SEEKing Networks in the Cloud with DevOps Girls
More often than not, we believe our infrastructure in the cloud is supported by magic. There’s a team on the 5th floor who cast spells to weave webs of cloud infrastructure that allows us to securely and reliably host web applications. This mysterious skillset is not part of our day-to-day job, but when it goes wrong we call upon this team to help us fix it. The magic I speak of is cloud networking and a team of us had a mission to dispel some mysteries.
On the 16th of November 2019, SEEK hosted a day-long event for DevOps Girls. We gave over 20 women and non-binary people the opportunity to learn about Cloud Networking in AWS. This was an intermediate-level hands-on bootcamp to understand how to set up our own cloud network from scratch. Participants were mostly developers, testers and even managers.
The day started early at SEEK’s HQ on St Kilda Road, with volunteers from SEEK (and beyond) giving up our Saturday. We do this because we’re passionate about sharing our knowledge and skills to under-represented groups in technology.
An ambitious start to the day
Participants arrived and settled in with a coffee. We started the day with a bit of an introduction and then straight into an express crash course on Networking 101, IP’s, CIDR and subnetting. This was an intermediate day of learning, so the intent was for the information to act as a refresher. It was very ambitious of us to tackle these concepts in such a short amount of time (1 hour!). Thanks to the patience of the participants we got through the challenging content, which helped us move on to the hands-on activities.
Creating the bones of our Cloud Network
The next part of the bootcamp required participants to have their own personal AWS account and we all logged in. The participants started to deploy resources to the cloud with the help of step-by-step instructions from the presenters as well as a contingent of coaches walking around the room. Each section would build on the last. The content was designed so that people who were comfortable could step ahead using the written instructions in the Github repo (link), and those who needed more instruction could keep pace with the instructor.
As cloud networking can be an abstract concept for some people, we were constantly using visuals to help people find their footing. This was really effective and came up in our post-event feedback as a key part of their learning experience.
By lunch time, the participants had set up the bones of their cloud network. At each part of the process we considered security, availability and connectivity. Below is a network diagram to demonstrate what we had created.
Participants were required to:
- Set up their VPC and public/private Subnets
- Set up their Internet Gateway and NAT Gateway
- Configure a public and private route table providing connectivity to different parts of our cloud network
- Create a security group for HTTP to a public subnet
- Create an IAM role to use SSM to test our network later in the day
- Create a public load balancer.
At this point, participants were ready for a lunch break, they had already covered so much content!
Thanks to SEEK’s paying for the catering, we had a great spread of food and the coffee machine was turned on again. We had lots of good feedback about the food. The kids who were in child minding had the chance to reconnect with their parents. It was a good opportunity for all to chat and network.
Jess Fraser: Pro-Athlete and Trail Blazer
After lunch, we had the opportunity to hear from Jess Fraser. Her background is in Mixed Martial Arts such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga. As a professional athlete on a global stage, Jess spoke to us about the pressures of being a trail blazer in a male dominated sport. She also spoke to us about her tools for tackling imposter syndrome, issues in confidence and the scrutiny that comes with being a public figure. Her story resonated with a lot of people who have been the minority in tech and she was truly inspiring to listen to.
We thanked Jess for her time, and moved on to more technical content.
Testing our Cloud Network
Now that we had the bones of a cloud network, we wanted to test its security, reliability and connectivity. To do this, we did the following:
- Deployed an EC2 instance into our public subnet and checked it could talk to our EC2 instance in our private network
- Pinged IP’s from different parts of our network to discover what could/couldn’t be accessed from the internet and public subnet
- Deployed 2 web servers and tested the functionality of our load balancer.
This taught us a lot about troubleshooting networking issues. With the help from coaches, participants checked parts of their network when experiencing unexpected behaviour.
Our checklist looked something like this:
- Were the route tables set up correctly?
- Was the NAT Gateway associated with the correct subnet?
- Is the Internet Gateway connected to the correct VPC?
- Do the security groups and IAM roles have the correct rules/policies in place?
From my perspective, I believe all participants had successfully set up and tested their cloud network. Considering how much could have gone wrong along the way, this was a really good outcome and exceeded my expectations.
Technical White Boarding Workshop
To wrap up the day, we conducted a mini technical white boarding workshop. This served multiple purposes:
- We discussed the importance and role that white boarding plays for us and how it can be a really useful communication tool
- We went through some simple tips, which may help people with technical interviews, or to be better communicators
- The participants got to map out the cloud network they just created.
In groups of 3, participants huddled around whiteboards and butcher’s paper and drew out the cloud network they just created. It was excellent to see people working together and you could feel the buzz of activity as people talked through the diagrams together. It was clear to see just how effective visuals are at helping people understand abstract technical concepts like a cloud network.
Overall the day was a resounding success. Our post-event survey shows us that the day exceeded the participants expectations and they really appreciated the volunteering team for giving up their Saturday to enable their learning.
Accessibility and Inclusion
DevOps Girls always strives to run events that consider as many aspects of accessibility and inclusion as possible. What did we consider this time?
- Making sure our visuals and slides were colour-blind friendly
- Providing a quiet room
- Offering child minding services
- Supplying solutions for people who didn’t have their own laptop.
Many Hands Make Awesome Work
It take a lot of time and effort to put together these bootcamps. Sometimes we do the work on top of our day-to-day job, sometimes we step outside our comfort zone and at the very least we all gave up our Saturday. What did we get out of it? A sense of giving back, an opportunity to learn new skills, opportunities for networking and meeting new people. One thing I can say is that all volunteers would recommend this experience for anyone thinking of trying it out.
Massive thanks to the following SEEKers:
Bridget Barnes, Ren Koh, James Baker, Laurence Tan, Carol Low, Pepe Franco, Andrew Hatch, Andy Luu, Ryan Ling, Jason Taylor, Scott Dann, Melita Amore, Christine Abbott and photo credit goes to Billy Vollman.
Massive thanks to the non-SEEKer contingent:
Mark Nicholson, Lalitha, Shiva Narayanaswamy — as well as DevOps Girls organisers Theresa Neate and Javier Turegano.
Special thanks to AWS’s sponsorship and providing each participant with an AWS voucher.