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Techlab – Project Xperiment – Hidden pearls in AWS

Eva Jonkmans
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It's time for another update from the Techlab! This time, we would like to share with you a recent achievement: our first-ever Project Xperiment event was a huge success! Now, you might be wondering, 'Project Xperiment event? What did I miss?!' So, let's start from the beginning.

A brand-new Techlab innovation event

Listen up, tech enthusiasts! We here at Techlab are always on the lookout for the next big thing. But lately, we've been feeling a little lonely in our innovation bubble. So, we decided to shake things up and invite the rest of the IT department to join in on the fun! Introducing...Project Xperiment! This series of Proof-of-Concept (POC) projects is open to anyone in IT who wants to flex their creative muscles and collaborate with us. Let's break down the walls of our respective departments and show the world what we're made of!

The Project Xperiment logo

Project Xperiment is where the magic happens! Techlab members and our colleagues outside of Techlab come together to collaborate on exciting POC projects. We start by selecting a theme or topic and inviting interested colleagues to join. Then, we dive right in! During the first day, we get to know each other and explore the topic in-depth. We brainstorm and debate, and finally settle on a project design that we're all excited about. From there on, we work together as a team for the next few days to create a demo that showcases our creativity and newly gained technical skills.

The final part of our Project Xperiment journey is sharing our hard work with all our IT colleagues during the demo. It's a chance for us to showcase our collaboration and discuss our new ideas. We're inviting everyone to join us as we continue to explore new possibilities.
The goal of Project Xperiment is simple - to boost innovation within Essent IT. By providing dedicated time and resources for experimentation, we enable our colleagues to explore innovative designs and collaborate across ARTs (Agile Release Trains) in new and exciting ways. While our primary focus is not on building a ready-to-use implementation that will have an immediate impact on our business, we're always open to the possibility of creating something truly awesome. And if we do stumble upon a solution, we'll make sure to share it with other teams and encourage them to implement it themselves. So, let's get experimental and see where our creativity takes us!

Project Xperiment 1: Hidden Pearls in AWS

In February and March, Techlab hosted their first experiment days, with 'Hidden Pearls in AWS' as the topic of focus. The aim was to explore new and innovative services from AWS, which is in line with the departmental strategic decision to use AWS and event-driven design more frequently in IT.
Our experiment days provided the perfect opportunity for our colleagues to gain hands-on experience and dive deeper into these technologies. We wanted our colleagues to get a feel for what is possible and how these services could benefit our organization and their work. Therefore, this was a great chance for our colleagues to already start touching upon these subjects.

Getting to know each other drinking coffee from our Project Xperiment mugs

On the first day, we started off with a good cup of coffee and some good old-fashioned chit-chat to get to know each other. Our colleague Nicollas from the Cloud team helped us out, providing a thorough introduction to the basics of AWS. He explained the building blocks of AWS and how we could easily connect them via various cloud services. This was super helpful, especially for those of us who had little to no experience working with AWS.

After the introduction, it was time to get down to business - brainstorming! We split up into small groups and dove into the various services that caught our interest. We thought about use cases and pitched our ideas to each other, finally deciding on a direction to go in - extracting Twitter data, running it through a series of AWS services (including translation, analysis, lambda's, and step functions), and triggering multiple alerts through eventing solutions.
With the go-ahead from our cloud expert Nicollas, we drew up an architecture together and split responsibilities to get to work. It was an exciting and collaborative process, and by the end of the day, we were all fired up and ready to tackle the next phase of our experiment days.

Our first architecture design after brainstorming

On day two of our experiment days, our focus was on setting everything up to start working on the different project components. Luckily, we had a solution architect in our midst who was already quite experienced with AWS. However, it took us a little longer than expected to get everything up and running. But we persevered and eventually had all the separate components working.
We were eager to start implementing our ideas, but the day went by in a flash, and before we knew it, it was time to head home. However, we were all excited to pick up where we left off on day three.
And on day three, we hit the ground running! We dove straight into our project and by the end of the day, we had some seriously cool things connected and running. It was an amazing feeling to see all of our hard work come together and work seamlessly.

Busy brainstorming and developing.

On the last day of our experiment days, our focus was on wrapping things up. We fixed some of the issues that weren't working before and had a little evaluation with the team to reflect on the event.
We were thrilled to hear that the participants found the event to be both fun and valuable. Our colleagues felt that they had definitely learned something new and enjoyed spending some time working on a project that was different from their day-to-day work.
It was amazing to see the progress we had made over the course of the experiment days. We started off as individuals with different levels of experience, but by the end, we had come together as a team and created something fun and exciting.

The architecture of our final solution

A few weeks after the last day of our project, we took a moment to reflect on our progress during the IT All Staff meeting. We also scheduled a 30-minute demo to present more details of our results to our colleagues. Niels and Tarun put together an impressive presentation that showcased the final architecture of our solution and the different parts we built in AWS.
As you can see from the architecture above, our final solution consisted of:
• a data stream extracting Twitter data,
• two services for translating and analyzing the tweets,
• a dashboard (see picture below) that used the analyzed data from a database,
• alerts in Opsgenie and Slack triggered by the analyzed tweets,
• and lambdas and step functions that caught and sent events between the different components.

To our surprise, almost 80 people joined our online demo! It felt great to see so much interest and enthusiasm coming from the IT department. We received some great questions and had valuable discussions on our results.
All in all, it was a great first Project Xperiment, and we couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished.

A screenshot of the Grafana dashboard

Next steps

Our experiment days were not just a learning experience for our colleagues, but also for the Techlab team. We're happy to say that the event was a resounding success, and we're eager to keep the momentum going. We've decided to make it a regular occurrence, with the goal of hosting one event every quarter. Our hope is that these events will continue to inspire our colleagues and strengthen the bonds between Techlab and IT, as well as within IT itself.
We're already planning Project Xperiment Part 2, in collaboration with the new Essent departments Energy Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) and Hydrogen. We're still brainstorming on the specific use case, but we're really excited about the possibilities and can't wait to see what this next round of Project Xperiment will bring.
So, stay tuned for more updates on our journey of exploration and innovation!

Eva Jonkmans

Techlab Ambassador

Eva is the ambassador of Techlab, the innovation hub of Essent IT. As part of her role in the team, she writes blogs about Techlab's way of working, the innovative projects they work on and the days she and her colleagues spend in Techlab.

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