A Thousand Days at Microsoft

It’s been a thousand days. Well, a little over, in fact (by nearly a hundred) but there is a weight to that number that carries with it a measure of how far down the rabbit hole I’ve gone since last year and how long it feels.

Even though I can’t write about the details and have little interest in mixing work tech with personal pursuits, I’m still doing largely the same as a Cloud Solution Architect, although the stakes are a bit different.

I’m now both dealing with most of the major named accounts and back working with system integrators and consultancies, which provides a degree of structure and focus that is quite welcome even as I still miss having my own team and running projects end-to-end.

But I do get to tackle somewhat bigger projects now and then, and still find it very easy to keep myself sharp on the inner workings of most of the tech that interests me (including both Open Source and the competition), so the scales are almost even, and there are three main reasons for that:

  • The company’s internal transformation continues apace, and now that I’m more attuned to the internal shifts and the rhythm of product launches, pieces fall more rapidly into place in terms of things my customers can make use of (typically in the DevOps, data and AI spaces, although to be honest Portugal doesn’t have that many sophisticated enterprise customers yet).
  • We’ve surpassed the 50% mark in Linux VMs in Azure, which despite the long-standing bias against Microsoft from certain quarters of the industry legitimizes it as “a cloud for any workload” (as the mantra goes) and makes it a lot easier to have the right kind of discussion instead of having to explain everything Microsoft isn’t anymore.
  • Kubernetes is a first-class citizen on Azure to the extent where what I like to call “modern infrastructure” makes a lot of sense on Azure and our DevOps stack even as the competition solidifies (the fact that Microsoft has a coherent hybrid cloud approach has been paying off handsomely in the enterprise space, and even as the race towards the cloud is intensifying, we’re solidly entrenched in the mainstream).

Looking back, I feel I’ve achieved most of what I originally set out to do: To experience the transformation inside Microsoft, be at the leading edge of public cloud, and learn as much as possible. But even as those goals solidify, there is a certain lack of fulfillment.

In fact, the great yawning gap I still feel regarding a thousand days ago is that year-long projects (which were the norm before) are now distant memories, and despite having continued engagements spanning several smaller projects (and a lot of concurrency involved) I worry that my knack for strategic planning is deteriorating in favor of more ad-hoc, tactical plays—I’m a lot more “Agile” (if you’ll pardon the hype pun) these days, but I’m a long-haul kind of guy at heart, and the emphasis on smaller projects in my current role is just not cutting it.

Another mental ache is that both focus time and room for growth are still sub par (again due to the insane number of different engagements, meetings and ad hoc internal chores I have to pack into my waking hours), with constant organizational change throwing wrenches into my plans.

Part of that is clearly the time required to get to grips with the culture and, let’s face it, a matter of sheer luck amidst all the changes. My first year felt a lot like guerrilla warfare, whereas the third brought sane tactics and focused leadership (which helped tremendously). Now I can find my way around nearly blindfolded, and help others navigate the intricate little procedural mazes that every large corporation invariably begets. And yes, Microsoft still has a unique internal culture and a language all of its own.

But, looking back to my years at both Vodafone and SAPO, the drive to build stuff, to go through the long, hard slogs of shaking out the bugs and persuading people and getting it all to fit together to come out at the other end with something for people to use is still there (in fact, has always been there), and I miss doing that.

I miss it a lot, really, and can’t see an easy way to regain that feeling where I’m at right now (both in terms of role and in Portugal). Many friends tell me this is a First World Problem, but I, for one, would rather be happier creating things rather than just teaching other people how to sprinkle order onto bits of tech—teaching is something that has been on the cards for a while, but believe me, there are much more fulfilling things to teach.

The only saving grace of my current occupation is that, regardless of subject matter, when you’re a halfway decent teacher you always learn more than your students.

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