Getting Started with Azure (developer perspective)

So there’s a common question I’ve been getting a lot lately, and that’s “I want to learn Azure, where do I start?” And this is ultimately a very reasonable question, because as much as the cloud has permuted much of the digital world, there are still some organizations who have only recently started to adopt it.

There are many reasons people would choose to adopt the cloud, scalability, cost, flexibility, etc. But for today’s post I’m going to focus on the idea that you have already decided to go to the Azure Cloud and are looking for resources to ramp up. So I wanted to provide those here:

MS Learn: The site provides videos, reading, and walk-through’s that can assist with learning this type of material:

MS Learn for Specific Services: There are several common services out there that many people think of when they think of the cloud, and I wanted to provide some resources here to help with those:

EDX Courses: EDX is a great site with a lot of well made courses, and there are a wealth of options for Azure and Cloud, here are a few I thought relevant, but it is not an exhaustive list.

  • Architecting Distributed Applications: One common mistake, that many make with regard to the cloud is that they think of it as “just another data center”, and that’s just not true. To build effective and scalable applications, they need to be architected to take advantage of distributed compute. This course does a great job of laying out how to make sure you are architected to work in a distributed fashion.
  • Microsoft Azure Storage: A great course on the basics of using Azure Storage.
  • Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines: The virtual machine is the cornerstone of azure, and provides many options to build an scale out effectively. This is a good introduction into the most basic service in Azure.
  • Microsoft Azure App Service: The most popular service in Azure, App Service enables developers to deploy and configure apps without worrying about the machine running under-the-covers. A great overview.
  • Microsoft Azure Virtual Networks: As I mentioned above, Software Based Networking is one of the key pieces required for the cloud and this gives a good introduction into how to leverage it.
  • Databases in Azure: Another key component of the cloud is the Database, and this talks about the options for leveraging platform-as-a-service offerings for databases to eliminate your overhead for maintaining the vms.
  • Azure Security and Compliance: A key component again is security, as the digital threats are constantly evolving, and Azure provides a lot of tools to protect your workload, this is an essential piece of every architecture.
  • Building your azure skills toolkit: A good beginner course for how to get your skills up to speed with Azure.

Additional Tools and Resources, I would recommend the following:

Those are just some of the many resources that can be helpful to starting out with Azure and learning to build applications for the cloud. It is not an exhaustive list, so if you have a resource you’ve found helpful, please post it in the comments below.

Staying Organized with my “digital brain”.

Hello All, so as you probably noticed, I’m trying to do more posts, and trying to cover a wide range of topics. So for this talk, I thought I’d take time to talk about how I stay organized and stay on top of my day.

Productivity methods are a dime a dozen, and honestly everyone has their own flavor of an amalgamation of several methods to keep control of the chaos. For me, I went through a lot of iterations, and then finally settle on the system I describe here to keep myself on top of everything in my life.

Now for all the different variations out there, I know lots of people are still exploring options, which is why I decided to document mine here in hopes that it might help someone else.

So let’s start with tools, for me I use Microsoft To-Do, and its not just cause of where I work, but ultimately I use this tool because I was using Wunderlist, but ended up switching because they ended support of Wunderlist, replacing it with To-Do. So that was the driver, but I also did it, because it supports tags in the text of the items, which helps me to organize them.

So first, I break out my tasks into categories with a tag to start, the categories I use are:

  • Action: These are items that require me to take some small action, like send an email, make a phone call, reply to something, or answer a question. I try to keep these as small items.
  • Investigate: These are items that I need to research or look into, things that require me to do some digging to find an answer.
  • Discuss: These are items that I’ve made a note to get in touch with someone else and discuss a topic.
  • Build: These are my favorite kind of items, this is me taking coding action of some kind, and building something, or working out an idea. Where I am focused on the act of creating something.
  • Learn: These are items that involve my learning goals, to push myself to learn something new and keep it tactical.

Now each day, To-Do has this concept of “My Day” where you take tasks from your task list and indicate that they are going to be part of your day. Now I sort my day alphabetically so that the above items are organized in a way that lines up with how I approach them.

For me I usually tackle as many actions as I can right away and get them out of the way for the first hour of my day, and then spend the next 6 hours as a mix of new actions, and build / investigate actions.  Finally I have a set section of my week that is spent of learning activities.  The idea being to quote Bobby Axelrod, “The successful figure out how to both, handle the immediate while securing the future.”

Finally I maintain a separate list called #Waiting(…). When I am awaiting a response from someone, I change the category (like #Action) to #Waiting(name of person) and move it to the waiting list and take it off “My Day”. This let’s me put it out of my mind without losing track of the item.

After the category, I add the group, these are customer names for work, or a designation to describe the sub category of the work.  Like for example this is a monthly recurring task:

#Action – #Financial – Pay Monthly Bill’s

This allows me to quickly group the category or all “Financial” tasks if I need a big picture.  

I have been using this system for the past year and it’s done a lot to help me stay organized and measure my impact not activity.

I’ve talked previously about how import impact is over activity. And one of the downsides of many of these kinds of systems is that people tend to focus their energy on the “checking off items” and not on the overall impact of those items. I find by using this kind of grouping on the front I am able to focus energy on tasks that are high impact not low impact.

At the end of the day productivity itself is a lie and I believe that completely the idea is not to produce more, but to make every action have a return on investment.

Another book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown calls out this difference in basically saying that the key is to make the distinction of saying “what can I go big on?” or its either a “Hell Yes” or an “Absolute No”. So I find this system assists me by allowing me to make sure that I am focusing on tasks that will return dividends and not on topics that are smaller activity just to drive “checked” items.