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Cloud Native Ecosystem / Tech Culture

The First Six Months: CNCF Observations and 2021 Vision

Joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) as GM has been an amazing journey. Here are my reflections and vision for 2021.
Jan 20th, 2021 12:00pm by
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Priyanka Sharma
Priyanka is General Manager of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). She holds a BA in political science from Stanford University and loves reading and playing with her dog, Ollie, in her spare time.

Joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) as general manager has been an amazing journey. When I started as GM last year, my goal was to understand the needs of the community by listening and then build from there. However, as some of you may have heard, CNCF is a foundation of doers — which means I’ve done a lot of listening and a lot of doing in my time here. To kickstart, I engaged in hundreds (maybe thousands) of conversations with end users, project contributors, board members, technology vendors, and other community members. We uncovered areas of improvement and also areas for deeper reflection. In this article, I will share some of those reflections and my philosophy for enabling #teamCloudNative going into 2021.

On Technology

Our mission at CNCF is to make cloud native ubiquitous. Part of that mission is to ensure that we support the ever-evolving open technology stack for end users around the globe.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six months exploring where cloud native computing will go next — including in telecommunications, edge computing, open networking, and more. Cloud native is the linchpin in enabling the confluence of 5G, edge, IoT and AI. Cross-community collaboration is essential for us to realize the full potential of these technologies. That is why we launched the Cloud Native Network Function (CNF) Working Group, to help the telco industry define what cloud native means for them. “Graduating” to be a technology used by telcos shows the maturity of the Kubernetes ecosystem; and the community is working hard to support their mission-critical workloads.

According to some accounts, edge computing could be an even larger business opportunity than cloud. It will be the platform for the next wave of innovation, covering many opportunities like remote healthcare, Industrial IoT, AR/VR, and many that we haven’t even imagined yet. Bringing cloud native technologies to the edge will allow developers to seamlessly deploy to Sydney, San Francisco, and Singapore. The paradigms that have made cloud native technologies so successful in the cloud — like observability, loosely coupled systems, declarative APIs, and robust automation — are even more important for the edge. While cloud computing is able to rely upon centralization and economies of scale to construct its operational and business model, neither of these apply to edge computing. With hardware and software spread across hundreds or thousands of locations, the only feasible way to manage these distributed systems is through the standardization and automation that cloud native technologies offer.

Developers who have been working on cloud native technologies are uniquely qualified to drive applications running on the edge, because they understand how to build decoupled, resilient systems. Connecting the cloud native developer community to the edge will build careers for thousands of developers and massively speed up adoption and innovation. For that reason, with the strength of the Kubernetes project and upcoming Edge technologies — like KubeEdge, K3S and OpenYurt — the CNCF community has chosen to drive innovation to the edge. We are working closely with LF Networking and LF Edge to grow this community and will be hosting an edge event at KubeCon Europe this year. Community is a critical component of cloud native and will continue to be with the edge.

Coming back to present times, the developer experience with Kubernetes is critical to all employers. Vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with managed distros, clean integrations, and the like. In the CNCF, we see a clear trend towards going where the developer is already comfortable — i.e. GitOps or Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC). [Anything] as Code is how various operational tasks are easily integrated into the developer workflow. Multiple CNCF projects, such as Argo and OPA, enable IaC and there are plentiful vendors to help as well. The developer experience for CNCF contributors is evolving, maturing and becoming richer.

With Kubernetes firmly in place, we are now experiencing a cambrian explosion of cloud native technology — and every contribution matters. It has become very clear that we must prioritize education. There is also a corresponding increase in the demand for knowledge and learning, in particular as stay-at-home orders force people to spend much of their lives at home without social company. Seventy percent of KubeCon + CloudNativeCon attendees in 2020 were new to the event and our ecosystem; more than 163,000 people took our edX Kubernetes course; and more than 70,000 people have taken our certification exams. The community is equipping itself with the necessary skills to build cloud native technologies across industries and verticals.

With this proliferation of cloud native, security remains a top priority. Last year’s devastating events with SolarWinds’ Orion software, breaches at companies like BlueKai, Seina Weibo and many others, all tell us that zero trust security and DevSecOps are critical — in addition to traditional AppSec — for organizations to stay safe online. CNCF hosts many security-focused projects, such as Falco, TUF and Notary. Additionally, we launched the Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist exam, to help individuals and companies build a working knowledge of container security.

The cloud native community is the fastest growing community in open source. We are a foundation of doers. So, I expect much to change in our technology landscape in six months and I look forward to sharing my learnings here.

On Leadership 

I’ve been a part of the CNCF community since the early days in 2016 and stepping into the GM role has been an honor for me. Upon joining, I truly appreciated how much the energy and momentum of our ecosystem were carefully crafted and nurtured by the leadership before me. To further that same objective, my focus is on driving the trust that leads to contribution and growth in the cloud native ecosystem. While trust is an abstract term, it can be built with clear processes and transparent communication. We are incorporating the right steps and checkpoints in all of the programs we run, to ensure we stay connected with our community through the channels at our disposal — which includes this post you are reading.

On an organizational note, I’ve found that being part of the Linux Foundation helps CNCF access economies of scale and experience. Collaborating with the Linux Foundation staff and other Linux Foundation projects gives us access to people, technologies and perspectives — which creates a sum that is significantly greater than the parts. The Linux Foundation team and its infrastructure provide critical support and knowledge that enables the open source community at large to be successful. Our partnership with LF Events, for example, has resulted in the largest open source conference in the world: KubeCon + CloudNativeCon. Access to veterans in open source has also been invaluable. My biggest learning this past year overall has been what Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin taught me — that we must exercise patience, diplomacy and empathy in all of our work.

The CNCF mission is to make cloud native ubiquitous. A large part of my role is to help connect the dots to identify and further opportunities for collaboration and innovation. In addition to an intuitive personality, my focus on always learning and listening to people are two quivers in my bow. To constantly learn, I follow experts in our community and consume their content. Sometimes, I play with the demos people share. I’m also continuing my listening tour, which I embarked upon when I joined the foundation. I welcome anyone reading this to reach out and share their perspectives with me.

I am ever-cognizant that we are living through unprecedented times. Leading this community means supporting the human beings that constitute it. Sometimes, people need encouragement and other times they need opportunities. Soall too often lately, we may need funny memes on Twitter to alleviate the pain and suffering we all feel. At CNCF we are committed to practicing humanized open source marketing and community outreach.

Vision for 2021

CNCF will continue to set the gold standard for open source code and community development, by building end user driven open source. We aim to support projects with resources and programs, and connect them more tightly with the consumers of their technology. We will continue to invest in the end user community by providing resources, highlighting their contributions, and celebrating their successes. We will fight for their best interests at all times.

We will ensure that CNCF projects are known for their stability and enterprise-readiness. This is again where we will leverage the knowledge of our existing end users to share success stories and technology evaluations with tech radars. We will also invest in programs to improve how projects fulfill their infrastructure needs.

#teamCloudNative will grow as an increasingly diverse and empathetic community to fuel our diversity-powered resilience. We will work hard at online programs, physical events and storytelling, to expand our reach to all corners of the globe. Cloud native will be a welcoming place for all, with flagship initiatives such as Inclusive Naming, diversity scholarships, and project mentorships. We will enable any and every developer who wishes to build on cloud native principles, with training and certifications building upon our growth in that area in 2020.

On a human level, 2021 will be a year of new challenges in the wake of a devastating 2020. In the last year, #teamCloudNative proved its resilience. We now have to do it one more time and create yet another “new normal.” Open source, with its global force, was built for challenges exactly like these. CNCF will continuously iterate to bring community and growth to our ecosystem regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Our KubeCon + CloudNativeCon events will be held in the safest and inclusive manner possible — and fun is guaranteed.

My first six months leading the CNCF have been an action-packed, growth experience. I have learned and served and will continue to do my best for the ecosystem. I am in awe of our community and the diversity-powered resilience it shows in face of adversity. I look forward to building together for the next six months, years, and decades to come. Let’s do this!

Feature image via Pixabay.

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