Welcome to our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Spiros Tsoukalas, DevOps Engineer at Verity, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
Could you introduce yourself and your current role?
I am currently the Senior DevOps engineer at Verity, a Swiss startup providing a complete, integrated inventory system, powered by autonomous drone technology. I am responsible for making sure that all of our Cloud Systems provide cutting-edge performance, reliability, and availability.
The process of our transition to the Cloud started only a few months ago.
Since then, I have been quite busy setting up processes, automating, mentoring, and guiding my team members to ensure a smooth transition from a pretty much on-premise solution to a modern-based infrastructure, effectively creating the next generation of embedded systems in the Cloud.
How did you get to where you are now?
My software development journey started in 2014 in London. One year after I got my master’s degree from Cardiff University, I secured a position as a Junior Java developer at Rapha Racing Ltd., a high-end luxury performance apparel cycling brand and very successful global e-commerce store. During my 4.5 years of employment, I developed a habit of wearing many different hats within the technology department. First transitioning to a senior Java developer and subsequently moving towards infrastructure, security and finally falling in love with DevOps. Managing high traffic, a 24/7 global online store is not for the faint-hearted.
I will never forget the robustness of our fully realised infrastructure, as well as our carefully designed monitoring and alerting systems keeping everything and everyone happy. Under my watch, the company successfully closed a very profitable transaction, which significantly contributed to the further development of the brand.
Early 2019, I decided to move away from the e-commerce industry and continued my DevOps journey for a company called Starmind in Zürich, Switzerland. You could think of ‘Starmind’ as the internal Google search for big enterprises where team members can instantly tap in and access company-wide knowledge powered by Artificial Intelligence and have it available in real-time. Our SaaS solution was composed of around 30+ microservices all managed and orchestrated in Kubernetes.
I was heavily involved in all decision-making and implementation processes to achieve a full transition from a monolithic JVM application written in Scala to a polyglot micro-service architecture capable of spanning across different data centers, regions, and even different Cloud providers in order to avoid vendor lock-in.
What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?
As a kid, I was always very excited about how things work. I still remember the moment when my dad brought the first personal computer at home. It was a revelation for me! I immediately thought of breaking it completely apart to understand how it works. Later on, as a teenager, I always programmed as a hobby, sometimes to crack games or sometimes to visualize fractal patterns using recursion. I believe my main inspiration derives from my curiosity to understand how IT systems work and how I can contribute to making everything a little bit more interesting and useful.
Why did you decide to specialize in DevOps?
I would attribute this to the “Cloud revolution” a technological miracle that vastly enriches our lives to this day. However, as with every new technology, there is a cultural change that must happen with every company to be successful with DevOps. I feel quite comfortable sitting in the middle mediating this cultural shift. Coming from a software development background, I can clearly see and understand both the IT operational side as well as the software development principles this helps me to deliver value more effectively.
Do you have a favorite part of your job?
I quite enjoy solving complex problems or investigating performance-related and optimization issues. I also enjoy teaching, sharing, and mentoring others about best practices. Architecting a new system always comes with challenges but getting to experience the end result is always the best reward.
What are some of the challenges you faced during your career?
I believe one of the biggest challenges is the cultural shift towards the Cloud and DevOps. Embracing new technology, stepping out of comfort zones, and starting to rethink and re-architect is always tough. I find that software developers can sometimes be very attached to certain technologies or concepts that might have previously worked with in the past. Breaking old habits can be very challenging and making the case of a particular tool can be a nightmare to deal with.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
One of my biggest achievements was the complete redesign and re-architecture of the new e-commerce website at Rapha Racing Ltd in mid- 2018. There were some very challenging migrations taking place, but we were very well prepared beforehand enabling every fail-safe mechanism we had in place in case something went horribly wrong. Releasing such a huge change in such a short time can be very risky and for that reason, we opted more for safety rather than speed. Moments after the new infrastructure went live we could rapidly see the live system serving requests and starting to solve any issues on the fly.
Having all the tools in our arsenal and our ability to perform zero-downtime releases enabled us to fix the majority of bugs before they were even noticed by our customers. Α couple of months after the new website was launched we received the first position for best Navigation from the prestigious Webby awards in early 2019 which made me very proud.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
There is an aphorism from the famous mathematician Pythagoras which I always like to recall after every big project, achievement, or failure and it is related to self-reflection:
“What did I do that I shouldn’t have done?” “What did I do wrong?” “What should I have done and did not?”
I very much respect the process of self-reflection because it is the only effective process that can help one learn from their mistakes and become a better software engineer. One thing that I find very useful on such occasions is to establish a post-mortem culture. In the end, as also coined by Devin Carraway:
“The cost of failure is education”