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News / May 05, 2020 / 3 min read

An expert perspective with Laura Tacho

Meetup Mates, Tecknuovo’s inclusive community initiative, hosted its first virtual event on Thursday 23rd April. The community was joined by Laura Tacho, VP of Engineering at Aula, Docker Captain, and internal keynoter. The event, an Ask Me Anything gave Mates the chance to ask previously unanswered questions and pick Laura’s expert brain. Laura gave great insight into how a company can handle dramatic changes in server usage. She also touched on how best to support teams during our current situation of fully remote working. We wanted to share these with a wider audience as these topics are now more important than ever. We’ve outlined the topics and answers which had the biggest impression into the below article.

Traffic handling at Aula

Aula is an EdTech company used to deliver courses and modules for universities. Platforms which have a similar functionality that you may be familiar with include Moodle or Canvas. With the move to 100% online learning, some of Aula’s features have had significant shifts in user journeys. Their messaging and comment platform almost doubled in usage due to them replacing in-person discussion. They also experience large spikes in users depending on term time, with heavy spikes of traffic around exam times.

Luckily, the team at Aula had made the move away from EC2 instances to serverless last year to help manage this issue making them well prepared for total online learning.

“Probably 80% of our infrastructure is all running on Lambda, so we’ve been able to scale really easily. The rest of our infrastructure is managed by a cloud provider, so we’re not running anything ourselves on premises.

Having already made this move, along with having well established monitoring practices, it meant they could keep track of usage and discover the solution that works best for them. Aula’s data dashboard uses Snowflake and Metabase to monitor. When it comes to advice on moving to flexible and scalable systems, Laura stresses the importance in discovering and understanding what you’re trying to solve.

“Solve the problems you actually have, not the ones you wish you had. Otherwise that’s what side projects are for.”

But you could have a flawless system in place for scaling and still get road bumps. The standout lesson from COVID-19? Remembering that software is built for people.

“The tech was an easier problem to solve, but what was really hard was figuring out how best support our academic partners and give course leaders and tutors what they need in order to deliver engaging content online with Aula!”

Working during COVID-19

Laura has almost a decade of remote working experience which includes managing and building remote teams. When asked how a manager can keep team morale up during this time, she gave this important reminder:

“This is not remote work, this is trying to work at home during an unprecedented health crisis. Very different!”

It’s important to listen during this time. There will be members of the team who aren’t used to working from home who are suddenly having to make this switch. Being compassionate and understanding so that your team knows you’re on their side is more important than ever. Whilst Laura admits that no one can be truly prepared for this scenario, she recommends Lara Hogan’s book, Resilient Management. In particular the chapter on managing during a crisis, personally she found it really helpful.

If you’re part of a company that is large enough to support additional employee benefits Laura recommends looking into what stipends could be offered to employees. These could be for home internet boosts, or gym equipment to help show teammates and colleagues that you’re there to help them through this.

Although, there may be a silver lining to this:

“One positive thing… remote work is here to stay. I hope everyone can continue to benefit from remote work.”

 

As a bonus Laura also took the time to clear up the biggest mystery in DevOps for us: which 90s Sega video game best sums up the DevOps methodology.

“Dev and Ops should go together like Sonic and Tails, you’ll just get farther, even if it takes a bit of investment to learn how to play!”

Want to learn more?

You can find the full Ask Me Anything with Laura Tacho on the Meetup Mates Slack under the #ask-me-anything channel. You can register to be part of the Slack workspace here.

Thank you to all who took part in Ask Me Anything with Laura Tacho! We’d like to especially offer Laura a huge thanks for agreeing to take part in this event. We appreciate her lending us her expertise on so many relevant topics! You can follow Laura on her Twitter, @rhein_whein.

 

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