Switching from Microsoft to Atlassian as a Senior Systems Engineer

For over 15 years my systems engineering work has focused exclusively on Microsoft products. I have worked with everything from Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint and SQL to the Systems Center suite of software, all of the Office 365 offerings, and all of the related infrastructure (VMware, storage, etc.). During the past five or six years I’ve done this as a consultant here at Coyote Creek. Before that I worked on the corporate side of the field, as an in-house engineer or systems administrator.

This all changed last year, when Coyote Creek offered all of its Windows engineers the opportunity to train on Atlassian products. We’ve been seeing a large growth in our Atlassian practice, but a deficit in the marketplace for people with this expertise. I was excited to participate in the training program!

Why did I jump at this opportunity?

Two reasons. First, as an engineer, I’m always excited about expanding my skill set. Second, being able to work on both Atlassian and Microsoft assignments ensures that I’ll always be able to keep busy.

At Coyote Creek our Microsoft practice tends to be cyclical and project-based, while our Atlassian practice includes a lot of continuous support and maintenance work as well as the project-based assignments. These support and maintenance tickets are great for filling gaps when there’s a lull in one of our projects. More skills therefore means I can keep one foot in each area, have less down time, and provide more value for Coyote Creek and the clients we serve.

How does being an Atlassian Engineer differ from being a Microsoft Engineer?

Here are some of the main differences that I’ve observed so far:

  • Atlassian works on multiple operating systems. Microsoft products are all built on the Windows operating system, designed to function within the entire Microsoft ecosystem of databases, intranet, mail and other services. Atlassian is not operating system specific. It can run on Linux or Microsoft Windows. This, of course, impacts how you do things from the engineering standpoint.
  • The people we work with have a different culture. Microsoft is focused towards IT departments. When Coyote Creek does Microsoft consulting, we’re usually contacted by someone in an IT department. They want to do an upgrade, and want us to come in and run the project for them. While there, it’s the folks in the IT department that we interface with.With Atlassian work there’s still some interaction with the IT department. After all, we need servers, accounts, access, etc. But because Atlassian tools are designed to help software engineers do their work—including tracking bugs, creating tickets and handling work flows—most of our interactions are with the software engineering team.What I’ve seen is that software engineering teams have a different culture than IT teams. Software engineers work in a very collaborative environment. For our Atlassian projects there are a lot of meetings, and everyone who will be affected by the project wants to weigh in on the details.In contrast, corporate IT teams tend to be more siloed. In addition to interacting with the project lead, we’ll work with the infrastructure specialist on infrastructure-related issues, the storage specialist on storage-related issues, and so forth. Less group collaboration, more one-on-one discussions.Neither culture is “better.” They’re simply different.
  • Our Atlassian team does a lot of day-to-day maintenance/management work. Because we’re working with the software engineering team and not the IT team, we get a lot of ticket-based work on the Atlassian side. I’m talking about requests such as “We need a new project created in JIRA with this work flow, this field updated, this scheme updated, and this field added to the screen.” In our Microsoft work, the folks in the client’s IT department usually handle day-to-day requests in-house.

How is working with Atlassian products similar to working with Microsoft products?

Of course, systems engineering work is systems engineering work. At the high level, much of working with Atlassian products is similar to working with Microsoft products, especially from the methodology standpoint.

For example, Coyote Creek has a methodology that we follow for upgrades and migrations. There’s a whole process involved, from assessing the current environment all the way through project completion. While some of the technical details may differ from Atlassian to Microsoft, the overall methodology and approach to project management is the same.

Conclusion

You might be wondering: which do I like better—working as a Microsoft Systems Engineer or working as an Atlassian Systems Engineer? My answer: I like both. Variety is the spice of life!

By Ryan Skarra-Gallagher
Senior Systems Engineer