When Wisdom Is Your Dump Stat

And now for something completely different….

In a previous post, I’d mentioned that I’ve struggled with health and fitness for most of my adult life. In response to a co-worker’s call to action, my fat self signed up for the 2017 Wichita Gladiator Dash! It’s a 5k obstacle course in the local county park which includes climbing hills, fording lakes and creeks, falling off things into waist deep mud along with other assorted playground activities.

Now that you’ve (hopefully) stopped laughing, I’m happy to say I actually completed the course. And since I’ve never done anything like this before, I’m allowed to claim I achieved a personal best!

One thing that people in sedentary jobs like mine must watch out for is our health. And it’s a great thing that fitness and good health has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. However, we must contrast that with America’s love affair with bacon, food challenges and ridiculous monstrosities in culinary fare such as the Quadruple Bypass Burger making headlines. (Where’s THAT race??)

In either event, I’m proud to have made a choice to try something challenging in the name my own good health and the entertainment of others (like my wife). I’d love to hear any of your stories about your own health and fitness goals.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to john@benedettitech.com.

Thanks for looking in!

Knowledge 17 – A Look Back

What is the purpose of a conference?  

To some it’s an opportunity to get out of the daily grind for a few days and see some cool new tools and make some new connections.  Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction and to come back armed with knowledge to guide conversations about existing work streams and inspire new ones.

Knowledge is an annual conference put together by ServiceNow intended for any individuals that use or build on the platform.  My involvement this year started with an invitation from a colleague to help with a presentation he was working on for this year’s conference.  After a live rehearsal at our local SNow User Group, I was very excited to attend and both learn from and share with others in the field.

Sunday, May 7th – Monday, May 8th

My conference journey began with a 2-day pre-conference seminar on Business Application Development.  While not highly technical, the course provided valuable information to guide decision making and recommendations for applications on the platform.  Additionally, they provided strategies for identifying and solving pain points or broken windows on the platform in general.

Other guidelines for improving our approaches to development touched on defining measures, such as return on investment or solving common business challenges by hiding or streamlining complexity.  Additionally, we were reminded about how important it is to establish and drive the narrative of solutions built on the platform.  Essentially, to tell our customer base what we’re doing and why and to solicit feedback and adapt our approaches accordingly.

On the development side, we spent some time on effective user story writing as well as best practices around extending the existing core modules and organizing any customizations or new features we implement.   We were introduced to some new features for upcoming releases such as UI/UX functionality and improvements to automated testing and the resurrection of a previously deprecated debugger which will be an extremely useful tool for developers.

For architecture, we went over some basic tasks like table creation and decision making around when to build new and when to extend existing tables.  Also,  we were coached on how important it is to define the scope of a new feature before beginning work.  Applications should have a clear purpose that can be reconciled to the measures of business value and customer feedback covered previously.  You might enjoy building something cool in a new way, but that’s never a guarantee that it’ll see any adoption beyond curiosity or superficial interest.

Tuesday, May 9th

Tuesday marked the official beginning of the conference and the ServiceNow CEO’s Keynote did not disappoint.  A record setting 15,000+ attendees were challenged to improve the customer user experience, protect the value that we’ve created and continually work to reclaim wasted time and resources that can be better utilized elsewhere.  Members of the ServiceNow community were informed of additional efforts to continue to address the gender gap and reminded to challenge preconceptions about career paths for anyone and everyone.

My first class of the day was Angular2 applications for the ServiceNow Platform.  While I’ve been working in Angular for a couple of years now, I had zero experience in Angular2 or deploying a ServiceNow application from a GitHub repo.  This session gave us a walkthrough on staging and testing an Angular app locally using NodeJS, publishing to GitHub and then directly installing the app from a hyperlink on GitHub itself.  This spawned quite a few ideas for myself around better organization of code and sharing that code with others.

Next, I attended a course on Testing Inbound REST APIs.  This is a possible feature for Jakarta that will allow developers to use SNows Automated Testing Framework to simulate HTTP calls against tables and services they build and establish expectations around functionality and behavior on those calls.

My labs were done for the day, so I attended a business oriented breakout called Enabling Enterprise Architecture Decisions Through the ServiceNow Platform.  The session overed ideas and justifications for consolidating existing services and data into the platform to eliminate wasteful and repetitive practices throughout the enterprise.  The idea is that, by removing many of the seams between various layers of stand-alone solutions, ServiceNow simplifies the conversation around enterprise architecture by assembling it into a unified platform.  Additionally, the platform can allow stakeholders to focus on managing and prioritizing services rather than keeping track of nodes and their dependencies separately.

To cap off the day, we had our own presentation on Service Portal. Our topic specifically covered challenges and lessons learned when integrating 3rd party platforms into the Portal itself and providing a seamless and positive user experience.  This was my first time actually presenting at a global conference so it was a bit nerve-wracking.  But, our presentation was well received with excellent Q&A from our audience.  Thanks to all who attended!

Wednesday, May 10th

I started off the day with an interesting session on certifying applications for the ServiceNow Store.  While I haven’t personally built any public applications, the standards SNow establishes for their store can easily inform standards for internal applications as well.  They covered a Top 10 list of common mistakes made when developing, mostly around roles and security.  Additionally, we were reminded of their built in module for certifying applications, which can be useful for spot checking applications or other features in progress or already in the wild.

Next was a breakout entitled Defining your App Development Methodology for ServiceNow.  This was basically an outline of steps to follow when proposing or accepting new work.  Questions around demand and identifying key stakeholders and sponsors and maintaining their interest throughout the process.  Also, there was a reminder that new features always include a subsequent cost of support and maintenance throughout the life of that feature.  One last thing: ‘Have a Testing Zealot!’  Not my term, but I’m using it anyway.

My first lab of the day was on Advanced Service Portal Widget Techniques.  We covered several implementations of a list view in the portal incorporating conventional server-side GlideRecord calls and client-side API calls.  Combined with configuration level constants like table name, we were given a template for a reusable widget that can be easily cloned and tweaked for multiple uses.

Lastly, I attended a session on Analytics and Machine Learning.  This is an equally arcane and fascinating topic for me and it will be interesting how application of AI will inform the ServiceNow platform going forward.  We were introduced to automated Virtual Agents that can act as first responders to customers and learn from previous customer engagements to guide and improve future sessions.  Additionally, machine learning can be applied to data within our existing systems to derive additional meaning from data points that human analysts might miss.

Thursday, May 11th

The last day of the conference definitely finished on a high note with the CreatorCon Keynote.  Developers and other creators were reminded that expectations are constantly changing and growing.  The sheer volume of data and the speed at which the meaning of that data needs to be communicated will only continue to grow.  We should not only be thinking of automation for customers, but also every edge we can gain in our own processes to increase our velocity without compromising effectiveness and overall quality.  Tools such as native automated testing and integrated debugging can only help.

Our last lab and session of the conference was Managing Team Workload and Collaboration with VTB and Connect.  Most of the information on Virtual Task Boards was already familiar territory for me but it was neat to see some new improvements and features, including Connect integration for live collaboration among team members.

Summary

Needless to say, this past week has been a whirlwind of people and concepts and generally drinking from a fire hose of information with maybe a small respite now and then to let those ideas breathe.  What’s most rewarding for me is to see so many people in one place excited and passionate about what they do.  Our work has a soul.  It’s necessary to recognize the value in what we do and continually strive to improve.  Conferences are good for a spot check (sanity check?) on where we’re at and where we’re headed.  I highly recommend them.

I’d love to hear any feedback on this post, especially if you attended Knowledge 17 and would like to discuss your own experiences.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to john@benedettitech.com.

Thanks for looking in!

AWS Certified Developer – Progress So Far

In my post about certifications, I mentioned starting a certification course regarding Amazon Web Services development.  Bit by bit, I’ve been making progress through the course itself.  The structure is pretty straight forward.  It begins with an overview of what AWS is overall and what you should expect to get out of the course.  The idea primarily is to prep you for the basic Associates certification, so they’re going for breadth as opposed to depth.  That’s fine with me!

First things first – Identity Access Management

Some of the first things to consider when building a new app is who your audience is and what they need to be doing.  Trying to shoehorn a security or roles model after you’re under way is just asking for it.  Therefore, the course starts us off at the beginning by showing us how to build roles and use them programatically through the CLI.

One of my more interesting takeaways from this was locking down your root access using Multi Factor Authentication.  This involves creating a key object on AWS and mapping it to an authenticator app on my phone.  The premise here is that no one should be able to get root in your environment based on a simple password.  It’s a good habit to get into before you entrust important data or business logic to the cloud.

What is EC2?

Once you have your roles in place, it’s time to provision resources.  EC2, or Elastic Compute Cloud, is where you can provision various types of virtual compute hosts.  There are options based on conventional questions like number of processors and memory, or you can request role based hosts optimized for graphics or high memory or transaction-intensive needs.

This is one of the longest sections of the course, but an important term that you might hear a lot about is something called Lambda.

What is Lambda?

Lambda is Amazon’s event driven code solution where you have a function or service waiting on a call and it responds only as needed.  So, you can think of it as a sort of headless API where all you have to worry about is your function or service itself and none of even the typical PaaS concerns such as host or middleware setup or general availability.

One example of Lambda pointed out by the course is Amazon’s Alexa service which is available on their home devices, such as the Echo.  I’ve only tinkered with Lambda once or twice, but the potential is very exciting.  I’m looking forward to a deeper dive at a later date.

At this point, I’m only about a third of the way through but will be spending more time on it during May and June with a goal of taking my certification over the summer.  For those who are interested, the course is put together by a company called A Cloud Guru.  They have several other courses and tracks for AWS available at their website and at Udemy, where I’m taking my own course.

I’d love to hear any feedback on this post and invite you to share your own experiences and opinions on AWS, either your own projects or learning tracks.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to john@benedettitech.com.

Thanks for looking in!

Azure Follow Up – Closing It Down

It’s been a little while since I wrote about Azure.  Early on, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be focusing on using that outside of my day to day and the truth is, I haven’t touched it much since last year.  Nothing against the service, I just haven’t had a need for dedicated hosting in a while.
 
On that note, I will be shutting down my Azure resources as of today.  I’m in no rush to port what I’ve built so far to AWS, but my projects are on Github for any who are curious.  I may revisit them at a later date.
 
Even though I won’t be actively working in the Azure space for the foreseeable future, I’m still open to discussion and collaboration on the platform.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to john@benedettitech.com.

Thanks for looking in!