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One year at LandTech. What Happened?

Posted by Nick Rupp on January 08, 2021 · 9 min read reflectionstorytime

Summary?

I’ll hook you up.

I’ve been at LandTech for a year now and working with the engineering team has been sensational so far (despite the international horror show - thanks corona). I learnt all about data pipelines, web scraping with the data team and about communications and the nitty gritty of how a business operates in the business operations team.

I’ve done things I absolutely couldn’t have anticipated doing and loved them. The people are an absolute delight to work with and I’ve always felt supported from the learning and career development side of things. I’ve learnt a huge amount and I’m unbelievably grateful for this year.

The Long Story

As 2020 and my first year at LandTech came to a close, so did my heavily abused 2020 WHSmith A4 Diary.

I’ve been ok (inconsistent) at jotting down a record of my day to day this year. It’s just enough to remember what I’ve done which makes it quite fun to look back at. It’s also nice to know that my doodles are just as rubbish as they were at the start of the year. Although I quite like this thundershrew.

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This article should do three things. Firstly, it’s a window into the world of the LandTech engineering team. Secondly it’s a nostalgia trip for me to go on when I’m feeling gloomy. Thirdly, it will serve as a reminder that I still have the ability to read and write after a festive break.

I’m going to share some learning highlights from the year for the following professionally named categories. There are a few technical things in there, but I’ve tried to keep it high level overall.

  • Engineering
  • Sort of Engineering
  • Not Engineering but still work
  • Really not Engineering and really not work

Engineering

That’s the job title so lets start here.

The first few months were really about getting to know the team, infrastructure and codebase. But after that, everything was up for grabs. I joined LandTech with “mostly front end but a bit of backend” experience but I was thrown in the deep end by getting put on a lot of Data Warehouse, Dev Ops and other Backend Work. I’m lovin’ it.

Here’s some learning highlights

Infrastructure as code is great

Brace yourself for a surprise here… We use a lot of AWS infrastructure. (Cheers Jeff Bezos)

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I’ve written a lot of infrastructure as code this year, mainly for AWS Cloudformation. A concept I really bought into after reading the Phoenix Project and the DevOps handbook. At the beginning of the year, the gaps in my “commissioning infrastructure” knowledge became clear. In order to cloudform infrastructure, you have to really know how servers network and talk to each other.

Deep diving on cloudformation has really upped my understanding of how we go from bare metal servers to cloud based virtual networks. I’m not saying it’s not still time consuming to set it all up but I have found it immensely satisfying to work on (call me odd, I don’t mind).

Lets hope I still feel the same way after the upcoming “Authentication Gateway” project…

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Kubernetes has a steep learning curve but feels worth it in the end

We’re currently adopting Kubernetes as a tool to orchestrate our different services. When I first joined, our Kubernetes cluster was fairly new and had a few teething issues. Updates to the cluster took over 30 minutes sometimes. We used to joke that it’s like an aggressive Chihuahua. It looks cute and helpful when you explain it. But get too close? Get ready to have chunks gouged out of you.

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Kubernetes, chihuahua, destroyer of souls

Those chunks for me were the grim days spent trying to work out why our service mesh, Istio kept crashing. There was another few days here and there getting heckled by Filebeat and Logstash, part of our logging pipeline. I remember it feeling like Logstash was stealing all our logs and throwing them into a burning dumpster.

It’s nice to see that attitude shifting. There has been a good investment into tooling. We can now incrementally update the cluster. We’ve put together a good Kubernetes template if you want to make a new app in the cluster. It takes away a good amount of setup pain and was a good way of sharing learning.

I did a few courses on Kubernetes, Istio and Docker and am really glad I did. There’s a lot to take in, but it was a really great thing to start understanding. Docker especially. What an icon.

Connected systems and real life concepts are messy

Here is a drawing of the data warehouse and business dashboards I was putting together over the last 6 months.

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The goal of it was to give non-technical members of the business a fun overview of what we’re currently working with. It’s safe to say it obscures all technical details and a slightly messier reality .

Our internal sales and customer success data management has historically been quite gung ho. Data cleanliness wasn’t really a top priority for a young LandTech. We have a web of services that need to share data and communicate with each other and stay in sync. Bad data can propagate and pollute other systems if you’re not careful.

A few times this year I have written code without testing assumptions I’m making about the systems I’m changing or the data I’m using. Needless to say, it was painful when I found out.

I now appreciate that it’s best to break down the problem and understand the context fully. The real world will always have messy edge cases that you can’t just simplify away because it makes your code cleaner. Choose data structures that reflect the reality of a business workflow and that way, you’re prepared for change!

Sort of Engineering

There’s a few aspects of engineering that I’ve enjoyed and learnt a lot from this year that aren’t linked with building things and spewing out code into a text editor! I’m thinking along the lines of written communication in newsletters, presentations to other engineers and relaxed socials.

Internal writing can be fun

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The engineering weekly has been a real highlight for me. It’s an internal weekly newsletter that we use to update each other. Generally it’s that juicy blend between informative and silly. It’s been a good place to practice written communication. A few months ago, I even found time to add a bit of branding to it! (I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to colourful banners)

One of my favourite joke posts was Murat’s IT and Systems starter pack. Priceless 😂

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How are these people so nice?

I may have a low bar for this, as in my first job in a fuel injector factory there was one soul crushing senior engineer that went out of their way to belittle, discourage or scare when they had the chance.

One thing that strikes me here is that everyone is supportive, kind, patient, interesting and fun. I really don’t say that lightly. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to get that job offer so strongly after the tech interview!

I’m a sucker for a social. We’ve had a good number. Be it on zoom or playing shuffleboard in Shoreditch. Every Thursday we have a coffee zoom around Lunch. They’re always great.

Here’s a snap of the team looking relaxed!

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Presentations were scary, now they’re fun

I used the LandTech professional training budget in January to go to a presentation skills course. The main takeaway was to just be yourself, do a bit of prep work and to go out and get some practice presentations under your belt however naff they are. So, I set a goal to do 2 presentations. I ended up doing 6!

Here’s one slide I particularly enjoyed making. It’s a Postgres elephant walking away from an explosion. The presentation was about how bleak data pipeline transformations are without a tool called DBT.

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Not Engineering But Still Work

Getting into a slightly more grey area here…

Hosting 80 person zoom meetings is an absolute buzz

I’m not really sure how I ended up doing this, but every Monday we have a company wide zoom call and I host them. It has honestly been a huge highlight of my year.

Think gameshow host, or cheesy news anchor. Here’s Steph and I doing a LandTech News Sketch.

The idea is that we all get together every week so we know we’re not working with robots. There’s a few important company wide updates thrown in there too. People roll in late. Mics aren’t muted. Children are crawling on the webcam. But, handle it right and it’s a great way to start the week off in a fun, human and eccentric(?) way.

Puzzles, comedy sketches, challenges, origami, beatboxing, even eating raw garlic in a salad. You want it? We’ve got it. Of course, it’s all available on demand at LandTechTv +1

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Really not Engineering and really not work

I don’t think I’d be able to convince you that things in this section aren’t just elaborate bits of procrastination, but I’ll mention them anyway.

Voice acting is a blast

I ended up recording the LandTech mainline phone menu. I didn’t know that was a life ambition until it happened. Here are some outtakes:

Recording vocals for a Christmas jingle is also a blast

One rogue rendition of the 12 days of Christmas was requested. And “In the 12 Months of Lockdown” was delivered (with only a sprinkling of autotune). We set up a recording studio over zoom and got people around the company to wail festively over the internet.

You can scan doodles and turn them into vector art

I’ve run a few competitions this year. Think “First person to get the correct answer to this riddle” style questions. I usually end up drawing the prizes. Here’s a cartoon of a roast duck I drew for David. It was made with Adobe Capture. You draw on paper in high contrast and then you can scan in the lines with a phone camera to get a vector image. Don’t forge my signature please 😘

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Being outside is fun

The outside is scary right now. The few times I ventured out this year in summer were great. We had a LandTech Hike to epping forest which was excellent. Here’s a photo montage of everyone desperately trying to get up a tree. Only Pav managed to get to the top in the end.

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And sometime in July, Chen and I cycled down to Brighton. Exhausting but worth it!

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Wrapping Up

Really, in the current climate, I’m lucky to even have a job. Let alone be enjoying it. It has been an absolute privilege to spend a year here. So, thank you LandTech. Big love to everyone in the Engineering team for everything you’ve helped and supported me with.

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time! I’ll leave you with my favourite meme from the year and I’ll be on my way.

Nick

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reflectionstorytime

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