Category - Personal

New Year, New Responsibilities

RickOnCH9Stage

I’ve spent the last 11 years or so at Microsoft working in a field called “Evangelism” targeting individuals in the IT ecosystem, Partners and Online Communities.  Basically – I’d talk with anyone who works in IT in the broadest sense and talk about “Microsoft Stuff” as part of a broad platform. It’s been awesome and I am thankful to have been part of the “Infrastructure Evangelism” movement within Microsoft since the very beginning.  Part of my recent responsibilities since moving to HQ 4 years ago has been engaging and working with the Azure Engineering team to enable them to evangelize their products / solutions as well as incorporating feedback from my various public and online activities INTO the planning process and formal feedback loop.

I shared this with my “internal audience” at Microsoft over the holiday break.  But I wanted to let YOU (the outside world) know I’ve accepted a new role as a Sr. Program Manager role in the Engineering world of Azure Compute. I’ve joined the “Linux, Scale Compute and Partner Strategy” team and my first day in the new office! I am really excited as working on the Engineering team has always been one of my long term goals ever since I joined Microsoft.

Leaving the official role of Technical Evangelist at Microsoft is not something I’ve taken lightly – it was a hard decision to make. Evangelism has been a phenomenal place to connect with individuals and champion the IT Pro Audience message both internally and externally at Microsoft. I’ve made lots of friends and met a metric tonne of people over the years – relationships I hope to still maintain in the new role. Don’t worry – I still plan on maintaining my passion for the IT Pro Audience and for creating useful, funny, entertaining Technical content on the Channel 9 platform. Evangelism skills are definitely in demand in a modern PM role at MSFT.

What sort of stuff will I be working on in the new role? Well that’s in a constant state of change and movement – it is the cloud, right? I’ve already started on a few small projects to get ramped up with some new ones on the horizon. I’ll be brushing up my Linux skills, working with a few key partners from an engineering stakeholders perspective and working with the overall engineering team to ramp up THEIR evangelism skills.

Don’t worry – I’m not disappearing… I’ll stay on the social networks ( Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn ).  I’ll keep on publishing on my blog Tech blog here (Regular IT Guy) and producing shows like Tuesdays with Corey and The Patch and Switch show on CH9.

NOTE: Oh hey! looks like they are posting an opening on my Old Job… Are you Interested in one of the most AWESOME jobs in the IT world? Ever wanted to work for Microsoft? Check out this job description, dust off your Resume and APPLY!

How to stay relevant in a changing IT world?

As a self-proclaimed “Server Hugger”, I have had to undergo a transformation of sorts in order to overcome my apprehension of Cloud technologies and level up my IT Skills. My friend Joey Snow and I did two sessions at TechEd North America talking about “Real World Guide to upgrading your IT Skills” a while back, but I thought I’d share a condensed version of three of the things that stuck with me the most and have helped me bring clarity to the role of the IT Professional in a cloud world.

1) The IT Industry is in a constant state of Change. This is the one thing that won’t change!

We have been facing this as IT Professionals for as long as we’ve have been in the industry. Heck – I got started back when there were “green screen terminals” that connected back into one of the Mainframes. I remember ripping those out in place of PCs with emulator cards (for backwards compatibility) and setting them up to login to a Banyan Vines network. Fast forward to Client – Server applications, x.400 addressing for WAN in order to get inter-office mail working, ISDN connections to this “internet” thing, NT 4, Novell NDS, Active Directory – the list goes on and on. It’s always changing and putting NEW TOOLS into my tool belt, provided I took the time to learn those technologies and how I could use them to light up new opportunities for my users and my companies.

How did I deal with it? I embraced it. You need to as well, instead of being a blocker. Set yourself up to be a lifelong learner. You can to.  Go explore things at www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com on a regular basis to learn new things. Check out some of the learning paths to explore new technologies and evaluate some in your lab environments. Follow your curiosity to see where it leads down each path of new technologies. Learn about how to apply them to positively affect your business and your career.

Think of these Technologies as additional tools for your IT toolbox.

2) You have to learn to automate. Period. Full Stop.

I don’t care if it’s PowerShell, Chef, Puppet, Docker – whatever. Being that I am mostly a Windows kind of guy – I lean more towards the PowerShell world. Start with little things that you do on a regular basis via a traditional GUI tool and begin to automate your tasks more often.  Yes – it takes time to learn this, but it is time well invested. Why? In a “cloud” world, automation is the norm, not the exception.  Knowing how to do it now in your on-premises environment will prep you for when you start to create projects in the public cloud space.  If you still have not taken the time to learn PowerShell and need to get started – I HIGHLY recommend Don Jones and Jeffery Hicks book “Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches, Second Edition”.

Start small, keep at it – eventually you will find yourself reaching for the PowerShell prompt more instead of the GUI interface.

3) Treat your servers like Cattle, not Pets.

This was a stretch for me. As IT Professionals, we treat our servers individually, each one is unique like a snowflake and therefore would be far to difficult to replace. We need to stop doing this.  Here’s an example that hit me recently: I had an issue with a lab environment where I moved some domain controller VMs between clusters. It required an export and import due to networking issues.  No matter what I did after the physical move, the VMs would not initialize correctly. To make a long story short – I was hit with a new technology that protects us from having duplicate DCs in a virtual world and it was blocking their initialization (which is by design). I spent hours trying to figure out what was going on, defaulting to my FireFighter troubleshooting mode.

It’s in our nature to sit and bang our heads over troubleshooting an issue in our day to day work.  We do this consciously, thinking it’s the fastest way to get something done when the fire is burning – just get it fixed, right?  Subconsciously, we’re learning what is going on under the covers so that we can prevent it from happening again.  In my above example – if I had only stepped back for a moment and looked at this from a different angle – I would have realized that it would have been faster to “re-create and re-deploy” instead of trying to bash my way through it.  Make the systems more generic and document / automate the specialties and configurations so that they can be recreated as required.

In a Cloud world, working with Azure – when I am building new architectures for customers or working on a lab / demo environment that will be used by a number of people – I need to design it in such a way that it’s easiest to wipe it out and re-create it as required instead of troubleshooting it to death.  Sure – spend some time to figure out what went wrong, but when it’s “fixed”, document and automate it so that you can blow it away and re-create it without the issue – and move on. I’d never have done that in my on-premises world – it would have taken too long.

By taking these three tips and updating your mindset – I think you will come to realize that it’s really just a continuation of what you have already been doing, with a few tweaks. Your skills are not going to become magically obsolete, provided you keep on refining your skills, embracing change and learning new skill that are complementary. Keep an open mind towards these new technologies and figure out how you can integrate them into your environment – where it makes sense.

P.S: Remember those sessions from TechEd I mentioned at the start? I was asked for the links – so here they are – approximately 75 minutes each including technical demos.

The Real-World Guide to Upgrading Your IT Skills AND Your Infrastructure, Part 1

The Real-World Guide to Upgrading Your IT Skills AND Your Infrastructure, Part 2

 

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“Dear John…” how to breakup with your old infrastructure

From:         SysAdmin
Sent:          Friday, August 29th, 2014 11:38 am
To:             JOHN-WS2003R2.CONTOSO.COM
Subject:     I really don’t know how to say this in person…


Dear John (a.k.a. Windows Server 2003)

I wish I were writing you for other reasons, but I just can’t continue supporting our relationship feeling the way I feel right now. I’m writing this email instead of logging into the console because I have so much to tell you and this seems like the best way to say it without getting distracted.

What can I say – it has been fun.  You have worked hard all these years keeping our old mission critical applications running, long after others have abandoned you. You stood by me as we transitioned Active Directory away from you and over to the bright shiny new systems running a “more modern” flavor of Windows Server.  It must have been difficult to see those services migrated away after the planning and pilot deployment. This has gotten me thinking – I’ve realized I need to sit down and take stock of where our relationship stands today and I realized that we’ve grown apart.  I’m ready to move to a more mature relationship but I don’t think you and I are on the same page. After reading this – I definitely believe you are not able to continue fulfill my needs.

I want to make this as easy as possible for both of us – so I started exploring other options.

First off, I need to discover what exactly we’ve been doing over the last 11 years. I mean really – you never cease to surprise me when a site visit turns up yet another one of your relatives running some application or print server that is critical to someone’s daily routine. This concerns me – it really does. You’ve obviously gotten around a lot and have been very popular with the IT staff.  This has got to stop. I’ve contacted a couples councilor who has recommended I try “The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit” in order to get a view of just how far reaching your deployment has grown over the years and what workloads you still maintain.

Next – it’s time for me to set aside some “alone time” to plan and Assess just how much work lies ahead.  I know it will be tough and there will be lots of work to come – but knowing what lies ahead and prioritizing is half the battle.  I still have a lot to learn about what my options are, so I started a personal learning path as part of this Tech Journey of Modernizing the Datacenter.

As much as I don’t like to say it – after taking the time to Assess and reflect on things, it’s time for me to Target exactly what needs to get done to painlessly end our relationship without another nasty fight. I’ll be honest, some things will need to be replaced because the old way isn’t working anymore. Other things will require some assistance to migrate to new solutions. I am going to keep an open mind and explore my options.  I plan on making some hard decisions in the months to come.

Finally – when all is said and done, I’ve got to be strong and stand firm to our deadline of July 14th, 2015. With it fast approaching, I’ll prepare myself to Migrate things on my own or get some additional help from partners who are better equipped to get me through this stressful time.

I know I will revisit our time together and remember the happy times – successful Service Packs, new CD-ROM updates and Sneakernet deployments. I’ll forever hear your disks whirring and see your lights blinking in my minds eye for a long time to come. I’m going to miss all of this, more than you can imagine.

…but it’s time for me to move on.

Sincerely,

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Your SysAdmin

Screw Following your dreams–CHASE THEM!

DSC_0876 (521x640)For those of you who know me – I’m a very passionate person.  Be it technology, skills development, fatherhood, Microsoft, mobile devices – whatever.  I tend to be someone who jumps in with both feet.  Sometimes I do it on instinct. Sometimes I do it with after a long hesitation and with great caution.

Well – I jumped in this time – with both feet.

Let me back up a bit for a little bit of context and history.  It has been a dream of mine to work at Microsoft. I happened to be referred into the position of IT Pro Evangelist by a very good friend of mine (Pierre Roman) who was in the process of applying for the job.  During his interview process he decided the role wasn’t for him but said to the HR rep “I know this guy who would be perfect for this job” – that guy was me.  He gave me a call while I was off on paternity leave with my Twin girls. At first I dismissed it, saying “I’d never be good enough” to work at Microsoft – but he insisted I apply. Nine interviews later, I was offered what would become my dream job – working for Microsoft Canada as an IT Pro Evangelist.

Fast forward 7 1/2 years later.  I have “grown in role” up to a Senior Technical Evangelist working on the same team – working with and engaging the Canadian technology community.  I had developed a knack for understanding how to make a difference in the lives of people by enabling them to use (Microsoft) technology more effectively and further their careers in IT. I loved getting up in the morning every day – never hitting the snooze button – giving it my all.

Then opportunity knocked.

A position opened up on a team in Redmond at Microsoft Headquarters.  It was for one of four Technology Evangelists that have similar responsibilities and functions to what I was currently doing (and some cool new challenges), BUT was on a worldwide stage.  At first I wasn’t really interested, since I have very strong ties to Canada AND it would mean relocating my whole family down to Seattle.  But – after talking it over with my boss (WIFE) on a number of occasions – she said “go for it”. I then talked with my other boss (work) – who was very supportive of the idea.  I’m kind of paraphrasing his comments – but my conversation with him lead me to the title of this post.

If you simply follow your dreams – you will be constantly taking the passive route of going where they meander.  If you really want to realize your dreams – YOU HAVE TO CHASE THEM in order to have a chance of attaining them.

I decided to apply and went after the role whole heartedly.

I write this post sitting here in Seattle, with my family in temporary housing. After a long 4 months during which time we completed the interview process, job offer review , visa application process, relocation planning, selling off of personal property / house / car, actual moving day – we’re ALL onboard in this fantastic new journey.

I am now a Technical Evangelist on the Corp evangelism team here in Redmond at “Corp” (a.k.a. Microsoft Headquarters). I will be focusing my technology expertise back to my roots – CORE INFRASTRUCTURE on the Windows Server platform (current and future versions). When you think about it – “Server” is really the building blocks on which you craft your solution, be it on premise, optimized for private cloud or even public cloud.  Windows Server will be playing a significant role – now and in the future. I’ll be responsible for the technical reviews / advising on content for the major technical conferences Microsoft puts on across the world. I’ll also continue to be engaging the worldwide technical audience and engaging with social media / blogging / podcasting and more. There’s even an element of community building with the internal Microsoft Evangelism efforts with the IT Pro Evangelists around the globe. The role will continue to evolve over time – but once again – I’m Stoked.

On the eve of us departing Canada for the US, I called a friend of mine to talk about the move. He was sad we were heading out, but at the same time he was very excited for me and the family. He said to me “you’re changing your family’s destiny by doing this. That’s exciting – embrace this challenge and relish the moment”.  I hadn’t thought about it in this context before – but it’s true. New job, new house, new schools, new friends, new opportunities – it’s kind of overwhelming at times.

You know what? After starting this journey, I can say that despite my hesitations at first – I can honestly tell you, my Gut is telling me it’s the right thing to do, the right time to do it.

If you have an opportunity and you are on the fence – don’t get paralyzed with how big of a change it would be in your life and your family’s life. Do your level of sanity checks and consult your internal board of directors.

Screw following your dreams, chase them! Once you’re close and you’re ready – Jump In!

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