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What’s a CNCF Ambassador?

What’s a CNCF Ambassador?

This post is written based on my own experiences and opinions as a CNCF Ambassador.

The CNCF Ambassador program application is open now (January 25, 2024 – March 10, 2024)! But what is a CNCF Ambassador and why should or shouldn’t you apply? The biggest thing to know is that the primary objective of the program is NOT to recognize individuals. The primary objective of the CNCF Ambassador program is to solve a problem the CNCF has.

I became a CNCF Ambassador in 2019, and you can often see me running around events in my branded cape or jackets or shirts.

The Problem: Communities at Scale

The CNCF is a non-profit organization. This is awesome because it means they’re not controlled by any particular vendor. They even have rules in place to avoid overrepresentation of vendors. The CNCF’s mission is to “Make Cloud Native Ubiquitous,” which they work toward by providing support to open source technologies that help folks run software in “the cloud”- and their user communities.

It also means they are a non-profit organization, with all the problems one would expect from that designation. Their ability to fund initiatives is, in some ways, limited by their mission and non-profit status. Like with many non-profits, their ecosystem and focus area is also huge. The Cloud Native Landscape produced by the CNCF is the butt of many jokes because of how giant and complicated it is.

The Cloud Native Landscape tracks Open Source projects and the Cloud Native problem spaces they address.

The landscape provides a visual representation of open source projects, but as we all know, Open Source is People! A LOT of people – spread all across the globe! Between maintainers, end users, and whatever other folks are interested in Cloud Native Open Source technology – the CNCF likely serves hundreds of thousands of people through their work. Obviously, they don’t have the staff to carefully monitor and support all of those people/communities. But the folks at the CNCF care deeply about doing so. So what can they do?

The Solution: Leveraging Leaders to Support Communities

All of these communities around the globe, whether in-person or virtual, open source or end-user, have leaders. People who organize events, make content to teach others, and generally keep their communities together and moving forward. The CNCF doesn’t have the staff to send someone to every meetup or to join every Cloud Native-related discord. But they can work with and empower the leaders who do.

By giving community leaders the “Ambassador” title, the CNCF is trying to say to those communities “Hey folks! Someone in your area/who you follow has a direct line to us, and they know their stuff! If you need anything, let them know & they can help!”

The reason CNCF Ambassadors run around decked out in CNCF gear is (at least supposed to be) to make them visible points of contact. If you see an ambassador, they might be able to answer questions or help you out. Ambassadors are meant to be support, of a sort, for the CNCF community.

Ambassadors have a direct line into the CNCF and can get your problems routed to folks who can address them. Problems I’ve seen CNCF Ambassadors help address include: Code of Conduct violations at KubeCon, broken links in CNCF emails, and gaps in community initiatives. The Kids’ Day and student track at KubeCon are examples of activities CNCF Ambassadors proposed/support to serve community needs.

Why Should (or Shouldn’t) You Apply to Be a CNCF Ambassador?

You should apply to be a CNCF Ambassador if you want to actively support the CNCF and a technical community (or communities) that you help lead in some form. You shouldn’t apply to be an Ambassador just for the title.

Reasons NOT to Apply to Be a CNCF Ambassador

CNCF Ambassadors are people fulfilling a role to support their communities in coordination with the CNCF, but not everyone needs to do that job. These are a few examples of scenarios that are very similar/related to the ones Ambassadors do, but may not be well-served by the program:

  • The company ambassador. If you’re someone who champions CNCF technologies at your company, then you are a cloud native expert with a specific audience. Your audience, however, is a specific group of end users at a specific company. That audience is likely better served by the End User supporting groups at CNCF, which ambassadors are not typically a part of. You should talk with the End User folks like Taylor Dolezal about ways you can represent your community’s needs with the CNCF!
  • The Cloud Native expert. You may be someone who speaks at many events or generally shares their knowledge with one or many communities. That doesn’t mean you have to be a community representative. Communities need involved experts who share their knowledge. Being an ambassador would add community representation responsibilities to your plate. You don’t need to serve as an Ambassador to be a respected expert on cloud native technologies.
  • The cert seeker. It’s great to make goals, get certifications, and receive awards for your hard work! The CNCF has a certification program to help folks learn and certify their knowledge of Cloud Native technologies. The Ambassador program isn’t meant to be an award or certification. If your goal is to have some kind of certification/title to show that you are a Cloud Native expert, you might be better served by the certification program.

It’s All in the Framing

Basically, these are all cases where having a title recognizing your skill in Cloud Native technology might be helpful to work you do, but Cloud Native community representation is not necessarily part of that work. That doesn’t mean folks in these roles can’t be CNCF Ambassadors. It just means that if you frame your primary reason for applying to the program as one of these, it’s likely to be a weaker application. You could frame your application better by aligning it with the program requirements.

The Requirements for the CNCF Ambassador program can be found on the application page and include:

Reasons to Apply to Be a CNCF Ambassador

The Ambassador program is full of all kinds of technical community leaders. I categorize them into 3 major types: Content Creators, Local Community Leaders, and Open Source Maintainers.

  • Content Creators spend a lot of their time creating content to teach folks about Cloud Native Technologies. You can really see the passion they pour into the virtual communities they cultivate.
  • Local Community Leaders are folks who run meetups and events in geographic regions. They “keep the lights on” by finding venues for in-person meetings, maintaining calendars, and working with supporters to arrange food and funding for in-person events.
  • Open Source Maintainers are the folks leading the communities that build the projects in the CNCF landscape. The CNCF provides a variety of services and support to the Open Source projects under its umbrella, which requires careful coordination with the communities that build these projects. Making the maintainers “Ambassadors” is another way they can hear from & support these communities.
    • Relevant CNCF Ambassador Requirements: Active Contributor to a CNCF Project, A SIG or TAG member, Mentoring
    • Examples: Bob Killen (Kubernetes – Steering, SIG ContribEx, etc), Rey Lejano (Kubernetes – Release Team, SIG Security, SIG Docs), Divya Mohan (Kubernetes – SIG Docs), me!

A lot of Ambassadors fit into more than one of these categories or shift between them. But I’ve noticed each Ambassador’s primary activities tend to place them neatly into one of these 3 categories.

Engage with CNCF Ambassadors!

CNCF Ambassadors are people fulfilling a role to support their communities in coordination with the CNCF

If you’ve read this far and think you might be a good fit for the CNCF Ambassadors program, read more about the program requirements and apply! If you’re a community member, I hope you’ve learned that ambassadors are a resource for YOU. I hope you feel encouraged you to make use of the Ambassadors in your communities. Next time you see a CNCF Ambassador, I hope you’ll say hello!