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We flew one of our students, Ondrej Toffolet, out to Las Vegas for AWS re:INVENT 2017 as part of our “Win a Trip to re:Invent” contest. Interested in a student perspective, we got Ondrej to interview with us about re:Invent, Linux Academy, and tech as a whole. Check it out below!

How did you initially hear about Linux Academy and what intrigued you to find out more?
Well, when I moved to the US a couple years ago and I started my career at Applied Systems as a DevOps, I realized that I had to acquire a really wide scope of new skills (especially Linux and AWS). I was trying to find the best online source which would cover all of my needs. I remember that it took me awhile before I found the right place; I have tried a few of your competitors and nobody covered the things that I was looking for. When I found Linux Academy, I purchased only a monthly subscription, and I realized shortly after that I should go for an annual membership. You literally have boosted my career and you have been helping me through all my Linux and AWS Certs. Of course, it is not only about the certifications: It is mainly about the process of gaining new skills and knowledge itself.

As the winner of our re:Invent contest, can you tell us a little about yourself and your AWS background?
Sure, my name is Ondrej Toffolet. I am originally from Prague, the capital city of Czech Republic. I met my wife Barbara when she was studying as an exchange student in Prague. We got married almost 5 years ago, and last winter my daughter Natalie was born.
I work for Applied Systems as a Lead DevOps. Our division has an office in Lincoln, NE and our main focus is Applied Rater – it is a cloud-based insurance quoting application for independent agencies that automates quoting workflow. Applied Systems itself is the leading global provider of cloud-based software that powers the business of insurance.
Our Lincoln division utilizes AWS for the majority of our server hosting. Currently, I hold all three AWS Associate Certs. My goal is to achieve the DevOps Pro and Security Certs (if it will be announced) in 2018.
What were some of your favorite talks while at re:Invent? Tell us a little about them.
I registered myself for the breakout sessions pretty late, so I was a “Walk-In” on more than 95% of the sessions. I have already watched online a few 400-level breakout sessions on topics such as Networking, Security, and DevOps.
I have tens of hours of breakout sessions that I would like to watch, and I hope that I will find enough time for it.
Outside from the breakout sessions, I had a lot of luck regarding the people who I met this year. I spent a couple hours in the company of a Solution Engineer from one enterprise consultation firm. We went through a lot of AWS topics, and he guided me along the right path in a few of my own projects. I just hope that I will not receive a bill for that consultation in the near future. 😀
I also had a really interesting conversation with a guy from Minneapolis, who takes care of an AWS user group there. An AWS User Group started in Lincoln, NE a few months ago and it was encouraging to hear how their AWS user group has been growing.
AWS made a number of huge announcements at re:Invent. Are there any new services and features you’re especially excited for? Why?
There are several announcements which blew my mind. Some of these are:

  • Amazon GuardDuty – I literally enabled GuardDuty the following week I got back from re:Invent. I was looking for some threat detection service for a while.
  • Aurora multi master node and Aurora serverless – What should I say about this? – I am speechless. I have already asked AWS to be on whitelists for preview groups for these features. Plus, I am not sure if this was officially announced already, but there will soon be AWS RDS Performance Insights for Aurora MySQL. These features will help build a much stronger position for Aurora RDS in the market, for sure.
  • Spot Instance Hibernation and Spot on RunInstances – I would like to start utilize Spot Instances in our production environments and those announcements have made my decision easier.
  • AWS Systems Manager, Inter-Region VPC Peering, so on and so forth.

re:Invent isn’t just tech talks — there’s plenty of hands-on activities, social events, and even some sports and games, not to mention the huge amount of businesses and booths. What were some of your favorite “non-talk” events? Where there any must-attend events you would recommend people check out at future re:Invent conferences?
A really nice start for re:Invent 2017 was the cocktail launch of Linux Academy. It was an amazing experience to meet people who stand behind this project. I have listened to dozens and dozens of hours of LA courses, so it was kind of surreal to talk with the instructors and see them in person.
I also attended a few more cocktail parties hosted by some of our vendors, and again, I was glad for this opportunity to build stronger connections with them.
Both years I missed the GameDay event, and I will try not to miss it in 2018. Last year and this year, I have taken an AWS Cert exam at the beginning of the conference and then the rest of re:Invent was like a nice reward for me. Definitely, Pub Crawl and re:Play party are must-attend events.
Do you have any tips for future conventions-goers?
My first re:Invent was in 2016, and I spent all my days at breakout sessions, which was pretty exhausting. This year, I decided to spend much more time networking, speaking with vendors, and with AWS engineers. Those six days of re:Invent 2017 probably got me more than any on-site training that would cost a similar amount of money. I am reluctant to give tips, but I will happily share my strategy for the following years:

  • Breakout sessions are online within two weeks, they are not Pokémon (or AWS Certifications) so don’t try to catch them all and don’t waste time waiting in lines.
  • Network, network, network – re:Invent is all about the people and the unique conversations that you can have with people from all around the world.
  • re:Invent is once a year (so far); plan the trip ahead.
  • A few quick points: Book a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip; try to personally meet the current and potential vendors; one day = one venue; have at least two pairs of comfortable shoes, ChapStick, powerbank; make your own calendar (don’t be dependent only on the re:Invent app)

What do you like most about the Linux Academy platform? Which features have been the most helpful for your training?
I am amazed at how wide the scope of your courses is – DevOps, AWS, Linux, Containers, other cloud platforms, and so on. I probably enjoy how deep the content of each course is the most.
I look at LA as a whole, which has several different features. The combination of all those pieces builds a great learning platform. If I should point out a few features, I really like (but also partially dislike 🙂 ) the “Course Scheduler” which shows me that I am behind and it keeps me motivated to stay on track. Learning Paths are a nice guidance which has helped me at the beginning of my Linux journey. I should not forget to mention the Hands-on Labs and effective Quick Training.
Have you gotten a chance to delve into Cloud Assessments? What do you think about it so far?
For the first time, I ran a few AWS CSA Quests shortly before our interview and it over-exceeded my expectations. I presume that I just found a new way to successfully shrink my sleeping hours. I like how you can build your own ENV (pre-provisioned by CA) based on the requirements within a predefined time frame. At the end of the Quest, your ENV will be subjected to a stress test – really great idea. Honestly, until now I didn’t know that I have been missing something like this.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with other Linux Academy and Cloud Assessment students?
For me, it is pretty hard to start something new, and also it is not easy to stay focused and motivated because from time to time there have to be some sacrifices. However, it pays off in the future. I try to motivate myself and keep the mindset that learning should mainly be about the process and the journey of achieving something rather than just about the achievement itself.
Due to the lack of time to try new things, I am happy for LA and CA, AWS blogs, IT blogs, Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News, and other sources which help me keep an eye on the other services and technologies which I don’t actively use.
What do you see for this industry in the next 3-5 years?
Heh, this is not an easy question and all, and I dare not guess which technology we will be mainly using in 5 years in the Public Cloud. I presume that the main trends will continue to be like they are now: AI/ML, Serverless, and Containers.
The Public Cloud will be taking more and more from the traditional on-prem market. This will allow a much higher speed  for innovations inside the Public Cloud. AWS will strengthen its leading role in the market and penetrate the CEE and other regions. There will still be a significant percentage of companies that will not be able or willing to fully utilize the Public Cloud and its newest technologies. In this case, the partnership between AWS and VMware comes handy and the Hybrid Cloud will be growing as well. Generally, the providers of the Public Cloud will continue with developing easier tools for CI/CD. These tools in combination with AI/ML will open the gates to a much wider scope of developers. The Public Cloud itself gets cheaper, and we can already see this trend.
I am kind of nervous about the future of IoT and IA. The IoT industry supplies the market with an enormous amount of devices with a lack of security. This goes hand in hand with Big Data and IA/ML, where everything will be more easily predictable and focused on with a much higher accuracy to each person or household.
What are your 5 year career goals?
I usually make personal and career goals for the upcoming year because it is much easier to predict and plan; the world, our personal surroundings, and especially our crazy IT industry are developing and changing at a very quick pace all the time.
If I will be speaking in general – my long-term goal is to lead a team of professionals. My desire now is to continue gaining knowledge and skills at a fast pace (I have a long list of skills and certifications I would like to acquire), as well as to not get bored or burned out in my career.
I have been lucky for the strong support of my family and my current employer for being able to focus on self-improvement and personal development. I really appreciate everyone in my life who has supported me – especially my wife.
Ondrej also met and spoke with CEO/Founder, Anthony, at AWS re:invent, take a look here:

Closing Remarks
I wish Linux Academy & Cloud Assessments only the best. Please continue with the great work, and I look forward to new courses and features which you will provide us in the following years.
Thanks again for joining us at AWS re:Invent this year, Ondrej! We all had a great time meeting you and speaking with you! We hope 2018 brings you even more successes!


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