I have used AWS for more than five years. Working with my clients of all sizes and industries challenges my AWS knowledge every day. I also maintain several AWS open source projects that I try to keep up-to-date with the ever-improving AWS platform.
Let me show you my tips on staying up-to-date with AWS and learning new things. Here are three examples of the most exciting and surprising things I learned about AWS this year:
- Network Load Balancers
- Amazon Linux 2
- Amazon Cloud Directory
Network Load Balancers
When I started using AWS, there was one option to load balance HTTP and raw TCP traffic: what is now called a Classic Load Balancer. Since then, the portfolio of load balancers has expanded. You can now also choose the Application Load Balancer to distribute HTTP(S) traffic (including HTTP2 and WebSockets) or the Network Load Balancer, which operates on layer 4 to load balance TCP traffic.
When reading the Network Load Balancer announcement, I found myself interested in this shiny new thing. And that’s the first important part of learning something new: If you are interested in the topic, it’s much easier to learn.
Tip #1: Pick the topics that are interesting.
When I’m interested in a topic, I dive into the documentation and read it from top to bottom. It can take a few hours to finish reading before you can start using the new service or feature. However, you then know about all the concepts, best practices, and pitfalls, which saves you time in the long run.
Tip #2: Reading the documentation is a good investment.
Can I remember everything that I read? No. For example, there is one documented limitation to keep in mind when using the Network Load Balancer: Internal load balancers do not support hairpinning or loopback. I read about it and still ran into it. Sometimes, I have to learn the hard way as well.
Amazon Linux 2
Amazon Linux 2 is the successor of Amazon Linux. Both distributions come with a superb AWS integration, a secure default configuration, and regular security updates. You can open AWS Support tickets if you run into any problems.
So, what’s new with Amazon Linux 2? You get long-term support for five years and you can now run a copy of Amazon Linux 2 on your local machine or on premises. The most significant changes are the replacement of SysVinit with systemdand a new way to install additional software, also known as the extras library.
The systemd init system was all new to me. I decided that it was time to change that and I remembered a session from the local AWS User Group in my city about systemd that I had missed. Luckily, I knew the speaker well. I asked Thorsten a few questions to get an idea about the topics I should learn about to understand how systemd works.
There is always someone who knows what you want to learn. You have to find that person. I encourage you to connect with your local AWS community.
Tip #3: It’s easier to learn if you have a network of people to ask questions of and get inspired by.
Amazon Cloud Directory
One of my projects this year was all about hierarchical data. I was looking for a way to store this kind of data in AWS, and I discovered Amazon Cloud Directory. Cloud Directory was all new to me and seemed difficult to learn about. I read all of the documentation. Still, it was painful and I wanted to give up a few times. That’s normal. That’s why I reward myself from time to time (for example, read one more hour of docs and then go for a walk).
Tip #4: Learning a new thing is hard at first. Keep going.
Cloud Directory is a fully managed, hierarchical data store on AWS. Hierarchical data is connected using parent-child relationships. Let me give you an example. Imagine a chat system with teams and channels. The following figure shows a Cloud Directory data model for the imaginary chat system.
When you have a good understanding of a topic, it’s time to master it by using it. You also learn so much while explaining a concept to someone else. That’s why I wrote a blog post, A neglected serverless data store: Cloud Directory.
Tip #5: Apply your knowledge. Share your knowledge. Teach others.
Becoming an AWS expert is a journey without a final destination. There is always something more to learn. AWS is a huge platform with 100+ services and countless capabilities. The offerings are constantly changing.
I want to encourage you to become an AWS expert. Why not start with one of the new services released at re:Invent this year? Pick the one that is most interesting for you. Read the documentation. Ask questions of others. Be inspired by others. Apply your knowledge. Share with a blog post or a talk to your local AWS user group. Isn’t this what an expert does?