2020: Keep on learning

This blog was originally posted under https://labs.sogeti.com/2020-keep-on-learning/

As the new year starts, many of us have New Year’s resolutions, and many of those will eventually perish within a month or two.

New Year, New Technology

I don’t have any resolutions. The only thing I try to do each year is to learn a new technique or language. Please note that new means new to me and not necessarily a brand new technique.

Why? In my day-job I focus on designing cloud native systems and architecture, and most of my ‘programming’ is done in Visio and PowerPoint. As my roots are in Software Engineering, I keep myself up-to-date by learning new languages and techniques.

For the upcoming year I’ve already made my choice. I started out with the following short-list.

  1. Scala
  2. Rust
  3. Go

Creating the short-list

The reason I chose these techniques is not random. In my work as an external examiner for the University of Applied Sciences Avans and Fontys in the Netherlands, I see the work of many students each year. They inspire me to look at specific techniques that normally do not cross my path. In my day-to-day work, the most used languages are C#, TypeScript, Java, and JavaScript languages and frameworks like Angular.

1. Scala

Scala is a general-purpose programming language providing support for functional programming and a strong static type system. Designed to be concise, many of Scala’s design decisions aimed to address criticisms of Java.

Wikipedia

Functional programming is something that I do not see often in my day-to-day job, so I was intrigued by the capabilities of this language. Also, some very fast and popular software is written in Scala. Examples are: Apache Kafka, Apache Spark and Akka.

2. Rust

Rust is a multi-paradigm system programming language focused on safety, especially safe concurrency. Rust is syntactically similar to C++, but is designed to provide better memory safety while maintaining high performance.

Wikipedia

Originally invented by Mozilla and used within Firefox and Dropbox. Rust has been the “most loved programming language” in the Stack Overflow Developer Survey every year since 2016, so that drew my attention.

3. Go

Go, also known as Golang, is a statically typed, compiled programming language designed at Google by Robert Griesemer, Rob Pike, and Ken Thompson. Go is syntactically similar to C, but with memory safety, garbage collection, structural typing, and CSP-style concurrency.

Wikipedia

Go has been around for quite some time, and has an impressive list of applications that were built with the language. Kubernetes, OpenShift, Docker and the list goes on.

Choosing my 2020 technique

For an internal project, we were looking for a tool to provides us programmability against a multitude of APIs. Instead of grabbing an off-the-shelve product, I investigated tools and frameworks that could help us build an MVP, fast and reliably. This eventually made me look into Terraform Custom Providers.

In Terraform, a Provider is the logical abstraction of an upstream API. This guide details how to build a custom provider for Terraform.

https://www.terraform.io/docs/extend/writing-custom-providers.html

Terraform will let you wrap any API, so it will enable us to wrap our ITSM tooling, Monitoring tooling and what have you not.

As Terraform and the custom providers are written in Go, that was my main reason to dive into this language. I’ve created a Github repo with an example custom provider, find it here on Github.

Keep on learning

I’m curious if any of you are also keen on ‘staying relevant’ and want to keep up with new techniques and languages. And, what techniques and languages do you try out and investigate? Please feel free to let me know, and contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

Infrastructure-as-Code with Pulumi

Using a public cloud like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS? Chances are you’ve been using templates like ARM or CloudFormation.

Hashicorp has done a terrific job making Terraform with the ability to template any API, and deploy and manage stacks in Azure, AWS and many, many more.

I’ve been following Pulumi for a while, and their approach is a bit different than the previous stated tools.

Continue reading “Infrastructure-as-Code with Pulumi”

Sync your Outlook 365 calendar to Google Calendar with LogicApps

Sometimes it is hard to keep your spouse up-to-date on all the sessions and events work-related. Most of the times I’ve been able to duplicate calendar items that are relevant for my ‘better half’.

Obviously manual work makes me sad and I forget to sync some events causing a collision in the calendars. If, like me, you have kids you’ll understand this results in hoping your babysitter can make time because you forgot to add some items in your calendar manually.

Continue reading “Sync your Outlook 365 calendar to Google Calendar with LogicApps”

Software Maintainability in the Cloud Era

The shift to cloud, and with that, to PaaS services or low code alternatives like LogicApps push the actual code developers see and use to the background.

There is an ISO standard on software quality, and the maintenance best practices are well written and explained in the book Building Maintainable Software. Within low code systems, applying these guidelines can be less obvious and it can be a difficult task automating and testing the quality of your code with tools like SonarQube.

Should we even worry about the underlying code? Absolutely. The principles still adhere and creating a spaghetti of your low code systems can cause major issues on maintenance or adding new features.

Let’s focus on three points of the maintainability guidelines:

  1. Write code once
  2. Couple architecture components loosely
  3. Automate development pipeline and tests

In no way these are the most important items, but for this example an easy entry into the low code space.

1. Write code once

Just like any other audit of software, you still can avoid writing duplicate code. In a platform like LogicApps it can be easy to repeat a custom call to something like a custom HTTP API.

In traditional languages like C#, you have many options to reuse your code. You could create a library, or you can create a package and make it available via NuGet. Within low code systems, these same packaging mechanisms not always exist.

Taking the example of LogicApps, the solution could be to create Custom Connectors. These will wrap your custom API calls into a reusable component you can share within your organisation, or even outside.

2. Couple architecture components loosely

If your components are tightly coupled, it can be troublesome to replace or refactor your components. The impact will be on each and every other component that has a high coupling with your part.

Again taking the LogicApps for example, let’s state our LogicApp calls another component directly using HTTP. The Azure Portal gives you this out of the box, letting you call Azure Functions directly from your LogicApp.

This goes agains the principle of loosely coupling. The reason is that your call is directly bound to that function, so changing the interface or location of your function, impacts the LogicApp directly. In this case, it would simply break and stop working.

To solve this problem, a simple solution is to decouple the LogicApp and the Azure Function using a queueing mechanism. This way, the message to the Azure Function is put on a queue by the LogicApp, and the Azure Function listens on a queue. Now, if the developer of the Azure Function changes location or even use another platform, there is no need to change the LogicApp.

Obviously this would require you to make an agreement on the contents of the messages on the queue.

3. Automate development pipeline and test

Automating your CICD pipelines allows you to more easily build, test and deploy your code. In case of a language like C# or Java, you can easily run tests, build your code, and create packages or deployments. A tool like Azure DevOps can combine these steps and lets you create a wealth of quality gates, checks and processes to guide your team.

When using low code platforms, it can be cumbersome to get the code into your version control systems. Nevertheless, many of those platforms do give you the tooling. LogiApps for example has template creators, and systems like OutSystems have their own CICD ecosystem.

In the end the automation allows you to more easily add steps to your CICD process, and allow you to deploy more frequently without any hassle. The addition of automated testing will absolutely be beneficial to the overall quality of your product.

Concluding

Treat your low code just like you would any other codebase. Almost all guidelines of mainainability can be mapped to your product. Some can may require a bit more investment, but in the end I truly believe it will help building a maintainable and high-quality (low) code base.

If you want to expand on the process part of high-quality software, please also take a look at the follow-up book of this series: Building Software Teams

Scanning Blob storage for viruses with Azure Functions and Docker

While working on a side project, someone asked me how to scan for viruses in a cloud native and serverless landscape. That made me think about a project I did a couple of years back. During that project we used ClamAV that was installed on a VM. We scanned files that end-users uploaded within an ASP.NET application, and everything was hosted on datacenter VMs somewhere in the Netherlands.

ClamAV® is an open source antivirus engine for detecting trojans, viruses, malware & other malicious threats.

In this blogpost I will show a proof of concept using a Docker image and Azure Functions to create a simple automated virusscanner for Azure Blob storage.

Continue reading “Scanning Blob storage for viruses with Azure Functions and Docker”