Internal DevOps Day conference at Node4 - interview with Russ McKendrick

Russ McKendrick of Node4/N4Stack

Russ McKendrick of Node4/N4Stack

Node4 is a rapidly-growing solutions provider for infrastructure and data platforms. Within Node4 the N4Stack team focuses on bringing together Database, DevOps and Cloud practices to provide a range of enterprise Consulting and Managed Services to support business-critical applications.

Node4 and the N4Stack team recently ran an internal tech conference bringing together staff from across six separate offices, to share expertise and increase awareness. We spoke to Russ McKendrick, Practice Manager (SRE & DevOps), about the conference. 


Explore why and how to run your own internal tech conference in the book Internal Tech Conferences by Victoria Morgan-Smith and Matthew Skelton

(Conflux Books, 2019)


Q1. Node4 ran an internal tech conference in May 2019. What prompted you to run a conference and how did it go?  

Technology is evolving quicker than we ever imagined, and learning is key to the survival of Managed Service Providers. If we aren’t continually learning then we aren’t improving - in fact, with the pace of new technology we may even be taking a step back if we don’t give ourselves the time to exchange ideas, fuel discussion, and learn.  

Overall, we can’t have asked for a better first-ever Node4 DevOps Day event. We had a great, diverse turnout, interesting discussions, and actionable takeaways from the sessions. 

Russ McKendrick of N4Stack explaining how Terrform and Ansible fit into infrastructure automation

Russ McKendrick of N4Stack explaining how Terrform and Ansible fit into infrastructure automation

Q2. What was the format of the conference? Who was present? What kind of talks and sessions did you have?

We broke the day up into morning and afternoon sessions, with the morning session focusing on learning through presentations and the afternoon session taking on the Openspace format used at many public events (https://devopsdays.org/open-space-format/). 

Morning talks: 

  • Introduction to DevOps 

  • Managed Service Model Evolution to Support a DevOps Approach 

  • Infrastructure as Code: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly 

  • Containerisation, including a demo of OpenShift 

Afternoon session: 

  • Openspace Discussions 

Individuals from across different roles and departments came along for the day from Developers to Cloud Architects, and Network Engineers to Sales. It was great to see such a wide range of interest across the company. 

Q3. How has the internal tech conference helped with the rapid growth at Node4 and N4Stack?

Getting individuals from across different departments to spend the day having open discussions about how they’re using DevOps within their teams, and the problems they’re facing / benefits they’re experiencing was hugely eye opening. Those discussions helped to think outside the box and get second opinions from colleagues on how to truly maintain and enhance a DevOps culture within Node4. 

Node4 are a technology partner to over 1,000 clients and it’s key that we innovate internally to learn from our own DevOps journey and pass this experience onto clients. Firstly, it was great to talk around our strategy and how we are looking to evolve in areas such as Managed Services to a Site Reliability Engineering model, this helped demonstrate how we can apply our learnings directly to managing customers applications. 

We found that during the weeks following the DevOps Day those who attended were still talking about applying the use of the technology showcases such as OpenShift, Terraform and Ansible. A lot of side discussions continued, and we’ve had some quick wins on the automation front. 

We now need to keep the momentum created and use our successes to drive faster business adoption. 

Andy Slater - Director at Node4 - explaining the SRE model

Andy Slater - Director at Node4 - explaining the SRE model

Q4. What tips or advice would you give to other organisations looking to run their own internal tech conference?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is to encourage a variety of people to come along. Having different job roles within different departments and different levels of knowledge & experience in the same room is priceless when it comes to getting everyone on the same page and promoting a certain culture within an organisation. It also makes for some pretty interesting discussions! 

Secondly, make sure there are key takeaways and assigned actions from the day. This will decrease the risk of people going back to their day-to-day jobs and not making the time to carry on thinking and talking about it. 

Another piece of advice I would add is to try and incorporate demos into the ‘learning’ sessions - where possible try and relate the demos back to other departments, remember just because it something makes sense to what you do it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will to others. It’s a great way to guarantee everyone has at least a basic understanding of what you’re talking about and decreases the chances of presenting to a crowd of bewildered eyes! 

And finally, don’t forget the coffee and pizza - the magic ingredients for a truly successful internal tech conference! 

Follow Node4 and N4Stack at @node4ltd and @n4stack / Follow Russ at @russmckendrick


Explore why and how to run your own internal tech conference in the book Internal Tech Conferences by Victoria Morgan-Smith and Matthew Skelton

(Conflux Books, 2019)