Career tips and tricks for IT pros

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  • Mary Jo Foley
    Mary Jo Foley

    Our next MJFChat, scheduled for Monday, July 22, is between me and Rick Claus, Microsoft Cloud Advocate Team Lead. We’re going to talk all about career tips for IT pros.

    Rick is part of the Azure engineering team and it’s his job to connect with technical communities and share his knowledge about core Azure infrastructure services, Windows server, systems management and all things cloud.

    What questions do you have for Rick about how to navigate the changing IT landscape and/or about Microsoft technologies that you, as an IT pro, are interested in? No question is too big or too trivial. I’ll be chatting with him on July 22, and will ask some of your best questions directly to him. Just add your questions below and maybe you’ll be mentioned during our next audio chat.


    Why should I choose to work on an Azure Cloud when providers such as Amazon are occupying a third of the Cloud market ?
    What makes Azure more powerful, responsive, or more diverse than Amazon ?

    Thank you

    Brad Sams
    Brad Sams

    You can find the audio playback, here.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:00 Hi, you’re listening to’s MJFChat show. I Am Mary Jo Foley, Aka Your community magnate. I’m here to interview industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. So today’s MJF chat is going to be mostly about career tips and tricks for IT pros. My guest today is Rick Claus , Microsoft cloud advocate team lead, craft beer connoisseur, and proud owner of the Tilley hat. Thank you for joining me. Rick. You like that intro?

    Rick Claus: 00:45 I didn’t know that Tilly was endorsing us in sponsoring us this episode. That’s fantastic.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:53 Thank you very much.

    Rick Claus: 00:54 I should probably ask you, can I call you MJ or do I call you Mary Jo or what would you prefer?

    Mary Jo Foley: 01:00 People do MJ and Mary Jo both. So whichever you prefer. All good.

    Rick Claus: 01:05 Okay, sounds great.

    Mary Jo Foley: 01:07 So before we get into the career tips and tricks, I want you to tell our listeners a bit about your career path because I know you’ve been at Microsoft about 15 years and you’ve had a lot of twists and turns and also relatedly, what is a cloud advocate?

    Rick Claus: 01:24 Okay, well I’ll see what I can do. So my formal background, if you call it formal cause people always ask what kind of degrees you have. I don’t have a university degree. I originally was going to university way back when I want to give you the exact dates. I was going after what I was passionate and interested about, which at the time was actually theater directing. The part that got me into technology was the fact that actually my father was an electrical engineer at university and was a professor and he brought home, you know, quote-unquote the first computer back when I was a wee young lad in grade four, grade five. That’s where I got started with technology and I started to collect the salary in technology because I literally was the guy who sat in front of the computer and jiggled the cable to get the printer to work.

    Rick Claus: 02:19 That would have been in the late eighties, early nineties timeframe for when I started. Eventually grew through a bunch of different careers being the person that got computers to work, gradually working at building a local area network, and then a wide-area network with multiple different companies and organizations. Back then it was banging vines back in the Windows 311 for workgroups interface and that progressively led into windows systems and windows servers as well. Fast forward a little while from that to becoming a trainer and a consultant for a training company based out of Toronto, Canada that no longer exists anymore. And then from there I did some consulting and training for other companies, freelance, both the United States and in Canada, mostly in the consulting side. I happened to sit down and train a person who actually now is on my team here at Microsoft and he suggested that I apply for a job, which was at the time a technical evangelist role at Microsoft.

    Rick Claus: 03:31 And that was almost 15 years ago, and that’s how I got my job at Microsoft. Basically even the consulting world, and going into the technical evangelism space, the concept was we needed technical people that had walked a mile in the it pros or the operations professionals shoes, doing their racking and stacking of servers, managing of systems, networking, you know, your traditional stuff you’d expect for it pros and, and CIS admins to do. They needed people like that that could actually get in front of customers and get in front of audiences to be able to talk about technology. That’s where I got into the role of a technology evangelist at Microsoft 15 years ago.

    Mary Jo Foley: 04:15 Wow. Okay.

    Rick Claus: 04:17 So fast forward to now cloud advocacy. That’s kind of the 2.0 version of doing technical evangelism activities where instead of being the person that’s on the soapbox, on the corner with a megaphone talking about how fantastic product x is, instead is pivoted to be more of an engaging and listening, mechanism or role to different online communities and in-person communities. The community that I focus on is IT Pros and operations folks that typically work inside of, I guess you’d call them enterprise and small-medium businesses, one of the larger side for Microsoft ecosystem because of my background. We take their feedback about what they like about the products, what they don’t like about the products, we help them identify gaps and problems with the products and resources to be able to use them. And then we take those back to engineering teams and our own teams to be able to try to solve with product updates and, changes to those individual services or even just better resourcing and documentation and, demos and other things that could help them learn how to use something better on-premises or up inside of the Azure world.

    Rick Claus: 05:29 Cause we were from Microsoft inside the classroom. That’s where cloud advocacy comes into play here.

    Mary Jo Foley: 05:35 Okay. That’s good to know. I’ve heard that title a lot because I feel like there are more and more people who have the Cloud Advocate title at Microsoft, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant.

    Rick Claus: 05:47 You could think of developer evangelists kind of were first then came technology evangelists, which are the operations folks after that. And I was one of those, I was one of the first 12 that were hired at Microsoft way back when 15 years ago. And then the same thing, they were cloud developer advocates that came first at Microsoft and there has been developer advocacy at all sorts of tech companies, over the last couple of years. And then, I can tell you the story, but maybe it’s not the right place for this story here, but basically I was tapped on the shoulder for my engineering role as a pm to come and see if we could start up and create a team of advocates that were specifically targeting the it pro audience. So I have created and manage a team of seven resources around the world to be able to do what I do.

    Mary Jo Foley: 06:36 That’s awesome. Nice. So I’m going to give you the hardest question here first. It’s related to what you were just talking about, which is Azure in the cloud. One of the readers on Petri, let me see if I can pronounce his name correctly, Hadriendugas asked, “why should I choose to work on an Azure cloud when providers like Amazon already are occupying a third of the cloud market? What makes Azure more powerful and more responsive or more diverse than Amazon?”

    Rick Claus: 07:11 That’s a great question. That is howI’d like to start my questions so I can think about it for a second to come up.

    Mary Jo Foley: 07:17 That’s a good trick.

    Rick Claus: 07:20 My philosophy has always been in this particular role for the entire time I’ve been at Microsoft has been what is the right technology that’s going to provide the solution for the person asking the question, spending time to figure out what that happens to be. We don’t have that kind of detail with this particular question, but, one of the reasons why I’m at Microsoft and believe in Microsoft’s vision and Satya’s vision for what we’re doing with the cloud, is that I see it from a practical perspective of growing through the Microsoft ecosystem. A huge percentage of all the different organizations that are currently enterprise customers around the world have a very large footprint of Microsoft services and Technologies on-premises, that they use in right now.

    And they’re starting to dabble and use the cloud in different areas. The engineering team that I spent three years in on the Azure side before joining this role, it was our mandate and mission to make it so that the experience for people that are using those types of technologies in the Microsoft ecosystem had a really good experience using them also inside of the Azure environment.

    So you could translate your skills easily from on-premises up into Azure. So things like making Powershell better to be able to manage Azure resources. It’s been up and down, up and down based on how you’re looking at that over the last number of years as things evolve and grow because it’s a distributed management process. But, I find that I have a lot more attach of technologies that will work on-premises inside the Microsoft ecosystem that tie into Azure to give me some added benefits. My current one that I like right now is Azure File Sync, very, very popular with IT Pros, all these aging, servers and NAS devices, and SANS that are serving up storage on-premises.

    Rick Claus: 09:06 Why not take advantage of scale and using some of those resources that are no longer required on-premises, from a file perspective cause their archival information have them automatically moved up for you into Azure cold storage, Azure storage counts that basically, you know, hundreds of terabytes of storage available in the is for you to be able to use. And then if a customer needs one of those files, they can simply click on that file to open it and it’s going to bring down the actual hot version of that file from cold storage, if you will, and make it as if the end-user never had to worry about where that file is located.

    It’s completely transparent to them. So a better experience for your on-premises technologies in the Microsoft ecosystem, it’s going to naturally be coming from an environment where Azure was made by the same people, in the same company that’s been working inside that space for quite some time.

    Mary Jo Foley: 09:55 That’s a, that’s this is a really perfect segue to a question I had. So like the idea in my head is if you’re an IT Pro and you’re experienced in say windows server or you’re experienced in office on-prem or you know, even more, specialized like Exchange or Skype for business or Teams or whatever. Do you like have a set of recipes where you say, okay, you’re a guy or a gal who knows about windows server, here’s how I would suggest you start thinking about moving your career ahead. Like as are there products or paths or I, I guess I’m wondering how do you, how do you kind of guide people or counsel them who say, I only have experience on-prem with older technologies and I want to stay current and I want to advance in my career? What do you tell them?

    Rick Claus: 10:45 Well the good thing is my team is actually tasked with creating a bunch of these resources so that’s good to know that there are people at Microsoft that dedicated this kind of information and content creation.

    Mary Jo Foley: 10:58 All the new docs, right?

    Rick Claus: 11:01 That’s exactly where I’m heading. Basically, I would actually go to a more interactive place, which is a I would go there and if you make a profile of a Microsoft ID of some kind, like a, you know, a live id kind of thing, you can basically have a profile that tracks your progress as you’re going through different tiny micro-learning segments if you will.

    These aren’t necessarily, um, like you, what you would expect from an online learning company, like a pluralsight as an example where it’s like an in-depth video and demo and you’re kind of watching this two or three-hour segment of multiple different types of topics on let’s say Azure administration. Instead, you can go to the site and then just do some browse searching for some keywords. Like windows server like Powershell, like Azure.

    Rick Claus: 11:50 Then you can also filter to say, you know, my role really I want to become an administrator. Like I am on-premises, but I want to start looking at the Azure side . Just type in the word administrator as the keyword. You’ll actually find a learning path of multiple modules that build on each other to be able to go off and get used to provisioning your first machine, interacting with it, managing it with Powershell, throwing a web server up there, that sort of stuff. Those types of incremental steps and experiences are actually all available to you inside of the live sandbox environment that you don’t have to pay for.

    Mary Jo Foley: 12:24 Yeah, I was going to ask you it’s free, right?

    Rick Claus: 12:26 Like it’s completely free sandboxes that are small enough for the duration of your no screens basically.S o long as you have an account profile that you’ve created on the site, then it tracks your progress as you go through them.

    Rick Claus: 12:39 So when we launched that last September back in 2018, there was a missing chunk of stuff for your administrator types that are used to working on premises. And so my team stepped up and we helped create a whole bunch of those different modules and we’re continuing upon that experience now. Those particular modules, we’re now have created content that happens to also match up with some certification exams, which I’m a big fan of certification. There is content there for the AZ 900 course, AZ 103, which is the Azure administrator, AZ 101 exams as well. Those types of content are going to be available to go through, in a guided knowledge checking knowledge testing, kind of miniaturized chunks of microlearning you can go through and track your way through them.

    Rick Claus: 13:31 So that’s where I point everybody to go off and start to use Azure because you don’t have to pop down a credit card for guided experiences for how to answer questions and do some scenarios and then actually see the results of how they work in the, in a live-action environment.

    Mary Jo Foley: 13:44 I remember when you announced Azure learn, I think it was at Ignite last year. At the time I was like yeah that’s another learning thing. But then when I started looking at it, it’s that you actually get quite a bit for free.

    Rick Claus: 13:57 The cool thing is it’s evolving to like, we’re trying to bring some new experiences because originally it was designed from a developer perspective cause it’s a bit easier to simulate some stuff inside of development experience. What they’re looking for. It’s a bit more complex to be able to have, you know, multiple machines spun up for you to be able to use inside of the sandbox environment that’s there.

    Rick Claus: 14:20 So we’re looking at expanding upon those in the coming year to make it even richer environments to try some hybrid solutions, things like that. Right now it’s native inside of Azure. Spin up your vms, do some kind activity, do some networking, do some VPN connectivity in that sort of stuff. The basic things you would expect to want to do if you were an on-premises person going ahead and using Azure for the first time.

    Mary Jo Foley: 14:44 Cool. Very cool. I know your role is in Azure and you’re a cloud advocate and all, but if you were not in Azure and you were giving someone guidance, who’s an IT Pro right now, who says, okay, what else besides general cloud do you think I should be looking at when I’m thinking about the place to go for maximizing job security and hopefully my salary. What other areas, do you like say data science or is that too kind of specialized?

    Rick Claus: 15:15 I’m still kind of traditional old school right now. I believe that there is a very large opportunity to continue with your on-premises knowledge, even just using more modern versions of on-premises solutions that you have right now. So if we’re talking about my space, which is infrastructure and background and infrastructure and data centers, I would be looking at how I can go off and modernize my on-premises server infrastructure from an active directory perspective to be the most recent version of active directory that would be using server 2019 as opposed to server 2012 or 2002 or whichever it happens to be. Looking at those different workloads that are running on premises that are of those different versions and how I could upgrade them to newer versions, within windows server.

    The reason why is because those give you the easiest hook to start to leverage some of those hybrid services inside the Azure space or the new windows admin center interface for being able to go off to manage them, where you can start to dip your toe and understand on-premises 80% of your time and then 20% of your time doing some hybrid services and hybrid capabilities as well.

    Rick Claus: 16:27 So to me, it’s hybrid. Hybrid’s gonna be around for quite some time and getting the knowledge of how to hook up, how to leverage services, which ones to use, which vendors to use, is going to be pretty invaluable. To me going and changing direction completely and going into an AI base or going into data sciences or things like that. Those are going to have a slightly higher barrier to entry.

    Mary Jo Foley: 16:49 For sure.

    Rick Claus: 16:50 But I’m looking for the easy progression. The best asset a person has that has been in the industry for a little bit of time or for some period of time with the company that they are with is the fact that you have that tribal knowledge of how the organization works and runs from an IT perspective. You can be the person that brings forward ideas on how to get better value for the stuff that you currently own and currently running. But then as I mentioned, what types of services you could bring down from different vendors like Azure and Microsoft to be able to bring you some value added stuff to some of the pain points you have right now.

    Mary Jo Foley: 17:26 That’s good. Yup. General question, also using the word general in it. When you talk to it pros, do you suggest they think about being generalists or do you suggest they specialize and why do you give them the advice that you do?

    Rick Claus: 17:44 This is interesting. I have a debate with this with my team constantly. I’ve seen kind of just looking at the industry from the years that I’ve been in it, I’ve seen it where people were very, very specialized and stuff that they did. They were the people that did the, you know, the operations of the, you know, AS 400 of the mainframes and stuff like that. And that’s what they did. And that’s all. Then they had to become a bit more generalist to be able to go off and support the advent of PCs come inside their environment. All the lovely support you have to worry about as that industry was maturing.

    Then they found themselves going in and specializing and all of a sudden now they are the persons responsible for the local area network, the servers and the network and infrastructure. And then people went down the path of being a security expert or the networking expert or the sand experts. So they went back down to very focused. But I’m seeing now is that they’re going away from being specialized going back to being more broadly, aware of all the different options of technologies that are there.

    But they still maintain a level of specialty for where their passionate happens to reside. So my team and I, I dunno if this is an industry term or whichever, but, my team and I refer to it as more of a t-shaped, approach. You have to have a depth in an area that you want to choose as being your area of specialty. In my case, it is infrastructure that I’ve chosen. In one of my team members case it’s identity and security of that they’ve chosen to be more, more depth on. But you have to maintain the broader peripheral vision around complimentary services and also the industry, in general, to be able to see where your depth technology can go in and tie into, so we typically try to say you’ve gotta be broad, but you also have to be deep in areas that you find value and also that you are interested in.

    Mary Jo Foley: 19:33 Yup, it’s funny. It’s very similar in our field too, in journalism. People always say, how do you even have a career in journalism anymore? Should I specialize or should I be a generalist and I 9 times out of 10 tell them to specialize. But sometimes you’d go back and you think, well like for me, I’ve specialized in Microsoft for my career. But is that a good idea or would it have been better to be like cloud reporter?

    Rick Claus: 19:59 You know, you’ve specialized in the Microsoft area, but then you are very passionate about asking people about data sciences, about AI technologies and about other things. So you’re specialized in one, but you still have a broad depth of a certain level more than the layperson that’s not involved technology at all. To be able to have those initial conversations about stuff.

    Mary Jo Foley: 20:19 Very true, very true. In addition to learn, which we talked about at the start of this chat, what are the kinds of resources do you suggest people take advantage of? Like, especially things they might not even know exist where they could find new ways to kind of think about their career and get excited about different technologies.

    Rick Claus: 20:43 I am a huge subscriber to simply being constantly curious and being a lifelong learner. That’s two buzzwords you’ve probably heard before. I firmly believe that and try to abide it as much as I can personally. And it’s served me well over the years. I tend to get involved in projects that are again on the peripheral that I’m not a specialist in, but I have an interest in because it’s complimentary.

    So like samples, identity as an example, and find opportunities to work on projects that kind of, you know, partner or shadow someone else that is an expert in that particular area. So one of the things that we have an opportunity to need to do here at Microsoft is participating in hackathons and hack weeks and stuff like that. I was at first kind of a naysayer because a lot of them that are in this space, we’re the largest software development company in the world, tend to be around development and development systems and the role of someone in operations or IT Pro, infrastructure-focused may or may not have the opportunity to really get that deeply involved in a short period of time of a hack over the course of, you know, three or four days.

    Rick Claus: 21:54 So we have gone in and we’ve created our own hack as an example of specifically looking at an operations problem that’s been overlooked and just kind of nursed along within our organization, within our company. We’re taking this on as a project. So we’re basically doing a specialized focused project work for, you know, four or five days, to try to solve a specific problem here inside of our organization and it’s opening me back up to having to learn some technologies that I thought I knew really well, but they’ve evolved over time . I need to kind of brush up on some of them right now.

    Mary Jo Foley: 22:29 That is part of the one-week hackathon?

    Rick Claus: 22:29 Yeah, the one-week hackathons going on right now. So there’s thousands and thousands of projects that are going on and there was a handful of them that I found were kind of interesting and this is one that I was asked to participate in specifically.

    Mary Jo Foley: 22:45 Very cool. So before we do anything else, we also have to talk about beer. For those listening who don’t know, Rick is really serious about beer brewing. He’s won a bunch of awards for beers that he’s brewed with friends and his team. So I’ve dabbled a little in a home too, and I always think it’s interesting how many people are in tech, who also happened to be homebrewers or brewers in some way. But I’m curious, what are you brewing right now?

    Rick Claus: 23:20 I’m a gadget guy. I love gadgets. At the end of June, I think it was. There’s this company called Glickman Engineering that builds really good homebrew materials and for the prosumer type market, they just released an updated version of their temperature control device that allows you to zero in on temperature control during the mash period of soaking the greens to extract the sugars that make the base of your beer before you go in and, and you add hops and oil it and then ferment in.

    Rick Claus: 23:57 And so I made a test batch using this new device that I purchased from them to see how it works. And so I actually have a Manny’s Pale Ale Cologne that I’ve made right now that’s just finishing fermenting and ready for the dry-hop edition. But I got to use this, basically like an IOT device that actually has a nice little screen on it that allows me to set my temperature all through and it’s gonna fluctuate and turn on and turn off the gas burner and light it automatically for you to maintain and achieve and then maintain that temperature that you have at set for and based on clocks and counters, we’ll go through and increase or decrease it based on your recipe as well. I’ll have to let you know how to try it turns out but according to the numbers, it looks like it’s going to be good because of those gadgets that I picked up and tried and then in my bright tank I also have a Summertime Wit that needs to be caked and made servable cause it is summertime of course.

    Mary Jo Foley: 24:58 Of course. Of course. Yeah. I was going to say, do you have any summer favorite styles or beers and what’s always a good one?

    Rick Claus: 25:05 What we do is my team and I get together and we make a big batch of Wit, so maybe 15, 15 gallons of Wit. And then what we do is we switch it out, with the fresh fruit Randall device when you serve it. So one weekend it could be blueberry. The next weekend it could be peach mango. The next weekend it could be watermelon. So you’re not locked into just one. You just swap the fruit out of the canister that the beer is flowing through before.

    Mary Jo Foley: 25:33 Oh Man, I get to come over for some of that, I think.

    Rick Claus: 25:36 Welcome anytime.

    Mary Jo Foley: 25:37 Thank you. All right. Any, any last tips, tricks or, or words of wisdom to share with the IT Pros?

    Rick Claus: 25:45 The biggest thing is honestly, as I mentioned, stay curious and be a lifelong learner. It’s something that you have probably gotten into as being a member of the profession, that people that work inside of IT. The big thing for me is besides lifelong learning and staying curious and that sort of stuff also understands that the skills that you have amassed already if you’ve been in the industry for awhile, are directly translatable into skills that work inside of the new cloud ecosystem. If you know, subnetting, you know, VPN connectivity, you know, infrastructure design for how to build a three-tier application on-premises and virtualization, it’s essentially the same skills inside of cloud vendor x like Azure. It’s simply a matter of understanding the new tools you have to use to be able to do it. But the architecture’s the same.

    Rick Claus: 26:36 Performance testing is the same. Security is the same. Just simply pivoting that knowledge to using the different set of tools and then understanding some of the nuances of work inside the cloud, to quote the good, Jeffrey Snowbird, treating your servers like cattle as opposed to pets. From a troubleshooting perspective, knowing when to quit and to simply rebuild it again and being able to go off and try it as opposed to as trying to sweat and labor over top of a server to try to fix it. So those are just a couple of things that worked really well from you over the years.

    Mary Jo Foley: 27:08 Hmm. I think that’s great. I think it always bears repeating that it doesn’t mean you’re antique or you’re a dinosaur just because you’re somebody who specialized in on-prem that a lot of those skills are transferable and you don’t have to start completely over from scratch.

    Rick Claus: 27:22 No, definitely not. They are definitely transferable. I call it an essential tribal knowledge that you have about those environments and then how to translate that to make it work inside of a new environment.

    Mary Jo Foley: 27:31 Great. Great. Well, thank you Rick. That was really great. Awesome, awesome tips, tricks and all beer, everything else. Thanks for having me on. For all of you regular listeners here, we’re going to be back in a couple of weeks with our next guest, so be sure to watch for that. I’ll be posting the information on and that will be your signal listeners to send in your questions. All you have to do is go to the MJFChat area in the forms on and submit questions right in there in regard to this chat with Rick. Look for the audio and the transcript of it, as with all of our chats in the next few days. Thanks again.


    Main blog for Rick’s team:

    MS Learn Azure Fundamentals learning path (especially good content for beginners in Azure/Cloud):


    • This reply was modified 8 months ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
    • This reply was modified 8 months ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
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