How to Become an Azure MVP

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ByMindquest

Published16 July 2021at10:53, updated on19 November 2021at15:03

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Gregor Suttie is a Glasgow-based Microsoft Azure MVP and Microsoft Certified Trainer working as an Azure Architect at Dutch firm Intercept. He helps run the Glasgow Azure User Group and is a prominent Azure family and community member. He recently stopped by Mission Control Center to discuss cloud careers and how to become an Azure MVP.  


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How did you get started in IT and with Microsoft technologies?

I have been in IT for more than years, so it was quite a while ago. I was one of those people who don’t know what they’d like to do in life when they are at school. But a high school friend encouraged me to try doing some computer programming, and I really enjoyed it. After school, we went on to do some college-level computing and programming courses, and I got a part-time doing AS/400 at a bus company.

After that, I went to Paisley University just to the West of Glasgow to do a one year-degree in media technology, which is slightly computer and programming-related even though it sounds like media. When I finished there, I applied for a developer role and gained some Microsoft experience but nothing too deep. I started learning HTML from Notepad, believe it or not. That was back in the day when HTML was the first thing. Using notepad to code was interesting. I was even learning Java in Notepad as well. It wasn’t even an IDE. So that’s kind of how we got into baseline Microsoft technologies, just using basic programming.

I then got my very first junior role at a software company called Interactive Developments in Sterling. And I went in there as a junior with absolutely zero experience, so it was quite frightening but really exciting at the same time. I was really lucky there was a very senior lady who was the senior dev, and she took me under her wing and basically showed me how to write code properly and test it, how to deploy it and, more importantly, write good tests to the code that I was trying to write, which wasn’t very good at that point, but she kept me right. And that’s kind of how I got started. I was basically doing VB 6 in that job for three years, learning VB 6 under the wing of a good teacher. Very lucky to have someone mentor me like that.

And then you became one of the first 50 Microsoft Certified Solutions Developers (MCSD) in the world. How did that happen, how did it feel?

Yeah. After about three years, we were moving away from VB 6 and towards Microsoft .NET, so I was learning that during the day at my job, and at night as well.

It was the first time that they had ever offered the MCSD exams. I think it was two exams, and I went for them and passed them on the first attempt, which was really cool. But mainly because I was doing a lot of studying and hands-on.

I got a letter signed by Bill Gates together with a copy of the software saying that was one of the first 50 people in the world to have passed that exam. I don’t actually still have it, as it got lost when I moved house, but I got the Visual Studio box with all the posters and all the CDs in there signed by Bill Gates, which was exciting.

You are also an Azure MVP. How can one become an Azure MVP?

Three or four years ago, you used to be able to nominate yourself for the distinction. But they got rid of self-nomination because so many people were nominating themselves, so they just couldn’t cope with the number of nominees. They changed it to make it that you had to be nominated by someone from Microsoft or an existing MVP. So, I asked someone to nominate me and eventually got nominated.

It’s all basically based on community contributions. How to become an Azure MVP? The main thing is that you shouldn’t try to become an MVP. You should just do what you do, and it will eventually come along. You have to do blog posts, talks, help out through user groups, all that kind of good stuff. If you’re doing that on a regular basis, then someone might nominate you.

Once you are nominated, you have a form to fill in with all the contributions that you’ve made over the last 12 months. You fill that out and send it off, and the person who deals with the form contacts you within three months just to let you know if everything is okay with your form.

And then it basically goes into the ether. You don’t hear anything until you get awarded. On the 1st of every month, they come out and communicate the seven or eight people in the UK who have now been awarded the MVP. That’s kind of the short version of how it works.

I couldn’t believe it when I got it. It’s probably my biggest achievement so far.

As someone who knows well how to become an Azure MVP, what’s your advice for those who are just starting out in their cloud careers? What certifications should they pursue?

I always ask people: what are you interested in? Sometimes it’s worth trying to write the Venn diagram and put in circles what you like. So, are you a developer or are you more of an ops person? Can you code? Would you like to code, or not? That’s kind of how you start.

What’s your background? Some people don’t have any background and they’re just learning from the very start. If you want to learn from the very start, it’s probably best to start off with the Azure Fundamentals exam. In fact, I always recommend that you start off with the Azure Fundamentals exam because it will give you a nice introduction to the Azure exams. It will also give you the confidence that you have managed to pass a fairly tricky exam.

If you’re new to the cloud, the Azure Fundamentals exam is actually a little tricky because it covers quite a lot of things. If you’ve got experience in Azure, fair enough, but, if you’re new to it, I would start with the fundamentals. And that goes for all of the courses.

These days, there’s quite a lot of demand for Azure administrators, people who can set up all the Azure resources. So, the Azure Administrator certification is quite a good one to go after. But other areas like Azure Power Apps are becoming very popular as well. Power Apps is a low-code platform, so it’s nice for people who aren’t massive programmers but are interested in coding.

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Go to Microsoft Learn and click on the certifications link on there. Have a look around and try and figure out what you are best at.

Also, the online Azure community online is amazing. If you go on Twitter for example, under the hashtag #AzureFamily, you will find lots of amazing Azure people. If you want to get started with Azure and got questions on how to get started or even about how to become an Azure MVP, then definitely please do reach out to me or reach out to anyone in the #AzureFamily and they will definitely help you. Don’t be shy if you’re stuck with anything. Reach out and someone will help.

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Your background is in development, and then you moved into DevOps. What was it like to be, all of a sudden, in the middle of development and operations teams?

It was interesting. I worked at a large bank two jobs ago, and the developers were on one side of the fence and the operation teams were on the other and they had nothing in between. And I couldn’t really understand this. So, what we would do is work on a two-week Sprint, and then we would build a code tester code and I would pass it over to the OPS team who would then deploy it, but we would never really speak to each other, and I thought this is really bizarre. “How does this work? This can’t be a good relationship.”

So, I got to know the operations team. They were in New York and we were in Glasgow. I got really friendly with them and kind of started to bridge the gap; and I created a role for myself where I sat in between the two teams. I made sure that the code was all built and tested. Then I could help pass it over to ops team and show them how to deploy it correctly because before that they would just deploy it. It would break because there was no real handover.

Anyone in the operations team could pick up and deploy the code, and the devs had an idea of what documentation to make. It was quite an interesting role. Before I did that, there were two separate teams who didn’t talk to each other. It was a good way to kind of bring the operations and dev people together.

Now you are an Azure Architect at Intercept. What are you working on as part of your role?

We are helping independent software vendors (ISVs) from all around Europe move from on-premise to Azure. The projects that we’re working on these days are basic setup designs for companies who want to move to the cloud or that are already in the cloud and want some extra governance.

We design it, we implement it, and we also look after it. So, we’re doing managed services. I’m really loving working here. Plus, it’s really interesting to work for a foreign company. I’m based in the United Kingdom, in Scotland, and I work for a company in the Netherlands. So, it has been really good fun.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, a lot of companies have been rushing to migrate to the cloud. What are the biggest mistakes you are seeing being made as a result of this hastiness?

I do some workshops on governance and Azure, so basically setting up things correctly from the get-go. And sometimes we see customers who have started in Azure and have created resource groups and have started deploying stuff but there’s no governance in place. There are no rules, no naming conventions. There are no limits to what you can deploy and who can deploy what.

When I deliver my governance workshops, it’s quite interesting to see people who are like “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.” It’s just things like stopping people from being able to deploy huge virtual machines. stopping people from leaving things running. In the cloud, you can spin up things quickly, but some of them can cost quite a lot of money. You can burn through your credits and your money quite quickly in the cloud if you’re not careful.

I have also seen some poor naming conventions where everything is just random names and it’s really hard to work out who deployed what and when and what. It’s quite funny when you see a mess and you’ve got to go and tidy it up. I don’t often see that, but one or two customers have kind of run before they can walk.

So, governance is mainly the thing that people need to keep an eye on. It’s easier to do it from the start. You can certainly put governance in once you’ve got your Azure environment running, but it’s just nicer and easier to do it at the start.


Check out more of our interviews from our podcast episodes.


For more tips on cloud careers and how to become an Azure MVP, make sure to follow Gregor on Twitter and LinkedIn and don’t forget to check out his blog.

Interested in DevOps? Find out more about career opportunities in this promising field through this expert’s DevOps career story.

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