Dynamic DNS for EC2 instances using a Lambda function

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You’ll also have to set some IAM policies on the Lambda execution role:

AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate Exam

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checked_checkbox1Get an AWS certification

A big tick in the checkbox for me! Most of the people I work with know that I’m an AWS nerd, and I’ve been meaning to attain certification for some time now by completing an exam.

What does it involve?

solutions-architect-associateAWS offers five certifications, three of which are Associate level, meaning they can be taken without any prerequisites. I chose to undertake the Certified Solution Architect – Associate, and based on internet opinion it appears that it’s the most popular AWS certification. Although it would seem like AWS Certifed Developer – Associate would apparently make more sense for my background, I think in truth, CSA is a more transferrable and flexible first certification.

Exam prep vs reality

There’s quite a few AWS certification 3rd party training sites. I was tempted, but didn’t pull the trigger. Their public discussion threads were a little insightful though. I did purchase the practice exam for US$20 from the official test provider’s website, but in honesty found this to be a gross underrepresentation of the depth of the actual exam.

Here’s what I thought vs what I found, for the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate exam:

  • Found the exam to be largely scenario-based. This is consistent with everything the internet says.
  • Found the questions to be worded trickily. For example, the question might ask about web-tier, and therefore any questions involving AWS database services would be invalid.
  • Expected more questions involving VPCs. I didn’t get that many VPC scenarios.
  • Was not prepared for the breadth of S3-related questions. If I did this again, I would read up as many S3 use cases as I could find.
  • Was amused at a couple of repeat questions. This happened at least twice.
  • Found that I could apply process-of-elimination to a number of trickier questions. Some questions that required 2 answers out of 5, I was able to rule out 3 impossible answers. Bazinga.
  • Found that the fact-seeking questions generally only covered one aspect of that service. For example, there were a fair few Route 53 questions, which only asked about one specific aspect at a time.

I’m cognisant that the questions for individual exam instances (haha instances) are randomly selected and so my experience may have been a chance outcome.

Overall – pretty happy with this exam, as a reflection of my two years on the AWS platform!

Your next WordPress project doesn’t need a layout plugin

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In this post I review two simple yet popular WP plugins that I’ve found can bear the weight of being a layout boilerplate, letting you escape the complexity/constraints of a heavily layout-customised theme.

It’s been a little while since the last client website. WordPress was the solution for the problems they had, so I set away at trying to find a theme that had baked in columns etc etc.

Generally in my experience, it was either that (finding an appropriate theme), or going all-out and heavily customising say Twenty-Fourteen to suit your needs.

I thought – hey there’s gotta be some kinda minimal boilerplate, that we can whack onto a simple/minimalistic free theme and off we go!

Aside: Recently I’ve found some excellent minimalistic Automattic-authored themes.

My list was narrowed down to two plugins: Column Shortcodes by Codepress, and Post Content Shortcodes by cgrymala. Yup, shortcode plugins (no need for the heavy-duty columnisation plugins that design agencies seem to love!!)

So what do with just two plugins?

Column Shortcodes plugin dialog

With Column Shortcodes, you use shortcode tags to “mark up” your columns. It’s quick and simple, reminiscent of BBcode, that to me helps keeps the focus on the wordsmithing. The specific tags to use are viewable through a freakin’ awesome popup dialog. And simply use the Preview Button to check out how your layout’s going.

Post column shortcodes

With Post Content Shortcodes, you can combine other posts’ content into a single page. This is great, because it doesn’t add any special areas or extra admin menus, and you can control a decent number of things using the shortcode’s arguments (pretty important to me as a developer!)

Update: Note that the column shortcodes plugin doesn’t have smart grid spacing, and you’ll have to manually enter the padding yourself. If that’s annoying, another simple grid I’ve used with success on a WP site is Dallas’ SimpleGrid.

(Of course I recommend these, with full knowledge of Bootstrap and its grid system, but firmly believing that Bootstrap is too heavy for the titular topic!)

Web developer: what’s in a name

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Edit: The very same topic has appeared on SO’s blog 9 months later!

Q: When someone tells you they’re hiring a web developer, what do they actually want?

A: Is it…

  • Designing website interfaces
  • Building website interfaces
  • Creating online applications
  • Creating mobile applications
  • All of the above 4
  • Setting up platforms, deploying canned products
  • Someone who implements NoSQL databases
  • A full stack dev… maybe all of the above so far
  • A/B test and get those customers to my website at all costs
  • Do they have to know Ruby?

Continue reading Web developer: what’s in a name

Configuring your Elastic Beanstalk

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Now that your Elastic Beanstalk-deployed environment is up and running, it’s time to get it configured!


If your web app runs HTTPS, you’ll need to a little configuration dance to put the certificates etc.

Upload your certificates to AWS IAM

Upload a certificate to IAM (short version of the previous link)

Continue reading Configuring your Elastic Beanstalk

Product before team

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When building a new product, whether it be a 24-hr hackathon, or longer term startup venture, there are at least two vital decisions to be made. You’ll need to choose the people in your team, and you’ll need to choose the direction which your product takes. Which comes first?

Both are important, of course, and you might be tempted to say that both decisions need to happen together and they need to complement each other. Yes that’s true and it’s the best-case scenario, but in many circumstances, one naturally occurs before the other.

Continue reading Product before team

Why Scrum just won’t work for most corporate IT projects

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I’m flying to Singapore today, and I’ve got a whole 8 hours to reflect on things that are not work-related. So of course, I’m thinking about work-related things, and in particular, project methodology. (maybe it’s because of that 6-figure PM salary)

You see, I’ve just come off a project where requirements were not particularly well defined until after the first production release. Around the office, empty walls are akin to Sydney real estate, and they’re rapidly being reserved for projects. This whole corporate-agile-IT-project-thing has certainly got momentum, but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta come to the conclusion that: Continue reading Why Scrum just won’t work for most corporate IT projects

Reversing the race to zero: My experience with managed web hosts

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Just wanted to write a quick memo of my experiences/observations with managed web hosting companies, and why it’s (probably) coming to an end soon. I’m talking about managed infrastructure, as opposed to the ‘DIY’ Platform-as-a-Service infrastructure offered by AWS & equivalent.

Today I read an email from my current web host, VentraIP, informing me that I’d gone over my “10GB limit for my Starter hosting plan” – and my disk writing would be restricted in 5 days time (Meaning, effectively, my website will stop working). Thing is, there was no such restriction on the plan which I signed up for, a few years ago. Continue reading Reversing the race to zero: My experience with managed web hosts

Will you be working for a company-owned startup?

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In 2014, Group CEO Brian Hartzer established that we need to be acting like a 200-year-old start up, embracing change, and driving a sense of customer urgency through agile and CCD principles. So it’s not suprising to see that the large-corporate-startup-mentality seems to be resonating throughout companies in many different sectors. “Innovation”, “failing fast”, and “seed funding” are terms that are being embraced across corporates, as Jennifer Alsever reports for Fortune.