Blog Open Source Kubernetes and the future of cloud native: We chat with Kelsey Hightower
Published on May 13, 2019
4 min read

Kubernetes and the future of cloud native: We chat with Kelsey Hightower

Our CEO sits down with Google Staff Developer Advocate Kelsey Hightower to talk fundamentals, the future of cloud native, and Kubernetes.


Kelsey Hightower is a Staff Developer Advocate at Google, co-chair of KubeCon, the largest Kubernetes conference, and an avid open source technologist. Naturally, we couldn’t think of a better first subject for TechExplorers, a new blog series where we talk to the industry’s tech leaders.

GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij sat down with Kelsey to talk about a variety of topics like cloud native, Kubernetes, infrastructure challenges, understanding new technology, and much more. One topic that came up again and again was fundamentals. Even with so many new technologies and methodologies out there – Kubernetes, serverless, cloud native – the basics of computing remain the same. It’s only when we understand the fundamentals and commit to building reliable code that we can make the most of these new platforms.

One of the biggest challenges Kelsey sees is the “all-or-nothing” approach. “Either I’m all serverless, or I’m all Kubernetes, or I’m all traditional infrastructure. That has never made sense in the history of computing,” he says. Ultimately, you don’t have to choose: Pick the platforms that work best for the job.

Going forward, Kelsey hopes that development continues to focus on high-level interfaces and hide the infrastructure underneath. Organizations want to have as little interaction with servers as possible. “That is what we’re trying to do. Anything more than that is noisy, and it’s kind of serving our own self-interest … We need those creative people not to be wasting time trying to build up a cloud platform before they can solve real problems.”

Video directed and produced by Aricka Flowers


On early Kubernetes:

"... When it first came out, just based on my previous experience as a system administrator, this is the thing you’re trying to build all those years. So, when I saw it, I immediately knew this thing solves my problems. So, I think I kind of attacked it as a contributor first. And someone who wanted to teach other people what I saw in it. Not sure if it was ever going to blow up or not. But it definitely had the right footprint when it came out."

On teaching others:

"I usually try to explain things based on the fundamentals, and then break down the technology until we get to the bottom. So, whenever something new comes out, my guess is it’s not going to change how we do computing. That hasn’t changed in a long time ... Once you learn the three, four, five basic fundamentals, then you just look at the new technology, and you just work your way down."

On invisible infrastructure:

"Forever, people have tried to build a thing where most of the organization doesn’t think about servers. So whether you’re using Kubernetes, or virtualization for that matter, the whole goal is that if I check in code, there should be very little interaction with infrastructure to get that deployed to customers. To me, serverless is just a reminder to us that we should focus on a high-level interface and hide the various infrastructure underneath."

On adopting cloud native platforms:

"If you take your app that you wrote 20 years ago and neglect it all this time, you don’t have any of those kind of controls, and you just move that app into the cloud native type of design patterns, it’s going to be worse than what you had before … People have to understand that there’s tradeoffs. You’re going to have to write more reliable code if you expect to be able to adopt these platforms."

On monoliths:

"There’s nothing wrong with monoliths, honestly. People have gotten themselves in a spot where they can’t really update the code. It’s messy. The codebase is all over the place. And if you take that same mentality to functions, you’re just going to have a mess of functions that are going to be all over the place and not even know how to call them.

"Discipline is required no matter what the platform is. People think platform will absolve them from discipline."

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