Category Archives: Tech Skills

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Drafts. I have a lot to not say.

I went looking for a post I knew I had started jotting down but hadn’t finished only to find a LOT of drafts from the past year and more. A bunch of half-finished thoughts, captured ideas, or the beginnings of things I wanted to get out there. Uff-da. So many thoughts and threads to pull on. But there’s a lot going on and changing. The world of technology, people, and the connection between the two has no shortage of issues to address. We’ll continue to have a lot of work to do to improve across the board.

A lot of the concepts I started writing are still valid and hopefully useful to someone. Many are early exercises for me to organize thoughts and pull together enough information to craft a complete story for eventual posting or a conference session. There’s going to be more about AI – it’s touching pretty much everything in the tech space. We’re still going to be talking about building and maintaining communities. There’s plenty to talk about with specific tech (Microsoft, Lists, Power Platform, and more…). And I’m still digging into concepts around learning, skilling-up, sharing solutions and business value, and more.

There’s so much content out there now. It’s noisy. EVERYONE has something to say. It’s harder to find the content that you need, when you need it, from the people you need to hear it from.

I need to do better at following through, completing thoughts, or… something. Every post doesn’t need to be a full accounting. I tend to want to cover as many of the what-ifs as I can which makes posts loooonger than they need to be. I’ll try to do better.

Friday thoughts over coffee and a blog site.
Happy New Year!

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Storytelling: Internal Team Value and Impact

Around the time I was publishing my most recent article on storytelling, an acquaintance of mine was submitting a LinkedIn post with a request for examples of internal promotion stories.

I glommed on to a few details she shared in the conversation thread:

Sell the value of your team

The first was where she was “wondering how an internal team’s story can be told so that others can tell it again and sell that team’s services”. My immediate thought (as a technology consultant) was SharePoint team sites or pages. Something our community has preached for years – having a SharePoint site or page for each team so they could easily, clearly, and publicly (internal) share what their team does, who they are, how to reach them, and potentially share current and ongoing success stories. It’s not necessarily having the story to pass on as much as it is having an easy place to point folks to see the story themselves (make it part of their team’s marketing, links in email signatures, etc.).

(Edit/Note: I realize her “how” is more about how to construct a story effectively than it was about logistics or technology… I will cover more on the story writing in the follow-up post.)

As internal team functional sites shift from the SharePoint experience to the Teams experience (on the surface, SharePoint is still the engine behind Teams), teams still need (IMO) a company-facing surface to tell their story, hence the separate page or site.

The ongoing success stories part has a bit more wiggle room. There are a number of ways to facilitate this with technology. A while back it might have been done within that SharePoint site with a list, web parts, etc. For a while it might have been telling stories via Yammer. Now it might involve Viva as part of the story gathering, promotion, and distribution efforts – maybe with some Power Automate to facilitate an approval process, etc. Lots of options.

Regardless of the technology however, the organization needs to train itself to *capture* those successes and tell those stories effectively. While implementing technology can be fairly straightforward, changing the mindset, priorities, and culture are a LOT harder. (More on this in another post…)

Share the impact of your team

The second quote also struck a chord: Wanting to make the case that “clients of the storytellers … wouldn’t go without UX again”. “UX” is a specific example here, but the concept can apply to all sorts of services. The “can’t do without” subject approach is super compelling in a “what we offer” from our services sort of way. It’s so important to not just tell what your team does and how it does it, but that others – your customers (even if internally) – had such a great experience working with you that they would make it a point of not going it alone in the future when they’re doing something similar.

e.g., Why would I write my own training docs if I could work with the training team that does it every day and has built a team around writing and training. It might be a secondary (or even strong) skill for my team, but it’s their team’s primary focus. They are better at this than we are. They can apply branding and consistency where that might be an extra effort for us. We can focus on *our* primary goal of delivering this platform, product, feature, whatever…

Technology Bias and Action

My bias is towards using a technology solution as at least part of a solution – when it fits – and usually something that’s part of the Microsoft stack as that’s been my area of operation for many years. Some of these approaches could likely be implemented with other products as well depending on what your organization is invested in.

The rest of the solution will be people focused. It could be in policies, practices, habits, or company culture.

Skills…

Often neglected in these storytelling examples are the tools, skills, knowledge, and/or experience that were necessary to build and deliver the successful effort. Personally, I think it’s relevant but that’s because of the context I’m thinking in – specifically around roles, technology skills, upskilling and skill gap filling. Important, I think, but only urgent at the time you actually need those skills or solutions to replicate something or build something of your own.

Other Tagging

The skills or roles mentioned above could from one perspective be a form of tagging for your content. One taxonomy used to tag or assign context to the story. There are others though. Depending on what makes sense in your organization there might be other keywords to categorize a story. Ultimately, you want folks to find the content when they’re looking for it. Tags of any sort will help with search, with AI-based targeting, or even manually browsing. It’s important to capture tags when you’re able and have the systems configured to filter and return results on them.

Summary

These are just a few examples of the value of storytelling within an organization. There are countless others, but the value only comes by capturing, curating, and sharing them. Otherwise, the wins go uncelebrated and the gains in reproducing them or learning from their lessons are lost.

Writing and telling stories (well) is worth the time investment.
(Just don’t admit that to my high school English teachers…)

Sessions and Tracks and Sponsors, Oh my…

We’ve still got room for more. More sponsors and sponsor-driven content. I keep thinking of all the great content that folks could present.

We’ve got tracks and rooms with openings. I find it hard to believe there are orgs out there that don’t have value to add, skills and knowledge to highlight, and content to share. Who in the Twin Cities area or the Upper Midwest region are the go-to firms that can help with Viva, Copilot, or Power Platform? They’ve got to be out there (I can think of a number of folks that would be great fits…) and eager to reach potential customers. Microsoft is marketing hard along these lines. What say you partners?

Speak up, speak now! If we fill these sponsor slots, we can meet our budget needs for this event. It’s a particularly good deal for local orgs that don’t have to add on travel expenses. As much as our attendees appreciate folks coming from out of town, they also love being made aware of local folks that can help them out – sometimes right now, sometimes down the road.

Heck, even for folks coming from out of town the cost to join our event as a sponsor is a deal compared to larger events and we have an engaged audience already heavily invested in the Microsoft platforms. Come and get em. 🙂

Open tracks/rooms

Take a look at our schedule if you haven’t yet. We’ve got a few rooms and tracks where we’d love to round out the topic areas. Add your voice to an already awesome group of community speakers.

  • Microsoft Viva
  • Copilot / AI
  • Power BI
  • Power Platform
  • Developer

Session ideas and gaps

Have some thoughts in the areas listed above? Drop us a line!

What about these topics or others? This is just me spit balling – not even tossing ideas around with the team that would certainly yield more relevant topics and refine the ones listed here.

Microsoft Viva

  • Beyond the Intranet – Engaging your employees with Viva
  • Viva overview – A walk through Viva offerings and what to use when
  • Getting started with Viva – What it takes to skill-up and staff-up for your organization
  • Viva case studies – Recently spun up Viva in your org? Here’s what we learned in ours
  • Viva Best Practices

Copilot / AI

  • Microsoft Copilot – An overview of the various products, where they’re at, what’s on the way
  • Copilot stories and case studies – How AI is working for us…
  • Copilot Best Practices

Power BI

  • Power BI vs. Tableau – Pros and Cons
  • Power BI as a part of your overall data strategy and implementation
  • Power BI Best Practices and Case Studies
  • Skilling up your team for Power BI success

Power Platform

Oh my, there’s just so much to cover even with Power BI having its own track…

  • Getting started with Power Apps for Lists and M365
  • Building a Maker community and mentality within your organization
  • Need to Know – Admin’s Guide to managing the Power Platform
  • So. Many. Case Studies.
  • What the heck is Dataverse and why you should care
  • Power Platform tools vs. 3rd Party tools

Personally, I’m curious how consulting organizations are approaching Power Platform regarding doing work for organizations and/or/vs. building trusted advisor roles with makers via training and advising. Seems like opportunities for a broad spectrum of engagements.

Developer

  • Exploring the Pro Dev features and capabilities of the Power Platform
  • Extending M365: Where, When, and How
  • M365 Development Best Practices
  • Extending Power Platform Capabilities with Azure (Azure Functions, AI, and other specific capabilities – there are so many folks don’t realize)

What would you like to hear about?

“I really wish they had a session on…” Speakers, vendors, and others would love to hear what topics folks would like to see covered. We’re usually guessing (albeit with plenty of experience) on what you want to hear and when. We don’t know what stage your org is in and what’s relevant to you now.

Let me know!

Are you an attendee coming in a few weeks? What content are you looking for? What’s relevant for you or your organization right now? Let me know.

Are you a potential sponsor? Need a hand pulling some content together? Do you have someone interested in speaking that wants some coaching or help? Let us know – we’d love to get you started!

References

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Benefits of Community Contributing

To follow up my recent post, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the potential benefits of doing community work. There are plenty of opportunities to benefit from being involved, contributing content, running events, etc.

Also, some folks might be motivated by these potential benefits beyond the benefits to the community. Some folks might get involved primarily for these benefits and there’s nothing wrong with that IMO. You can discuss intentions and judgements amongst yourselves. 🙂

To set or reset expectations, these are potential benefits. Nothing is guaranteed.

You’re almost certain to learn something.

Writing blog posts or preparing presentations/sessions (at least for me) requires digging fairly deeply into topics. It almost always leads to new topics, related topics, dependencies, and more. Some of them I’m able to dig into right away. Others I may need to chalk up to raising awareness of something that I’ll likely dig into later. Either way, I’ve skilled up. Sometimes I’ve skilled up a LOT. This is honestly one of my biggest drivers…

I find the skills topic interesting. I find that the more I learn, the more I want to learn. The more I want to try, the more I want to tell other folks what I’ve found. Topics might include the how-to steps, or how something impacts business needs, or so many other variations. On and on… Imagine what impact sharing that knowledge could have on your team, in your org, or in a wider community.

Connect skills with examples, share them in the context of your org or across verticals… Talk to me after class on this one. 🙂

Your brand may grow.

In today’s world of social media measurements any content you create is going to add to your footprint. If and when folks find your content, like it, comment on it, share it, etc. it’s raising your personal brand. It’s building a track record of your accomplishments, your knowledge, your skills, your experience, and more.

Similar things apply to businesses and organizations. Many will build community channels for just this purpose – building brand, marketing, etc. Again, not a bad thing.

These tend to be positive things for you as an individual and for organizations you may work for or represent.

Which leads to the next thing…

You may get recognized or awarded for your contributions.

Again, nothing is guaranteed. But you can’t win if you don’t participate. Each community has its own way of recognizing folks.

Badges seem to be all the rage again. If you’re participating in the right forums, sites, etc. you may be recognized in that way.

I’ve been lucky enough to be awarded as a Microsoft MVP (15 years this year!), which brings with it its own benefits. I don’t know who originally nominated me, but I am extremely thankful as it’s given me ways to contribute even more.

You might get new opportunities.

That might mean a new role, a new badge, recognition, or even new job opportunities. After all, you’re building your skills – both technical and social/soft skills and they’re all useful. Sharing is, by default, a social thing. It might get you recognized within your organization as an SME (subject matter expert) or “champion” – someone who has knowledge and experience in a particular area that can build community and mentor others.

Sharing knowledge in various communities more widely than you’ve done before tends to bring attention in the way of job opportunities as well. If you’re a consultant, it might drive some new business. If others need your skills it might lead to new job opportunities. There are a lot of options out there when folks know what skills (both SME topics and soft skills like speaking, writing, teaching, and more…) and experience you bring to the table.

References

Oh yea. There are also stickers. 😛

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Why I Do Community

Why? Why, why, why… It’s a good question and not one I often think about because I decided a while back that it’s worth the time and investment – at least for me. Let’s see if something resonates for you to get involved.

The “why” for me is a combination, if not a balance, of selfish reasons and a desire to contribute.

It’s Fun!

Reason 1. I find contributing to the community to be fun and rewarding. We are extremely fortunate to have a community full of awesome people that are fun to be with. Consumers of our content are very appreciative and take the time to say "Thanks". 

“Thank you so much for that. It’s exactly the information I was looking for.”

– Variations from attendees at different conferences, most recently at M365 Community Days in Ottawa.

Participating allows me to share experiences – other than (and often counter to…) what product marketing puts out – with folks. It fills documentation and experience gaps, it provides practical examples that may align with a certain perspective or apply to a specific vertical, and shares discoveries that others may not have figured out yet.

Share What You’ve Learned

Let’s expand on that last thing for a minute. For me, it’s a prime example for many folks to contribute to community – through a blog post, a forum answer, a video, or some other way.

Reason 2. A scenario: Someone wants to accomplish something, finds a challenge along the way, and figures out the trick, the path, or method to overcome it. Finally, they want to share what they found so others don't have to experience that same pain. I regularly hit on this same scenario. 

Self-motivated learners navigate these paths every day. Sometimes its SMEs digging in to explore and exercise platforms. Sometimes its folks doing their jobs day after day. Community contributors go another step and share what they’ve learned with others.

We need to strike a bit of a balance here IMO. I don’t want to underplay the sharing part. It can take a significant amount of time to do effectively. Creating content (writing blog posts, producing videos, etc.) seems trivial, but often requires research time, writing time, production efforts, etc. – none of which is easy. I also don’t want to overplay the sharing part into some martyr-like effort, but it’s worthwhile to understand the efforts being made by folks and the organizations that employ them.

Stay Connected

Reason 3. Working with the community allows you to stay connected with the community. 

So many examples: Organizations using similar tech, 3rd party companies offering products and services in your market, and folks in a variety of roles working with similar products and in similar verticals. It gives you exposure to what other folks are using and running into in their jobs, from their varying perspectives.

Be an Example

Reason 4. I like to contribute to hopefully be an example for others to repeat. 

This doesn’t mean folks will choose to do the same things I’m doing, but it should demonstrate that they can – and at different scopes. Not everyone needs to speak at public conferences. They can, in many more cases actually, present internally at their organizations to others that need the info they have.

I tend to operate within product-specific and geography-specific community (M365 or Power Platform in Minnesota) – But many organizations are large enough and have technical user communities that can benefit internally from similar actions (lunch and learn sessions, internal blog posts, etc.). Imagine the improved ROI for those product licenses you’re paying for if more people know how to use the tools specifically in the context of your company…

Hey, if I can do this, you can do this. Have you learned something that others might benefit from? Talk about it! Write a blog post or submit a session.

It’s Good Exercise

No, not the physical “exercise” like working out. Though, we do get a lot of steps in attending and running events.

Reason 5. Contributing to the community is a good exercise in personal and professional skills. 

Skills that are useful in our professional and personal lives like communicating, listening, writing, (public) speaking, networking, planning, and many other things. Like many of these skills, they need practice. Practice to ramp up, maintain, and eventually mentor others.

So, if you didn’t need another reason, jump in to better yourself and grow your skills.

Retrospective

I would say my experience (in the context of the current technology community) started with combination of excitement about a technology (yep, SharePoint – a little geeky) that solved some business problems (helping people) and wanting to get more comfortable speaking in front of folks.

I like to share what I know – knowledge, experience, tips and tricks, and more – if it can help someone else. It’s the same general concept that drove me to do consulting, which is a lot of the same thing but being paid for it because you’re working specifically for someone and addressing their needs and efforts.

When I worked for a consulting company, community contributions were useful for a number of reasons. It established credibility – for me and my company – in my topic/technology area. It was good marketing getting the company name out there. It looked good from a “we care about the community” perspective as an organization. That sounds like it’s trying to make us look like something we weren’t – but we were legitimately interested in building community.

Summary

This was maybe a bit more introspective and retrospective than usual. Hopefully still useful to someone. I’m sure there are other reasons I could list, but this is already longer than intended so we’ll stop here.

Get involved. It’s fun and rewarding.

Follow up:

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Community Events – Connections

Community events can be about many things. Ours (Community Days, SharePoint Saturdays, M365 days, etc.) are about education, information sharing, and networking. They’re about connections.

Connecting sponsors with attendees, their organizations, customer prospects, potential hires, and peers.

Connecting attendees with each other, with speakers, with potential employers, and with the broader community.

Connecting speakers with their audience.

Connecting product owners with current customers and prospects.

If all goes well, people walk away from the day with LinkedIn connections, X (Twitter) followers, appointments for coffee and meetups, leads to follow-up with, and more.

Sure, education and awareness are a big part too and not to undersell that part, but it is a point in time data point. Hopefully folks walk away knowing how to do something they didn’t before and learn a few keywords or directions to look to dig deeper but the connections are even more important in that they have someone to call with questions, now or in the future.

Connections. Don’t take them for granted. Make the most of your time together. Say hello to the person sitting next to you in a session. Sit with someone new at lunch. Follow up with the person in a session that asked a question for something relevant to you. Introduce yourself to a speaker. Talk to the sponsors. Give the event producers your feedback or let them know if you’ve got a topic you’d love to talk about in the future.

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Quick Thoughts: Microsoft Copilot and SaaS Pricing

Microsoft made some pricing announcements today at their Inspire conference that included a $30 charge per person per month for M365 Copilot (AI) licensing. First impression? That’s pretty steep… But let’s dig in a bit.

Not everyone is going to need it (at first).

It’s pretty easy to justify when you know your value per hour and can calculate how much time you’ll save using the new features of Copilot. In many cases it’ll be easy to justify $30 a month cost when you can measure savings directly: “Hey, that thing takes 15 minutes, I do it 10 times a month”… Done.

Other use cases likely won’t be that straightforward, but we’ll see how they manifest.

With this, I’ve already seen it come up in multiple conversations and threads… Know your users and review your use cases before licensing. At this price point, most companies aren’t going to license everyone – at least right away. And there will likely be other added licenses in the mix as well. Don’t expect the Microsoft licensing topic to get any less confusing in the near future (unless maybe we can use AI to help sort out your licensing use cases… Copilot for Licensing?).

SaaS pricing is hard

A little background. SaaS pricing is a challenge. Dig in a little bit and you’ll see plenty of threads talking about how hard it is for companies (especially startups) to price their products. M365, Power Platform, and the rest of the cloud services out there ultimately are SaaS offerings (Software as a Service) – though it may be a bit of a simplification. Microsoft and other big players in the space at least had some historical product pricing to start from that (may or may not directly) lead to subscription pricing used for SaaS.

The nature of cloud-based apps – as we’ve been talking about for as long as Microsoft has been in the cloud – is that we get regular, rapid, incremental updates. We get new features and changes basically weekly – for good or bad. (“Bad” only really for trainers and folks trying to keep up with it all…) This replaces the old 3-year-cycle of product releases from Microsoft where it was much easier to justify a price increase. You could easily put together the list of new and improved features vs. the last product (now 3 years old). Now, things move so fast it’s challenging to keep up and get a high-level view of increased value over time – it’s almost an expectation.

Stepping back a bit, as initial moves to the cloud resolved, it became fairly easy for most organizations to rationalize M365 pricing. Now, years later, not much (relatively speaking) has changed in the pricing, but much has changed with the offering and capabilities. Some organizations have moved up from one level to another, but many have also stayed with the same licensing since they first adopted M365.

Microsoft needs (or at least wants) new revenue streams (oh look, a stock price jump at the time I published this) and it’s harder to justify price increases when you’re incrementally updating your software – harder for end users to see. But incremental (smaller, but more often) updates are the norm with cloud-based software. Vendors then are forced to rebrand and offer bigger bangs to justify step ups in cost. Enter Copilot and today’s licensing announcements. Viva is in this same boat. And don’t forget the recent “Entra” branding for authentication and ID services – just wait.

Power Platform (as part of the Dynamics/D365 product group) has been working on this challenge for a while now. Initial feature offerings were heavily in the M365 integration space – leveraging tens of millions of users. They got the traction they were looking for and at the same time were building a ravenous (#PowerAddicts) community around it to pull the movement ahead even more. But they’ve been seemingly challenged to get a mass shift to newly licensed products and offerings. It does seem to be shifting, but more slowly than (I expect) they’d like. As Power Apps and its sibling products grow and Dataverse finds its space in the storage area – more folks are realizing the business value and making the move to additional licensing.

Cost of ownership

There’s more than the $X/month/user. There’s also the cost of managing and training – after you’ve spent time and money evaluating the technology. Don’t overlook that. Give plenty of time for architecture folks to review functionality, security folks to review risk, your tenant admins time to ramp up, and trainers time to produce the materials you’ll need. It wouldn’t shock me if early on we see a “you need to take this training before we’ll buy this feature for you” sort of approach.

Finally, $30 a month is a baseline. Many large enterprises are able to negotiate pricing, so keep that in mind. Sorry SMB. 🙁

Other offerings

Copilot is a consistent brand, but it’s not one single cost. There will be a collection of products across the Microsoft stack and licensing will be different and separate for each. Copilot for Business (from Microsoft-owned GitHub) is a nice example since it’s so different from M365 offerings. It’s still “Copilot” but a very different offering for developers rather than business users (though… there’s the “maker” argument for another day. 🙂 )

Bottom line is, start thinking about Copilot licensing across the stack. There will likely be additional offerings. We already know about several in the flurry of announcements.

Not everything falls under “Copilot” either. Teams Premium, while feeling like a bit of an overlap with Copilot, has its own licensing and capabilities. You may need one, or the other, or both – hence the importance of evaluating your environment and users before diving in.

Security

Microsoft is all over the security concerns. ChatGPT and others have highlighted the risk of playing with AI in the public domain and its collection of user data to learn and train itself.

Microsoft is working overtime to let folks how data is used, how their version of AI is being built, and how common components (LLM) are kept separate from organizational data (Microsoft Graph). There’s obviously going to be some risk with data in the cloud, but efforts and intention are in place. Each organization will need to evaluate the risks for themselves. As with other technologies, certain areas will be slower to adopt due to risk. We’ll keep hearing more from Microsoft and the community on this.

Recap

As the capabilities of software increase – so will the costs. This isn’t a bad thing. Microsoft and their industry peers are adding new capabilities far faster than they have in the past and many of them add great value for their users.

The challenge to us as consumers again falls into keeping up with the changes. As much as these new capabilities benefit us, we need to invest time and effort to learn how to best use them and reap the benefits.

It’s easy to get sucked into the hype. There’s a lot of cool stuff here. Just temper your expectations a bit to not get too frustrated or disappointed. We’re early in the AI application cycle. It’s going to take time to mature and polish implementation. Exciting times.

Other links

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Preparing Technical Skills during a Job Search

Overview, Context, and Outcomes

When it comes time to start a job search, what do you start to think about, how do you prepare, and what do you do regarding your tech skills?

Note: Tech skills might be a primary focus for you – when your job IS working with tech – or it might be secondary – where tech tools are part of what you do but more of a means to an end than the primary activity. How you approach your tech skills during a job search doesn’t really differ, though the priority may vary.

Here’s how it usually looks for me:

  1. Assess current skill levels, identify topics to improve and gaps to fill, and dig into new topics you’ve been meaning to look at
  2. Learn! – Skill up existing capabilities and fill gaps in your skill set
  3. Get Certified
  4. Update the resume, profiles, and other content sources.

Understand the outcomes you are looking for as you work through the job search process. Define the targets and goals that will motivate you through the process.

Assess and Identify Topics and Skills

I was kind of hoping this would be a clear 1, 2, 3 sort of logical progression, but I’ve found it’s more of an iterative and non-linear process.

  • You can likely easily discern between: “I have a bunch to learn” and “I just need to polish off a few skills”. Don’t sell yourself short, but also don’t oversell yourself. Try to be honest with yourself – it’s best for everyone to find that balance between humility and confidence. Smile
  • Don’t spend too much time overanalyzing it. You probably have a short list of topics you know you’ve been meaning to get to or areas you want to brush up on. Start there. It’ll help you get into the learning groove.
  • I’ve historically started by coming up with a list of accomplishments (projects, solutions, etc.) or activities (“keep the lights on” sort of daily or repeated tasks) and translating those into skills and categories. Thinking back on those activities leads to a decent list of skills I’m comfortable with, really good at, or raise a flag on areas I want to improve on. All solid info to build on.
  • If you want to get more comprehensive (after your first pass or two), you’ll need to invest a bit more time. You’ll need to both find an accurate and up to date list of skills or features and assess your skills and experience against that list. Also keep in mind that list is a moving target with products these days changing so quickly.

Learn

If you haven’t already, figure out if you have a preferred way of learning. Is it reading, watching videos, attending classes or conferences, or just clicking around in your product of choice?

Where do you find the resources you need to learn what you want? I’m a reader and doer, so I like to start with product documentation – online articles and content – while clicking around in the product. But I’m lucky to be working in a product space with generally really good content from the product company itself as well as access to learning versions of software and services. Not all products work that way. After I’ve read up a bit and learned the correct terminology, I’ll venture out a bit to see what the wider community has published. This is where I’ll generally find more of the pros and cons, best practices, and more practical knowledge.

If you’re taking the time to learn new things, take a few more minutes and journal the journey a bit. What are you learning? How can, will, or did you already use that new skill to do something notable. It’ll help you retain that knowledge and/or share it with others.

Test and Certify

The value of certification varies across products, communities, and organizations. Is it important in your company, community, or niche? Are you at a place in your career where you need to provide some sort of baseline knowledge, etc.?

If certifications exist that align with your skills, check them out. As you’re learning and in the midst of skilling up, topics and details are likely fresh in your mind and it’s a good time to take those tests.

There’s probably more to dig into on the certification topic, but not today.

Update your Story

Fine tune your story – ideally, your skills have grown and matured since the last time you looked for a new job. Update how you describe yourself – use defined roles – and your journey, the highlights so far, the value you offer, and the goals you have.

Updating the story itself takes a bit of effort, creativity, nuance, and probably some assistance and feedback. After that, it’s the practical cutting, pasting and making sure you’re using that new story consistently across the services you use to tell the world about you and connect with recruiters and companies.

  • Update your profiles, job sites, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Update your “About me” to include what you’ve accomplished, what roles you can fill, and your goals moving forward.
  • Prepare examples and stories that showcase your knowledge and experience to talk about with prospective employers.
  • Add more specific activities and projects/outcomes to your job description where the sites or services allow it.

Next Steps and Now Steps

The concepts above apply to more than just job seekers. Why wait until you’re looking for a job to learn something new, to write down something you’ve done and share it with others? Folks can learn from your experiences and examples right now. You can learn something new right now. You don’t need to take a class, attend a conference, read a whole manual to find those nuggets of info that will resonate with your situation. Yes, those are great ways to learn, but you can continue learning and growing in much smaller chunks on a more regular basis if you are motivated to grow. Why wait?

Learning in Public

This tweet got me thinking:

Building in Public

Presumably the context here is “Building in Public” which Arvid often talks about. The concept being if you’re building a company, a startup, a solution to some problem – that you talk (and publish content) about the thought process going into it, the decisions you’re making along the way. This process, this openness, exposes the “why” to your “what”. It makes the founder and the concept more approachable. It provides context for potential customers, partners, and clients to understand the solution, the impact, and the business more. It will drive engagement, and ideally end up with not just more customers, but more passionate customers.

Arvid and others can do a better job of explaining the “Building in Public” concept, but that’s the takeaway I have from it.

Keep in mind, talking, building, and having conversations doesn’t mean you’re *right* about everything, for sure. But you’re digging in and developing opinions. Ideally, you’re open to discussion on topics and tweaking your opinions as you learn and grow. 

Learning and Doing in Public

“Show evidence of your mastery” The context I’m interested in is around tech skills. And showing mastery here is just as important. 

How do you show evidence? Write a blog post or an article on a site like LinkedIn. Record a demo video. It could start with journaling for yourself until you’re comfortable writing for others. There are lots of ways of getting started and progressing from there. 

For Yourself

  • It can show your current employer what you know, what you’re learning, as well as how well you can communicate.
  • It provides more information to prospective employers if/when you’re looking for a new opportunity.
  • Sharing, writing, communicating: Great practices that develops soft skills.

For Your Company

  • Like individuals sharing stories, organizations can demonstrate proficiencies to clients and customers. 
  • Within a company, teams can share solutions to internal challenges. These often result in other departments wanting to implement similar solutions – not only resulting in business wins but added ROI for the tools and licensing companies invest in. 

For Others

The more you share, the more opportunities there are for folks to learn from you. People learn in different ways. You never know when your style of communication might sync with someone’s method of learning. You never know when that nugget of information you figured out is the one thing they’ve been trying to find.

Jobs vs. Roles

Overview and Context

“Jobs” vs. “roles”. What is a job, versus what is a role. It’s a bit of a baseline-setting, foundational topic to support future posts. Some folks might consider jobs and roles to be the same, or at least very similar. My perspective is that not only are they different, but that it’s important to understand how they are different when it comes to training, skills, and other “how can I fulfill the requirements of my job or even exceed expectations” topics.

The dictionary definitions:

Joba paid position of regular employment.

Role – the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
Or, to make it a bit more readable:    the function played by a person.

While the definitions tell the difference, there are some nuances. I’ve seen the terms used somewhat interchangeably in business – often when talking with management or folks in HR. I don’t think this is horrible or worth correcting, but it can lead to confusion.

A job is your employment – described by who you work for, where you work, the “whole” of the expectations of you, etc. It aligns with a title you put on your resume, your business card, your LinkedIn Experience section. Job responsibilities likely include many roles, often capped off with: “other duties as assigned”.

A role is usually one of the many things you do, roles you play in your job. Some of those roles are related to soft skills, some are related to tech skills or platforms. In some cases, your job and role might overlap 100%. In my experience, most folks have one primary job with many roles.

To make things a little more confusing, if you work in or around the IT space, terminology used when developing and marketing products, apps, and solutions can overlap here as well. We have terms like “persona”, “user stories”, and “use cases”. These terms tend to have a lot in common with what the rest of us refer to as “roles” and are important when it comes to training and communications. These terms flip the perspective – from the person’s perspective to the product’s perspective. Thankfully the perspectives often meet in the middle and everyone gets along.

Examples

A number of technical products have some or all of the following roles associated to them.

User – A person that uses the capabilities of a tool or service. A consumer of the content or tool. Folks that use Word, Excel, OneDrive, etc. In most, if not all, cases, users have other more primary business roles. Their *job* is not “user”. More often than not these folks don’t think about tech or tool-aligned roles until they are forced to (communications from IT, training, etc.)

Administrator – An administrator might be at a product (M365, Teams, SharePoint, Workday, ServiceNow, etc.) level, or at a more granular team level. They have responsibilities for keeping the system running and configurating the tools and services. In some situations (team, site, or channel), administrators might have both admin roles and business roles. In other situations, administrators may administer many sites or platforms, but not have other business roles.

Developers – Developers customize or extend functionality of existing platforms or create new solutions. They might be exclusively developers but work with a variety of tools or platforms. They might have other business roles but do some development or coding as a part of that job. There are a lot of options. Development vs. low-code developer vs. maker vs. other names, titles, and roles might be a topic for another day…

There are many other variations. Often folks have more than one role with “user” generally being a more-or-less common denominator.

Note: Another potential post topic – When an admin or developer is NOT familiar with user capabilities…

Application of Roles

Why is it important to understand roles? Because roles often define the target audience and the context used for effective communication, training materials, and even functionality in products and services. When roles aren’t accurately understood, communication and training can drop in effectiveness.

HR is another area where understanding roles is important.

  • Understanding existing organizational capabilities and identifying skill gaps
  • Finding resources within a company
  • Assisting hiring managers when creating job descriptions
  • Finding appropriate candidates to hire
  • Assisting employees with skill and career progression

There are, of course, many more examples. Topics to dig into in follow-up posts…

Resumes and Job Sites

When looking for job opportunities in other organizations, we have resumes, LinkedIn, and other services that help folks describe both their jobs and the roles that they fulfill. That’s a lot of information to share – hence the art of writing resumes and getting as much information into as concise a description as you can, with enough teaser info to warrant a second look. Understanding roles, and sometimes giving a name to them, helps folks define themselves more effectively. If there are known, common, role names within an industry or product area, this can help. But individuals are often left on their own to tell their story.

Wrap-up

Why am I interested in clarifying this? I’m working on a project (a SaaS startup) that has to do with technical skills and learning. A core concept in this area are roles – specifically related to technology platforms.

Example: In years past, folks in my industry/community might say: “I do SharePoint”. Cool. Except what the heck does that mean? How do you work with it? What do you do? What are your capabilities? Ultimately, “What can you do for ME?”. It didn’t take long to drill down a bit if you were familiar with the platform. Are you a developer, a site administrator, a platform administrator, a user? Not everyone was familiar with the platform, so that made for challenges. We face similar challenges with platforms today and will likely continue to as new platforms come online and the services we have continue to evolve.

Navigating the skill requirements of roles is key to working effectively. It’s just one of many perspectives – soft skills, etc. are obviously also critical. As employers, managers, trainers, employees, consultants, and team members it’s critical to understand scope and context, to set expectations, and more. The more we understand these roles, the better we can train for them, align them with work, and ultimately set folks up for success.

Other Duties as Assigned

It’s easy to dismiss this often joked about phrase or caveat on many job descriptions. But it’s also useful to note that many folks have found their calling, or at least jobs they’ve really enjoyed because of “other duties as assigned”. I expect the examples are limitless. I spoke with someone this weekend at an aircraft company that got to his current position (and the last few within the company) because of seemingly random knowledge and experience paired with an open mind and open ears. He saw a need, had some input, and eventually moved into a new role.

We’ve seen this happen plenty of times within the IT space as well. Again, plenty of examples. Folks in business departments assigned a tech platform role – or to use a specific tool for the department (e.g., SharePoint Site Owner, Microsoft Teams channel owner, etc.) – that leads down a path they hadn’t considered before.

It’s a fun topic but can come with other challenges and use-cases to address in another post.