Tech Talk: AWS Cloud Formation

by Alice Swan Feb 26th, 2021 Cloud EC Inside Tech Talks Technology

Amazon Web Services (AWS) CloudFormation is Amazon’s primary infrastructure-as-code (IaC) service. Nearly any resource that can be created through the AWS console can (and should) be created using CloudFormation templates. IaC is a cornerstone of the modern software development lifecycle. With IaC, solutions can be deployed, downtown, and redeployed as often as needed. 

Quoting the noted software developer Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” CloudFormation tools need to be used with care and with future maintainability in mind. The objective is always to be able to deploy an entire solution from scratch and with the least amount of code in your templates. 

Pat Ryan, cloud practice lead for Evans & Chambers, has been working with AWS for 4 years, and he presented the following lessons learned during the Tech Talk. 

  • Deploy early and often.
  • Always be able to deploy your entire solution from scratch.
  • YAML is preferred over JSON, as YAML supports comments and is more compact.
  • Make use of the built-in constants that are available when a stack deploys—for example,  AWS::StackId
  • Make resource identifiers unique to the stack.
  • Nest, but not too deep.
  • IAM policies can be complicated to get right in CloudFormation. Separate them into their own template.
  • Give your template to a colleague and ask her or him to deploy it. If the deployment fails, you will find out what resources you forgot to put in the template or what dependencies you did not properly factor out.
  • Deploy from the command line, as it is faster and more easily repeatable than deploying from the console.
  • When creating the template definition for an AWS service that you have never used before, use the documentation and keep the definition as minimal as possible.
  • CloudFormation has its limits. Consider other solutions such as AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), Ansible, and Terraform.

About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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Tech Talk: Building Out a DevSecOps Pipeline

by Alice Swan Jan 27th, 2021 Cloud EC Inside Tech Talks Technology

Anyone who is familiar with the process to achieve Authority to Operate (ATO) understands that it is often fraught with issues that can holdup development and delivery of software products to their customers. Software development teams are in need of an effective development strategy to shorten these timelines and even make a continuous ATO possible. 

DevSecOps is becoming increasingly popular in the Federal Government to push through these limitations. Leveraging the continuities gained with DevSecOps such as Continuous Monitoring, Continuous Inspection and Continuous Testing, a development team’s security & development posture is robust and can more easily navigate the Risk Management Framework (RMF) & ATO process.

Dave Rabrun, a software architect at Evans & Chambers, presented a virtual tech talk on building out a DevSecOps Pipeline with readily available open-source tools & libraries. Dave was able to showcase the benefits of continuous inspection tools such as SonarQube and Arachni. From there, Dave presented a seamless DevSecOps pipeline that leveraged development with Github, integration with Jenkins and deployment with AWS CloudFormation.

About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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Tech Talk: DevOps with AWS

by Alice Swan Jul 2nd, 2020 Cloud EC Inside Tech Talks Technology

DevOps has reshaped the way software is processed and delivered by providing a structured and decoupled approach by way of the DevOps toolchain.

Using CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) in your DevOps pipeline provides automation that improves delivery time, thus allowing developers a faster and more reliable way to go from code to deployment.

If you’re already invested in AWS cloud infrastructure, then it’s worth checking out AWS’s DevOps suite, as they’ve created tools designed to integrate their services for a quick to implement solution. AWS CodePipeline allows you to create custom workflows and control how CI/CD is implemented in your system.

In June 30th, Jim Davis, a senior software engineer and tech lead at Evans & Chambers, conducted a tech talk on the advantages of incorporating DevOps into one’s software development cycle, and demoed a “hello world” application going from code to a hosted deployment in about 15 minutes with the push of a button.

About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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Tech Talk: AWS Amplify

by Alice Swan May 28th, 2020 Cloud Tech Talks Technology

In the fast paced and ever-expanding world of software development cloud computing has become the new norm. AWS, being a leader in providing on-demand cloud computing services, is always looking to make it easier for the customer to build end to end solutions.

The traditional cloud model is to provision servers for computation and storage. This requires developers to manage and maintain operating systems, size, scaling policies and much more. What id there was a way to have a backend provisioned in the cloud without having to manage servers? AWS Amplify was introduced in 2017 to do just that.

On May 26th, Nate Ostrander, a software developer at Evans & Chambers Technology, gave a Tech Talk on how to utilize AWS Amplify to quickly build serverless solutions in the cloud. Nate gave a brief overview of the Amplify framework and which AWS services/coding frameworks are currently supported. He also demoed on how to build a reactive mobile application using Amplify, App-Sync and DynamoDB.

AWS Amplify gives developers the ability to rapidly prototype solutions that are built to scale for production. We will see more growth in the software development community as it is easier to quickly build cheap solutions with services like Amplify.

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About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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Tech Talk: Amazon Textract

by Alice Swan Apr 30th, 2020 Cloud EC Inside Tech Talks Technology

In industries from government services to insurance, paper forms that were designed for physical use are increasingly sent over the internet. These forms have proved difficult to incorporate with digital tools and applications in the past.

As a result, demand has increased for robust Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tools that turn written forms and tables into machine-readable text. Document processors that require users to define a template are excellent for certain applications, but in situations with scanned or faxed documents, there are often problems with text recognition. Amazon released Textract in late 2018 to serve as a template-free OCR solution that serves as both an extractor and analyzer of text.

On April 28, Kayla Cross, a software engineer on the Security Control team at Evans & Chambers, held a virtual Tech Talk to provide an overview of Textract’s functionality. She outlined its advantages, such as reducing the burden on the user, and highlighted its easy-to-use API. She also outlined its possible uses, including identifying text for natural language processing, analyzing data with multiple columns, and parsing complex government forms like DD254s and SF86s. She ended with two demonstrations that showed different approaches to using Textract in the Amazon ecosystem to parse a government form and a picture of a blog post taken with a phone.

Tools like Textract can prevent the arduous experience of re-entering information that is already contained in a form into separate software, which makes it an attractive solution for developers seeking to improve user experiences and streamline their applications.

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About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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Tech Talk: AWS CloudFormation

by Alice Swan Feb 28th, 2020 Cloud EC Inside Tech Talks Technology

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a powerful method for safely and reliably managing complex solution deployments. IaC reduces or eliminates manual steps, limiting the opportunities for human error. AWS CloudFormation is a managed IaC solution for representing and deploying solutions in the AWS platform.

On February 27, Pat Ryan, cloud practice lead for Evans & Chambers, held a Tech Talk to provide a basic introduction on the core concepts and practices of CloudFormation. He described the key syntactical elements of a CloudFormation template as well as the built-in functions and variables.

Following the discussion on CloudFormation basics, Pat walked through an example of a complex template that he produced for a government client.

The presentation provided an introductory understanding of CloudFormation and introduced other IaC solutions such as Ansible and Terraform.

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About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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The 5 Coolest Things We Learned at AWS re:invent

by Kayla Cross Jan 16th, 2020 Cloud Events Technology

This past December, I and six other EC team members used our annual training budgets to attend Amazon Web Services’ (AWS’s) annual re:invent conference in Las Vegas. We participated in small workshops, informational sessions, and hackathons alongside a staggering 60,000 attendees who descended upon the city to learn more about the services AWS offers.

Conference activities ranged from an enormous expo where companies showed off their products to small “Builder’s Workshops” that offered personalized instruction to no more than a dozen attendees at a time. In between activities, conference sessions explored each of AWS’s offerings as well as unveiled new services (such as Kendra, a search tool powered by machine learning). EC team members attended some sessions together and some individually  based on our professional interests. We will each give a Tech Talk in the coming months to share what we learned with the rest of our EC colleagues.

Having one of the entertainment capitals of the world as the backdrop for the conference meant plenty of options for fun as well. Attending the public sector happy hour afforded us the opportunity not only to unwind from a long day of workshops but also to connect with organizations with which EC could potentially partner. Our team has already done a demo with one of the companies we met there, LogRocket, that could help us more quickly identify bugs in production.

The 5 coolest things we learned at re:invent

After returning from the conference and having some time to reflect, the team got on Slack to share our notable  takeaways from re:invent:  

1. FedRAMP accreditation support for AWS partners

Jamil Evans: “My one thing: I met the head of ISV alliances for the public sector at a public sector reception. He shared that as a trusted partner, AWS will provide us with dedicated support as we move Security Control through the FedRAMP accreditation process!

2. Patch automation with AWS Systems Manager

Colin Ardizzone: “One cool thing I learned about was the Patch Manager capability within AWS Systems Manager which lets you automate patching of EC2 instances with custom scripts and gives ample feedback in the form of logs to CloudWatch. It also lets you patch fleets of instances at a time and will smartly distribute the patch schedule so all your instances aren’t affected at once.”

3. VPC Ingress routing rules!

Pat Ryan: “AWS’s new VPC Ingress Routing features can be used to simplify integration of 3rd party security appliances.”

4. Amazon Textract rocks!

Kayla Cross: “I was impressed with Amazon Textract for importing documents and forms into applications. I thought it would be especially applicable to a lot of projects at EC that may deal with modeling information from complicated government forms.

5. Mobile development with offline support using AWS Amplify

Nate Ostrander: “I learned about AWS Amplify, a development platform that helps you build mobile and web applications without managing compute servers. Amplify also offers offline integration. While offline, the user’s device can query and write to a local cache which will automatically synchronize with the data source when back online.”


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AWS DeepLens and Machine Learning TechTalk

by Alice Swan Feb 28th, 2019 Cloud EC Inside Events Tech Talks

At this week’s Tech Talk, Jim Davis, a senior software developer for Evans and Chambers Technology, shared some of his experiences at the 2018 Amazon Web Services Re:Invent conference.

The discussion covered the basics of machine learning, as well as DeepLens, a deep-learning high-definition camera developed by Amazon as a sandbox and introduction into the world of machine learning. Jim demonstrated the different machine learning types (supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning) and gave examples and industry use cases for each. Jim’s Tech Talk also included a live demo of setting up DeepLens out of the box, which covered how to install and customize project templates freely available on the AWS site.

Jim also highlighted other takeaways from the AWS conference, such as AWS’s growing serverless services (API Gateway, Lambda, DynamoDB, RDS, etc.) and how Amazon has turned cloud computing into the powerful market segment it is today.


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About the EC Tech Talk Series

The Tech Talk Series is an employee-led platform dedicated to EC’s core value of continual learning. These talks aim to cover a broad range of technology-based topics to promote the sharing of best practices and ideas across EC’s project teams.

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EC AWS Certification Challenge Results

by Samantha Hess Aug 8th, 2017 Cloud EC Inside Events News

At Evans & Chambers, we don’t only hire incredible talent, we actively encourage and support all employees in their path to self-improvement and certification. With the growing partnership and increased usage of AWS (Amazon Web Services) within EC and our customers, we thought what better way to improve ourselves than to get a few more AWS certifications among our staff.

The first EC AWS Certification Challenge pushed several employees to study hard to receive one of the five AWS certifications in just over 2 months. In addition to the EC bonus for AWS certifications, each person that was successful in earning a certification would be entered for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to AWS re:Invent 2017 in Las Vegas, NV. Re:Invent is a fantastic conference that is focused on all things AWS from learning more about AWS offerings and partners to networking and fun. A trip to re:Invent is a great way to celebrate becoming certified and sharpen additional cloud skills.

The challenge participants were each given a learning path guide along with a copy of the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide to start their journey. Throughout the 2 months, participants could communicate within the #awscertchallenge channel on Slack about questions and certifications topics giving them support so they wouldn’t have to study alone. The challenge study period was wrapped up with a study session at Founding Farmers in Tysons Corner, VA. With one of the five attendees already certified, we were able to not only discuss the advantages of leveraging AWS cloud services, but also what to expect for the exam and how to prepare while sipping a few drinks and enjoying delicious food.


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I am pleased to announce that Phil Bozek received not one, but two AWS Certifications and is the official winner of the EC AWS Cert Challenge! Congratulations to Phil for receiving his AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and AWS Certified Developer – Associate certifications.


Thank you to everyone who participated! Even though the certification challenge is over now, EC still has a few people planning to study and receive AWS certifications in the near future and I wish you all the best of luck in achieving your goals.

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Interview with Teammate Ryan on Becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect

by Jamil Evans Sep 26th, 2014 Cloud

A few weeks ago, we talked about how Evans & Chambers is partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on several projects to achieve economies of scale and cost savings for our Government and Commercial partners. EC teammate Ryan was recently confirmed as an Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect. I spent a few minutes with Ryan talking about the certification.

Q: What is an Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect and what is the certification process like?
A: An AWS Certified Solutions Architect is someone who has a solid foundation of general knowledge on the Amazon Web Services cloud platform. They must know not only how to solve a problem in a cloud environment, but how to leverage the unique characteristics of the cloud to increase performance, add efficiencies, and reduce cost. In order to become certified, you just have to pass an 80 minute exam with 55 questions.

Q: Why did you decide to get certified?
A: I decided to journey down the path of certification because I know that Evans & Chambers Technology has a high interest in AWS due to customer adoption, and the growing popularity of AWS in the cloud computing space. I also wanted to get the AWS certification because I knew I would learn something different. Something that would give me a different perspective on how the industry can solve problems, and something that would pull my developer head out of the sand where my code lives, in order to take a look around me and see the big picture.

Q: How will the certification impact your career? Will you use these skills in your work with customers and how will you apply these skills?
A: Evans & Chambers Technology has identified AWS as an important and relevant platform going forward with our customers, so it would benefit anyone in any area of technology to have an AWS certification on their resume. A certification can never hurt your chances, and it would at a minimum allow you to speak intelligently about the cloud environment that your customer might be running on. In general, I think that certifications are important to your resume, because what you know is only marketable if others know you know it.

Q: What did you need to do to prepare for the exam?
A: The best preparation is to study. It is one of those tests where an over prepared student will ace the test without any problem, but a mildly prepared test taker hoping to squeeze by will fail miserably.

Q: How did you study for the exam?
A: I did not take any of the AWS sponsored courses when studying for the exam. I instead used the resources available to me on the internet and studied on my own. Since Evans & Chambers in an AWS partner, I started by taking a free self-paced training course on the Amazon partner network called “Architecting on AWS.” In total, it took four or five hours to complete, and it really gives you an overview of what AWS is and what all the hype is about. Once I had a general idea of what I was getting into, I signed up for an account, and I just started playing around on the AWS console, making some of the scenarios I had just learned come to life. I ran though a lot of use cases, and just tried things to gain a better understanding of how AWS works. The next thing I did was read the AWS white papers and documentation. I found the best approach was to read it, try it, research it, rinse and repeat the entire way through the document. Doing this broke up the monotony of reading about IT infrastructure, and helped me to really understand the concepts.

Q: What resources did you use to study and which was the most helpful?
A: I used Cloud Academy, AWS Partner Network, AWS white papers, AWS documentation, AWS FAQs, and the Internet. AWS resources are by far the most important because the test requires academic knowledge of Amazon’s best practices and recommended ways of doing things on the AWS cloud. The Internet in general is helpful, and there are some YouTube videos that might be helpful as well. I spent some time on the Cloud Academy website, and while it does help you learn new things about the AWS platform, I found that it wasn’t very targeted to the questions I found on the test.

Q: If you were recommending the certification to others, would you suggest independent study or the certification course?
A: Being that I did not take any of the in person, Amazon sponsored training courses, I can not really recommend them or say they are not worth taking. This really depends on how you like to learn. What I will say however, is that even Amazon representatives have said that the in person courses alone will not give you the knowledge to pass the test. If I did it again, I probably would have taken the Amazon practice test to learn the format of the test. The format of the test is really what makes it hard. It is multiple choice, and multiple answer, so even though you know A, B and C are correct, and E is wrong, if your not sure about D, you now have a 50/50 shot of getting the question right even though you are knowledgeable about what the question is asking. I also would have spent less time trying to learn about all the services, and spent more time on the core services such as VPC (Virtual Private Cloud), EC2 (Elastic Cloud Compute), EBS (Elastic Block Store), and IAM (Identity and Access Management).

Q: What was the most interesting and/or surprising thing you learned about AWS?
A: The best part of the experience for me was the “ah ha” moment, when I really understood the benefits of “the cloud”, and why “the cloud” is such a game changer. Have you ever listened to the radio advertisements, or sales representative, who say a lot of words about “the cloud,” but in the end you have no clue what they said? Cutting through the hoard of buzzwords and hype, and actually understand what “the cloud” really is, and what the potential benefits are is a very gratifying feeling.

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