Google's Kelsey Hightower talks Kubernetes and community

Google's popular developer advocate shares his thoughts on Kubernetes and why its community is key to its strength.
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Google developer advocate Kelsey Hightower says that he always figured that the (now wildly successful) Kubernetes container orchestration platform "would get big on its own at some point." He shared some of the reasons he sees for Kubernetes' success in a podcast recorded in December at CloudNativeCon in Austin.

The first is that Kubernetes is an effective platform on which to do other things. It provides "better primitives than I had before" as Hightower puts it. At the same time, he says that this is something people misunderstand about Kubernetes. "It's not the end game," he says. Rather, at some point, it increasingly becomes "the new platform for building other platforms."

It's really a story about abstraction, which is arguably at the core of much of the history of the computer industry. The Open Container Initiative (OCI) provides container runtime and image standards, thereby reducing dependencies between Kubernetes and specific container implementations. Hightower says initiatives such as this "remove the tension" of assembling complete platforms. As he puts it: "We can't make every container runtime do exactly what we want because a lot of the container runtimes serve multiple purposes. In order to do that, we say, 'Hey, let's create a runtime interface that lets Red Hat come to the table with things like CRIO, which is pretty great.'"

Hightower also highlighted how "Kubernetes is extensible by default. It's not something that we have to wedge new things in. Whenever you have to wedge things, then you create friction. That's where you start to create the political battles where people have to convince another group of people to do what they want to do."

Furthermore, extensibility is not important solely for technical reasons. It also affects how contributors and users can engage with the project. (Mikael Rogers made similar comments about Node.js in an earlier podcast.)

Hightower puts it this way: "It's extensible out of the box without necessarily contributing it back to the core, then people can actually live on their own island, if they choose. You have to extend that freedom to people that may not want to engage in a larger community. If you do that, then you can keep the peace by letting people decide how much they want to engage and how much they want to contribute."

Last March, I interviewed Google's Sarah Novotny about transitioning Kubernetes from essentially a company project to a community one. She highlighted things like the creation of easy onramps for contributors ("mean time to dopamine") as well as technical characteristics like extensibility.

Hightower also emphasized the people aspect of Kubernetes' community strength. After all, he says, "communities are made of people, and it's how the people behave in those communities that sets the stage for the new people that show up."

He adds: "I look at it as a privilege for people to find value in you as a person. Not me as a technologist, not me as a contributor, but me as a person. When someone asks for help, I try to treat that person the best I possibly could ever treat anyone. If you show them time and respect, then that's where the community starts to say, 'Hey, that's how I should behave.' That's just the way the community starts to grow."

He closed with advice for those who are viewed as community leaders. "It's our job to just show people how to behave in our community, full stop. When we see bad behavior, we call it out in a way that still carries the same respect, but we're just saying our community will not decay and head in that other direction."

Listen to the full podcast (8 min.) [MP3] [OGG]

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Gordon Haff is Red Hat technology evangelist, is a frequent and highly acclaimed speaker at customer and industry events, and is focused on areas including Red Hat Research, open source adoption, and emerging technology areas broadly.

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