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Jerome Petazzoni
Episode 21 - October 27, 2020

All Roads Lead to Kubernetes with Jérôme Petazzoni

Featuring Jérôme Petazzoni, leading instructor on containers
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In this episode of Semaphore Uncut, Jérôme Petazzoni, leading instructor on containers and the creator of container.training talks about his amazing journey of becoming an evangelist and the impact of Kubernetes adoption.

Jérôme is a Senior Software Engineer, international speaker, and the co-author of the open-source eBook “CI/CD with Docker and Kubernetes”.

Key takeaways:

  • The journey: from SRE manager to evangelist
  • When Kubernetes became the next big thing
  • Building Kubernetes knowledge
  • How to achieve a 5-second build time
  • The rise of platforms

Listen to our entire conversation above, and check out my favorite parts in the episode highlights!

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Edited transcript

Darko (00:02): Hello, and welcome to Semaphore, a podcast for developers about building great products. Today, I’m excited to welcome Jérôme Petazzoni. Hi, Jérôme. It’s great to have you.

Jérôme (00:11): Hi, I am Jérôme Petazzoni, I worked for a decade in France in various companies around infrastructure and open-source, and then I moved to California to join this little startup that you might know under the name of Docker. But when I joined it, it was not Docker yet, it was dotCloud.

I worked there for seven years, moving from infrastructure to managing a small team of a SREs, to then being Docker’s first evangelist, then delivering training and workshop on Docker and then orchestration and then Kubernetes. Eventually, at the beginning of 2018, exactly seven years after joining, I quit because I was dealing with a pretty bad bout of depression and burnout. So, I needed some time to recover from that. And after that, I decided to do training mostly on Kubernetes but sometimes on Docker as well.

The journey: from SRE manager to evangelist

Darko: You mentioned that you had a pretty long career at Docker, and you went through different roles. It would be interesting to hear how that change came when you went from managing your team of SREs and all the things that you were doing to being an evangelist, doing more public speaking, and teaching. What was the experience of that?

Jérôme: I feel like my move to this public speaking career, to this public facing role, was kind of accidental. Until 2013, I had given a few talks at some local meetups in San Francisco just to present what we were doing with dotCloud. I had done one talk at PyCon about zerorpc, our internal RPC layer. And then, in 2013, I had submitted a talk about containers to the Southern California Linux Expo because I was living close to Los Angeles at the time. And I was thinking, “Well, there is that conference is just like a one hour drive away from my place. Maybe I could go and talk about containers there.”

I didn’t know that this would be the talk that would start my real speaking career. Because just after that talk, I got a message from somebody telling me, “Hey, can you come to Beijing and deliver the same talk?” And after that talk, somebody comes to speak with me and like, “Hey, can you come with me and talk to our engineers, because he couldn’t be here today.” After a really long cab drive through Beijing, I arrived at the Baidu office. Baidu is the Google of China. That’s pretty much all I knew about them at the time. And I had this amazing experience of talking about containers. Most of the room didn’t speak English, and I can’t blame them because my Mandarin was non-existent. And so, we had a two, three people translating back and forth. So, that was probably one of the most exotic, weird, interesting engineering communication experiences I have ever had.

When I came back to the office, a few weeks, maybe a couple of months later, one thing leading to another, Docker was able to announce that Baidu would be using Docker in some capacity. Then, basically, take the same story, but this time, instead of going to Beijing and having this conversation with Baidu, I’m going to Moscow and having a conversation with engineers from Yandex. And shortly after that, we also make a press release, and I’m seeing that Yandex would be using Docker in some capacity. After that, we kept joking, “Oh, we need to send you to a conference in Mountain View so that Google can say that they’re using Docker.”

It’s kind of the thing that started my speaking career, because at that point, Docker became a thing, and we kept being either invited or people were suggesting that we would propose a talk to their conference, and we needed to get the word out there anyway.

When Kubernetes became the next big thing

Darko (07:11): When did you realize that Kubernetes could be a big thing? Can you talk a bit about that in the journey of Docker, when Kubernetes came about?

Jérôme: I think as soon as in 2014, we had folks from the original team of Kubernetes coming to the office and having conversations with the Docker team. Unfortunately, there were two separate lines here, where Docker thought, well, Kubernetes just seems way too complicated for developers. We know developer experience, we have successfully shipped Docker itself and then Docker desktop. So we got this, we’re going to make an amazing orchestration product that’s going to be way easier to use. It’s true that Swarm was and still is easier to use than Kubernetes, but it’s also true that it’s more limited in some ways.

At the end of my time at Docker at the end of 2017 I had successfully delivered a Kubernetes workshop at Linux Open Source Summit. I was asked, “Hey, can you go and deliver that workshop to our engineering teams at Docker?” And that gave me the opportunity to go to really where Docker had this office with a bunched around the whole enterprise support team. And there was a moment when one of them said something like, “Wow, this is going to be amazing to operate.” and they were serious about it. It’s a little bit like, instead of having this black box that we had with Swarm, where it works, but if you need to tinker and do something that goes a little bit outside of the spec, it’s just impossible. With Kubernetes, you can see how things are working. And once you take the time to understand it, it becomes extremely powerful.

For me, that was the moment when I was like, “Okay, if these folks who are working with our customers every day, troubleshooting their issues, helping them solve all kinds of challenges if these folks think that Kubernetes is going to be great to operate, then this is it. It’s a thing. I’m convinced.” Right, it might be complicated. Sure. But guess what? Linux is also complicated, for instance.

Building Kubernetes knowledge

Darko (11:11): If you take it three years later, what would you say about maybe paths to understanding and learning Kubernetes? Has it got easier, more approachable for people?

Jérôme: I would say that as a whole, if we take the whole cloud-native landscape, it got more complicated, because back then, well, 2017, it was already more than Kubernetes. But we kept adding things, like Kubernetes, and then perhaps you need a service mesh or some serverless framework to execute functions. If you want, you can keep adding layers and layers and layers. So, if you want to understand the whole thing, yes, it got more complicated. But, if we stick to Kubernetes itself, I feel like it didn’t get more complicated. It got a little bit simpler.

Darko: What’s easier for people to grasp, what they spend more time on, what are they more excited about?

Jérôme: I think folks will get excited by different topics. For instance, when I talk about Docker, at some point in my Docker curriculum, I teach how to optimize the size of images. But, I also try to explain, your goal isn’t always to get the smallest possible image. I’m just going to set that as a goal and show you how we do that. But sometimes, you will want to optimize for faster builds, or sometimes you will want to constrain yourself to a specific set of tools so that you can build, not only on Intel machines but also ARM or whatever. So, I just set that goal. And then, we go through, let’s do multi-stage, and let’s try to do static binaries, and let’s try to use Alpine and musl instead of WNC, all these little tweaks changes.

One day I was wondering, “Is this necessary? Should I really bother people with that kind of detail?” Because we are super far from containers at this point. Do people need to know about dynamic linking and these little things? I was almost about to decide to remove that from my training. I saw a tweet from someone saying that they had been trying to get a Go Binary into a container image and having exactly that kind of problem with linking. It took them like 30 minutes to find what was wrong.

And I was like, okay. If that person is having this difficulty, I should keep including that in my content because it is great and useful. And getting that constant feedback for me is pretty important, realizing what kind of problems people face.

How to achieve a 5-second build time

In the same vein is trying to get the fastest build time on the Kubernetes cluster. By build time, I mean, you change a line of code on your machine, and how long does it take between the moment when you change your line of code and the moment when the code is running on the Kubernetes cluster?

And you start with, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 minutes because you’re doing builds and you’re pushing images, et cetera. And then, you try to shave off time from that. Again, I think they have something like three or four seconds, which seems completely ridiculous. If you want to read more about that in any search engine look for, The Quest for the Fastest Deployment Time, by Ellen Körbes. It’s super interesting.

You kind of iterate, and along the way you learn about dozens of things that you thought would be, “I will never need that in my engineering career,” and then you’re like, “Well, after all, let me come back to that because…” Self-compressing binaries and things like that. And you’re like, “Yep, there are scenarios where it is actually pretty useful.”

We want to iterate really fast. I want to make a change. I want to see that change immediately. If it takes five seconds, it means I can try hundreds of changes during my day and see the impact of that change. If it takes 20 minutes before I can see my change, then I’m going to be able to only do a few of them during the day. And so, I will not progress as fast, basically.

The rise of platforms

Darko (21:30): Speaking with many people, getting a lot of feedback, and following for many years, maybe since the inception of Docker, everything in the inception of Kubernetes, what do you look forward to? Getting maybe simpler being possible, or do you think that we are pretty mature?

Jérôme: I think Kubernetes can be used on its own, but very often, it’s going to be used to build a platform, draw up something on top of that. I think this is the direction where we’re going. More and more people are going to build platforms. If I want a full platform, I don’t necessarily have to use, let’s say, OpenShift or Cloud Foundry. I can build my own, or I can build a platform from some basic components. I would say maybe five years ago, the only teams who could afford to build platforms were big companies like Netflix or Facebook. And that because you would have dozens, if not hundreds of engineers, just building a platform, building deployment tools. And Kubernetes is going to help smaller teams to do that instead.

It’s like in a perfectly ideal world, we wouldn’t need to know anything about Kubernetes; it would be an implementation detail. But in the real world, we have to be pragmatic. And sometimes, we will need to go and look in the Kubernetes cluster to see what’s going on. So, I think that’s where we are. And I think we’ll continue to see more tools, more platforms. We have things like Heroku, Clever Cloud, if I want to talk about the SAS versions.

I think it’s becoming increasingly important in a team to have someone who will know how to set up all that automation, who will know how to pick the right CI/CD platform, and how to configure everything because I can’t just, buy one pre-made workflow. I need to have a workflow that works for my team. And I don’t know if we already have, or if we should have a title for that. Is it like an automation engineer, CI/CD engineer? I don’t know. But, I think this is becoming increasingly important, and these are going to be extremely valuable because we’re going to talk about someone who understands the underlying platform infrastructure. So, who understands cloud APIs, Kubernetes, container images, maybe Dockerfiles, or whatever else. But that also understands what the business needs. Do I want to have just product staging, or do I need to have multiple preview environments? I think this is going to be a really important role for organizations and teams who want to ship efficiently code in this decade.

Meet the host

Darko Fabijan

Darko, co-founder of Semaphore, enjoys breaking new ground and exploring tools and ideas that improve developer lives. He enjoys finding the best technical solutions with his engineering team at Semaphore. In his spare time, you’ll find him cooking, hiking and gardening indoors.

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