Note: This post was first published at my AIIM SharePoint Expert Blog. Check it out to see my weekly writings as they come out and the excellent work of other SharePoint Experts.
Recently I was interviewed by Deborah Miller of Global360 because of my nomination to the SharePoint50 List of key influencers in the SharePoint community. During that interview Deborah called me the “poster child” for utilizing SharePoint as a career development tool. At several of my recent speaking engagements I’ve talked to people new to the SharePoint community who were looking to find their niche and leverage their involvement in SharePoint into a new career direction. Given this interest in the subject I thought I’d write about using SharePoint as a career development tool.
This is of course based on my own experience and your’s may be different. Issues like your past career experience, the environment of the company you work in, education and other things come into play. However, I do believe there are some basic components to expanding your career in this sector. It is important because there are not nearly enough good SharePoint technologists to go around. Whether you are a trainer, designer, administrator, developer or architect you are needed! You will find your own path but here are a few things from my experience that I hope you will find helpful.
Find Your Niche
SharePoint is a deep and complex enterprise development platform. No one can know everything about it. Take the time to research all that is available and find an area that perks your interest. In other words, complete a horizontal review of the technology so you are well versed in its overall feature set, then select an area to deep dive into. If this idea is still confusing to you, take a look at a SharePoint conference list of speakers and topics. You will soon see that different people consistently speak on select topics. I normally speak on enterprise content management strategy and business intelligence. Other people focus on social networking tools, migration strategies, content deployment, Powershell, branding, governance etc. Find an area that speaks to your work history. I had many years of document management and business solution architecture before I entered the world of SharePoint so that continues to be my area of specialty.
Know Your Identity
Some people are born developers having a great affinity for code and the intellectual process involved in writing solutions. Other people, me included, are happier interacting with people and the overarching processes that drive business. There are the visually creative web designers who must also master the realm of CSS and other tools to turn vision into reality. This is, of course, an over-simplification of each role but the point is that it is important to know who and what you are in the technology field. Too often I see job descriptions that ask for a “SharePoint Architect” when the skills they outline are for a pure developer. There is a difference between being a business solution architect with the focus on business and a software solution architect where the focus is on writing the code. You must understand the nature of your role better than the recruiters who are hawking these silly job descriptions. I feel strongly that we must also push back against companies who are trying to make the SharePoint person a Jack or Jill of all trades – business solution architect, SharePoint Administrator, DBA and developer all rolled it one! Separate disciplines are separate skills sets and very rarely do they converge in one person. Know yourself so you won’t be confused as the knowledge worker industry matures.
Get Involved in Your Local Community
Career development is as much about people as it is technology and never has that been more true than the deep and vibrant SharePoint community. Every city has a local SharePoint User Group (SPUG) and if it doesn’t maybe you should start one, even virtually. In a SPUG you can meet vendors, Microsoft personnel, MVP’s and your peers. Most recruiters also reach out to these groups when they are looking to fill the numerous openings that currently exist. Unfortunately right now there are issues in some cities with individual companies or groups usurping the local SPUG. I personally believe that is due to a lack of end user involvement. Whatever the situation in your city the plain and simple fact is that through SPUG’s, local free conferences like SharePoint Saturday’s or larger paid conferences you can meet important people in our community and start to be known.
Knowing people will not make up for a lack of talent or technical ability but it will put you in a position to have the opportunity to leverage that talent in a larger or more lucrative manner.
I would also assert that no community leverages Twitter and social networking quite like the SharePoint world. If you don’t have a Twitter account get one! Following the search terms #SharePoint or #SP2010 will garner you tremendous access to knowledge. Most Microsoft MVP’s and other community leaders like myself utilize Twitter heavily. At conferences, during webcasts, with the posting of articles, bugs and fixes we fill these feeds with truly valuable information.
Share Your Ideas
Each of us has a unique experience in implementing SharePoint in our environments. There may be certain central theme’s that we see, however, we all have different approaches to scaling the information worker challenges that face us today. Do not underestimate how helpful your experience might be to someone along side you on this path. Starting a blog, being involved in the Microsoft or other forums or submitting articles to various publications are all great ways to share your ideas and experience. They don’t have to be long involved things – a short and to the point post is great!
Additionally, writing in these environments will help you to do the same within your own company. Well written strategy documents or project proposals are a professional way of showing your skill in a particular area. This also trains you to always put your name on your work! I don’t have a problem with sharing my slides or other work but I don’t intend to make it simple for other people to claim them as their own ideas by leaving my name off. This is not intended to inflate your ego but to establish you as a subject matter expert in your particular area of expertise.
Oh, and remember that Twitter account you established above to lurk on the #SharePoint feeds? Now you can begin to use it for a two way conversation with the community. Ask a question on the #SharePoint feed and see how long it takes for someone to answer you – either with their own experience or a blog post with some answers. Tweet about things that you’ve run across. A great side effect of tweeting is that you are forced to reduce your comment to its essentials. No more run on sentences for you!
Gain Experience – Get Certified
I have never met anyone in this sector who had a shortage of work! The problem is that sometimes we do not break out of our particular areas of experience to try new things. I highly encourage anyone in this sector to invest in themselves by having a virtual SharePoint server that they can play with either at home or at work. Microsoft has provided us with a fully integrated VM that we can utilize. I suggest you use it! It is not possible to master the depth of a product like SharePoint without some extra elbow grease and hours behind the keyboard. Googling things isn’t enough – at least not for me. I need to build things, break them and build them again to understand the features and limitations of the technology I’m leveraging for my career. Even formal training programs lack the real world experience and confidence you’ll get from doing it yourself. Virtual environments are perfect for this so get yourself one today if you want to call yourself a SharePoint anything.
Some certifications in our business get a bad rap. Sometimes its sour grapes from people who haven’t done them and sometimes the tests are less than stellar. But either way you prove your respect for the industry and your career by passing them. Maybe you’ll get certified on SharePoint Server, maybe you’ll become an ECM Practitioner through AIIM or a PMP but certifications and professional designations are an important part of career development. Make the time to invest in one pathway or another.
Polish Your Public Speaking Skills
I know that some of you will loath this part but it’s a necessary evil of career development. People who can effectively communicate their ideas go farther than people who can’t. I also believe it puts your destiny firmly within your own control when you are not relying on other people to do your communicating for you. I’m not suggesting you have to become a professional speaker. I am suggesting that even within your development team speaking effectively is useful. Speaking before peers, executives, training classes or the public is a defined skill that is learned separately from technical skills. Do not think that because you’ve opened PowerPoint or written a presentation that this makes you an effective speaker. Conversely, don’t be afraid to try something new if you don’t have much experience. SPUG groups are a wonderful place to test out these skills. Please also remember a few more things about public speaking:
•Write your presentation then remove 1/3 of your slides. Less is more. People are tired of being subjected to“Death by PowerPoint”
•Aim to have fewer than 4 bullet points on a page, never use type smaller than 22pts
•Forget those fancy transitions or neon colors – they never work
•Do not read your slides to people – they can do that themselves. Slides provide you with a roadmap for sharing your experience. They are not speech notes.
•Try giving a presentation with no slides at all. This will force you to know your subject matter well and focus on the audience and message not the graphics.
•Make eye contact with people, don’t be afraid to be funny and don’t take yourself too seriously.
•Try – very very hard – not to fill pauses with “Umm..” It sounds really bad! Do not be afraid of a little silence while you take a breath or a drink of water. People really don’t mind and it’s a sign of a practiced speaker.
•Slow down – do not race through your slides. Find a comfortable pace.
•Seek out criticism and reviews – this will only make you better.
Each person has a different career path but the SharePoint sector is an excellent place to be located. Full of bright, interesting people we all share a common desire to be leaders in our field, expand the concept and practice of collaboration and implement superior business solutions for our clients. Establishing yourself as a subject matter expert and investing in your career with some of the methods shown above can help you to secure your place in this ever changing profession.
One last word of advice: Remember to have fun, don’t sweat the small stuff and use your vacation time along the way!