Blog | Tombola Careers
AWS London Summit 2022
What is it?
“AWS Summits are free events that bring the cloud computing community together to connect, collaborate, and learn about AWS. At the AWS Summits, you can learn how to choose the right database, modernize your data warehouse, and drive digital transformation using AI. Summits are held in major cities around the world and attract technologists from all industries and skill levels who want to discover how AWS can help them innovate quickly and deliver flexible, reliable solutions at scale.” – Amazon Web Services
How it went
The day began with a keynote speech from leaders in the AWS business, where they also introduced some key customers who believe they have really proved AWS’ capability as a cloud provider for their business. This year they introduced tech leaders from Ocado Technology, Cazoo, and Genomics England to talk about their vastly different use cases and how the AWS cloud offered the right mix of services for them.
Throughout the day the 8 of us had the opportunity to attend sessions or workshops put on by AWS to cover topics ranging from event driven and asynchronous design patterns, AI & Machine Learning to environmental impact and improving system stability. Some of the talks are run by AWS employees who are experts in the services they are talking about; and some are run in partnership with other customers who want to tell you how they have used a particular combination of AWS services to benefit their organisation. The talks are set up across various levels of difficulty, so you can pick and choose between high level product information and more technical deep dives into services and best practices.
When not attending a session, we found ourselves walking around the Expo Hall; this meant we got the chance to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about products and technologies which could be useful for existing or future projects here at tombola. All the people we met were just as enthusiastic about technology and AWS as we are. Plus, there was no shortage of swag and stickers to be collected from the exhibitioners!
A small group of us also had a chance to partake in another AWS Game Day (see here to the last one we did, AWS Game Day) Although this one was focused on the AWS DeepRacer league where cars are driven by AI – the session built on AWS’ recent partnership with F1. Although it was a bit shorter than the Game Day we ran in the office, only lasting 90 minutes, the session was packed with new challenges to test our knowledge base and introduce new things which we did not know were possible with AWS. Such as the DeepRacer modelling system that could be modified to teach the car to navigate the given track, we also got to play with more DynamoDB and AWS Step functions (state machines) for simulated car systems.
Overall, it was an amazing day for all involved and we hope to have a chance to do to many more things like the AWS Summit in the future. It was great to be back to attending events like this in person again, with up to 10,000 people at the conference in all.
P.S we were put into a fancy hotel and fed lovely food
AWS GameDay at tombola
We had the pleasure of hosting an AWS Game Day for our techies within tombola. For me it was a chance to get more hands-on experience with some AWS tech and learn something new whilst working with a different group of people.
What is it?
"GameDay is a collaborative learning exercise that tests skills in implementing AWS solutions to solve real-world problems in a gamified, risk-free environment. This is a completely hands-on opportunity for technical professionals to explore AWS services, architecture patterns, best practices, and group cooperation.
The setting for every GameDay is our famous (fictitious) narrative. Participants are new hires at Unicorn.Rentals and this is their first day on the job." - Amazon Web Services
Who’s it for?
Anyone with some knowledge of AWS services or keen to learn more about them. For this one you definitely needed some level of hands-on experience with AWS. We sent round a self-assessment for people to rate themselves so we could pick levelled teams with a good mix of experience.
Why do it?
Put yourself out of your comfort zone, work with new people who you don't work with day-to-day, learn something new and have fun!
The day was co-ordinated by someone internally with our AWS account manager. It was held in-person at our tombola house office in Sunderland. We assembled on the bleachers for 10am where we were introduced to the day by a representative from AWS. The introduction was done remotely on a big screen however AWS had sent us a group of Solutions Architects to assist with the day, if we had and questions or issues along the way.
The day begins and we are now new employees of Unicorn Rentals. Their DevOps team all left and we are dropped in to save the day!
The 8 Teams were announced in the morning and after the kick-off we got together in our teams to start setting up. All infrastructure is within an AWS owned environment so very little is required in terms of configuration before the day. Once you're over the difficult decision of a team name its onto the Readme instructions. This describes the structure of the environment you'll be working in and each section has a subsequent readme detailing the service and how it should be deployed. They detailed a few helpful little hints and tips for debugging some issues that you might experience during the day, after that, it’s down to you!
As you start deploying services and get them working, your team will start to collect points on the leader board, it feels great, 30 mins in and you’re loving life, how hard can it be? Everything’s done, what next?....CHAOS!
At certain points levels your seemingly happy services start catching fire and you need to diagnose and extinguish those fires. That’s where the pain fun begins. The whole day lasted about 4/5 hours and we had some solid scores at the end of the day. It was close at the top and Uniquecorn were our winners on the day!
As part of the day we'd organised some swag bags for those who took part. A special thanks needs to go to our fab catering team who produced a huge amount of homemade stone baked style pizzas to keep everyone fuelled to focus on the day!
We had prizes for the best teams on the day and a few drinks in our on-site bar afterwards to celebrate victory or in my case, drown my sorrows!
All in all, a pretty fun day at work and excited to learn more to be better prepared for the next one we host.
re:Invent 2021 outside the talks
Outside of talks?
The AWS bugbust was a lot of fun, Amazon CodeGuru (basically a code analyser) has reviewed a large codebase and spat out a huge number of “bugs”. Developers could just grab said bugs and bust them; they were all pretty small low effort fixes that tend to litter a larger codebase. I enjoyed the gamification, having a leader board and encouraging platform was fun. I think it would be an engaging and enjoyable process to include in the team. We could get a list of low effort bugs, the ones that sit in the backlog deprioritised until they bite us and plough through them in a couple of days.
Loads of cool IOT at the builder’s fair one of particular note was the automated beer brewing. As an avid homebrewer this piqued my interest, disappointingly I can’t seem to find a blog on the project, but I will try and summarise.
Brewing beer is basically four steps
- Mash – the process of extracting fermentable sugars from your grains by steeping in water
- Boil – boiling the sweet wort (extracted fermented sugary liquid) and adding hops at different times to add flavour and bitterness.
- Ferment – the process where yeast turns sugar into alcohol
- Condition – the painful period needed after fermentation for the beer to clear and flavours to mature
The automations were really focused on the fermentation process, a Bluetooth float was added to the fermenting beer this regularly sent data about the progress of fermentation by measuring the thickness of the liquid (sugar is thicker than alcohol). This data was then sent via a raspberry pie to AWS IOT core, which sends the data via a lambda to a database, you can then use Graphana to visualise the data and see in real time from anywhere how your beer is doing. The temperature is also measured in a similar way and a head pad is triggered when the temperature drops below a threshold. Finally, a pump is triggered when the beer reaches its target gravity and it can be automatically transferred to a keg or secondary fermenter. So really you could set this up so you get the beer fermenting and come back to finished beer.
Well, this is all quite interesting it’s doesn’t do anything to solve the real problem with homebrewing, cleaning.
There are some really fun use cases for IoT core, keep an eye out here for re:invent 2021 builders fair projects
Gameday: Secure legends
We had a really good time at the gameday, it’s a scenario based free for all of a workshop. We were presented with a fictitious business and AWS account that had not invested at all in security or good practices. We needed to work in a team to rapidly fix all the issues.
The gamification made it really fun and working and coordinating in a team really helped us progress and enjoy the experience. I spend the majority of my time debugging and fixing a ruby on rails codebase and improving a devilishly destructive ci/cd pipeline.
We did chat about the possibility of running one of these in the office, they were fun and provider some real-world hands-on learning. Sometimes workshops can feel very paint by numbers this was free flow chaos!
Outside the conference we had an incredible time! Las Vegas is an incredible and ridiculous city, I spend a good portion of the week wondering around the strip slack jawed staring at the lights, fountains, fire and madness! There were loads of sponsored events we popped along to on the evenings, failing to hit golf balls at top golf and enjoying the beer and views at Beerpark to name a few.
Re:Play is the after party and of course the scale was ridiculous, there were loads of activities like dodgeball, arcade games and a silent disco as well as live music which blew my mind.
While I learned a good amount and had some really good chats with others in my industry at re:invent I maintain the real value of getting away for a conference is to be in a work mindset outside of work. Being away and chatting to other members of the team is really invigorating, I’ve come back completely amped to make the world a better place!
It was a blast, great going away with some great people I really don’t chat to enough, what an incredible perk to get away like this, I am spoilt rotten at tombola!!
Also I met Marshall so my son Dylan was happy!
re:Invent 2021 key themes and talks
re:Invent is a conference at a scale that I couldn’t really comprehend, kinda like Las Vegas, with a huge amount of talks, workshops and events it was really hard work making the most of it, but we gave it a good go. I’ll take some time to summarise some of the key learnings and standouts of my wonderfully exhausting trip.
I generally find every conference I go to there are themes and buzzwords that are very prevalent, this was no exception.
Like ourselves many companies start off with a big monolithic codebase with a big enterprise database like SQL, and now as their applications begin to decompose into smaller more manageable chunks so should the database. AWS are pushing the agenda of using the right database for the job, one size really doesn’t fit all. There are basically aws database types for all your data needs and a series of migration tools to help you get there. In the new world of smaller services, we have the flexibility to use the best database for the job, we need to use it wisely.
Making use of huge amounts of data is a growing problem/opportunity in most businesses, we are no exception. There were a huge amount of tech companies and consultancies offering analytics as a service and AWS are enhancing there offering by essentially making redshift and kinesis “serverless”.
AI and ML have changed significantly in the past few years, there are a huge number of services that can hold your hand and basically train your models for you, it seems that generally use cases for ml are generic enough that you can pick a template off the shelf. It’s incredibly accessible
A big focus of the talk has been about app modernization (moving all your stuff onto cloud native technologies for the full cloud shackled experience). There are some interesting tools in preview that can help with this.
Migration hub refactor spaces lets you define applications and start rerouting traffic to microservices using the strangler pattern, you could do this with load balancers or api gateway manually, but this does hold your hand through the setup. I did find it very clunky that you needed to hank crank the proxy to get it to work but I imagine this would be streamlined on the release.
Below is a diagram that illustrates the pattern, it’s fairly straight forward, add a façade layer in front of your application so you can start carving off routes to microservices.
The migration hub has loads of features to build migration plan and action it.
Amplify studio is a visual development environment to simplify front end development, you can pull in basic components and define backend APIs and models in a simple but limited way. You can define your own components and functionality within and without the framework, it does seem to provide a lot of the boiler plate and a nice framework to get started with. As a terrible front end developer, I would be interested to try create something and compare the experience.
Probably not the most relevant to web development but a very cool idea. 5g is extremely fast often faster than fibre in some areas. With private 5g you can create a private network without the need of routers and extension points all over the place. A very useful prospect for campuses and large offices.
Something's bugging our Marketing Team
One of the things that I love most about working at tombola is the opportunities that come my way.
If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I’d be at a TV shoot with a very small castle for invisible insects… well, I’d probably have a few questions about why that’d be anyone’s dream job? But that’s exactly what we’ve been up to in the broadcast team this month as we prepare for our fifth year of sponsoring I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! And I love it.
Our tombola arcade brand first partnered with the biggest show on ITV in 2017, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll probably have seen our #tombolabugs campaign on TV over the years. Working alongside our creative agency uber, every year we create a set of (hilarious - yes, I do like to laugh at my own jokes!) sponsorship idents that sit around the show’s content.
Our cast of critters happen to find a misplaced celeb’s phone and discover the tombola arcade games. In the idents they get to know each other just like their celeb campmate counterparts, discuss some classic show moments and play our low stake, unique games.
The 22-day sponsorship campaign is fairly intense, so we always look to refresh the creative with new jokes, games and sometimes a new bug or two. Earlier this month some of the team travelled to Leeds for a two day shoot.
The attention to detail on the micro-castle set was mind blowing, and we got some fantastic footage. This week we worked through two whole days of bug voice over sessions to record this year’s new scripts, with just five weeks to go we’re really excited to see this year’s campaign come to life.
Congratulations to our Graduates
Congratulations to Cameron Laing, Kaine Miller and Michael Cooper.
Here their managers tell us why they've loved having the guys as part of their teams.
This week, some of our team members are graduating after a long few years of lots of hard work. They joined as Graduate Apprentices back in September 2018, whilst studying Digital and Technology Solutions at The University of Sunderland and they're finally completing their studies to begin new, permanent roles with tombola.
Congratulations to Cameron Laing, Kaine Miller and Michael Cooper.
Here their managers tell us why they've loved having the guys as part of their teams.
"Cam has been and will continue to be an asset to both the Ops Support team and the tombola family. Cams mains duties in the world of Ops Support has been our account/ equipment provisioning and providing top quality support to our colleagues when needed.
As part of his studies Cam has been working with the team on some automation works for the user account provisioning process to help make this process easier to the team and help in the quick onboarding of our new starters.
I'm sure everyone at some point has been helped by Cam and I look forward to working with Cam for years to come. "
Graeme Orton, Ops Support Manager
"From their first days in the office Michael and Kaine were affectionately referred to as Michael Kaine, inseparable from each other but also there to support each other on their tombola journey.
It didn’t take long though for both Michael and Kaine to show their own personalities and integrate into the team. Although when we realised they hadn’t seen Jurassic Park it made the rest of us feel pretty old.
After this both Michael and Kaine took on projects on their own.
After starting with Emoji Michael was tasked with helping out on a variety of projects ranging from ticket fetchers to updating our games to help with the release of Sweden and Denmark's suite of arcade games. Michael was also instrumental in the work on Flip to add in the new bonus rounds. Once Flip was live, Michael began work on a new scratch mechanic that unfortunately never saw the light of day due to mechanic issues however his work and attitude on that project was always positive.
Currently Michael is working on our next free game which is scheduled for release in January.
The next undertaking for Kaine was working on multiple game rewrites to bring them up to date with our newer tech stack. The list of games he worked on includes spin 1, spin 2, glow and bubble. Kaine then spent some time updating our game lobbies to help accommodate our rapidly expanding suite of games. More recently Kaine helped update the I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! free game.
Currently, Kaine is working on a match and win game.
The biggest compliment I can pay to both Michael and Kaine during their time at tombola is that after their first few months we didn’t see them as apprentices, they were developers, and more importantly they were members of the team."
Tom Jolly, Game Lead - arcade
A big tombola welcome
What a rewarding month June was! It’s been great to see so many new faces joining us, and to see so many teams expanding.
At tombola we run group Inductions every month to welcome all our new starters and over the last 6 months we have had around 90 people join an induction! In June we had so many people that we had to cover this over two separate sessions.
We really try to make our inductions as informative, but fun as possible. Here’s a snapshot of what we cover and the teams who cover all things tombola.
Ops Support team
Our Ops Support team give regular support to everyone throughout our business on a daily basis. When someone new joins us the team are on hand to help, whether that's setting up teams, emails, systems etc, basically making sure everyone is ready to go from day one.
The HR team are usually one of the first teams that anyone will speak to when joining us. On top of sorting contracts, carrying out employment checks and setting people up on internal intranet & HR system, the HR team is also on hand to answer questions from new starters and managers in the run up to someone’s first day. The team host a session for our new starters covering who’s who in our people team, as well as some of our great benefits and perks.
Learning and Development
Our Learning and Development team give our new starters a run down of all thing's tombola covering; our brand, our history, our values, the structure of our departments and much more.
Safeplay at tombola
Responsible gambling is at the heart of everything we do at tombola so it's important to us that everyone gets to hear from our Safeplay team as soon as they join. Our new starters are introduced to our tools and features, the importance of Safeplay, the impact this can have on our players and why our teams do what they do.
FY22 plans and tombola’s strategy
Our COO James comes along to every induction to host a meet and greet with the group. He also talks through the FY22 plans and our strategy. This helps everyone understand our business objectives and the part we all play in achieving our goals.
An introduction to tombola arcade & tombola bingo
Our bingo & arcade teams join us to give our new starters a taste of what our games look like. We’re also introduced to the structure of the teams, important terminology, our brand values and where we sit in the market.
Our Infosec team come along to make sure our new starters have a solid understanding of all things Information Security and help people know what to do and where to go if they notice anything suspicious.
An hour in the life of a Chat Moderator
Everyone who joins us gets the chance to spend some time with our chat team and experience what it’s actually like to be a Chat Moderator. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to see what our player community is like, how we interact with them and the work that goes on behind the scenes.
We’re always reviewing and finding ways to make the tombola induction experience a great one for everyone that joins. The feedback we receive from our new starters, plays a crucial part in paving the way for any changes or enhancements we make to our induction programme.
Diversity in our tech teams
Our people are encouraged to be their authentic selves at work and we’re super proud of having a diverse workforce. We really care about diversity and recognise there’s a lot more progress we can make in this area.
Despite our overall workforce being made up of 59% women and non-binary individuals, this isn't always the case within our technology teams. We're therefore committed to ensuring we create equal opportunities within our tech teams to support our goal for a diverse and representative workforce.
Recently we celebrated a promotion which meant we have our very first female tech lead. We want to keep building on this and achieve further diversity in our entire tech team and this is why we’re currently working on building an internal Women Support Network which will be inclusive of they/them and she/her. The aim is to empower this group to bring about positive change within tombola.
We’ve also recently opened our graduate scheme and we think this is an ideal opportunity for more diversity in our tech teams.
Application Modernisation Team
As mentioned in a previous article about Durable teams tombola has come a long way since its inception.
From a technology perspective there have been many, many achievements that should and have been celebrated. tombola has grown to become quite complex in terms of technology. This increase in complexity is natural in a growing business. It is often required to improve performance or speed of delivery. However, in some places our technology has become unnecessarily complex and is a result of an evolution in many different areas.
It’s easy to look at our technology and look at some of the decisions that have been made with the gift of hindsight and see where another direction might have been better, but I think this does us all a disservice. We have achieved a lot over the years and our technology has helped enable lots of these achievements.
Being critical of our technology is essential though, but only if we turn criticism into positive action. We’re all used to retrospective reviews, whether it be games, payments projects or “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” but we rarely do this with our overall technology landscape at tombola and as tombola grows this starts to cause more and more challenges.
We have several large development teams at tombola, all with their own goals and objectives. It’s important that each team is empowered and enabled to be a distinct unit with complete technical freedom but that comes at a price. This freedom increases the risk that two different development teams solve the same or similar problems in two completely separate ways. This costs tombola time from a development and operational perspective.
This is a common problem in technology and most businesses solve this problem with a separate technology architecture board, or team, that designs all system implementations. In my opinion there are more serious problems with this approach though, such as limiting innovation and restricting ideas to a few select people. This not only limits innovation but also limits ownership.
This technical freedom is quite unique. You don’t see this in many organisations because of the challenges it creates. The benefits are great though. The problem we have now is that the challenges are starting to encroach on the benefits. If we don’t start to consider and retrospectively review our technology landscape soon the balance may start to tip in the wrong direction.
To solve this problem, we are introducing what we are calling “The Application Modernisation Team” (we'll refer to it as AMT).
What is the AMT?
We have long felt the need for something that fostered more collaboration and sharing between the tech teams. We have tried things in the past that didn’t work due to a lack of resource or ownership (Technical Innovation Team).
You can think of the AMT as a Durable Team focused on technology. The AMT will be a small virtual team. The team will include our most senior developers and engineers and will also be different people over time depending on the tech being looked at. The AMT members will be responsible for building a strategy and vision collaboratively. Their main focus will be to review the group wide technology landscape and solve group wide technology challenges. The stuff that isn’t owned by a single team.
How will the AMT work?
The AMT will initially spend a lot of time reviewing our platform technology capabilities and collaboratively highlighting capabilities that could be useful to tombola. They will use these highlighted required capabilities to formulate a strategy and plan to deliver these capabilities. They will then be responsible for delivering these capabilities.
Introducing Meet Free Mornings
Our people have made us so proud over the last year with how well they have adapted to a new way of working in such unusual circumstances. We know that working from home has brought with it many positives for them, but also many challenges - an increased amount of time in virtual meetings being one of them. After over a year of working this way and listening to feedback from our recent staff survey, we know it's important that we learn and adapt to ensure we’re equipping our people to be at their very best.
So, from next week we're introducing Meet Free Mornings on a Thursday each week across the whole business. We hope that this dedicated meeting free time is a chance for our people to really focus on getting things done – maybe it’s that thing that's been on their to do list forever or just the opportunity to get away from their screen and come up with ideas, designs or plans.
For those of the team who ordinarily work in the office full time the idea is that we’ll keep this going when we're all back together in the office too.
This shift in the way we work will hopefully give everyone the opportunity to get uninterrupted time and enable them to be at their very best.