What were the higlights of pandemic year?

2021-02-01|By Kamil Zabielski|Column

What were the highlights of pandemic year?

The last year was the very first year for sysdogs, and we were so... lucky to get right into the pandemic. According to the Central Statistic Office in Poland [1][2][3], over thirty percent of companies fail in the very first year of operation. Our company works in the IT / IT Security sector, so naturally, we love metrics. Data, especially when properly interpreted, is something that tells you that you're either moving in a right or wrong direction. Sincerely, it is the only truly objective source of feedback about your performance, possible improvements, and the only true way to align yourself to your goals. This post is a kind of summary - what we did, either good or bad, where we are now, and what are the plans for the next twelve months.

What we have achieved during the past year?

Despite all the countless restrictions, we were able to do many important things:

  • Triple the employment.
  • Double the engineering team.
  • Double our financial plans.
  • Triple the amount of customers, we continously support on our daily basis.
  • Release our very first online training.
  • Speak on a few big meetups and one huge conference.
  • Expand the chair board by two more members.
  • Gain a few technical and operational partnerships.

...and many others, that I probably forgot about.

What we did wrong?

Success is tempting, no doubt. Everybody wants it, and whoever you'd ask, they most probably would tell you only about their victories, leaving failures unmentioned. But this is not the case. Let's Let's talk openly, about our fails through this year.

The mistakes of our home page

I definitely regret my very first decision to start our website using Wordpress. Although it is the most common blogging technology, it also happens to be very... painful technology, for twenty-first century needs. There are many reasons for that. We have noticed, that writing articles was a huge pain for us, therefore we've been putting that off in time, as much as possible. Let me try to explain: We mostly do operations, engineering and work related to infrastructure security. Said that, we do a lot documentation in markdown as of this is a very convinient format to edit, modify and review. Wordpress has a lot of inconviniences.

  • It does not split content and logic properly.
  • It is a very stateful application.
  • It does not allow to apply easy and well fit Continous Integration / Continous Deployment processes.
  • Finding a good Wordpress developer is very hard. No one wants to do it. And even when you'll finally find one, he saves stylesheets in dabatase or does something else, that immediately triggers your sixth sense.
  • Feature toggling is almost impossible.
  • The content review process is a nightmare.
  • The revision system is... To be completely honest, "garbage" would be an understatement.
  • Plugins either work, work partially, or don't work. Not your choice - the current mood of the CMS decides that. Most of the plugins are also introducing security vulnerabilities or just break things.
  • Wordpress is basically a "Kitchen Sink" - it's about quantity, not quality. Everything done, nothing done good from start to finish.

Let's talk a little more, about the writing and review processes. On Wordpress, the process was as follows:

  • Editor writes an article in Google Docs.
  • Another one verifies the content.
  • Someone makes the proof reading.
  • Graphic delivers metadata images.
  • Article is migrated manually from Google Docs into the production. (Because there is no convinient way to make a review on a blogging platform called Wordpress, sic!)
  • Article is published.
  • One more proof reading of everything.
  • Few minutes after, social media information is published.
  • Done.

Many manual steps. The early stage of the process, drastically unconvenient. Writing code and/or technical details in Google Docs, is exhausting. Most of our write-ups contain code, logic and very engineering-focused data. Troubles with listings or presenting references for our statements, are not even funny, they are sad. Lack of convenience equals lack of comfort, which in turn means you'd have to force yourself to do things that would normally be pleasant. Comments in Google Docs are perfect for formal documents and agreements, but they absolutely don't fit the process of technical stuff review. Mistakes in code, bad references, typos. All those make the site extremely difficult to maintain. We could not easily automate the process of spell-checking, dictionary validation, and linting. In the end, it was almost impossible to test anything properly in development environment, without stupid database dumps. Or to even have a proper development environment at all. We've decided to part ways with Wordpress, and migrate to Gatsby-based statically generated sites. It allowed us to:

  • Write content in Markdown. The same format we use day-by-day for code documentation.
  • Split the logic, apperance and articles' content.
  • Automate the deployment in a good, reliable way.
  • Automaticaly lint and verify the article, before any human has to touch it.

This also dissolved the need to manually copy the article from one place to another, decreased the attack surface to the minimum, and extremely, enormously improved the website performance. In the end, we're using GitHub on our daily basis, and we're especially in love with the suggestions on pull requests. Through this change, the whole process of content management, testing our website, as well as editorial work, is done in just one place. We hope it will improve the articles' schedule and quality - you're the judge.

What we did wrong in the field of task management?

Personally, I am huge fan of Getting Things Done methodology, but to be absolutely honest, I think it just does not fit the complicated process of managing technical and engineering teams. Keeping that in mind, last year we started with one of the most popular management tools - Atlassian stack. Our team was growing, but in contrast, the reliability of Atlassian services was dropping dramatically through the whole year.

At the end of November, we've decided to change our task management and knowledge base tools. By now, we are extremely happy with these changes. We are able to automate the process of invocing and reporting for our customers; the stability of the new toolset seems to be far in front of the Atlassian stack. Question the traditions, new doesn't mean bad, old and popular doesn't mean good. No more waitig for Jira task to be created. Asana is much, much faster, lighter on the UI part, and the integrations we depend on, work flawlessly.

What happened with your previous articles?

We have noticed that our content isn't properly adjusted for Google searches. We're currently working on the SEO (But without the click-baity, dirty tricks. We're honest, and we're fair. No cheats.), but to at least in some deegree, help you discover our content easier, we've decided to make a lot of changes in articles and the abstracts for the articles. Title of the article is now a question, and the content is the answer. For example:

What are the plans for this year?

What are you planning for operations?

We're currently at the finish line of negotiations with a few customers. We hope we'll be able to support them and sign mutually beneficial agreements by the end of Q1 2021.

Are there any other online trainings planned?

Last year we released Terraform 101. We got tons of feedback about the price, and the content, durig the presale. The feedback could be summarized into the very two sentences: In those times, it is definitely too expensive for an online training. And also, it is surely not dedicated to unexperienced people. This content was too difficult for someone who is trying to get into the site reliability engineering world for the first time. Therefore, we've decided that the juniors and beginners should get their own training labs, properly adjusted, and suited for their needs. By the end of the first quorter of 2021, we are planining to release few courses dedicated to the newcomers of the DevOps/DevSecOps methodology for a price that won't exhaust their budget. We've got plenty of ideas, so stay tuned. The subscribers' feedback will be very important and will impact the further offers, so if you are interested, and want to help us help you better, sign up to our newsletter.

Thank you

Said all of that, I cannot say more than Thank you. I am sure, we would not be able achieve such great things without this perfect team: Anna, Agnieszka, Amanda, Adam, Kamil, Stanislaw, Karol, Marcin, Lukasz, Arkadiusz, Pawel, Michal. More over, we would like to extend the special "thank you" to our Customers. For the trust, for the faith you placed in us... We do our best to give you the best, and help you reach your precious goals every day. We will try to, as always, give you more than you expect.

2021. Whatever's in stock this year, we are ready. We are waiting.


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Kamil Zabielski