#100DaysOfHomeLab Wrap Up Part I: The Three Projects That Caught Our Eye

Interview with Aleksandra Todorovska

100daysofhomelab interviews part i

Hello, stranger, and welcome to the first part of this three-part interview series!

About three months ago, the popular YouTuber and Software Engineer  Timothy Stewart (aka TechnoTim) created the #100DaysOfHomeLab challenge. What is that, you ask? TechnoTim called on all homelab enthusiasts to commit to dedicating one hour a day, for 100 days, to building their homelab, and to share their progress with the community.

TechnoTim says his motivation was to encourage people to accelerate their “knowledge in servers, networking, infrastructure, automation, storage, containerization, orchestration, virtualization, Windows, Linux,  and more.” #100DaysOfHomelab was an undeniable success, with hundreds of projects being shared online, on Twitter, and on the event Discord server, even after the conclusion of the 100-day challenge, including one by our very own Nicolas Mengin.

Faced with the complexity of publishing services for home automation, Nicolas wanted to demonstrate how to build and control a home automation system using open source technologies. He published his article “Control your home automation remotely with Raspberry Pi and Traefik Hub” on opensource.com, so go check it out!

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As we were following the event on Twitter and Discord, we were amazed at the ingenuity and dedication of everyone participating. We also noticed a few other very interesting projects and knew we had to speak to the humans behind those projects to learn more about their projects and what they gained from this experience.

To kick things off, let’s meet Aleksandra and her homelab empire!

"My homelab empire: Laying the foundations with tiny Raspberry Pis"

One of the first projects that got us talking was by Aleksandra Todorovska. When working with platforms, you often think big, and so a homelab can become quite costly. But, hey, you know, you can also host your VMs on a Raspberry Pi. It's clearly a more ecological way to make your homelab! We reached out to Alexandra to learn more.

As Aleksandra explained, “a homelab is a pretty expensive investment when you need to practice with enterprise-grade software. It is also especially pricey when you come from a small country in the Balkans where powerful second-hand electronics are scarce, and electricity was expensive even before this post-pandemic wave of high energy prices worldwide. But with VMware's amazing timing of releasing their ESXi for ARM fling in 2020, it was the perfect excuse to try to make an affordable lab by using the Raspberry Pis.”

What did you work on?

“So far, VMware’s products are the gold standard in the industry, so my homelab revolves around using them on these tiny Pis instead of datacenter equipment. In more detail, what I’ve done so far:

  • Set up my ESXihosts and vCenter using JSON scripts
  • Learned Terraform to deploy my environment on a VM level
  • Used Powershell to create and manage my Active directory mock forest
  • Installed and run a Pi-Hole as my ad blocker and DNS, on a VM
  • Tinkered with Linux OSs and Docker

Most of these projects are already done by others, and to an extent, you can easily find a bunch of tutorials to follow. But my ultimate goal was to make that as a compilation — all the basics to be in one place and have those exercise scenarios written as a single resource via my blog.”

It was fun, at first…?

We asked Aleksandra what was the most fun or the most challenging part of her project, to which she responded: “All the firsts were both fun and challenging. Each time I did something I had never done before, and it actually worked! For example, installing an ESXi server, deploying a domain controller, and even increasing disk space on a Linux VM.

When you are your own Network and System Architect/Engineer, IT Operations, CFO, CEO, at times, all the setup you’re doing can become really frustrating because of those failures I mentioned earlier, that are inevitable. But once I pulled myself together and made the thing I planned work as intended, that was a really rewarding feeling that makes it all worthwhile.”

Learning through failure

We were really interested to find out what motivated Aleksandra to participate in the #100DaysOfHomeLab challenge, what she hoped to gain from the experience, and which lessons learned will make the most impact going forward. So, we asked her!

“Pretty much everyone in the IT industry will tell you that the best way to learn is to have a lot of hands-on experience during which you will fail. The best way to fail is to have a safe environment for that — a homelab. So, I decided to take that advice and try to make the most of as little as possible while creating this safe environment to learn how to become a better IT professional,” said Aleksandra.

“Learning by failing was the first thing I faced — because I got to Day 38 in the #100DaysOfHomelab challenge and stopped since I had a trip planned and could use a break from screen time. I’m hoping to restart this challenge in the coming days again, but even though my first try was only 38 days, I still felt benefits in my day-to-day. On a personal development level, the self-imposed obligation to dedicate an hour made me become more accountable, patient, tenacious, and a better planner of my time. On a technical level, I started to practice automation with Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools.”

Who is Aleksandra Todorovska?

Aleksandra was a lawyer who turned her career around and joined the tech industry. She currently works at Helpdesk by day and becomes a blogger by night. She tries to learn and share as much of her learning experience as possible through her blog, which is focused primarily on virtualization and automation.

We are not done yet!

We hope you take the opportunity to dive deeper into Aleksandra's project by visiting her blog.

For the second and third parts of this series, we talked to Samer Bahri to learn how he created his personal hybrid cloud in 100 days, and to  Jerod Moore about his project and how he (almost!) accidentally built a mini datacenter. Find the full interviews below:

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