Retrospective – DevOps using VSTS and Azure course

Last week I delivered the first run of my new DevOps using VSTS and Azure course in Kirkland, Washington. While my retrospectives are usually just for my personal improvement, I decided to start sharing my retrospectives to be more transparent. The public record of my goals to improve should also keep me focused on achieving those goals. As a secondary goal, this should also provide an insight into some of the work that goes into creating and evolving high-quality technical training courses.

What worked

  • Enthusiasm from the attendees was fantastic which gave the class an exciting feel over the 3 days.
  • While DevOps is focused on BOTH operations and developers, this is definitely a “DevOps for developers” course. Attendees for the first run of the course were exactly the target audience. I’ll need to ensure any promotion of the course continues to mention DevOps for developers.
  • Students had various levels of experience with both VSTS and Azure including participants who were taking the class in preparation for moving from on-premises TFS to VSTS.
  • Occasionally screenshots in the courseware were slightly wrong due to recent updates to either VSTS or Azure. Students were very understanding of this given the release cadence of the products in question. This will remain a concern for me as student expectations vary. I’m sure I’ll run across students who won’t be as understanding.
  • Based on the high number of questions asked during the course, the allocation of time for Q&A seems about right.
  • Having students sign-up in class for a new Microsoft Account, email, Dev Essentials account and Azure account went quite quickly and smoothly. Having students create these accounts for themselves allows them to continue using these resources after class with the lab work they did still in their account. They can choose to delete their lab work of course, or leave it in place while they learn and explore more. I’m convinced this is much better than requiring them to have an existing account as a course pre-requisite.

What didn’t work

  • For one exercise in the course, I planned on using the VSTS Demo Generator. Despite it working multiple times during course development, it failed during class and then in further testing. In all occasions, the VSTS accounts were completely new so there should not have been any reason for the utility to fail. I was able to work around this in class, but I know now I can’t rely on it.

[UPDATE Jan 2018] I have now used the VSTS Demo Generator tool for a few more courses and it appears to be working again. If you’ve not used it already, be sure to give it a go if you want to explore capabilities in VSTS with some sample data.

  • The course felt a little rushed towards the end of the last day.

What can I improve next time.

  • Now the first run is over, use the timings to better plan future deliveries so that it doesn’t feel rushed towards the end.
  • Change the lab exercise that used the VSTS Demo Generator to not rely on it for future runs. If I can isolate the reason for the failure, I will share that information with the team responsible for the tool to see if they can fix it.
  • Create a couple of extra demos to have on-hand should students ask how VSTS build & release could work with other Azure services. Eg. Azure Functions demo. Also have a more complex example of using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates should students enquire about this.

What’s next?

  • Having completed the first delivery in the US now, I’m partnering with DDLS to deliver this course in Australia next month. I’ve also had enquiries about delivering this as an in-house workshop for an organisation so that’s positive.
  • Continue to review the decision to add the Azure focus to the VSTS course and not the new TFS 2017 Build & Release course. While VSTS can deploy to either cloud or on-premises server, and TFS can deploy to either as well, I’ve chosen to group them this way for now and review.