SmartZip Analytics offers real estate analytics and predictive marketing solutions that enable companies to reach their customers ... more
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Decisions 11

Julien DeFrance

Principal Software Engineer at Tophatter

Back in 2014, I was given an opportunity to re-architect SmartZip Analytics platform, and flagship product: SmartTargeting. This is a SaaS software helping real estate professionals keeping up with their prospects and leads in a given neighborhood/territory, finding out (thanks to predictive analytics) who's the most likely to list/sell their home, and running cross-channel marketing automation against them: direct mail, online ads, email... The company also does provide Data APIs to Enterprise customers.

I had inherited years and years of technical debt and I knew things had to change radically. The first enabler to this was to make use of the cloud and go with AWS, so we would stop re-inventing the wheel, and build around managed/scalable services.

For the SaaS product, we kept on working with Rails as this was what my team had the most knowledge in. We've however broken up the monolith and decoupled the front-end application from the backend thanks to the use of Rails API so we'd get independently scalable micro-services from now on.

Our various applications could now be deployed using AWS Elastic Beanstalk so we wouldn't waste any more efforts writing time-consuming Capistrano deployment scripts for instance. Combined with Docker so our application would run within its own container, independently from the underlying host configuration.

Storage-wise, we went with Amazon S3 and ditched any pre-existing local or network storage people used to deal with in our legacy systems. On the database side: Amazon RDS / MySQL initially. Ultimately migrated to Amazon RDS for Aurora / MySQL when it got released. Once again, here you need a managed service your cloud provider handles for you.

Future improvements / technology decisions included:

Caching: Amazon ElastiCache / Memcached CDN: Amazon CloudFront Systems Integration: Segment / Zapier Data-warehousing: Amazon Redshift BI: Amazon Quicksight / Superset Search: Elasticsearch / Amazon Elasticsearch Service / Algolia Monitoring: New Relic

As our usage grows, patterns changed, and/or our business needs evolved, my role as Engineering Manager then Director of Engineering was also to ensure my team kept on learning and innovating, while delivering on business value.

One of these innovations was to get ourselves into Serverless : Adopting AWS Lambda was a big step forward. At the time, only available for Node.js (Not Ruby ) but a great way to handle cost efficiency, unpredictable traffic, sudden bursts of traffic... Ultimately you want the whole chain of services involved in a call to be serverless, and that's when we've started leveraging Amazon DynamoDB on these projects so they'd be fully scalable.

16 489.8K

Julien DeFrance

Principal Software Engineer at Tophatter

As a Engineering Manager & Director at SmartZip, I had a mix of front-end, back-end, #mobile engineers reporting to me.

Sprints after sprints, I noticed some inefficiencies on the MobileDev side. People working multiple sprints in a row on their Xcode / Objective-C codebase while some others were working on Android Studio. After which, QA & Product ensured both applications were in sync, on a UI/UX standpoint, creating addional work, which also happened to be extremely costly.

Our resources being so limited, my role was to stop this bleeding and keep my team productive and their time, valuable.

After some analysis, discussions, proof of concepts... etc. We decided to move to a single codebase using React Native so our velocity would increase.

After some initial investment, our initial assumptions were confirmed and we indeed started to ship features a lot faster than ever before. Also, our engineers found a way to perform this upgrade incrementally, so the initial platform-specific codebase wouldn't have to entirely be rewritten at once but only gradually and at will.

Feedback around React Native was very positive. And I doubt - for the kind of application we had - no one would want to go back to two or more code bases. Our application was still as Native as it gets. And no feature or device capability was compromised.

8 62.4K

Julien DeFrance

Principal Software Engineer at Tophatter


Which #GridFramework to use? My team and I closed on Bootstrap !

On a related note and as far as stylesheets go, we had to chose between #CSS, #SCSS, #Sass , Less Finally opted for Sass

As syntactically awesome as the name announces it.

6 18.3K

Julien DeFrance

Principal Software Engineer at Tophatter


Working with Ruby on Rails also means working with #RubyGems Most of the time, the community has some gems you can use and list down your #Gemfile. But sometimes, you also need to come up with your own proprietary ones to encapsulate and re-use some of your business logic.

It is critical that such repositories and their source code remain private, secure. Even though your code shouldn't contain any credentials, this still applies to your gems' distribution channels. Unless for parts you've willingly open sourced, you don't want your intellectual property stolen. therefore, not being an option for this use case, I faced two alternatives: accepting the overhead of maintaining my own gem server, or finding a service that does it for me.

Obviously, the latter was the way to go:

I chose Gemfury for its convenience, pricing model, and reliability.

Gemfury also allowed me/my team to publish gems via different methods: file upload, SSH, HTTPS, or as simple as a Git push.

6 5.6K

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Julien DeFrance