Velocity Conf EU 2014

A couple of weeks ago we headed to Barcelona to attend Velocity Conference EU, and arrived the night before the conference get started. We usually arrive few days before the conference, but this wasn’t our first time in Barcelona this year, so we wanted to spend the minimum amount of days over there. This conference is different to the ones we have attended in the past, as it was less programming-oriented, so it seemed a good chance to improve other knowledge areas.

The conference venue, Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona, was located in a neighbourhood we had never been before, called El besos i el maresme, in the surroundings of Barcelona. The neighbourhood is quite different from the other ones we stayed in, with small houses inhabited by gypsies and immigrants and traditional bars and business. We rented an apartment, as usual, near to the venue, just to go walking to the conference and avoid catching the public transport. The apartment was cozy, we had one bed for each one and there was enough room to work in the dining room and a big couch to take a nap. What else could you ask for?

We met with a friend that moved to Barcelona and then we headed to a restaurant to have dinner. After getting in, you could smell the cured ham and cheese that were in the hall, since we couldn’t resist the temptation, we ordered a mix of delicious ham and cheese that were really amazing, and delicious desserts.

Delicious ham and cheese
Delicious ham and cheese

Day one

The first day of the conference all was as automated as it could be, we typed our registration number on a laptop and then go straight to the given booth number generated by the system after submitting the data. At the booth, after picking our badges, the cocktail ticket and a custom conference bag, it was time to have breakfast. Unfortunately, breakfast time was over and we could only have some drinks before rushing into the conference rooms.

Each day, the conference started with short keynotes, each one about a different topic, that lasted about one hour and forty-five minutes and were available for everyone to watch. After the opening keynotes, the conference split in five different tracks, each one focused in one topic.

It was the moment to split the team, and as a System Administrator I am, I stuck with Operations track most of time. I’m going to summarize just a few of the talks since it would take too long to talk about all of them.

The first one, done by Stephen de Vries, was very interesting. It covered security as part of the developing workflow and gave it the same importance to other pieces of it. Think like having CI, for example. Another one I attended was Mandi Wall’s one, talking about operations and the application lifecycle: what to take care of and avoiding pitfalls whilst being developed.

After having lunch, I stuck only with operations track, attending some interesting talks like the one from Twitter’s complex anomaly detection and an open discussion talking about the best place to host your software, cloud and containers, that were the absolute winners.

Day one was over, and it was time to have some food at the pavilion. They served Spanish dishes such as ham, croquettes ( made of mushrooms, chicken or ham ), a Galician patty, and some sticks made of fresh fruit and vegetables. At this conference, there was no after conference party, so it was time to head home and check if there was any urgent thing to be worked on.

Day two

On day two we planned to have a proper breakfast. We knew a baker in our way to the conference and grabbed some donuts, croissants and sandwiches. As usual, we grabbed our cup of coffee and we take out our food, that was really a breakfast, some people looked at us whilst having a ham sandwich in the hall. It was time to rush into the main room and attend the usual short opening keynotes.


First session by Michael Brunton-Spall was really good, talking about micro-services from the operations side, showing how to deal with it and start simple, iterating the process over the time, tooling and setting ownership of each service.

Second one was also good, providing related information when you got paged as a way to reduce RTO when an incident happens at night, they open sourced a tool nagios-herald to provide people on-call more context to the alerts.

Next two ones were in the Performance track, giving tips and solutions to make a web page load as fast as possible and the last one talked more about making pages offline-oriented to be more resilient when the network connection is unreliable and slow.

Last one from the Operations track was worth to watch it too, showing how a CDN can improve the speed with some under the hood optimizations when getting remote assets. Also it covered some unknown areas of CDNs to reduce hitting webservers in those cases. It was quite interesting.

After last talk, there was a crazy quiz. Everyone participated logging in a web service, it started fine but after the first question the wireless network could not handle the load and the quiz switched to Disaster Recovery mode, so we participated with colored papers. We had a fun time.

Day two finished, and as usual we had dinner in a restaurant, but now we tried a modern cuisine one, food and desserts were very tasteful.

Workshop day

Conference days ended, but workshop day had just started and it was time to watch more practical-focused sessions. I attended to every operations workshop, starting with Ansible. I’ve never tried Ansible before, the speaker was performing step by step instructions, but unluckily, wireless network was not working as expected. All the code is in a Github repository and you can check out every step by checking out a branch. At the end we could deploy a Java app without downtime.

Next one was about containers, explaining the internals of containers with high detailed instructions. Maybe you can think in docker right now, but knowing what’s happening under the hood let us to deal with further problems or situations. Very good talk in my opinion.

The third talk was about interruptions. and I was very interested in attending this workshop because something similar happens to me every other day. Etsy guys explained how to deal with interruptions without losing focus, removing distractions and maintaining productivity. After this, I started reading Time Management for Systems Administrators.

Last workshop was the only one talking about docker, its designed host operating system, CoreOS and how to deploy a Kubernetes cluster, starting from deploying a canary and then rolling it out to all the platform. The speaker performed a real demo with Google Cloud Engine and CoreOS, and Kubernetes on top of it.

Attendees in a workshop
Attendees in a workshop

The conference was over, it was time to get back home.