Kubernetes, the open source project for container management, has taken the software development world by storm. The platform is used by countless organizations using containers due to its high scalability, elasticity and reliability. According to the CNCF Annual Survey 2021, 96% of organizations are either using or evaluating Kubernetes.
Kubernetes is a de facto option for container orchestration and scheduling. But it wasn’t always that way. It took great minds to construct Kubernetes within Google and others to evangelize its use throughout the software industry. And nowadays, new leaders are emerging to carry the torch forward.
Below, we’ll revisit the history of Kubernetes and check in with its original creators to see where they are today. We’ll also highlight several other prominent figures within the Kubernetes and open source cloud-native community to gauge where the inertia currently is.
The Progenitors of Kubernetes
For those unfamiliar with the history of Kubernetes, it was born out of Google’s internal infrastructure called Borg. At the time, Google employees were working on Google Compute Engine, Google’s version of EC2. “Kubernetes was sort of a spiritual successor to Borg,” describes Kubernetes co-creator Joe Beda in a 2021 interview with Increment.
Kubernetes emerged due to a combination of the right technology, the right moment and the right people. Google was using Docker, but not in a way that created a competitive edge for Google. “Kubernetes was a way to start aligning some of that thinking,” Beda explains. This new thinking around resilience and self-healing was already part of the site reliability engineering doctrine (another Google-bred concept). And such tactics were becoming increasingly necessary for the organization to embrace distributed machines where failure was a constant headache. “Dealing with the dynamism of an ever-changing system drove all the features that eventually ended up in Kubernetes,” Beda says in the interview.
Where Are They Now?
Kubernetes was open sourced in 2014 and donated to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2018. The project now receives support from a vast number of institutions and community members, far beyond the scope of Google. Many of its co-founders have gone on to do extraordinary things — so where are they today?
First, there’s Kubernetes co-creator Joe Beda. Now “semi-retired, this Seattle-based technologist’s most recent position was as principal engineer at VMware.
Beda has had an illustrious career, including posts at VMware, Split Software, Heptio, Shippable, CoreOS and Microsoft. As a senior staff software engineer working for Google, Beda was the co-founder and technical lead for Kubernetes. Beda has the privilege of filing the first-ever Kubernetes project commit. In his 10-year stint at Google, he also contributed to many other vital projects, like Google Hangouts and Google Compute Engine.
According to his GitHub, Beda is still an active open source contributor, having recently contributed to Kubernetes, VMware Tanzu, ngrok-k8s, and other projects. What impresses Beda is the sheer uptick in Kubernetes adoption. “Kubernetes is now the anchor for a broader ecosystem and ways of thinking about deploying and managing applications,” says Beda in a session with BrightTalk. “We didn’t foresee that.”
Kubernetes co-founder Brendan Burns is now a corporate vice president at Microsoft, heading Azure projects related to DevOps, including K8s on Azure. Burns’ recent work has focused on generating client libraries for working with the Kubernetes API. In the era of Borg, Burns was a senior staff software engineer at Google. He had an eight-year run at Google.
In a 2017 interview with ArchiTECHt Show podcast, Burns described his move to Microsoft to aid their container efforts to make containerization easier to use and more flexible for hybrid multi-cloud environments. He also explains how Kubernetes is now bigger than any single company. “I think that every single person who’s currently involved with [Kubernetes] could step away, and the project would continue. It has that kind of momentum.”
Most recently, Burns has written about strengthening RBAC and confidential computing to protect containerized data. Microsoft is one of many organizations making up the Confidential Computing Consortium, a Linux Foundation project.
Now a self-described self-employed stay-at-home Dad, Kubernetes co-founder and Seattlilite Craig McLuckie had a profound career around containerization and making Kubernetes more accessible for developers. At Google, he filled roles as lead product manager and group product manager. He was also the original product lead for Google Compute Engine.
After leaving Google, McLuckie became the founder and CEO of Heptio and later was vice president of R&D at VMware after Vmware acquired Heptio in 2018. MckLuckie was also a major proponent behind the birth of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
“We still have a lot of work to do as an industry to make the infrastructure technology fade into the background and bring forward the technologies that developers interface with, that enable them to develop the code that drives the business,” says McLuckie in a 2019 interview, TechCrunch reports. “Let’s make that infrastructure technology really, really boring.”
Who’s Carrying The Torch Today?
As one generation of innovators steps aside, who is stepping into their shoes? We checked in with some of the top faces in the open source cloud-native world. Here are some key thought leaders at the helm of the Kubernetes era today.
Anyone with an eye half open to enterprise software architecture trends will undoubtedly be familiar with one name in particular—Kelsey Hightower. An often-quoted thought leader and Twitter personality, this celebrity-status developer advocate is currently employed by Google in their cloud computing division. As of 2022, Hightower was a principal engineer at Google working on Google’s Cloud Platform.
A self-described minimalist, Hightower has been an evangelist and continuous contributor to Kubernetes since 2014. He co-founded KubeCon in 2015 and even collaborated with Kubernetes co-founders Beda and Burns to write a book on the subject, Kubernetes: Up and Running, published by O’Reilly in 2017.
Perhaps the most well-known speaker on Kubernetes, Hightower is also a prominent person in cloud computing in general. An article by Tom Krazit of Protocol paints a wonderful background of Hightower, from self-taught programmer to entrepreneur, who even managed a comedy routine at one point in the past.
At Google, Hightower has helped develop Google’s Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Cloud Functions. He advocates for diversity and inclusion within Google and throughout the tech sphere. Today, Hightower brings a human touch to the developer relations role to help customers onboard Google Cloud products and reduce configuration management obstacles.
Another prominent figure in the cloud-native sphere is James Governor, analyst, and co-founder of RedMonk, a developer-focused industry analyst firm. Although Kubernetes has clearly won the container orchestration wars, it still has a path ahead to grow. According to Governor, the focus now is on growing the community, broadening the platform, establishing a strong narrative for event-driven computing and serverless. He also advocates for lowering the developer experience hurdles involved in jumpstarting Kubernetes.
Brian Behlendorf, general manager of Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF), a Linux Foundation project, is another prominent contributor and leader within the open source community. He is also the executive director of Hyperledger, an open source blockchain collaboration initiative hosted by the Linux Foundation. Behlendorf was also co-founder of the Apache Project.
In a market where software supply chain attacks are rising, all hands are on the security deck. “I think the software industry this year really woke up to not only the fact these earthquakes were happening,” Behlendorf told The New Stack in 2022, “And how it’s getting more and more expensive to recover from them.”
The Future of K8s and Cloud-Native
Kubernetes has become an essential utility for enterprise software development—undoubtedly, it’s one of the best ways to manage large container clusters at scale. Thankfully, Kubernetes also benefits from a vibrant culture, represented by over 26,000 thousand virtual and physical attendees at the latest KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Europe 2022. With so much interest, countless other names beyond those mentioned above are now moving the platform forward on a daily basis.
Looking to the future, Kubernetes co-founders tend to agree on one thing—that the core infrastructure should become more “boring” and fade into the background. “We need, like, the Visual Basic for the cloud,” says Brendan Burns. While this doesn’t necessarily mean removing the complexity that makes Kubernetes perform well, it could mean improving the developer experience around interfacing with the platform.
Some are also bullish on edge computing embracing cloud-native technologies. “From a futures perspective, it’s all about the edge. This is where I see the most excitement … I think it’s going to be a huge growth area and a highly disruptive area of innovation over the coming years.” Craig McLuckie told Over The Edge podcast.
Cloud-native is real, it’s happening now and it’s accelerating faster than ever. What is your organization doing to prepare? Join Container Journal on August 10 for our virtual CloudNativeDay22 to explore the ecosystem beyond Kubernetes and ways to leverage cloud-native technologies to move faster and more securely. Register now!