itContracting Quick-fire Q&A: Principal Azure Solution Architect and Microsoft MVP
Cloud technologies are always changing. So, having the interest and willingness to learn is key to becoming a Principal Azure Solution Architect, as Joe Carlyle explains.
Name: Joe Carlyle
Position: Principal Azure Solution Architect and Microsoft MVP
Can you tell me about your technical experience and how it brought you to your position at Evros?
I had a slightly unusual route into IT in that I have a degree in economics. I have always had a strong interest in computers though, so after I finished my degree, I completed a Level 9 Postgraduate Diploma in IT at DCU.
That course in particular allows you to come from any discipline and achieve an academic qualification in IT.
After I completed that, I started to look for work and got a summer internship working on a helpdesk. At the end of the 3-month programme (as one of the junior guys was moving on) they offered me the position.
I think it’s really important to start out working on a helpdesk because it develops your understanding of the sorts of problems end-users are experiencing day-to-day.
I remained there for a couple of years and progressed through the infrastructure team looking at server management and deployment as well as application access.
After that I was promoted to one of the team leads for their first Microsoft cloud project, working on Exchange Online. Following that, I progressed to working as a Microsoft Cloud Consultant for Inspired focusing on Azure.
Inspired was later acquired by Evros and my focus on Azure and Office365 continued.
I started up a blog and a Twitter account which are both centred around Azure. And then last year I was made an MVP by Microsoft.
What are the key technology skill requirements for your position?
The overall programme is called Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) which has been around for years. However, the traditional model began to be a bit of a challenge for cloud.
The traditional model would be that you have paths towards different tiers of certification. So, generally you would sit two exams and then you would hit what’s known as the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate). And then you would sit another couple of exams, and you would become an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert).
However, these exams don’t have an expiry date – which is really important for technologies like cloud where everything is always changing.
So, Microsoft introduced Role Based Certifications which expire after two years. They started with Azure as the first tech to have this path.
The standard roles for Azure are: Admin Associate, Developer Associate and Solutions Architect Expert. The Role Based Certifications fall in-line with these tiers and there are some extra qualifications you can do on top in things like data platforms and AI.
As well as being a Microsoft Certified Solutions Architect, I am also a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer Associate and a Microsoft Certified Azure DevOps Engineer Expert.
How did you acquire those skills?
The exams are based towards a specific role and there are multiple different ways for working towards that capability.
Microsoft has its own online platform called Microsoft Learn where there are learning paths set out to line up with specific roles. And that’s all online, self-paced and free.
There are interactive sections too where you get to try out the tech as part of it. So, it’s not just reading and clicking – you actually get to build stuff in a sandbox environment.
Then there’s Microsoft OpenEdX which has a lot of online lectures which are also free.
You can also do courses through a third party which you’d normally have to pay for.
In terms of becoming a Solutions Architect however, a lot of it comes with experience as you need to know not just how the tech works but how to use it, when to use it and when not to use it.
It’s also worth noting that the ability to go off, self-pace and upskill yourself, when it comes to cloud, is very valuable because you need to do it. Cloud tech changes, in general, a considerable amount, every 6-12 months. If you don’t have the capacity or willingness to change with it and keep learning, you will struggle in those roles.
What was the most challenging part of the journey to your current position?
The fact that within IT, everything changes so fast can mean you start to doubt yourself. But you get better at that as you mature into a role.
I think it’s just a part of any role in IT. There are always going to be challenges so having the ability to stop yourself and say ‘I need to know more about this’ is really key.
If you’re not one hundred per cent, go find out what you need to know, and then do it. And that will help you later on as well when you’re leading projects or you need to guide someone.
Making mistakes and then knowing how to react to them helps to build your skills within a senior role and develops you as an IT professional.
What advice would you give to someone looking to do what you do?
Azure, as a platform is huge. So, in terms of what I do, I sit on the applications and infrastructure side of Azure.
So, the first thing to look at, are the pillars involved which are:
- Data and AI
And you would need to pick one of those streams.
The platform is so big and changes so often, you can only really be an expert in one of these pillars.
If you’re interested in AI, then you would pick data and AI. If your focus is systems, then you would want apps and infrastructure. And if it’s code then go for dev.
Microsoft has aligned its certifications with set roles so if even if you’re not in a particular role at that time, but you want to be, having the certification proves to the employer that you have professional knowledge for that stream.
It’s also an opportunity to check that you’re actually interested in that particular area too, so you just get to confirm that by doing the certifications.
In terms of the beginner roles within Azure, you’ll be looking at something like Azure Administrator which is essentially a service desk role. You’d be looking after the maintenance and day-to-day operations while making sure everything works efficiently.
Your next step would be to look at the security side of things. A lot of customers worry about security so that would be a natural progression from there.
What do you love about your job the most?
That’s an easy one – the changeability.
I like the fact that each project is different. It’s easy to maintain an interest in changing projects and changing technology.
Additionally, I love that in my role, I get to speak to different clients, all from different industries too because you can see the different challenges they face in using the tech.
You get a much broader sense of the platform so that side of it is definitely the most interesting and rewarding for me.
Find out more
Cloud and cyber security roles will be in high demand throughout 2020 and beyond. Read more about what to expect within the IT industry in our 2020 jobs forecast by Senior IT Recruitment Consultant, Tom Leonard.