Hack Day Recap: Rackspace and Graze Explore New AWS Tools

Rackspace + Graze
The Rackspace UK and Graze developer teams cheer after an exciting day working together

As software developers, we often get caught up in the trap of churning stuff out. The demand for shipping code becomes our number one goal and we rarely get the chance to cut our teeth on new technologies and evaluate their impact on our current architecture.

However, one of the most important things you can do as a developer is play. Playing with the latest and greatest technologies helps us hone our skills and add to our tool belts. This week, Rackspace UK teamed up with developers from the healthy snack service Graze to do that very thing — play — and we did so during a friendly hack day at Graze’s UK headquarters in London.

The goal of the hack day was to expose Graze to new AWS technologies and provide support as they worked through the learning curve. Because Rackspace has a close partnership with AWS, we were able to expose Graze to closed AWS betas such as Lex, and other new AWS technologies like Polly, Rekognition, and Athena.

The teams were also allowed to use supporting serverless technologies such as DynamoDB, Lambda, and S3, and the results were astounding. In a short seven hours, we saw several completed projects, two of which involved updating the front door security system at Graze’s office.

By using S3 to host a website, and Lambda to handle the back-end API work, the teams were able to submit an image of a Graze employee to Rekognition for processing. Upon recognition of the employee, one team even went so far as to greet the employee with speech generated from text by AWS Polly.

Another team learned enough Java in a single day to create a working interface for Athena using Java Database Connectivity. This teamwork allowed some of the other teams to test querying S3 stored data with Athena.

Our winning team, aptly named the AWSTARS, built an integrated question and response system using Lex. The working prototype allowed someone to message Graze through Facebook using the Facebook integration for Lex. The user could send something like, “My Graze box has not arrived yet.” To which Lex would respond through Facebook, “What is your email?” thus continuing the conversation with the customer.

The conversation went on to the point where Lex could send the collected data to a Lambda, which allowed them to take action to find the missing box. One of the reasons this team was picked as a winner was due to the immediate application of this tool to the Graze business model.

In addition to coding some amazing projects against some incredible technology, the Graze and Rackspace teams also took time to get a little crazy and experiment with VR technologies such as Google Colors Tilt, and the iCaros VR flight wing suit experience.

As it turns out, developers can be athletic and daring, as long as it’s in the safety of the Graze HQ lobby. I think I’m still a little woozy from the flight wing suit simulator.

To wrap up the hack day, I took time to sit with some of the developers and find out what they thought about the technologies we had shown them throughout the day. Interestingly, the first comments were centered around how amazing the new AI technology from AWS is.

The room favorite was Rekognition, followed closely by Lex. Serverless architecture itself was a bit new to Graze. Getting to see, first hand, how quickly one can achieve an active service without the need for standing up a server, was very exciting to the developers.

From a Rackspace perspective, it was great to be able to share our cloud expertise to help Graze experience the latest and greatest AWS has to offer and to see it in action. It reinforced my vision of Rackspace’s role in this endeavor, and much of what we do, as enablers.

We enable others to step past the architecture and just code. We enable pioneers to change the world without being stuck in the day-to-day worries of architectural best practices. Once again, thank you to Graze for letting us crash your amazing London offices and thank you for letting us work with you in a healthy hack.

Visit Rackspace to find out more about our AWS expertise and ways we can help your business grow using this evolving suite of technologies.

Eric Johnson is the AWS Evangelist at Rackspace. He has been working with AWS technologies as a developer and an architect for the last six years. His passion for all things new in cloud technologies drive him to be a lifetime student and fanatical speaker on all things cloud.

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