Introducing the Azure Methods and Practices DevRel Team

Okay, quick recap: I joined the Microsoft Advocacy team a little over a year ago, and it’s been one of the most interesting periods of my career. From having to basically learn everything from the ground up (a process that is still ongoing), to being part of a team that is working hard to align themselves with a diverse and rapidly changing customer base, it’s been a wonderful learning experience.

imageWhat’s also been interesting has been the evolution of the larger DevRel team as a whole. I’m not sure I’ve ever been part of a team this large that has willingly made significant organizational changes to better align with the industry and communities that we support. From top to bottom, the enthusiasm for making sure we are as close to our customers as we can be is both daunting and refreshing. Change is always hard, but doing it for the sake of the communities we love makes it easier to put in the work.

When I joined, the organization was pretty similar to DevRel groups across the industry. Most of the focus was on developers, which makes sense for early cloud adoption, along with a strong effort around open source projects and raising the visibility of Microsoft in those communities. These functions of DevRel are reasonably common from cloud provider to cloud provider, and there are similar groups around the industry.

For me, however, those functions weren’t the reason I joined the team at Microsoft. In my opinion, one of the key differentiators between Microsoft and, well, any other cloud provider is the decades long relationship we have had with enterprise companies. From operating systems, to databases, to messaging and collaboration, to just about any other application that a company of any size needs, Microsoft has a long-standing and mission-critical relationship with almost every organization and partner on the planet. It’s important not to underestimate the power of that historical context, especially as we see cloud providers moving aggressively to hire teams and executives in hopes of figuring out how to “talk enterprise” to customers. This isn’t a skill Microsoft has to build; it’s a core part of the decades-long DNA of the company. Make fun of Steve Ballmer on stage all you want, but the sales organization that he built, and that Satya Nadella has re-tooled and refocused, is a huge part of the success of the company.

A screenshot of a Tweet by Donovan BrownThe reason I came to Microsoft was to see if it made sense to extend the concept of DevRel into the operations side of the house, as a way to build bridges for enterprise customers as they try to modernize their infrastructure and day-to-day management patterns. To see if we could help them to better accommodate the new realities in their world, namely the ability to use public cloud resources, the influx of different kinds of workload constructs (think non-virtual machine based workloads), and the need to treat developers as first-class internal customers and consumers.

Luckily for me, this process was getting started just as I arrived. Marcelo Bellinaso was looking to put together a team, and after some high-level discussions I signed up. The original idea was to align the groups along the lines of the technologies themselves (Windows, Linux, etc.), but it quickly became obvious that the real continuum we needed to track was the modernization journey, and that the tech being used would naturally follow that. After a re-org we ended up with Donovan Brown running the “Methods and Practices” team that we have today.

It’s taken a while to get all the big company stuff worked out, but we ended up with one hell of a team. As individuals, everyone is impressive in their own swim lane, but together it’s one of the coolest opportunities I’ve had in my career. The idea is that there’s a continuum that customers exist on, and that they move through as the transition from a “traditional” on-premises operations organization into one that can seamlessly manage multiple places to run different kinds of workloads. That continuum encompasses multiple skills, sure, but also different tool sets, different communities, and different challenges.

On one side of the continuum is the developer side of DevOps, run by Abel Wang. Next is the operations side of DevOps, which we call Modern Operations, run by Emily Freeman and encompassing the tools and practices that roll up under the usual Site Reliability Engineering discipline. Next is the ITPros-focused Operations team that Rick Claus runs, to take care of all those operations teams who have long aligned themselves with Microsoft and our software portfolio. Finally, we get to the team that I’ll be running, the Enterprise Platforms and Tools group.

My focus will be on communities and operations folks who identify themselves first and foremost by the platform they manage, or the tools they use. The gorilla in the room here will be VMware, as one of the most popular enterprise platforms being used today, but also because of it’s vibrant and engaged community. There really isn’t anything like the VMware User Group, even after all these years, and I’m excited to bring that audience all of the new options they have available to them. In addition to VMware, we’ll also focus on OpenStack and CloudStack customers and communities, and to a lesser degree, the Red Hat ecosystem. We will also cover a wide swath of the tools used by these communities, especially the Infrastructure-as-Code subset, including Terraform, Puppet, Salt, Ansible, ARM templates and the like.

Provide the tools and content necessary to make operations teams successful in seamlessly using Azure for all VM-based workloads.

More than anything, I love the idea that each of these groups doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The goal is to recognize that customers, or even different teams inside a single customer, are going to be in different places, and move at different speeds, and it’s our responsibility to meet them where they are,and not expect or demand that they come to us. As someone who has spent decades working on the provider side (hardware and services), it’s such a relief to simply be able to help the customer wherever they may be, rather than waiting for them to need whatever it is we happened to be selling. I realize this is possible in large part because of the scope and breadth of the Azure services portfolio Microsoft offers, and I’m really excited to share as much as I can with the communities we’ll be focusing on. Rick and Donovan talked a little bit about this idea of the groups being “better together” here, if you are interested in (or concerned about) the positioning of DevOps and the ITOps communities.image

Unlike the teams run by Abel, Emily and Rick, who are coming into the org structure with existing groups, I’m starting from scratch and building the EP&T group from the ground up. If you, or someone you know, has a passion for enterprise platforms and a desire to help move operations teams  into a multi-cloud (yes, we are allowed to say that word… ) world, if you have deep technical knowledge of both the platform and the toolsets used to automate and orchestrate that platform, if you like building crazy cool things, and if you like sharing stuff with (and around) the world, we may have just the job for you. Reach out via e-mail or Twitter and let’s talk.

I’ve worked hard behind the scenes to make this team a reality, but I couldn’t have done it without Donovan’s help and the support of my fellow team leads. I’m excited to be part of the group, and really interested to see what we can accomplish together. Azure is an awesome platform, but the scope of it overwhelms me. Being able to take a subset of those services and hyper-focus them on a set of communities, technologies and use cases that I know and love is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had in a long time, and I’m so glad to be able to finally share the news with you all!

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