Keeping up to date with cloud
Does anyone else feel overwhelmed with the rate of change in cloud computing?
Don't get me wrong, in this industry I think change is good, but cloud is up there as the most dynamic and rapidly evolving fields in the tech industry. New features, services, and updates are constantly being released by cloud providers, and keeping on top of it all is hard work.
If you combine the official announcements from the likes of Microsoft with content produced by the communities surrounding it (such as blogs, podcasts and videos) it's like sticking your face in-front of an information fire-hose!
In this blog post, I'll explain how I keep up to date, with a focus on Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft produces a lot (and I mean a lot!) of content from various sources, and it's a nightmare to keep on top of.
Thankfully, these sources all seem to be RSS enabled. This means that, once you've collected your list of RSS feeds, you can connect them to an RSS reader application, allowing you to combine all of that information into once place.
Personally, I use Feedly for this. It's free, simple to navigate and keep organised, and provides recommendations for similar feeds.
Being honest - I skim read the article titles and pick out the ones most relevant to me at that time. In Feedly, you can bookmark articles to read later within the app itself. This is a great feature, but again, being honest, my list of bookmarked articles feels like a bottomless pit! Still, they are if I need them.
Below is my list of official Microsoft feeds, all of which are supported by RSS:
Microsoft Azure Blog - note this can be filtered by category type (for my feeds, I filter by announcements) and product category, such as Serverless or DevOps. The filters can be applied to the RSS feed, so you can pick out what's most relevant for you.
I also make a point of occasionally skimming the Azure Hub on the Microsoft Community Hub for both the discussion forums and the blogs. There are individual RSS feeds for each blog, so again, pick out what is relevant for you.
In addition to RSS feeds, I keep my eye on the big Microsoft events such as Build and Ignite. As much as I'd like to attend all the sessions provided as part of these events, life gets in the way. The key thing I look out for is the Book Of News released during each event. For example, the Microsoft Ignite Book Of News is a treasure trove of high level information, with links to deeper information should you need it.
Much like how I handle RSS information, I skim read sources like this and pick out what's relevant for me. I bookmark the primary sources of information should I need to refer to them again in the future.
Next up is the content produced by the Microsoft Azure community members. This can be in the form of blogs, podcasts, videos, or anything really. If you thought the Microsoft official content was a fire-hose, then the community content is like a tidal wave!
I'm not here trying to plug my own projects, but it's exactly this reason why I established what was Azure Pirate, and is now The Cloud Pirate. I spent ages combining relevant cloud community RSS feeds, from various sources, into one central location. This was originally for an RSS feed reader (such as Feedly), so I could parse my hand-picked community content in one place. I've since expanded it to post new articles and videos etc. onto social media platform such as LinkedIn, Mastodon and Bluesky, which I feel adds more interactivity and helps the original author gain further reach.
This in itself though became a challenge to keep on top of. Again, there was too much content! To solve this problem, I created The Cloud Pirate Weekly Haul newsletter. Using LinkedIn for its subscription mechanism, but my blogging platform Hashnode for it's Markdown and RSS support, the weekly newsletter is a collection of all the community content captured that week. Again, it's information overload, but at least it's all in one place, and the table of contents in each edition allows you to skim read the titles to pick out what's relevant or interesting.
In addition to The Cloud Pirate, there is also AzureFeeds by Luke Murray. The AzureFeeds website contains a mixture of official Microsoft and community sources. There's also a weekly newsletter, which we collaborate on. I provide Luke with hand-picked articles from The Cloud Pirate data source to include in the community section of his newsletter.
Last but certainly not least is the YouTube channel run by John Savill. Although John works for Microsoft, I'd argue the content he produces is community driven.
What I look out for is John's weekly Azure Infrastructure videos, such as the one below (where John also covers the announcements from Microsoft Ignite). If, like me, you don't have the time to watch each video in its entirety, check out the summary text accompanying the video (as seen below) where you can pick out the sections most relevant to you.
Note that YouTube channels come with their own RSS feeds. John Savill's channel is included in The Cloud Pirate content, along with several other community channels.
At this point, all I've thrown at you is RSS feeds, which to be fair, isn't a bad way (in my opinion) to consume content. Social media adds a new dimension to that though.
I often hear about updates, service issues and initiatives on Twitter (X) before any of the official Microsoft sources. But where does one start when wanting to tap into the Azure community on Twitter?
If it were me, I'd reach out to people like Gregor Suttie and Karl Cooke for an introduction, and I'd also check out the precompiled lists others have put together. By following the lists, you'll very quickly get eyes on the community activity, and the individuals that drive it.
LinkedIn is also great for community content, where there are individuals and groups to follow, as well as companies and products. I suggest using the search feature and starting there.
Reddit is also great for forum type activity on topics such as Azure, Azure DevOps and PowerShell, and many, many more. I'll warn you now, Reddit is a black hole and can suck you in, so if you're anything like me, I suggest using it lightly. Reddit does support RSS per subreddit, but I feel it waters down official and community sources, as Reddit is typically used as a forum.
Consuming content does not always have to be a virtual or a solo activity. User groups are a great way to bring like-minded people together. They can be in-person and/or remote, and produce content in the form of presentations and demos. The networking aspects of these is also incredibly valuable, as it gives you the chance to get to know like-minded individuals.
I occasionally attend the Yorkshire Azure User Group (YAG) and Yorkshire DevOps, which are usually in-person only and local wo where I live. The Welsh Azure User Group and Azure Community Enthusiasts User Group are also great examples, and are remote only. Their sessions are recorded and available on YouTube.
Meetup is a great website for finding local group - and it's not just limited to cloud technology.
At the end of the day, what content you consume and how you consume it is up to you.
Whilst it's important to keep up to date with announcements and updates, there's simply too much of it out there to absorb and retain. My suggestion to you is to make this process as simple as possible by centralising as much as you can into one place.
RSS feed readers (such as Feedly) and specific aggregated sources (such as The Cloud Pirate newsletter, the AzureFeeds newsletter and the Azure Infrastructure Updates by John Savill) are a great way to go about this.
Social media plays an important role in consuming content by making it interactive, and user groups (particularly the in-person events) add extra value via the social aspects of them.
My final advice on this topic is to not put yourself under too much pressure here, and to not get overwhelmed. My personal approach to consuming technical content is to view it as a habit, done little and often. I purposely skim read the headlines and pick out what I feel is relevant and interesting to me at that time. I compliment the content I consume by using social media and the occasional user group attendance by talking about the topics I've picked out, and listening to others views on it. I find this betters my understanding, and helps it stick.