I was speaking with a client recently who had themselves been working with SharePoint for well over a decade. We got talking about that while we are both still working with SharePoint daily, me as a consultant and them as an administrator, our jobs today look nothing like they did just a few years ago. For both of us it has meant learning many new things. Perhaps the biggest change has been the proportion of our time spent on technical verses people side of the job.
I’ve been working with SharePoint for a little over 10 years. Initially my job was heavily focused on implementing and managing SharePoint farms. Installing servers, apply updates, checking logs, monitoring 101 things and doing technical support. I really enjoyed the challenge of SharePoint, where it really tested your knowledge of infrastructure, databases, networking and SharePoint itself. I hardly had time to sit down with users to find out how they would like to use SharePoint better, but when I did it was usually to create a List or Library, setup metadata and perhaps create an InfoPath form. All this of course inbetween troubling shooting search issues!
These days my role is almost completely the opposite. I have a small number of clients who continue with onsite versions of SharePoint, but the vast majority are in the cloud. I spend my time working with clients to improve how they work, rather than in the backroom trying to ensure everything keeps running. I get asked to help with a huge variety of things, the majority of which are non-technical and I like it. I feel like I am making a difference to their worklife by helping them improve the way the work.
The more technical side of my job involves having deep technical conversations with other people in more technical roles. Security questions, tenant configuration questions, authentication questions, why does it do that questions…I still love that side of the job too, it just I spend less time doing it.
Now don’t get me wrong here, inside I am still a tech geek and I love playing with technology to solve problems. The difference is that now I am solving business problems rather than technical ones, but using my understanding of technology and business together. I spend some of my spare time tinkering with technology and thinking about the business problems it can solve. Chances are someone has been their before, so starting with a little research can get you up the learning curve faster.
The rate of change we face as technology consultants can sometimes seem overwhelming and so here’s a little bit of advice from my own experience. Don’t try to learn it all, focus instead on the problems you want to solve. There can be more than one technical solution to the problem, each with different costs and benefits. Is SharePoint really the right tool for this job? Are there limitations that need to be understood? How much effort should be put into solving this problem?
Having said that it is still important to understand the tools you are working with. To do this I spend time learning by doing, but also by talking to people outside my industry. The best person to discuss document management with is not usually someone in the IT Department, but someone in the business who may be completely non-technical but who understands the business problem. Ask questions and listen to get a deeper understanding. Don’t stop with one person, see what others think too.
If you’re a SharePointer, try learning more about how your company works or the challenges different people have. Here are a few things you could investigate (there will be many more):
- What are the goals of your companies communications team?
- How could your companies employee experience be improved?
- What common problems your end users having with current processes?
- How do executive assistants collate information for board reports?
- How controlled documents are approved?
- How is intellectual property protected?
- What keeps the legal team awake at night thinking about compliance?
Now I am sure if you’re reading this you are a bit like me and need to learn some technical stuff too. Here are three places you should explore:
Continuing to learn is an investment in your future self. In our industry especially it is important to reinvent ourselves, if we don’t we will slowly drift behind and at some point in the future face a wall that is difficult to climb. Be deliberate in what you learn and consistent in the way you do it.
A simple thing to do at the end of each week is ask yourself “what have I learnt?”, you might be surprised by the answer!