Episode 078: Changing Your Career Path with Jeff Brown | CloudSkills.fm

In this episode I catch up with fellow Pluralsight author Jeff Brown about how to change your career path while working in the tech industry.

Jeff Brown is a System Engineer and Cloud Administrator with 13+ years of experience in server and application administration. He's worked across various industries including government, non-profit, and Fortune 500 companies. Jeff currently specializes in Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365, Azure, and PowerShell. He has authored several courses covering Azure and Microsoft Teams and is an avid blogger.

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Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer: What's up everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the CloudSkills.fm Podcast. As usual, appreciate you tuning in and in today's episode I'm catching up with Jeff Brown. Jeff is a fellow Pluralsight author and a technologist. We have a lot to talk about today. Jeff, what's up man?

Jeff Brown: Hey, not much Mike. Thanks for having me on. I've been listening since the beginning of the podcast so it's really exciting to be on.

Mike Pfeiffer: Awesome man, yeah thank you for that. That's awesome. I'm pumped to have you on because I've known you for a while, I know you're a former Microsoft guy like me, and you spent a lot of time in the Window server space, lots of PowerShell stuff, you're doing lots of cloud stuff these days. I know it's going to be a fun conversation, and for the folks listening maybe you could share your background and what you're working on today.

Jeff Brown: Yeah definitely. Yeah I've been in IT coming up on about 13 years now. Like you said, primarily in the Windows space, the Microsoft space. Started out doing phone support, taking inbound calls for home users and stuff like that, and quickly realized that was fun, I had to troubleshoot really fast and everything like that, but I've always enjoyed the hands on keyboard type work. I started working towards getting into the help desk and SCCM and roles and stuff like that. Been working that way and finally started to focus a little bit more and got into the Exchange and Lync, Skype for Business world, which naturally came PowerShell because those are big parts of that, and finally moved into the consulting a little bit.

Mike Pfeiffer: Nice, yeah you spend so many years doing Exchange and Lync and... Well it was OCS when I first started working on it, then it became Lync and I can't even keep track of what it is today. I guess well maybe Teams is ultimately what it's become, right? Is that what happened with that?

Jeff Brown: Yeah, I mean so it went through lots of iterations, like you said, Office Communications Server, OCS, then Lync Server, then they had that Skype brand so the Skype for Business to I guess help explain what the product was a little bit. Yeah it was always an on prem product, and as things started moving into the cloud and everything like that for Office 365 they started trying to put Lync online and Skype online like that. But I think they were having a hard time taking that code base and everything and making it cloud ready. Not quite like Exchange, they started rebuilding Exchange a little bit because it was working so much in the cloud. That's where they really pivoted, Microsoft did and came out with teams and started real slow, that competitor to Slack for the chat base in collaboration and everything. Started adding on all the Skype features, calling the meetings and stuff like that. Then yeah, they finally came out I guess six months after they officially released it, saying it was going to be the replacement. An evolution, but also at the same time, a completely new product for them.

Mike Pfeiffer: Right, yeah and that's one of the reasons why I was so excited to talk to you about this stuff because I know that you got tons of Azure experience, you've built content around that space, but I haven't really been paying attention to what's going on with Teams. In my work I'm using Slack so I'm not really in there that much. I get into customer meetings when they invite me to their Team stuff, but I haven't really done all the infrastructure and set it up from scratch and all that. It sounds like they started over then. They took the services that they were offering in Skype for Business and they rebuilt it and included it in Teams. Is that the idea?

Jeff Brown: Yeah exactly. I mean even some of the Skype infrastructure they built they repurposed into Teams. A little bit newer infrastructure I think, tried to upgrade it and update it a little bit to make it more resilient and better producing and everything in terms of audio quality. That's where it's real interesting. When it comes to Microsoft Teams I know what I call the Skype side of it, the voice part, the conferencing part, and all that, but there's so many other components to it because it's backed by SharePoint. If you share a file and stuff or store files in it, it's not some other service. They built Teams using services they already had, SharePoint and then bringing in email a little bit like that. There's all these other components into Teams and I'm really good at this one little part of it, but other people are good at the SharePoint part of it or the groups administration part of it, but it was bots and applications and everything. You can integrate with it as well.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah, that's probably to me one of the interesting areas is the [inaudible 00:04:55] ops element of being able to do some automation and notifications and all that stuff. Have you messed around with that at all and maybe tying that in with any Azure services? I'm curious, I don't know if you have.

Jeff Brown: I haven't too much. I mean I've seen where people, just like you might with Slack, integrate with Azure DevOps to get the statuses of builds or things that are going on like that. Just recently I've been working a lot with Power Automate a little bit.

Mike Pfeiffer: Okay, that looks pretty cool.

Jeff Brown: Yeah, used to be Flow and what's really interesting is I learned a little bit about that at one point, and then when I got into Azure a little bit more I was like, "Oh this is Logic Apps." It's pretty much almost the exact same interface and everything, it's like the consumer part of it. Yeah, I've been getting into that where trying to automate and do things for teams creation and how that integrates with theirs. I mean it's really interesting. You start building all these different products and how they all seamlessly work together, Power Apps, Power Automate, and everything.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah, it's interesting space. I got to honestly spend more time there, but even this information is already helped me a little bit understand what Microsoft's been doing with that product. Let's switch gears and talk about a couple other things. I know you're obviously building a lot of content these days, you're doing courses, mentioned the Pluralsight one. I know you've got some Azure content out there as well, and I'm curious what started that path for you of getting into doing content creation, building these courses and all that? I'm curious because I know a lot of people listening are interested in that path and I have my own story that I've shared on this. It's not everyday that somebody that works for Microsoft switches lanes and now you're doing a lot of content creation and obviously you're not there anymore. Maybe you could share with us what has been your journey of getting into that content creation game and switching up your career a little bit?

Jeff Brown: Yeah definitely. I mean a couple of years ago I started looking around and I wanted to specialize in something and go that consultant route because I felt like for a long time in my career I was in everything a little bit and I wanted to get into something really deep and get an expertise on that. I started blogging a couple years ago, wasn't blogging that much, I put out a couple articles a year but I wanted it to be really specific on solving issues not just... I don't want to say regurgitating information but I really wanted to make it unique and special. That post it was solving an issue or something.

Jeff Brown: That was the part of wanting to have an online presence and sharing that knowledge with everyone. Then getting later into the content creation really was like I wanted to do something to keep enhancing my skills and everything and share with others. Also, I mean side work, make a little bit of extra money and keep building that portfolio. Initially actually I went to audition for Adam Bertram's TechSnips, and I was working on an audition video there and I got really frustrated by the process. The first time video editing, trying to get audio right, doing screen demos and everything, recording that was really frustrating. I quit that and I didn't finish the process.

Jeff Brown: Later on I came across a posting for Cybrary. They were looking for PowerShell instructors, and this was actually not that long after went through the cloud skills be the master with Don Jones. He's always like, "You don't have to be an expert, you'll know more than what someone right below you knows." I was like, "Okay, I could teach PowerShell to someone new." I went through the audition process with them, actually sat down and figured out how to do the audio recording and editing and all that, and when I got finished the person in charge of content creation came to me and was like, "Hey, you've got your Azure certs here, do you want to build an Azure course for us?" I was like, "Oh man." I was like, "Well you know what? I studied, I passed the certification, I could teach new people basic Azure stuff." It was pretty daunting, it was like we need eight hours of content. To go from zero to eight hours of content in a couple of months was really big task but I got through that.

Jeff Brown: That kept building onto then going to Pluralsight and take those skills and everything and keep going on to keep building that content. It forces you to really dive deep into the content more than maybe what you initially did because you're now teaching someone else and that's what I like about it.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah man, it's hard, it looks easy when you're watching a video and you're like, "Man, it's so easy. They turn on the camera, they went through and did all this stuff," but the reality is man there is so many things to get something like that built, let alone an eight hour course. I think I've shared this a few times on this show. The very first course I ever did, the first online course I did myself where I had to actually edit everything and do all the work took me two months and man it was... To your point trying to get the right audio and reduce the echo. For a long time I recorded in a closet. It's actually in the room that I'm in now and this tiny closet in Phoenix, it's super hot, and so there's all kinds of struggles of getting through that.

Mike Pfeiffer: Now that you've gone through the work though of getting the hardware and getting the gear and figuring out how to do this stuff, are you glad that you pushed through that discomfort and now you're actually publishing courses and stuff?

Jeff Brown: Yeah definitely, and that's the perfect way to describe it is that discomfort. Like I said, initially I'd auditioned for TechSnips and the process was aggravating, I couldn't do it, I didn't want to figure it out and all that so I quit, but now going through it and pushing yourself, now it's a piece of cake and that's another skill I have. Ever since doing that I get hit up by recruiters on LinkedIn or whatever, it's like, "Hey, would you be interested in generating some content for us?" Like that, so it starts opening up new doors when you push yourself to go past that discomfort. Yeah, again the perfect word.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah, I mean I think we all get into that. It could be in the job, maybe it's not a content creation, maybe it's upgrading your skills from Sys Admin to cloud architect type of thing. I think we can all relate, but that's awesome dude, that is really cool that you've got some courses going on out there right now. As you've been going through this have you found since you've done a lot of blogging and now you're doing video, have you found that now that you have a more favorite modality of delivering content or is it you're trying to do multiple things right now? What do you think?

Jeff Brown: It depends on the mood. I'll go through and I'll work on the Pluralsight course I did for two months, and that consumes a lot of time because like you said, you're planning the slides and then your demos and then recording it in. I do the editing myself and everything, and waiting for the feedback. That's fun while I'm doing it but when I get done it's like, "Okay, I'm ready to not do that for maybe a month or so." I've been putting out some blog posts and everything and was working on one this week. I enjoyed that process of going through that, so I think at some point I'll be like, "Okay I'm tired of writing blog posts," because that does take time and move back and forth. I don't know if I have a favorite right now. One will wear out over the other and then they have to move on to something else.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah, you got to break up the work a little bit, the energy and switch it up. I'm definitely like that, and if I'm doing a lot of video it helps to switch to another modality. I think for me video's my primary these days. I started blogging, but I think the biggest takeaway there really is getting in the game, finding out what you like the most, or having multiple ways to do it so you can switch things up. One of the things you mentioned earlier too that I think is an important takeaway for people listening, even if it's not creating content, it's having an additional stream of income of some kind as a practitioner man because when you have that it gives you more flexibility to experiment and do these things.

Mike Pfeiffer: If you're eyeballing the idea of doing a course, you already got a stream of income somewhere else that's giving you some extra time to do those things that's cool, or doing the course itself creates that for you. I think it's really awesome that we have this opportunity to be able to do that these days. Because when I first started man there was no YouTube or any of that stuff. What was the Pluralsight course about that you just put out?

Jeff Brown: It was over Microsoft Teams, but it was specifically about the phone system portion of it and then a little bit about audio conferencing. Which was right up my alley. When I looked at the Pluralsight catalog that they were looking for courses for, his name's [Vlad 00:13:45], he really did a massive course, I think it's just over seven hours over all those other administrative parts of it, but they needed someone with that voice experience a little bit. It was a natural fit and it was a good first course. I felt super comfortable with the content.

Mike Pfeiffer: That's really interesting. I haven't done any voice stuff since the days of Lync 2010. I'm hoping that it's easier to work with now for your sake, if you're working on this. I remember for me man, getting that to work was interesting. There was a lot of learning to be done back in that era and man, that was not an easy thing to do to make an actual phone call from a soft client, an actual I'm on the PST. Getting all that to work man was crazy. Is it easier now?

Jeff Brown: Yeah, I mean with Teams because it is in the cloud, there's a lot of that infrastructure built for you and you can take advantage of it, but there are two sides of it because you can make Microsoft your telephone carrier and they worry about connecting the call and everything. But you can also do direct routing where you still have an on premises session border controller and you're making that connection. That can still be a little bit more complicated if you are going that route. There's still opportunity there for some gnarly configurations sometimes, but it's definitely getting easier than yeah compared to fully on prem where you're building your routes and everything like that.

Mike Pfeiffer: That's interesting, so if I was a small business I could go get Teams and everything would be hosted online, I could easily get a phone number for my business and pretty much I could have all my business phone stuff flow through teams and it'd be really easy for me to get up and running?

Jeff Brown: Yeah definitely, and I think it was only available in a few countries but you mentioned small business. They are going to be releasing something called Business Voice for those smaller SKU tenants, under 300 users, and that's exactly yeah. You get your phone numbers directly from Microsoft or you can port your existing number like if you're moving from one mobile carrier to another, so you don't even have to lose your telephone numbers necessarily. Then yeah, you pick up your soft client or you've got a desktop phone or something like that you can still have, and you don't have to worry about connecting that call out there, Microsoft takes care of it for you. I've seen some companies where they'll have their existing telephony infrastructure and everything, but as they start bringing on new sites somewhere, new offices, they pivot over and say we're going straight Teams or something like that and getting our phone numbers from there so we don't have to deploy that on premises phone systems anymore.

Mike Pfeiffer: Yeah it's always been hard. I mean the very first one I ever deployed was 2003 or '04, it was Asterisk Server running on Linux. I don't know if you guys ever heard of that out there. Anyways, it's much easier to deal with now, but in those days man, geez it was really hard. It's so cool that you can go and get a phone system online now and do it so easily. For somebody that is listening Jeff that's like us where they've been in IT for a while but now they're getting to cloud. You've done it, right? You transitioned from standard Microsoft infrastructure, messaging, communications, and went into cloud and made that transition, and you picked up some PowerShell skills over the years along the way. You've got some coding experience or really some awareness. For anybody that's in the same position what do you think you can share in terms of tips for folks making that move into cloud for the first time?

Jeff Brown: Yeah I think making that transition is tough and it's still something I'm working on and still trying to build up those skills. Like you, I followed your advice that you've had on the podcast before, as you know, pick that technology and start learning the basics. The basics for me have always been I've done that through certifications. I know some people they maybe really like certifications or they don't like certifications and they don't put a lot of stock into it, but I've always used them as a learning tool because it lays out exactly what Microsoft or Amazon or Google, whoever else thinks you should learn. I always used them that way, and then it was always a nice addition to go and then get the certification.

Jeff Brown: year and a half or so ago I was like, "Okay, I want to get into Azure and learn a little bit more." Okay, there's the Azure administrator exam. Start studying that and go through it and the move on to the architect and the security exams as well. It starts building on, and by studying that stuff is where you gain the skills. But then you've also got to find projects, and this is something I still struggle with, is and then start applying them in some way.

Mike Pfeiffer: Gotcha, yeah I think projects and hands on work is definitely one of the biggest pieces. But to your point, the roadmap is there for certifications. The skills measure doc for any cert, Microsoft and they have this [inaudible 00:18:47] and the other vendors and it really is the roadmap of here is probably the most important stuff. Some of it can be darker corners where it's some of these less used services, but overall it does send you down the right path. I would love everybody listening that if you haven't gone into certifications yet start taking a look at this stuff because there is tons of value in it, and now more than ever people are looking for certified cloud folks. Jeff, what's the next course you're working? I know you're doing a bunch of content creation, what are you working on? Azure stuff or what have we got planned?

Jeff Brown: Yeah, I just jumped on and I'm going to do another Pluralsight course around Teams. It'll be a little bit smaller one, talking about endpoints and managing the different clients. You know Pluralsight, they'll have their standalone courses but they put them in a skills path or a certification path, and so released earlier this year they finally came out with a Teams certification, Teams Administrator certification. They're building out all the courses for that path, so I'm working on that one to help them out. Yeah, after that I'm hoping to get back into Azure a little bit more, PowerShell stuff. I've got potentially some things lined up after that.

Mike Pfeiffer: Okay, interesting. Then you have a blog still, right? You said you've been blogging, and so for people listening where can they find that?

Jeff Brown: Yeah, it's JeffBrown.tech, T-E-C-H. I'm actually working on trying to revamp it a little bit. I'm really bad at design so I'm having someone else give me some ideas and some logos and stuff and switching over to the new platform. Trying to take it a little bit more seriously and make it a first class product for me.

Mike Pfeiffer: Nice, yeah I'll have to check that out for sure man. Awesome. As we're moving out of this episode, in addition to that, any other things you want to close with as tips for folks out there that maybe you can do in content creation or career transition? Anything like that?

Jeff Brown: Yeah, I mean with the content creation it's definitely... It's going to be difficult at first and it may not be perfect. Like I mentioned, I'm moving over to the new blog platform and was looking back through some of my old posts and everything and there's this opportunity where you're like, "Oh I should change this up or maybe I won't move that post over." It's a little bit embarrassing the way it was written or anything, but I'm like, "No, this shows your progression so keep it there and keep it out there." Like we talked about earlier, it's not going to be comfortable at first, but when I first started putting out my blog I didn't really didn't advertise it or anything but over time people found it and started linking to some of these things I was doing.

Jeff Brown: I finally one time did a search for my JeffBrown.tech URL and found it on Microsoft forums and stuff where people linking to it. You never know who it's going to help and how it's going to help. Get out there and give it a shot. It's not going to be perfect the first time, and like learning the new skills, it's going to be difficult at first but definitely get out there and try it and see what works. Sometimes you try it and it doesn't work, okay you learned. Now move on and try it a different way.

Mike Pfeiffer: It's an important message man. I couldn't agree more. Everybody listening out there get in the game, go out there, create some content. Don't wait for it to be perfect because it won't be the first time and that's the beauty of it. Awesome stuff. Jeff Brown thanks so much. Everybody go follow Jeff, especially if you're following along with the Team stuff and PowerShell. Jeff Brown thanks man.

Jeff Brown: Yeah, thanks Mike appreciate it.

Mike Pfeiffer: Hey everybody, if you want to keep up with what's going on in the cloud, we have a weekly email newsletter called CloudSkills Weekly and you can subscribe for free by going to CloudSkills.io/subscribe. Every single week I'll send out my five best tips and resources that cover what's going on in the cloud. We'll focus on Microsoft Azure, Amazon web services, Google Cloud, and more. Topics will include things like cloud architecture, application development, containerized applications, devops and automation, certification strategy, career tips, and more. If that sounds awesome to you head over CloudSkills.io/subscribe and join the CloudSkills Weekly newsletter today.

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