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 http://sharepointsaturday.org/ and well as search for any local SharePoint user groups. A good place to find those is over on NothingButSharePoint (https://www.nothingbutsharepoint.com/calendar/default.aspx, 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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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

3 thoughts on “Become a SharePoint Professional – Community Involvement”

  1. Spot on Bjorn, a nice summary of the SharePoint community.

    It’s certainly grown some over the last 6 years from when I first got involved. We had just a couple of user groups a year, SharePoint Saturday was just something the Americans did and a European/UK based conference was a pipe dream.

    This has all changed because of the way the community has grown, the demand for knowledge has increased and the desire to give knowledge has matched the demand. Yes that also means there’s a lot of noise out there, but I think you swiftly learn who’s blogs to trust and who’s to treat with a hefty pinch of salt.

    It’s only going to keep growing, and with the beta of SP2013 firmly taking hold, the content is doing to double if not treble over the coming months. Certainly a confusing time for someone new to SharePoint, But keep abreast of the key people on Twitter and SPYam, Look at who’s blogs are getting tweeted by reliable people and enjoy the community.

    If nothing else, the last 6 years of involvement have been a lot of fun, the fact we have SharePints after most events shows how the community spirit doesn’t just end with blog posts!

  2. Hi Bjørn,

    you missed one point: stackoverflow. It’s a good starting point if you have problems others might also had; and of course you can post your own questions there.

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