July 22, 2015

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A “taste of Chef” at the AWS Popup Loft SF

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Over a year ago, Amazon Web Services built their nifty Popup Loft in San Francisco. Since then they’ve hosted a ton of cool events, including a very regular series of all day, hands on labs. The labs are free, everything is provided, even lunch. There’s one critical issue (for most people): getting time off work to go to the lab is hard! Fortunately for me (and several others in the class) I’m between jobs, so I have time to attend and get all educated.

I’d never been to “The Loft” before, but it was easy enough to find. It was recommended to show up early because seating can be limited, unfortunately the loft was under going some light construction in the morning, so the doors didn’t open until just after 10 AM (the lab start time) and we got off to a bit of a late start.

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Before I talk about the lab, a few things about the loft. It’s a not a huge space, but it is three floors. The first is entry, lounge and AWS experts. The second floor was a kitchen-lite, which was really nice. They had free tea, coffee, a few sodas, candies and a few munchies. You certainly won’t be filling yourself for free, but you won’t die of starvation if you hang out for a few hours. Finally on the third floor is the lab space that I spent most of my time in. There is a nice quality A/V setup which includes speakers (for the event host, not that they were needed) and 4 70” TVs (for projection display) spread around the lab space (so you can see one no matter where you sit).

Of course, the lab itself I attended was “Chef Bootcamp: A Taste of Chef on AWS” taught by Ned Harris (@nedward777) from Chef Software. It was a hands on lab, BYOC-style, but everything that was required (beyond a computer with SSH) was provided. They gave us access to AWS instances with the entire chef suite pre-installed and pre-configured. This seems like a minor thing, but anyone who’s been to any sort of technical bootcamp knows the less “pre-requisites” the better. One of the guys in our class was using Windows (not that that is “bad”), didn’t even know what SSH was (let alone have a client for it), and had never used AWS before.

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The class progressed solidly throughout the day. We had a “handout” which listed all the day’s labs and it also included links to gists with code to copy (brilliant idea). The instructor explained each section of lab, then gave us the time to do it ourselves (and help those whom needed it). We reviewed the lab then went on to the next. We were given plenty of breaks for caffeine/munchies along with a generously provided lunch (pizza!). Our class was quite quick for the most part, so we finished at 4 PM rather than the expect 6 PM. We had plenty of time to ask questions and go more in depth with the instructor.

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While I had experience with Puppet, I’d never had a chance to learn Chef. It was really a delight to learn and be able to compare/contrast a little bit. At the end of the day, the course objectives were highlighted: Automated common infrastructure tasks with Chef, Describe some Chef tools, Apply Chef primatives to solve our problems, Use Chef to managed EC2, Use Chef to manage an entire application topology in AWS and lastly, know where to go for more info. I can safely say that we did all that and I feel very confident about being able to do more Chef on my own in the very near future.

Overall, this was a great class and a great experience. It is quite awesome of Amazon to make this space available and arrange for workshops. If time allows, I’ll definitely be attending events at the loft again, especially since they have an Internet Of Things series coming up soon. Should the loft have a topic you’re interested in (and you’re in the area), I’d strongly recommend you convince your boss to let you take a day off to attend. Free education is a heck of a lot easier to sell to a boss than the standard $1,000 a day training that one typically pays.