Get started with Microsoft Learn developer tutorials

The new training platform uses resources running on Azure so you can actually try out the concepts being taught

Get started with Microsoft Learn developer tutorials
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How we developers use documentation has changed. Sites like Stack Overflow have given us different expectations of how we can collaborate around documentation, and around the code we build. As part of devops processes, we’re using tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to discuss the code we write, and with Visual Studio’s Live Share we can code together even if one developer is using a PC and another is using a Mac.

With development tools and documentation changing, how we learn is changing too. Under the hoods of our development tools, read-eval-print loops let us treat editors as scratchpads where we can try out code before we build it into our apps. Using JavaScript and Electron-based development tools like Visual Studio Code, our development environments are also only one step from the web.

There’s a logical next step, then, to tools like Microsoft Docs: bringing modern development practices into the documentation we use, making it the basis for live training, using web-based tools that are closely related to the IDEs and editors we use every day.

What Microsoft Learn offers developers

Microsoft’s new Learn training platform takes those concepts and builds on the gamified approach to learning that’s being used by Salesforce’s Trailhead. You earn badges for completing tasks, using resources running on Azure to actually try out the concepts that are being taught. For example, when you’re learning about defining and deploying a VM, you’re actually using a live Azure tenant in the Azure portal.

But—and this is possibly the smartest decision Microsoft has made with Learn—you’re not using your own account and incurring costs; you’re using one of a myriad virtual accounts that Learn uses to spin up and destroy resources as it needs them. Your Learn Azure account won’t affect any other Azure subscriptions you’re using, so you can use it alongside your production accounts and any Visual Studio subscription benefits. You can even use the same account for Learn as for your own Azure instances, because Learn maps your ID to its own concierge accounts.

That decision gives of Learn a significant advantage, with a platform for exploring Azure that doesn’t use your own Azure resources while you to try out new ways of working. Scratch code environments are created and destroyed on Microsoft’s own platform, so there’s no risk to your live systems. There’s no bill to pay, either, so the VMs or Functions Learn uses to teach you how to work with ARM templates or to build your first serverless apps won’t hit your credit card no matter how many times you use them. By taking the ownership of an Azure tenant out of the equation, it also gives anyone with a PC a chance to try out Azure and gain the skills needed to become an admin or a developer.

I recommend that you register for Learn to track of your progress and to open and run the Azure sandbox that hosts any hands-on operations. Learn’s Sandboxes are only available in some Azure regions, but you should be able to find one close to you.

Not every tutorial is suitable for every user, so Learn sorts by role. You start by choosing the role that matches your job function, which then shows the appropriate tutorials. Once you’ve chosen a module, you are shown a list of units, each with timings. Most modules take an hour or so, and are made up of five- or ten-minute units, so they are suitable for self-paced training during lunch or coffee breaks.

Because its tutorials mix explanatory text with hands-on operations, I recommend keeping the Learn Azure environment in a separate browser instance from the tutorial text. That way, you can tile the two windows next to each other and work in one while referring to the other.

What using Microsoft Learn is like

To get a feel for using Learn, I ran through the first Azure Functions serverless module. The documentation is clear, and it is easy enough to go through the various steps. You should expect to wait while any initial resources deploy, so take the time to make a cup of tea!

The Azure environment Learn provides isn’t cut down in any way, though the virtual account you use does have some limitations; for example, it can’t create new resource groups for your code. Learn automatically generates resource groups for you, making it easier for its automated tools to tear down your environment when you’re done with a tutorial.

The tutorial is clear, stepping through building and testing an Azure function, using both the built-in Azure testing tools and sending a request via Curl from the desktop. It also encourages best practices, adding support for Microsoft’s Application Insights monitoring tools and showing how to use them inside the Azure portal. The code I wrote ran the first time, and I picked up my experience points along with a badge for my account, before being passed on to the next Azure Functions tutorial, following the steps in Learn’s training pathway.

Learn is a logical extension of the Microsoft Docs platform, building on features Microsoft has built into its Azure tools. By offering relatively short modules, it respects busy lives and doesn’t intrude into either work or leisure. There’s also enough depth in its content that you can use a tutorial as an introduction to a new topic or as a refresher when you need to remember how to do something you haven’t done for a while. The result is a mix of content that’s suitable for both beginners and regular practitioners—exactly what you’d look for in a self-paced training tool.

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