Peter's First Day

My name is Peter Boin, and this week was my first working with Kogan as a Software Engineer.

I’ve come from almost a decade of work in the Automotive industry, testing ABS/ESC applications, and coding for Body Control Modules.

This is quite a change for me, but so far I’ve been very impressed.

The interview process was seamless, friendly, and respectful. I particularly enjoyed coding being a strong part of the interview process, it clearly indicated that that’s what I’d be hired for.

The team at were very interested in what my passions were, even though they had little to do with web development or design (specifically). I see now that they could clearly see that my passions were not too different to those that drive the dedicated and talented engineers already here.

My first day was started with what you’d expect, a brief tour around the facilities; spacious offices, break room, and of course, the development area.

It was good to see that everybody was very busy, but still considerate and friendly.

I was also asked what hardware I would prefer to use, Windows, Mac, or Linux. “Linux!” I cried (literally), but that’s just me. This particular luxury of choice is something my last industry lacked, so I was particularly excited about working with my prefered operating system.

At 10am sharp we had a “stand-up”, which is a variation on Agile’s SCRUM. This is a fast-paced and focussed agenda of the plan for the day. Then without delay, I got my first task, pinned up on the wall, to add a feature to a django product update script.

They said it wouldn’t be easy, but I said that’s exactly why I’ll take it.

Peter gesturing meaningfully, Simon deeply understanding

Peter gesturing meaningfully, Simon deeply understanding

I spent the rest of the day installing my OS, editors, gaining access to the myriad of systems required to operate, and start learning, fast.

And of course, I had my choice of Kogan “swag” to take home with me on the first day. My choice: a hoodie, and 2 t-shirts.

The rest of the week has been a blast. It’s been very technically challenging, which is exactly why I chose to come here.

I’ve integrated the work required for my first task, and I believe it’s ready to go, but I missed my window by minutes! So close, and yet… It’ll be launched on Monday.

It’s also been personally challenging, because I’ve left so much behind. So many friends. I also need to travel a lot further, which I’m not used to yet. But I’m here late on a Friday because I’m enjoying it; writing this blog to recommend you to join us.

React March Meetup Recap

Last night we hosted the largest-ever React Melbourne Meetup!

Talks included:

  • Short intro to React & Flux - Nick Farrell
  • React migration methods, made easy - Me
  • Converting Stateful components to Redux - Cam Jackson
  • React + Typescript - Basarat Ali Syded

There was a great range of content and complexity across the talks, with some good discussions during the breaks.

I gave an overview of how we have iteratively converted to React, in the most non-breaking way possible.

Slides are embedded below, or available here.


If you'd like to learn more about this we are hiring!

Or if you are interested in speaking at the next Meetup, get in touch. You may even get a free hat.

Template Illogic: from Django and Handlebars to React

When the current incarnation of was developed, most pages were rendered server-side with Django templates; client-side rendering used Handlebars.js templates.

As well as the effort (and inevitable mismatching content bugs!) caused by maintaining two templates for some parts of the site, the syntax often became awkward and cumbersome. As expanded with new features and into new markets, both templates grew more complex.

For example, if you wanted a page to use "Zip code" in one country and "Postcode" in the others, one could do this:

     {% if == 'United States' %}  Zip code
     {% else %} Postcode
     {% endif %}

This is just the "obvious" way to choose which word to use; there are more appropriate ways of doing this (using the translation features) as well as less appropriate methods:

     {{ == 'United States'|yesno:"Zip code,Postcode" }}

Unfortunately this isn't so straightforward in Handlebars, as there are no operators to allow comparison of variables - control flow structures such as if/else will only operate directly on the boolean value of a variable.

This is a deliberate design decision by Handlebars to enforce the separation between logic and presentation. Mustache (the templating language Handlebars is based on) is even stricter - there are no explicit control flow statements other than loops.

Therefore, it is necessary to pass a value which can be treated as a boolean to Handlebars:

    {{#if country.isUSA}} Zip code
    {{else}} Postcode

Or just take all the logic out of the template and pass the content itself:

    {{ country.prefixOfTermUsedInThisCountryForPostalCodesIncludingSpaceCharacterIfSeparateWord }}code

Handlebars can be extended with arbitrary functions, so some such as #ifEquals have been written to allow equality comparison. Other helpers such as #ifCond can work with any conditional operators, but they have no matching else statement, so it is necessary to use two opposite operators:

    {{#ifCond '==' 'United States'}}
        Zip code
    {{#ifCond '!=' 'United States'}}

One of the benefits of our migration to React.js is the melding of Javascript with the template system into the creature known as JSX.

Although at first glance this tramples all over the separation of logic and presentation, the logic is restricted to only presentation-related decisions due to the way React enforces rendering from a meticulously defined state.

Keeping the front end code and the template within the same file also means it is easier to figure out what is going on - and much easier for programmers who have less front-end experience to use. Compared to our previous hierarchy of .js and .handlebars files, we have found React is a more readable and maintainable solution for the whole team - most of the time:

    ${storeCode === 'us' ? 'Zip ' : 'Post'}code

How to Transform your Team's Communication with Stakeholders

How to Transform your Team's Communication with Stakeholders

As tech people - we quickly flock to digital tools to manage our workflow and processes.  Although an Agile digital task tracker is a great start - at our Physical wall has had huge impact in communicating work in process and priority to our stakeholders - find out why and how you can transform your stakeholder communication.

eClaire - printing our trello cards for our physical wall

There is nothing that creates visibility, collaboration and flexibility of process in a team like a physical wall.

It allows you to show what is currently being worked on and whois owning it, where the bottlenecks are in your process, how much and what is in the backlog and the list goes on.

It provides an awesome mechanism to trigger and facilitate conversations around and provides a visual que that often speaks a thousand words.

But as much I advocated for physical walls to manage a team they are not without their limitations.

They lack the detail and the reporting aspect that you really need an online tool to fulfill and that's why...

Going too deep with Django Sessions

The other day I was battling with some weird behaviour where a key in a session was updated, but sometimes it would revert after a while.

The key in question was a flag to say that a customer had been sent an email about abandoning their cart, and when the key reverted they ended up getting duplicate emails.  To achieve this, we have an offline Celery task that looks over all sessions in the DB and checks a flag on the cart to know if the email had already been sent.

When I dug into the cases where duplicate emails were sent, I noticed that all of them came back to the site after the first email and started browsing again. But why? Why would browsing the site cause the flag to change state? And why wasn't everyone effected? ...

A hidden gem in Django 1.7: ManifestStaticFilesStorage

The biggest change in Django 1.7 was the built-in schema migration support which everyone is aware of, however 1.7 also shipped with lots of other great additions, ManifestStaticFilesStorage - the new static files storage backend was one of them.

Static file caching is everywhere

Before explaining what ManifestStaticFilesStorage is and how it works, this is the overview of why we need it at

cache busting static

In order to deliver the content to our customers as fast as possible, we cache the downloaded static files by using max-age request headers. This allows our customers to download the content once and the subsequent requests to static files will be served from a cache. As shown on the diagram, if we were to use normal static file names like base.css, the content of the file would be cached in the CDN as well as on the browser and we would have a hard time trying to invalidate these caches. We cache-bust the content by appending a md5 hash of the content of the file to the file name. When we deploy a new base.css, {% static %} template tag will turn base.css into base.d1833e.css and the browser will then request a new file. {% static %} template tag is able to translate base.css into base.d1833e.css thanks to static files storage backend. This setting is named STATICFILES_STORAGE in Django.

Before ManifestStaticFilesStorage

Our Django app was previously configured to use CachedStaticFilesStorage which resulted in placing file mappings in the CACHES backend, for us it was Redis. Django adds these mappings during collectstatic when it gathers all statics and puts them in one place.


This solution has coupled static assets deployment with code deployment resulting in a number of issues:

  • Running collectstatic as part of code deployment --> slow deploys
  • Extra load on Redis
  • App servers were sometimes out of sync as we deploy them in batch. When we start the deployment, Redis would be updated with the new keys, the first batch of App servers would get the new code, but the other half still had old code.

Out of sync app servers

ManifestStaticFilesStorage to the rescue

ManifestStaticFilesStorage has helped us to decouple the static compilation stage from deployments by allowing Django to read static file mappings from staticfiles.json on a filesystem. staticfiles.json is an artifact file produced by collectstatic with ManifestStaticFilesStorage as a backend. We can now include this staticfiles.json into our code package and deploy it to a single app server without affecting the others.

New ManifestStaticFilesStorage

Where is staticfiles.json located?

By default staticfiles.json will reside in STATIC_ROOT which is the directory where all static files are collected in. We host all our static assets on an S3 bucket which means staticfiles.json by default would end up being synced to S3. However, we wanted it to live in the code directory so we could package it and ship it to each app server. As a result of this, ManifestStaticFilesStorage will look for staticfiles.json in STATIC_ROOT in order to read the mappings. We had to overwrite this behaviour, so we subclassed ManifestStaticFilesStorage:

from import ManifestStaticFilesStorage
from django.conf import settings

class KoganManifestStaticFilesStorage(ManifestStaticFilesStorage):

    def read_manifest(self):
        Looks up staticfiles.json in Project directory
        manifest_location = os.path.abspath(
            os.path.join(settings.PROJECT_ROOT, self.manifest_name)
            with open(manifest_location) as manifest:
        except IOError:
            return None

With the above change, Django static template tag will now read the mappings from staticfiles.json that resides in project root directory.

Thanks Django

Thanks to Django 1.7, we've not only gotten a better schema migration system but also improved our deployment process. And not to mention ManifestStaticFilesStorage addition was only 40-50 lines of code (as of the day this blog post was published).