Podcast: Q&A with Rick Claus, Microsoft Cloud Ops Advocate Team

At Microsoft Ignite 2018, I spent some time with Microsoft's Rick Claus who is leading a new team at Azure called Cloud Ops Advocates. He explains the mission of this team and what its goals are for supporting IT pros.

Richard Hay, Senior Content Producer

October 10, 2018

If you are an IT pro working in ops, then you will want to hear about this new Azure team at Microsoft. This group of Cloud Ops Advocates represents IT pros at the engineering level of Microsoft Azure, helping to integrate feedback and impact the roadmap for various cloud services.

Our guest, Rick Claus, is well known as one half of the popular Patch & Switch videocast on Microsoft's Channel 9. He is also the keynote speaker at IT/Dev Connections next week in Dallas, Texas.

Take a listen as we talk with Claus to learn more about this latest endeavor from Microsoft, and let us know what you think. 


IT Pro Today Podcast Episode 6 Transcript

Richard Hay (RH)

Intro Begins

Hello everyone and welcome to the IT Pro podcast. This is Richard Hay from ITProToday.com. Good to be with you. It has been awhile since we've done a podcast here at itprotoday.com. We actually started up a podcast last year, but with the fall migration to the new company, under Informa, leaving Penton, we decided to put it on a back burner and just kinda let it rest and we decided the time was right to come back at it, see if we can't get this podcast rolling, talking to industry experts so that you get a little bit of that background insight information, to hear from these folks that are impacting technologies for IT pros across the board. So we decided to start this back up at Microsoft Ignite, which recently wrapped up in Orlando, Florida. And I had the chance to sit down with Rick Claus. Rick is just starting up a new team at Microsoft under Azure called Cloud Ops Advocates. It is targeting IT pros that are starting to work in that mixture of the cloud and on premises or maybe fully on cloud or fully in the cloud and that their team is being built to help bring a seat to the table, of the engineering table, on the high level Azure stuff in order to make sure that ops and things like that, that are tied to Azure run the way ops needs to be run for that. He has fielded a team, continues to fill that team out. They are well-known folks and they are their own subject matter experts in this area of IT ops. And so I got to spend about 20 minutes with Rick on the show floor, talking a little bit about what he's bringing to the table with this new team. So, have a listen. Thanks.

Show Begins

RH - So anyway, we're here at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando this week and it's been a good week. How's your Ignite been so far?

Rick Claus (RC) - To me this is like summer camp for geeks. It is the best time. I have so much fun walking around the hallways, literally high fiving people, geeking out, getting selfies with people that I want to get selfies with. But then people want to get selfies with me.

RH - Right.

RC - And that's crazy, but I have a great time. I love it.

RH - I call it de-virtualizing.

RC - Oh yeah?

RH -  So you meet people you've known on Twitter forever or a long time and you've interacted there, but you finally get to meet that person in person and I am the same way. I approach others that I want to de-virtualize and then I have others that come to me because they follow me on Twitter and it's always a unique experience. But this is a big show. 30,000 people. Right?

RC -  Yup.

RH -  And so today, and for those of you that don't know, I'm sitting with Rick Claus right now. Many of you know him as one half of Patch & Switch. Him and Joey Snow and their very popular podcast that they do on Channel Nine.

RC -  You're far too kind.

RH -  Podcast, videocast.

RC -  Far too kind. It's not popular. We might have 20 people to listen to.

RH -  Okay, then it's the Tilly Hat, everybody knows him for his Tilley hat. Rick has recently moved into a new position and starting a new mission, a new kind of effort within Microsoft. Operations related, because we hear a lot about developers, we hear it and you need that, right? Developers have got to be involved. We don't have software without the developers.

RC -  Right. There's no doubt about it.

RH -  So you've moved into a new position. You were telling me a little bit about it, but why don't you share a little bit of background about what's going on and this new team you've started? Or that is around you?

RC -  Sure thing. Definitely. So I'm the lead of the team that's called Cloud Ops Advocates. I like to call us just simply the Azure Advocates or the Cloud Advocates, and we have a quote unquote 'target audience' of people that work in the IT operations space. The IT pros, the LAN admins, the assist admins that for my team in particular work inside of what I call the Microsoft ecosystem. So the folks that have on premises server, server 2008 or two, server 2019 just launching their GA in the next coming weeks or so, I don't know when this guy is going to be released, but it's coming up. So the rank and file folks that work with the Microsoft solutions on premises in Azure, maybe in a hybrid environment, whatever it happens to be.

RC -  And the advocacy role is slightly different because I actually just celebrated my 14 years, which is crazy at Microsoft, earlier in September. I started off as a technology evangelist back then. And technology evangelism was about basically getting the word out, standing on the corner with a soap box and a megaphone and talking about why XPSXP2 is so fantastic, why you had to get it out for the enterprise back then. But technical evangelism kind of evolved over the years to the point where, it kind of almost was getting kind of deprioritized. It was no longer in vogue to be able to go off and talk along those lines anymore. And that's when I shifted out of that role to go work in engineering for three years to learn how the sausage is made.

RC -  But the advocacy movement is a relatively new one that's around that basically is going and talking with different communities in person, online, at events, at meetups, at user group meetings and stuff like that that are active participants inside of those different communities in those areas.

RC -  But then listening to what their problems are, listening to what their complaints are, what their blockers are to use different technologies, in this case, the Microsoft ecosystem, to be able to bring their feedback about their pains and their problems back to the engineering teams. In the industry, we call it from a breadth perspective. So you don't have to be a customer that is managed by an account team that has, you know, 20,000 seats of exchange or something like that.

RC -  Instead, it's like literally anybody that happens to have an interest in that area or work in that area, you're part of that community. We can take the feedback and then bring that back to the engineering teams to be able to help with planning and to help with the next revisions of different iterations of software to make it better.

RH -  Now you said Azure.

RC -  Yes.

RH -  For anybody in the know, that's cloud, right? IT pros and cloud? Really?

RC -  Yeah, really. Absolutely. The IT operations group inside of, inside of the online community, the regular community obviously have been brushing up against or had been turning a blind eye towards or just too busy to have to worry about it over the years. So that's something that I was dealing with in my previous roles working at Microsoft, trying to prepare people for it.

RC -  But ultimately I'm seeing more and more people need to know more about the cloud, hyper scale and how it works. And they're now faced with the opportunity of can I pivot my career, learn more about it and be able to take my tribal knowledge of what I have from on premises, my way of working with powershell on my way working with servers and infrastructure and my data centers and then apply that as an extension up inside of an Azure environment.

RC -  And so I've got folks on my team that are data center specialists that have been working in data centers all their lives that have been looking at how they can integrate into migration of certain services into an Azure environment, into an AWS environment or start to turn on and use hybrid services like backup and restore or Azure site recovery for being able to do a synchronization of boxes up inside of Azure. And we can provide them those resources about how they can go off and start to use these in the IT operations space. But at the same time you can also find out what their blockers are. So maybe they have an Oracle database that has a too many transactions and it's too fast to be able to do a complete synchronization to be able to do what they want to have at work or they have a slightly more complex scenario that hasn't been documented all that well in how to do it inside of the docs space or something like that.

RC -  We can, besides taking feedback on how to make the experience better on the engineering side, we also go out and we create content to put on at events like Microsoft Ignite, as far as sessions are concerned or create training videos or create what I call assets of documentation that are kind of outside of the regular clearly defined area of using the product that work specific to those individual needs.

RC -  Because if one person has that problem, more than likely, other people do too. He may not all be 100,000 user, a multinational company called Contoso that has Azure active directory issues when they're trying to authenticate for their SaaS application or something like that. So how do you tailor it down to someone that makes it more sense for that individual user?

RH -  So you were talking about the opportunity to learn, to train. There's a lot of discussion about hybrid this week at Ignite because I think Microsoft understands that not everybody is there yet. Not everybody's ready to make that leap to the cloud.

RC -  Correct.

RH -  And so you guys are really providing opportunity to put the toe in the water, right? Try it out, little steps and movement towards that goal. But you mentioned learning about this stuff. So in fact this week, Microsoft launched Microsoft Learn, a new certification ... A free, role-based certification program in fact, where they can learn about Azure ops and Azure developing an and doing things in Azure. What value do programs like that bring to these IT pros that maybe they are not here at Ignite? Maybe they're not hearing this message.

RC -  Well, the cool thing, so I'm going to obviously plug the URL. It's Microsoft.com/Learn is the landing page, people'll be able to find it. Currently, it's targeted towards a couple of different roles that we've seen in the industry that has a guided path at different modules to take. Each of those modules are broken down into tasks that you can go off and do. Now the neat thing about it is, is it's not just individual step by step, here's what you do.

RC -  It can actually be more complex than that, if you want to for scenarios. And it also pre-provisions and sets up your environment for you that you don't have to pay for it to be able to use it. So if I want you to use Azure and try out how to create your first VM, I don't want you to have to plunk down your credit card to do it.

RH -  So free access to Azure resources through this learning.

RC -  So, free access to Azure resources for the purposes of doing those modules. When you've done the modules, those resources go away. So that's that. Currently, we're focusing on the main paths of being able to try some things, but actually my team is involved to create those unique scenarios that don't exist in there right now.

RC -  So we're going to be making content specific for on premises 2019 to go fit in there. That may not be on the main path, but it was there as kind of a air quotes "elective" that you could go out and just try a and it will give you a sandbox environment to be able to go off and try it and play it. Because 2019 is very much on this hybrid space that could go off and use. So we're opening up the ability to have content created suggestions and stuff like that. And then potentially if we get enough feedback, that we need to have a particular module or session drafted up, my team and other teams can go off and create them. So it's an awesome resource.

RH -  Let's talk a little bit about your team. You've mentioned them several times. Now, you kind of put together as a bunch of ... I'm going to label them superstars. I know these guys as fellow MVPs and things like that. But what was your goal when you put this team together? What were you looking for?

RC -  I got a little bit of story about this if you've got some time, but I literally was having a taco in front of a taco truck. And uh, the gentleman that's the GM that's responsible for this is called Jeff Sandquest. He's one of the original founding members that created Channel Nine, 11, 12 years ago.

RC -  Anyway, he created a team called Cloud Developer Advocates. And so the team that I'm on and creating is called Cloud Operations Advocates or Cloud Ops advocates. We sat down and had a conversation and I came back after a weekend of thinking about it and actually wrote him a big, long email of saying, okay, if I had resources, here's what I would do, here's the approach I would use, here are the different technology areas I would focus on because they're the most in demand for where the IT operations space is right now, where they should have some kind of representation.

RC -  And here's some people that I think would be really awesome and here's their Twitter handle, here's some things that they've done online. And stuff like that. Well, it turns out that he took that information to heart and also with a bunch of other people, kind of distilled it down to what we call the two pager. And then he submitted the two pager into his management chain. Eventually made up the Scott Guthrie. And he said, you know what? This is something we've got to do. Let's do it. So it comes from on high. So this is important, but then he presented that information on a broader basis, but he didn't take the names out of the people that he recommended, that I recommended, and others, and so all of a sudden I was getting pinged by people saying, "Hey, why is my name on this thing and are you, are you looking to hire or something?"

RC -  So some of them came that way, but it was rather funny. But my goal was I wanted to get and build a team that is going to be representative of the diversity of technology that is inside of the IT operations space. It's not all about moving your apps to the cloud. It's also about how do you run your rank and file servers, how do you back them up, how do you manage somebody, monitor them. I wanted to have a diversity in geography to be able to cover off different times zones and different locations, and different cultures as well.

RC -  And so I've got team members that are in Australia and North America, east coast and west coast. I'm hiring some people in Europe and in Asia Pacific as well. And I wanted to have a diversity in gender and sex and religion as well because I feel that it brings a broader vision into the group as a whole as far as the team is concerned, even if the industry isn't all the way there right now.

RC -  So I'm always trying to find people that fit into this kind of category and I wouldn't call them rock stars. I'd call them more champions.

RH -  Champions is a good word.

RC -  They're passionate.

RH -  I know a few of those folks. I would say that.

RC -  They're definitely passionate about the different areas that they work in. So, can I mention names of some of the folks on my team?

RH -  I don't don't have a problem. Go ahead.

RC -  Okay, so I've got Exchange Goddess. Online Twitter handle. Her name is Pumila Schmidt. And she is one of my friends that is in Philadelphia that, uh, is really big on sand storage, storage arrays, used to be virtualization and exchange type style, but she's actually moved more into a cloud strategy type of position. She's now on the team, which is awesome.

RC -  Sonya Cuff out of Australia is one that's joined as well. She was more inside of the small/medium business and SaaS Office 365 solutions for administrators. She's on the team, but she's got some awesome broad knowledge just around Azure itself and how that can work.

RC -  Michael Bender from the crew and from also the higher ed education space. So he brings a strong core content, curriculum development background, but also very much into new people coming into the industry, what their challenges are, what their perspectives are, for things like that. Those are my three external hires.

RC -  I took three internal hires as well to balance it for people that could get started fast and help grow the team. One was out of Canada, Pierre Ramond, who is about data center migration and on premises technologies. Anthony Bartolo, which is about IOT for operations people, for being able to manage Spear devices, intelligent ed devices as well.

RC -  And then finally, the last guy is my bridging technology between the dev world and the IT pro world, the operations world, with containers and containerization, Neil Peterson who does stuff with Kubernetes. Kubernetes containers for IT pros. That's my current team right now.

RH -  Gotcha. And you said you were growing a little bit, looking into Europe and stuff. So where are we going to see team? In what ways are we going to, will people have the opportunity to interact with them?

RC -  Okay. So as you mentioned, I would call it A-Zed because of my Canadian heritage.

RH -  A-Zed, right? I'm married to a Brit, so I get it.

RC -  You got it. So basically what we do is we have a blog that we just are starting before and Ignite kicked off: ITOpsTalk.com, which just redirects into Microsoft Technical communities, which is where you'll be able to find all this awesome content from Microsoft Ignite going forward.

RC -  So we have a little small blog that's there, that's made for content. It's not about the champions and you call them rock stars, but basically it's not about the personas of the individuals. It's about the areas that we're passionate about. It's about the contents, not about the individuals. That's where we're going to be blogging and doing stuff there. But then also we follow a hashtag that we've kind of adopted and have taken over, because it hasn't been used. And that is A-Z-O-P-S, or #AZOps. For Azure operations folks.

RC -  But it's very important to note we work both in the on premises space, Windows server, server migrations, server upgrades and stuff like that as well because that's core bread and butter stuff where IT pros are these days and having struggles with these days, too. And so we followed the #AZOps stuff. So if you have questions, post them out on that thing.

RH -  So, somebody could tweet you and use the hashtag #AZOps and somebody's gonna pick up on that?

RC -  Absolutely.

RH -  Whoever's awake in the right time zone at that moment.

RC -  We're almost following the sun but not quite.

RH -  Are you?

RC -  It's funny, Sonia will mention that she's just starting to go to bed and then all of a sudden it's coming up for Bender to come online. So we're almost to that point right now.

RH -  That's awesome. So, all right, so we know that there's a way to reach out, to get an avenue into this feedback loop that you guys have. I mean, just the sheer fact that you guys have a seat at the engineering table, you know, there's another common theme running through Microsoft and I've seen it here at Ignite as well, and it's this ... Everybody who has heard of the Windows Insider program, you get early builds of Windows and you get to test and try things out.

RH -  This is a similar type of thing. It's an early opportunity to get feedback into the team, even if you're just one person sitting in a remote office somewhere, right? If you've got the access to social media or other channels, I'm assuming through the web-

RC -  Email or web or comments.

RH -  They can reach out and say, "Hey, this is a challenge I hit," and that might just be enough to create a change.

RC -  Oh, certainly. Yes. As you mentioned, the advocacy movement is about taking the comments and feedback and challenges with those different communities and bringing them back into the engineering table to be able to go off into address and fix and resolve whether that's changing the product, a new functionality of the product that wasn't there, fixing of a problem or a solution with the product that we were blind to because we didn't have that particular experience or even creation of resources.

RH -  Like documentation.

RC -  Yeah, documentation or step-by-steps or labs or Microsoft learning modules or whichever, that could happen as well as a way of being able to fix it. So, #AZOps is one way to do it from a perspective of sharing it. But then also part of my team I'm challenging them with this year is trying to find conferences, not like Microsoft Ignite where it's first-party, but also look for third party conferences. So actually a good friend of mine, Rod Trent actually offered me to be a keynote speaker-

RH -  That's right. We're going to see you in Dallas next month.

RC -  Yeah, in Dallas.

RH -  As our keynote for IT Dev Con.

RC -  I'll be keynoting and the subject is going to be Ops is More Than just Dev Ops.

RH -  Very cool.

RC -  Very good conversation to have in a room full of IT operations folks. And then I've actually got about four of my team members are going to be there as well, delivering content during the session, too.

RH -  Oh, very cool. I didn't realize that you guys were that involved in IT Dev Con. I will be there. I'm covering the event for us for the site. Last thing. All right, people are going to hear this advocate word. Sometimes evangelization comes into play there. How's this not marketing and sales?

RC -  Well, I've got nothing against marketing and sales.

RH -  Right. They play an important role.

RC -  I have a lot of friends that are in marketing and sales as well. And there are people that are very tactical that work at Microsoft that are inside of marketing areas, inside the sales areas too. The difference is that it's really a perception piece when you're talking with the outside of Microsoft place, outside of community place with regards to, "Hey, I'm talking with Pierre and Pierre is an advocate and I know that I'm talking to him. He's not trying to upsell me on something. He's not trying to grab my contact information to be able to put me in some kind of a mailing list to be able to go off and do stuff or to profile me to be able to get better service and stuff like that on it."

RC -  It's not our goal. Our goal is ... We're literally, we're metric-ed on success by how much influence we've brought back to the engineering team to make products better and to make it easier for customers to use. We're not metric-ed on how much reach we have, how many bums in seats are inside these conferences or how many sales conferences speeches that we've done have generated as far as stuff that we've done, so it literally is a seat at the engineering table for discussion for planning, to the point where the broad developer advocacy and operations advocacy effort within Microsoft that we have a seat at the table with Scott Guthrie on a monthly basis where we have a window of time to bring up some of these larger ticket items.

RC -  And I've seen them where Scott, we'll turn around and say, "Is what they say correct? Are you working on this? When's it going to get fixed?" And that's blows my mind. So that's the impact and the power that you have by connecting with us. And we have an equal seat at that table too in the operations space now that my team's up and running on the board.

RH -  Very good. So one last time, remind people of the blog post and the hashtag.

RC -  Sure thing. So I'm hoping I get this right or my social friend is going to kill me, but it's ITOpsTalk.com. It redirects over to a community.

RH -  The tech community, Microsoft tech community.It's kind of replacing Tech Net, where we used to see a lot of content.

RC -  I can't officially comment on that, because I don't know the official stance.

RH -  I gotcha.But I will say this in my experience, tech community is where you go to learn about stuff that's happening on Microsoft teams and products and services.

RC -  Absolutely. And that's where you'll find a lot of content and articles and other stuff that's written up. There's more than just forums as well. For sure. And it's where all the post reports of Microsoft Ignite is gonna be and landed on there as well. But yeah, it redirects over to there.

RC -  And our goal is to have about three or four quality posts up there a week. So we're setting it as a regular cadence. But then also we're looking at also opening it up for other people to be able to contribute to it as well too. Once we get their trust and understand their passion, their connection, because it's not just about us. The whole thing is about the content that's created to help people go off and use it. So you've got friends in the MVP and RD community that are looking for outlets to be able to have some of their stuff published as well. We're definitely gonna look into partnering with them as well too.

RH -  Very cool. So it's ITOpsTalk.com and the hashtag?

RC -  Is #AZOps or #AZOps-

RH -  If you live south of the border.

RC -  South of the morning at the 49th parallel, #AZOps on Twitter as well, and obviously any one of us is going to be on there, responding to those questions or comments as they come up.

RH -  All right, superb. Well, Rick, thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat about this and I wish you guys the best of luck. We'll be watching.

RC -  Thank you very much, Richard.

RH -  Superb.

RC -  Thanks for having me on.

RH -  Thanks.

RC -  Cheers.

Show Ends

About the Author(s)

Richard Hay

Senior Content Producer, IT Pro Today (Informa Tech)

I served for 29 plus years in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer in November 2011. My work background in the Navy was telecommunications related so my hobby of computers fit well with what I did for the Navy. I consider myself a tech geek and enjoy most things in that arena.

My first website – AnotherWin95.com – came online in 1995. Back then I used GeoCities Web Hosting for it and WindowsObserver.com is the result of the work I have done on that site since 1995.

In January 2010 my community contributions were recognized by Microsoft when I received my first Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award for the Windows Operating System. Since then I have been renewed as a Microsoft MVP each subsequent year since that initial award. I am also a member of the inaugural group of Windows Insider MVPs which began in 2016.

I previously hosted the Observed Tech PODCAST for 10 years and 317 episodes and now host a new podcast called Faith, Tech, and Space. 

I began contributing to Penton Technology websites in January 2015 and in April 2017 I was hired as the Senior Content Producer for Penton Technology which is now Informa Tech. In that role, I contribute to ITPro Today and cover operating systems, enterprise technology, and productivity.


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