Azure Talent Acceleration Program
Me and two fellow Finnish Azure Padawans started our journey with Nordcloud on January 2nd, right after New Year 2019. The first two days went with introductions, getting to know the office, getting our equipment etc. Talent Acceleration Program itself started the following Monday, 7th of January, in Poland at our Poznan office. Our journey to Poznań started on Sunday at Helsinki Airport where we met the TAP leader Aki Stenberg and our trainer Jarkko Girs. The plan was to be at our destination in the afternoon but our flight from Helsinki to Munich was delayed and we missed our connecting flight to Poznan. So, we ended up waiting for six hours at Munich Airport to get to the next available flight, arriving in Poznan around midnight. We had accommodation sorted out, so we took a taxi from the airport to the Apartamenty Pomaranczarnia, apartment complex located in the centre of the city, where I shared a flat with Timi. The apartment was really nice and it was also located in a rather quiet street. After travelling for nearly 12 hours, the only good decision was to get some sleep.
First week in Poznań
On Monday morning we met with Esa and Tom (from the London office) and headed to McDonald’s to get some McBreakfast. This became a habit, we ended up having breakfast there every morning. After finding the right entrance to the office, the day started with meeting six Polish guys joining the program and Aki’s welcome words. For the first time, the whole TAP-crew was together. The day then continued with some basic Azure stuff with Jarkko. The next two days were Azure Fundamentals training by Jarkko. Lots of good stuff with a bunch of slides and labs. On Wednesday evening we went to Restaurant Brovaria to have some food and (of course!) beer. It was a very enjoyable evening involving all TAP participants and a handful of our Polish colleagues. A light-hearted session was in order for the start of Thursday, pairing up and presenting a brief introduction of ourselves in front of the group (slight caveat; we swapped roles and presented as if we were our partner), very funny and a great ice breaker for the group. On Thursday afternoon the program continued with a whiteboard session hosted by Teemu Tapanila (The Azure Guru!).
We were split into three groups in which we needed to come up with a solution for a client that provided us their needs and so on. Every group succeeded quite well considering the fact that we only had had a few days of Azure training. Great session!
On Friday morning Matti Puolitaival (Senior Cloud Architect) gave us the first glimpse of our upcoming case study and Dariusz Dwornikowski gave a presentation around our potential career possibilities at Nordcloud. Another Azure guru, Slawomir Stanek, gave us a presentation regarding what it’s like to be Cloud Architect at Nordcloud. The week flew by and before we knew it, it was time to wrap up the week and head to Poznań airport for our flight back to Helsinki. Luckily this time the flight went much better and we were in Helsinki approximately at the time we were supposed to be.
Few weeks in Helsinki
Week 2 started in Helsinki from where we remotely joined classroom training delivered by Jarkko in the Poznań office. This week’s Azure training consisted of Microsoft’s 70-533 and 70-535 courses, both of which are now replaced with new ones (but the content was still valid!). Once again, multiple sessions involving slide decks and technical labs. Azure training was the key focus from Monday to Wednesday, until Thursday when the focus shifted to agile methods of working, including a scrum workshop. A self-study day was planned for the Friday, primarily watching Pluralsight training videos.
Week 3 began in a similar vein to week 2, remotely joining the classroom training delivered by Jarkko. Thursday arrived which meant case study time! A brief morning kick-off quickly moved on to a planning meeting in our individual teams (the group was divided up into 2 Polish teams and the Finnish team, including their honorary Finn ‘Tom’). Team Finland came up with our high-level design quite quickly, initially drafting this on paper and then moving this into a LucidChart diagram. Once we received approval from our mentor that our design would work in practice, we were able to proceed with creating the environment (manually via the Azure portal). This work consumed the rest of Thursday and Friday morning. By Friday afternoon we were ready to present our progress to the other teams during the case study review. Our design was by no means perfect, but overall progress was good and the week had been a success. Time for a well-earned beer!
Monday morning arrived, meaning week 4 could commence. Time was allocated in the morning for teams to finalise any outstanding tasks from the manual Azure build in week 3. By 12 pm this was complete, and then we got a 90-minute introduction into working with ARM templates by one of the Senior Cloud Architects. Now the case study started to get interesting! We were tasked with replicating the environment we created in week 3, but this time using only ARM templates to carry out our deployments. This was quite a steep learning curve for us all, many of the group had no prior experience working with ARM, but all 3 teams managed to create working templates and make good progress. Friday afternoon signalled another case study review. Team Finland had some slight problems with our templates, so we weren’t able to make it work by then. Not a major issue though, luckily the next phase of the case study wasn’t starting in week 5 and we had time to fix this. All in all, another successful week. It appeared working with Azure wasn’t quite so scary after all?
Back to Poznań
Week 5; DevOps time! Once again our journey to Poznań began on the Sunday from Helsinki Airport. We couldn’t have the same travel issues that we experienced in week 1, could we? Yes, we could! This time the flight from Helsinki to Munich was even more delayed than last time. Our flight left over two hours late, meaning yet again we missed our connecting flight to Poznan. To make matters worse, our replacement connecting flight was then cancelled too, a night in Munich for us then! Eventually departing Munich the following day around 1 pm, unfortunately, meant missing the first day of DevOps training. Top tip: don’t ever fly via Munich. Finally, we arrived in Poznań, finding the nearest Uber and heading to our apartment to meet Esa and Tom. 26 hours of travelling could only mean one thing, dinner at “bar a boo”, if you’re ever in Poznan, try it, you won’t be disappointed! On Tuesday we joined the DevOps training held by Krzysztof Knapik (only 1 day later than planned!). Another mixture of technical slides and intuitive labs. The training had been tailor-made for the TAP program, this was great. Team Finland managed to complete some outstanding tasks on Tuesday evening that had been left over from the previous case study, this meant we could fully focus on learning CI/CD pipelines!
Krzysztof’s training continued on Wednesday and was completed by close of business, a really interesting and valuable 3 days. Wednesday was again chosen as the Padawan evening event, bowling and a few drinks was the plan, what could go wrong? After good fun bowling, mixed with dinner and beers, it was decided a group visit to the local shot bar was the best plan! The night was great fun, although the entire TAP-crew certainly appeared to be nursing a hangover the next day.
Thursday was our introduction to security in Azure, held by Senior Developer Joona Somerkivi and Cloud Security Architect Joni Helle. The sessions were a real eye opener, the important lessons were to ensure you’re always in control and cover your ass! Joni Helle presented a really useful workshop/lab regarding how to identify security flaws in Azure and properly secure your deployments. Friday was Kubernetes day, a fast-paced introduction hosted by Piotr Kieszczynski. Most of the group were complete Kubernetes rookies prior to this session so there were lots to learn! The pace was difficult to keep up with at times, but it was great to get an instructor-led introduction to the platform. After the Friday session, it was time to return our key cards and say goodbye to all the great people at Poznań office (hopefully we get a chance to visit once again!). There were no Helsinki bound flights from Poznan on Friday evening, this meant a 4 am wake up on Saturday morning. We checked out of the apartment (which we had grown quite fond of in the 2 weeks we had stayed), returned the keys to reception, hopped in an Uber and headed to the airport. Our flight was surprisingly right on time, meaning we had nearly an hour to spend in Munich. The connecting flight to Helsinki was also on time and we arrived at Helsinki Airport around midday. A relaxing weekend was needed before the last week of TAP commenced.
Before we knew it, week 6 arrived, the final week of TAP. Starting on Monday morning with the DevOps case study kick off. Time to build some DevOps CI/CD pipelines, and once again deliver the environment we had created twice before throughout the program. Having learnt valuable lessons from the previous case study tasks (and, seeing how the Polish teams had worked), Team Finland managed their time much more effectively, minimising time spent in meetings and carving up the project into individually assigned tasks. We ended the task with a “mostly working” solution, some minor things were still missing by the time of case study review at Friday morning (again, not a major problem, the main point of the exercise is to become comfortable working with CI/CD pipelines in a “real-world” scenario). On Friday afternoon we had our final closing TAP meeting, Aki recapped what we had gone over in the past 6 weeks, the Padawans then had a chance to give feedback and discuss about the past six weeks. We did it! TAP Azure? Done! We got our TAP diplomas, and it was now time to prepare ourselves for assignment on real customer cases. The six weeks went by incredibly fast, lots to learn, at times very demanding, but equally rewarding and totally worth it. All ten Padawans concurring the TAP program was a great success. A huge thanks to Aki, Jarkko and everyone who was involved in the program – time to get started in the real world!
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Text: Jukka Loikkanen & Tom Lloyd, Photos: Jukka Loikkanen & Aki Stenberg