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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Other posts of the series
- Become a SharePoint Professional - Key Questions to Ask Part 1: Discipline (July 26, 2012)
- Become a SharePoint Professional - Community Involvement (July 31, 2012)
- Become a SharePoint Professional - Key Questions to Ask Part 2: Your Attitude (August 7, 2012)
- Become a SharePoint Professional - Understanding The Architect Role (August 14, 2012)
- Become a SharePoint Professional - Key Questions to Ask Part 3 : How Do I Become A True SharePoint Expert? (This post) (December 27, 2012)
- Become a SharePoint Professional - What Is a SharePoint Developer? (January 2, 2013)
- Become a SharePoint Professional: Administrators Are Good People! (February 3, 2013)