5thColumn’s Sam Wallinga was recently interviewed by Built in Chicago about challenging new projects. Check out his portion of the article below:

Ever find yourself lost in a coding project, the hours flying by as you try to figure out how different parts fit together until everything suddenly just clicks?


Whether it’s about the challenges, the new skills they picked up or the results they achieved, many developers have fond memories of their favorite projects. We spoke with members of four Chicago tech companies to learn more about the most interesting things they’ve worked on, and what they learned from them.










Founded by industry veteran Raymond Hicks, 5thColumn is a Chicago-based cybersecurity firm that specializes in data security and threat protection for government agencies and Fortune 500 companies alike. Linux systems administrator Sam Wallinga said one of his biggest priorities this year has been to automate many of the company’s workflows. In addition to lining up with his love for automation, Wallinga said the work has helped him think more holistically about coding.


What has your favorite project at 5thColumn been?

Our ongoing initiative to automate as much of our infrastructure as possible. We’re a pretty small team, so being able to deploy new systems and applications on demand with just a few clicks is huge. Currently we’re leaning heavily on Ansible, Jenkins and Terraform to deploy to our private OpenStack cloud. We’re also laying the foundation for some really exciting microservice orchestration efforts with various Docker tools.

I love automation. If I have to do something manually more than a couple times, you can bet I’ll try to script it. Applying it at scale and seeing everything come together is seriously cool.

How has that project helped you grow as a developer?

I’ve grown a ton since joining the efforts to move toward infrastructure-as-code. From an architecture and design standpoint, I’ve developed the vocabulary to describe systems and applications in a generic sense, making it worlds easier to create “recipes” for entire stacks of applications. On the actual implementation side, I’ve adopted a mindset of “uncompromising modularity” — that is, making sure that what I build today will still play nice with the automation tools of tomorrow. This means writing clean, testable, well-documented code, with nothing hard coded, ever — and version controlling everything.

More generally, I’m learning something new every day as we build and refine our platform to respond to changing needs. A huge perk of our small team size is that we can be language- and tool-agnostic, with freedom to explore and truly find the right tool for the job (though we all share a fondness for Python!). Just because we’re using $STACK today, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the right choice next week!

To read the full article, please visit the Built in Chicago website.