PuppetConf 2016 Wrap-Up

Last week, I attended PuppetConf 2016. Spoiler alert: it was pretty awesome! Let’s take a look at what happened and provide some thoughts on what it means for the future of Puppet and IT in general. You can see all my live-tweets using this link, and storify links are in each section.

Contributor’s Summit


The day before the conference talks is the Contributor’s Summit. It is a combination of group brainstorming, a hackathon, and face time. It starts out with a few talks on where Puppet and the community is, and a non-keynote-spoilering rough idea of where things are going. After about two hours of talks, the summit breaks out into self-managed brainstorming and hacking. If you have a project or idea you are working, you are encouraged to step on stage and announce what you plan to work on and where you’re sitting. Others can then join you to contribute to what you’re working on. Or, you could hack away wherever you’re sitting and mingle with other attendees at will.

I have been contributing to puppet-lint a lot recently so I announced a table for it and was joined by 6 or 7 users and contributors pretty quickly. Other tables included CFacter, Vox Pupuli, various modules, and a Puppet/MCO bundle (think: similar to direct Puppet but for FOSS), among many, many others. At the puppet-lint table, we started discussing what areas users want to focus on, support for ruby/puppet 3, and worked some outstanding issues for about 5 hours before and after lunch. A special treat for me was meeting Tom Limoncelli, one of the three authors of The Practice of System and Network Administration, one of my absolute favorite books on IT culture!

At about 3pm, people are invited back to the stage to show off what they’ve completed. There were some pretty interesting successes and a few partial failures – including the AV. The last few people weren’t able to show what they completed because of this, but at least had the chance to describe their work. We at the puppet-lint table did not have anything specific to show as most of our work was docs, under the covers, or just planning. Though I wish we would have had some more PRs in process at the end of the day, planning is soooo important and soooo difficult to do asynchronously, so I was still really happy with the progress we made. We have a much better outline of the work required over the next few weeks and months.

I also spent a good bit of the Summit catching up with people I had not seen since last PuppetConf and meeting lots of new faces. It’s always neat to put faces with names I only know from Twitter or GitHub Issues! I’m a full time remote worker, so while I really value the ability to work with people around the world from the comfort of my home, I also appreciate quality face time with industry colleagues. It’s also really nice to chat about things other than Puppet sometimes.

In all, the Summit was a great event, so much fun.

Afterward, there was some time to mingle with other conference attendees who had just arrived or finished their M-W training before the speaker’s dinner. I met a number of the other speakers at the dinner and enjoyed a really high quality dinner. It ended early enough to catch up with some more people before hitting the pillows.

Keynotes and Sessions, Day 1


Thursday is the first day of keynotes and sessions. Check out the Puppet Blog for a very detailed Day 1 keynote summary, there was a lot going on. Some of the most memorable things to me were:

  • Luke spoke about the ever-evolving challenges of IT, specifically how we went from (examples) 100 serverss every 3 years to 3000 VMs to Billions of containers – and we’re running the same O2-based hardware we were running a decade ago. We can’t scale or improve as fast as computers, so we need to leverage them to help us.
  • In the future, all software will be managed by software. Hello, SkyIoTNet!
  • Puppet’s new CEO, Sanjay, reinforced Puppet’s commitment to Open Source in a no-bullshit way, no mincing of words here. So happy for this.
  • Luke came back to announce a host of improvements in Puppet Enterprise, followed by Jaime Hull and the UX team to show them off.
    • Key to me is “Situational Awareness,” which shows when a node had changes because you updated the catalog it receives vs when there’s a regression on the node.
    • Direct control, through App Orchestration and Puppet Query Language (PQL), has been extended so that you can force runs on ad hoc node selections rather than pre-defined applications. (This comes into play with some talks later)
    • A new command puppet docker build from the image_build module lets you describe a container using your existing CM state and have puppet do the legwork of creating the container. Awesome.

There were two more keynotes that I missed because I had to head to the speaker ready room; see the blog link above for detail on those. While I was in the ready room, I got an email that Puppet Enterprise 2016.4.0 was released, outdating my slides

I gave my talk at 11:15, Enjoying the Journey from Puppet 3.x to Puppet 4.x (slides, video recording forthcoming), and I think it went well. There was some good Q&A at the end of the talk, and later throughout the conference. My talk was part of the Puppet 4 track and if you haven’t completed your migration yet, check out the slides from this track and the recordings when they become available. If you haven’t started your migration from Puppet 3, you have just over 60 days left before Puppet 3 is unsupported. Get on it!

After grabbing lunch and relaxing from the speaking experience, I attended some sessions. The first was Continuous Delivery and DevOps with Jenkins and Puppet Enterprise with Carl Caum and Brian Dawson. There is a new PE plugin for Jenkins that can leverage the improved Direct Control described at the keynote so that when your CI/CD pipeline delivers new code, it is deployed to the appropriate nodes immediately instead of waiting for the agents to check in. This seems awesome and I plan to dig in to this soon.

The next two talks were Security Roadmap: How We Are Helping You When Everything is Burning by Beth Cornils and Verne Lindner, and Nice and Secure: Good OpSec Hygiene with Puppet! by Peter Souter, part of the Security track. So awesome to see a track all about security. These two talks described what Puppet is doing to help with security – including partnering with the vendors behind Conjur, Vault, and other security tools to ensure they are treated as first class citizens in Puppet – and best practices garnered from the Professional Services side working with numerous customers. Check out the replays, lots of great stuff here and some of the more vibrant presenters, too!

I didn’t make the last session of the day, as I was drawn to the Puppet Demo section of the Expo Hall. There was a lot going on in there and I only got to see one or two of the 8-10 demos they had. In the evening, Puppet hosted a party at the Wave House. It was a little too loud at times for socialization, though it was fun to watch attendees wipe out or succeed at the waveboarding there. After some rapid wipeouts on the first try, people started to get the hang of it and last for up to a minute, but I never saw anyone do tricks! This was a fun way to wrap up the first day, gave you a break from the constant influx of information in a really dense schedule of talks.

Keynotes and Sessions, Day 2


During the Keynotes on day 2, the internet suffered some serious attacks against DynDNS, taking down Twitter, so live-tweeting was interrupted from the second keynote until sometime after lunch, which spoiled some of my note taking. Again, the Puppet blog has a great recap of it. It kicked off with Jeffrey Snover discussing Azure, Nano Server, and the Cloud. “The cloud is not a place, it’s a model.” It was interesting to see how Microsoft is handling containers; I’m really curious how the Hyper-V container model that provides “a more secure isolation environment” works under the covers, as that’s one of my concerns with container technologies. Jeffrey also reminded us that we each have the possibility to be leaders if we so desire it, and spoke of his own Imposter Syndrome fears by acknowledging his surprise every time his badge lets him into the Microsoft buildings. None of us are alone in feeling this way!

The next two keynotes, by Petersen Allen of Salesforce (is he on twitter?) and Scott Coulton of Autopilot, spoke to ramping up Configuration Management in an enterprise and with containers. I need to rewatch these because there was a lot going on. I loved Petersen’s concept of writing code with a low “mean time to grok” (definition)- if it takes too much expertise or time to understand, your code isn’t going to be supported very well. That’s an important idea that is often missed, and grok is a very cromulent word that is not used enough! Scott spoke in great depth about the challenges of CM with Containers and the cultural evolution required to take advantage of both properly. This pair of keynotes really spoke more to cultural changes than the Puppet product. It’s pretty refreshing to see a vendor’s conference talk so little about it’s own product and just show how valuable it has been with its users.

The next keynote was a CIO panel headed by Nigel Kersten. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of people get up at this point, a shame because it was a great panel about how we, the technical people, can talk with management in concepts and terms that we both understand. This helps create a symbiotic rather than a parasitic relationship between the two groups and let’s it feel less like “sides” that are opposed. There is a lot to unpack here and you should definitely take the time to watch the replay.

Before the keynotes adjourned, Luke stepped back on the stage to announce the Most Valuable Puppeteer: me! I was voted MVP by the community and I am truly honored. Thank you all!

Then it was off to talks, starting with Puppet Design Patterns: Lessons From the Gang of Four by David Danzilio., covering some fundamental design principles and then applying them your Puppet code with some well- and lesser-known patterns. This was another Puppet 4 Track talk, and vital as you refactor your codebase post-upgrade to leverage the new language capabilities available to you. The patterns are still helpful when you’re on Puppet 3, but there’s only so much improvement there and you should be upgrading to 4 soon anyway!

I’m a strong Windows user, so I then attended Easily Manage Software on Windows with Chocolatey by Rob Reynolds. Rob discussed many forthcoming features of Chocolatey, some only available in a paid version, as well as his excellent pattern of naming everything “Package “! It was a very dense talk but perfectly balanced the volume of content with some humorous slides and demos. The slides are up already but you’ll want to catch the demos in the video.

Next I hit the Culture track with Tom Limoncelli’s DevOps Where You Wouldn’t Expect It. I expected this to be about companies or groups you wouldn’t expect to be using DevOps, but it was really about industries and processes where you wouldn’t expect it. New Hire Onboarding is often a process that involves forms that shuffle back and forth between various groups forever, leaving new hires wondering why it’s taking weeks to get email and whether or not they joined the wrong company. Rub some DevOps on it and automate the process so new hires can be productive in a matter of days or even hours or minutes. The downside to this is that all these processes now become part of your Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC), but that’s okay – Luke pointed out that the future of computing is software delivering software. We have tools, including Puppet, that can help us scale with the challenge. Great talk. Mad props for Tom surviving a laptop crash and reboot and still delivering his talk well under that duress.

For the last talk of the conference, I chose to watch Corey Quinn present Heresy in the Church of Docker. I’m not a direct user of Docker myself (I’ve used it indirectly with testing, though), but I found it interesting as it spoke to the challenges many of the “old guard” have seen with Docker – there’s a lot more to producing something for Operations than just deploying a container on your laptop and throwing it over the Wall of Confusion. That attitude would just lead to a more modern take on “Works On My Machine!” Don’t be that person. Understand what Ops needs and deliver appropriately.

And just like that, PuppetConf was over! I had enough time to catch up with a few more people before heading to the airport for my flight and engaging introvert mode. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next one.


If you attended, you should have received an email with a post-conf survey. I encourage you to give some feedback; there were some great things to recognize as well as some room for improvement.

Positive: Awesome job by everyone involved in putting on the conference, at Puppet, at the Town And Country venue, and with the AV assistance. That was by far the best food I’ve had at a conference, head and shoulders above the rest. The facility staff were friendly and helpful. The only minor AV issues I observed were during the Contributor’s Summit, which was the time to have it, and were resolved so that no-one had problems with their sessions. Next year the conference goes back to San Francisco and I’m pretty sure I’m going to miss San Diego then.

The tight layout gave it a very intimate feeling, like I was hanging out with 1500 of my closest industry friends, but there was room enough to get away if you started getting extrovert-burnout.

Negative: The layout of the rooms was awkward. The culture track was in the keynote hall, which was some distance from the other track talks, down some back hallways that made it feel much further away. It seemed like the culture talks had low attendance, much lower than last year, and I think location was a big reason why. Tracks 7 and 8 were also in a separate set of outbuildings, but they felt closer than the culture talks which was in the same building as Tracks 2-6, and seemed to have better attendance for it.

The other minor quibble is that there’s no food on-site after 10PM. I arrived at almost 11PM on Tuesday and my choices were to go hungry or take a taxi/rideshare $20 away, which just wasn’t happening after a long day of travel. The great food the next three days more than made up for this, though!

Thanks so much, Puppet, for bringing together this awesome conference. Can’t wait to see what you have lined up in 2017!

2 thoughts on “PuppetConf 2016 Wrap-Up

  1. Pingback: November Goal: Pay down Puppet Tech Debt Part 1 | rnelson0

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