Leading an Enterprise Client Engagement on AWS: A Travel Diary

Jonathan & the Team

I’m Jonathan, I lead a team of engineers who are working with a new start-up building a greenfield platform inside AWS. As a subsidiary of a major insurance company, they wanted to try and do it by following the best DevOps practices, rather than how their parent had traditionally managed projects like this. We were brought on board at the very start to analyse potential options and to explain how it may work. Following our successful first engagement, we’ve been working with them non-stop for the last 12 months to help them to build and operate it. Follow my travel diary as I work on-site from Zurich!

A photo of the Zurich team on a remote video call.

When working with large clients, you don’t always get the chance to start at the very beginning of a project, with the freedom to do it right the first time around. Getting the chance to do it with this engagement has been one of the most exciting things about this project!

The Project So Far

We have built an immutable infrastructure covering both EC2 instances and Docker containers. Everything is fully managed in Git and made using Packer, Ansible, Terraform, CloudFormation, and Jenkins; from push-button builds of entire environments to a full pipeline deploying and validating database migrations from commit to Production.

Focusing on automating everything is indeed a slower process at the start, and sometimes that can be a struggle to show results when you’re still building the foundations. However, today the client thinks nothing of building and destroying environments multiple times in a day, or teams controlling what they develop and deploy at the pace that’s right for them, and all done without our intervention. This automation allows our team to focus on refining and optimising the platform and start on work for new features and requirements.

Travel & Working Remotely

Initially starting in London, Zurich is the headquarters of this new company, so I fly out there regularly to work on-site with their SLT and development teams to discuss how to build the platform to facilitate their work, as well as meet with their architects to design and implement the platform to their requirements. Despite this, the whole team works remotely. From Colchester to Cardiff, we all spend most of our time using Zoom and Slack to pair on work, discuss and design implementations, as well as constantly communicating with the client. Even when one or two of us are in the office, we follow the principal of remote-first to ensure we always include everyone as part of the team.

Travel images. Clockwise from top left: KLM cityhopper plane, Paris airstop & trains to Zurich centre.

Managing travel is easy at DevOpsGroup too. When you need to travel you raise a support desk ticket with your needs, and a team will help you through the booking process. Even when you’re away, Pleo cards take all the stress of managing expenses. Pay with the card, snap a photo of the receipt, fill in a few details, and you’re done. No need to save the receipts, fill out forms at the end of the month, nor wait for your reimbursement.

Exploring the City

Working on-site with a client, and travel can be a lot of work. However, for me, working out of Zurich has been an invaluable opportunity to explore the city in the evenings; trying new restaurants and local food, walking along the ancient streets, to watching the sun setting over the lake.

Travel images. Left: Sunset over Zurich lake. Right: Onsite desk set-up in office.

On the weekends, I’ve also taken the opportunity to see different parts of Switzerland too. So far I’ve been to Jungfraujoch – the highest train station in the world at 11,332ft – and viewed the Swiss Alps. I’ve walked around Lugano, on the border with Italy, and sat on Mount Bre overlooking the city and the lakes. I traveled to Bern and walked around the Old City (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). I’ve even taken the train to Schaffhausen and walked to the Rhine Falls. I accidentally came across a fantastic Fastnacht carnival with marching bands playing Guggenmusik! Amazing.

Travel images. Clockwise from top left: The Jungfraujoch train in the snow, close up of Laderach chocolates, photo of the Swiss Alps, photo of Lake Zurich

Back to Cardiff!

Regardless, I always look forward to coming home again; to see my colleagues, my friends, to participate in our monthly conference. This is where we share our experiences and talk about the work we’ve done, to learn and get feedback. Or the best thing about being back; sitting and working while looking over Cardiff Castle!

Left: View of Capital Tower, Right: View of Cardiff Castle from the Cardiff office.

Interested in working as part of our team? Check out our careers page for more information!

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