Notes on Our First-Ever o11ycon (2018 SF)


It wasn’t until the conference was ending that we learned that everybody thought we were kinda nuts.

  • “Wow. You folks were really … brave? … to let everything hang on the success of open spaces.”
  • “Can’t believe that went so well and was such fun. I never thought you guys would pull it off!”
  • “What if you hadn’t had the right people there for those discussions?” (“What if the facilitators hadn’t been so strong? “What if a few loudmouths showed up and dominated every discussion?” “What if people didn’t end up participating and just hung around bored?”)
  • “Good thing you had the wrap-up at the end, it really tied everything together. If you hadn’t done that, I don’t think it would have worked.”

Gulp. Those are all … excellent points, actually. We knew we were taking a risk, but we didn’t expect so many people to think so too!  (And yet you chose to come despite your skepticism.  Bless you.)

We always wanted o11ycon to feel radically different from your typical tech conference, where you sit through talk after talk all day, one expert after the next, punctuated by snacks and vendor booths.

Observability the word isn’t new, but observability as a discipline — of complex systems, explorability, and unknown-unknowns — is in its infancy. It’s too early for there to even BE a long list of experts to listen to.

So we decided to invert the playbook a bit, and assign the prime speaking slots to the hallway track. In the same way we believe the way to ship great software is to encourage code ownership from start to finish, we wanted to build a community by asking everyone to participate and feel an ownership stake in the future of observability. as a discipline.

We wanted this conference to be a radical act of co-creation.


But … scary!  What if people didn’t want to play?

Thankfully you did.  <3  I am still amazed by how intensely everyone participated in the open spaces. Everyone seemed fully present and engaged, hardly anybody was on their phone.  And each of the breakout groups brought back some incredibly fascinating findings around their topic, with lots of rare wisdom and novel ideas.  I was surprised how much I learned from the summaries.

Observability is still young; these are the very early days of a movement that has the potential to change software development as we know it, making observability-driven development as ordinary and dominant as test-driven development has been for the past decade.  It has the potential to revolutionize the way we ship software — to make it safer, more reliable, more fully-baked, faster to ship, and more responsive to users and customers’ unique needs.

But in order to achieve this, observability needs a community that is passionate about its potential. All I wanted for O11ycon was to feel like I was witnessing the beginning of that movement; and boy, did I ever.

Thank you.

Notes and gratitude and next steps.

If you would like to skim the open spaces findings, we’ve collected them here.

We’re beginning to publish the talk videos, slides, findings, and other conference proceedings at, and will also be collecting related content about observability there for everyone to access. We’ve updated the site with some slides from the event, too.

Several of you have asked about an east coast O11ycon or even EMEA.  We’re also looking into opening up the o11ycon Slack to the public.  Stay tuned (follow @o11ycon!).

Lastly, massive thanks to our speakers — Spang, Peter Alvaro, Emily, Rfong, and Joe Beda, who did such a bang-up job of framing and contextualizing the discussions. Much, MUCH gratitude to our amazing facilitators, who guided us through so many rich discussions.  And thanks to everyone who bought an extra scholarship ticket and sponsored a student or under-represented attendee.