How Not to Woo a Crowd

I’m here at the European SharePoint Conference, so far just an amazing experience. I’ll come back to more reviews of the various sessions, presenters, and the event itself later.

However, I just attended the opening keynote titled Apps Everywhere, delivered by Microsoft to a room filled with hundreds of SharePoint professionals, and that was far from a pleasant experience.

I really wanted this presentation to go well. I really wanted to be convinced that Apps is as cool as everyone says. I actually think they may be, although for different reasons than the marketing group of Redmond would like you to believe. I’ll get back to that another time, though, because I haven’t actually made up my mind about Apps yet.

I have made up my mind about the keynote, though, and it was at best a disaster. Being a Microsoft keynote, we knew what to expect in the marketing message: Use Apps, Apps will save the world, Apps will give you everything you ever dreamed.

For a keynote like this, you’d at least expect everything to work perfectly, but you could forgive a slipup every now and then. Microsoft presentations are usually polished to a shine. We got the first issue in the very first demo, when the presenter added a Bing App to display some data from Excel inside an Excel workbook.

Then, he continued to demo how perfectly this migrates to SharePoint, and poof, nothing really worked. Permissions issues, redirects to wrong pages, whatever the underlying problem, but suddenly he had to excuse himself because he could really get his editing to work.

This is forgivable. Everyone who ever delivered a demo knows that sometimes things can go wrong.

However, this repeated itself for every single demo in the entire session. I’m not joking, I think that every single attempt to show how great Apps are failed.

Note: I was a bit busy tweeting at the time, but I think maybe he got a demo where he inserted an image into Word to work.

On its own, this is a bad situation, but don’t think it stopped there because in an attempt to show at least something that worked, he switched from a demo version of a Microsoft recruitment app to a live one.

At this point, all red flags should go up, but they didn’t. Within seconds, the presenter had shown, to the entire room, all the job applications received, and unless I completely misunderstood something, these were all real applications, from real people. Then, some unlucky applicant got his private details exposed, including potentially sensitive data such as application documents, results from the interview, whom the person had met and when, graduation information, and so on.

In the images blow, I’ve redacted everything I could isolate as sensitive, but this was shown to hundreds of people and can’t be very pleasant for the applicant.

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Oh, and to that person, in case you haven’t received your result yet, congratulations, you got the job!

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Become a SharePoint Professional: Administrators Are Good People!

In the Become a SharePoint Professional article series, I discuss aspects of what it takes to become a professional SharePointeer.

It’s time now to look at another greatly misunderstood role in SharePoint, that of the SharePoint administrator.

Or rather, let me start by looking at what’s not a SharePoint administrator.

Oh, and if you are an employer reading this, prepare to want to give your SharePoint administrators a raise.

What a SharePoint Administrator Isn’t

Remember that when I talk about roles here, I do mean roles and not people. A common situation in SharePoint is to have one person in multiple roles, such as developer/architect or administrator/developer.

That’s fine, just realize that it takes twice the effort to become good in two roles, meaning you invest twice as much training in growing your career. That should reflect in your salary requirements.

An administrator, though, is not a developer. You may see an administrator do at least basic development work, for example by developing taxonomies, views, workflows, and such, but these tasks are not administrator tasks.

An administrator is not an architect either. If you ask your administrator person what the requirements in hardware will be to run a specific solution, chances are you might as well as your mother and by that I mean the proverbial, non-architect mother.

Neither is the SharePoint administrator a server operator. Sure, many SharePoint administrators have backgrounds in server administration, and having such a background is definitely useful, but the tasks a SharePoint administrator does is not in the realm of Active Directory operations, SQL server management, and so on.

I realize that many administrators, like other SharePoint professionals, have experience and knowledge that spans multiple fields. However, it is important to realize where you focus your learning, training, and professional development.

If you want to become a SharePoint professional, at least one that knows how to tie your own shoelaces, you need to focus.

Note: refer to the previous articles in this series if you want to understand the need for focus better.

So, What is a SharePoint Administrator?

A SharePoint administrator, well, administrates SharePoint. It amazes me how bleeding obvious many of these titles really are.

In other words, a SharePoint administrator manages and operates a SharePoint environment, making sure it is healthy, performs as expected, is safe and stable, and doesn’t adversely affect other systems. Further, the SharePoint administrator is responsible for the day-to-day technical operations and monitors ongoing system jobs, performs routine maintenance, and may perform supporting tasks for other roles.

Finally, and this is important to any developer that has wandered into this article, an administrator, being ultimately and solely responsible for the stability and safety of a SharePoint environment, is the only role allowed to add any kind of code to SharePoint. This includes custom code built by developers, third-party applications or solutions, system updates like hotfixes and service packs, and any solutions whether they are farm, sandbox or apps.

Note: In case other roles are allowed to add sandbox solutions or apps, they are allowed that by the administrator. A prudent administrator grants such allowance only after careful consideration and likely without haste.

Despite developers having egos the size of Jupiter and thinking they control the world, the real power over a SharePoint environment comes from the administrator. Sure, developers can build the cure for cancer, but it won’t matter unless the administrator puts the code on a production machine and allows that code to run.

Tools of the Trade

The first and primary tool of any SharePoint administrator is Central Administration. Where do they get these confusing names?

In fact, if you want to get a good overview of the tasks SharePoint administrators perform, then explore the Central Administration application for inside lies the secrets of the administrator, neatly organized in categories.

Of course, complete and utter mastery of Central Administration is but the tip of the iceberg for a truly skilled administrator. In fact, many administrator tasks cannot be performed with the default out-of-the-box functionality of Central Administration, for example adding new solutions to the farm, creation of security groups and accounts, and so on.

For these tasks, you need to rely on other tools, for example STSADM or the more modern and powerful PowerShell.

Finally, SharePoint administrators are blessed with a wide variety of third-party tools to help with tasks. I won’t mention names because nobody pays me to do so, but SharePoint vendors provide tools for example to improve monitoring, security management, migrations, systems analysis, and so on.

Wait, I Do Far More Than That!

We should all be so lucky as to only serve one role in our SharePoint professional careers. Unfortunately, that’s rarely that case.

For administrators, additional and supplemental tasks may include working with server operations to ensure the server operates as expected. In fact, beyond any dedicated server administrators, only SharePoint administrators should have direct access to the server at all. No developers allowed!

If you, as an employer, place the responsibility of running your servers on your SharePoint administrator, remember that you are effectively giving them two jobs. I realize this is common and that it may be difficult to see just how much work and responsibility goes into even one of these roles, but you should know this, as an employer: Server administration is complex enough; SharePoint administration is just as complex.

Further, although not really a SharePoint specific task, backup and restore operations often end up being the SharePoint administrators responsibility. In most environments I have seen, backup happens outside SharePoint, for example using dedicated SQL Server backup tools, but many organizations still ask their SharePoint administrators to handle those backups. When all hell breaks loose and the manure hits the proverbial fan, your SharePoint administrator is the person responsible. Whether your organization ever retrieves its data depends on a SharePoint administrator.

Security is another aspect important to administrators, and a SharePoint security administrator is responsible not just for setting permissions on site collections, but also working with managed accounts, monitoring and handling code-level security issues, ensuring proper delegation of permissions, and so on.

Of course, all other efforts are meaningless unless your servers perform their tasks fast enough that users can get something done, so performance monitoring, planning, and handling of any performance issues is also a task for a SharePoint administrator.

That’s a Lot Of Responsibility

You are right! SharePoint administration is a massively complex role, and I have just scratched the surface of all you need to know. If you expect SharePoint administrators to handle other roles, or other roles to just do some administration on the side, well, you probably have extremely high expectations of your people or low expectations of the work and skills required.

As with developers, SharePoint administrators also come in various sub-roles, sadly usually operated or expected to be operated by the same person. Sub-roles include security, backup and recovery, monitoring and operations, and so on. Each of these, and several other sub-roles, are complex enough that you can easily spend years developing your skills without even looking at any other sub-roles.

What should be obvious, however, is that you probably underestimate the work and skill required to be a proficient SharePoint administrator. Next time you see a SharePoint administrator, give them a thanks for their work.

If you employ one of them, seriously consider giving them a raise, right now.

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