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Illustration: Multicolored icons of gears, a clipboard and paper, and a rocketship connected by dark purple arrows surround a white cloud with mint green stars and lines to visualize Ally's technology transformation to the cloud.

Tech Transformation: The Cloud Dojo

Transforming an organization to leverage cloud-native technology, at scale, takes a strategic approach to modernize your tech and the people that build it. Industry-changing innovations in the public cloud computing space have required our teams at Ally to learn new skillsets and apply themselves in new ways to develop and deliver a modern experience to our customers.

Cloud Transformation Pain Points

We have found over the past few years that scaling the learning process for the public cloud is not straightforward. You may be facing some of these challenges we ran into:

  • Lack of cloud familiarity, especially around infrastructure as code, across developer, engineer, and DevSecOps teams

  • Instructions and teachings that work for one team will not necessarily work for another

  • Every employee brings their own specific skills with them to the public cloud — honing those skills in this new paradigm is challenging

  • Frustrations can be high because of substantial changes and steep learning curves

  • Existing applications rarely fit perfectly into the public cloud without some rework

  • Building a scalable, opinionated public cloud platform and enterprise-wide transformation requires a lot of behind-the-scenes orchestration and organization

In this post, we will dive into the topic of Cloud Dojo and share helpful learnings to assist you in achieving your transformation goals. We hope to shed light on what processes and procedures have helped our organization transition into the public cloud all in hopes of easing you and your organization’s own migration.

Our team’s responsibility is to unearth the learning potential for employees starting their journey into the public cloud and to increase their developmental velocity by leveraging the power and versatility of our new tools. We have learned that these tools, such as infrastructure as code, serverless technologies, and DevSecOps pipelines, all build upon each other to deliver a collection of platforms that enable our company to out-compete in any space.

What is a Cloud Dojo?

We are not the first company to undergo a transformational public cloud journey. Before we started, we looked around and found some frameworks that could be used as a guide. The concept of a “cloud dojo,” inspired us and set the tone for how we would approach onboarding all the application teams who would begin their journey with us in 2021. How does the cloud dojo work? Who facilitates it? Who should participate in it? How do we know we are successful? All these questions guided us towards our framework which migrated 18 teams into the public cloud in 2021 — all while working remote amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cloud Dojo Framework:

1. Setting Cloud Expectations

2. Draft a Dojo Charter

3. Hands-training with Katas

4. Certification and Demonstration

5. Ongoing Coaching

To start, we needed a customized public cloud platform, built on top of the world-class capabilities that exist in every public cloud provider’s toolset, before we could even begin onboarding teams en masse to the public cloud. This customized and opinionated public cloud platform was and is being built by our core cloud engineering team. Their efforts are focused on compliance and security, pattern development, and customer enablement. These three teams work together during the cloud dojo to build out a holistic learning experience for any team that is migrating to the public cloud.

How to Run a Successful Dojo

To begin their journey, teams usually recognize that they need the technology and the services in the public cloud to continue their product development. High availability, adaptability, as well as infrastructure refreshes, license expirations, or simply old technology are the main drivers of cloud adoptions at Ally.

Step 1: Set Your Cloud Objectives

The application team brings their architecture to our intake meeting for discussion and review. They describe their existing technology and collaborate to establish the desired end state, guided by our cloud architecture experts. During this meeting we:

  • Identify the developers and project owners who will attend the Cloud Dojo

  • Identify all the business stakeholders and ensure their voices and needs are being heard during this process

  • Set expectations for the team of the standards of our Opinionated Cloud Platform

  • Determine their enablement path — either Dojo-extended support or self-enablement

Step 2: Draft a Dojo Charter

We then facilitate a “dojo charter” meeting where our cloud team comes with a list of learning objectives and expectations to ensure a successful dojo. Participants are surprised to learn that provider certifications are only a small part of expanding their knowledge. A certification from whatever cloud service provider can certainly help them get started. However, since our public cloud platform is opinionated, there are certain “gotchas” that cannot be looked up on the public internet. Teaching our employees where to go for help and where to ask questions is a core learning capability we teach in the Cloud Dojo. A typical charter outlines the following:

  • A deep dive into the application team’s solution architecture diagram

  • Break their application down into a dojo minimum viable product to be delivered in three sprints

  • Identify how to best cover the learning objectives in the dojo

  • Review dojo readiness tasks like requesting access, downloading tools, and performing basic readings which are critical, so the team is ready to be hands-on first day of the dojo

Step 3: Hands-On Training with “Katas” and Labs

Then the Cloud Dojo begins with the basics about how public cloud accounts work at Ally and reinforce understanding with tasks known as “katas.” These are small self-service training activities that focus on a thorough understanding of capability. We also have modified scrum ceremonies where dojo participants can ask questions and receive one-on-one coaching from our cloud experts. By leveraging a variety of tools and addressing different learning styles, we create a framework which accelerates learning.

The participants first test their knowledge with a quiz. This helps us craft each dojo to each team’s specific needs by identifying potential knowledge gaps. Preconfigured labs are tasked to the participants. By getting hands-on and deploying components through a known success action step list, participants can gain a deep understanding around how the numerous services work together, and they can receive help when they get stuck. Labs have enabled participants to build their first cloud resources in as little as 10 minutes. Katas and labs have allowed teams to move faster in their application deployment, by working through common pitfalls users face using the building block of the opinionated cloud platform for the first time. We also provide supplemental tutorials and video guides to meet our employees through a multifaced learning approach. Over the course of six weeks, the objective of the Cloud Dojo is to expose everyone to all the fundamental concepts they will need to be successful in the public cloud at Ally. For each team’s dojo, we create dedicated chat channels where the team members can communicate privately and get support directly from our cloud team engineers.

Step 4: Certification and Demonstration

Upon completion of the dojo, we have a final retrospective and closing meeting that helps tie up any loose ends that the team might have. Dojo participants are granted a certificate of completion and demonstrate their work and knowledge to the larger Ally group at a weekly demo meeting. They are encouraged to support others onboarding to cloud within their business unit. Their name is added to our dojo completion certified registry so others can easily reach out to them for assistance. We also guide the team towards our permanent support channels for ongoing assistance.

Step 5: Ongoing Coaching

One surprising aspect of the dojo that we learned quickly was the value of providing ongoing support after the completion of a dojo. With the rich, one-on-one support that comes with a dojo, some application teams would complete their learning but then feel left out in the cold as their application matured. Through our feedback process, we quickly learned the benefit that an established communication channel, where team members could ask ad hoc questions, provides. As a result, we developed two distinct synchronous and asynchronous methods for providing ongoing coaching for application teams. For synchronous and in-person help, we hold daily office hours where anyone can come and ask any question about using the public cloud at Ally. We also created a dedicated chat channel where anyone can open a thread, provide specific information about the help they need, and receive assistance from our core engineering team. A surprising benefit of this chat channel is that previous dojo graduates will often help each other with problems with little input from the core cloud team at Ally.


The Cloud Dojo framework, along with katas, labs, guides, and videos has proven to be a tremendous success at Ally. In 2021 alone we migrated 18 teams to the public cloud within our opinionated and customized platform through both dojos and self-enablement. Before the dojo, our capacities were strained, resources were limited, and frustrations were high. Since establishing the cloud dojo framework, we have systematically scaled our cloud enablement capabilities. Feedback from dojo participants gave us the input we needed to derive clear learning objectives and expand the number of self-service tools, quadrupling our capabilities. Plus, by encouraging dojo graduates to contribute back to our cloud community, we have expanded the number of cloud experts available for supporting additional teams onboarding to the cloud.

Through our mission to implement the Cloud Dojo here at Ally, we’ve flipped feedback loops from negative to positive, accelerated cloud development velocity, and overall transformed our public cloud platform, providing an efficient framework for our internal app team customers to build upon from now moving forward.

Interested in joining Ally's team of talented technologists to make a difference for our customers and communities? Check outAlly Careersto learn more.