As part of our 12-week DevOps Academy, our graduates are expected to group up in the last 2 weeks for their final projects. This is a large part of their mark and differs from their independent working as we assign them ‘a client’ to provide a real-life problem for them to look to solve. The client will present them with a challenge, and from there it is up to the team to agree with their client on the best course of action to take. They then have 2 weeks to create an MVP using whatever methods and technologies they think will work best. At the end of the two weeks they present their work back to their client and to everyone at AL to showcase what they’ve achieved. 

Our latest cohort have just completed their final assignments and graduated from the Academy. They will now join us as graduate consulting engineers starting in our Innovation Lab where they can hone their skills and then joining our teams on client sites.

We’ve invested in building a culture where people can learn and grow at AL and look forward to seeing our newest grads develop their career with us.

Team: Codejar 

As a consultancy, AL works with different clients in separate teams. Often those teams are presented with similar challenges, and write similar solutions. If all these solutions are written from scratch, that is a lot of time wasted when a solution could have been copied and adapted for each new client. This was the problem with which we were presented. We were tasked with finding a method for AL engineers to find the work of other engineers, so that they can use existing solutions when writing new ones.

We explored the current approaches in the company, and learned from them, allowing us to understand how we could build a system that best suited the problem at hand. We presented the options to our client, talked through the pros and cons, and came to a resolution. It was decided that we would create an internal database for AL engineers, giving users the ability to submit solutions they think could be reused and to find solutions other users have submitted. This would all be presented in a web user interface that would allow for easy searching and filtering of the different pieces of code in the database.

The project required a culmination of several skills we had developed in the academy. There was infrastructure to configure and build, and a database to manage, as well as the product management and client interaction we had tasked with demonstrating in all of our work. The most important skill required was in our own temperament, and how the academy had developed our perspective on problems as a whole. The problem was not a fixed entity, it shifted as our understanding shifted, and the solution was not a set road map. We had to be resilient and agile in how we worked, developing new understanding and using new technologies as we worked towards our final product.

About their Academy Experience: 

Tom: The final product was my highlight of the academy. In just two weeks, we had gone from brainstorming ideas to demonstrating a fully-functioning interface to our client. In three months, we had gone from learning what a virtual machine was to hosting our very own web application with real-world benefits. I was not only presented with a whole range of technologies of which I had never even heard, I was given license to use them and develop my understanding through practical challenges. Now that I have graduated, I want to continue with those challenges, and transform the skills and understanding from the academy into experience and hopefully expertise through the kind of exciting and rewarding work we started with this project.

Fani: The biggest highlight for me was the final project. After three months of training, it was the first time we had full autonomy to decide which method to implement to solve the problem presented. It was the biggest challenge I had faced during the academy but knowing that the project I was working on would benefit employees at AL made it all the more rewarding. Now that I have graduated, I am excited to continue working on projects that will have a positive impact on others. 

Team: The Foreigners

For our final assignment, our team were tasked with creating a Unix command-line tool to assist AL engineers with the management of SSL/TLS certificates. When on client sites, AL engineers are at times required to monitor the expiry dates of certificates that enable sites to transfer data securely. Given that they’re sometimes required to manage upwards of 100 certificates, it was proving to be a daunting challenge to complete their daily responsibilities while also keeping track of certificate expiry. Our challenge was thus to use Agile working methods to communicate with our client, agree upon and subsequently construct an achievable minimum viable product (MVP), and manage our time efficiently using a kanban methodology so that the MVP and any extra tasks could be completed and delivered to the client within the agreed timeframe. By the end of the allotted project time, we had delivered our mvp to our client.

We approached this by developing two command-line tools that return filtered data and expiry dates of SSL/TLS certificates for a URL (list of URLs). We developed two tools written in Python and Bash instead of one in order to make them portable, composable and binary executable (tools are supported on Linux, Mac and Windows OS). A slackbot skill was provisioned as well within an AL Slackbot app enabling the quick use of one of the tools by engineers within AL without having to install it on their own machines but through Slack. 

Throughout the project, we got the chance to practice a lot of the skills gained during the Academy. We massively improved programming skills in Python, learning more about the command-line tools and getting a grasp on the fundamental practices of different operating systems (Mac, Linux and Windows). Apart from the technical side of the project, we developed consulting skills – our Agile and soft skills, having daily standups, planning our work beforehand, learning the importance of client meetings, developing an MVP and so on.

About their Academy Experience: 

Silviana:  The Academy has been an amazing experience for me, never got a chance to be bored, always learning something new and gaining a lot of technical knowledge. I think the highlight for me was when we completed the Academy. We received a lot of positive feedback after presenting our solutions for the final project from people in AL. It was a great feeling to know that our work was highly appreciated by the others and how in less than 2 weeks we succeeded to come up with feasible solutions. After graduating, I feel excited to start the actual work and to gradually improve the skills and knowledge I gained so far. We’ve started working in the Innovation Lab now, discovering internal AL projects and already getting involved and contributing to them!

What’s next? I want to start making a contribution to AL, use what I have learnt throughout the Academy, keep growing and developing skills to become a good and valuable Consultant Engineer!

David: Our final project gave us the opportunity to showcase both the technical and soft skills that we had spent the previous 3 months acquiring, which culminated in a 40 minute presentation to the company. Once each of the groups had presented their final assignment, there was a sincere feeling that the initial apprehension stemming from the uncertainty that an academy could be conducted virtually for its entire duration was proven to be unfounded. Looking back at the previous 3 months, I’m genuinely shocked at the amount that I’ve learned. Coming from a non-computer science background with minimal coding experience, I was initially nervous that I may be in over my head applying to AL, but the well-structured teaching plan and constant support has resulted in me being confident that I can go out on client sites and start generating value for AL as a consulting DevOps engineer.

Team: MuCherry

For our final project, we were tasked with creating a web hosting platform that could easily build multiple new WordPress websites on demand. This also required the use of Consul, a service discovery tool we had never used before, so factoring this in during our plan was important.

We embraced agile principles to effectively work through the project, using a combination of sprint planning and Trello boards to split the tasks in a way that matched both skillset and interest. 

This project allowed us to reflect on our time at the academy and look back at the various technologies used including Docker, Terraform, Ansible and many more. Though the highlight of the academy was definitely giving a live demonstration of our final project during our presentation which thankfully went successfully. 

About their Academy Experience: 

Cherry: Since graduating from the academy, I feel excited to continue learning and building upon my ‘toolbox’ of skills, integrate with the wider team at AL and hopefully apply these skills to a client project soon!

Murrad: During the time I have worked at AL I have come to appreciate many positive aspects of the work culture. However, the most important quality that has aided my growth at AL is the support. Having joined AL from a non-technical background I required the appropriate support to help me develop my core skills in such a short space of time.

From my first day starting off within the graduate academy to this very date I have been provided with constant support. Not only does this support stem from my line manager, but you can access help from AL due to its inclusive nature. Senior engineers and delivery managers are both incredibly accessible and do regularly check up on you whether they are on client site, which is a testimony in itself to how genuine the support is at AL.

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