Become a SharePoint Professional – Key Questions to Ask Part 3 : How Do I Become A True SharePoint Expert?

You want to become a true SharePoint expert? I’ll tell you how in three simple steps.

Oh, and I said simple, not easy. If you have half a brain, you’ll realize that ‘simple’ may not mean ‘easy’, nor that there is any secret formula that you’ll learn over the next few paragraphs.

Become a Word-Class SharePoint Expert in Three Simple Steps

If you spend a little time in the ever growing SharePoint community, you’ll see a lot of people who refer to themselves or others as experts. These are often the most famous people in the community and you’ll do well to look to them for inspiration and as role models.

However, what does it really take to become a SharePoint expert? What does it take to become an expert at anything? I’ve done some research and distilled the results into three simple steps you can take to achieve expertness in SharePoint or anything, really.

Still, the steps required are simple enough, even if knowledge of them will pour some cold water into your blood.

Steps 1, 2 & 3: Practice

OK, so this may surprise some of you, but you actually need to practice to become good at something. I know working seems to make you better, but studies show that it is hours and hours of diligent practice that separate the mediocre from the experts.

If you’re an avid book reader, like I’m definitely not, you may have heard about or even read a book called Outliers. In short, the author Malcolm Gladwell researches what makes people more successful than others and makes some interesting observations.

Gladwell looks at various successful people and existing research and comes up with a claim that the true experts within a field seems to have one major differentiator from those that perform merely adequate: They practice a lot.

In fact, Gladwell states that the number of hours of practice needed to become an expert in a field is 10,000. That’s ten thousand. To put that in perspective, you sleep for about 3,000 hours every year, so if you stop sleeping and only practice, it will still take you more than three years to become an expert.

Want to know what’s really bothersome about this number? Only hours of deliberate practice count. That’s right, working while using the skill or participating in tournaments or merely ‘doing stuff’ related to your skill does not count. You need to actively and structurally develop your skill by methodical training that eliminate your weaknesses and strengthens your skills. Performing, whether it is work, sports, or arts, is not considered deliberate training.

Note: Several commentaries have questioned the exact number of hours required (and indeed Gladwell’s methods). Even one of the researchers, Anders Ericsson, on which Gladwell rests much of his 10,000 hour number claim, has later specified this to mean an average. Others argue that great performers could get away with as little as 5,000 hours of deliberate practice before they became true experts.

Still, few opposing comments argue about the effect of practice. They may question the ability to turn expertise into success, or whether there are other factors that also lead to expertise, but they all seem to agree that deliberate practice leads to expertise, defined as being ‘world-class’ at whatever they do.

I’m not going to vouch for the number, and I’m also questioning several aspects of the simplicity of the claim. However, if you want to become a SharePoint expert, this is good news! Although it’s no guarantee for financial success, deliberate practice, targeted and structured, for thousands of hours virtually guarantees that you become a true SharePoint expert. It’s really that simple.

OK, granted, you need a lot of hours of practice, but there are few, if any, other things you need to do. Practice, and you become good. Practice more and you may become brilliant. Practice a whole lot, and you’ll become a SharePoint expert.

How Do I Practice SharePoint?

When you’re training to become something in sports, or music, or a game perhaps, then what you need to practice is pretty straight forward. You do the things of that activity repeatedly to develop muscle memory or internalize moves and strategies. Hit a serve a million times, and every serve will be better. Whack a ball a million times and you’re far better at making it land where you want it to land (and that concludes my golf training for this article).

It’s more difficult with SharePoint, but fear not, there are plenty of ways for you to practice if you are willing to put in the hours required. Here are a few tips.

If you’re working with SharePoint already, you probably have tasks that you struggle to get right every time. For administrators, setting up the User Profile Service (UPS) is one example.

Now, do that task, over and over again until you can almost do it in your sleep. Spend a day, in 90 minute sessions with 20 minute breaks, and do nothing else for those 90 minutes.

When you’re done, change the parameters of your practice. For example, do it in a two-server environment, or do it using different credentials. If your VM engine supports it, simulate directory controller network failures and practice more. Do this for eight hours every day, and after a week, you’ll fear UPS no more.

If you’re a developer struggling with understanding object orientation, then practice building a railroad using objects and classes. When you’ve done this, delete your Visual Studio project and start over.

If your problem is remembering the possibilities in the SharePoint server object model, then pick a project you like and redo it, over and over again. Change your desired outcomes and repeat the drill once you’re tired of the same project. Those SPListItem properties and methods will become a second language to you.

Think you don’t know how to architect solutions that give benefits to an organization? Talk to your boss, your colleagues, your friends, or family, and find out what problems ails them. Then, come up with different solutions to all their problems. Are you done? Come up with other solutions that utilize other features and components. Done with that? Change their problems into something different and solve those problems. You’ll architect the most brilliant solutions before you know it.

Have you done this, for eight hours every day for a working week yet? If so, good, you’ve just completed 40 hours or your practice, and you just have 249 weeks left until you’re an expert. Or, if you are one of the exceptions that require 5,000 hours of practice only, you have 124 weeks to go. That’s around three years if you take a few weeks off for vacation each year.

I Don’t Have Time!

To most people, putting this much effort into becoming an expert SharePoint developer, architect, or administrator is beyond what they would consider. Even the geeks among us, who spent all their waking youth hours in front of a compiler may have trouble racking up the required time. We are talking about two hours of deliberate practice every day for 13 years, or eight hours per day for more than three years after all.

Then, there’s family concerns, and you’ll want to catch the latest movies, and definitely go to a party every now and then. There simply isn’t enough time to spend eight hours every day for several years.

Well, there’s always the option of being mediocre. I’ll even argue that the most reward per hour spent is gained by being mediocre.

Also, don’t discount any previous training you’ve had. You may be a seasoned .NET developer with a master’s degree in Awesome Programming 501, and that certainly counts in your favor. You may have spent a year in SharePoint administrator training before you picked up your first installer CD, and that is definitely on the list of approved hours.

However, if you expect to be a world-class expert, then there’s no way around it. You practice, you practice, and then you practice.

Think about that when you meet or talk to experts in your field, whether that’s SharePoint, chess, project management, or golf. Their success most likely isn’t a result of random luck or chance encounters but rather of deliberate training over years and years. You can be among them if you put in the effort, but don’t expect any quick paths to expert level skills.

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Are You a SharePoint Developer Moving to Apps? You’re a Moron!

I was briefly part of a discussion on SPYam where Michal Pisarek mentioned he’d been talking to some iOS people coming to SharePoint and loving the new App model in SP2013. His question was whether existing SharePoint developers were falling behind by not adopting the new model.

I say no. In fact, I say that if you are an existing SharePoint developer and you’re jumping on the App model, you’re a moron.

Microsoft’s SharePoint Dilemma

SharePoint is a failure. Lack of adoption success, the MySpace situation, and the constant nagging from professionals about how difficult everything is, Microsoft’s need to introduce a new framework to ‘solve’ some kind of problem; these are signs of disease, not of success.

Of course, SharePoint has reached millions of users and virtually all of the US Fortune 500 companies. Isn’t that a measure of success? Well, that greatly depends on your definition of success. It’s certainly a success for Microsoft, considering that most of at least the larger installations are paid licenses. It may not be a success if you measure the return-on-investment for smaller companies.

Still, Microsoft needs to do something. They’re already selling licenses to almost all relevant companies. If SharePoint is to be a growing business for Microsoft, they need to find new ways of increasing sales.

Keep in mind that Microsoft’s interest in a customer ends the second the customer purchases a license. Microsoft doesn’t care whether you make a profit from your investment, nor whether you actually use your product. They’ve reaped all possible benefits from you being a customer; no matter how well your solution or investment performs or fails, Microsoft won’t make a dime more.

In other words, with the pre-SharePoint 2013 models, Microsoft has peaked its earnings from SharePoint. They need something new in order to grow their SharePoint revenue.

Let’s Talk About You

This is where you come in. There are simply no new methods that Microsoft can use to increase sales on their own, so they need external help. Luckily, you’re here to help them; to earn money for them.

Microsoft earns a cut every time someone buys your App, which is a fine enough model. They provide access to their customers, you provide a new revenue stream for them. This is a win-win situation.

However, as all App developers will tell you, only a few Apps actually make money, at least enough to defend the efforts involved in building and maintaining them. For every Angry Birds, there’s hundreds of games you’ve never even seen, built by people like you with just as many good intentions and ideas. The more successful an App platform becomes, the more difficult it becomes to make a dime for the developer.

On the flip side, Microsoft gains benefits by having a large App fauna, both in terms of marketing and the more obvious revenue streams. Their model is infinitely scalable, getting a cut for every sale regardless of whether there are five or five million Apps in their store. Your model depends on continuously working on improving, marketing, and supporting your App.

This may be a fine thing for someone who has few or no other ways of reaching this audience. For example, those that are already building Apps for other platforms and have extensive experience and skills in HTML and JavaScript will have few problems migrating those skills to SharePoint. They need to pick up on a few new object models and APIs, but they do that as frequent as they have breakfast, and it’s in their blood. Apps aren’t bad by design, but you’re a moron if you think you’ll be rich or even make a living if you jump your current ship to get on the bandwagon. Apps are designed to appeal to App developers.

You, however, who already have skills and experience in traditional SharePoint development start sucking at what you used to do the moment you shift your attention to something else.

Break a Leg

And I mean that literally. If you’re in a part of the world where there’s snow and ice, go outside, find a steep road, and run down it. If you’re a woman, first of all, I love that you’re doing SharePoint, and second, put on your highest-heeled shoes and run down an escalator at a local mall. Just make sure you break something; and arm, a leg, anything.

Now, who would you like to fix you up? Your two choices are a surgeon who knows about every possible treatment for any known disease, or the emergency room doctor who, despite his lack of neurology training, does nothing all day long than patch up broken legs?

Unless you’re an idiot, you’ll want the ER doctor. After all, he or she knows how to patch your leg up with their hands tied behind their backs and while blindfolded. The super-surgeon may know about 15 ways of patching a leg, but if he or she doesn’t actively practice those methods, they’ll be about as useful as a text-book on the subject. You don’t want a doctor Googling your treatment, you want someone who no later than 15 minutes ago did the exact same procedure, and who does nothing or little else all day long.

The thing is, you don’t get good by learning. You get good with practice. If you learn every skill on the planet, you will suck at everything. If you learn just one or a few things and consistently practice those, you get insanely good. Michael Phelps didn’t get good at swimming by playing chess or juggling 26 balls at once. He got good by swimming, and doing that a lot.

If you already are skilled in SharePoint development, moving into a new area means you have no experience and you are no good at what you will be doing. You need to build the skills and the experience from scratch. You do this for the promise of having perhaps a 1 in 200 shot at making a profitable App.

Simultaneously, in the area you just left, all those that chose to remain will keep improving their skills and experience while your skills and experience stops. In fact, you’ll get worse, because you don’t get good at not doing something, so the longer you don’t do what you already know, the more you’ll forget and the more you’ll dwindle.

But it gets worse.

But What About My Career?

You may be concerned that you’ll be left behind. You may be concerned that while all the cool kids play with SP2013 Apps, you’ll be stuck building farm solutions or configuring DataView Web Parts the next couple of years. At least, that’s what you should hope happens.

If you’re concerned with your career, then there’s nothing better than to have a huge chink of your competition move somewhere else.

But what if everyone moves to SP2013 Apps, what then? Well, even better! You see, the problems facing organizations do not change when Microsoft introduces a new framework. They are still face with the same inefficiencies in the Human Resources department. They still struggle to get the same customers to pay on time. They still need to support new employees and ensure they get onboarded properly.

These problems have been solved by people like you for years now, using SharePoint or other platforms. It’s not a matter of whether the problems can be solved; they can be solved, to exactly the same degree as before. And let’s be honest, if a company problem goes away, which version of a tool makes it go away is completely beyond the point of interest to most organizations.

By diverting focus, however, you start to suck at what you do. Nobody is good at SP 2013 Apps now; even the people who have already been doing it for years suck. If you’re the best SP2013 App developer in the world, you have at best half the experience that even the most mediocre SharePoint 2007 developer has.

You’ll continue to suck at SP2013 Apps for a long time, probably forever.  In the meantime, those that remain with what they know and consistently practice that, facing ever more challenges and solving them using tools they already know, will progress exactly as fast as you are.

In other words, in one year, you’ll have one more year of experience and have seen X new problems you’ve solved, incidentally exactly the amount of experience and new problems someone who stays with what they know will have gained. Relatively, you’ll suck exactly the same amount in a year.

Welcome To The Future

If you are a SharePoint developer and you’re completely unable to find work then first of all, welcome to the future, we have something called The Internet, and you cannot possibly be online and know how to spell SharePoint without getting a job these days.

However, at some point in the future, perhaps there will be a shortage of work for SharePoint developers. At that time, I’ll be the first to grant you that moving to something else makes complete sense.

Until then, SharePoint doesn’t need more people who know jack about a wide range of topics. SharePoint needs experts with deep understanding of their chosen field, whether that is development, administration, or business usage.

The developers that stay with what they know will have one more year of experience in 12 months, and so will you, regardless which path you take.

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SharePoint Content Types – A Modest Perspective

This article is the introduction to the USP Journal issue Developing SharePoint Content Types, the second edition updated for SharePoint 2010 (currently in production). If you want to be informed of upcoming issues, sign up for the USP Journal newsletter at http://uspjournal.com/newsletter


Let me make one thing absolutely clear. If Chuck Norris was a SharePoint feature, he’d be content types. In fact, I’m fairly certain that if you were to ask Chuck Norris (who, of course, is also the world’s biggest SharePoint guru) what his favorite thing in the whole universe is, he’d say SharePoint content types.

You may have seen something you think is cool before, like ice or liquid nitrogen. You are wrong. If you haven’t seen SharePoint content types, you have not seen cool. Let me show you what I mean.

SharePoint Content Types are Cool!

Content types are actually business concepts. Your boss will understand content types, as will the nice lady down in human resources or John in the finance department. In fact, business people work with concepts that are perfect candidates for content types every day.

Despite being a business concept at its core, content types are exceptionally cool from a technical perspective too. As a developer, you’ll find that content types map nicely into the object oriented mentality of programming. And, you’ll also quickly realize, that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Excited yet? Let me tell you about a few more things that you can do with SharePoint content types.

You can construct and represent anything in the world as a content type. I don’t care if it is bikes, invoices, vinyl records, employees, or quantum states of electrons. If something exists, you can construct a content type to represent it.

Of course, that begs the question of what existence really is, but do not despair, you can explain deep philosophical ideas such as Plato’s theory of Forms using content types.

On a more mundane level, content types are perfect tools for anything that is taxonomy related. In other words, categorizing and defining something is the job of a content type. This is true because a content type at its core is just a type of content, or even more elementary, it is a thing.

Go beyond the most common usage scenarios, and thanks to its core simplicity and power, content types can be used to build functionality into SharePoint that nobody has even dreamed possible yet. I can’t even count the times I’ve built solutions where content types serve as plugins to expand the solution years after I’ve left the project. Content types in these solutions are the pathway to future extensibility and maintainability of solutions.

Further, content types can make your data behave, and yes, that means exactly what it says. It’s a very weird concept for most people, wrapping your head around the idea that data, essentially just a long series of zeroes and ones, can behave.

What’s even better, once we’ve taught our content types how we want them to behave, we don’t need to do anything for that behavior to happen. The content types are aware of what goes on and reacts to the events to which we have taught them to react, exhibiting exactly the behavior we tell them to exhibit.

It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dogs, except our content types can do much more than salivate.

Of course, there’s a deeper technical explanation for exactly how this happens, including another very cool concept called event receivers, but more on that another time.

We haven’t even begun talking about appearance. Content types control the appearance of your data too, and I’m not just talking about web pages here. On a fundamental level, content types can be anything, whether that’s a form on a web page, a JSON object, an InfoPath form, a Word document, or an XML representation. And it can be all of these things at the same time.

Chameleons have nothing on content types when it comes to adapting its appearance to the needs of a situation.

Do you think that content types are cool yet? Well, if not, here’s an idea for you. You can extend content types to be exactly what you want.

I have said that content types can extend SharePoint, but not that you can extend the actual content types. Is there anything you cannot do with content types the way Microsoft designed them? Well, you can adapt them to suit your needs by using XML representations of any other concept or idea that you need to support.

In other words, if content types aren’t perfect for what you need, you can change them to be exactly what you need. There are no situations in which content types are not suited.

All these factors combined is why content types, on the scale of importance to your SharePoint development career, with 1 being that awful web page thing they slapped on in SharePoint 2007, and 10 being having a heartbeat, content types score 87.

If there ever is a Nobel peace prize for marvelous ideas, I vote to award it perpetually to whoever came up with the idea of SharePoint content types.

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