio. The attendees are going to attend virtually and see Animal Crossing island. This way, we can play more and have the real and virtual worlds blend together. Also, this gives us more options for things we couldn’t do in the past, like live panels.  

Another nice thing about this year’s event is that we split it into two days. This way, we could accept more speakers than ever before.

Who are the speakers, and what insights will they bring to the audience?

You know, it’s easy to go to a DevOps event and feel you’re getting blasted with all the discussions about tech, tech, tech. I believe it’s essential that we also focus on the human aspect of work. Therefore, we’ve got talks about effective distributed communication lessons learned from the pandemic. We’ve also got a pretty good selection of talks on work itself. And we’ve got an exciting two-person talk from Daniel Kim and Fatima Sarah Khalid about how they got into DevOps and their professional journey over the past couple of years. 

Heidi Waterhouse of LaunchDarkly will open our first day. She will give a fantastic keynote titled “We Live in a Society: How your lazy, snooty, jock, and peppy applications feel matters.” And if you’ve never heard Heidi speak before, she’s just an incredibly engaging speaker and brings a lot to the table. 

After each event, we reached out to the attendees and said, Hey, what would you like to see more of? We had a lot of feedback about two things: security and Kubernetes. So we’re meeting everyone in the middle and talking about both Kubernetes and Kubernetes security. 

If you want to learn more about all the talks, the agenda is on our website, where you can read everyone’s bio and the talk description.

Where do you see the future for the event? How will it evolve with the world opening up after the COVID pandemic?

I don’t know yet. Every year I tell myself that I will never do this again because it’s very stressful, but here I am again:).

There are some exciting ideas that we can play with in the future. For example, instead of a hybrid event where the attendees are virtual, it could be a hybrid event where the speakers are virtual, all the talks are pre-recorded, and everyone watches the talks before they come to the event. Then everyone discusses the talks at the event. I’m hopeful that whatever this event turns into next year or in the future, it’ll continue to be based on experimentation, having fun, entertaining, and bringing people together into a community. 

Over the past three years, I have learned that the in-person aspect of events is very important. It’s remarkable how much more people enjoy the experience of in-person events, even with the health risks that still exist around travelling and getting together with a bunch of other people.

With this event, I’ve tried to test theories about what makes a good developer event, what makes people want to attend it, and how we can, as an industry, push the envelope of what engaging events can be. 

One of the things that we’re doing again this year is that because the tickets are free, I’m asking people during the stream if they can donate to The Trevor Project, a charity for LGBTQ youth and trans youth in the US and around the world. I want to use whatever little soapbox I have to improve other people’s lives.

Austin, it’s been such a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to share valuable insights on this year’s event, speakers and your vision for the future of the conference.