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VA.gov Provides an API to Get Information about Veterans

In this episode of Running in Production, Charley Stran goes over building the developer.va.gov API with Ruby on Rails and React. It’s running on 10+ auto scaling EC2 instances on AWS GovCloud and has been since mid-2018.

There’s around 140,000+ lines of code and ~20 developers. We covered what it’s like working on government contracts, how AWS GovCloud is different than the regular AWS platform, the code base being open source, code reviews and a whole lot more.

Topics Include

  • 2:17 – 20 developers (~50 people total) run just the developer.va.gov site
  • 3:10 – The platform has been up and running for 18+ months
  • 4:28 – Motivation for using Ruby on Rails
  • 5:55 – The application is running Rails 5.2, but they want to upgrade to 6.x
  • 6:14 – It’s currently a single Rails monolith but it may get broken up at some point
  • 8:13 – What’s it like working on a government contract?
  • 9:13 – The app is roughly 140,000+ lines of code which is API driven and uses React
  • 10:25 – The entire application is open source on GitHub (to my surprise)
  • 11:32 – What makes React a good fit for this application? Complicated forms mostly
  • 13:56 – The VA has their own UI design specifications publicly posted
  • 15:09 – Tailwind CSS isn’t being used but Charley likes it
  • 16:07 – Docker is being used in production and it runs on AWS GovCloud
  • 17:59 – PostgreSQL and Redis are used but there’s not a ton of data in the DB
  • 18:45 – How AWS GovCloud is different than the regular AWS platform
  • 20:32 – It’s all on EC2 instances that’s managed by Terraform and Ansible
  • 21:15 – They use Auto Scaling Groups, CloudWatch, SNS, Elasticsearch and more
  • 22:45 – Sentry.io is being used for error reporting
  • 23:03 – Getting external services approved for usage on AWS GovCloud
  • 23:56 – On average 10-15 t3.large instances power the web servers, but it fluctuates a lot
  • 25:41 – The EC2 instances are running the Amazon Linux 2 AMI
  • 26:35 – Each deploy takes about 20 minutes to run from start to finish
  • 27:28 – Charley walks us through deploying from development to production
  • 29:24 – So far he hasn’t had to get woken up at 3am (except from his 2 year old)
  • 30:07 – Jenkins controls their CI pipeline, which is kicked off from git pushing code
  • 30:54 – With multiple instances and an ELB, there are zero downtime deploys
  • 31:16 – Database migrations can sometimes get complicated
  • 32:14 – They aim for 90%+ test coverage
  • 33:10 – Between 2 and 5 developers typically review code before it gets merged
  • 33:52 – Their team works remotely and waiting for builds can get interesting
  • 35:08 – Rubocop analyzes the code base along with Code Climate
  • 35:50 – A “development” environment exists on AWS but developers run the code locally
  • 36:45 – VCR is used to help cache remote API calls to other VA systems
  • 38:27 – Each API has its own version
  • 39:47 – Attempting to get rid of the need for fax machines
  • 40:41 – All of the data is backed up and recovery would be quick if something went wrong
  • 42:18 – How is Terraform being used?
  • 43:03 – Best tips? With undocumented APIs, write tests and pry into the details
  • 44:10 – Biggest mistakes that were corrected? The mocking layer
  • 45:17 – Every developer is accountable for their work and will help to resolve issues
  • 46:27 – Charley’s consulting company Oddball is hiring and you can also find him on Twitter
📄 References
⚙️ Tech Stack
🛠 Libraries Used

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Questions

Feb 03, 2020

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