My First SharePoint Saturday

I’m relatively new to SharePoint, compared to most. Also, I came up to the development level from the Power User end, not the IT professional end. Luckily, I found some great mentors who unlocked its mysteries and then introduced me to the greater community of experts and enthusiasts behind this stuff. SharePoint User Groups (aka “SPUGs”) meet, generally, once or twice a month in most major cities (and some towns). Somebody gives a presentation on a facet or feature of SharePoint or Office 365, with plenty of networking and camaraderie all around. If you haven’t joined up with one yet–and you’re reading this blog, so duh, you like SharePoint–you really should.

There’s also these things called “SharePoint Saturdays“, free events held annually in a lot of cities. It’s like dozens of SPUGs all rolled into one. A free conference, with plenty of speakers and hundreds of attendees. I was eager to attend one and I got my chance at July’s SharePoint Saturday New York City, the granddaddy of them all. This was the 10th annual SPSNYC, hosted at the Microsoft Technology Center in Times Square, so there was a very celebratory feel to the whole thing.

The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The concrete jungle where dreams are made.

It started around 8am, with time for meeting friends and sharing coffee and news before the opening remarks. There were plenty of sponsors in attendance, all eager to talk to SharePoint nerds like myself. Even if you’re not buying anything, go and talk to them, I guarantee that you’ll learn something new from every stop at a sponsor’s desk. Plus, there’s always prizes to be raffled off!

The day started in earnest, with eleven rooms and five session periods through the day. Needless to say, I had a hard time choosing which ones to attend, even at my junior level. There really is something for everyone, from IT developers and pros down to business/end users. Here’s how I spent my first SPS:

The first session I attended was Enterprise Social Collaboration at Guardian Life by Lonya French. She talked about how she and her team are using Yammer to improve collaboration at a company of 9000 employees, spread throughout the USA and India. She didn’t give tips and tricks on how to use that specific software–she explained the concepts and tactics for using social collaboration (and WHY) to help people get their work done. And not just employees–she described ways to get the leadership on board using social media tools as part of the business processes. Great stuff!

Next up was Gamification & SharePoint (Erika Harris, Cardiolog Analytics). This was a straight-up pitch for using her company’s Gamify and Engage tools as part of a SharePoint environment. Pitch sessions are fine, sponsors make these SharePoint Saturdays possible. However, I would’ve liked to spend more time on the theories and tactics behind gamification as a tool for user adoption and less time getting demos of apps and dashboards available at a price.

This is when we broke for lunch, provided by SPSNYC. Shout out to the people behind the scenes: sponsors, organizers, volunteers, hosts. Everything ran smoothly and was well-run…not an easy feat, when you’re providing a free lunch to 500+ people!

A Day in the Life of an Office 365 Power User (Serge Tremblay from Victrix) was a bit misnamed. It really was more about tips and tricks to use Microsoft Teams. Unfortunately for Serge, most of the people in the room were there for Office 365 and had barely worked with teams. He adjusted well though and showed off some of the really cool features of Teams and how it will enable people to work together better. If you want to know more about Teams, check out his blog; he’s already at the shortcuts-and-tricks stage for Microsoft Teams. He definitely knows his kung fu!

Serge was constantly giving credit to the people who’d taught him, pointing out their strengths and how they helped him understand SharePoint/Office 365/Teams better. All without detracting from his own copious knowledge and deep understanding of the tools. The number of people I follow on Twitter DOUBLED in that hour!

Users…remember them? Well, Stacy Deere-Strole & Sharon Weaver (Focal Point Solutions) sure haven’t. Trash or Treasure? was a session all about knowledge management and how SharePoint can help capture, maintain, and preserve an organization’s collective knowledge They’ve got a great dynamic, not just as presenters, but–I’m sure–as co-workers, two sides of the knowledge management coin. Stacy’s the SharePoint-database-computer side, Sharon’s the business-SixSigma-psychology side. It’s great to see their joint attitude and energy focused on making this wonderful tool do what it was ALWAYS supposed to do: make work easier for humans, not just IT pros.

Speaking of things forgotten in the lofty world of SharePoint development, there’s good old Office (the “365” part is optional) and just how awesome it is, with or without Teams. Scott Shearer (Haystax Technology) wowed us all with Office 365 Hidden Gems–fantastic tricks and ways to do work that are, even to us Microsoft geeks, hidden in plain sight. He showed off features of OneNote, Word, Access, and even much-maligned PowerPoint that we can use every day to make work easier. Find him on Twitter or check out his blog to learn just how much “plain” Office can do.

After the last session, there were some closing remarks (and well-deserved kudos to the organizers, who do this VOLUNTARILY, if you can believe that!) and prize raffles. Afterwards, most of the attendees headed off to a local establishment for a “SharePint”, another tradition of the SharePoint community. You know it’s an energetic and enthusiastic group with lots of esprit de corps when there are ‘traditions’ for an industry that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

Things to do at a SPS:

  1. Plan your stay. I stayed at a hotel the night before the event close to the venue. Definitely worth it! A lot of people took the bus or train in the morning…that’s an early start to a long day. The conference is free, so you might as well spring for a hotel room.
  2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 8am to 6pm is a long day, even without an early travel start. So, get your rest, get your caffeine (or whatever) of choice, and be prepared to hit the ground running. You won’t stop running (metaphorically) all day.
  3. Get yourself out there. Introduce yourself around. Talk to the other attendees. They’re here for the same reason you are, learning more about SharePoint, so you’ve already got that in common.
  4. Go to the sponsors. They’ve got stuff to sell, sure, or they’re looking to market YOU. But you know what? These SPS’s are free because of THEM and THEIR money. So, deal with it, talk with them. You’ll still learn something.
  5. Plan your afterwards. SharePint is designed for networking, relaxing, and sharing ‘war stories’ from the trenches of SharePoint. Get to know these people. If you’re into SharePoint, well, so are they. Welcome to the tribe!

All in all, I’m incredibly glad I attended. It’s been almost a week and I’m still digesting everything that I learned. The passion and energy–bordering on mania, but in a good way–that every attendee, speaker, and organizer displayed only gave me more encouragement and eagerness to keep learning more and more. Can’t wait for next year and SPSNYC 11…oh wait, there’s one in Pittsburgh in September…and Baltimore in October…

The Importance of User Groups

Just wanted to say a few things about why I harp on getting people to attend the user groups. Microsoft leads in the enterprise primarily because there are many more trained and qualified technicians with lots of reachback into blogs and documentation who work on the Microsoft stack than there are with niche Linux distributions. It helps Microsoft’s business to push Channel 9 and other things because this free training helps to evangelize those who use it to recommend additional Microsoft products and the ones in which they already specialize.

For the same reason, not only is it in Microsoft’s interest for you to have your user group to share knowledge, but it helps you as well. As SharePoint becomes more in demand because you and the others who attend push for its use in the enterprise, you become more valuable as one of the few who have the knowledge and experience that you have built yourself but the knowledge others have shared with you. It makes you stand out from those who have not been learning from and sharing with their peers. The user groups you attend become hubs of knowledge that help you gain knowledge, but when you get ready to share, you also tend to learn more about the subject so that you can be the authoritative source when you present to your peers. It makes us all better.

Hoarding knowledge does not improve job security, but a great many people tend to think it will. The truth is that you will be known as a thought leader in the material the more you share. That makes you stand out as the subject matter expert you become when you are active in your user groups.

I stress to you that, even if the topic of the night falls outside of your role when it comes to SharePoint, you should attend all of the meetings you can. It strengthens the group because a group really is more than the sum of its members. It helps you network. You might not be actively be seeking new work, but opportunities pop up in odd places. You will learn that someone new to the group is having an issue that you or your company is uniquely suited to tackle, and you can help grow your company and become more valuable within it.

While this post has focused on SharePoint user groups, it applies to all user groups, communities of interest/practice, and professional associations. A lot of SharePoint Saturday conferences have lost a lot in the way of sponsorship dollars over the years, and these events are where some of the best in the industry get together to share their knowledge with you for FREE. Speaking obviously helps their resume and helps to get their company’s name out there, but you should rarely avoid free knowledge. You might think you know it all, but that speaker might share one little tidbit that will change how you do everything and could make you so much better at your role. Go to your groups. Evangelize SharePoint or whatever product/platform/practice you use. Stand out among your peers.

SharePoint Saturday Pittsburgh

For the second annual SharePoint Saturday Pittsburgh, I got to speak again. Great venue at Carlow University, but I’ve not got the best AT&T coverage. I don’t know if it is the building or the location of the nearest tower. I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Irwin because it was very nice and less expensive than the Hampton Inn right next door. Plus, I didn’t want to worry about rush hour traffic leaving Pittsburgh when I was arriving on Friday night.

 

The schedule for this was great. I love that I know most of these speakers already. Some really great folks signed on for this. I decided to sit in on the following sessions:

 

John Ramminger’s Leveraging External Data in SharePoint Online and On Premises

Learned a lot here. Helping me to finally try to use Business Connectivity Services.

Tim Beamer’s Document Security in SharePoint, permissions aren’t enough

I think I can comfortably set up Data Loss Prevention in SharePoint for one of the guys I’m working for. I don’t know if I read about this or saw another session on it a year or more ago, but I could swear that I’d seen a lot of this content before.

My own session, SPS Analyst Series: The Build Process (I’ve given the same session over and over for a couple years now, but I do make tweaks.)

Wish I could have seen Joe McShea’s session, Spice Up Your forms and Views with Client Side Rendering (CSR), or Nikkia Carter’s session, BI: From the Basics. She is really good, but I see and talk to her often enough that I might be able to pick her brain another time.

 

Mohamed Derhalli’s Styling SharePoint Pages without Writing Code never happened.

He didn’t make it, so a bunch of us stayed in the room and just talked about crazy stuff we were running into. That is the best. A conversation is better than a lecture any day.

 

CA Callahan was the main reason I stuck around until the end of the day when I knew I’d have a five-hour drive going home. She had Now where did they put that? Overlooked web parts, features, and templates of SharePoint.

I always learn something new when I listen to her. The main thing this time was Word Automation Services. I had never even heard of that. One can create aspx files from Word documents with this. I really need to see it in action. To convert the content in a Word document from someone’s user guides or standard operating procedures, I had been publishing the Word document to a wiki then copying the html out of the body into the page where I wanted it. The best part of this was being able to have pictures come through properly formatted, and it is great for creating knowledge base articles. You can even make properly formatted Word templates for each kind of KB article you have so that the fonts, colors, and formats are all locked in place from a document library that has the template in its content type. This is definitely something I need to investigate further.

 

Sponsors of SPS Pittsburg included the following: