Our work experience week at ECS Digital 

Our work experience week at ECS Digital 

Introduction:

We are Nada and Polly, two students who spent a week on work experience at the ECS Digital London office.

We both heard about this wonderful work experience via our schools and thought that this would be a great opportunity to take part in. In the application process, we had to provide a CV as well as a cover letter. Working through those gave us experience in applying for jobs and adapting our applications to suit the role in question. Once we were successful with our application, we went through an interview process. The interview gave us some valuable practise to help us build up our confidence for the future.

 

What did you get up to?

Upon arrival, we were introduced to the team at ECS Digital and given a tour of the office. We were excited to start our week at ECS Digital and were looking forward to getting started on the project. We then got given a use case, based on a real-life example which a client may provide, and had to complete our project in three days.

The aim of the project was to write a Python program which ran all the SQL files in a given folder on a database in order to upgrade it. We had to make sure the database was upgraded to the latest version, and that we didn’t accidentally downgrade it, even if the folder contained SQL files for previous versions.

In addition to the main program, we had a few other tasks throughout the week. We were tasked with presenting our solution to different members of the ECS Digital team, and were able to meet lots of people to find out more about their roles within the organisation.

Part of our final solution:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who did you meet / get to work with?

 During our time at ECS Digital, we met many people. We had sessions with different individuals from different teams and were taken on ‘a day in the life’ with them.

Our first session on Tuesday was with Samer Naqvi and we explored the role of Women in Tech and how she partakes in talks and delivers them to people across the country. It was very informative to see how she encourages young women to see the digital industry as a viable career option.

Additionally, in the afternoon, we had a very interesting session with Eloisa Tovee (Ely) who works in the marketing team. She taught us how to market ourselves in the industry and also helped us to set up LinkedIn accounts. Now we have the opportunity to connect with different people who also have the same interests as we do.

Park Life

On our third day, Martina Srdoc delivered a session with us whilst walking through the park (the office is everywhere 😁), which was quite relaxing. At ECS Digital, she is an agile coach and also ‘the mother of the team’. This means that she looked after the wellbeing of all the staff.

Later on in the day we had a mid-week catch up with Kouros Aliabadi and received a broader understanding of his role as a delivery consultant. Amongst other things, Kouros goes to client sites and ensures that everyone is happy both within the clients’ and ECS Digital’s teams.

Making the Most from the Cloud 

Our last session of the week was with John Lawson. He works with ECS Consulting (part of the wider ECS group) and is a Senior Cloud Developer Consultant. He showed us how to programme with VS code and GitHub.

 

What thing(s) did you enjoy most?

The most enjoyable thing this week was the problem-solving aspect of it. When we got stuck on a problem, and had to think creatively to find a solution, it felt satisfying to get there, especially if we did this independently.

As well as that, the working environment in the office was fantastic. Everyone here was very welcoming, and we felt comfortable working here for the whole week. We’d both love to come back!

 

Thing(s) you found most challenging

When we started this project, we had no knowledge of using SQL with Python (or any other program). This was challenging because it meant that we had to research a lot and learn independently.

In addition, our program was run via a command line interface. Neither of us had used one before, so we got a lot of help from Emerson Hardisty (DevOps and Continuous Delivery Consultant at ECS Digital) to get our program working correctly and be able to receive command line inputs.

The journey from applying to presenting our use case has been massively inspiring and although we faced some challenges on the way, we were able to successfully overcome them and produce a script.

 

What did you learn?

Throughout the week, we developed a range of both technical as well as interpersonal skills. To complete the project successfully, we had to learn how to use MySQL in Python and create and modify databases. We also learnt how to connect to a database through Python, and how to connect to a command line interface.

Working as a team, we were able to develop our communication and problem-solving skills. Our day always started with a daily “stand up”, which involved us talking through what we did the previous day and our plans for the next day, allowing us to make the most of our time.

 

Would you do it again?

Absolutely! This week has really been fantastic, and we’ve learnt so much. Given this opportunity again, we would definitely take it.

We would both love to say a big thank you to everyone at ECS Digital and for making this week amazing and full of learning.  Special thanks to Jingen Ngo for being a great organiser, Emerson for helping us with all the technical issues and Lucia Gore for organising the applications and interviews.

 

****

Internships & Work Experience at ECS Digital 

ECS Digital believe in giving people equal opportunities and are proud to open its doors to buddying tech enthusiasts looking for the chance to experience what working in the world of tech is really like. 

Due to the energy, care and attention that goes into making sure every work experience student gets the chance to get hands-on and immersed in our culture, we are only able to offer a handful of opportunities across the year – mostly featured during school holidays. 

If you’re interested in any future opportunities, please reach out to the team who will be happy to advise if we have any work experience placements coming up! (Be sure to hit ‘careers’ in the ‘enquiry type’ menu when you do).

 

Guest BlogOur work experience week at ECS Digital 
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Getting Hands-On with Jenkins X

Getting Hands-On with Jenkins X

July 25th was a big day for the DevOps Playground. Not only was it an opportunity for ECS Digital to work closely with its partner CloudBees, the Playground and its members had the privilege of welcoming Gareth Evans, who showcased CloudBees’ new tool Jenkins X.

Through the session, Gareth uncovered what Jenkins X is and the challenges it can solve. We’ve summarised his talk below:

Jenkins X is an open source platform offering software developers automated testing, continuous integration (CI), and continuous delivery (CD) specifically in Kubernetes. By managing projects within Jenkins X, users get a complete CI/CD process with a Jenkins pipeline that builds and packages project code for deployment to Kubernetes containers. Users also gain access to pipelines for promoting projects to staging and production environments.

Running the “classic” open source Jenkins and CloudBees’ version of Jenkins on Kubernetes already has it benefits, thanks in part to the Jenkins Kubernetes plugin. This plugin allows users to dynamically spin-up Kubernetes pods to run Jenkins build agents. Not only does it help streamline the process of working with containers, Jenkins X adds what’s missing from Jenkins: comprehensive support for CD and the management of promoting projects to preview, staging, and production environments.

As many of you can attest to, Kubernetes is hard! Jenkins X aims to simplify this by getting you up and running at pace, and keeping you going quickly using some of the industry’s best practices.

In the Playground we learnt how to get up and running with Jenkins X in no time at all, using the CLI to create new applications and promote them to staging and production environments. Gareth also demonstrated CloudBees’ use of GitOps and ChatOps to interact with Jenkins X and how to utilise Preview Environments to get faster feedback to the developer.

The key takeaways from the Playground were:

  • Use the JX cli to create a Jenkins X cluster on GKE.
  • Create an application based on a set of templates
  • Push the application to a staging environment using GitOps
  • Change the application, interact with the PR using ChatOps
  • Learn how Preview Environments can speed up developer feedback

If you’re interested in learning more about how Jenkins X works, you can explore more in this blog.

The Team

 

 

This is a community event for the people, run by the people, and we had some pretty amazing ECS Digital team members to help out during the London DevOps Playground. Which was a good thing, considering the Playground was just shy of hitting full numbers again!

 

 

This was definitely one of the most success nights we had at the DevOps Playground London, with over 70% of the attendees being first timers. This influx of newbies is amazing, as we not only love to welcome new people into our community, but we also opened up the world of Jenkins to a new audience – which was pretty cool!

Take Some Home

If you were there on the night, or didn’t quite catch something from the Playground, please find all the details below (including a link to the recording from the day):

🐼 Hands-On with Jenkins X Playground – official recording:

Github repo – DevOpsPlayground/Hands-On-With-Jenkins-X

Gareth Evans – Lead speaker and a keen technologist, developer, open-source contributor and cloud advocate engineer at CloudBees. Currently working on the Jenkins X project

Jenkins X is a CI / CD platform for Kubernetes

🐼 DevOps Playground website

🐼 DevOps Playground London Meetup Page

 

Benjamin ShonubiGetting Hands-On with Jenkins X
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DevOps Enterprise Summit 2019: what went down

DevOps Enterprise Summit 2019: what went down

For many, the word DOES means nothing more than the third person singular present of do. No further thought is required. No light bulb moments. No slight gleam of excitement in the eye. Nothing. Does is does.

Unless, of course, you’re one of the few skirting around the outside rings or smack bang in the middle of the DevOps world.

For those within this world, DOES is the much-anticipated DevOps Enterprise Summit – a unique glance into the inner workings of DevOps. Everything from the latest tools and technology to product demos, data science and keynote speeches that left tech enthusiast’s hearts rekindled and fired up for the rest of the year. Although to be fair, the sock swag might have had something to do with that …

DevOps Enterprise Summit Stickers

Whilst we could spend the rest of the blog talking about the free mini chocolate macaroons, copious amounts of free stickers and CloudBees rather epic prize giveaway (every tech fan’s wet dream), let’s instead dig into the ten key messages that ECS Digital took away from DOES 2019:

1. Eisenbahnscheinbewegung

Eisen what now?! No, this isn’t another legendary word plucked from the creative geniuses over at Disney. Eisenbahnscheinbewegung is in fact a German creation (no surprise there!), pulling together “Eisenbahn” – a railway, and “scheinbewegung” – a fake movement into an impossibly accurate description of an influential constraint in digital transformations. Essentially, it is the fake sense of movement you get when you’re sitting on a train, watching another train moving next to you, and you gain the illusion that you are moving too.

In the context of DevOps, Eisenbahnscheinbewegung is a dangerous assumption during any transformation striving for a high-performance, collaborative organisation. The essence of DevOps is that you create a guiding coalition with shared responsibility at the core, enabling continuous learning and a behaviour change – not the easiest of tasks. But what if you didn’t need to change your behaviour, wouldn’t change be so easy then! By watching other teams begin to show new behaviours, people can gain the impression that they themselves are moving too and initiate the start of their own fake movement. Avoid the inertia this can cause by calling out Eisenbahnscheinbewegung and nipping it in the bud before the movement gains momentum.

(Eisenbahnscheinbewegung is also a fun word to try and get your colleagues to repeat really fast, multiple times…)

2. DevOps confessions

Holly Cummins‘ talk on the “Tales from the DevOps Transformation Trenches” did exactly what it said on the tin. It drew on the stories from attempted DevOps and CI/CD implementations, looking at common mistakes and the dangers of remaining too headstrong on what we believe to be the only way. Learn to take controlled risks, leveraging the benefits of a/b testing and continuous improvement to limit impact, learn and deliver incremental value.

DevOps Enterprise Summit

You don’t have one chance to get it right – unless you’re the Ariadne/Cluster 5 spacecraft, in which case once chance is really all you have… There is also argument to suggested that customers don’t necessarily have the appetite for continuous releases. Instead, ensure you are building a roadmap and bringing your customers on your journey – focusing on value-add and product improvement. If in doubt about when to release, remember the wise words of Reid Hoffman:

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”

3. Employee engagement should be your competitive advantage

According to Richard James, your key business enablers are your culture, organisational agility and people. Employee engagement bolsters all of these, but championing employee engagement is about more than getting some bubbly in the office for ‘Fizz at Four’. It is about creating a culture and environment that fosters a mutual respect across all teams, strengthening your offering and providing something that your competitors will struggle to compete with you on. In the words of Joe Aho from Compuware:

“take care of your employee engagement and the cash flow will take care of itself”. 

4. Culture and calling out success

During DOES19, attention was drawn to Nike’s own transformational success, looking specifically at the impact of advocating a “thank you” culture and how this drove positive results in their distributed squads.

In the words of Chris McGinnis:

“culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

DevOps is a movement rather than a methodology which means that people matter more than technology. Recognise and celebrate the success of your teams / individuals and you’ll see a culture of collaboration ensue, because at the end of the day, “you have a far better chance of winning in life as team than as individuals” – Mehnaaz Abidi.

5. Data based thinking, because assumptions still make an ass out of you

Ultimately, data-based thinking gives you the information you need to make more informed, impact-controlled decisions. In the words of Gene Kim, “you do not want to be an organisation where information is hidden”.

Make your organisation transparent to encourage a culture where information is actively sought, messengers are trained – not shot – and teams can begin to learn from previous mistakes.

As well as transparency, make sure you have the tools in place to deliver the data you need to successful drive transformation. In the constantly shifting landscape of technology, continuous testing and a/b testing is a must. If you’re manually testing, you’ll only be able to pull data from the last time a test was made – and with the complexity of technology stacks and organisations as a whole, this could be months old. You also want to be giving yourself more data through experimentation. Not only will this help you know which pilot projects to scale, if an experiment shows your hypothesis is wrong early on, you have succeeded at reducing risk.

Last but not least, monitor your own transformation so you can begin to work smarter, not harder. You want to be continual measuring so you can support decision-making, enable better outcomes and remove blackholes created by unforeseen or futile tasks. In the words of Dominica DeGrandis:

“if you don’t track unplanned work, it’s invisible. It would be the perfect crime”

6. New kids on the block

 “At the current rate of disruption, 50% of the Fortune 500 are going to be replaced in the next 50 years” Mik Kersten. Whilst this predication can feel a little open ended – realistically, anything could happen in 50 years – the sentiment was mirrored in a statistic that came up at the Women of Silicon Roundabout:

“1 in 6 businesses will fail in next five years because they can’t keep pace with change”.

…an unsettling risk for those not willing to invest in an agile / DevOps way of working. With the pace of change in the technology sector, even those who have survived and profited from legacy technology stacks, a time will come – and has arrived for most – where this technology is no longer fit for purpose. Whilst some are on the front foot, many don’t realise quite how far behind their technology is until they see their competitors unsubtly eat into their market share. If these stats are trying to tell us anything, it’s that now is the time to change, because a few of you will be left behind.

7. Burnout – you work with canaries, not robots

Dr. Christina Maslach led what was perhaps the most relatable but least spoken about part of the technology sector: burnout. Given its high costs to employees and organisations, burnout has become an increasingly high topic in the workplace. While some believe burnout is self-imposed, empirical findings show that it is largely a function of the social environment in which people work – and is a warning sign that businesses should take very seriously. In the words of Dr. Maslach “our approach is to try to create more resilient canaries, instead of trying to figure out what is wrong in the coal mine.” Rather than setting unrealistic expectations on your team, address the toxicity of the environment and save multiple birds with one stone.

If you’re interested in this topic, our very own Ali Hill recent published a blog on his experience with burnout which you can read here.

8. IT might be Merlin, but there’s always a king Arthur

Whilst IT is the enabler, the digital wizard, the innovator, it rarely operates in isolation of the business. For IT to be successful in an agile transformation initiative, it needs the full buy-in and support of the business. Not only to enable cultural change, but to empower different teams to change at pace and scale successful products.

But there’s one hurdle. You won’t get this support until you can frame your ideas in terms that your business leaders can understand. Involve key stakeholders from the very beginning of the transformation to open up communication channels, then focus on outcome and value so they have something tangible they can buy-in to.

DevOps Enterprise Summit

9. Better Value Sooner Safer Happier

Jonathan Smart’s talk did one of two things. It delivered a clear explanation for the metrics we should be measuring the success of DevOps on. It also asked attendees to rethink their approach to DevOps. Rather than focus on scaling agile, Smart suggests descaling your work. Want to do an agile transformation? Don’t. Focus on outcome and value.

Essentially, Smart was talking about looking beyond the transformation, to the point that your language should change to adopt a more outcome-focused initiative. By changing milestone to outcome, project to product, plan to roadmap, you can begin to change the mindset of your organisation as well as the physical changes to your technology.

DevOps Enterprise Summit

10. Unicorn Project

We couldn’t do a summary of DOES19 without talking about one of the key influencers behind the event: Gene Kim. Not only is Kim a multi award-winning CTO, researcher and DevOps enthusiast, he has authored books with instrumental impact to the DevOps community including The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win and The Visible Ops Handbook. 

And now he’s thrown another book into the mix: The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Redshirts, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order. Focused on introducing the ‘five ideals’, Kim takes you on a journey, following Maxine – a senior lead developer and architect – as she faces rebel developers, dangerous enemies and a ragtag bunch of misfits in a race against time to innovate, survive and thrive. With many of our engineers still reminiscing aboutThe Phoenix Project, we can’t wait to get stuck in…

Those who attended DOES19 were given exclusive access to an early edition of the book – as well as a matching pair of the #UnicornProject socks. If you missed the DevOps Enterprise Summit, save those unicorn tears. You can pre-order your version of the Unicorn Project on amazon.

Concluding thoughts:

Feeling fired up by the DevOps Enterprise Summit to start driving your own successful DevOps transformation? Harness that energy, consider your roadmap, but be mindful of jumping in with both feet.

If you swung by ECS Digital’s stand during the conference, you will have noticed something rather unusual. This year at DOES19, we decided to focus on you. In particular, how we can successfully help you journey through The Great DevOps Rabbit Hole.

 

 

Designed to be challenging, agile and sometimes delves into spaces that nobody has ventured into before, The Great DevOps Rabbit Hole is not for the faint hearted, yet it is a journey any business can take. Our latest feature showcases the typical DevOps journey, flagging common areas where businesses stumble, struggle or succeed. It also gives businesses the confidence they need to make the leap into a new transformative future.

Wherever you are on your journey,and whether you’re a heavily regulated enterprise, or an agile start-up looking to scale, your digital transformation will benefit from a partner who’s been on the journey before…

Download your copy of The Great DevOps Rabbit Hole and learn the secrets of mastering your DevOps journey.

 

Eloisa ToveeDevOps Enterprise Summit 2019: what went down
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Don’t Be a Hero: My Experience with Burnout

Don’t Be a Hero: My Experience with Burnout

Burnout is an issue which is becoming more widely recognised and discussed within the technology industry. The more I have spoken to colleagues openly about this topic, the more I am surprised how common the experience is. A recent statistic identified that a shocking 57% of technology workers suffer from burnout.

Earlier this year, I gave a presentation titled ‘Don’t be a Superhero’ during the the Ministry of Testing’s conference, TestBash Brighton. During my presentation I discussed my own experiences with burnout, how I recovered and what individuals and employers can do to prevent experiencing something similar.

Burnout Talk

If you would like to watch the full presentation, then you can sign-up for a free Ministry of Testing Dojo account and find the video here.

The following is a summary of that talk.

Background

I began my software testing career in January 2014 as a Games Tester. Since I started that particular role with no prior technology experience, I had a deep desire to improve my skills and prove myself.

I moved into my first Agile testing role in May 2016 and began to learn how to code. I knew I was entering the role at a fairly junior level, but I wanted to keep growing my career and began to push myself harder and harder in order to do so. It was this and wanting to improve my testing skills, that eventually led to me burning out.

How did I fall into the burnout trap?

Over time, I used to love being the go to person when a critical situation arose in our production environment. Working late was something I enjoyed doing because it meant I was saving the day. Having people treat me as a fountain of knowledge on the area I was working on was addictive. In hindsight, I simply cared too much about what my colleagues thought of me and compared myself to them.

I wasn’t just focusing my ‘free time’ on work projects, I was self-learning and wanted to learn new technologies, programming languages and skills that would make me a better tester – time I should have spent unwinding and resting. But instead of resting, I was watching YouTube tutorials on the latest technology trends.

Slowly, I began to realise the impact of the hero role I had forged for myself. I became sick of being the hero in the team, but still had managers approaching my desk at 5pm to tell me something in production was on fire. My holidays were routinely interrupted by colleagues asking me how to technical questions. I was even once asked to work on something critical on the same day I had phoned in sick.

As a result, the quality of my work also suffered. I found that even when I was working on a new project, people involved in the previous project were frequently asking me questions. I hadn’t shared my knowledge with anyone else as I was preoccupied with putting out fires and not preventing them.

What was burnout like for me? 

I was stressed. I never felt at ease at work as I felt I had too much work to do and not enough time to complete it. All of the work I had committed to in my ‘hero’ role came to a head at the same time and I began to feel overwhelmed.

I used to be extremely enthusiastic and passionate about my work, but at the point of burning out I couldn’t care less about the work I was doing. Every day, I was simply going through the motions.

My work relationships also suffered. I had previously made a lot of effort to form good working relationships with people in my team, but due to burnout and demotivation I was turning down offers of collaboration indiscriminately.

One of the worst symptoms was physical as well as mental deterioration. I was finding it difficult to sleep some nights because I was worried about how demotivated I was at work. I was no longer performing as well as I should’ve been because I was fatigued. 

Burnout Talk

How did I recover?

It wasn’t until I read a blog I found on Twitter that I realised I was suffering from burnout. It was here that I began to take some actions to improve my work-life balance. Here are three recommendations I hope you takeaway:

  1. Learn to say no

The first thing I did was to learn to say “no” to any excess work which was coming my way. This was a difficult thing to do as my managers were used to me taking on every piece of work, but they mostly understood why I was saying no.

  1. Go back to normal working hours & mute notifications

For the most part, I also stuck to my normal working hours. In our industry, overtime can be a common occurrence. I learned to question the need to do overtime when I didn’t believe it was necessary so that I was working a reasonable number of hours each week.

I also muted Slack and work email notifications on my phone outside of working hours. Having these apps active all the time can really blur the lines between personal and work life. Please don’t be the person whose downtime is on the couch watching TV but also replying to a work email at the same time – it doesn’t help anyone in the long run. 

  1. Prioritise & realistically plan workload

Learning to delegate and share knowledge on a daily basis was difficult but incredibly important. It allowed me to plan my workload, knowing the critical tasks I personally had to tackle each day.

Planning my workload now included any study and research outside of working hours too. I was able to be realistic when it came to setting targets for learning and development.

*****

I’m now fortunate enough to be on the other side of my burnout experience and have found ways of addressing my work/life balance for the better.

A large part of this is that my current employer, ECS Digital, actively plan catch-up weeks once a month. This ensures I have the time and flexibility to upskill and explore new technologies within my contracted hours.

Having the support of a talented team when learning new skills is also extremely important. I don’t feel as if I am learning in isolation as the team is always available to collaborate with me on solving problems.

Why businesses need to take note

According to a recent Kronos study, one of the top causes of burnout in 2017 was unfair compensation packages that lend themselves to employees working too much overtime and having an unreasonable workload. The same survey reported that 46% of HR leaders believed employee burnout was responsible for up to 50% of their annual workforce turnover.

Another aspect is that organisations frequently reward hero behaviour but fail to recognise the consistently good work of their employees who can achieve a high standard of work within their nine ‘til five.

At a time where businesses are struggling with the IT skills shortage and employee engagement is a competitive advantage, businesses can’t afford to ignore burnout within their teams. In the words of Charlie DeWitt, Managing Director of ANZSEA at Kronos:

“Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions. While many organisations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout. Not only can employee burnout sap productivity and fuel absenteeism, it will undermine engagement and cause an organisation’s top performers to leave the business altogether. This creates a never-ending cycle of disruption that makes it difficult to build the high-performing workforce needed to compete in today’s business environment.

Organisations should seek out and implement technology solutions that provide a proactive approach to mitigating burnout, such as the scheduling of rest during rolling periods as long as a year. Workforce analytics can also identify and alert managers to trends in scheduling and absenteeism that may indicate an employee is on the path to burnout so changes can be made.”

Lessons Learned

Since I began to become more aware of my burnout symptoms I have achieved a greater work-life balance and now take a lot more time to relax. I take more time to spend with friends and family. My stress levels have reduced as I don’t work nearly as much as I used to and the self-learning that I now do is something that I’m truly passionate about.

The main thing I took away from the experience is that whilst enjoying what you do at work is extremely important, nothing happens in a vacuum and there are a lot of things in life more important than your career.

Just released!

To see the talk that inspired the blog, head to Ministry of Testing’s website for Ali Hill’s presentation on burn out at this year’s TestBash, Brighton here.

About the author:

Ali Hill is a passionate and motivated software tester at ECS Digital with a specific interest in improving teams’ processes to assist them in delivering quality software. Not only a test consultant, Ali is also heavily involved in the testing and tech community through my co-organising of Edinburgh Ministry of Testing Meetup and public speaking at various conferences – including a recent visit to the Nordic Testing Days conference.

Ali HillDon’t Be a Hero: My Experience with Burnout
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Women of Silicon Roundabout: Key Takeaways

Women of Silicon Roundabout: Key Takeaways

This week, Women of Silicon Roundabout opened its doors to over 5,000 incredibly passionate, brilliant and career driven individuals looking to explore all things business – from gender diversity and inclusion, to pushing boundaries and inspirational anecdotes from the rather Marvellous Karren Brady OBE…

And ECS Digital were right in the middle of the buzz! 

Proud to be silver sponsors, we set up shop in the middle of the conference – close enough to the fro-yo but sensibly out of reach of the specially brewed ‘DevHops’ beer on the other side of the room. With tote bags in hand and the DevOps Playground Panda for extra company, the team did an incredible job talking about the unique DNA of ECS Digital and the incredible DevOps / QA culture we have helped create for our clients. 

What was particularly refreshing about this event – other than the vibrant spectacle of business fashion which you never quite seem to get at male-dominated events – was that it solely exists to inspire, up-skill and give individuals the confidence to go out and do great things. Every speaker was rightly celebrated, with rooms packed to resemble the recent Spice Girls gig and audience members cheering like wildings for their admired colleagues. Every talk spoke to either the head or heart, or both. And every person who came by our stand was an absolute pleasure to speak with.

How spectacular is that! In light of all that is currently in flux (Brexit, Gender Pay Gap, Positive Discrimination, the number of CEO’s named David…) this conference boldly pushed through the negative noise and created an event filled to the brim with positivity, determined to set a few things straight. Including giving the audience the knowledge they need to make more informed decisions.

With this in mind, we couldn’t pull together a summary of this great event without drawing attention to the incredible job Marie Cruz and Samer Naqvi did on delivering their own talk on Software Testing Trends in 2019. Both QA and Continuous Delivery Consultants at ECS Digital, their talk looked at delivering less yawn, more Elvis in software testing, focusing on the tools and technology that help create valuable solutions. Here’s a little sneak peek…

 

 

It was also a great opportunity for both to showcase their expertise. In the words of Marie, 

“Speaking at Women of Silicon Roundabout has given me the boost of confidence in my career and I wouldn’t have done it without the support of ECS Digital. Networking with a lot of respectable women in technology and listening to the other speakers talk about their experiences just means that the technology sector is empowering women and we all have a role to play”

Whilst there is a recording on Facebook already, we hope to release the event exclusive version of their talk our YouTube channel very soon.

With so many speaker sessions over the two days, we could only catch a handful of talks, so here’s our Women of Silicon Roundabout key takeaway iceberg – with the hope that others might add some quotes or titbits of what we may have missed. Enjoy! 

Eloisa ToveeWomen of Silicon Roundabout: Key Takeaways
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Using AI and DevOps to streamline communications

Using AI and DevOps to streamline communications

The way in which organisations deploy enterprise technologies has undergone a shift in recent years. Today, there is a cry for more agile ways of working. But to achieve this agility, teams need to establish a communication stream that works for both the techies and non-techies, the influencers and implementers, the stakeholders and the individual. In short, the more integrated and familiar your employees are with one another, the less painful (and costly) your communication has to be.

People, then tech

Whilst digital transformation is often perceived to be technology focused, you’d be mistaken to put the onus of change wholly on your DevOps team. According to PMI’s 2018 Success in Disruptive TimesReport, 29% of failed projects mention inadequate/poor communication as the primary cause of those failures.

Part of this problem is how different departments approach work, their interest in the change and the different language they use. Then there’s the fact that many departments are so busy working towards their own goals that they lose sight of the overall needs of the business – they can’t see the forest for the trees, as it were.

Rather than throwing work over the wall for unengaged individuals to pick up, creating communication streams that encourage collaboration and demonstrate value are fundamental to delivering a successful transformation.

Take automation. If the basic challenge behind DevOps is to keep moving parts in sync to enable a fail fast, fail often approach, having a collaborative team will reduce the number of moving parts that need to be synced – simplifying the process and accelerating deployment.

The same applies for feedback loops. Software developers use a DevOps approach to quickly release apps and gather feedback on new features – and not just when applications are in production. This enables teams to have full visibility over the development of products, testing as they build and releasing more rapidly with more confidence.

How is Artificial Intelligence (AI) strengthening DevOps Programs?

One of AI’s greatest strengths is that it can flex its intelligent, data-grabbing fingers a whole lot quicker than the average Joe. Not only does this help automate the extraction of knowledge from vast amounts of data at pace, it consolidates data from multiple sources, centralising data and granting teams a way of searching data pragmatically.

It also offers a greater degree of flexibility. Take Cloud tools as an example. There are so many different pathways of how to approach Cloud / implement the appropriate tools that whilst you might feel you know the best way to approach something, there is every chance a better alternative exists. And this is where AI comes into its own. Intuitive by design, AI can collate hundreds of thousands of examples, spot anomalies in this data and then recommend best practice based on what others have done. This intelligence offers a more holistic view and gives insights far beyond your companies’ four walls.

“It’s one thing to understand what’s happening, and it’s another to decide what to do. We see people turning to AI to help optimise their decision-making as the intelligence AI provides enables businesses to have a more holistic view over the data whilst remaining specific to the problem the business is trying to solve”

 Babak Takand, ML Specialist & DevOps Consultant at ECS Digital 

How is AI helping to streamline communications?

As touched on above, communication and feedback are two of the biggest challenges when it comes to moving to a DevOps methodology. Ideally, you need to be setting up channels that can revise workflows on the fly. Automated technology, chatbots and other systems enhanced with intelligence and learning abilities, are capable of doing just that, enabling communication streams to be simplified and more proactive.

As the communication streams begin to become slicker, businesses can begin to apply more pressure on their DevOps process with the confidence that the agility and tools in place will make it go faster than humans could go on their own.

Ultimately, tools are there to help you identify problems and to add flexibility to your system. Teams trained in these tools – like ECS Digital – are then on hand to train individuals on how to use these systems and adapt them to how things operate.

For those of us knee deep in sci-fi media, the utopia would be to invert this internally, so the system adapts to how you want your tech to work automatically. In other words, if you are wanting to use a specific DevOps tools, you could voice / code what it is you want to achieve, and the AI tool will have a good enough understanding that it will identify your needs and set it up for. Failing that, it will generate a set of steps you need to take to instead.

Leading by example

At ECS Digital, we are putting our tools where our mouth is.

For the past year, as part of our R&D initiative in AI and machine learning, we have been looking at what we can extract from our own internal communications, and utilise that knowledge to enhance our internal processes by looking at popular topics, reoccurring sentiments, and monitoring issues being flagged by individuals / teams. Using various tools – from nature language processing, visualisation, sentiment analysis and traditional analytics – we have the ability to capture the data we need totake a more proactive stance when it comes to problem solving.

Whilst the data is anonymised, the picture it paints is specific to the business and most importantly, it’s honest, meaning ECS Digital has greater visibility over the business communications to help it improve.

We have also begun trialling an automatic assistant for one our clients, introducing a fully automated tool that monitors the reaction of people and maps pathways in conversation. These insights are already helping to improve the customer journey. By flagging pain points and enabling the team to rework the available conversational pathways, our client is truly leveraging the power of AI to align their offerings with what the customer expects.

How can you leverage AI to streamline your communications?

You can’t have intelligence without data, and you can’t have data without formalising how you collect that information from various input streams.

Data collection is a fundamental part of DevOps and requires creating structure around your data collection pipeline.By creating structure, you are enabling the process to be repeated again and again and again, creating the perfect environment for an AI or Machine Learning tool to read your data and generate insights.

In the words of Babak: “As part of your DevOps experience, you will have information that is being submitted left, right, and centre. How you collect this data, how you store it, how you keep it, how you look it, that is important – make your data collection process uniform”.

ECS Digital can help you formalise that structure.

With over 15 years’ experience delivering successful digital transformations, ECS Digital can help you deliver better products faster through the adoption of DevOps, agile ways of working and modern software delivery tools. Talk to the team today to find out how we can help you leverage AI to streamline your communication streams.

Want to read more? Check out our ‘Why you need to embrace AI in your software testing’ blog here.

Babak TakandUsing AI and DevOps to streamline communications
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DevOps Playground: more than just another lecture

DevOps Playground: more than just another lecture

As the DevOps Playground enters its fourth year, we take the opportunity to look back at how the DPG was initially formed and its subsequent success.

Why ECS Digital started the DevOps Playground:

Meetups are a great way to meet like-minded people, learn something new and eat as much pizza as is humanly possible. Technology focused meetups however, often leave one excited and hopeful about a new product or technology with no easy way to explore them. Couple that with our busy lives and these new technologies will only ever be added to the long list of “Tools I will definitely try one day soon!”

As a result, we at ECS Digital decided that we could satisfy the tech industry insatiable desire for pizza as well as allowing people to really experience new tooling without impacting their ever-shrinking social calendars.

In addition to showcasing new technologies and allowing people to get hands-on experience with those tools, the DevOps Playground acts as a platform for ECS Digital’s own talent to build a name for themselves and demonstrate the breadth and depth of knowledge ECS Digital wield within a number of different technology areas.

Attendees can expect to follow along with a structured and comprehensive exercise, designed to jumpstart new users with unfamiliar technologies and to highlight the best ways to use the technology going forward.

 

What happens at a DevOps Playground?

Each month, you are welcome to join us as we explore new technology / tools in one of our four locations – London, Singapore, Pune and Edinburgh. Each Playground lasts for around 2.5 hours, with a chunk of that time set aside for you to run and use the chosen tech / tools on your own laptop.

Our engineers will be on hand throughout the Playground to help you navigate your way round the technology, with the hope that you leave feeling more confident than you did when you arrived. Open to all tech enthusiasts, this is the perfect environment to learn, network and play – and there’s usually free pizza. Pizza AND tech, what’s not to love!

How the Playground has evolved:

Our environments:

With the success of the Playground’s brand and the ever-increasing number of global members, we have had to innovate in order to keep up with demand. During the Playground infancy, the standard method for distributing slide decks, resources and the all-important technology environment was a chucky VDI. Due to its size, we would have to load them onto 8GB USB sticks and physically hand them to attendees on the door. This obviously meant that we would spend the first 15-20 minutes of every meetup waiting for people to copy massive files on to their personal computers and then load up VMs, and that was before we had even started the technical part of the evening.

Realising that this method of distribution was not going to scale, we had to look internally to our engineers for a solution that could be used by a wide variety of capabilities.

In true DevOps fashion, after a few iterations we settled on a dynamic cloud instance for every attendee with a web-based terminal (wetty). This allows us to spin up exactly the number of instances required for an individual event and bring them down once the event has concluded, reducing not only the cost but the potential risk associated with having 80 cloud instances running publicly.

As the success of our London based meetup continues to grow from strength to strength, back in 2018 we took the DevOps playground brand global, setting up three additional meetup events in Singapore, Pune and Edinburgh. This new global reach has help us spread the ECS Digital message and introduce new technologies and concepts to even more people.

A powerful recruiting tool:

The DevOps Playground has been a strategic tool used during our recruitment process, with many candidates being identified and subsequently hired as a direct result of them attending our events. These new additions have been afforded the opportunity to meet the ECS Digital team in a relaxed setting and with no obligations and in fact, with most cases, individuals were not actively seeking new employment opportunities.

What the future looks like:

World domination! Maybe not… but we do want to continue building our reach and contributing to the wider DevOps community. Due to the popularity of our London events, our current location is hitting capacity on a regular basis. We’d love to work with other tech enthusiasts who have access to bigger spaces so we can open the Playgrounds up to more of our community. If you happen to have a large space and want to support the DevOps Playground by letting us borrow it for an evening, we’d love to hear from you!

We would also love the opportunity to collaborate with other meetup groups. If you have an idea of how we can better serve our communities, get in touch and let’s talk over how we can turn those ideas into value for our members.

And last but certainly not least, technology is genderless and we want to continue promoting its application to as diverse a group as possible – starting with hosting more Women In Tech DevOps Playgrounds following the success of our WIT event last year. Whilst men are welcome to attend, these events are super important for creating an environment where women feel comfortable learning about new technology in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry.

How to get involved:

As mentioned above, we host our DevOps Playgrounds once a month in four locations. These are all publicised on Meetup as soon as the team have the details available:

You can also find all the information you need about DevOps Playground, upcoming events, past events and the Playground Panda on our website: https://devopsplayground.co.uk

What next?

Hopefully the above has tempted you to come and say hello to the DevOps Playground team in person! Our next events are live on the website / meetup groups (links above) so pick the one most local to you, grab your laptop and follow the smell of pizza. Go on, you’ve got nothing to lose but maybe lots to gain!

Morgan AtkinsDevOps Playground: more than just another lecture
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Xin’s Story as a QA and Continuous Delivery Consultant

Xin’s Story as a QA and Continuous Delivery Consultant

My name is Xin Wang, I am a QA and Continuous Delivery Consultant as ECS Digital. I recently published a blog explaining how I went from delivering presentations on Fashion Week 2017 fashion trends, to writing functional tests as a software developer engineer.

Working in a male dominated industry has been very different to what I was used to – the approaches that some male engineers take are sometimes very different to the approach that a female would take. But these perspectives combined give you a much valuable overview which is why I really enjoy working on coding challenges with my colleagues.

Take a look at my video if you are interested in understanding why I switched my career around and how I am continuing with my journey as a software developer engineer.

Xin WangXin’s Story as a QA and Continuous Delivery Consultant
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Open source. Are you part of the community?

Open source. Are you part of the community?

Open source is a type of licensing agreement – not very exciting. The exciting bit is that it allows users to create and publish work that can be freely used, modified, integrated into larger projects or derived into new work based on the original by other users.

In an age of trade secrets and profit-driven professions, this is a unique platform that actively promotes a global exchange of innovation. It has been specifically designed to encourage contributions so that the software doesn’t stand still. The collective goal of this barrier-free community is the advancement of creative, scientific and technological tools and applications – which for many is more important than a price tag.

Who uses open source?

Although, it is most commonly used in the software industry, professionals adopt open source licenses in many industries including biotech, fashion, robotics and teaching. This article will focus solely on software applications.

What’s interesting is that more and more businesses are contributing their own source code to the community – Facebook, Airbnb, Cyprus are leading examples. According to a 2018 Tidelift Professional Open Source Survey, 92% of projects amongst European respondents contain open source libraries. Whilst on the surface this contradicts conventional commercial instinct, businesses gain a lot by giving away a little. Whilst the benefits are vast, we are going to focus on five:

  1. Competition:

Since the late 90’s and the advancement of the digital age, competition no longer resides simply between two rival companies. Businesses today also find themselves competing with open source software projects that are free, open to the public and constantly evolving.

Due to the current scale of open source contribution, even the giants in the tech industry are struggling to devote the resources or teams large enough to compete with their community counterparts.

Turning to the open source community enables businesses to outsource resource rich projects to a bottomless sea of innovative capabilities. This potentially reduces cost, pressure and speeds up the feedback loop considerably.

  1. Reputation:

In the same way the Big Bang Theory made traditional science nerds cool, the open source community can boost a business’ profile on the cool/not-cool spectrum.

Not only do businesses become more attractive to potential employees, by initiating an open source software project, or contributing to an existing one, they make their mark on an additional and power channel popular within IT circles. If done well, this has the potential to establish, maintain or improve a brand’s image, as well as attract new business.

  1. Advancement:

Helping to advance something as big as the technology industry isn’t something to turn your nose up at. In fact, businesses revel with the idea of having their name against a leading piece of software that has the potential to make history.

But history moves fast. And building software inhouse can be stifled by other business priorities, resource restrictions and other competitors beating you to the finish line.

Rather than building behind closed doors and waiting until your software it is perfect, opening your source code to the community in its earlier stages has two benefits:

  1. You can plant your flag earlier
  2. You invite an endless list of innovative capability to help advance your idea at a rate unlikely attainable behind closed doors

It also acts as an incentive for individuals to feel part of a project than extends far beyond the business they work for.

  1. Trust:

Fake news, data breaches, shady deals – all of these have encouraged people to lose trust in businesses. Including open source projects in company policy encourages business to be more transparent with its consumers. Whilst it is naive to believe a company will lay down all their cards, companies such as Facebook made 15,682 contributions in 2016. Automattic created WordPress as an open source project and currently powers 31% of the internet, and Netflix frequently open sources the tools they develop in-house.

Not only are they strengthening their brand, sharing is showing the world they have nothing to hide – which is a proven way to start winning back trust.

A great example of building this trust through transparency is the cryptocurrency space where many projects including Bitcoin allow you to browse through the project’s source. A very different approach to their corporate counterparts.

  1. Speed:

Many companies face the same problems. Sometimes companies are kind enough to share the solution. If a problem has been solved before and will provide business value in a fraction of the time and half the man power everybody wins.

Contributing to the community also gives you the capability to ask the projects contributors directly questions, ask for features or raise issues enabling you fast feedback which keeps your project moving

How does open source work? 

Contributors create a project and solve a problem. They realise that other people might benefit from this project to solve their problems. The project is shared on an open platform such as GitHub which can be downloaded and used by other users interested in the project.

If users wish to contribute, they can do this by downloading the project, creating a fork (which is an exact replica of a certain part of the pipeline) and editing the code until they are happy with the changes. Users can then request a pull request which notifies the authors that a suggested change is requested.

It is up to the author to approve the change, before deciding whether they want to include the changes. If they do, this usually becomes part of the next version, which is released at the author’s discretion.

The problem is, this could take some time. The author is under no obligation to release new versions or accept proposed changes. In fact, this is one of the limitations of the open source community. People will only give up as much information as they want to / their projects need. Authors are not there to solve specific problems, and often release software that focuses on their needs rather than trying to create something too generic.

This can be frustrating if an open source project only solves half your problem, however, the community can help bridge knowledge gaps. Users also have the option to download, build and run the project locally in the interim whilst waiting for the official new version – meaning they don’t need to wait for the software to be released with the changes they need.

How it is viable?

Whilst it doesn’t make economic sense on the surface, the community have found a way to make open source viable from a business and individual perspective. Some have capitalised on their projects, making basic versions available at no cost to the user, but adding a price tag to different versions or ‘add-ons’.

Other businesses or individuals actively contributing to the platform have benefited from angel investments, as well as new business after demonstrating successful projects.

It is also often a side project for businesses and individuals. Due to the legal freedom attributed to an open source platform, you’re able to modify the code of the product you’re using endlessly, for free, at no risk of breaching privacy policies or user agreements. This makes it the opportune ‘playground’ for those looking to get into the industry or develop new skills. According to LinkedIn:

“We believe that open sourcing projects makes our engineers better at what they do best. Engineers grow in their craft by having their work shared with the entire community.”

Risks:

With all open platforms, there is a risk of abuse. Open source communities are no different and have certainly experienced their fair share of malicious activity. However, it is the open source approach that significantly increases the reliability of the projects available to the public.

By establishing a community who believe in the future potential of the projects produced, you immediately have a security indicator in place. Many of them in fact. And with so many eyes looking at projects, malicious activity is quick to be spotted and remedied. This is because open source platforms embody an agile mentality, applied in a community wide approach. Rather than make one big change and focus on ensuring it is okay for the next six-months, contributors and authors are interested in making changes quickly, so things get fixed and evolved just as quick.

******

ECS Digital love to find value for our clients and give it back to the wider community, which is why we make tools available on open source platforms such as GitHub and NPM.

We will also be hosting a hands-on session and demonstration of AyeSpy– a visual regression testing tool – at an upcoming DevOps Playground on the 29th of November. Come along to learn more about what the AyeSpy has to offer!

Matt LowryOpen source. Are you part of the community?
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On being a mum and a woman in tech

On being a mum and a woman in tech

Like most people, I had a five-year plan after I graduated from university. Get a nice job and work for a great company, get married, start a family and buy a house. Fast forward five years and here I am, attempting to write a blog about how I balance being a mother and a woman in technology while listening to my daughter having a tantrum!

Being a first-time mum, I struggled a bit in the beginning after my maternity leave to get used to the idea of working again. I felt like I had forgotten how to code. Not to mention that I was given the responsibility of a Test Architect role in the client site that I am based at. I had to get myself familiar with new tools that I haven’t used before and somehow, I had to lead the team. It was daunting!

At the same time, I was worrying about my daughter all the time. It was hard to focus at work and it definitely wasn’t the best start (let’s just say that my stress hormones were up to the roofs!). But somehow, I managed to get it to work in the end. It wasn’t easy and there were still some sleepless nights (teething is still a nightmare!) but I’m going to list the things that helped me balance my work and my responsibilities as a mum.

  1. Share the responsibility

This I feel is the most important. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and share the responsibility. You won’t be able to do everything by yourself! My husband is very hands-on with our daughter so during his days off, he looks after her. Ask families and friends to help out too. We’re lucky that my mother-in-law helps look after my daughter when my husband and I are both at work. There are also times when my parents pick up my daughter from work, so they can look after her. We pre-plan our schedule and check everyone’s availability so we know who will look after our daughter on what day.

  1. Flexible working is the way forward

If you can work from home or do flexible hours, ask for it. From time to time, I work from home if there is no available babysitter that day or if I need to take my daughter to hospital.

  1. Avoid working outside hours

You might be tempted to bring some of the work home with you if you have tight deadlines but try to avoid doing this if possible. I used to bring work home with me to finish off some tasks, check slack messages and reply to emails but this meant that even when I’m home, I’m still thinking about work rather than just spending quality time with my daughter. This just made me more stressed in the end so if I do have deadlines, I try to be more focused at work and time box my tasks. If it’s something that your colleagues can definitely help, share the responsibility. Again, you can’t do everything by yourself 🙂

  1. Stop overthinking about your children

It’s natural that we tend to worry about our little ones. I used to worry a lot about my daughter at work and text my husband or my mother-in-law to see how she was doing, if she’s eaten or drank her milk, if she’s had her nap, if she’s crying, etc. and I always get the same answers – that she is doing ok. Rather than spending time worrying about things I couldn’t change, I now use that time to be focused at work so I can get home sooner and answer these questions myself

  1. Find time to learn

Now this might be difficult for some of you but if you can, still find time to learn something new every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s just for an hour or 30 minutes. Especially in the tech industry, there are always new tools coming up. So, once my daughter is asleep, I make a habit to read a book, read tech blogs, or do a little bit of coding.

  1. Find a company that appreciates you

I feel that this is as important as the first point. If you work for a company that micromanages and doesn’t give you room to improve, then this might be a red flag. It’s great that I work for a company that is appreciative of what I do and rewards those who have done a great job. Recently, I was nominated for an Outstanding People Award and it has given me a great boost to continue doing what it is I’m doing – I must be doing something right after all!

Achieving a work-life balance, especially if you are a mum, is a challenge, but it is doable. It was difficult at the beginning, but like everything else, it gets easier 🙂

Join our Women In Tech DevOps Playground on 8th November where we will be getting hands-on with Cypress!

Follow other stories from the ECS Digital team here.

Marie CruzOn being a mum and a woman in tech
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