I had a wonderful weekend in Grand Rapids, MI, visiting friends and family. While I was up there, I had the opportunity to speak at two conferences. The first conference, Dynamic Link, is a conference that is organized largely by college students as part of a class. Putting on the conference itself teaches them that responsibilities in the "real world" go beyond just getting a grade, but that there are real consequences based on whether they do or don't perform tasks on time, in a quality manner. If one of them misses a dealine, there might be 13 other students who are depending on them for something, or possibly all the conference attendees will suffer. That being said, I thought the students did a fantastic job at facilitating the conference. I was able to present a keynote address based on my own career path, and how we need to be open to God's leading in our careers, through the various ups and downs.
Afterwards, we attended break-out sessions where we discussed various topics that students had done research on. I attended a session where we discussed the topic, "Why aren't there more women in computing?" Our group came to the conclusion that first of all, there was a lot of mis-information out there about computing. Women might see some of their more outspoken "nerdy" male colleagues and think, "I'm not like them. I'm more social. Why would I want to go into the same field?" They also might think that working in the computing field requires working 80 hour weeks consistently and that's incompatible with having a family, when in reality most organizations don't expect that kind of workload out of their employees anymore, since it's not in their best interest to burn out their employees; the perception that all jobs in computing are like that is most likely a left-over vestige of the early days of computing in the 80's and the dot com boom in the 90's. (It was also pointed out that women often go into fields like nursing and social work, that might even require longer hours than that of someone in the computing field, but somehow those fields don't have the same stigma for women.) Our second conclusion was that there are a lot of jobs that might appeal to women that they might not know about when they're choosing careers, that don't involve specifically programming. For instance, women might enjoy being business analysts, project managers, information architects, or technical writers. We need to do a better job of educting women about the kinds of positions out there that are in the computing field. I thought it was interesting how so much of this topic tied into the ideas discussed in the book Lean In, which I had just finished reading.
On Monday, I presented at the The Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference. I gave a largely demo-based presentation about some of the new features of SharePoint 2013. It's always hard to fit a lot of information in a 50 minute block, but I tried! You can download the presentation slide deck here, if you're interested.
What's New in SharePoint 2013.pptx
Thanks again to professor Pat Bailey at Calvin College who has allowed me to participate in these West Michigan activities!
This weekend I'm going to be speaking at my alma mater, Calvin College
, at the Dynamic Link conference
sponsored by IT professor Patrick Bailey
. It's an opportunity to speak with graduating seniors about life in the "real world" after graduation, when working in the IT field. I appreciate the fact that the conference revolves around topics that aren't necessarily technical in nature, but cover topics such as how to work with other people in a team environment, and how to find meaning in what you do on a day to day basis.
That being said, I'm a strong proponent of encouraging college students (and any other young professional entering the marketplace) to take a look at SharePoint as a means to make a living. I can't say that I intentionally aimed my career path at this product, but it has provided a very fulfilling living for me since 2006 when I first started working with it. My friend Dave Mann has created a great 7 minute video that explains why SharePoint is a great field to get into, if you're looking for your next career move.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and has recently published a book entitled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I heard about this book when I heard her interviewed on NPR and then I saw the book when I was meandering through Barnes and Noble last week. I try not to make many impulse purchases, but after going home without buying it, I returned the next day to pick it up. I have to admit, I'm a pretty slow reader, but I've plowed through this book quickly. It has been incredibly refreshing to hear the insights of another (successful) woman in the technology industry talk candidly and specifically about gender issues in the workplace.
It's hard to summarize everything contained in the book without it sounding like quick sound-bites regarding easy solutions for many issues. I wish I had enough space to write down all the quotes from the book that I highlighted, but I'm afraid if I did that, this article would be 10 pages long and I'm sure I'd violate copyright law somewhere! At the risk of all that, here are some of the main points she makes, that stood out to me:
- Our mother's generation tried to "do it all" and ended up finding out it's not possible. As a result, when a woman is posed with the "work/life" dichotomy, they feel like crap if they choose work over "life". Women often are asked "how do you balance it all?" (although men are never asked that), as if we must be screwing everything up because we can't commit all our energy to work and we must be neglecting kids. It's hard to feel positive about that. Sheryl argues that we need to see more positive examples of what it looks like to successfully balance both, to know that you don't have to be a bad mother to have a successful career.
- Women often short change themselves because they know they're going to have a family and they know that having kids will take time away from their job, so they unconsciously tend to decline to take on ambitious, career-enhancing moves. However, women often make the mistake of doing that long before they get pregnant, or even find a mate, so they're losing valuable time. Instead, if women push their career forward while they can, they're more likely to be farther along in their career when they have kids. This has two benefits: most likely there's greater flexibility in their job the higher up the ladder they get; and if women do take time off for maternity leave, they won't have to re-enter the workforce at a lower rung in the ladder, so to speak.
- Women tend to second guess themselves much more than men. There are a number of factors involved in this. If a woman is perceived as being "nice", people like her but they don't promote her. If a woman is considered "ambitious", that often means she's "not nice", and she won't be promoted. It's a double bind. Women don't always want to speak up because they don't want to draw negative attention to themselves, but when men speak up it's considered an admirable trait. Sheryl argues that women need to find a balance as to how to let their voice be heard (tactfully, of course) and not shy away from sharing input. In the same way, men might need to look at the unconscious ways they might be soliciting responses from more vocal men, when women might have just as valuable things to say but might not be shouting it aloud.
- It's important to have a good relationship with your spouse. The cliche is that single women make it to the top, but nearly all of the Fortune 500 woman CEO's are married, so it's not impossible to balance work and family. But 100% of them had spouses who weren't threatened by their wife's success, and supported them in multiple ways, whether that meant being willing to relocate or it meant taking on additional child-rearing tasks.
- Women are told repeatedly that they need to seek mentors. Although everyone needs someone along the way to get advice from, a mentor is not a therapist! Sheryl sums it up best when she says that women think they need a mentor to succeed, when in reality, mentors tend to select mentees in whom they see talent and potential. So, you need to succeed to find a mentor, rather than try to do it the other way around.
The book is certainly colored by the author's experience and her own personality type, so I don't always agree with everything she says. However, I appreciated the fact that when she said something I found a little doubtful, she often followed her conclusion up with scientific data that proved what she was saying. I was fairly surprised that bias is as wide-spread as it is. I think that was the key, though. Although it would be nice to think that we're not dealing with 1950's era gender bias, the truth is that all of us have bias or natural inclinations to behave one way or another. Sheryl is attempting to help us all (men and women alike) become aware of these ingrained (and usually unconscious) ways of thinking so we can consciously do something about it.
A lot of this book hit home for me because I can identify so much with her own life experience, and my own career illustrates much of what she talks about. I didn't get married until I was 30, and I had my daughter when I was 34. I had the opportunity to spend the first part of my career focused quite intensely on my job. (Let's be honest, though, it wasn't necessarily out of desire. I didn't have anyone else paying my bills but me, so I had to work. It's just how things worked out for me. Not everyone has the same path as me.) My daughter is now almost 2. I'm pregnant with my second daughter, due in July. Last year I decided to incorporate, so I'm no longer "just" Becky Bertram, but I'm now launching a business. Throughout this massive life change, it's been incredibly hard to keep the same level of commitment to my job while having the additional responsibility of being a parent. There are many times when I, rather foolishly, want to quit my job because I somehow think being a full time stay at home mom would be "easier" than starting a business, being a parent, and being pregnant, all at the same time. (Laughable, I know. Anyone who knows a stay at home mom knows it's anything but easy!)
However, I can attest to Sheryl's point that, if I hadn't had already invested so many years in building my career, I might not have the options that I do know. For the last two years I've worked four days a week. Yes, there are weeks when I practically go insane because I had more than enough to do when I was working 5 days a week, and now I have to do that, plus cover the cost of child care, while working one less day a week. But I feel so incredibly blessed that I'm at the point in my career where I have that option. Along those same lines, I was able to take 3 months of maternity leave with my daughter when she was born, because I took the risk early in my career to work for myself rather than work for a company where I'd be required to return to work after 6 weeks. I'll admit, it's sometimes hard for me to admit to my clients that I'll be unavailable on Wednesdays because I'll be home with my daughter. Somehow it doesn't seem "professional". But I've learned to hold my head up high when I say that. I like to think that most people don't look down on me, but are probably secretly a little jealous. And if they have a problem with me choosing my child as a priority, as long as they see me making them a priority for the other four days a week, I figure it's not someone I need to be doing business with anyhow.
I won't lie, this pregnancy has been far more difficult than my last one. Having a 1 year old to take care of while being pregnant has made it a lot more difficult to get the rest I was able to get 2 years ago when I was pregnant. Knowing SharePoint is going through such a major shift right now makes it even more difficult for me to choose time with my family, or just plain time sleeping so I have the physical energy to grow a baby, when in my "past life" I would have stayed up late learning and experimenting. Like many women, I don't want to my clients or partners to think I'm any less committed to my job or what I do, but there's also a reality factor involved of the physical limitations of pregnancy and the demanding nature of motherhood. It can be tremendously stressful. I appreciated the fact that Sheryl came out and said that employers need to talk about things like pregnancy and family planning with women, giving them permission to talk about these real-world issues so women don't feel like they're not allowed to talk about it for fear of being seen as weak or unprofessional. In fact, Sheryl argues, giving women permission to plan for parenthood means they're more likely to return to work and be much happier employees later on, rather than just dropping out of the work force completely. I can't agree more.
If women give up their job while they're going through the kind of transition I'm going through, they're not just giving up a few years; often, they will never achieve the same status again in their career. That is one of the reasons why I'm making the push to continue. I have to remember that this is the period of my life where I have the very demanding requirements of growing a child and having a toddler, but that it won't last forever. If I feel like I can't do what I did before, maybe that's OK for the time being. As Sheryl says in the book, "Done is better than perfect." Hopefully, I've still got a few years in me to do this technology thing yet.
In the meantime, I do have an amazing spouse who is actively involved in his daughter's (and soon to be daughters') life, and I also have a fantastic babysitter who has become like a member of our family. Our babysitter watches our daughter in our home, and I often work at home, so I'm able to see my daughter throughout the day as I come and go. I have to continually remind myself that while I would love to spend more time with my daughter, it can never be a bad thing that she has more people rather than less people in her life who love her, and with whom she has a healthy attachment. I truly do feel blessed that I've got as close to "having it all" as many women have it; I'm able to enjoy what I do, but also spend quality time with my family. I agree with Sheryl, that we should all, collectively, find ways for more women to find a satisfying balance between the two without us participating in self-defeating behaviors or worrying what others think. We need to set positive examples of doing both in a healthy and productive way.
Having started a consulting business, Savvy Technical Solutions, last year, I've been trying to spend as much time reading business-oriented books as technical books. I was delighted to run across two books, each written by a long-term business owner of a succesful business based right here in St. Louis.
Across the Divide: Navigating the Digital Revolution as a Woman, Entrepreneur and CEO
By Susan S. Elliott
Susan Elliott started working for IBM in 1958 and has since witness the evolution of the digital revolution since its early days. She started SSE, a St. Louis-based software and training company, which is today run by her daughter, Elizabeth. At the beginning of her career, she witnessed databases with actual spindles and disks. In the early 80's she was able to purchase her own home computer and launched a PC training business to area companies. Since then, her company has navigated the birth of the internet and now mobile computing.
Although the trivia about how data processing and computing has advanced over the decades was amusing, what I found especially fascinating was reading the history of a small business owner in the technology field. She talked about the decision to not earn a salary for the first several years so she could afford to hire someone; about how she hired contractors instead of employees at first to facilitate cash flow; about how she had to start off in her basement and steady move to larger offices; and even the mistakes (and near misses) her company made along the way. As someone who works in St. Louis myself, I found it especially interesting to learn about her business interactions with companies who I still do business with today.
Although some of the book reads more like a trip down memory lane for ex-employees at a company anniversary, (which I can't fully appreciated, having never worked at SSE), I did find that there were many helpful lessons I was able to learn from a fellow woman in the business. I recommend this to other St. Louisans, women in the field of technology, and small business owners, who can learn from someone who has "been there, done that."
Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible
By David L. Steward
David Steward is one of the owners and founders of World Wide Technologies, one of the most successful companies in St. Louis. Year after year, he is honored by Black Enterprise magazine as the owner of one of the largest African-American owned companies in the country.
Over the years, he has tried to build his company based on principles he has gleaned from the Bible. He eventually took these ideas and put them into a book with 52 chapters -- one for each week of the year. (The book was originally written as a kind of textbook for a Sunday School class he was asked to teach at his church.)
The kind of topics he covers are: integrity, delegation, taking a stand, consistency, flexibility, team work, risk-taking, being customer-focused, servant leadership, quality of work, empowering your employees, etc.
Although I felt like each of the topics were a bit on the simplistic side, it's a good reminder of the basic building blocks that make up a healthy business. Interestingly enough, a friend of mine just got hired at World Wide Technologies last year. He hasn't read this book, but when I've grilled him on the corporate culture of WWT, I've been rather amazed to learn that it truly does seem to live up to the priciples that David Steward talks about in his book. Talk is cheap, but when I hear in person that the priciples work, it makes me stop and take notice.
Since each of the chapters is quite short (usually 5 pages or so), this is a good book to pick up every once in a while when you need a good reminder about what it takes to have a healthy business.
This year was my fourth year in a row to attend the MVP Summit in Redmond, at the Microsoft Campus. It's always nice to catch up with my colleagues from all over the world. Since this summit followed closely on the heels of the SharePoint Conference in November, it's understandable that I didn't get to see as many other SharePoint MVPs there as usual, but it's always nice nonetheless to get a chance to meet with individuals from the product team.
Each year, Microsoft throws a big shindig for all the MVPs from all the product groups. I usually skip it because, well, the novelty of attending an event at a baseball or football field isn't that thrilling to me. This year, though, I thought I'd avoid being a party-pooper and decided to at least go once to see what it was all about. We had the event at Century Link Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks (although since the NFL season was over, the field was outfitted as a soccer field for the local MLS team, the Seattle Sounders.) We had ample delicious food and drinks, and the highlight of the evening was when they shot off fireworks for us. (Since I'm pregnant, I decided to pass on the zipline they had set up for attendees to ride!) I had fun hanging out with friends like Corey Roth, Wes Preston, Cathy Dew (first year MVP, yeah!), and Jennifer Mason, as well as my MVP regional lead, Melissa. I wasn't able to convince Corey to sing Desperado in the karaoke room, though. Maybe next year.
Meanwhile, my husband and 22 month old daughter seemed to be having fun on their own, having pizza night at the mall back in St. Louis. I guess they survived just fine without me! :)
I've got a couple presentations coming up in the spring that I thought I'd share with you, if you happen to be in the area:
Dynamic Link Conference
April 27, 2013
Grand Rapids, MI
Calvin College - Devos Arts and Communications Building
I'll be presenting one of the keynote addresses, the topic of the conference being "Work, Vocation, and Earning a Living." This is a great time for those in the working world to encourage and provide advice to college seniors who are preparing to enter the IT workforce. If you're in West Michigan, think about attending. (You can see my recap of the same conference I attended in 2009.)
Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference
April 29, 2013
Grand Rapids, MI
Calvin College - Prince Conference Center
This conference will focus on success stories of businesses in West Michigan. Although my business is not based in Michigan, as an ex-resident, I'm looking forward to presenting a lecture about the new features of SharePoint 2013. (You can read my recap this event in 2009 as well.)
St. Louis SharePoint User Group
May 14, 2013
St. Louis, MO
"What's all the Yammer About?" I'll be giving a basic introduction to Yammer, the social-networking product purchased by Microsoft last year, which will be incorporated into SharePoint in the near future.
Last Saturday was St. Louis's 3rd SharePoint Saturday and the general consensus seems to be that it was a big success. As a member of the planning committee, it was very satisfying seeing people enjoying the opportunity to learn new things (for free!) and getting to know knew friends as well as catching
up with old ones. We had unusually nice weather which was nice, considering having an event in January can cause significant travel issues if the weather isn't nice. I especially appreciated the commitment from so many speakers who flew in from places like North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, and even Montreal.
For the first time, we presented a series of "exam cram" sessions, which were meant to help prepare attendees for taking the SharePoint exams. I think this is something there's definitely a need for, and hopefully this is something that can be implemented at future SharePoint Saturdays in other cities as well. Since only the infrastructure exams have been released for SharePoint 2013, I spent quite a bit of time going over the new certification track (MSCE:SharePoint) and talking about the new exam format.
Here are the exam cram slide decks I presented for each of the SharePoint 2013 infrastructure exams:
70-331 Exam Cram.pptx
70-332 Exam Cram.pptx
Additionally, I've started on a new set of exam study guides for both exams. Each of these study guides takes a significant amount of time to do, and I've just started on them, but I thought I'd share them with you.
Exam 70-331 Study Guide
Exam 70-332 Study Guide
Also, Savvy Technical Solutions gave away three copies of Wrox's SharePoint Six in One. It was nice to see so many event participants staying until the very end (although I have a feeling it had to do with the $200 Amazon gift certificate, and Kindle Fire HD that were being raffled off!)
Good luck studying!
The Microsoft MTA certification is a new certification that Microsoft has created as part of its re-vamped certification track. It's primarily aimed at students and those who are just beginning their IT or programming career with Microsoft technologies. To quote the MS Learning web site:
Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is a recommended entry point into IT certification and job preparation. Pass just one exam and you’ll earn a certification, taking your first step toward a career in technology. If you are just starting your IT career path or are looking to enhance your understanding of IT fundamentals, MTA will validate your core knowledge. MTA is an optional industry-recognized certification for those pursuing a career path in IT infrastructure, database design, or software development using Microsoft technologies.
Microsoft's new certification tracks tend to build on one another; for example, you need to first complete your MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Architect) before you can get your MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Engineer) or your MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer). You can only become an MCSM (Microsoft Certified Solutions Master) once you have your MCSE or MCSD. However, the MTA certification is not a pre-requisite for anything. Its main purpose is for people getting into the workforce to prove that they have basic skills, or for instructors in an academic setting to test their students on what they've learned.
I took exam 98-368: Web Development Fundamentals last week. It was testing on very basic web concepts such as how commonly used web controls work, how postbacks work, etc. I completed the exam in about 15 minutes. (Although many many things have changed in the 13 years since I started programming, luckily some things have stayed fairly consistent for the last decade!) I do think taking the exam would be a great way for a beginner to test their knowledge, and get a little confidence to know they have grasped some fundamentals.
SharePoint Saturday St. Louis will be back by popular demand for a third time, on January 12, 2013, at Washington Univeristy. Didn't get to attend the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas? This will be your opportunity to learn about all things SharePoint 2013 at this FREE, local event. Besides, what else are you going to do on a dreary, post-Christmas winter day in the Lou? Register now at http://spsstl2013.eventbrite.com.
If you are interested in speaking at the event, the speaker submission deadline is December 16, so get your submission in now. To learn more, click on the Speaker tab on the SharePoint Saturday St. Louis Web site.