Last week was my birthday. It was a time of reflection as I look back on being part of the SharePoint Community for over ten years… wow I’m old.
Thanks to the SharePoint community I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and traveled to parts of the world I never would dreamed of. I met my current business partner and I’m an owner of a thriving SharePoint/Office 365 consulting firm… all because of this thing called SharePoint and the community surrounding it.
So, as part of my reflection I decided to put together a top ten list of the things I’ve learned from being part of this crazy community and maybe it will help others out there navigate their way through.
With that said, let’s get started with…
The Top 10 Lessons Learned from 10 Years in the SharePoint Community
10) Find your blue ocean
The SharePoint and Office 365 community is such a crowded space these days. When I first started in it back in 2008 there wasn’t a lot of content. Now, when Microsoft sneezes we get 150 blog posts about it within five minutes. Find out what sets you a part. What you are passionate about. Find something that not everyone and their brother is already talking about. As an organizer of the upcoming North American Collaboration Summit conference on March 14-15 I read through DOZENS of session submissions for Intro to Teams, Intro to Flow, Intro to PowerApps… it’s such a crowded space! Find a way to stand out and be different. Don’t add to the noise and get lost in the crowd.
Try not to let it bother you if you get rejected from conferences or can’t seem to get any traction. Just keep trying. Tweak your approach, your abstracts, hone your story and persevere. All it takes is one post... one session… one moment to help you get where you are going. Don’t give up. There’s enough content and space for everyone.
8) TRY to ignore the haters
This one is hard for me. Over the years I’ve acquired my fair share of haters, and it still bugs me. So, I’m writing this to me and to you. Ignore the haters. They are out there. There’s this segment of people that for some reason get filled with anger when they see someone else succeeding. I don’t get it. I realize I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and maybe even I deserve some of it, but you can’t let a hater dictate your response or decisions. Surround yourself with friends that care about you. Note that I said friends, not yes-people. You need people close enough to you that will correct you when you are wrong and stop you from posting that status update or Tweet that you’ll regret later. So, maybe #8 should be “Surround yourself with true friends”.
7) Be kind and be ready to forgive
We all have bad days. We’ve all seen that blog post giving bad advice and wanted to all them out. We’ve had that person trying to take advantage of our time for free help. Some days we don’t react the way we should. I know I’ve had my moments. Combine a bad day with my sarcasm and you have a recipe for me not being the kindest person in the world. On those days, try to be kind. Bite your lip and be kind. People will remember the times you weren’t… and for the times I wasn’t kind… I’m sorry. That being said. Be ready to forgive too. This community needs all of us and when someone has a bad day, try to chalk it up to that and be ready to forgive. Don’t let someone’s bad day turn YOU into a hater.
6) Be humble
Ah, humility, a rare trait for a someone who is comfortable putting their opinions out there and stepping on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It’s takes a certain confidence to do that… you can have the confidence and still be humble though. Have I always been humble? Again, no… I wish I could say I was always kind and humble, but that’s not the case. I’ve had my not so proud moments of being offended I wasn’t chosen to speak at a conference. I’ve secretly thought I could have done something better. I’ve acted like someone I wouldn’t want to be around. We aren’t perfect… but if you can remember to be kind and humble it will go a long way in not only helping you be someone people want to be around, but maybe your name will come to mind when they need someone to fill in at a conference.
5) See the world
One of the most awesome things about the SharePoint community is that I’ve made some amazing friends and I’ve gotten to travel like I never thought possible. If you are lucky enough to get involved in this world take every advantage you can to build friendships and visit new places. Trust me, you have not lived until you’ve gone on a road trip through Croatia and Bosnia, in a van, stopping at every scenic point along the way, and had lamb roasted on a spit while listening to a live band play folk music… Thanks to this thing called SharePoint and the community I’ve been to Canada, The UK, France, Amsterdam, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Norway, New Zealand, and all over the US…
4) Sometimes It’s better to be seen than heard
I’m by far not part of the “old guard” of the SharePoint Community, I consider myself more of the second wave. As I see people trying to join and make a splash I have some old man “stay off my lawn” advice. Sometimes it’s better to be seen than be heard. SharePoint people are some of the nicest, most welcoming people out there. We have shared pains and struggles, but when you see us at a conference sometimes the last thing we want to do is talk SharePoint. Don’t feel like you always have to be “on” or talking... or making sure people know who you are. Just BE present. If you’ve had a hard time breaking the ice this could be why. I swear, if you see a group of SharePoint folks at a conference and ask if you can join them, they will welcome you with open arms… if you proceed to talk shop you may quickly find yourself ignored… a good rule of thumb… If there are drinks in hand, don’t talk about work
3) Have the right motives
Keeping in mind that this IS a community, have the right motives for joining. Or at least be aware of your motives? Maybe that’s a better way of stating it? There are some people whose sole purpose for being in the community is to improve their career, become an MVP, make more money... and you know what? There is NOTHING wrong with that, just don’t be frustrated when people figure this out about you and don’t feel like investing time in you. A better career and more money are indeed tangential things about the community, but when you get to know the people, and invest in the people… seriously... they are some of the best people you will meet in your entire life. I’d list all of them here, but it would take up pages! Jason, Adis, Spence, AC, Eric, Lori, CJ, Cathy, Stephanie, Rob, John, Wes, Sean, Jen... the list goes on and on and on… So…. Really... have any motives you want to have… just keep in mind for some of us it’s about more….
2) Try new things
Technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Don’t become a one trick pony. I’m mostly known for client-side development (and my love of bacon) and I can tell you first hand how much that’s changed over the years. I’ve gone from being one of the pioneers of this space to seeing some absolutely brilliant people like Waldek Mastykarz take the reins and do it the right way… It’s been an interesting couple of years for me as I try and determine what do I do next. Do I go deep on the new toolchain and practices? Do I look for my next blue ocean? I don’t know yet, but I’m trying new things. Submitting different sessions, looking for where the interest is. Luckily, with the ever-changing rapid pace of O365 there is a lot to choose from. If you want to find your place and stay relevant in this world, don’t be afraid to try new things.
1) Enjoy the journey
I’ve been on this ride for over a decade now. Truly thankful for the friendships I’ve made along the way and the sometimes-painful lessons I’ve had to learn. I don’t know how much longer it will last. I do know I’ve made friends that will outlive this journey and I know as much time as I’ve put into this part of my career I won’t regret it. Take the time to stop and smell the roses and realize it is a fantastic journey.
If you truly want to be a part of this eclectic group of people and are willing to put in the time, it’s worth the effort.
One final illustration. I’m going to bring up my conference again. I live in the middle of nowhere Arkansas, and for the past ten years I’ve been organizing a conference. It started out as SharePoint Saturday Ozarks being held on a community college campus and has morphed into The North American Collaboration Summit in an awesome Convention Center on Branson Landing in Branson Missouri. I’m SWAMPED with people that want to come speak at my event. A lot of my 70 speakers are MVP’s from overseas… What on earth makes these people want to travel to the center of the US and talk about SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure? It’s the community. It’s the experience. It’s a nice culmination of all the friendships I’ve made, effort I’ve put in, and relationships that we all value… plus I put on a pretty good show. 😉 Why do I do it? Purely selfish reasons… I want to show my friends a part of the world they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see. I want to bring an affordable but extremely high-quality conference to a part of the country that doesn’t get the love it deserves. I grew up around here. I like it here, and I want others to get the chance to see it as well and thanks to the community I have the unique opportunity to do just that!!
What are your thoughts? You have any additional insights? Disagree with me? What advice would you give to others wanting to be a part of this or any other community?