A world of technical wizardry
Everyone in the Netherlands knows ING’s mobile app, Mijn ING, and for IT engineers it is the most visible opportunity within ING. But applications like this conceal a hidden world of technical wizardry: ING Infra. So which options are there for a DevOps engineer to make a technical and creative contribution to that world?
Without infrastructure, there would be no fast, stable and user-optimised (down to the finest detail) applications, nor would there be smoothly operating internal systems, seamless transaction handling or customer-friendly apps and websites. ING’s infra department ensure the flawless operation of the entire IT infrastructure underlying all the bank’s internal and external digital applications. The department provides everything needed for application hosting: from hardware in the data centres to networks, data storage, virtualisation and operating systems.
Richard van Liessum:
Since ING’s transition to the agile way of working, Richard has been Chapter Lead within Infra NL, in addition to being a DevOps engineer in the Standard Virtualisation & Custom Hardware squad.
“Whereas IT used to just support the business processes, technology has acquired a central role within ING over the past few years. We’ve increasingly become a tech company that supplies banking products, with a real engineering culture, and the same holds true for my line of work: Infra NL. Our department provides everything needed to host the bank’s applications.
Raising the technical bar
I’ve always worked in infra, and specifically in network security. Before moving into my current position I was mainly involved in network security architecture and engineering, and I always had a coaching role too. I really enjoy providing guidance to teams and helping them to improve – raising the technical bar for the team and hence for the bank too. But I also like to do some engineering myself, and my existing job offers me precisely the right combination.
The best engineers
My chapter is called ‘Network’ and it’s a nicely defined technical area. Without exception, all of the Chapter Leads are engineers and they work in squads such as External Networks, Data Center Network, Network Services and NLWAN. Between them, they are responsible for the networks in the data centres and local branches. The aim of a chapter is to optimally develop and share knowledge. When it comes to networks, we want to be the very best engineers. My role is that of facilitator and connector; I help the chapter members to further develop their skills and I keep my finger on the pulse in terms of what they need to become even better – both as a team and individually. I highlight market trends for them, but it’s up to the engineers themselves how they incorporate those trends in their own work. I also launch new initiatives. For example, I recently worked together with another Chapter Lead to set up a new guild related to APIs. It’s a voluntary community in which we’re aiming to stimulate knowledge sharing and best practices. We also share knowledge during the demo meetings where the various squads present their work so that other colleagues have the opportunity to learn from it.
Don’t lose your curiosity
The Chapter Lead role takes up around 40 percent of my time, and for the rest of the time I work as a DevOps engineer in the Standard Virtualisation & Custom Hardware squad, which is also known as ‘Squad vTech’. My squad is focused specifically on our private cloud. There’s an interesting link between the engineering work and my role as a Chapter Lead. I make a point of keeping myself up to date on technical matters and I expect the people I work with to do the same. That’s quite hard work in terms of time and energy because things are changing so quickly. I spend a lot of time reading, listening to podcasts, watching films on YouTube and going to meet-ups and hackathons, both within and outside of my own domain. It’s important not to lose your curiosity! And I use the information I pick up to motivate my chapter members and anybody else who is willing to listen.
There’s a lot going on within Infra. We’re growing ever-closer to the world of software development. Open-source solutions are increasingly forming the basis in networking. You no longer configure infrastructure with commands or a web interface, but with abstractions instead. We use the same continuous delivery pipeline as our application developers. The ING Private Cloud was developed a couple of years ago. It enables colleagues to request services themselves in a fully automated manner. Those kinds of environments place maximum demands on the creativity and craftsmanship of engineers. For example, we’re due to start on containerisation, and we’re also working increasingly internationally in virtual squads together with engineering colleagues from ING in Poland, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy, so there are numerous exciting developments that offer lots of challenges for technically skilled and creative DevOps engineers. We’re already way out in front in terms of technology and software, but there are still plenty of opportunities for us to make major advancements and achieve great results!”
Richard studied informatics in Rotterdam. His first job was with an IT consultancy firm. After a couple of roles at other companies, he joined ING in 2009. Richard is a keen runner – he is an active member of Orange Heroes, the ING Roparun team – and he is also the drummer in a pop/rock cover band. He lives with his wife and young son in Rotterdam.