Interview: Priyanka Sharma, executive director, CNCF

Career

In her opening keynote at the KubeCon and CloudNativeCon conference in Paris, Priyanka Sharma, executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Forum (CNCF), used the phrase “irrational exuberance”, which she says is driving people to experiment with new tech.

“When I say ‘irrational exuberance’, I am referring to any trend in the industry or in society where people are really excited about something, and are piling resources and attention into a concept that’s not 100% fully thought through or isn’t going to yield the results that each investment needs to make,” she told conference delegates.

Identifying that something is irrationally exuberant, says Sharma, “is when there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance”.

Sharma took on the role of CNCF executive director four years ago, during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was just after the stay-at-home orders were released. It was a very interesting and challenging time, especially for a community like ours, which is global,” she says.

For Sharma, the KubeCon and CloudNativeCon conference represents the heart and soul of the community. “We are used to meeting at least twice a year and having a week to ourselves as an ecosystem. All of that was suddenly gone during the pandemic,” she says.

Photo of CNCF executive director Priyanka Sharma on stage at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2024 in Paris CNCF executive director Priyanka Sharma giving her opening keynote at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2024 in Paris

She recalls that her role then was very much about shepherding the cloud-native ecosystem through a challenging time. “With a very strong team alongside me, we were able to manage that transition – we did virtual events,” she says.

A time of change

Despite the challenges, Sharma was “impressed with the resilience of this community, how strong we came out” adding that “much has changed” since 2020.

For instance, Kubernetes has moved from four releases a year to three releases, which represents a 25% slowdown in its development. “That’s because it’s so mature,” she says. “Cloud-native has had constellations developed with Open Tracing (instrumentation for distributed tracing) and OpenTelemetry (for observability) with their own ecosystem, and we are now supporting all kinds of new workloads.”

What has remained the same since she joined this ecosystem as a contributor in 2015, according to Sharma, is the ethos of the people who come together. “We love being here. We love bringing more people in. The warmth and camaraderie and joy and what we do is exactly the same,” she says.

As a self-taught software developer, Sharma has faced ups and downs in her journey in software development. This journey began when she was setting up her startup. “We had to build our website. Someone had to get it going and that’s how I learned,” she says.

“Success breeds success for the technology associated with it. Many IT and business leaders out there are keenly aware now of the power of technology to transform their businesses by leveraging the concepts of DevOps to improve their businesses”

Priyanka Sharma, Cloud Native Computing Forum

In her role leading CNCF, Sharma admits to yearning for a bit more time to do software development and coding than her full-time job allows, but she does enjoy doing her keynotes.

“I made a conscious decision to immerse myself in a certain technology, learn as much as I can, develop a demo with the help of my team and then deliver it. That is the way I get to stay engaged [in software development] while also running an organisation that has as large a footprint as CNCF,” she says.

Kubernetes maturity and enterprise readiness

The Linux operating system has become ubiquitous around the world. Sharma believes Kubernetes has now also reached this point of ubiquity, driven by the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“When I talk to organisations and individuals about what their infrastructure is like, they name a few technologies. Then I ask if they are using Kubernetes,” she says. To which the answer is inevitably “yes”, since Kubernetes has now reached a point where it no longer needs to be discussed in the context of new infrastructure technology.

Events such as KubeCon and CloudNativeCon are very much focused on software developers and the new and emerging technologies that excite them. An external observer may question how such technologies relate to making organisations become more digital.

“What I have noticed in the last five years is that organisations have been at different levels of the digital transformation journey, and those that have successfully made it have shown results in their stock price,” says Sharma.

“Success breeds success for the technology associated with it. Many IT and business leaders out there are keenly aware now of the power of technology to transform their businesses by leveraging the concepts of DevOps to improve their businesses.”

“I entered this ecosystem because the community welcomed me with open arms. I believe this has remained true. That’s the one constant we’ve had” Priyanka Sharma, CNCF

A diverse and inclusive cloud-native ecosystem

Looking back at her own journey with open source, Sharma says: “I entered this ecosystem because the community welcomed me with open arms. I believe this has remained true. That’s the one constant we’ve had.”

She points out that diversity, equality and inclusion are moving targets. “You do a little, you do well, and then there is so much more you can do to improve,” she says. “We’re always working towards being better at pulling in more people, so we will never be done. But I truly believe that this community’s heart is in the right place and we do our very best.”

Thinking back to the KubeCon and CloudNativeCon event in Paris, Sharma returns to her thoughts on irrational exuberance: “During the conference, I overheard someone saying, ‘The biggest pressure for us is to release AI features, and that is coming from our board’. So the the buzz is on. Maybe it’s irrationally exuberant.”

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