Sarah Lean (Aka TechieLass) is a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft who lives in Scotland. I don’t think Sarah requires an introduction in the tech world as most of you will know her from her social media engagements, her useful YouTube videos and her passion for helping those wanting to start a career in Tech. Apart from Sarah’s busy life style at Microsoft, recording great YouTube content and blogging, Sarah is also the founder of the Glasgow Azure User Group which was the first Azure User Group setup in Scotland and even one of the first to be setup in the UK. Sarah has inspired many people to start a career in Tech, start a blog, a user group and even helped with tips on public speaking. She’s not just offered the tips but also offered for anyone to contact her for advice. She is a true leader within the Tech Community and an inspiration to a large number of people. I could go on writing about Sarah but I should stop to allow us to move to Sarah’s 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
Sarah Lean Interview
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Sarah Lean, and I am a Scottish techie. I work at Microsoft as a Senior Cloud Advocate. I think I’ve been in the IT industry for over 14 years, I started off as a IT helpdesk technician (yip I was the person that you phoned to reset your password) and worked my way up the ladder. I’ve worked for various organisations either in the IT department or as a managed service provider.
What is your greatest achievement whilst working in the world of Tech?
I think this is a hard one because I am super proud to be working at Microsoft but I’m also super proud of being a speaker at Microsoft Ignite 2019 and delivering a presentation in a large room (one that Mark Russinovich and Scott Hanselman presented in during the event!)
How did you get into IT?
I was encouraged by friends and family to pursue it because I was so good at resolving their problems and showing them how to do stuff on the computer in an easy to learn manner! It just spiralled from there!
You have been successful in the Tech world and an inspiration for others. What would you recommend for women considering a career in Tech?
I’d always recommend anyone to go into Tech, I’ve loved the career I’ve had so far, the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had, the things I’ve learned. If you are looking to change career, or looking for that first career move, do your research. Speak to people, look for a mentor, there are so many helpful people within tech.
What has your experience been like as a successful woman working in tech?
I’ve had a mixed experience if I’m honest, I’ve suffered from some prejudice from men when working in IT. But I’ve not had as bad experience as some other women in tech. I’ve always just worked hard and tried to show people what I am capable by doing the job put in front of me.
Are there any women in tech who have inspired you?
When I was growing up, I wasn’t aware of any women in tech, since getting involved in tech I’ve come across lots of people who inspire me. Mostly people I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with a lot of really awesome women (I’ve always worked with some really jealous and nasty women unfortunately), but the awesome ones have always inspired me to fulfil my potential.
Having followed you on social media, you are always busy working on Projects and creating great video content. What is your typical day like?
My days vary quite a lot, this week I am spending the mornings creating content and working through admin, and the second half is working with our video team in Seattle recording some videos remotely. There are weeks when I can be in meetings all week, it just depends on what is happening around our team and what I am working on.
You’re one of the lucky ones to work for Microsoft! Is the application process difficult?
It’s a bit like any other interview process, the bit that makes it difficult (or at least for me) was that it was interviewing for MICROSOFT. The place I’ve dreamed of working all my life, the place Bill Gates works!! There were lots of “I’m not good enough, I’m not ready” and even some tears along the way. But ultimately, I’m glad I applied because you never know what can happen!
What would you recommend for a techie wanting to apply for a job at Microsoft, but not sure what they will expect?
Apply, I see so many people say I’d love to work for Microsoft and then say once I pass this exam or in a year when I have more experience. Apply, you never know what will happen and even if it doesn’t work out that time you’ve got an idea of the process and know what to expect next time.
What would you recommend for anyone wanting to start a career in IT?
Do your research, find people in Tech and ask them for their experiences, advice. Find out the route they took into their career, some went to University some didn’t, ask them if they’d change that route. Try and get some work experience, either with a company or even start with just fixing your friends and families computing issues. Get familiar with how users see technology verses the techie, a lot of IT is working with tech but there is a massive element of customer service within the role as well, and you need to master that as much as the technology.
How did you get into the world of Microsoft Azure?
When I was looking at tech news and blogs, more and more people were talking about Microsoft Azure and doing things within the cloud world, and I didn’t want to get left behind so I started to play with it and learn how to do things within it. The rest is history as they say!
What are your areas of expertise? Are you still working with other Microsoft products apart from Microsoft Azure?
Before I started working with Microsoft, I was a generalist, I did everything and tried my hand at anything in the IT department. Nowadays my focus is 90% on Azure but I do dabble every now and again in the Office 365 world. I still find it really interesting trying to look at the issues people have with a certain product in the O365 range and try and resolve it.
You have recently created great video content and articles on the process for Migrating to Azure? What should companies look out for before migrating to Azure? What kind of challenges have you faced when planning a customer migration to Azure?
Understanding what is currently within your datacentre is a massive part that I think organisations overlook when looking to move to the cloud, you need to understand what it is there and how it works before you can really start to move forward, otherwise you’ll be trying to shoehorn something that doesn’t fit into the cloud.
Also, one of the challenges I see that if organisations fail to invest in training, ensuring that the IT department are up to speed with Azure is something they need to do. Training needs to be invested in and an on going plan needs to be introduced as well, so that everyone can keep up to speed with the platform.
What certifications have you achieved, or the certifications you are working towards?
At last count I had 22 Microsoft certifications, my first one was the Windows 7 Configuration certification and my latest one was the Azure Data Fundamentals exam.
My Azure certificates are due for renewal so I’m currently working on those now.
What would you recommend for those wanting to learn to start a journey into Microsoft Azure? Where is a good place to start?
Microsoft Learn and using Azure are great places to start, I started building a website, something I’ve done a million times on Windows Servers on prem technology as well as third party webhosting platforms. I was familiar with the concept so was able to get it working on Azure quickly, learning the different options and optimisations took the time. Start where you have a passion or interest and grow it from there.
How do you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft Azure products?
The community helps greatly, following people on Twitter, reading blog posts, and of course my weekly vlog where I talk about the news within the Azure world that week really helps me. This forces me to check the news at least once a week to share with others.
You have recently been involved with presenting MSIgnite 2020, what was the experience like? Was there lots of preparation involved?
I was disappointed when I realised we wouldn’t get to do Microsoft Ignite in person this year as I had so much fun the previous year, but I was glad when I was given the opportunity to still participate in the virtual event. It was certainly a different experience but one I really enjoyed. I got to interview some great people, and it was so well organised by the team back in Seattle, my speaker experience was very good.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to become a public speaker but not confident, or not sure where to start?
I don’t think nerves ever go away as a speaker and every speaker has their own way of coping with the nerves, but if you want to become a public speaker go for it. There are a lot of people out there that are happy to mentor new speakers, me included, so please do reach out to someone you are comfortable with and ask for help.
I also started my YouTube channel to get used to speaking and speaking to a camera, it can be a great way to get some practice in and try new things out. Check out my YouTube Video which includes tips on presenting – How to present remotely
How do you overcome your nervousness when presenting in front of a large audience? It must be difficult, any tips?
Practice helps, starting off in small local groups is something you could do, or internal events at your own company. The more you do, the more confidence you get. Although the nerves never really go away. 😉
You are currently involved with a great Azure User Group. Could you please explain what this is? How can one take part? And do you provide assistance to anyone who wants to setup a local Azure User Group?
Back when I was starting to learn Azure there were no groups local to me, so I started my own, the Glasgow Azure User Group. We are usually an in person group that meets every two months but this year we have turned to virtual events and it’s free to anyone to attend and join in. I am happy to help anyone who wants to start a user group. I wrote a blog post about starting and running a user group a while back – Starting and running a user group but happy to help anyone who has questions.
What’s next in your Microsoft Azure journey?
I’m looking back into certifications again and that should spark some interest towards new paths for me to take and explore.
The most important question of all 😊
From a scale from 1 – 10 how crazy are you about Microsoft Azure? (10 being the highest)
I’d say 8 or 9 because as much as the technology fascinates me there is also the customer experience element that fascinates me and I enjoy learning how people interact with technology, what they like and what they don’t. I think focussing fully on the technology is a mistake as the human element plays a massive part in how it lands and is adopted.
End Of Interview