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I’m going all-in on Serverless at AWS! :-)

August 1st, 2019


I’m super excited to be joining AWS as a Senior Developer Advocate for the Serverless Product Group.

I’ve been busily working as an IT practitioner on the customer side my entire career. 20ish years (eek!) mixing up IT infrastructure with radio stations, journalism and finance. Now seems the perfect time to abstract that all away and transition to the vendor side starting in September.

I’ll be joining AWS to help drive the development and adoption of the AWS Serverless platform and serverless applications through community engagement. That’s the actual job spec…and its awesome! I’ll be working within the Serverless Product group who look after Lambda, API Gateway, Step Functions, SAM, and a whole surrounding serverless ecosystem. https://aws.amazon.com/serverless. The team has been ramping up this year so I’m joining some amazing colleagues under the watchful eye of the superb Chris Munns.

Here are some of my thoughts and questions before starting the role. I’m going to add a BIG caveat. This is all swirling through my head at the moment, I’m likely going to be very wrong on lots of things and I have a HUGE amount to learn so I’m really hoping my ideas will be bashed to pieced and reformed into something better. That’s the point, to learn and explore.

Why even stay in IT?

I’ve been interested in computers and IT for most of my life. I was lucky to attend a school where Computer Studies was an option for one of my school subjects way before computers became ubiquitous. I fell in love with the power and promise of technology. I consider myself a creative but non-artistic person. Computers allowed me to be creative…designing and building when I wasn’t great at drawing. I love the immediacy, being able to create IT solutions that deliver meaningful results to people. This is why serverless appeals so much to me, the immediacy of building something powerful.

Why Serverless?

My experience has primarily been within the infrastructure space in global enterprises, so I’ve seen the vast serverless opportunity from the inside with the scars to prove it! There is so much undifferentiated heavy lifting that goes on in enterprise IT, not just with technology choices but process and people as well. The major benefit in cloud at the moment is how providers are making it quicker and simpler to stitch together pre-architected components, be they cloud provided or external services to make an application. Most importantly, nowadays you don’t have to manage an OS or cluster in the process.

I realised I’ve been talking publicly about serverless since 2016 at a number of events and on podcasts linked to my infrastructure background, mostly VMware User Groups. Infrastructure people sometimes get the benefit of serverless in a different way to developers, they’re often on the ops side, thinking about scale, performance, throughput, security etc. Things serverless is great at handling for you.

We’re only at the beginning of this journey and the untapped potential is HUGE. I get to create the stories to help people get as excited as I am, how cool is that!

Why Amazon?

Amazon is a super interesting company. It has been able to own a huge chunk of the cloud space from a standing start because it is able to iterate quickly, building and innovating with massively coordinated yet distributed teams. I’ve always been particularly interested in how organisations work and it’s now time to see how somewhere as successful as AWS works internally, how the machine works.

It will be interesting to see the inside perspective, I also have no illusions it is all unicorns and rainbows in the machine. It’s going to be hard work but I think the lessons learned how a major IT company can get so much done is going to be super interesting.

More than code

I also know that serverless requires a lot more than just code. Although serverless does remove having to look after as much, being successful at serverless means considering a whole lot more than just chucking a few lines of code inside a Lambda function.

Security, performance, monitoring, availability, scaling upstream and downstream resources, resiliency, are things that don’t all magically go away with serverless. Connecting various serverless offerings is becoming the new infrastructure and aligning it to the huge economic insights and potential savings with billing by use makes it even more exciting.

The role is a “developer advocate” which the industry generally understands as “advocating for developers”. Being the voice of developers internally at AWS and reaching out to them to help them do the best they can.

There are so many AWS tools, developers and builders need help understand what’s useful in a serverless environment. If serverless isn’t just chucking code in a Lambda function, developers need help to understand the wider picture, how best to link different services together. Also evolving from talking just about the tech and bringing in the value gained: simplicity, business logic and economic. How can their code do more? How can they write and maintain less code?

Werner in his re:Invent keynotes talks about architecture re-imagined for the 21st century, how to think more about proper cloud architecture. With serverless the kingmakers have new patterns and models to learn & I get to be part of it!

More than developers

With “serverless” though, tech is a little different as its not just targeting developers but a broad range of people who build serverless applications without necessarily considering themselves “developers”. If the promise of serverless is only writing business logic, you’re going to need to help out business, finance, ops, compliance, security, etc. people. A broader part of the business is going to be involved.

There’s also a problem, a whole group of existing IT people, certainly in enterprises, either don’t get serverless or even if they understand it, are scared as they don’t see a future for themselves in a serverless world. They can become blockers. The current grumpy network, storage, niche developer, linux/windows admin or ops person can’t just be told, evolve or die, you dinosaur. There’s a bridge to be built between infrastructure and serverless. A person can of course make the jump, they have important experience that shouldn’t just be rubbished because its what is now undifferentiated heavy lifting. Infrastructure and ops people know security, they understand availability, logging, recovery, scale, connectivity. Sometimes they understanding the bigger picture more than focused developers.

We need to sell the serverless dream to everyone. It’s the equivalent of the advent of the motor car, horse shoe farriers were of course worried about the impact on what they do when people would no longer ride horses. Well, they become car tire mechanics. We need to build the cloud generation of serverless mechanics. I’m hoping with my infrastructure experience I can connect with a wider community, help build the bridge and help them walk over it.


Something I’m also very interested in bringing to the role is the power of community. I’ve been so lucky to have cut my VMware teeth at just the right time. Bloggers were starting to share content as social media was warming up. VMware was curating an amazing community of people who wanted to learn, share, meet, grow and be part of something bigger than their immediate jobs. John Troyer started the VMware vExpert influencer program which I’ve been honoured to be a part of now for nine years. He very cleverly brought together initially bloggers and let it be less prescriptive than corporate overlords would probably have liked.

In some ways it was allowed to develop and grow itself by being open, inclusive and more about the people than fanning out marketing messaging. This was amazing insight and it worked! I’m certainly not suggesting it was an easy thing, a huge amount of thought went into curating this dynamic community, bringing together very disparate people with a shared bond of VMware technology.

This community then fostered many other communities like Tech Field Day which I’ve been so honored to be invited to take part in. Thanks Stephen Foskett for spotting my writing and inviting me along, another incredible learning and sharing experience.

I’m hoping we can foster even more community with AWS and serverless. If serverless is all about bringing different tech together to build lovely new things, we have an amazing opportunity to get people together too, let their voices be heard, learn their cool tips, hear their criticism, help spread their ideas. We can give a platform to others to contribute more, give them access and content and let them be curious to write and say amazing things….at scale.

How did I get here?

I’d love to explain how I actually landed the job. I was at AWS re:Invent last year, 2018. I had payed my own way to get there which does show some personal interest and commitment. I wasn’t there to find a job but thought I should see what possibilities there are so sent out a subtle tweet about looking (have some twitter followers at my current work so needed some subtelty!)

Well, I had a reply from someone in the serverless org at AWS who had already had my name on a list to follow because a rather senior product manager had spotted a presentation I’d done on serverless at a VMware User Group. I was quite taken aback to say the least! The job spec was posted early this year, I applied and went through the interview process which at AWS is very in-depth in a good way, and magically made it through.

Basically a user group community presentation put me on the radar of AWS and led to me getting a dream job.

If you find something interesting, talk about it, contact a user group and offer to present. User groups are often crying out for content. You never know what you may learn and where it may lead!

So finally….

If you’ve made it this far, wow, thanks for staying with me. I’m super excited for this new journey. Things are going to be different working for a large corporate tech vendor. I’m sad to lose my “independent” voice but I also have to personally evolve and do things differently. I don’t yet know how my blogging activities here will change.

I will need to transition my community focus from VMware to AWS which will be an adjustment but I plan to keep in touch with many of my VMware peeps who often cross tech with AWS anyway & there will be plenty of new AWS friends to make.

I also have a huge amount to take in very quickly so will probably be more in inbound learn mode rather than outbound share mode initially for the next few months.

I hope my new role allows me to be a part of AWS that continues to champion for everyone using the platform and remain open to learn from the community and help you be the best you can be at AWS.

I’m also taking some time between roles to spend with the family. I’m hoping to stay off social media and enjoy the break before the hard work starts!

Thanks for helping with this journey: Nick, Corey, Steve, Simon, Paul & Chris x 3.

As with all things in my life, I’m so grateful to my incredible wife who supports all of us in everything and makes this all possible..

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