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How to learn cloud computing

We found out that ‘how to learn cloud computing’ is a big issue! We started a meetup in Belfast with our friends Matt Coulter, Gillian Armstrong, Gillian McCann, and Garth Gilmour. It is called BelfAWSt. And it is a community Meetup in Belfast, to talk about all things AWS!

How to start cloud computing

Open Space Meetup

It was a really good event. It was great to see everyone in person.

There were 50 people there. We had an ‘open space’, which is a very conversational format. The open space format involves getting everyone together to start chatting.  And then you ask everyone what they want to talk about.

We amalgamated the answers into four topics:

  • ‘Getting Started’, 
  • ‘Serverless’, ‘
  • Quality Architecture’,
  • and ‘Data and ML’. 

The ‘Getting Started’ track was really busy. We think it is good to talk about it now. Mark, you were in the middle of the ‘Getting Started’ track. I was there for a while and it was a good conversation.

Getting Started Track

Mark McCann  

It was a great conversation. It was a good mix of people from different backgrounds and levels of experience.  We saw from looking at the topics and listening to the conversations that there is a need for guidance on how to get started!

  • How do you set up your account?
  • And how do you learn?
  • Or build your career?
  • Who do you reach out to?
  • And when you are more familiar with the basics, what can you leverage to build higher-order systems and solutions?

There were great conversations on ‘getting started’ guidance and advice. There was good feedback and interaction.

And I think everyone’s on that ‘Getting Started’ journey. One of the big things to come out was that we’re all still learning.  We’re all getting started in some areas.  There’s no: ‘Hey, you know AWS now!” You can’t know it all.

We all have to continue to learn by having a growth mindset.  You can’t stay still. You have got to continuously learn.  We all empathise with the new person starting on day one. And maybe they have never heard of the cloud or AWS. Because in certain areas of the Cloud and AWS, we’re all just getting started.

Dave Anderson  

Yeah, and it changes so rapidly as well.

Mike O’Reilly  

It was awesome to be at an event with real people again, post-pandemic. And you are right Mark, there was a spectrum from people getting started in AI and Machine Learning to getting going with Cloud. With the open space format no matter how many times you do it, you know that it works. It’s class, when you get the topics which are the things that people want to know about. What came up?

What topics came up?

Mark McCann  

The broader topics were about ‘Getting Started’ guidance and advice.

There was a dedicated journey on how you educate yourself and where to look for educational resources.

Questions on certifications came up a lot.

  • Are they valuable?
  • What workshops can guide me through the Getting Started phase?
  • How do you become part of the community to help me and my organisation? 

Some of the later conversations were on patterns and enabling building blocks to help you build more complicated solutions. For example, I have my code and I want to wire up an API gateway with Dynamo and Lambda.

And we talked about standard advice, for example, if you set up your account, turn on multi-factor authentication. Set your budget reasonably low. And set your alarms and actions to notify you if you’ve gone over $10.

Mike O’Reilly  

When you appoint stacks in multiple regions, make sure you tear down stacks in those regions.

Mark McCann  

There’s nothing more terrifying than realising that your bill is £200 pounds. And you are a student living in a one-bedroom bed set who can’t afford it. So you want to protect against that.

AWS support is very good at resolving this problem.  We’ve all had colleagues or friends who’ve run up an unexpected bill. And AWS support has been very good if you’re nice.  The notes have ‘Getting Started’ practices and guide links. But make sure you secure your account, set your budgets and have your alarms set.

Eat the elephant

Dave Anderson  

It is daunting when you look up and there is an ocean of stuff on the website.  If you sign up, pick something relatively straightforward and follow a quick lab. It’s an iterative process. Follow a lab, do something, explore it, and then just keep building up step by step. It’s: ‘Eat the elephant, one bite at a time’.

Mike O’Reilly  

It’s about keeping your world small. We talk about that with continuous improvement. When you are building up experience it’s hard to not get overwhelmed with the services on offer. That’s where certifications are good. If you’re interested in a broad perspective, it’s worth taking the time to do the certification. You can be lucky with good levels of exposure and learn on the job. But certifications are good for taking it one topic at a time. And to understand the services and how the cloud is set up. 

Education and certification

Mark McCann  

The pathways of education and certification have been broadened to meet different user needs.  ‘Cloud Practitioner’ is great for somebody getting started, who wants to understand what capabilities are available.  When you get to associate and professional, the specialist certifications are more in-depth with a bigger learning curve. But all of them are hugely valuable.

There is a structured guide for areas that you should be worried about. One area that came up when I did my certifications was well architected. And the well-architected pillars are part of the educational material.  They’re referred to throughout all the certifications. They have been fed into all the white papers and guides.  Security, Cost, Optimization, Reliability, Performance, and Sustainability.

And from an educational track point of view, what I used was ‘A Cloud Guru’. More recently, ‘Skill Builder’ has become freely available. Udemy courses are really good. So there’s never been a better time to learn about the Cloud and AWS. And other Cloud Providers have similar educational materials. But the stuff that’s freely available now is just fantastic.

Foundational white papers

Dave Anderson  

Those certifications are obviously the AWS official certifications. And sometimes certifications get a bad rap. But I think those certs are brilliant.

The thing I really like is that they have foundational white papers. There’s a white paper on well-architected.  And there’s ‘secure by design’, principles of cloud and elasticity, and ephemeral behavioural stuff. So there are four or five core white papers that are worth reading. And you can tell the people who don’t understand those concepts because everything is built upon them. If you attempt a certification, and you read those white papers, it’s still beneficial.  The PDFs are free and you can download them. 

Mark McCann  

One benefit, when you are on your journey in an organisation on the cloud, is shared vocabulary. It gives you shared understanding across teams. So if you’re a manager, not hands-on or technical you will have the vocabulary to have a conversation with your team. It could be about scale or services. But it allows you to be better informed and have greater situational awareness.

Get into some workshops

Mike O’Reilly  

With certifications, you can go deep and broad on a lot of topics.  But real learning happens when you go and do something. Get into a workshop.  Go and follow an AWS workshop or whatever cloud provider workshop applies to you. That’s how stuff tends to stick with me.

How to start cloud computing at The Serverless Edge
Photo by Brooke Cagle on

Mark McCann  

The developer advocates and AWS have been great at codifying their getting started workshops. Workshops that were only available at re:Invent are now freely available on AWS.workshops.

Once you’ve got your account set up, your multi-factor authentication, and your budget set, do the serverless workshops. They are a great way to get familiar with how to provision some of these things. And run some from the outset to see how you go.

Dave Anderson  

When doing workshops, there’s always a funky solution. A lot of the stuff is quite native to AWS. And the whole idea of AWS is that you stand something up, do it, and blow it away. That’s perfect for a workshop. It’s completely automated, and not hokey as with some other vendors. The workshops are brilliant. They’re always very smooth, and well put together and designed.

Tap into the Community

The community is also good, with AWS heroes, community builders, and developer advocates. And it’s actually quite a small community. It’s a handful of people who are putting out good content. And it’s not that hard to track them down on Twitter. It’s worth tapping into that community.

Some of them have achieved very specific advanced things. But others focus on teaching the basics of the cloud through workshops, the Getting Started Guide, and videos on YouTube to explain different concepts.

There’s a wealth of material, that’s mostly for free because they work for training companies or AWS. So it’s in their nature to create free content. 

Mike O’Reilly  

A lot is born out of the organisation they work into. Its production hardened or battle-hardened advice and guidance. It’s good to keep an eye on what they’re doing,  And what messages they’re pushing.

Mark McCann  

You can see their customer obsession and leadership principles at work.  They are willing to engage to help anybody who reaches out to them. So kudos to them! As with the developer advocates, community builders, and heroes, they live out their customer obsession mantra for real.

Patterns are a learning opportunity too

Dave Anderson  

The last thing is the whole idea of patterns. Matt Coulter has CDK Patterns. SAM has a bunch of patterns. And there’s the site. 

When you codify an architectural pattern, like a CDK pattern, it’s a great way to accelerate and get something up and running. But also to look and see how the pattern was put together. It’s a brilliant way to learn.

Mark McCann  

You may want to wire capabilities and services together. For example, you wire an API gateway with a lambda and store data in DynamoDB. There’s a pattern for that. You can see how it’s done in a well-architected way. That frees up resources to build solutions that deliver value. It’s an enabling building block.

Dave Anderson  

When I started coding, in the last millennium, I’d buy a book with a picture of a reference architecture.  I would spend the day working out what the picture meant. And then I would sit and try to apply that picture to your solution. It could take weeks or months.  And you probably wouldn’t get it right.

Now you can run one-line commands to have something up and running in minutes. So it’s an executable pattern over a picture in a book! A picture in a book is nice. But it takes a lot of work to make it work.

Democratisation of Tech

Mark McCann  

In the group, we looked at how these things have democratised. There are no barriers to entry compared with 20 years ago. Barriers existed to the latest and greatest tech. These things are available to us. From a brand new graduate to a seasoned engineer with 25 years of experience.

There’s a level playing field. Developers in Northern Ireland can have the same impact as people in Silicon Valley. 

Mike O’Reilly  

Patterns like CDK and Serverlessland help.  They are built on developer-enabling frameworks.  Some are built on CDK and some leverage SAM or the serverless framework. They are good to play around with. And to understand what they can give you and your scenario. And to develop your preference to help you in the long run.

You don’t want to be doing things in the console or coding in raw CloudFormation. 

It’s never too late to start

Dave Anderson  

And it’s never too late! I’ve met people who have come to Cloud in a mature career switch. It’s never too late to start learning.

I would argue that the later you do it the better! Because the early stuff is a bit funky. This later tech is more refined and mature.

So if you haven’t delved into AWS, rest assured that there’s no reason to hold back. Don’t think you’ve missed the boat. Go out there and start absorbing all these fantastic resources.

Speaking of which, we will stick all these links in the podcast and blog notes. 

So that’s the craic! That was useful. We really enjoyed the meetup. On Twitter, we’re @ServerlessEdge and the blog is All right, thanks very much.






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