Two Years at Microsoft

Well, that was quick. Like last year, the weeks that led up to this weekend were hectic, so this is (again) written somewhat off the cuff, in an attempt to glean a bigger picture out of the incredible amount of stuff you can actually pack into a little over seven hundred days – all of them pretty unique in some ways.

On further reflection, however, a few things stand out. For starters, I had a bunch of personal goals when I joined, two of which were pretty obvious, and a third that might elude the casual reader who typically pegs me as a technologist:

  • I wanted to experience firsthand the way Microsoft was transforming itself to re-focus on cloud (in much the same way as I experienced and took an active role in Vodafone‘s re-invention as a fixed-mobile operator).
  • Catching up on the Microsoft technology stack, and understanding how it fit together as it was rebuilt from the ground up for the cloud.
  • And, finally, getting a handle on the business itself. I’ve gone back and forth from tech to biz a number of times over my career (and I expect to keep twharting people’s tendency to pigeonhole me until I die), and building the cloud business is the best way to understand it.

Two years on, all those goals were unquestionably met and I can move on to other stuff, such as enjoying the ride a bit more and peeking at what’s just around the corner. But first, let’s take a look at the status quo.

What I Do

I’m still a Cloud Solution Architect, and still (primarily) think “in the large” while making good use of my Open Source background. As needs evolved, I moved around in different ways: on one hand, and after a stint dealing with systems integrators and reacquainting myself with the consulting world, I’m now dealing with some of the largest national customers, and tech-wise I moved squarely into what Microsoft terms the “Data & AI” side of Azure, diving into the hard realities of turning analytics and machine learning into actionable business intelligence – and, more importantly, turning it into a process.

As it turned out, my in-depth experience with Python helped a fair bit, and even though I’m still not a fan of R (which I nearly gave up on five or so years ago), I got reacquainted with it for exploratory analytics – although it’s still not the cleanest thing to run in production as a standalone runtime, embedding it in other stuff actually works pretty well.

I still get a kick out of doing infrastructure and networking, but the bread and butter stuff of firing up VMs doesn’t appeal much to me unless there are zeroes to the right of the number of instances – that’s where automation and orchestration come in, and where I’m most productive. From a service architecture standpoint, most large enterprises just aren’t innovative enough to go all out on containers, so I’m a couple of Kubernetes releases behind the cool kids – which might actually be a good thing, given that it’s driving me to catch up.

Looking Back

Well, for starters, it’s also been a couple of years since the first time I logged in to our “inner circle” Slack and laughed myself silly with this:

My friends are the absolute best.

It did feel a little dramatic at first, but now it doesn’t even seem strange anymore, even considering that I’m still largely using Linux and a Mac to get things done. It’s not as if any platform is without flaws these days, and I’ve always stayed steadfastly neutral in many regards – after all, some of the best things in life are acquired tastes.

Taking in the bigger picture, it’s sobering to think that over the course of the past two years, Azure grew in complexity and sophistication to a point where there’s no doubt it is more than a match for the competition – something that I try to have an unbiased view on, to the extent of trying out that very same competition from time to time and peering closely at the gaps. And I find it symptomatic that, of late, many of those gaps are on the other side(s).

There’s still a lot of work to do, and the hectic pace at which the entire industry is moving makes it hard to keep track of everything that’s happening, but that’s par for the course. On a more personal level, I still miss running (and delivering) projects, still miss leading a team (even if multinationals strive to empower individual contributors, enlightened management is a rare asset), and am definitely still coming to terms with moving about constantly, but I’ve been able to carve out the occasional bubble of focus time to actually get done some Stuff That Matters To Me, and it sort of suffices – for now.

Looking Forward

I’m rather more optimistic than last year, since I’m now under new management – the team I’m a part of is now an independent unit with tighter leadership and focus, and as a direct result a lot of the casual frustration that comes with organizational dithering, non-committals and plain lack of understanding regarding what we actually need to do simply melted away overnight, something I’m going to chalk up to the kind of transformation pains I wanted to experience in the first place (oh, the irony!).

In addition, the data stuff that I’ve been doing increasingly steers me away from having to deal with “traditional” IT and more towards the business side of my customers, and even when I have to do purely technical stuff sticking to the Open Source side of things keeps me sharp(er), so I’m OK with what I’m doing even if being in constant demand can get wearisome.

Aside from that, I’ve got my bearings and am now absolutely certain of what I want to do next (and whom I want to do it with). And it’s going to be fun – especially because I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

It’s gonna be… wait for it…