Mike Stephenson Interview

Mike Stephenson resides in the UK. He is an Azure MVP and a coach who assists customers with maximising their adoption of the Microsoft Cloud. Mike has worked with Azure since it’s launch, so has seen it grow from strength to strength. He has worked in IT for about 20 years and specialises in Microsoft Azure PaaS services and Azure DevOps. Reading Mike’s interview was an honour, he has some great experience and his relationship with his son and how they both started off with Azure is awesome. When Mike was informed about AzureCrazy.com, he was very keen to share his experiences with us and responded to take part as soon as I contacted him.

By the way, if you ever meet Mike, mention, “Shy bairns get nowt”. Please do let us know what the response is. 🙂 You’ll understand where i’m coming from as you read his interview, so let’s move on.

Note: If you have any questions or feedback, please use the comment box towards the end of the interview. All comments are reviewed before we approve and notify the interviewee. Thanks

Tell us about yourself?
I am Mike Stephenson, I am based in the UK and work as a freelance consultant helping customers implement solutions using Microsoft Cloud technologies and Microsoft integration technologies. I tend to work in roles around architecture and delivery of projects and coach teams on how to be effective with these technologies. I specialise in Microsoft Azure PaaS services and Azure DevOps areas.

I have worked in IT for about 20 years and have been fortunate enough to work with Azure on real world projects continuously since it first came into preview. It has been around 10 years since my first Azure project went live.

What is your greatest achievement whilst working in the world of Tech?
My greatest achievement came about from playing Minecraft with my son who was pretty awesome at Minecraft. He taught me how to do stuff like Redstone and coding in Minecraft which he had taught himself as an 8-9 year old from YouTube.  We learned how to code in Minecraft together which led to me noticing that Minecraft had an http object.  We then proceeded to play around with loads of ideas where we connected Minecraft and Microsoft Azure. This was around 6 or so years ago before many people were doing much in this area.  One of the most fun projects we did involved creating a train in Minecraft which could send telemetry events from its journey to Azure and then processing these events and displaying them in Power BI for a real-time dashboard. I was able to share at IT conferences about some of the things we did, and it inspired a lot of people to play Minecraft with their kids and create their own projects.  I would often have people come up to me at IT conferences and tell me about some of the things they had built. I remember one time a friend of mine described our demo where we built a university in Minecraft which used Azure to integrate with systems like SAP and Active Directory as the best demo’s he had ever seen.

How did you get into IT?
I was late getting into IT, up to the age of about 17 I wanted to be a golfer and had no interest in IT at all. After university I used to work with T-Mobile and accidently started working on an IT project where I found a hidden talent and was fortunate enough to meet a guy called Gary Barron who I pair programmed with for about a year and really turned me from zero to a pretty decent programmer in 12 months. It was a lucky break because I was never going to be a golfer really!

What does your role as an Azure Coach involve?
I think coaching is a natural part of working as a consultant. In addition to delivering a project, I think it’s important to ensure that the customers benefit from the skills and experience I bring to the project. I think this comes from my early experience that was in one of the earlier questions.  In reality, we all have different skills and experience, so as much as I enjoy sharing what I have done with others, I always learn new stuff from the teams I have worked with too. I think if you go into a project with that attitude people always enjoy working with you and if you come across as approachable and happy to share, people will always want to work with you in the future.

Why should businesses be adopting the Cloud?
When it comes to adopting cloud, I think in most cases we are probably past this question now. A few years ago, it was difficult sometimes to convince people that the cloud was the choice they should make. The benefit of cloud was really about being able to deliver value for the business quicker and at a better total cost of ownership.

Today, I feel the vast majority of companies are in a position where cloud is their default option, so today the question should probably be about how do companies ensure they are getting the best return on their investment in cloud.

What would you recommend for someone wanting to start a career in IT?
For someone getting into IT my best piece of advice pre-covid 19 would be to go to IT events and say hello to as many people as you can, because there is loads of interesting people doing interesting stuff and generally most people are happy to talk about what they are doing.

Post Covid-19, I guess that has changed without the in-person events and I must admit I am far from being effective in the use of social media and online networking. At the same time this new whatever it is now will offer different opportunities in IT.

How did you get into the world of Microsoft Azure?
Back in the day I used to work with BizTalk and integration technologies like WCF and other Microsoft tech. At the time I worked with a large healthcare company based in the UK who were on a major technology refresh journey and they were a very early adopter of cloud. I got the chance to be a leader on the adoption. I was already a Microsoft MVP and having access to that network helped me learn stuff as almost a pre-early adopter which helped me when it came to implementing stuff for that customer. We started off implementing hybrid integration scenarios and Service Bus was a big thing for us in the early days. I remember once we did a project in Denmark where we integrated systems in Denmark at a partner company into our systems in one day as a proof of concept. The speed this gave us reinforced the value the customer saw in the cloud and it just grew from there in many ways. We had a few really great people in our team back then and we did lots of really cool stuff.

What are your areas of expertise? Are you still working with other Microsoft products apart from Microsoft Azure?
I tend to work with cloud all of the time now. In my freelancing I tend to work with PaaS services with an integration focus, so this would cover things like Functions, Logic Apps, App Service, API Management, Event Hub/Grid, Service Bus and so on. The thing I like about integration is it also leads to integrating with so many things, so you end up covering loads of different areas. I have had lots of opportunities to work with Power Platform, IaaS and other areas of Microsoft tech.

I also work as a product advisor for Serverless360 who develop a SaaS solution which is aimed at making it easier for IT Operations teams with limited Azure experience to support solutions implemented within Azure. This gives me an opportunity to explore a lot of features of Azure that I may not get a chance to use often with my consultancy.

What certifications have you achieved, or the certifications you are working towards?
I haven’t taken any of the certifications for quite a while. I have been sitting on the fence for quite a while about how I feel about certifications. It used to be the case that I wasn’t a fan of them until a couple of years ago as I felt they seemed to be out of date and Azure was changing so fast. If I wasn’t working with Azure every day but wanted to get into working with Azure, I think the exams are a no brainer because they are a great way to learn how to use Azure, and get a qualification that you can do it. I think for me personally, I would rather focus on learning about the new stuff that comes out at each conference and the exams tend to lag behind the new stuff.

What would you recommend for those wanting to learn Azure?
I think here you need to figure out what kind of solution architectures you want to be working with.  Being a generalist who knows enough about all areas is becoming too difficult. Do you want to be a Data person, an IaaS person, a Web solution person, a security person and so on. Try to figure that out and then look for the technologies that are common in that area. The great thing is that many technologies are used in multiple types of solutions so choosing to be someone who is interested in one area doesn’t mean you can’t change later. I think one of the benefits of the cloud is the use of many services for different types of solutions.

How do you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft Azure products?
This is the biggest challenge today I think for an individual. There is sooooo much stuff to try and keep up to date with and I feel I struggle often. I think it’s probably important to try to break things up and to try and focus on particular areas where you want to know in detail and then just generally keep up in other areas. For me, I tend to focus more on things like integration, governance and architecture and more generally keep an eye on things like data platform, power platform, IaaS and so on.

I tend to use feedly for following a few blogs I like and attend a few user groups are my favourite ways.  I’m sure there are probably better ways.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to become a public speaker but not confident, or not sure where to start?
I think the key thing is to accept that some people will like what you do, some people will dislike what you do and you don’t have any control over that. What you do have control over is if you enjoy doing it. If you enjoy making content or focus on a session you enjoy putting together then people will see that passion and it will usually workout.

The other thing is that sometimes people are concerned about questions. If someone asks a question when you speak it’s completely fine to say, “I don’t know, what do you think” or “I don’t know let’s grab a beer and chat about it”. I feel speaking is supposed to be about sharing something you did or something you learned which others might find interesting. I don’t think speaking is about an expectation that you know everything about the subject.

We run a user group called Integration Monday and we love having new speakers. We like to be relatively informal and try to be about knowledge sharing. If anyone wants to talk about Azure with a slight integration focus people are most welcome to come and talk to us about speaking at one of our events if you would like practice. 

How did you become an MVP (Microsoft Most Valuable Professional)?
It was quite a while ago now but I think I was nominated by an existing MVP and at the time I was helping to run a user group in London which helped me get into the MVP community.

What’s next in your Microsoft Azure journey?
I think next up might be some of the new stuff for Logic Apps using the functions runtime and the extension for functions to use connectors. I do a lot of work in the integration space and a number of these improvements will let customers do more integration projects, simplify things for people and improve on the experience for customers doing integration projects. With these being new, I expect learning the new technology changes and how to apply them effectively is probably next for me.

Do you have any final words of wisdom?
I’m from Newcastle and as a lot of the questions are about encouraging new people into the Azure space and to develop their community involvement, I’ll share a local slang saying which I’m sure will make a few people laugh.

“Shy bairns get nowt”

If you don’t know what it means, say hi next time you see me at an IT Conference, and it will make sense.

The most important question of all 😊
From a scale from 1 – 10 how crazy are you about Microsoft Azure?
(10 being the highest)

Probably an 8

End of Interview

Name: Mike Stephenson
Blog: Microsoft Integration Guru
Website: Integration Playbook
Website: Integration Monday User Group
Twitter: @michael_stephen

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