The pros and cons of an e-learning course about continuous deployment

New versions of our ePages software are currently released every three weeks. The update scripts are adjusted for the different providers and then installed with Capistrano by our Application Management team with zero downtime. For our new product we’d like to take this a step further by including the deployment on the production system into the definition of done for a user story. As I was involved in the creation of the first draft of the process definition I took the e-learning course Continuous Deployment from Industrial Logic to educate myself further in this area. My target was to derive some inspiration for our new process.

Scope of the course

The course is a series of 144 slides. It covers all the topics involved in automatically deploying the changes to the production system after a commit in the version control. The description of the different techniques was rounded up with little comic stories.

In addition to that, the course had practical exercises. By pushing a button an AWS instance was fired up which contained a simple Python/Django web application, Jenkins CI server, and SVN repository. The exercises were done with test-driven development. After the activation of an exercise there were failing tests. The tasks covered extended Selenium tests, zero-downtime database updates and the implementation of a coupon code feature with feature toggles.

Furthermore, there were many multiple choice quizzes. The answers contained statistics about other participant’s answers. There were also two very short videos.

Pros

  • The practical exercises are a very nice idea. After completing the course I have new experience with things I only read about before, e.g. feature toggles.
  • It costs about six times less than a comparable on-site training while there are similar or maybe better learnings.
  • The course is easier to digest than a book and faster to work through it. Thus it’s easier to find the time to work through it during office hours.
  • It is not necessary to take notes about everything and then rework the notes for later reference.

Cons

  • Even though I had the official approval for training during working hours, it is impossible to find the time to do the exercises in the office. I had to find other time slots to do the course.
  • Lots of the examples were not yet applicable for our specific situation.
  • As Python/Django is not our technology stack, wrapping my head around our Kubernetes deployment process is still a challenge for me.
  • More focus on the videos would have been nice. Longer and more frequent videos would have helped to describe complex matters.

Conclusion

The attendance of the e-learning course did not pay off yet. The initial stages of our deployment pipeline are already covered by the Continuous Delivery book. However, I still recommend this learning approach and also this specific course. It improved my understanding of the subject and will also serve as a source for new improvement ideas for our continuous delivery pipeline.