Weeknote 14/2020: Podcasting, furlough and a socially-distanced birthday

We’re living in strange times at the moment, so it seems as good as ever an opportunity to bring back my attempts to blog at least weekly with a brief precis of my week.

In the beginning

The week started as normal. Well, sort of. The new normal. Like everyone else in the UK, I’m living in times of enforced social distancing, with limited reasons to leave the house. Thankfully, I can still exercise once a day – which for me is either a dog walk, a run or a bike ride.

On the work front, I had a couple of conversations around potential client work, but was also grappling with recording Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) skills for my team. Those who’ve known me since my Fujitsu days may know that I’m no fan of SFIA and it was part of the reason I chose to leave that company… but it seems I can’t escape it.

Podcasting

On Monday evening, I stood in for Chris Weston (@ChrisWeston) as a spare “W” on the WB-40 Podcast. Matt Ballantine (@Ballantine70) and I had a chat about the impact of mass remote working, and Matt quizzed me about retro computing. I was terrible in the quiz but I think I managed to sound reasonably coherent in the interview – which was a lot of fun!

Furlough

A few weeks ago, most people in the UK would never have heard of “Furlough Leave”. For many, it’s become common parlance now, as the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme becomes reality for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of employees. It’s a positive thing – it means that businesses can claim some cash from the Government to keep them afloat whilst staff who are unable to work due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus crisis restrictions are sent home. In theory, with businesses still liquid, we will all have jobs to go back to, once we’re allowed to return to some semblance of normality.

On Tuesday, I was part of a management team drawing up a list of potentially affected staff (including myself), based on strict criteria around individuals’ current workloads. On Wednesday it was confirmed that I would no longer be required to attend work for the next three weeks from that evening. I can’t provide any services for my employer – though I should stay in touch and personal development is encouraged.

Social distancing whilst shopping for immediate and extended family

So, Thursday morning, time to shop for provisions: stock is returning to the supermarket shelves after a relatively small shift in shopping habits completely disrupted the UK’s “just in time” supply chain. It’s hardly surprising as a nation prepared to stay in for a few weeks, with no more eating at school/work, no pubs/cafés/restaurants, and the media fuelling chaos with reports of “panic buying”.

Right now, after our excellent independent traders (like Olney Butchers), the weekly town market is the best place to go with plenty of produce, people keeping their distance, and fresh air. Unfortunately, with a family of four to feed (and elderly relatives to shop for too), it wasn’t enough – which meant trawling through two more supermarkets and a convenience store to find everything – and a whole morning gone. I’m not sure how many people I interacted with but it was probably too many, despite my best efforts.

Learning and development

With some provisions in the house, I spent a chunk of time researching Amazon Web Services certifications, before starting studying for the AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials Exam. It should be a six hour course but I can’t speed up/slow down the video, so I keep on stopping and taking notes (depending on the presenter) which makes it slow going…

I did do some Googling though, and found that a combination of Soundflower and Google Docs could be used to transcribe the audio!

I also dropped into a Microsoft virtual launch event for the latest Microsoft Business Applications (Dynamics 365 and Power Platform) updates. There’s lots of good stuff happening there – hopefully I’ll turn it into a blog post soon…

#NicksPubQuiz

Saturday night was a repeat of the previous week, taking part in “Nick’s Pub Quiz”. For those who haven’t heard of it – Nick Heath (@NickHeathSport) is a sports commentator who, understandably, is a bit light on the work front right now so he’s started running Internet Pub Quizzes, streaming on YouTube, for a suggested £1/person donation. Saturday night was his sixth (and my family’s second) – with over 1500 attendees on the live stream. Just like last week, my friend James and his family also took part (in their house) with us comparing scores on WhatsApp for a bit of competition!

Another year older

Ending the week on a high, Sunday saw my birthday arrive (48). We may not be able to go far, but I did manage a cycle ride with my eldest son, then back home for birthday cake (home-made Battenberg cake), and a family BBQ. And the sun shone. So, all in all, not a bad end to the week.

Microsoft course review: 10968B (Designing for Office 365 Infrastructure)

I’ve spent the last three days on a Microsoft Official Curriculum training course at QACourse 10968B: Designing for Office 365 Infrastructure. Like many Microsoft courses, this is badly named (it won’t teach you how to design for Office 365) but I really did find it useful because it focuses very heavily on Microsoft’s FastTrack deployment methodology for Office 365.  Stepping through each of the stages of pilot (although it’s questionable whether enterprises will do this), deploy and enhance, the course reminds us of the key points to consider at each stage with labs to work through with a fictitious company (for once, it’s not Contoso).  Then, the final module is a full case study (using Trey Research of course) where the class divides into groups and works with the instructor (as a customer) to walk through a series of meetings to understand the environment and make the appropriate decisions for use of the Office 365 services.

I found it really beneficial – particularly the final exercise – as I’m doing this with customers all the time and it’s good to compare the approach I take with the Microsoft recommendations.  I was fortunate as well that we had a very knowledgeable instructor, Dan Lewis, and that led to some really good classroom conversations (in contrast to an Exchange course I attended at the same venue last year, where the instructor was limited in her knowledge) – and the range of roles in the room (midsize company infrastructure manager; large enterprise employees; specialist service provider; systems integrator) also added to the depth of discussion.

The one negative – and it’s a huge one – was the courseware.  Microsoft has moved from printed materials to online content and I can understand the reasons (both financial and environmental) but the system used is awful.  Microsoft Learning have partnered with Skillpipe, who have a content platform using a proprietary document format (presumably for reasons of digital rights management – although why they can’t use Microsoft’s own DRM is beyond me) and the content is only available in browser, or in a reader app for Windows (Vista/7 or 8/RT). No mobile devices – not even Windows Phone!  Added to which I find it really difficult to absorb information on screen (e.g. reading a scenario) and it really damages the learning experience.

Incidentally, if you want to learn about the detail of Office 365, this course is not for you – there’s a 5 day hands on course (Course 20346B: Managing Office 365 Identities and Services or you can access the same content, minus the hands-on elements, in the Microsoft Virtual Academy). And, if you really think that’s all a bit too much fuss and you would like to engage a Microsoft Partner instead… then you could always contact me at work!