re:Invent Serverless Talks — Collaboration, Community, & Career Development

Danielle Heberling

At re:Invent 2019, Farrah and I gave a talk on our paths into the tech industry, how serverless helped us both build some of our first products, and how serverless represents a new mindset. I’d wanted to share a version of that talk on our blog for those who couldn’t make it, though we hope to give it again in the near future.

FARRAH: I’d like to talk about how my path to the tech industry and serverless with Stackery. My first job out of high school I was doing market and competitor research and got that classic Windows message this software has performed an illegal operation and your computer needs to shut down. I was worried the PC itself was unusable! A friend at the time told me computers weren’t for me.

Fast forward a few years and I was in my 30’s doing marketing but fascinated with our company’s IT department. There were only so many times I could ask them to walk me through a database optimization, so I decided to seek my first role in the tech sector.

I volunteered with TechFest NW, found a mentor through that, and then got hired 4 hours a week by a local tech company. I built connections and ran events, and a year after that I was hired at Stackery

DANIELLE: When I was in high school everyone told me that I needed to go to college to get a good job. I was supposed to decide where to go, what to major in, and what career I wanted. I barely knew what I wanted to eat for lunch that day, so I looked for a path that made more sense.

My path to tech definitely wasn’t a straight one. I’d always loved playing music, and while I think I really wanted to play professionally I also had bills to pay, so I looked into the music community, and eventually teaching. I taught music in public schools for a few years and realized it really wasn’t for me. I quit that and (facing bills,) applied to any jobs I felt qualified for and got hired doing tech support.

Tech support, like QA, is often a path into programming. In my case our product let you run custom JavaScript within our product, and as I moved up the ranks I wanted to provide higher quality support for those users. Since I was supporting programmers I set out to learn programming from free tutorials. In no time I was hooked and left that role to go to a coding bootcamp.

FARRAH: A few months into my time at Stackery I signed up for a hackathon I’d gotten cold feet on one hackathon before this since I wasn’t a programmer and I thought hackathons meant 5 people typing code for two days straight.

I joined a great team, built a demonstration of a serverless monitoring tool, and on my first hackathon my train took the grand prize!

Building on that success I wanted to try and build a serverless application. I connected with Danielle and found we both wanted to build a real project.

DANIELLE: for me, programming is more about art than engineering. I want to have a purpose in mind for what I’m building, so a ‘demo app’ never held much appeal. For this new project with Farrah, I wanted to take our time and find something we were both excited to build. After a few proposals, we thought about how we wanted to help people trying to learn a new technology for the first time.

FARRAH: When I first set out to learn serverless development, I found things like the ‘build a Wild Rydes API’ tutorial that felt very daunting.

I was thinking about how hard these might be if English wasn’t my first language. I knew AWS had a translation product, so we settled on a project to make an automatic translation app.

I was excited to get started, but pretty soon I felt like I wasn’t cut out to build this app. I was looking at dozens of error messages and I wasn’t even sure what AWS account I was logged into from my laptop.

Thankfully, Danielle was there to remind me that developers spend a lot of their time frustrated with stuff not working right, and the setup to be able to write code and deploy it can take days to get on the correct path. Being stuck at the start felt like I really might be in the wrong line of work, but Danielle made me feel like it was my first ‘real developer’ experience!

DANIELLE: The architecture of our app looks like this: an S3 bucket to take an uploaded text file. Then a Lambda function to take those text files, followed by talks to AWS Translate to go from any supported spoken language to any other supported spoken language. Finally, the Lambda function writes the translation file to another S3 bucket.

We were using Stackery to build this application, and I noticed that the buckets still had their default Stackery names: Object Store 1 and 2. This was a great moment to teach Farrah how much of the job of programming is just picking useful names.

FARRAH: Throughout this project, we really tried to keep the serverless mindset

By utilizing other services where we didn’t own their engineering or technical reliability, we were able to build an incredibly powerful tool very quickly

DANIELLE: I started my software development career using containers, and while containerization is really neat technology I loved building this app because I spent 90% of my time coding and no time provisioning or configuring servers, for someone who loves to code that was an amazing freedom


AWS re:Invent was an amazing experience, and I want to give a huge thank-you to everyone who came out to our talk, said hi at the booth, and otherwise supported Stackery.

In that spirit, if you’d like to support the language translator project Farrah and I started, please check out and try using it yourself! If you’d like to see the code or contribute, you can do all of that code on GitHub.

Want to see our talk for yourself? Watch it on Periscope at your leisure. Of course, to follow along you’ll also need a Stackery account so sign up today and get started for free on our Developer Plan!

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