Case Study:

Identifying and solving a year-long problem in a week

How a DevOps Skill Sprint took FTI Group on a major leap forward

Consolidated in 1995 from 15 different brands, FTI is today Europe’s third largest tour operator. Thanks to Darwinist and their Skill Sprints, three of FTI’s developers have recently managed to set up a new application on Google Kubernetes Engine in only one week.

Searching for a needle in a haystack

For over a year, the development team at FTI had been dealing with a major issue with their Kubernetes setup. Unable to determine the cause, the developers couldn’t rectify the problem properly. Repeated website downtime was causing customer frustration, and the team was left scratching its collective head searching for a solution.

Alexander Duda, Head of Software Development at FTI, says:

“We couldn’t prevent the problems from happening, and finding the source of the problem was like searching for a needle in a haystack.” Our main problem seemed to be with a legacy module controlling the deployments which had been created by members of the team who had since left.”

The application on-site needed altering in order to work with Kubernetes. This would mean major architectural changes and Alexander was constantly fighting for the resources to achieve this. What he needed was a solution, fast. From Cloudwürdig, he had heard about Darwinist’s approach to technology adoption, shunning traditional training methods and tech consulting in favour of a new way: the Skill Sprint.

Enter the Skill Sprint Leader

Skill Sprints work by inviting an external expert to work with two or three members of a development team, performing the role of leader. The leader guides the group as they participate in a weeklong Skill Sprint with the aim of completing a minimum viable product, that is, the minimum functionality of the technology to be of any real value. As Andrew - CEO of Darwinist - says, “there is no proof of concept. Real things have to change.”

This approach, which would see successful implementation of a new Google Kubernetes Engine set up in just a week, appealed to Alexander:

“We decided to do it all in one big step and start from scratch. We had never done a Skill Sprint before, and we liked the idea of inviting an external person in and doing something really concentrated. The fact that knowledge would be applied as it was being learnt would mean that we could get the job done in one go, something we had been trying, and failing, to do for over a year.”

One of the criteria for selecting who should take part in the Skill Sprint was that those with a natural ability to teach others would be preferred, so that they could then share their experiences with fellow developers. Leonardo, Ogun and Erik were selected for the project.

Ahead of the week-long Sprint, several meetings followed, allowing the team to prepare the environment and understand the issues they would be addressing. Then came the week itself.

Getting the job done

From nine to five every day, the group worked in a room together at the FTI office as the Skill Sprint leader cracked the proverbial whip, facilitating and directing the team through the implementation.

The week-long experience was described as “intense” by the team, and it was certainly a challenge, with four different applications to be changed at the same time. Leonardo says:

“It was totally different from any training I had done before. Right from the beginning it was a hands-on approach. We just had to get on with the job and do it.”

Despite some challenges along the way, including removing a dependence on an NFS server and an LDAP connection, the Skill Sprint powered on and resulted in the team setting up a Kubernetes cluster that went live at the end. As Ogun says, “It was tough love, but it was effective.”

Lessons learnt

For Leonardo, the experience has made him consider exactly how the end-user uses the product, as opposed to purely looking at it as a developer:

“It was a really interesting process to go through, thinking about putting things into production and delivering it to the customer. We are now more careful about what we do because we can appreciate how these things are going to be used.”

And there is no question that the investment in the week-long Skill Sprint was effective. Alexander says:

“We took a major leap forward. Being able to work together and push things through was ultimately really successful.”