Getting Started with the Cloud with No Budget and an Unsupportive Employer

This thread on Twitter last night really piqued my interest:

 

It really made me think of a conversation I had with a colleague in my last “regular” job. I’m not counting my time at Comcast, because we were effectively a technology firm. I mean a normal, regular company whose core business does not relate to computers or software. Scott, who was my colleague had just attended TechEd 2011, or maybe 2012–the years run together at this point. His comment was “with everything going to the cloud, it seems like all the jobs will be with Microsoft, or helping other customers implement cloud.” In 2011-12, the cloud was still really awful (remember the original SQL Azure? I do, and it was bad), but it was clear what the future would be.

The Future is Here What Do We Do Now?

So if you are working in a “traditional” firm, and you feel as though your skills are slipping away, as the rest of the technology world moves forward, what should you do? The first thing I’m going to say isn’t an option for everyone, because of challenges, and personal situations, but given the current state of economy and IT employment, I think it needs to be said. If you are in a job where you are only supporting legacy tech, of which I don’t really mean on-prem firms–some of the most cutting edge SQL Server orgs in the world are 100% on-premises, but if you are regularly supporting software whose version conforms to the regular expression ^(200)\d{2}$ my best bit of advice to you would be to start the process of finding another job.

I know changing firms isn’t for everyone, and if you want to become a cloud engineer, you need to build your skills in that space. The crux of the twitter thread is how do you learn this things when you are in an organization that thinks that cloud computing has something to do with rain? The first thing I would recommend, if you are willing to spend a little money, is to use skillmeup.com (note: both DCAC and my company have business relationships with Opsgility, the parent company). I have taught classes using their labs–you get a real Azure subscription, with a production scenario, and you also get online training associated with the lab.

Other resources like Pluralsight or LinkedIn Learning (note: DCAC has a business relationship with LinkedIn Learning) offer online training, however I really feel like getting hands on with tech is the best way learn tech.

My Budget Isn’t Even That High

Both Amazon and Microsoft offer free trials–I know Azure a lot better, so I’m going to focus on that scenario. (BTW, this ties to another bit of advice I have, learn one cloud first. The concepts between them are pretty similar, and if you learn one cloud really well, transitioning to the other one will be much easier than trying to consume all of it at once). The Microsoft offer gives you $200 to use for 30 days, also if you have an MSDN subscription you also get somewhere between $50-150 month to use.

While those numbers are small, especially when talking about services, it can still easily get you started with the basics of cloud. Virtual machines (which also cost a lot) are for all intents and purposes very similar to your virtual machines on-prem. But if you want to learn how to extend an on-premises Active Directory to the cloud, you can do that by building a Windows Server VM on your laptop, and then connecting to Azure Active Directory. That has minimal cost (AAD is a free service). Also, learning things like networking and storage also have minimal cost.

One of the most important cloud skills you can have, Automation, just involves using PowerShell (or CLI, depending on what you like). If you haven’t learned a scripting language, you should invest more time into that. You can do this on any trial account, and with a minimal cost, especially when you learn how to clean up the resources you deployed as soon as your deployment script created.

As a SQL Server pro, if you want to start learning Azure SQL*, you should get started with Azure SQL Database. It’s cheap, and you can do everything you can do in the $15,000/month database with the $5/month database.

tl;dr

This was a long post. Here’s what you should start learning for cloud:

  • scripting (powershell, cli, or rest, doesn’t matter, learn one of them)
  • networking
  • storage
  • security
  • platform as a service offerings in your field and how they work with networking, storage and security

You can do all of these things with a minimal financial investment, or perhaps even for free.

Summary

You are in charge of your career, not your current employer. If you want to advance your skills you are going to have to work for it, and maybe spend some money, but definitely a big time investment. Also, consider going to some training–I just did a precon at SQL Saturday Chicago, and while the attendees aren’t going to be cloud experts after a day, they have a great basis on which to move forward. Books and reading are challenging in a cloud world–it moves quickly and changes fast.

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