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Amusement Parks and Shipping Ports: CNCF Ambassadors Tell All

A recent Netflix series entitled “The Diplomat” raises the profile of a relatively unsung Ambassador role in the world of international relations. In this fictitious show, the US Ambassador to the UK becomes entwined in a variety of plots and subplots, each extending the common perception of an Ambassador as a ceremonial role to something much more. While the role of the ambassador is embellished to great dramatic effect, it does highlight the significance of formal representation from one nation to another.

Ambassadors play an important bridging role – they’re a go-between, straddling two worlds simultaneously. Beyond international politics, an Ambassador is an authorized messenger or representative. Hailing from one “place” or body of knowledge, they bring their point of view and step into a new place or knowledge space to share and forge connections. In return, they bring new knowledge and insights from their “hosts” back to their “home” – it’s a two-way street. It’s a lot of give and take, listening and learning, teaching and coaching. Key skills for an ambassador? Patience, empathy, curiosity, and a growth mindset.

The CNCF Ambassadors are no different. These community leaders are charged with promoting cloud native technologies in their local communities in a collaborative, inclusive and welcoming way. They’re expected to teach, listen, lead, and contribute. They open the door to new possibilities, and introduce a new way of accomplishing goals. Ambassadors also bring ideas, feedback, and use cases from their community back to the CNCF, helping the CNCF stay connected to the many communities it serves.

Started in 2016, the Ambassador program has grown and evolved – experiencing as much change as the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and its ecosystem has seen. This new class of CNCF Ambassadors represents the next evolution of the Ambassador role. Each selected Ambassador brings a unique, personal point of view and experience. They represent diverse backgrounds – some with years of experience, some just stepping into their technical careers.

Three new Ambassadors hail from VMware – Orlin Vasilev, Amim Moises Salum Knabben, and Whitney Lee. And while you can read their community-facing bio posted on the CNCF site, I’ve reached out to each one to dig a little deeper to discover their VMware persona and perhaps a little more.

Here’s what they had to say:

Orlin Vasilev, Sr. Open Source Community Manager

Orlin VasilevBased in Sofia, Bulgaria, this is Orlin’s second time as a CNCF Ambassador. Orlin started his VMware journey in 2018 as a Dev Platform Engineer with, according to Orlin, “practically zero experience with Kubernetes.” Today, he leads the community for two VMware-originated cloud native projects: Harbor, a CNCF Graduated Project, that helps users consistently and securely manage artifacts in a Kubernetes environment and Velero, a cloud native project focused on data migration, recovery and backup for Kubernetes clusters. Orlin also manages the local Bulgaria K8s/CNCF Meetup Group (~1300 members). To say the teams he works with are “diverse” would be an understatement. Let’s step into the conversation I had with Orlin:

Suzanne: How do you manage to balance the commercial demands and the community commitments – the tension that exists in your dual identity? Is this hard or easy for you?

Orlin: [At VMware] my focus is entirely on the Open Source community and quite often I forget that I’m a VMware employee! So for me, it’s easy, but maybe not for some of my colleagues who may wonder why I do not always act as VMware-first but community-first.

Suzanne: Now that you ARE an Ambassador, what do you hope to accomplish in your role? How will being an Ambassador help you do that?

Orlin: It will allow me to continue what I’m doing but take it even one step further to help others get on board with Kubernetes and the CNCF ecosystem. One of my initiatives is to start a Cloud Native curriculum at the local (Sofia) universities so students can join the community and learn about Kubernetes much easier and sooner – paving the way for their professional life. I’ve already done a few sessions with students from Technical University of Sofia – more to come!

Suzanne: When was the FIRST time you installed or configured a Kubernetes cluster? How did it go?

Orlin: I suppose it was 2017-ish when I started prepping for my future role at VMware. I started with K8s version around 1.7 or 1.8. It went OK, but it took countless tries to make it work as I wanted to experience “Kubernetes the hard way”. But if I compare it to my first attempt to install Linux (Slakware 7.1) back in 2000 (I still have the Install CDs + source code 😃 5 CDs total), it was much better and more successful, for it took me months to install actual running Linux back then!

Suzanne: Explaining Kubernetes to a newbie can be challenging. How would you explain it to your parent or a 10-year old child?

Orlin: Kubernetes is like an amusement park conductor – they check the line of kids (pods) who want to get on the ride (node) and tell each kid where to go. They make sure everyone is having fun (monitoring) and that the ride is sound and safe (liveness and readiness probes). If something goes wrong he fixes the issue by either helping the kids (restarting the pod) or fixing the ride (spinning new nodes or trashing broken). Actually I used this explanation to my 7 yo when I was prepping once for a talk!

Amim Moises Salum Knabben, Senior Member Technical Staff – Tanzu

Amim Moises Salum KnabbenAmin joined VMware in 2021 on the Tanzu Grid Engineering team – with only two years under his belt, he’s making an impact. Based in Brazil, he’s been a Kubernetes community contributor since 2020 mainly on SIG-Network and SIG-Windows initiatives. Amim’s energy and enthusiasm for all things Cloud Native and Open Source now finds him as one of the 2023 class of CNCF Ambassadors. He’s a busy guy, but apparently finds time for a personal blog as well – you can find Amim’s thoughts and writings at:

Suzanne: How do you manage to balance the commercial demands and the community commitments – the tension that exists in your dual identity? Is this hard or easy for you?

Amim: The way I like to balance downstream is contributing what is possible for upstream and reusing it later in the product. In the beginning it is hard to figure out a way to do it, but after you define a workflow the process becomes easier and more fluid. I try to always promote open source collaboration with the intent of creating a healthy ecosystem in all that I do. It’s always a balance, a choice, but when you are aware of the choices and the benefits open source offers, it’s a big help.

Suzanne: Now that you ARE an Ambassador, what do you hope to accomplish in your role? How will being an Ambassador help you do that?

Amim: I’m excited to take on this new role – being an Ambassador will give me an opportunity to get even closer to the community and increase my responsibilities. I’ve been a contributor for almost three years and I’m ready for this next step! I’ll be using this time to provide support for advocacy and create a strong CNCF/Kubernetes network in my local community. Some of my early goals include spreading knowledge through written documentation and videos to help onboarding and to mentor new contributors and users. I have many new ideas and projects and can’t wait to get started.

Suzanne: When was the FIRST time you installed or configured a Kubernetes cluster? How did it go?

Amim: My first interaction with Kubernetes was around 2017, it was the 1.6 or 1.7 release. I was looking for a reliable way to run Docker containers in production, the plan was to move our workload to containers from the existing VMs. In the beginning I was amazed by the architecture [Kubernetes], but the initial Kubeadm manual installation experience at the time wasn’t so straightforward as it is nowadays with managed clusters and facilitators like the ClusterAPI project. I took maybe a week or so to understand the components and get my first cluster running, it gets easier after that 😊.

Suzanne: Ok, a week. That’s not so bad! Imagine you’re explaining Kubernetes to a child or a parent. What do you say?

Amim [laughs] Ok how about this: Imagine you own a Port, and you have cargo ships going in and out, you need to fill and empty these containers (pun intended), and you know all the characteristics of each ship, like: size, capacity limit (TEU), etc. Your job is to maintain the lifecycle of these containers from the yard, find the proper ship, make sure the cranes are working, and so on. That’s similar to what a container orchestrator does with multiple computers connected.

Thanks, Amim! You’ll make a fine ambassador, though I might not hire you to pilot my ship!

Whitney Lee, Developer Advocate

Whitney Lee Whitney Lee is a flurry of activity – does she ever sit still for more than a day? I doubt it. According to the CNCF Ambassador description, Whitney is a “lovable goofball who enjoys understanding and using tools in the cloud native landscape. Creative and driven, Whitney recently pivoted from an art-related career to one in tech…. And not only does Whitney rock at tech – she literally has toured playing in the band Mutual Benefit on keyboards and vocals.”

You can read a more complete profile of this wedding photographer/singer/band member/cool mom/podcast host/CNCF Ambassador by cruising over to our recent profile of Whitney. Suffice to say, Whitney’s appointment as a CNCF Ambassador is right on target. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Whitney:

Suzanne: Now that you ARE an Ambassador, what do you hope to accomplish in your role? How will being an Ambassador help you do that?

Whitney: When I was new in the cloud native space, it was very intimidating that in every room that I entered, the men *vastly* outnumbered the women. It has taken the time and intentional effort to learn how to proudly take up space, join conversations, and understand that my opinion as a relative beginner has a lot of value.

Being a CNCF Ambassador gives me connections, credibility, and reach to find and elevate underrepresented voices on the streaming shows that I host. The more visibility we have, the more we can help to create a welcoming environment for everyone. I hope that by being a CNCF ambassador, I can help others who are like me (a woman, and/or older, and/or a career-changer) feel like they can experience success in this field too.

Suzanne: When was the FIRST time you installed or configured a Kubernetes cluster? How did it go?

Whitney: I first installed OpenShift-flavored Kubernetes when I worked at IBM as part of a training session that I participated in, I think in early 2020- before the pandemic. I remember having hiccups and eventually being successful. To be honest, looking back on the experience, I don’t think I fully understood what was happening, I was simply copy-pasting the tutorial commands.

About a year later, I went through a similar lab that gave a lot more context but still made assumptions about what the participant should know. That time I researched the concepts that I didn’t understand and adapted the lab to make it more geared to beginners like me. Then I administered the lab to my team! It was fun.

At VMware, my teammate Layla Porter and I had the honor of working through Kubernetes the Hard Way on a livestream with Kelsey Hightower himself! What a dream.

Out and about

Amim, Whitney, and Orlin bring amazing talent and passion to their many roles: ambassadors for open source, ambassadors for Kubernetes and cloud native, and ambassadors for the communities they represent. It’s a big job, but no doubt about it – they’re all up to the task. Look for each of these new Ambassadors in your local community or online. You can find Whitney online at her Enlightning podcast; Orlin in Sofia at the Bulgaria K8s/CNCF Meetups and hosting various community meetings and all three as invited hosts for the CNCF Live podcasts found on YouTube. Congratulations to all three! Keep up the great work.


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