November 9, 2023

KubeCon 2023 NA Recap - Developer Experience is Monumental

Table of Contents

Key takeaway

KubeCon featured advancements in GitOps and AI. Meanwhile, we saw unchecked developer autonomy decline in favor of some level of governance.

KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America has wrapped up, and the buzz it generated is still in the air. With the halls of Chicago's convention center now quiet, those of us who attended are left with a wealth of new insights and ideas. The conference proved to be a fertile ground for learning and networking, with cloud native professionals / technologists from leading open projects from around the world sharing their knowledge.

At Harness, we were right there in the thick of it, participating in the Co-Located events and engaging with the community. Our team dove into conversations, contributed to discussions, and absorbed a lot of feedback on everything from technical workflows to project management.

For those who couldn't make it, or for attendees who want to revisit the highlights, our recap will bring you the key points from KubeCon 2023. We'll cover the sessions that made us think, the keynotes that motivated us, and the informal chats that often lead to the best ideas.

The Pulse of Cloud Native: KubeCon Session Breakdown

As cloud native technology matures, the focus of KubeCon sessions has honed in on a few key areas: the construction of layered abstractions over Kubernetes, addressing the unique challenges within specific industry verticals, and the role of AI in cloud native spaces. While it's impossible to cover all the sessions within this recap, we've curated a subset of the extensive and enlightening discussions for you. Here are some highlights:

Argo and Flux

Since deploying Kubernetes to cloud or on-prem environments has largely been standardized, the community is now working on adding orchestration on top of orchestration. The word “Scale” has featured in the session title at no fewer than 30 talks. Argo and Flux have taken center stage as key orchestration tools for declarative GitOps management of Kubernetes workloads. 

These projects have been in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation for a few years now. Organizations are beginning to report their success in using them to manage not just hundreds or thousands of nodes, but hundreds - to - thousands of clusters and deployed applications. The piling up of abstraction layers is leading to an everything-as-code approach for which a multitude of vendors and community projects have stepped up to offer their resources and solutions.

Challenging Verticals

With the maturing of deployment architectures, a marked shift has also taken place to solve problems in industry verticals where cloud native has been a challenge. One example is deploying to secure or air-gapped environments. Crossing the air gap remains a wrench in the automation process. Organizations that operate in that space developed a couple of practical solutions:

  • Develop as much as possible in unclassified environments while ensuring the application is as self-contained and portable.
  • Closely engage with the open source community so that CVE’s are identified and acted on quickly prior to crossing the air gap.


As might be expected, artificial intelligence was prominent in several sessions. The industry is still determining whether AI (namely LLMs) has reached the peak of the hype cycle, and what role it plays in cloud native. Compared to the general buzz, there were relatively few sessions specifically on AI/ML. Even then, those sessions were less about consuming generative AI, and more about deploying custom AI/ML applications.

The focus then was largely on the massive compute resources required for AI training and deployment. The community is still catching up when it comes to developing open source alternatives to the dominant proprietary stacks, but some projects have emerged to propose community-driven approaches to model training (federated LLMs for example).

On the Decline: Yesterday's Hot Topics Take a Backseat

Since last year’s KubeCon, a few parts of the ecosystem have started to either mature or decrease in popularity. While by no means on the way out, we noticed a few of the following were less emphasized in this year’s talks and vendor showcases.

Pure Kubernetes Implementations

While the number of certified Kubernetes distributions have ticked back up to historic highs, vendors are now focusing on the application layer rather than leading with K8s. Deploying Kubernetes to the public and private cloud is now largely standardized. Organizations are therefore now turning their infrastructure attention to edge cases such as maintaining legacy VM workloads, or else are moving up the stack into serverless.

Unchecked Developer Autonomy

Security is no longer optional. The rise of software supply chain attacks and rise in open source and cloud resources have spurred companies to balance developer productivity with the need to secure their data and environments. While developer experience is still paramount, the ecosystem is realizing that “you build it, you run it” should not mean “no guardrails”. Organizations are moving toward a more centralized experience, implementing managed platforms like backstage. Tools like keycloak and OPA have risen to “must-haves” in cluster administration and permission management.

Dialogues at the Booth: Harnessing Customer Voices

Harness has been a long time advocate of the Cloud Native community and ecosystem, and is proud to help sponsor KubeCon. We had a multitude of great conversations across our ArgoCon, BackstageCon, Litmus Chaos, and main-floor KubeCon booths. Helping support the next generation of workloads by reducing friction in software delivery are top of mind for many individuals we got to interact with over the course of the week. 

Harness Team at KubeCon at the Helm

Engineering pillars and experiences that previously in a non-cloud-native world such as security, scalability, and robustness would be afterthoughts are front and center during the development cycle now thanks to the ever increasing burden of shifting left.  The Harness Platform is well poised to help reduce significant toil as more expertise is disseminated across your evolving delivery pipelines. We are excited to see what is in store over the course of the year before KubeCon 2024.  

Next Stop, Salt Lake City For KubeCon NA 2024

As we wrap up our journey at KubeCon 2023, we're taking a moment to reflect on the rich tapestry of ideas and innovations that were shared. This year's event has not only reinforced the pivotal role of cloud native technologies in shaping the future of software but also highlighted the evolving landscape where some trends rise and others give way to more pressing innovations.

At Harness, we've had the privilege of engaging directly with the community that's pushing these boundaries. Our conversations at the booth brought us face to face with the pulse of the industry—where the enthusiasm for Kubernetes (K8s) is as robust as ever, and the love for our four-legged friends (K9s) continues to bring smiles and a sense of camaraderie.

A Harness, harness: K9s for K8

Looking beyond the current cloud native vistas, we're excited about what's on the horizon. As we set our sights on KubeCon in Salt Lake City as the next flagship conference gathers adopters of cloud native technology, we carry forward the insights and feedback we've garnered here in Chicago. The dialogue doesn't end with the closing of the conference doors; it's just the beginning. We invite you to continue these conversations with us, explore how Harness can streamline your DevOps journey, and share in the excitement for what's to come.

Until we meet again, let's keep pushing the envelope in our respective fields, inspired by the collective wisdom of KubeCon 2023. And remember, whether it's for your infrastructure needs or a harness for your K9, Harness is here to support you. See you in Salt Lake City!

-Nick, Dewan, Ravi

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