We’re a year into COVID, and many of us are still working from home every day. Life as we know it has changed, and we’re not sure when we’ll get back to a “new normal.” Like many of you, I’ve spent the last year adapting to virtual happy hours, book clubs, holiday gatherings, etc. One of my favorite virtual events has been the digital daily huddle.
When quarantine started in March 2020, I launched a digital daily huddle to connect with co-workers. The huddles were quick 30-minute video meetings held early each morning. Attendance at the huddles was optional, and work topics were rarely discussed. We used our huddle time to connect and talk about life, coffee, the latest news & world events, etc.
We held huddles daily for several weeks and then shifted to meeting twice per week. It’s been nearly a year since we held our first digital huddle, and the meetings are still going strong. People attend when they can and skip when they’re busy or not in the mood to chat. There’s no pressure to dress up or look good on video, and no need to be positive and upbeat. We’re real and unvarnished. We laugh. We connect.
There are still no agendas for our huddles, and we rarely discuss work topics. But the huddles remain an essential part of my week. There are so many drawbacks to life in 2020 and 2021, but the digital huddle is a habit worth keeping.
What a year it’s been. I’m on month 10 of staying at home, working from home, and seeing the world (and friends and family) through a video screen. I’ve lost family to COVID, but am grateful for all those that have recovered and are still with us. And because gratitude carries us farther than sorrow, I’m focusing this “year in review” post on the things I’m most grateful for in 2020.
Companies like Microsoft have gifted us with the ability to stay connected digitally when we can’t be together physically. Seeing friends’ smiling faces on Teams meetings and over FaceTime is priceless. And Microsoft 365 has enabled me to work from home while keeping my family safe. I’ve seen firsthand the sacrifices Microsoft employees have made to increase bandwidth, roll out new features, and support the growth in our community this year. A huge THANK YOU for all you’ve done – you are my heroes!
I attended 20 events in 2020 (1 in-person & 19 virtually). I also had the opportunity to deliver 12 sessions at various conferences and user groups. The push to virtual enabled me to meet so many more people from across the globe at these events…and I was able to do it all in my fuzzy slippers!
What a gift it’s been living in Minnesota these last 10 months. We had a beautiful Spring, Summer, and Fall, and I had the gift of time to hike, sit by the fire, watch the leaves turn, and enjoy the outdoors. Lesson re-learned in 2020: time spent outside makes me happy.
Family (those we’re born with and those we choose)
Relationships are everything, and I feel blessed to have amazing friends and family. I missed seeing many of you in-person this year, but am looking forward to a time when we can travel again. Until then, take care and know you’re missed!
The Microsoft 365 Voice Podcast
Right after our COVID lockdown started, Mike Maadarani and Antonio Maio invited me to join their M365 Voice podcast. In each episode, we pick a listener question at random and spend 20-30 minutes answering it. I love coming up with quick, off-the-cuff answers to Microsoft 365 questions. We’ve also had a variety of special guests on the podcast, including Mark Kashman, DC Padur, Laurie Pottmeyer, Heather Newman, and Bill Baer. Since I joined the show in March, we’ve recorded and released 31 episodes on topics across the M365 ecosystem (Microsoft Information Protection, Project Cortex & SharePoint Syntex, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Stream, Microsoft Search, SharePoint home sites & hubs, mobility, user adoption, security & compliance, etc.). Check out our full list of episodes and submit your questions for future episodes!
Guest blogging for Humans of IT
In December, I was asked to write a guest blog post for Microsoft’s Humans of IT community. Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives bring out the best in all of us. In my Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader, I shared my experiences moving from the business to IT and how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader. The post also includes practical ideas on how to manage personal brand, build strong relationships, and evaluate good (and poor) feedback.
This week I published my first guest blog on Microsoft’s Humans of IT community! Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives can bring out the best in all of us.
I share my experiences moving from the business to IT, how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader, and key lessons learned. I also share practical ideas for managing your personal brand, building strong relationships, and evaluating good (and poor) feedback. I hope you’ll join me on the journey and read the Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader.
The Humans of IT community engages and empowers technologists to discover their tech superpowers through mentoring, shared stories of struggle and growth, and testimonials on how technology is positively impacting the world around us. If you’re not already a member of the community, I encourage you to learn more.
Women in technology face unique challenges. We’re often outnumbered by our male counterparts and occupy a lower percentage of highly-technical jobs. Silicon Valley reflects this disparity. According to the Huffington Post, women make up 30% of Google’s workforce, but only hold 17% of the technical jobs. Only 10% of tech jobs at Twitter are held by women.
I’m privileged to work with an incredible array of female technology leaders who bring creativity, critical-thinking skills, a diverse life perspective, strong technical & communication skills, an awareness of self, and a strong team-building focus to their jobs every day. But these female technology leaders are often judged differently than their male peers. They’re caught between a paradox of conflicting cultural norms and gender stereotypes commonly referred to as the double-bind dilemma. Leaders are expected to be direct, decisive, and tough. But gender stereotypes call for women to be kind, nurturing, and “nice.” How can a female technology leader be direct and decisive while also being a kind nurturer?
Last month I was part of a conversation on gender in the tech workplace. We had some incredible dialogue, with wide-ranging opinions on where we are and where we’d like to be. Some advocated for a future where we don’t “see” gender in the workplace. Others sought to recognize the unique skills and abilities everyone brings so we can celebrate our differences.
Bottom line: We need to encourage growth and talent across ALL our workforce. Whether you’re a female technology leader, an aspiring mentor, or an ally that wants to support growth and diversity in the tech space, you have valuable insights to share.
Want to know how you can help? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Build mentor relationships.Seek out (or become) a mentor. One of the most powerful mentor relationships I’ve had was with a senior leader who was 15+ years ahead of me in her career. She shared her journey and personal stories of obstacles she overcame and how people helped her career along the way. If you’re a male technologist, seek out a female mentor. Be inquisitive and ask questions about her experiences, background, and strengths.
Connect with interns. I’ve participated in high school and college-level internship programs that provide real-world job experience. These interns are just starting out in their careers, and it’s amazing the unique perspectives they bring. Have coffee with these students, ask questions, and see how they view your workplace. You’ll gain an amazing perspective.
Support and empower other women. I’ve joined women mentoring circles at several of the companies I’ve worked for, and they’ve provided an amazing opportunity to grow my network and broaden my perspective. Making time to connect with and listen to women’s experiences is incredibly rewarding…and the network connections made can help with future career opportunities.
Build alliances & invest in advocates. If you’re focused on advancing your career and getting that next promotion, start forging relationships to help you along the way. Build alliances with other leaders that see your potential and achievements. These leaders can serve as advocates for you in your career growth.
Create a strong personal brand. Your personal brand is the impression you leave behind and the reputation you have at work. That personal brand includes both your strengths/achievements and the things your peers say when you’re out of earshot. Gain a clear view of your personal brand by asking others for feedback. Then decide if your personal brand reflects who you want to be. If it doesn’t, you have an opportunity to evolve.
Seek opportunities. Take the leap and reach for that tough assignment. Lean into work opportunities that stretch you. Focus on creating value for your customers, and don’t be afraid to share your wins with your peers and leaders.
Believe you can do it. Speak up. Raise your hand. Be heard! If you suffer from meeting regret, it’s time to lean in and start sharing your thoughts. If you suffer from negative thoughts, script out positive messages for yourself and repeat them several times a day. Tackle the feelings of imposter syndrome and don’t stop to wonder if your work (or your ideas) have value.
Give (and seek) candid feedback. Have you ever received performance feedback that included comments on your strengths but gave you nothing to work on and improve? Many of us find it easy to give positive feedback but hard to give constructive feedback. Seek out peers who will tell you like it is. And give the gift of authenticity to others. We can’t change what we don’t see…and you need people in your life that will tell you the good (and the bad).
Call out poor behavior (and then let it go). Many of my fellow female technologists receive blatantly inappropriate feedback. We’re told our clothes were distracting and took away from our presentation. We’re told to stop posting selfies on Twitter because “no one wants to be distracted by that.” We’re given job feedback or speaker feedback that is focused on our looks instead of our content or achievements. And in many cases, we’re told to stop coming off as being “too intelligent.” If someone gives you this type of feedback (or you see it occurring in the wild), call it out. And then dump the feedback in the trash. Don’t let poor behavior go unchecked, but don’t take it on and carry it around with you.
I’m excited, honored, and grateful to be renewed for another year as a Microsoft Office Apps & Services MVP! The MVP award is given by Microsoft as an acknowledgement of technical and community leadership. I received my initial MVP award in February 2018 and am so excited to be renewed for another year!
The Office 365 community is such a gift. The relationships I’ve built (both inside and outside Microsoft) have helped me grow my skill set, expand my career, and build lifelong friendships. THANK YOU, Microsoft, for the continued honor. I’m looking forward to another great year!
Late last year, I was challenged to write and blog more frequently on SharePoint/Office 365. It started as a five-week effort: write five new blog posts in five weeks. The writing didn’t concern me (I was an English & Journalism major; writing comes naturally). I was worried about coming up with meaningful topics to write on. I dove in and managed to get five posts written by the five-week deadline. I congratulated myself for the effort, relieved to be done. But after taking a couple of weeks off, I realized I missed it.
This year, I extended the model. I wasn’t sure I could manage a blog post per week, so I set a goal of publishing three blog posts per month. The results exceeded my own expectations! Here’s my 2018 blogging year-in-review:
Total # of blog posts in 2018: 43
Total # of words: 20,629
Average words per post: 480
Just like my five-week challenge, I was certain the biggest obstacle was going to be coming up with topic ideas. But here’s the thing–the more I blogged, the more topic ideas I came up with. There were only a couple of times this year when I was stumped for a new topic to blog about.
One of the biggest surprises this year was popularity of individual blog posts. Turns out I’m often a bad predictor of which posts will resonate with readers. I had to learn to write and publish without pre-judging whether a given post would be deep enough, technical enough, useful enough, etc.. At the end of the day, readers will determine the relative merit of each post. There’s no point in me trying to predict the outcome.
Some blog posts took on a life of their own, generating a great deal of interest. A prime example was my Ignite 2018 post on The importance of Community Managers. I wrote the post in less than 30 minutes (a very quick turnaround by my standards) and wasn’t sure it was deep enough to generate much attention. But the content resonated with the Office 365 community, and it was one of my most-tweeted blog posts of 2018.
I also had to learn to be ready when imagination struck. New blog post ideas can spring up anytime–while driving to work, grocery shopping, talking with other Office 365 practitioners, etc.. I learned to take a few seconds when imagination struck to jot down blog ideas when I had them. I’ve sent myself emails, left myself voice memos, created draft blog posts with a brain dump of ideas, etc. The methodology doesn’t matter–I just need to capture the ideas when I have them.
So what am I planning for 2019? I haven’t set a formal goal yet, but want to maintain a frequent pattern of publishing new posts. I love the interaction with readers via Twitter, and have learned to love the writing and review process. Blogging frequently keeps me engaged in learning about Office 365, user adoption, and enterprise governance. It makes me a better employee, a better community contributor, and a better Microsoft MVP.
I’m signing off for 2018 with a summary of my top blog posts (by user views) and my favorite posts of the year. I hope you enjoy them!
What a way to start the year! On February 1, 2018, I received the Microsoft MVP award for Office Servers and Services. The MVP award acknowledges technical and community leadership, and receiving it is a huge honor.
I’ve had the privilege of being part of the SharePoint and Office 365 community for over 10 years. The community has inspired, supported and mentored me on my journey by:
Introducing me to incredibly smart people who have expanded my way of thinking, challenged my understanding and encouraged me to grow.
Fostering relationships with people from all over the world. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and build friendships with so many members of this community. Many of these folks have become my chosen family and life simply wouldn’t be the same without them.
Evolving my career path and personal brand. The mentorship and feedback I’ve received has helped me clarify my focus areas within SharePoint/Office 365 (e.g. user adoption, enterprise governance and ROI/business value) and supported me through several job changes.
Giving me the opportunity to speak at conferences all over the world. For a travel lover like me, this is a true gift!
Enabling me to give back and serve others. I’ve had the privilege of working on the SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities leadership team for the past 9 years, organizing 17+ local training events. These events enable people to connect, learn from experts and solve business challenges.
THANK YOU, Microsoft, for the MVP recognition. And THANK YOU to all the friends in this community that have helped me on this journey.
More than 9,000 SharePoint and Yammer enthusiasts descended on Las Vegas’ Venetian Resort this week for Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference 2014. During the event I had the opportunity to chat with Dux Raymond Sy about user adoption, ROI and SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities. Check out the video:
Every day my high school English teacher danced into the classroom (yes, she actually danced) and with all the theatrics of Shakespeare declared “I can’t believe they pay me to teach the classics!” I thought she was plum crazy. Even as a high school senior I knew you worked to live. You did not live for the opportunity to work.
After 15+ years in the job market, I’ve softened my world view. If I won the lottery next week, I truly believe you’d still find me out here talking about SharePoint. Yes, I’d probably be talking about it part-time and on my terms. But things that interest me today–things that drive my passion, my curiosity and provide that feeling of accomplishment–will still be relevant and necessary, even if the monetary driver behind them ceases to exist.
How can I be so sure? Because SharePoint provides a perfect intersect for me. It is the point at which my abilities, my interest and my agenda (or mission) converge. It serves as the hub or epicenter of my time, energy and focus. If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself working at such an intersection, you’ll find that you’re happier, more fulfilled and more productive.
How do I know that SharePoint is a perfect intersect for me? Because I’m good at it, I love doing it and my organization needs it. It’s that simple.
A few years ago I went through a team-building seminar. There was a bevy of small-group activities, feel-good moments, etc. One element that stuck with me, though, was the Venn diagram the facilitator drew on the board. She challenged all of us to hone in on a part of our jobs that we loved, that was critically important to the well-being of the company and that we were naturally skilled at. The message was clear: if you can find such an intersect, you should devote ALL your time, attention and energy to it. This is your perfect sweet spot. It is the area that provides you the most fulfillment and the company the most benefit.
Here’s why SharePoint bubbled up as my intersect point:
I am good at calculating SharePoint’s value or Return On Investment (ROI). I have a proven methodology for quantitatively and qualitatively capturing this data and telling the “value story.”
I love learning how to build solutions that reduce or eliminate the “soul-crushing, spirit destroying” work that people hate.
Companies/organizations need these solutions. It improves their speed-to-market, reduces their overhead and helps them engage their employees at a higher level.
The bottom line
We need a litmus test for jobs. It doesn’t need to be complex, but it needs to measure 3 critical elements: skill set, enthusiasm for the work and the driving business need it fulfills. The work should add direct value and positively impact the organization’s bottom line or strategic focus. But it should also hit a high note on your own personal “happy meter.” Think about it–how many jobs are essential to the business but fail to ignite someone’s passion? And how many people have things they’re passionate about doing, but fail to find an organization that views that work as essential?
If you’re not in a job that’s nested within this intersect point, it’s time to do some soul searching. Can you make a business case for building your perfect role? Or is it time to move on?