Ready Steady Cook

by Software Engineer Graduates, Alistair Steele and Gregg Wighton

Two from our February 2017 Graduates cohort discuss their recent Graduate Project using Chef Technology to solve the problem of setting up a machine (laptop) adhering to company standards. Their aim was to introduce a working example of DevOps and learn more about that sphere. This post talks about the problem they sought to address using Chef, what DevOps is and the experience they have gained from their Graduate Project.

The Problem

During a new starter’s induction day, a considerable amount of time and effort is spent on setting up a Development machine (laptop). Tasks involve downloading software and creating a folder structure which adheres to the guidelines set out by the company. This manual process is time consuming and tedious, plus it allows room for human error. The same issue occurs for a current employee who has to rebuild their machine. A third issue can be seen with employees who have forgotten the company guidelines.

Company time, in particular for new inductions, would be better spent in various other ways. Allowing the new employees to read company policy or familiarise themselves with the office building and appropriate contacts.

A key aspect of this project was to eliminate user interaction and cut down on the potential human error. To achieve this, three technologies were considered, Ansible, Puppet and Chef. We chose Chef as it is serverless, scalable and Windows compatible.

With the technology selected we looked at how best to use Chef and what it’s capabilities were. This required a lot of research – and trial and error. Understanding the problem enabled us to create three main goals: Silent Installs of required software, Folder Structure and Environment Variables, all of which were to be automated.

Our objective was for the user to simply download Chef Client, connect to the repository on InnerSource and then run a single command on the command line. The Automated process will then kick off and deliver the finished product. So what will it achieve?

  • Ensures standardisation throughout the company
  • Saves the company valuable time
  • Speeds up Induction process
  • Silent installs of software, folder structures and environment variables

Using DevOps to tackle the ‘Wall of Confusion’

In the traditional flow of software delivery, the interaction between development and support is often one of friction. Development teams are wired towards implementing change and the latest features. Support teams focus on stability of production environments through carefully constructed control measures. This divide in culture is now commonly referred to as the “wall of confusion”.

DevOps looks to break down this culture by improving the performance of the overall system, so that supporting the application is considered when it is designed. One method of doing this is to start treating your infrastructure as code so that it can be rebuilt and validated just like application code.

One area that would benefit from provisioning infrastructure would be the configuration of development environments. Setting these up can often be tedious as they rely on specific versions of software, installed in an exact order with particular environment variables and other project specific configurations – all of which can cause delays to working on a project and are prone to human error.

Automation, Automation, Automation

Chef is a powerful automation platform that uses custom Ruby DSL to provision infrastructure. A key feature of Chef is that it ensures Idempotency – only the changes that need to be applied are carried out, irrespective of the number of times it is ran. While it is intended to configure servers, the flexibility of the platform means that it can be used to set up local development environments.

Diagram described in the text belowOur diagram shows the architecture and workflow for the project. A developer writes Chef code on their workstation, then uploads their code to a Chef repository hosted on GitLab, and installers kept in an S3 bucket on AWS. This code can be pulled down to a developer’s machine to be configured and run in Chef Zero. This is a feature (usually used in testing code) where both a Chef Server and Chef Client are run at the same time. This approach ensures that development machines can be quickly and reliably configured for a project. This also introduces portability into development environments so that testing and support teams can recreate these environments should they need to.

Ready for the Cloud

Chef is tightly integrated with Amazon Web Services through AWS OpsWorks. This means that the Chef code used to automate physical servers or workstations can be used to configure AWS resources. This ability to standardize both physical and cloud environments means that it is possible to create a smooth workflow for both Development and Support teams.

Our Grad Project take-aways?

From experiencing work in a support team, we can see the benefits of embracing a DevOps culture and workflow. The ability to standardize environments means that Development teams are free to implement new technologies that can then be easily transferred and controlled by support teams. Having completed Phase I of ‘Ready Steady Cook’, we aim to embark on Phase II- developing an automated setup for a specific aspect in the support team.

We have both gained valuable experience in working through a project’s complete lifecycle, from inception to development to testing and production. Throughout the project we utilised Agile methodologies such as working towards fortnightly sprints and daily stand-up meetings. This project has also widened the scope of our graduate training in that we have gained certifications in Chef and are working towards certifications in other DevOps technologies.

Sopra Steria is currently recruiting for the Spring 2018 Consulting and Management Graduate Programme. If you, or someone you know, is interested in a career with us, take a look here.

Inspiring digital skills in the next generation

I recently had the opportunity to go with colleagues on behalf of Sopra Steria to Victoria College in Belfast alongside Digital Shared Service (DSS) to present to fifty teenage girls on Working in IT.  It was a great opportunity for us to give something back to the local community and support Digital NI in promoting STEM subjects and digital technology careers to students.

Sopra Steria has an active role in each of our local communities where we partake in outreach programmes.

We aim to open the student’s eyes to the wonders of IT, the world of digital and its impact on individuals working and personal life.

It was a strange, but nice feeling being back in the classroom, especially being the one talking at the front! I had the challenge of beginning the session, introducing my company and myself to the students and explaining my own journey from a history degree to working in IT as a Graduate Business Analyst. I explained how not all jobs in IT are code based, the unique job roles included within IT and the different skills needed.

We next wanted to highlight the importance of IT within everyday life and introduced “Game Changer” a programme which has the ambition of raising physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles in children and that Sopra Steria is working on with Halton CCG and Widnes Vikings Rugby. Through the programme we have developed TRAKKA – a fitness band and associated measurement and monitoring application – and Sopra Steria’s programme lead Louise O’Leary captivated the students, challenging them to think about how simple changes in lifestyle can create big changes in wellbeing. Although the TRAKKA wristband was designed for younger kids they were interested to see how the ecosystem developed from TRAKKA:

Inspire, Inform, Improve

diagram 'trakka' ecosystem - circle of text: Nutrition, Data/Web/Apps, Information, Behaviour & Wellbeing, Academic Improvement, Activity, Content, Ideas - back to Nutrition

Data is at the heart of TRAKKA, highlighting performance and areas for improvement and following on from Louise’s presentation, another of my colleagues Dermot Boyle moved the conversation on to another important topic, data analytics, bringing it to life with real life and familiar examples. This is another emerging IT area where we will see increasing focus over the coming years and where apprentices and graduates will be able to make their mark as they start their careers. Designed to get them involved, we concluded with a quick hands-on session, asking them to answer questions from information in our TRAKKA, Power BI dashboard.

In our work with other schools and colleges across the UK, we’ve been involved in a number of projects providing Raspberry Pi kits helping to building IT and entrepreneurial skills. At the end of our visit we donated a Raspberry Pi to Victoria College to support them in working with the students to develop coding knowledge in a fun and interactive way.

Louise, Dermot and I all really loved being involved in this visit; it was fun and energetic and we really hope the students felt the same. It appears our time was well spent as the school has asked whether some of the children could take up work placements – so we may even see a few of the faces again in and around the Belfast office! It’s a big choice choosing your future career and it would be nice to think that we provided someone with that spark of inspiration to enter the world of IT.

If this is something that you feel interested in or want to know more about, please feel free to get in touch – we would be more than happy to help! You can leave a reply below, or contact me via email.

image of students at Victoria College
Our student audience at Victoria College

Look at how our sustainability programme encourages students to build skills and careers in IT.

Understand more about our vibrant team and work in Northern Ireland.

We offer great training, development and career progression prospects – find out more about our Early Careers opportunities.

Accelerating my career – taking next steps with Sopra Steria

I’m a Junior PMO Analyst in Belfast, and I’ve recently joined the Sopra Steria Graduate Programme. Previously, I was a graduate project manager with Hewlett Packard Enterprise working on a range of hardware and software infrastructure projects. I am really looking forward to learning and working with the Regional Government team in Belfast and this short blog outlines my experiences to date in my new role.

The beginning: Edinburgh

Monday 4th July 2016 finally arrived – a date to remember for me and 32 other graduates beginning their career with Sopra Steria in various streams including Project Management, Java, Testing, Business Analysis, UI, SAS and GIS.

The induction was a great start to joining the company. ‘Day One’ allowed us to gain an in-depth overview of our new company – which markets we are active in, the services and solutions we provide and highlighted the opportunities for us to develop within the company. But, more importantly, it allowed us to get to know our future colleagues on a personal level as these will be who we’ll work alongside for years to come.

There was a social element too – and it was great to have an opportunity to get to know new colleagues in a more relaxed environment, as well as to talk informally to various managers away from the office.

There was a real focus on enabling us as new starters to meet a range of current staff and previous graduates. I learned a lot from asking questions about their roles and the clients that they are working with – a great benefit as they were able to give examples of real-world problems that Sopra Steria solve. During this on-boarding week, we also attended numerous instructor-led courses such as Agile Methodologies, Testing and Corporate Structure – a great foundation to understand more about the way Sopra Steria works and its approach to client engagement. Towards the end of the week, everyone received an overview of their next eight weeks in terms of scheduled training. Mine is a mix of on-the-job learning and understanding the core project management fundamentals taught within the Association of Project Management Professionals study guide.

As we said goodbye to our new colleagues and friends and I realised that I had successfully completed my first working week as an employee of Sopra Steria!

Next step: a warm Belfast welcome

As with all new starters, we returned to our contractual offices for our second week of work. For me that’s Belfast and the office is located right in the city centre and a 5-minute walk from the train station. The first few days focused on getting to know my new Belfast colleagues and more about our business in Northern Ireland. As I was being introduced I thought “I am never going to be able to remember everyone’s name!” But thankfully, it’s only taken me five weeks to overcome this. The Belfast office is home to around 80 people, but there are quite a few based on client sites so I am still getting to know new people who only occasionally work in the office.

When I was in Edinburgh during the on-boarding week I learned that the Belfast office and staff had the reputation for a sweet tooth and that any time they visited there were always cakes, buns and biscuits on offer. I found this very much the case! In the short spell I have been in the Belfast office we buy buns and cakes to celebrate pretty much anything – whether it’s a promotion, leaving party or someone’s birthday and just in case we are running short on these events there is a monthly bake-off between members of staff for bragging rights in the office. There have been rumours of a graduate bake-off happening in the near future, but I see myself eating cakes rather than making them!

As I continued to find my feet within the project management team I was gradually given an overview of each regional government client we work with and invited to attend meetings regarding upcoming projects which gave a realistic view of the projects I would be getting involved in. These face-to-face meetings are a great benefit as they allow me to see where various departments and teams within Sopra Steria fit and come together to complete projects, they are also a good way to meet the key decision-makers from a customer perspective and introduce yourself.

Everyone has been very friendly, helpful and welcoming. I’ve really valued the many offers of support from across the team and guidance to help build my new career. I’ve had some key pieces of advice:

  1. make the most of any opportunity that presents itself
  2. be responsible for driving my own career
  3. don’t be afraid to contribute by sharing ideas or thoughts on promoting or enhancing Sopra Steria. It’s great to know that at such an early stage in my career and being so new into the business that my opinion counts.

I’ve been assigned work on two different local government projects and I’m really looking forward to getting involved and understanding these accounts in more detail. Project Management is very much a learning through experience stream, reading books and attending courses is beneficial – but you really learn by doing.

I’m also really impressed with Sopra Steria’s policy on developing and enhancing employees’ talents by encouraging attendance at workshops and training courses to attain professional certification. I’m attending a 3-day Project Management course in mid-September and I am looking forward to meeting up with the other project management new starters from other organisations, while enhancing my knowledge and skills in this field.

My first six weeks at Sopra Steria have flown by – it only seems like yesterday I was travelling to Edinburgh for my induction. In this time, I’ve really settled into my new surroundings and role and am extremely excited for the future – on a personal level for continuing to develop my project management skills and for Sopra Steria as a company continuing to work on innovative and exciting solutions for our clients.


If you, or someone you know, has graduated recently and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme?

The #snow must go on – the story of Project: Barry

Recap

This is the tale of a bunch of graduates, their first forays into projects and the trials and tribulations found within. “Project: Barry” is a Graduate project created to map snow worldwide using data pulled from Twitter, and this is the end of it’s saga – catch up on the full story here.

When it snows it pours: late November, two weeks since presentation

During this time, GIS moved to complete the mapping section of the project. The server would comprehend the information being sent to it by Barry, store it in a database and then map it in real time. The viewpoint of the map would be updated to the location of the most recent tweet, creating an interactive experience.

Next we put together a buffer for notifications, making them more useful. This allowed us to stack up tweets over some time, then send one notification with a number of tweets and a selection of locations involved.

Things were moving smoothly and ahead of schedule when we received word that the final presentation would be on the upcoming Friday – not in several weeks like the original deadline.

Whiteout: beginning of December – presentation time

Due to several issues, the date had changed but thanks to the Agile methods, we had a working program ready to be put into production at the end of each week. This allowed us to simply cancel later features (sorry GUI and web crawling!) and tidy up.

This iteration of Barry (v0.1) was at the point of being run on a server, sending information to the database in real time to be mapped and sending buffered notifications to the group – and this was what was presented in the beginning of December. The presentation was open to the entire Edinburgh office and saw a full room ready to interact with Barry and the mapping system in real time.

Participants were able to tweet using the word ‘snow’ and have their name, (embarrassing) display picture and location appear on screen as the map bounced around showing the locations of tweets from around the world. See the example below for a first hand look at Barry in its natural habitat! (You may need to click on the image to start its animation)

Animated image showing snow-spots around the globe on a map of the world

Outcomes

It’s safe to say each Barrista (demonym for those of Project: Barry) was glad to have been a part of the project. Gaining project experience alongside book learning was a huge addition to being part of Sopra Steria’s Graduate programme. Working alongside other streams really makes you think for others and seriously improves your knowledge.

Expanding and developing the project has proven to be incredibly fruitful, both in terms of improving our standing within the company (recognised as being “Those guys who made that Twitter thing”!) and increasing our effectiveness when stepping into the Real World™. Experiencing real deadlines, shifts in scope and late notice changes really gave us a chance to prove our worth and flex our skills.

After the thaw

After the end of the project, the Barristas have since moved to other projects – but the legacy of Barry will live on…

Barry’s real time mapping component is to be utilised to provide visual representation of activity on a potentially company wide basis… so stay tuned!


This is just one example of the innovative projects Sopra Steria graduates get involved with. If you are, or someone you know is, graduating in 2016 and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme.

There’s no business like #snow business – the story of Project: Barry

This is the tale of a bunch of graduates, their first forays into projects and the trials and tribulations found within. This is the first of two blog posts – which can, and will be, officially regarded as a saga – so keep an eye out!

Outline

“Barry” is an application developed to track snow using Twitter, alerting users through phone notifications and mapping the information worldwide in real time. Barry has been used to track weather movements and is accurate when compared to traditional reports.

And some stats about the project:

  • Five graduates from Sopra Steria’s October 2015 intake
  • Three Java, plus GIS and Project Management streams
  • Seven weeks to compile the project as a side task
  • Two presentation dates with open invites to everyone in our Edinburgh office

Story Time

Outlook optimistic: mid October, end of week two with the company

Post-induction, post-presentations and post-welcomes, the Java graduates were looking for something with a little more bite. During one of our first meetings with our stream lead, it was tentatively proposed that we create a programme to grab information from Twitter and send a notification to your phone. This would become “Project: Barry”.

Naturally, the Java grads were keen for the opportunity to put our book knowledge to the test and stick a figurative toe into the sea of development. We decided to follow the general idea and the topic of snow was chosen; the temporary name of “SnowStalkers” was toyed with and we began putting our heads together.

The notification system came first, starting with the software Pushbullet, which is used for pushing notifications between devices. We developed a cheap and cheerful prototype and with that in place, we set our sights a little higher.

Clouds building: start of November, one week of work on project

We decided to open the doors of the project to other streams and in a quick series of conversations, we simultaneously increased and slimmed down our workload. We brought in a GIS graduate (Geographic Information Systems – it’s OK, I had to ask too), to expand into mapping the data we were gathering. Alongside this we picked up a Project Management graduate (yes we have those, and yes it’s viable), to whip us into shape and bring more structure to our project.

This was a big step towards making this idea into a serious project, as it was originally Java only – bringing in others allowed them to get more experience and working with other knowledge bases only improves your own learning. This is when Project Barry got its name; with a slip of the tongue, our GIS grad Brian was dubbed ‘Barry’ for the day and, as they say, the rest is history. We began structured meetings with agendas and began putting together our own scope – putting down features we must, should and wanted to have implemented.

First flakes: early November, under two weeks since the project expansion

Twitter integration working smoothly, mapping prototype running, and notifications flying – it was time for the first presentation, six weeks since starting the job. At the time Barry (v0.0) would grab one tweet based on snow and send a notification to the group. The presentation was to a few members of the Java team at Edinburgh, with all major points covered in under seven minutes (Pecha Kucha style).

With the first presentation completed, we made the change to Agile Sprints. We put together a trimmed feature list which at the time included:

  • Automation (continuously running without human input)
  • Twitter streaming API (similar to automation, but for Twitter)
  • Mapping (do you have to ask?)
  • Web crawling (grabbing information from websites linked in tweets)
  • Graphical User Interface (an interface to enter data)
  • Notification buffering (collecting tweets to send fewer notifications)

The aim was to implement one feature per week – taking us up to our apparent week 12 (since starting with the company) deadline with a week to spare. Java graduates brought automation and Twitter streaming into fruition soon after the presentation – Barry was continually running, pulling down tweets in real time and sending (far too many) notifications.

Next time on Project: Barry…

Read about the fate of Barry – its actionromance improvements, the twist in the tale and lessons learnt.


 

This is just one example of the innovative projects Sopra Steria graduates get involved with. If you are, or someone you know is, graduating in 2016 and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme.

Young Scot Awards 2015: celebrating young people in Scotland

Last week I was privileged to attend the 2015 Young Scot Awards in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The night is a celebration of the success of young people in Scotland who have made various amazing contributions to the improve the lives of people in their communities.  A suite of celebrities were involved in the hosting and presentation of the awards, including Edith Bowman, the band Prides (definitely the loudest contributors, especially from my seat), Conor Maynard, Stevia McCrorie and Pudsey the Dog (the only one I recognised …). young-scot-performingFrom our table in the front row we got the full 360 degree sound experience – music to front and screaming to the rear. All the nominees and winners were very impressive, with the overall award going to Jak Truman for his inspirational fund raising efforts before his untimely death from cancer in February 2015.

The event made me think about the importance of young people to a company like Sopra Steria. Every year we recruit a significant number of graduates into all areas of the company (104 under 24s in 2014). Working with young people challenges us all to take a fresh approach to our work. Our graduates are invariably keen, work hard, liven things up, and bring a fresh perspective to digital technologies. Some of our projects may not involve the sort of systems they imagined they would work on while at university, e.g. paying farmer’s claims, court case management solutions and prison management systems but they always adapt quickly and successfully (although without the reward of meeting Pudsey).

All our graduates start with an induction programme and then move on to work on various projects, potentially involving a range of technologies and types of clients. We make sure our graduates have more experienced people to mentor them, as well as a buddy to help them settle in. See information about our Graduate opportunities.

In a similar way the Young Scot Awards show that with a little support and encouragement young people can achieve great things and make a real difference.

Many thanks to my hosts SOLACE (the UK representative body for Local Authority Chief Executives), Young Scot for organising a very inspiring and professional event, and above all to the many fantastic young people who were nominated for, and won, the awards.

On a personal note, my 16 year old daughter is part of a Young Scot focus group and was also enjoying the show. However no thanks for the text telling me I looked bald from her seat in the Grand Circle.

Speed Networking

Pitching UX at Sopra Steria in 15 minutes, in the space of 2 hours, 8 times… equals 20 glasses of water!

Last Wednesday, Damian and I took a trip to Dundee University. We were invited to an event hosted by e-Placement Scotland that brought together employers in the IT industry and job seeking students. The aim of the day was to find students with a keen interest in UI/UX and could join our team here as an intern Edinburgh. We also used this opportunity to spread the word of all the the great things we do as a team amongst the students and other industry professionals.

We kicked off with a warm welcome from the hosts and a networking lunch with other employers. This was a great opportunity to meet people from companies all over Scotland, find out what they are doing and share experiences. Representatives from JP Morgan, Codeplay, BePositive, Blue2 and Agenor were some of the few we managed to speak to. Damian and I found ourselves to be the only User Experience focused members in the room, with a few employers seeking to cover this role that day.

The speed networking format with the students allowed time to talk to almost everyone in the room and in an ‘elevator pitch’ style. It was successful in finding those that stood out in the crowd and voiced interest in such a short time frame.

 Lynsey talking in a groupWorking to ringing bells every 15 minutes left Damian and I with loads of unfinished conversations. So much so, we had students surrounding us after. This resulted in being the last to leave the building, which can only be a good thing! (Hopefully not just because of our good spread of freebies!)
image showing team talk

This kind of event was great to represent Sopra Steria at. It not only reaps the benefits finding young talent, but we are now able to pitch the work we do in 15 minutes and have made connections with other industry professionals in Scotland.