Become a SharePoint Professional – Community Involvement

This article is part of an ongoing series on what it takes to become a SharePoint professional.

In the first part, I discussed discipline, as in area of work, not as in mental or physical discipline. Yes, I realize both are important, and I’ll talk to that later in the series.

In this part, however, I want to address learning through the SharePoint community. I want to address this early in the series because it is vital to your learning efforts, and will help you far more than a simple list of links to get you started.

What is the SharePoint Community?

Online communities exist for many different topics, whether they focus on technical IT topics, tending your garden, fishing for bass, or managing a sports team. These communities focus on social aspects as well as promoting knowledge and exchanging ideas.

SharePoint is no different, but it is different in its value to its participants. The community is large, consisting of thousands of SharePoint practitioners, both professionals and users.

What makes the SharePoint community great is its flat structure and its ability to welcome and embrace anyone from everywhere in the world. As part of the community, you can interact as easily with the world-famous gurus as you would with your next door neighbor.

The SharePoint community extends beyond online activities, however. The community has real-world events in which you get to spend time with your fellow SharePointeers and meet, in real life, the heroes that in many other communities would be unapproachable. Every week there are free SharePoint Saturday events all over the world, and there are conferences from small to huge, free to expensive, and you’ll meet people you know almost everywhere you attend.

The final thing I find so great about SharePoint is its attitude. I’ve mentioned the embracing of everyone, but it goes far beyond that. The SharePoint community is extremely helpful and gladly share what they learn among each other. Bloggers write articles, Tweeps ask and answer questions, and SPYammers discuss approaches to problems faced in real life. There’s very little protectionism in the SharePoint community.

Note: I’ll talk more about how to get involved in the community, including what these terms mean, later in this article

There are downsides, however. SharePoint is a massively successful platform, and with any success comes commercial pressure. Often, it can be difficult to determine whether someone has a commercial motive for saying something or whether it is knowledge shared simply for the sake of sharing. I have previously discussed this aspect in my article What’s Wrong with the SharePoint Community

A second problem is information overload. There are hundreds of bloggers that want to drive readers to their blogs and often to so by posting as much information as possible without considering what they are truly adding to the community. For someone relatively new to SharePoint, it can be difficult to determine what is good advice and what is, well, just junk for the sake of filling up their blogs and seem knowledgeable. I have also discussed this in an article called “Attention Aspiring SharePoint Bloggers: Shut Up!”.

Where is It?

The SharePoint community isn’t a single group of people. Although many participants frequent multiple scenes and locations, you’ll find that there are smaller groups that perhaps are local to a physical area or to a particular niche in SharePoint.

Currently, it seems like the largest group of people are on Twitter. Twitter has been a huge part of the SharePoint community for many years, partially perhaps due to one person’s effort to recruit others and promote SharePoint. As such, if you’re looking to join up in the conversation on Twitter, I would suggest looking towards Joel Oleson (@joeloleson) and following him. If he’s not connected to someone, you probably don’t need to follow them initially (although you’ll quickly connect with other people too).

If you are looking for more in-person interaction, however, then you’ll definitely want to check out SharePoint Saturdays on and well as search for any local SharePoint user groups. A good place to find those is over on NothingButSharePoint (, then click the User Groups tab).

Next, there’s an emerging group on Yammer called SPYam, which is a platform that closely matches FaceBook in behavior, in that interaction follows conversations over time rather than the instant connection from Twitter. I’ve written about SPYam before as well, including how you get an invite to join SPYam.

These groups are not by far the complete picture, but does give you a place to start. And, speaking of starting…

How Do I Get Started?

The SharePoint community isn’t just a one-way street where you consume information from others, or even just a conversational arena where you talk with others. It is a place where you can and should actively participate.

Your experiences with SharePoint, or lack thereof, helps the community grow tremendously. Your problems allow those that are in a position to help to learn what you and by extension the community needs. A major reason why public SharePoint speakers are so eager to interact with their audiences is that we learn from questions. We have one perception of a problem, but your take on it will add to our own understanding.

The worst thing you can do, however, is to not say anything. If you are unclear on something you read, ask the article posted for clarification. If you run into technical problems with specific advice, do the same. If you learned something useful, say thanks, whether it’s on a blog post, on Twitter, or during a user group presentation. Don’t just sit there, say something!

So, the first rule should be: Don’t be afraid to ask anything. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get any answers, which may definitely well be your outcome, but at best, you uncover new understanding both for yourself and for those that help you.

Know that contributing is not necessarily about writing blog posts or being an expert or knowing anything at all, actually. This series came to be because of someone completely new to SharePoint asked how they could make it into a career. That’s it! A single question uncovered an area for which I have not found sufficient advice, so here it is, potentially helping others as well.

Note: If or when you do decide to start writing, I strongly suggest you heed the advice in the aforementioned article “Attention Aspiring SharePoint Bloggers: Shut Up!”. The article is not about you not having a voice, it is practical advice to help you protect yourself from problems and to help protect the community from yet another “Hello World” post.

So, for now, I’ll summarize the advice in this article in a single sentence: Start interacting with the SharePoint community and start sooner rather than later.

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve learned both how to understand the various roles and disciplines in SharePoint, and you’ve been introduced to the SharePoint community, I’m going to talk a bit about your attitude and expectations.

That’s in the next blog post, though, so stick around to learn more.

Don’t forget, there’s a comment field below. Let me know what you think; after all, that’s what community participation is all about 🙂


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Become a SharePoint Professional – Key Questions to Ask Part 1: Discipline

So… You want to start out on a career as a SharePoint professional, do you? Well, I have some thoughts for you that you might want to read.

First of all, welcome. If you stick with the program (and really, there isn’t any), you’ll have a great time. You’ll probably become part of one of the warmest, most sharing, and highly skilled technical communities there are. And, if you are or become good at what you do, you’ll also have a very well paid career for a long time.

How? Well, I’ll tell you how…

Before We Begin

I’ll be writing several articles in this series so as not to overburden you with information at once. If you are reading this on my blog (, you should find navigation to the entire series at the bottom of each article.

These articles will focus on those that have some knowledge of SharePoint already, so I’m not going to define what SharePoint does more than to the extent necessary to understand the various roles and disciplines.

However, I am not assuming you have practical experience within any of these disciplines; if you have, that’s fine, but if not, you’ll learn what you need here.

Second, please understand that I am not going to give you any deep technical information here. This is not a “Hello World!” for getting started, this article will tell you what you need to understand in order to determine whether and how you can make a career in SharePoint.

Finally, I should mention that I am affiliated, strongly so, with a provider of SharePoint training, USPJ Academy. In fact, I started it after having written USP Journal and seeing the need for more in-depth training than traditional books. As such, I have a vested interest in you wanting to learn SharePoint, but I also want to make sure you do it based on the right premise.

First Question: Discipline

SharePoint is a massive platform, spanning so many areas and disciplines that even the most seasoned community members rarely know how to give themselves a describing title. As such, the first thing you should decide is what discipline of SharePoint you want to explore.

Broadly speaking, SharePoint professionals fit into one or more of three categories:

  • Business Users, focused on non-technical concepts such as user adoption and business value
  • Developers, builds solutions through tools or programming
  • Administrators, designs, maintains, and operates the infrastructure, physical or logical

Within these broad groups are sub-disciplines as well, simply because saying you do development in SharePoint isn’t accurate enough. For example, within development, there are three ‘tiers’ of development (as defined in Marc Andersons Middle-Tier Manifesto), which broadly says which tools you use to accomplish your goals, and even within each of those development tiers there are major areas in which you can have a full and rewarding career.

The right answer to this question depends on where you are today and what you want to accomplish. If you are already a developer, then it may be natural to explore one of the many development options, and if you are already working with infrastructure, security, or server operations, then you may want to explore the various administrator roles in SharePoint.

However, it is not only about your current skill set. In fact, with the exception of a certain aptitude, you should expect to to a lot of newbie type learning regardless of your existing skills and experience. SharePoint is its very own beast that does things in very specific ways. Even the most seasoned professionals will need to come to SharePoint as beginners. With previous experience in your chosen or desired area, your learning will be quicker, but you should not expect to do things in SharePoint the same way you do things in other frameworks.

A typical example that is close to my heart, is that of a seasoned .NET developer that comes to SharePoint’s third tier of development, expecting to apply their previous methods and patterns, for example by strongly focusing on test-driven development and object model development for most work. They quickly realize, however, that although these aspects certainly exist and are important, they are only a fraction of what a SharePoint third tier developer needs to know. In fact, often these developers tend to overuse their known methods for development and end up creating bulky and complex solutions that are far worse than that of a complete beginner would do, simply because they are used to doing things in a certain way from other platforms and they try to force SharePoint to accept their way of work.

Note: The same can be said about administrators who may be used to operating a server in a certain way, not realizing that doing so may adversely affect the stability of their SharePoint installations, or the user interface designer that believes that how people work with web pages is how they will work in SharePoint. In other words, pre-existing knowledge may be a hindrance rather than a benefit if you make the wrong assumptions.

Regardless of which role you choose, you will likely want to understand bits and pieces of the other roles too. For example, a developer who does not understand how their solutions impact the infrastructure might design solutions that can potentially bring down a SharePoint farm, and if they do not understand how user adoption works, they might build solutions that are too complex for their target audience. This applies to other roles too, so although I’m a proponent for focus and targeting of skills, you should expect to learn about the other disciplines too.

The wrong answer is to try to be everything. Personally, I have focused my career on third-tier development and solution architecture (which is also a development branch). That means that I cannot answer even medium complexity administrative questions, nor that I fully understand how user adoption works. These are areas that by themselves require extensive learning and focus, and it’s simply impossible to try to master all of them to an extent where you can be productive.

Note: SharePoint architects come in many flavors too, and the term on its own isn’t descriptive. However, it is a completely distinct sub-discipline so you don’t evolve from a developer or an administrator to an architect any more than you evolve from a car mechanic or car designer to a chauffeur or a manager of an automobile fleet.

Instead, focus on your chosen discipline and evolve into a better practitioner within that discipline. The absolute and undisputed gurus of the SharePoint world are strongly focused on specific areas; they are the most sought-after, respected, and best paid, and they also understand very well the limits of their knowledge.

The question to ask is: Do I want to focus primarily on development, administration, or business usage?

What Next?

You’re eager to get started learning, I understand and appreciate that. However, we’re not there quite yet.

In the next article, I will talk to you about a very important part of being a SharePoint professional, that of the global SharePoint community. Knowing and participating in that community will greatly help your learning efforts, so rather than give you a list of links to read, most of which will probably be outdated, I’ll instead introduce you to the people and the community so that you know where to find the resources you need, now or in the future.

See you next time, and don’t forget to add comments if you have them 🙂


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Welcome To SharePoint 2013! (Warranty Void If Opened)

I’m a huge proponent of using SharePoint as a platform rather than as a product. By that, I mean that you should use SharePoint to build what you need, rather than limit your usage to what Microsoft has given you.

That’s now apparently coming to a full stop if we are to believe Jeff Teper, the father of SharePoint as we know it. We are no longer encouraged to modify SharePoint to fit our needs and instead should now use SharePoint the way Microsoft made it. In fact, Microsoft explicitly said to not touch it because we’ll only make it worse.

Note: For those who are reading this blog for the first time, welcome. I’m Bjørn, and I usually blow things somewhat out of proportion to make a point. I also usually back up my claims with fact and encourage you to make up your own mind using the sources of my opinions.

They Said What?

Monday July 16, 2012. The SharePoint community, nay, the entire world, got a huge orgasm when Steve Ballmer finally announced that SharePoint 2013 Preview was now available for download, and that we could finally see all the goodness we’d be getting. Months of speculation, rumors, endless reading of boring technical protocol documentation, as well as the mandatory manure spreading from certain parts of the community, was over.

When you fall in love, and I mean really fall in love, everything about the target of your affection is perfect. Even the morning breath of that person smells of the sweetest perfume. I’m fairly certain I’d happily wash Jeff Teper’s car with my tongue if that was one of the prerequisites for installing SharePoint 2013. Opportunity lost there, Jeff. Opportunity lost.

Of course, Jeff, as proud as a first-time parent, blogged about the new release, and we all congratulated the team on their achievement, just like we would to any first-time parents.

Then, a few of us started to sober up and started realizing that hydrogen sulfide really wasn’t the sweetest perfume, and that something didn’t sound quite right.

Here’s the quote from the blog post:

Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible – We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.

The somewhat poor language aside, in simpler terms, I, and apparently many others in the community, first read this as “Use SharePoint the way we gave it to you and teach your users how to use that”.

Mike Watson and myself each posted a question about this to the SPYam community. After a very short time, the discussion turned really interesting when Jeff Teper himself turned up to let us know what all this really meant.

It Can Mean Anything!

OK, Jeff didn’t say that, but the community had plenty of conflicting interpretations about what the original statement meant.

Does it mean

  • we shouldn’t change master pages anymore to modify the UI?
  • we shouldn’t modify any out-of-the-box functionality?
  • we shouldn’t customize the user experience anymore?

We never really got to a point of common understanding, and many were shocked and frankly scared at what it could mean. For thousands of developers out there, it might mean that they no longer should do what they’ve been doing for years, and at best, that we’d now have to convince our clients and project managers that we really should change SharePoint, just like we always have.

When Jeff entered the discussion, things became clearer to us. Microsoft has seen that many SharePoint installations fail because people modify it willy-nilly, with little or no understanding of the impacts on user experience or functionality. Jeff called it the “Myspace problem”; too much freedom in untrained hands leads to broken user interfaces, which lead to poor user experiences, which give SharePoint a bad name.

In many cases, such modifications are not needed to harness the business goals. He wants to stop those unnecessary modifications, and he’s right.


The solution Microsoft proposes, however, isn’t a solution to the problem, only a cure for its symptoms. I’ll address this in a later blog post, but if clients and customers want to modify something to their needs, the solution can never be to deny them that ability. In essence, Microsoft is asking clients not to have the needs they have, or at least encourage them not to resolve those needs.

Dear SharePoint Clients, Please Read This

Microsoft is not yelling at you. You haven’t done anything bad in the past when you have modified or asked someone to modify your SharePoint installation.

You’re not to blame for being uncertain, either. Even seasoned community members didn’t understand fully what Microsoft meant at first, and only when the guy who wrote it came to us to explain did we grasp his intention and message, and it reads something like this:

SharePoint development and customization is great. You should do it as much as you need to get the results you want.

You should avoid doing customizations because it is cool or because you want to show off that you know how to move stuff around. Microsoft put the interface and experience together in a way they think works, and unless you know what you are doing, you should not attempt to better them.

If you do know what you’re doing, however, you should build the greatest and most beneficial solutions to your problems using the tools that makes sense for the task.

In other words, Microsoft is saying what everyone knows and hopefully agrees, that you should learn the trade before you set off building and modifying solutions that will determine or destroy the success of your SharePoint installation.

Or hire someone to do it…


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