Data Centers Open Source

Why developer evangelism is the secret to the success of Kubernetes

Kubernetes does community really well, but it's particularly its developer advocates do well to sell other developers on the value of the product. Google's Kelsey Hightower is a shining example.

How containers help enable automation in the enterprise

Kubernetes is the hottest thing to hit containers since...Docker. That's faint praise, given that Docker barely burst onto the scene in 2013. But, given the pace of enterprise infrastructure innovation these days, four years may be all the limelight one gets. As such, it's critical to make the most of an opportunity, which Kubernetes has done by delivering great code and, as I've called out, superior community.

What hasn't been as clear, however, is how Kubernetes does community so well. Google nailed the mechanics from the start, choosing to push the code to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, rather than going it alone (as Docker and other open source projects have done). But a less-acclaimed feature of Kubernetes' rise is the incredible developer advocacy that powers it.

Yes, I'm talking about Kelsey Hightower.

Evangelism 401

Kelsey Hightower is a developer evangelist working at Google, but the great thing about him is that he never seems to be overwhelmed by his employment. That is, on Twitter and elsewhere, he's focused on helping developers understand, appreciate, and use Kubernetes, and not necessarily pitching the Google party line (made easier perhaps because that party line includes "understand, appreciate, and use Kubernetes").

SEE: Special report: Riding the DevOps revolution (free PDF)

Hightower isn't the only strong developer advocate for Kubernetes, of course, but he does stand out, as Chris Tozzi has highlighted:

A good developer-advocate is worth a hundred developers who understand how a technology works, but aren't interested in pitching it to others. Developer-advocates are also worth much more than standard marketers, who are good at writing ad copy, but lack the technical skillset to be able to communicate technology in a way that speaks meaningfully to people who actually use it.

When it comes to developer-advocates, Kelsey Hightower takes the cake. He sings Kubernetes' praises in a way that other developers, as well as CIOs and CEOs, can understand.

This isn't traditional evangelism that a marketing department might provide. An evangelist like Hightower also writes code, and therefore has empathy for the developers opting for containers (and Kubernetes).

To Tozzi's last point, I follow Hightower on Twitter, despite not working with Kubernetes "in real life," because I learn a lot about the market and its technology from him. He's opinionated and direct, like the time he called out Docker founder Solomon Hykes over container standardization. The ensuing discussion was information-dense, respectful, and productive. Which is a good way of describing how a good developer advocate should behave.

Breaking away

Such evangelism makes a difference. Kubernetes, after all, should never be in the position it is today. Apache Mesos, due to its earlier entry to the market, and Docker Swarm, due to its affiliation with Docker containers, really should have dominated container orchestration. They don't, however, and their share of voice has basically flatlined, even as Kubernetes has taken center stage.

SEE: Introduction to Kubernetes Using Docker (TechRepublic Academy)

Yes, Kubernetes benefits from its Google lineage, but Mesos and Docker also have impressive corporate backing. And, yes, it helps that it's decoupled from Google's overt control through a foundation, though Mesos also bears that distinction as part of the Apache Software Foundation.

Community, and particularly developer advocacy, may ultimately be the things that have separated Kubernetes from the pack. Marketing matters just as much in open source as it does in other areas of technology. The difference, however, is that the best open source marketing involves developers speaking to other developers. Hightower and other Kubernetes advocates demonstrate how this is done, and it has made all the difference.

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