Zego Lets You Easily Buy Insurance by the Hour

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In this episode of Running in Production, Stuart Kelly lets us know what it’s like to build an insurance company from scratch with Django and Python. It’s been running in production since early 2017 and they’ve issued out 290+ million hours of insurance so far. It’s hosted on AWS.

Stuart covers building an MVP in 8 weeks, using Stripe with SCA, creating 25+ Django apps over time, working with a GraphQL API back-end, querying 45+ million DB rows quickly, making app deploys a pleasant experience for his team, achieving 99.99% uptime and so much more.

Topics Include

  • 2:02 – Shipping an MVP insurance company in 8 weeks with little insurance knowledge
  • 3:53 – React Native was used to build mobile apps after a demand for it was seen
  • 4:46 – Motivation for using Django and Python to build this site
  • 6:15 – The Django admin is used for simple config changes and CRUD operations
  • 6:59 – Examples of when they needed to roll their own admin UI due to added complexity
  • 8:41 – Stripe is being used to handle the payments with SCA support
  • 11:41 – How do you even start an insurance company?
  • 13:32 – It’s a monolithic app broken up by Django apps which is a nice way to break things up
  • 15:15 – Django apps are a nice stepping stone to maybe microservices due to easy refactors
  • 16:18 – What type of Django apps do you have to power your site? There’s 25+ of them
  • 17:36 – Not every Django app would end up being its own service in the future
  • 18:10 – The MVP didn’t start off with this many apps, it grew organically over time
  • 18:46 – Which microservices would you tease out later if it came down to it?
  • 20:28 – The split up services would end up having their own dedicated databases too
  • 22:42 – The back-end is powered by a GraphQL API
  • 23:37 – Using an API back-end came from realizing they are building a platform not an app
  • 24:39 – Hole in one insurance isn’t offered, but they did offer rocket launcher insurance
  • 25:46 – Graphene is used on the Python side of things and it works nicely with Django models
  • 26:04 – On the front-end Relay is being used, but in hindsight maybe Apollo would be better
  • 27:40 – The front-end is about 500,000 lines of code (not including node_modules)
  • 27:53 – The back-end is about 300,000 to 350,000 lines of code
  • 28:44 – There’s about 40-50 top level dependencies in the requirements.txt file
  • 29:54 – PostgreSQL is used through RDS on AWS, along with a RedShift cluster
  • 30:34 – What is RedShift and how does it help make certain queries much faster?
  • 32:43 – They don’t connect to RedShift through Django’s ORM but you do write SQL
  • 33:34 – Their financial reconciliation engine has 40-50 million rows and queries are fast
  • 34:12 – Celery, Redis, Kubernetes, AWS Lambda, oh my!
  • 34:52 – There’s 3-5 web app servers but up to 24 background workers
  • 36:08 – Payment handling doesn’t need to happen live as a driver is working
  • 37:41 – A majority of things are running on t3 EC2 instances
  • 38:24 – Steps taken to safely go from 1 background worker to running many of them
  • 40:50 – One mistake they made early on was not having idempotent worker tasks
  • 41:52 – Having zero down time deploys with AWS CodeDeploy, but migrations are tricky
  • 44:41 – The infrastructure is managed with Terraform, Stuart knows enough to be dangerous
  • 47:12 – Trusting your developers to do reviews is important, along with having tests
  • 48:41 – There’s a few different environments, such as QA which is after a dev pushes code
  • 49:31 – Moving from a git flow model to doing PRs that get merged to a deployed master
  • 50:55 – Every pull request that comes in gets a sub-domain that can be directly accessed
  • 51:33 – Feature flags are sometimes used, but not with a dedicated library or framework
  • 52:55 – Secrets are managed using AWS’ Parameter Store
  • 53:45 – The EC2 instances are spun up using pre-baked AMIs, except for the code itself
  • 55:11 – They pay somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000 a month on hosting
  • 55:46 – How they went from $3,000 to $3 a month from making a database backup change
  • 57:21 – Cloudflare is used as their CDN, DNS host, anti-DDoS and SSL certificate service
  • 58:06 – The imgix service is used to do on the fly image resizing and optimizations
  • 58:31 – Cloudflare is a solid service and competitively priced
  • 58:54 – The JavaScript payload for the front-end is about 1MB after being gzipped
  • 1:00:29 – The Next.js library is used to do server side rendering initially
  • 1:00:56 – Mailgun is used for sending emails and Twilio is used for sending text messages
  • 1:01:40 – Sentry.io (hosted version) captures all of their errors with loads of integrations
  • 1:02:11 – DataDog is used for alerting, APM metrics and logging
  • 1:03:54 – It’s valuable to have your metrics and logging on 1 service
  • 1:04-22 – Various alarms and alerts get sent through DataDog
  • 1:04:42 – Health checks are done with Django Health Check, and they query the DB in it
  • 1:06:02 – So far in 2020 they’re operating at 99.99% uptime which is quite the feat
  • 1:06:46 – Checking your database in your health check is totally worth it
  • 1:07:44 – There’s not many live tests that happen in production due to the nature of the app
  • 1:08:53 – Best tips? Release as often as you can and invest in your release process
  • 1:10:03 – That’s also been the biggest pain point as they scaled up to a larger dev team
  • 1:11:19 – Database migrations are run on every deploy
  • 1:12:33 – Check out https://zego.com, their open source work or email Stuart for questions
📄 References
⚙️ Tech Stack
🛠 Libraries Used

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Jun 01, 2020

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