Hello, Cloud Newbies! Welcome to the very first interview here at “Hello, Cloud Newbies!” a blog interviewing Cloud Professionals from all around the world doing cool things to see what kinds of careers are available when you work with or in Cloud Computing!
Today, we talked to David Murray, who’s apparently not this one, or this one, and definitely not this one! (It’s ok, David. I don’t think any of us were confused 😛 ) He is an “Architect, Architecture Strategy” at Salesforce, and works fully remote out of Australia! 🦘
If you’re considering a career in the Cloud, or looking for a place to study for certifications, talk to fellow cloud-nerds, and help Cloud Newbies get started in the Cloud, please come join us at Cloud Newbies Society! We’re a Cloud Platform Agnostic, which means everyone’s welcome, no matter what type of Cloud Computing platform they’re interested in! ☁️
Now, without further ado…. Let’s hear David’s story! (He even included memes for us, like the real Cloud Pro that he is !)
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So, David! What’s your job title?
Officially speaking, it’s “Architect, Architecture Strategy,” which feels a bit redundant. I used to be a “Principal Engineer, Architecture Strategy,” which had a nice ring to it. Then I got promoted.
Well, darn. Hate when that “p word” thing happens! And where do you work again?
I work at Salesforce, one of the OG software-as-a-service providers. We help organizations to be more successful at connecting with and serving their customers via a suite of cloud-based business software and no/low-code platforms for building custom business applications.
And how long have you been doing that job?
I’ve worked here for five years, in my current role here for the last two.
Here’s a tough one! What do you do for your job? Can you describe it to me in a way my 85 year old grandma can understand?
I help the folks in our Technology org figure out what the [expletive] is going on here. (I assume your grandma, like mine, prefers it when people get right to the point. 😃 )
In practice, that means I do a lot of writing about big-picture strategic initiatives at the company and trends in the broader industry–what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how it impacts the day-to-day work people are doing.
I talk with engineering teams across the company to try to get everyone pulling in roughly the same direction, organize working groups to hash out points of uncertainty or disagreement, and generally try to signal-boost people I think we should be listening to.
Also, memes? Lots of memes. It turns out that people are more likely to actually read multi-page documents about architecture strategy if you make them funny.
Who doesn’t like memes? Anyways, here’s a question I always love to learn about other people. What’s your educational and career background?
I had a pretty vanilla on-ramp to the industry; I got a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the big public university in my home state. I did a summer internship at Microsoft as part of that, and was hired back as an entry-level software engineer after graduation to work on Windows.
From there I eventually moved to Amazon.com, building and operating databases–my first intro to “the cloud”; then AWS, working on and writing about their public-facing developer tools and APIs; then Salesforce, as a software engineer working on infrastructure security. I like learning new things, so it’s been fun to try out a number of different jobs over the years.
As part of that job in security, I found myself doing a lot of writing about changes the security org was pushing for, to help folks in the rest of the company understand what we were doing and why it was important. One thing led to another, and now I do that sort of writing full-time, for the whole company.
Ok, awesome. So, where are you based? Is your job remote or on-site?
When I first joined Salesforce, I worked out of an office in Seattle. A lot of the folks I was interacting with worked at HQ in SF, in one of our other satellite offices, or from home–we have a pretty healthy remote work culture. So, when we outgrew that office in the city and moved it out to Bellevue, I started working from home several days a week to avoid the commute.
When my partner got an academic job in Australia in 2018, I went fully remote. There have been upsides and downsides to it, especially with the time-zone difference, but I really appreciate the flexibility that having a career in “the cloud” has afforded.
Well now, isn’t that just the dream!!! 🦘
Which Cloud Platform(s) do you work with? How many years?
I’ve worked with AWS in various capacities for ~10 years; Salesforce and Heroku (which is owned by Salesforce) for the past ~5. I’ve read and talked with people about Azure, GCP, and Alibaba a fair bit over the past year or two, but haven’t kicked the tires personally yet.
Wow! I had no idea Heroku was owned by Salesforce! Do you have any certifications?
I don’t. They aren’t something I’ve ever felt like I needed to get ahead in my career, but I’ve got heaps of structural privilege that other folks don’t so take that data point with a healthy grain of salt.
I’ll be sure to add a heap of salt to my bowl now. What got you into the Cloud?
I took a job at a bookstore where that’s how they were doing things? I had no idea what “the cloud” was at that point. It wasn’t an intentional thing, I very much learned it on the job. I’ve stayed around since then because running secure, reliable services is hard (which is to say: there’s plenty to learn, and people will pay you good money to do it 😃 ).
Oh boy. That world-infamous bookstore! How do you use Cloud Computing in your day to day?
All of our collaboration tools, like email and chat and documents, are cloud-based. I’m not sure if that counts, but they’re where I spend most of my time these days.
I’m not as hands-on with core cloud technologies as I used to be when I had a “normal” engineering job. I’m mostly reading about, writing about, or ranting to people about the cloud, as opposed to getting in there and doing stuff myself. I feel a couple different, not-entirely-compatible ways about that, but it’s been a good way to have more of an impact.
I try to consciously carve out some time to keep my technical skill relatively fresh, whether building little automation things on Heroku (e.g., a Slack bot that emails me if something interesting happens so I don’t have to use Slack 😃 ), or playing around with new AWS services in my personal account.
What do you think is the most exciting thing about Cloud Computing?
It makes it possible for a wider range of people to build software. You don’t need the up-front capital or expertise to build data centers, run databases, or in some cases even write code to put together an app that solves a real problem for people.
There’s so many good opportunities to learn online these days, like Trailhead and AWS Newbies, and most providers have a free tier you can use to experiment with. I’m excited to see the kinds of problems that a broader, more-diverse software community will take on.
Oh, hey! Appreciate the namedrop 😉 Here’s another one I always wonder about. What do you think is the most frustrating thing about Cloud Computing?
The structural sexism and racism? It’s gotten better, but we still have a ways to go if we want everyone to be able to participate on equal footing.
Beyond that: so much cool new stuff is happening that it can be hard to know what’s worth paying attention to, and what’s going to be Old and Busted™ before you finish reading the blog post.
I pretty much get paid just to try to keep up, and I can’t do it; the Pokémon collector in me finds that really frustrating. It’s worthwhile to keep learning new stuff, but don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you aren’t using AI-powered serverless kubernetes blockchains or whatever.
What’s the most fun you’ve had with the Cloud?
Ooh, interesting. I don’t immediately think of the cloud as being particularly “fun.” Is it okay to say that? Like, what’s the most fun I’ve ever had with my microwave? I’m a big fan of eating, and I might occasionally even say that eating is fun. I guess if my microwave helps me eat a fun meal, that counts as having fun with my microwave?
Last year, for April Fools Day, a couple of us built a usage-based metering “feature” for our internal social networking tool; that was pretty fun? We sent a bunch of coworkers (funny and obviously fake) “bills” based on their recent post history. Building it with cloud technologies meant we could go from a silly idea to a working “product” in a couple days.
Most fun you had with a microwave…. I mean… I don’t know about you, but I have A LOT OF FUN with my microwave… It makes me delicious things… 😂
Hello, Cloud Newbies!
What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you started working with Cloud Computing?
I feel like most of my big ones are people things. Computers are pretty easy by comparison. Most of the hard issues I’ve run into are about getting a group of people to work together well, and to work on the right things.
My biggest failures all have been messing that up, rather than messing up the tech side of things. So, maybe, “technology by itself won’t solve your most important problems”?
As far as more technical things: number one is probably the URL of Jeff Hodges’ Notes on Distributed Systems for Young Bloods (and schematics for a time machine so I could have read it at the time). Not all distributed systems are cloud-y, and not all cloud-y things are distributed systems, but there’s a lot of overlap.
What are your favorite resources to learn about the Cloud?
For me, nothing beats trying it out myself, so first place goes to your chosen provider’s free tier.
I’ve learned a lot about AWS specifically from talks at their big yearly re:Invent conference; reinventvideos.com is the best way I’ve found to browse the session recordings. For ongoing news, Corey Quinn’s lastweekinaws.com newsletter is consistently both informative and entertaining.
Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of Corey and his yammerings too! He’s great. Thanks for sharing those links with us!
This one’s one of the biggest reasons I wanted to start this interview series! What advice can you give to someone who is considering learning about Cloud Computing to begin a career in the Cloud?
Go for it! You’re never going to be able to learn about all of it; that’s okay. Learn enough to solve the problem you have today, then learn a bit more tomorrow.
Don’t worry too much about whether you’re learning the “right” technologies, that’ll be different in five minutes anyways. If it lets you solve the problem you have, it’s the right technology.
When you get to the point of applying for jobs, you have my official blessing to ignore any “X years of experience in Y technology” requirement in a job description.
Especially if you’re not a privileged white guy like me (we already do it, so you might as well too). Don’t lie about it, but do talk about your track record of learning new things.
What are some skills that would make someone a great candidate for the work you do?
I’m pretty obviously biased on this one, but I think communication–especially written communication–is the single most important skill for any senior person in tech. There’s a hard limit on how much you can get done personally.
Being able to get what’s in your head written down in a clear way, so people on your team and in the rest of the org can understand both what and why, is how you grow your impact beyond that point.
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WOW! What a FABULOUS way to start off our interview series here at Hello, Cloud Newbies! Thank you SO much, David!
I was supposed to use the cat version of his photo, but then screwed up and used the other one, so please have the cat-and-David as a bonus track!
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