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Story of a journey: my first year at Amazon Web Services

Story of a journey: my first year at Amazon Web Services

Exactly one year ago today I was sitting in a room in Amazon’s London Holborn office, attending the New Hire induction and waiting for my manager to pick me up and introduce me to the rest of the Technical Account Managers team.

It has been one year already – it’s about time to tell my story, and share my experience in this (amazing) reality.

(this is me at this year’s London Summit, looking for something, somewhere)

Looking back at the first year (or, in Amazonian terms: “those first 365 day one’s.”), I can easily highlight a few different phases. Here they are, in a more or less chronological order.

Phase 1: “lost” (in an hexagonal office)

Technical Account Managers (TAM) spend a lot of time with customers, and only drop into the AWS office when required. As a new starter this can be a little daunting, especially when trying to get set up – configuring your mobile, using the vast array of internal tools you have at your fingertips and the simple things, like finding the toilet.

The good news is: everybody is always happy to help you. Literally: everybody. In my first days I had phone calls with most of my team mates, shadowing sessions in front of customers, and even asked a mix of random people in the office for various kinds of help: they always guided me, as if it was a single, big family and that helped me, and I never really felt lost (yeah, I know, but it looked as a good title for this chapter…).

(about the toilet, if you’re wondering: I realised that as our office was hexagonal – or kind of -, everything was “straight on and then on the left”)

I’ll skip phase 1.5, the official training: we spend about two to three weeks in classes with Support Engineers before getting hands on with the day to day job. The training is what you’d expect from training, but it provides a great opportunity to meet and learn from tenured colleagues. This is also when I personally went from getting lost in the London office to getting lost in the Seattle campus (every. single. time.).

Phase 2: the ramp up (aka: “OMG I don’t know anything”)

The ramp up that comes after the training is exciting: you’re back, you’ve had 2/3 weeks to try to learn as much as possible and after three weeks of training, you think you know what you are doing – you’ve learnt the theory, you know how to use the tools, you think you know what to do when, and you’re ready to get on with it.

In theory.

What you realise at this point is that yes, it’s true, and you’re working with Amazon Web Services. If you work with cloud, you hear this name daily, and becoming part of it doesn’t simply feel real for a while.

One of the first matters I understood was that the only thing I was bringing with me in AWS was my brain: your past experience can definitely help, but Amazon is so different from other companies that you have to learn, literally from scratch, almost everything. If you’ve been hired it’s because you share the mindset, so it’s not hard and it’s not an obstacle, it’s just something to keep in mind.

The main differences? First, and by far, is our “Customer Obsession”. We obsess over our customers, and not over our technology: every discussion we have ends up focusing what’s best for our customers, and how we can improve their experience. We work every day making sure we help them doing what’s best for their platforms – not for us – and we spend our time listening to them and trying to figure out how to make their life easier.

The second one is definitely what’s summarised in our “Everyday is Day One” motto, which is much more tangible than you would expect from something that is written on every wall in an HQ. Our customers and us are moving so quickly that you must always be ready to wake up and start as if you were in a completely new world. You learn new things daily and the technology you were using / evangelising three months before could not be the best one for a given use case anymore.

This is all about change and how it becomes part of your daily routine.

Phase 3: the First Customer

After a few months you’re ready to onboard your first customer. I had spent some time shadowing and helping a more tenured colleague, and in November I was ready for onboarding my first “very own” account.

At that point in time I was confident on my daily tasks, had already had to deal with critical situations, and everything was looking good. But the first customer you onboard onto AWS Enterprise Support is just different: you’re starting a journey together, with some pre-defined goals and some others that will eventually show up.

It’s journey of change, a journey toward continuous improvement and optimisation.

It’s just matter of weeks, and you will start knowing your customer’s team members by first name, and recognising who’s logging a support case just by looking at their writing style.

Yes, that’s a very close relationship: some of my colleagues love to say that we work for Amazon, but on behalf of our customers.

Phase 4: the first event

You don’t really feel part of the customer’s team until you go through your first event. An event could be anything, from a planned traffic spike or feature launch, to, ehm, yes, an unplanned downtime.

Let’s pick a feature launch: it’s something big, the customer’s development teams have been working for months on it, the marketing team is heavily pushing and the operational teams do have a single focus, making sure everything will work smoothly.

This is where our teams become glued together with the customer’s: we share a goal, we share a focus, we setup “war rooms” and make sure everything is in place and properly architected for when the big day arrives. The TAM acts here as a customer facing frontman for an army of Support Engineers, Subject Matter Experts, Service Team Engineers, and many more – and during this kind of events, everyone comes together.

And then it happens – detailed and obsessive planning ensure everything works smoothly and meets expectations, leaving plenty of time to celebrate – and to realise that none of this would be possible without the super close relationship we develop with our customers.

Phase 5: personal development

This is not really a phase (mainly because it never ends), but after you’ve been in the company for 6/8 months you begin having really clear ideas on how things work, where you want to go and what you want to do.

AWS is a world of opportunities, for any kind of person: in this first year I joined a team which is helping our customers with the migration of strategic workloads and presented at the AWS Summit in London.

I’m currently trying to decide what to target next.

Phase 6: retrospective

As said, technology is evolving quickly, and so are we and our customers. When you reach the one-year mark, you try to look back and this is when you really understand where you used to be, and where you are now.

Where your customers were, and where they are now: the distance they have most likely covered in a single year looks unbelievable.

Phase 7: writing a blog post about your first year

Come on, I’m just joking.

Time to wrap up: I’m enjoying my new working life, my team, my mentor(s), my manager(s) and the extended Enterprise Support team. I have the opportunity every day to work with exciting customers, to actually be part of my customer’s teams and to experience the latest innovations first hand.

There is a question I get asked a lot, especially from people who know my background: do I miss being hands on, had to do with operations? Not really. First, we have time and business needs for testing and using any new product we launch, so I still spend some time actually “playing” with stuff. Second, despite the name, this role is super-technical – we get to see a lot of operations, development and devops.

 

If you are reading this and looking for a new and interesting challenge, or would like to consider joining the AWS team, then get in touch.

Giorgio

Don’t buy servers.

Don’t buy servers.

No, please don’t. Not even for personal use.

Let me start from the beginning: during my relocation last year, I left my desktop computer behind. It hadn’t been my primary machine for a while and I was probably powering it on only once a month, but it was still my core repository for backups and long term storage.

As I went 100% cloud years ago (no USB drives, no external HDDs, etc) my “current” dataset is now online, synchronised with my laptop(s). Still, there are some hundreds of GBs of “cold” (as in: I will probably never need them again) pictures/docs/archives that I want to be able to access, even remotely, at any time. After exploring some mid-range NAS solutions, I ended up realising that despite having a reliable internet connection, my flat was not the best location for hosting it, so started looking around for a decent colocation space.

It didn’t take much time to figure out that space and power in a datacenter are so expensive that a NAS isn’t suitable nor effective for this purpose.

As a consequence…


…meet MY-ZA*.

MY-ZA is an HP DL320e Gen8 server, equipped with an E3-1240 v2 CPU, 32 GB of RAM, and 2×250 GB SSD + 4x1TB SATA drives. Dual PSU, P420i hardware RAID controller, iLO4, etc… …yes: a real server.

I’m sure you’re now wondering what the hell I am doing here. The answer is easy, and anybody with an engineering mindset can probably confirm: sometimes we need to spend time and energy in experiments even if we know they will fail, because what we want to figure out is how exactly they will fail.

To be honest, even if I knew this choice was sub-optimal at the very least, I was like: “Hey, what could go wrong? It’s just a server”.

Well, now I know the answer: anything – (and if you cross this with Murphy’s law…).

My background is in traditional IT, but looks like I quickly forgot about the pain of having to deal with bare metal. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, here’s a quick reminder that might also help you all:

  • Servers are expensive: this is a $2800 machine (I’ve paid roughly 50% of that), that will cost around 70/80$ per month just by colocation and bandwidth. Moreover, in 2 years time it will be obsolete.
  • Bare metal servers are… …heavy: arranging shipping back and forth costs time. And money, of course.
  • They’re slow, reaaaaaaalllllly slooooooww. This thing wastes 10+ minutes just to get to the operating system boot. Don’t forget this if you’re doing something that requires a lot of reboots (like trying different RAID configurations, updating a newly installed Windows, etc). We’re now in an era where the boot time of an instance is shorter than what it takes to you, slow and inefficient human, to copy and paste connection details in your SSH client.
  • What about the risk? Well, it’s huge. I have onsite support, but no spare parts. So, should something bad happen, the downtime will be counted in hours, at least.
  • They don’t scale. This “thing” has already reached the maximum amount of RAM it can hold. What if I need more? I have two options, double the colocation space (and thus cost) and buy a similar second server, or buy a larger one to replace it and begin a slow, complex and painful migration.
  • Agility? What? – You must manage it as you would do with a pet. If something breaks, repair it, if the OS is out of date, upgrade it. Well, in a world where if an instance is broken you immediately spin up a new one, having to fix an OS doesn’t seem appropriate.
  • SSDs do have a well defined lifespan. This is not something you care about if you’re using a cloud hosting service, but here you should keep it in mind, as they will eventually die. Both at the same time, as their load will be similar.

After having spent the last 7 days (evenings to be fair, as I have a job during the day) on this project, I think I have definitely debunked the theory about cloud not being effective for personal workloads.

Project failed, time to terminat…

…no, wait, you can’t terminate a bare metal server: it’s an investment, it’s a long term decision, you can’t just roll back as you would do with a cloud instance.

Oh, God.

 

* don’t even try to understand my host naming convention. There are no standards, names are just random letters. Servers are cattle, not pets, right?

La Generation Y e l’Analfabetismo Funzionale

La Generation Y e l’Analfabetismo Funzionale

Ho 24 anni compiuti da poco e ho la fortuna di vivere e lavorare in un contesto aperto, globale, di quelli in cui non si smette mai di crescere: lavoro ogni giorno a fianco di inglesi, israeliani, americani, argentini, malesiani e molti ancora, e ho relazioni personali con ragazzi/e di una gamma ancora piu’ vasta di nazionalita’.

millennial

Si tratta di persone che hanno girato il mondo, che vivono in ambienti altamente competitivi, persone che per seguire i propri sogni e obiettivi si sono trasferite anche a decine di ore di volo dai posti dove sono cresciute e dove hanno famiglie, amici e legami. Persone che si sono spinte sempre oltre i propri limiti, dal collega argentino seduto di fronte a me, alla mia (ex?) ragazza siberiana, che, cascasse il mondo, ogni 3 mesi torna a casa dalla mamma almeno per un weekend.

Persone che attraverso percorsi differenti sono arrivate a sedere di fianco a me o a far parte della mia vita, persone come me che sanno di essere solo ad uno step intermedio, perche’ non bisogna mai smettere di crescere e di alzare la barra. Persone che hanno sempre fatto scelte forti sapendo benissimo che avrebbero dovuto pagarne prezzo e conseguenze molto prima di vederne, in lontananza, i risultati.

Faccio parte di quell’ala della Generation Y che non smette mai di correre, che pretende di far girare il mondo a suo piacimento ma che ha anche imparato a viverci, quell’ala della Generation Y che prova, instancabile, a dare un senso a tutto il resto.

Siamo quell’ala che mai si ferma, che fa della crescita e del miglioramento continuo lo scopo della sua esistenza, la GenY che sposta sempre la linea del traguardo qualche metro piu’ in avanti rispetto a dove deve arrivare, la Generation Y che cerca dei miti e degli esempi di vita non per poterli seguire e venerare ma solo per poterli superare.

Siamo i Millennials mai contenti, siamo quelli che anche quando raggiungono una meta non sentono di essere arrivati, perche’ ancora prima di raggiungerla iniziamo a pensare a quella successiva. Siamo quelli che non puoi chiudere in una stanza, un paese o in uno stato, perche’ le barriere ci fanno stare male, e perche’ vogliamo sempre andare oltre quello che abbiamo.

Il viaggio e la distanza sono fondamentali. Sono circondato da persone che non hanno mai dato importanza al proprio “orticello”, che se ne sono andate e che magari poi sono anche tornate, ma che comunque hanno avuto la forza, o forse il coraggio, di staccarsi da quello che avevano e in cui, tutto sommato, stavano bene.

Ognuno di questi a modo proprio si e’ scontrato con il mondo: chi lavora in un mercato globale dove per sopravvivere non basta essere tra i migliori del quartiere, bisogna essere tra i migliori del mondo, chi ha superato test di ingresso e graduatorie allucinanti contro ragazzi provenienti da ogni parte del pianeta per entrare in una universita’, chi semplicemente ha preso e se ne e’ andato, cercando una vita nuova.

C’e’ una barra tra questo tipo di persona e tutto il resto: riflettendoci, nella mia vita questa barra credo di averla superata all’inizio del liceo. Ho frequentato un istituto che ci era stato presentato come l’inferno, dove bisognava correre e studiare o si rischiava di rimanere fuori dai giochi, e forse questa e’ stata la chiave: chi si e’ ritrovato li’ con me aveva gia’ fatto una scelta, si era gia’ spinto oltre. Aveva rischiato.

Vi assicuro che ne stiamo raccogliendo risultati, dal primo all’ultimo. Chi li raccoglie gia’, chi sta per iniziare a farlo, chi deve forse ancora convincersi e aprire gli occhi per vederli.

Sotto questa barra non ci sono mai piu’ voluto tornare, nemmeno come turista, perche’ c’e’ anche la parte che e’ rimasta sotto. Quelli che hanno fatto scelte a breve termine, quelli per cui essere liberi tutti i pomeriggi era piu’ importante di ogni altra cosa. Quelli che non si staccano dal loro contesto locale, perche’ e’ li’ che spadroneggiano e sanno benissimo di non essere in grado di spostarsi, perche’ per raggiungere la stessa posizione in qualunque altro posto dovrebbero confrontarsi con il mondo intero.

Sono anche quelli che alle elementari hanno imparato a leggere dopo tutti gli altri, e che in terza media ancora non sapevano leggere una pagina senza incastrarsi o balbettare. Quelli che, insomma, si sono accontentati e che continuano a farlo, guardando con disprezzo chi e’ andato oltre, nella convinzione che se loro non ci possono arrivare, allora non puo’ farlo nessuno e deve sicuramente esserci un trucco da qualche parte.

Il problema, e’ sociale e non personale: perche’ chi rimane sotto non sviluppa capacita’ di giudizio, di analisi, e spesso manca anche delle capacita’ basilari di comprensione necessarie a vivere in questo periodo storico. Vive da schiavo facilmente controllabile in un periodo dove le idee sbagliate uccidono (gli altri), periodo dove ci sono persone, e macchine, che stanno imparando ad usare le folle di ignoranti a loro favore. Non riuscire a giudicare quello che succede nella vita quotidiana diventa in breve tempo un grave rischio: i mezzi che oggi sono disponibili a chiunque permettono di esprimere opinioni troppo alla leggera, e rendono molto semplice la raccolta di adepti e di schiavi degli schiavi. Creando nuovi branchi.

Si chiama Analfabetismo Funzionale. I sociologi lo hanno correlato a crimine, uso di droghe, basso reddito e in generale basso livello di soddisfazione. L’analfabetismo funzionale crea masse, masse facili da controllare e da usare a piacere. Dobbiamo di nuovo imparare a difenderci dai branchi.

Fortunatamente, c’e’ una gran parte della generazione che ne sta portando alto il nome nel mondo.

Non guardate sotto la barra, guardate sopra.

Time to clean things up.

Time to clean things up.

It was largely unexpected, but yesterday’s post had an enormous success. Okay, nothing compared to The Blonde Salad‘s posts, but I wasn’t expecting at all to get 500 visits in a couple of hours on a blog that I was considering as dead & forgotten.

This means it’s time to focus on improving your experience on this website. The weather in Ireland, where I currently am, is really helping me focus on my blog:

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What I’ve done so far, in detail:

  • HTTPS: I finally completed the SSL integration. All static links have been modified to use HTTPS, and any HTTP URL is now redirecting to its SSL version.
  • Categories & Tags: I wasn’t using categories and relied on tags to categorize my posts. After a few years the tag cloud had become a real mess, so I spent a few hours in cleaning it up and reducing the number of tags per article. From now on, every post won’t have more than 5 tags and will belong to 2 categories: the real category, and a second one (English, Italian) based on its language.
  • Caching: WordPress wasn’t performing at its best, so I tuned W3 Total Cache and switched to Memcache as its backend. It’s much better now.
  • Permalinks: Sounds like my permalinks are not so permanent. I’ve modified some titles and URLs, so you should expect to incur in 404 errors for the next few days if you’re getting here via Google or old links.
  • MySQL: Yes, believe it or not, I was still using MySQL 5.5. Switched to MariaDB 10.1, and I’m in the process of tuning it: you should expect some brief downtimes in the next few hours, while I restart services.

That’s it, for now at least.

Stay tuned!

Giorgio is back!

Giorgio is back!

Yes, I’m back: this blog has been abandoned for like three years now, and I feel it’s time to bring it back to life. There is no particular reason behind this choice: I just need a virtual place where I can express my ideas and aggregate content I’ve always been disseminating over the internet for free (comments, forum posts, and so on).

New life means new theme (still in its basic version) and new language: some of my old posts are being read trough Google Translator, and as in the last few years my main language (mainly due to my job(s) and relationships) has been english, I have no reason at all to keep posting in italian. It’s just going to restrict my audience.

This time I won’t do what I did in all the previous “renovations”: I won’t destroy the old posts. The first one dates back to 2009 and I think they are a pretty important piece of history for them to disappear from the internet. I’m recovering the backups of the old versions of this blog in order to merge them with this one.

So, what has changed in those three years?

First, and maybe most important choice to date, I decided to put on hold (and then completely abandon) my studies at the University (Politecnico di Milano). This choice has been strongly dictated by the context (I was attending in Italy): although I perfectly understand the importance of learning the basis and developing a method for “doing things”, I felt what I was studying was too far behind reality. Spending years and thousands of euros to end up working as an underpaid intern in some big company was definitely not what I was expecting from my life.

The networking manual we were using (please mind it was 2013 and it was still being printed and was largely adopted) at a certain point stated that Ethernet was being superseded by FastEthernet, and that some big ISPs were deploying experimental long haul GigabitEthernet links. This was way too much (for non technical people reading this post: in 2013 we were already in the Terabit/s era, with multiple 100GigabitEthernet -100 times GbE- being used in long haul transits): reading this sentence, and then seeing that people that was able to get the best marks at the exam while thinking that GbE was the future (and not the past), helped me realize how detached from reality we were.

I decided to stop wasting time and joined CloudAcademy, a company that is trying to explain and show people how to take advantage of cloud services, as the Training Paths Supervisor. Feeling I had to head back to the battlefield, I decided in a few months to move to Enter, an italian ISP/CSP which at the time (late 2013) was working on the launch of a new multi-region OpenStack-based IaaS service, Enter Cloud Suite.

In Enter I have been employed first as a Cloud Architect and then as the Head of Cloud Architecture, with ECS as the main focus: I spent 2 years and a half designing and implementing hosting infrastructures for large scale news and e-commerce websites and designing, implementing and sometimes managing the OpenStack infrastructure behind Enter Cloud Suite. I was focused on the networking stack (both physical and overlay), and this gave me the opportunity to meet some very interesting realities like Cumulus Networks and Mellanox.

Then, in the first months of 2016, Amazon Web Services called: they offered me a position as a Technical Account Manager in London and I decided to accept it and move from Milan: everything happened so quickly I still have to realize what this means.

It’s very hard to explain what does it feel like being part of such a fast growing company, the one that has been the reference for your entire working life. “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.” is our slogan, and what it is all about: I’m sitting in the buildings where history is being written, day by day.

That’s it. This is the story of how I ended up writing this post, while laying on the bed in my apartment in Canary Wharf.

This is definitely a new beginning, and not just for this blog.

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As you wait for the next post, please enjoy the view from my bedroom.

Giorgio

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