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 (http://blog.furuknap.net/), 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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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.

22 thoughts on “Become a SharePoint Professional – Key Questions to Ask Part 1: Discipline”

  1. I think a lot of people (myself included) will break the first rule. I work for a small company, thus I’m the one-man SharePoint team. This is an awful position to be in since people expect me to be an expert, but that’s just not the case due to the depth of the product.

    If you have the means, I highly recommend specializing in an area (while trying not to neglect the others).

    1. Absolutely Thuan! However, there’s no conflict in knowing lots of different things to a small extent. Capabilities knowledge is the primary asset of an architect, for example. They may not need to know _how_ things are done, but they need to know _what_can_ be done.

  2. You raise some very good points that I feel need to be expanded. There is quite a lack in general on this topic and I personally think a lot of guidance can be provided to current / aspiring SharePoint professionals on what exactly *are* the specific areas of discipline within each of these three “parent disciplines”. Time permitting, I’d like to write more on this topic. Thank you for bringing some light on this area 🙂

  3. Well definitely, this will be a great serie to read.

    being in that position no long ago (and still I am looking at define my learning path) I can relate a lot.

    One opinión that I would like to read from you, that i have been thinking for some time, its about the theoretical concepts that each role should be learning to develop over time and how this concepts relate to anothers.

    Something like a concepts network that can be created

  4. Yet you continually see job postings wanting all three disciplines as requirements for filling the job – regardless of what job ‘title’ is used.

    1. I see this too, but the problem won’t go away by the community not knowing what the various roles are. There’s a massive title confusing in the community and it won’t be possible for anyone outside that community to know what to request if we don’t know ourselves what we do.

      .b

      1. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion job postings are usually due to clients not realising, or sometimes not wanting to realise that a) that kind of people do not exist and if by any chance there is one or two of them seeking for a job – they won’t work for peanuts. Could throw in an anecdote here about one of companies I worked for but won’t. Enough hassle with them…

        Personally I did have one position in which I was being expected to take care of dev and admin. On my own. It was just inhumanely insane experience…

  5. I believe that you have missed one other discipline that most people do not understand. That is the job of the SharePoint Architect. Being a SharePoint architect you need to have all the skills of the three disciplines that you mentioned plus understand the business problems that users are trying to solve. You also have to have a clear understanding of Information Architecture. Most companies never spent the time to architect their solutions in SP 2007. That’s why they mostly failed. But we now know that this is a key to any successful SharePoint project. You can’t just be a developer or IT Pro to be an architect. Just my 2 cents worth.

  6. I am working in SharePoint for past 3 years, utterly confused which discipline to follow. SharePoint is like an ocean and surely requires deep diving to know its secrets. And infomative blogs like this wil certainly be a great help 🙂

  7. Pingback: 5 lý do bạn nên tìm hiểu và nghiên cứu nền tảng công nghệ Microsoft SharePoint |
  8. I’m using below script that actually create the News List in my SharePoint Online site, but I’m stuck on how to create different Column (Field) types under that List, right now it’s just creating a Multiple lines of text Type field (NewsSum and NewsText). See the script below. I like to create DateTime type, Yes/No Choice Type, Multi Selection Type etc.. fields. Please guide.

    $newsListName = “News”
    Add-List -listTitle $newsListName
    [string[][]]$fields = (“NewsSum”,”Note”,””),
    (“NewsText”,”Note”,””)
    Add-FieldsToList $fields $newsListName

    1. No. This blog isn’t a “Post anything you don’t know how to do and I’ll do it for you”. There’s no “Support” section here.

      I can help you, but my price is $200 per hour, paid upfront. It’s either that, or you learn how to do your job yourself.

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