Leadership Tech

Perception of Seniority

I have seen so many different responses from professionals when presented with a task.

No doubt every situation is different. There are cultural differences at the individual and organisation levels. There are many factors at play. However, over time the following characters emerge.

Wrong hire – “I don’t know. I have not been trained for this. Sorry cannot help.”

New starter – “I can take a look at it. Can somebody tell me what to do?”

Junior – “I do not know a lot. I can make a few recommendations to help. Can somebody review and let me know what else to do?”

Mid-level – “I am familiar with this. I will get started and check back for review. We can keep iterating until it is completed.”

Senior – “I have done/seen this before. I will have it done in a week. I will make you recommendations for the future.”

Leader – “My colleague is the best person for this. We will also help your teams to identify and complete these in the future.”

These are some of the examples of how I am perceiving seniority.



Abstraction is a recurring theme in my work.
While it is second nature for some, most folks have too strong of a footing in concrete 😀

Everybody can do abstraction. It is a skill, it is a mental muscle that needs training. Applying it regularly to situations and using it purposefully is a different matter. A short, visual explanation on what I mean by applying abstraction purposefully.

  1. The arrow pointing away from concrete indicates the idea of abstracting away. The further we are, the more abstract the concept becomes.
    Arrows shooting out to different directions signifies that abstraction can happen along many different aspects.
  2. The arrow pointing towards the centre indicates reducing abstraction. The closer we are to the centre, the more concrete it gets.
  3. Exploring other aspects while remaining on the same level of abstraction.
  4. Starting from something concrete and walking thorough levels of abstraction before descending back does not necessarily arrive to the same concrete point.

The irony of explaining abstraction in an abstract manner is not lost on me. Future posts will include more concrete and practical points.

Product Management Tech

The Choices We Make…


You are a techie in a corporate.
The platform you are working on offers a vast range of tools and capabilities.
You find the next task/user story/requirement to work on.
You immediately think of a way to implement a solution to complete the task and tick the box.

You have choices…

  • Are you going to discuss alternative implementations with your team
  • Are you going to check if this implementation has been done somewhere else?
  • Are you going to review against the existing design standards and patterns?


  • Are you going to get it done as soon as you can to show high productivity on the dashboard?

If you are an individual contributor, your choices will be limited.

If you are managing a team, then and ask yourself – What can I do to foster the former behaviour over the latter?

Either way, if you feel conflicted about this and prefer to have you and your team showing high productivity on some dashboard, then send a link to this article to your superiors.

Product Management Tech

Challenge is Good

Designs suffer from

  • Too many – often wrong – assumptions are made
  • Quick – often uninformed – decisions made
  • Trade-offs with the decisions often not understood

Challenging these should be part of the behaviour.

People need to appreciate that they are working in a shared environment.
They should not feel interrogated or confronted, it should be natural, and they should feel comfortable discussing these.

Make it part of every design discussions.
Make time for it.
Make it part of the culture.


Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) as in cloud infrastructure, not infrastructure code as in writing your own middleware library.

Is it a misnomer?

In most cases IaC refers to some kind of template-based solution.

Template in this article refers to AWS CloudFormation template

It is strongly debatable if templates are code. If anything, code inside templates is generally an anti-pattern.
Think of templates as an “intermediary language” rather than code.
Templates are executed by respective platform “engines” driving actual cloud infrastructure configuration management.
Consider it “code” as far as an asset managed in version control together with the rest of the source code.


Templates will be sufficient for most infrastructure (IaC) jobs. Most templating languages will have constructs to express logic, for example: conditions. Most will also allow to include inline code as part of the configuration, nonetheless it is code mixed with template, for example: AWS velocity template for DynamoDB.

Writing Infrastructure as Code templates this way – in YAML or JSON – has been reasonable, but not without concerns. A good article on the topic is In defense of YAML.

Templates for templates

The AWS SAM is a good example of simplifying CloudFormation templates, notice the Transform: 'AWS::Serverless-2016-10-31' elements in SAM. A single SAM element may transform into a list of CloudFormation elements deploying a series of resources as a result.
Another example is their templating language supports multiple platforms while also simplifies the templating compared to CloudFormation.

One of my concerns however is the mixing of Infrastructure as Code with Function as a Service definitions. For example, the definition of a function AWS::Serverless::Function in the same place with an Gateway API AWS::Serverless::Api and related Usage Plan AWS::ApiGateway::UsagePlan.
I would like to keep application and infrastructure concerns separate.

My immediate approach was going to be to split up the template into multiple files and use AWS::Include to bring them back together.
AWS::Include does not work for all parts of the schema. Trying to use AWS:Include under Resources to include a set of functions simply does not work.

Next approach was going to be Nested Stacks. It is the recommended approach for large stacks anyway, so it seemed like a winner. It turns out Nested stacks are great for reusable templates – see Use Nested Stacks to Create Reusable Templates and Support Role Specialization – not so much for decomposing an application (template).

Using actual code for infrastructure

The AWS API gives access to the platform and resources through a range of SDK-s (Python SDK is called boto3). It is truly a low level access to resources that is typically used for developing software on the platform.
Infrastructure could be managed using the SDK. There are many good automation examples on how AWS Lambda can react to events from the infrastructure and respond with changes to it.
Managing more than a few resources using the SDK is not feasible, considering the coordination it would require: dependencies, delay in resource setup.

There is a better approach: code

The troposphere library allows for easier creation of the AWS CloudFormation JSON by writing Python code to describe the AWS resources.

The GitHub project has many good examples

Using troposphere for Infrastructure as Code

The examples would led you to believe that using troposphere is not much different than writing a CloudFront or SAM template in Python. Depending on your use case however, there are opportunities to explore:

  • Function as a Service (FaaS) implementations are heavily influenced by deployment. It would make sense if the deployment details were close – ideally right next – to the code.
  • In a similar fashion database – for example DynamoDB – resource definition could be close to the ORM or data access implementation.
  • Make infrastructure and deployment decisions in code. There is of course conditions in CloudFormation, and CloudFormation macros for more complex processing.

Having the infrastructure and deployment configuration close to the implementation code has its own pros and cons.

Development time requirements

Ideally troposphere would only be used in development time (not runtime if we can avoid it), therefore the deployment package would not include this library.

# Development requirements, not for Lambda runtime
# pip install -r requirements-dev.txt

I use in the root of the project, the same place where the template.yaml (or .json) would be, for producing the CloudFormation template.

I have followed two patterns for defining platform resources in the source code.

Class type resource definition

The resource definitions are part of the class implementation.

Note that the troposphere library is only imported at the time of getting the resources. Then it is only used when generating the CloudFormation template. None of these would need to run in the lambda runtime.

# the application component
class ApplicationComponent(...):
	# class attributes and methods
	# ...
	def cf_resources(cls):
		from troposphere import serverless
		# return an array of resources associated with the application component
		return [...]

# the template generator
from troposphere import Template
t = Template()
for r in ApplicationComponent.cf_resources():

Decorator type resource definition

I use decorators for Lambda function implementations. The decorator registers a function (on the function) returning the associated resources (array).

# the wrapper
def cf_function(**func_args):
	def wrap(f):
		def wrapped_f(*args, **kwargs):
			return f(*args, **kwargs)
		def cf_resources():
			from troposphere import serverless
			# use relevant arguments from func_args
			f = serverless.Function(...)  # include all necessary parameters
			# add any other resources
			return [f]

	wrapped_f.cf_resources = cf_resources
	return wrapped_f
return wrap

# the lambda function definition
@cf_function(...)  # add any arguments
def lambda1(event, context):
	# implementation
	return {
		'statusCode': 200
# the template generator
from troposphere import Template
t = Template()
for r in lambda1.cf_resources():

You could implement lambda handlers in classes by wrapping them as Ben Kehoeshows in his [Gist]


AWS recently released the alpha version of their Cloud Development Kit (CDK). I have not tried it yet, but the Python CDK looks super similar to troposphere. Of course, they both represent the same CloudFormation resource definition in Python.
troposphere or AWS CDK, they both bring a set of new use cases for managing cloud infrastructure and let us truly define Infrastructure as Code.
I will explore the use of troposphere on my next project.


AWS Lambda in Python with SAM

The AWS SAM and CloudFormation mix works well for my projects.
I have been working mainly with Python for building Lambda functions on AWS.
However, managing code from project to production has been less than trivial.
AWS Lambda Deployment Package in Python

This article and the sample project on GitHub shows how to

  • structure a Python project for Serverless functions,
  • deploy app using SAM and CloudFormation.

A sample project demonstrating this approach is at  GitHub:designfultech/python-aws

Building and deploying JavaScript functions using SAM was super simple – see Watcher project.
SAM’s original project structure for Python is less than ideal.

  • 3rd party libraries, dependencies, are expected to be in the project root.
  • All project assets in the root will be deployed.
  • I want to maintain a virtualenv for development and define different dependencies (requirements.txt) for the runtime.

Project structure

I use the Pycharm IDE for development. My projects have their own virtual environments, and I use the following project structure.


  • source has all the deployable source code
    • ext 3rd party libraries, not a Python package
      • requirements.txt – use it to install dependencies
    • lib keeps my own shared libraries
      • it is a Python package
      • library for vendoring, more on this later
    • functions all function(s) code
      • it is a Python package
    • I may add other packages like models for ORM
    • more on this later
    • requirements.txt this one is kept empty for SAM build
  • dist is created by SAM build for the deployment
  • requirements.txt development-time dependencies for the project
  • template.yaml AWS serverless application template


Vendoring is a technique to incorporate 3rd party packages, dependencies into the project. It is a neat trick used in other languages, and this specific one is adopted from Google’s App Engine library.

  1. Create a directory in the root of the project for the 3rd party packages ext. Add ext to your Python path so dependencies resolve during development.
  2. Create and maintain the requirements.txt inside ext for the deployed runtime.
  3. Install the packages in the ext directory.
    pip install -t . -r requirements.txt
  4. How to make the code in the ext directory available to the runtime?
    This is where Google’s helper – google.appengine.ext.vendor – comes in. It adjusts the path for the Python runtime.
  5. Add the code to a project file, for example: /lib/
  6. My approach is then to create the in the root of the project
    import os from lib import vendor vendor.add(os.path.join(os.path.dirname(os.path.realpath(__file__)), 'ext'))
  7. Any Python application that needs access to the packages in the extdirectory needs a single line of import.
    import runtime_context

Using the

I use the to setup vendoring for all functions.
I also place shared configurations and variables here, for example:

  • logging
  • environment variables
import logging LOGGER = logging.getLogger()

import os
GREETING = os.environ.get('GREETING', 'Hello World!')


The approach and project structure described here works for development, local test with SAM, and AWS runtime.

When deploying to AWS, run the SAM CLI from the root of the project, where the template file is. Use a distribution directory dist for building and packaging.

  • Install the 3rd party modules
cd source/ext pip install -r requirements.txt
  • Build the function
sam build --template template.yaml --build-dir ./dist
  • Package the function
    [BUCKET_NAME] is the name for the bucket where the deployment artefacts are uploaded.
sam package --s3-bucket [BUCKET_NAME] --template-file dist/template.yaml\
  --output-template-file dist/packaged.yaml
  • Deploy the function
    [STACK_NAME] is the name of the stack for the deployment.
aws cloudformation deploy --template-file dist/packaged.yaml\
  --stack-name [STACK_NAME] --s3-bucket [BUCKET_NAME]

Remove deployed app

When done with the application, un-dpeloy it by removing the stack.

aws cloudformation delete-stack --stack-name PythonAppStack

Final notes

This is just one approach that works for me. There are probably numerous other ways to make coding Python functions easy and comfortable.


Building the Filestore Serverless app on AWS

The application

Filestore is a cloud file storage API backed by S3. The project includes a sample client based on FilePond.

User guide, source code and deployment instructions for AWS are available on GitHub:designfultech/filestore-aws


I wanted to use the latest Python – 3.7 – for coding.

Avoiding infrastrucutre code was a key principle for the project. I also wanted to avoid the use of 3rd party libraries if possible.

CloudFormation and SAM templates – in YAML – has worked very well in past projects, and so did for this one.
API definitions were written in Swagger (OpenAPI 2.0) – in YAML.

I wanted to use S3’s API directly for uploads and downloads.

Ideally the app would be running behind a domain setup on Route 53, this setup is not included in the project for now.

Presigned URL-s with S3

Tha application builds upon a key platform capability: S3’s presigned URL-s.

Presigned URL-s allow anyone – unauthenticted users – to access S3 objects for a specified duration. In this case the application allows upload (PUT) and download (GET) of S3 objects.

Presigned URL-s also allow the client to use S3’s API directly. There is no need to go through Lambda for uploading or downloading files, which could incure high costs.
Since Lambda’s cost is time based, large amount of data transfer over slow connection would eat up a lot of compute time.

Getting started

Review the Building the Watcher [Serverless app] for details on:

  • Approach to infrastructure as code and SAM’s intricacies
  • API Design and Swagger specifics
  • Cross-cutting concerns: securing API with a key

AWS Lambda in Python

Python has first class support on the platform. The AWS SDK is known as Boto 3and it is bundled with the Lambda runtime environment, no need to include as a dependency. However, Lambda does not include the very latest version of the Boto3 library (at the time of this writing).

UPDATE: SAM’s support for Python has a few gotchas when including 3rd party libraries. More about this in the article dedicated to AWS Lambda in Python.

Platform services

The diagram shows all services included in the app.

Aside from the S3 service and bucket, there isn’t anything new compared to the previous project Building the Watcher [Serverless app] on AWS.

Working with DynamoDB

I was hoping to make use of an Object Mapper library that abstracts away the DynamoDB low-level API. There are a few good candidates out there such as PynamoDB and Flywheel.

After a short evaluation, I ended up coding up my own lightweight, albeit less generic abstraction, see /source/lib/
On a larger project with multiple entities I would definitely use one of the OM libraries.

I originally wanted to build the application to support multi-tenancy, but decided to leave that for another project where it would make more sense. However supporting some of the multi-tenant strategies (SaaS Solutions on AWS: Tenant Isolation Architectures) with these libraries is not trivial, or simply not possible – something to remember.

AWS S3 (Simple Storage Service)

The S3 API is significantly simpler than the DynamoDB API. It was simple enough to use directly from the functions without any abstraction.


When I started, I did not realise S3 uploads recognise the mime-type of the files. I was going to use python-magic for this magic.from_buffer.
It turned out is not necessary as S3 objects have a ContentType attribute for this.

file_object = S3_CLIENT.get_object(Bucket=..., Key=...)
content_type = file_object.get('ContentType')


The file uploads do not preserve the original file name when placed into S3, they have the same name as the DynamoDB key. When the Presigned URL is generated for the download, using the ResponseContentDisposition attribute can set the file name for the download.


AWS Lambda supports a range of S3 events as triggers. This, and all the other event sources, make the AWS platform and the Serverless model really powerful.
The application uses the s3:ObjectCreated event to update the DynamoDB item with properties of the s3 object (file) such as size and mime-type.


Most likely the browser client is going to be on a different domain than the API and S3, therefore CORS settings are necessary to make this application work.


There are two steps for the API to work with CORS:

  1. Create an endpoint for the OPTIONS and return the necessary CORS headers. The API Gateway makes this very easy using a mock integration.
    This is configured in the Swagger API definition.
  2. Return the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header in the Lambda response.


CORS configuration for S3 resources has a specific place in the CloudFormation template: CorsConfiguration.

Conditional deployment

If the application is configured at the time of deployment to store uploads immediately – StoreOnLoad=True – then the FileExpireFunction function is not needed.

CloudFormation Condition facility allows control over what gets deployed, amongst other conditional behaviours. In this project, depending on the parameter value, the expire function may or may not get deployed.

  CreateExpirationScheduler: !Equals [ !Ref StoreOnLoad, False ]
    Type: AWS::Serverless::Function
    Condition: CreateExpirationScheduler

Browser Client

I picked FilePond for browser client. It offers a high degree of customisation, and comes with a good set of capabilities.

The server API interaction had to be customised to work with the Filestore and S3 API-s. I implemented the customisation in a wrapper library – static/web/uploader.js. It takes care of the uploading (process) and deleting (revert) of files.

The sample webpage and form static/web/index.html is built using jQuery and Bootstrap to keep it simple. The form has a single file upload managed by the FilePond widget. In this example there is no backend to pick up the data from the form.

See the Web app client section for more details on how to deploy the sample web app client on S3 as a static site.


I have experimented two types of tests for this project: unit and integration.

Unit test

Unit tests are fairly straightforward in Python. The interesting bit here is the stubbing of AWS services for the tests. botocore has a Stubber class that can stub practically any service in AWS.

There is one unit test implemented for the preprocess function, which shows how to stub the DynamoDB and S3 services.

import boto3
from botocore.stub import Stubber

ddb_stubber = Stubber(boto3.client('dynamodb'))
s3_stubber = Stubber(boto3.client('s3'))

See tests/unit/ for more detail on the specific test code.

Integration test

I have found Tavern ideal for most of my integration testing scenarios.

REST API testing has first class support. Defining tests with multiple steps (stages) in YAML is easy.

There are 4 integration tests defined: uploadstoredeletedownload. These tick the boxes on the preprocessstoredeleteinfouploaded functions. However it does not help with testing functions like expire which is triggered by a scheduled event only.

Tavern can pick up and use environment variables in the scripts. See the Test section for more details on how to setup and run the integration tests.

What about the non-REST API-s?

I am reluctant to add a REST endpoint to functions such as expire just for the sake of testability.

The aws CLI can invoke Lambda functions directly and so can Boto 3 via an API call – Lambda.Client.invoke. If there was a way to include non-REST Lambda function invocations in Tavern test cases, that would be ideal.
Tavern supports plugins for adding new protocols – it has REST and MQTT added already. I wonder if it is feasible to build a plugin to support Lambda invocations?

Final thoughts on the architecture

The serverless architecture worked very well for this app.
In the end the amount of code was relatively small considering the functionality the app provides.