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Life @ 45°

Life @ 45 Degrees: Danny Willems

Who do we have before us?

Hi! I’m Danny Willems, Cloud Architect at 45 Degrees, with a focus on the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Currently I’m working on a project at LBC together with two other Cloud Architects of 45 Degrees (Sean and Michel red.). Together, we’re establishing an Azure landing zone and providing governance of their Cloud environment. It’s quite challenging, as the scope of an Azure landing zone and performing governance is quite broad, but I’m with a great team of 45 Degrees colleagues there.

What are your previous experiences?

I have a background of 20 years in IT, having worked in various areas within the Microsoft landscape. I’ve done some work on the platform and infrastructure side, including SharePoint and VM-ware, and then I switched to the communication side about ten years ago. There I focused on working with Skype for Business, which then later on evolved into Teams. I’m interested in many areas, so after a few years within communication, I started looking for a new challenge. I did some research and that’s how I ended up at 45 Degrees.

I’ve always stayed within Microsoft, so I have extensive experience with Microsoft products. What’s interesting about working at a large company and the same technical framework, is that you get to learn the way of working. My previous employer had a strong Cisco background, which is a completely different way of working. All Microsoft products follow the same philosophy, which is handy, and it allows you to grow broadly.

It’s also convenient that 45 Degrees has a strong affinity with Microsoft within Bluu, too. My previous company was a multinational, with fewer opportunities to grow. That’s different at 45 Degrees. The Cloud is already different from Microsoft, but a shift to Google Cloud would be too much. I want to approach it from a cloud-agnostic perspective, so I can do it step by step here, with the help of my Microsoft knowledge.

Did you know about 45 Degrees before?

I didn’t know the company until Monika contacted me. After having talked to Monika I had my first introduction to 45 Degrees. Ofcourse, I knew Cronos, but I wasn’t familiar with the Club of Diederik yet. After the introductory talks, I talked with Diederik and Eline, and had a technical interview with Hernan. Then finally, Diederik and I finalized everything and now I’m here.

I definitely wanted to go in the direction of Cloud Architect, and I had a few things open, but nothing was as big a jump as 45 Degrees. I came from large companies and I wanted to go to a smaller company with more dynamism and room to move. And I could also learn a lot from a technical perspective here. The combination of a smaller company and a more clear focus meant I could work on the tech I wanted instead of having to grow in the direction the enterprise forces you..

How does 45 Degrees stand out to you?

You get a lot of freedom, and that’s quite remarkable. The team is distributed over a number of clients, so everyone is directly involved in a project. Despite that, there’s a strong cohesion: if you have a question, someone who’s working on another project will help you out, for example.

In the past, I had 20-30 meetings per week, but here there’s only 1 or 2, so there’s also much more room to focus on your core skills. It used to be difficult to close things because it was unclear what your specific scope was. So you had to jump from here to there to prevent things going wrong. For me personally, that focus is great. But because of the focus, you’re also held accountable for your responsibilities, whereas at my previous job there was much more room to hide from ownership. 

What do you want to achieve here?

I was just listening to a podcast about someone who wants to grow more towards a CTO role, while for me it’s actually the opposite. I want to grow more technically by becoming an expert in a domain. The domain is not yet clear, since “Cloud” is quite broad and you cannot be an expert in everything related to Azure. I do have a few areas that interest me, such as identity, security, policy, but the goal is mainly to gain technical knowledge in one specific field. I admire people who have unconscious competence in their expertise, and that’s what I want to achieve. After that, I’ll see where it takes me. There’s a wide range of topics that interest me, so I’ll probably face new challenges in the future. I love being around people with technical expertise. I’m not rushing to determine what that expertise should be. I also want to bring these expertises to workshops, but that’s a challenge because it’s outside my comfort zone. I want to share my knowledge, but I’m not quite ready yet to start doing it.

Do you feel like 45 Degrees supports you in achieving this?

I think so, judging by my colleagues and the conversations I’ve had. There are a lot of people here with a lot of expertise, and the mentality is to keep growing and challenging each other. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you should leave. I’m not the biggest expert here, so I can learn a lot from them and I realize that I have some gaps in my knowledge.

Diederik wants to set up a trajectory for that. For example, I’m getting a lot of certificates, so there’s plenty of room for growth outside of my job. It’s a mutual relationship because we help 45 Degrees as well. I don’t want my career to be too rigid. I’ll see where it takes me. There will be challenging projects that come my way, and then it’s up to me to gain the necessary knowledge.

Is Boost Your Impact one of those trajectories?

I was surprised by it. It helps you get to know yourself better, and I think that’s important. As a technical person, you can’t just focus on the technical side. You also need soft skills, and communication skills are emphasized here. I’m curious about what the next steps will be.

We both! Best of luck, Danny.

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