What does it take to become a SharePoint MVP?

Beyond a note I read in facebook which was an imported blog post by a new facebook friend/connection and SharePoint MVP, Zlatan Dzinic from South Africa, I thought I’d fill you in on my thoughts on the same topic.  I have a passion for SharePoint MVP and the whole program and hopefully you’ll feel it by the end of this post.  In his post he quickly refers to the post from Lawrence Lui on the paint ball game and other various fun community events during MVP summit.

I flew back for the paintball game and actually planned my middle east trip around it.  That was my second of two SharePoint MVP paintball games, and I think it very appropriate that he give it this title and then refer to the paintball game.  I made some awesome friends the first time around, and wasn’t interested in missing this opportunity. 

Working with SharePoint is like a paintball game… it can be the most exhilarating time of your life, but you’re likely to take a few zingers and walk away with some bruises, but no doubt your fond memories and friendships made during the game will last a lifetime.

SharePoint MVPs are unlike any other MVPs in any program at Microsoft.  They are the coolest, most laid back, down to earth, salt of the earth, type people.  They watch reality TV, they play XBOX 360/Wii, Guitar hero 3, love Disney world, discuss Iphones and technology in general.  You might even find a Macbook Pro or 2 or 3.  They hang out at SharePint type gatherings, and when they get together you find them in large groups all willing and racing to pick up the tab.  The friendships I’ve built with MVPs are stronger than anyone local or as strong than any of my friendships I’ve built over the last 10 years.  I’d take a bullet for nearly any one of em, and that’s not saying much ’cause I know they’d do the same for me.

So beyond it being just the coolest most elite crowd to hang with, I find there are some very obvious…

Benefits to being a SharePoint MVP.

1. Friendships to last a lifetime

2. The DL and Networking – This distribution list of the smartest SharePoint people on the planet has the quickest response time for any SharePoint Q/A.

3. Early access to bits and info – These folks do get pinged with info like the announcement that this was going to be the last 32 bit version.

4. Feedback/Consulted – You better believe it that the SharePoint product group listens to this group.  If they aren’t they are truly shooting themselves in the foot or eating their feet (putting their feet in their mouths).

5. Celebrity Status – If you think you feel like a rockstar for having  a cool blog, or by being a speaker at an event, become an MVP.  People around the world will take notice and your blog or speaking engagement will take another step up.

(6. There are some software and licensing and partner perks as well.  These add up.)

First let me give you Lawrence’s list that he’s put out publicly on becoming an MVP.

From Lawrence Liu:

What/who are the MVPs? MVPs are individuals, who are awarded Most Valuable Professional status by Microsoft for their deep technical expertise, product knowledge, continuous feedback, and consistent advocacy of the “voice of the customer." Their contributions help Microsoft evolve its programs and products. MVPs are thought leaders committed to helping others get the most out of their experience with Microsoft products and technologies. For more information about the SharePoint MVPs, go to http://MSSharePointCommunity.com/MVPs.

How to become a SharePoint MVP

1. Good and valid involvement and responses to SharePoint community forums.  There are other forums, but these are the ones that are highest priority for the product team.

2. Blogging, share what you learn as a dev, IT Pro, consultant, or trainer.  This is what being part of the community is about.

3. Leadership and active participation in SharePoint user groups.  Everyone loves cool user group, but the difference between a boring user group and a cool one is the networking and people willing to participate and give back.

4. Speaking at Global TechEds, SharePoint focused Conferences (inside and outside of MS),

5. Writing/Authoring and solid contribution of Books, White papers, articles, newsletters, magazine articles, TechNet/MSDN and so on.

From the MVP Community site there are some further details on the nomination process and what is actually being counted or looked at.  This is quoted from the SharePoint Community Portal.

If you’re interested in becoming a SharePoint MVP, please first read the official overview and FAQ for the Microsoft MVP program. Then consider making the one or more of the following contributions on a regular basis to the SharePoint community:

  • Provides a significant number of useful answers on a regular basis to questions in SharePoint team blogs, community forums, and/or newsgroups.
  • Publishes original content (e.g. via a blog or website) and/or tools (e.g. via CodePlex) that are useful to a significant number of people in the SharePoint community.

  • Presents or co-presents SharePoint oriented sessions frequently at major conferences (e.g. MS TechEd, MS SharePoint Conference, SharePoint Connections).
  • Leads or actively participates at SharePoint oriented user groups or code camps.
  • Nominated and vouched for by at least 3 current SharePoint MVPs.

 

Obviously there’s a level of expertise and visibility where you starts to stand out in the crowd.  I know there are some super smart consultants who are not MVPs.  There are a ton of them.  Why?  Most of them are too busy to give back or to share.  At least that’s what they tell me.  Too busy to write the white paper or post the blog.  It was personally my No. 1 goal after leaving Microsoft.  It actually was tough for me at Microsoft to not be able to be an MVP and an employee at the same time.  After hanging out with such cool people I wanted to be one of them as are many that know them.

I should also mention there are a few things you can do to loose your MVP status. This is the Joel list, not an official list obviously, but #1 is a sure thing.

1. Join Microsoft

2. Stop posting to your blog or slow down your community involvement, forums, speaking, writing, etc…  If people wonder what happened to you… this is a sure sign.

3. Bash SharePoint without a reason (this one likely isn’t listed anywhere, but your fellow MVPs will make sure of this).  Giving constructive feedback with reason is highly encouraged.  If you can make your voice heard with Microsoft first, that would be the preferred method.  You don’t need to bash on a blog before talking to a MS rep or preferably your account manager or MVP lead or even better a SharePoint (Technical preferred) Product Manager.  (They’ll get the info to the PMs.  They are usually pretty heads down, but if you’re ever talking to one, give them a piece of your mind… I mean give it to them straight.  Let them know what is important.)

I can’t really go through this list without naming a few names of people to talk to.  Bob Fox is a good guy to know, so are the leaders and personalities in the training companies at Ted Pattison Group, SharePoint Experts, Mindsharp, U2U, and Combined Knowledge.  I think you’d find the highest concentration of SharePoint MVPs in those groups.  I do encourage you to try to track down an MVP at TechEd, they have a booth at TechEd.  You can ask them all the questions you want.  It is something that will accelerate your career and the interactions you have with the SharePoint MVPs will be ultimately thing that will change or influence your career and ultimately your life!

The Motley Crew of SharePoint MVPs in Orlando at Shuttle Launch

The possibilities are really endless… You may find yourself going to the top of the Eiffel tower with an MVP or two, climbing the top of a huge bridge or going to the Sydney Zoo/Aquarium, or watching the space shuttle take off with a whole gaggle of MVPs, dancing on a pole/going to an ICE bar, dancing at all the clubs at Pleasure island, exploring the best clubs of Kuala Lumpur, working on MOC tests, stacking red bulls in Sydney, and even dancing with a Malaysian idol runner up (yep both of us), eating Durian, Disney backlot and fireworks, sledding and tubing in Dubai, paintball and pool, eating lots and lots of the best steak and seafood… Parties, parties and more parties…  (Caution, fun and adventure ahead… Contrary to what you’ve heard, you don’t have to drink to enjoy the MVPs.  Pineapple Juice is totally cool.)

<update 5/13/08>

I highly recommend subscribing to their RSS Feeds.  Here’s a link to theSharePoint MVP English Language feed.

After this post I ran into an interesting post from Mosslover (Becky Isserman) who aspires to being an MVP in her post titled "So I want to be an MVP."

The post itself is interesting, and the comments are even better.  I really enjoyed AC’s comments…

"The MVP is an award given for your past contributions to the community for a specific product (for me, MOSS) over the previous 12 months. The award is only good for one year. The way I like to describe it is that its an award for what you do above and beyond your day job. How do you keep it? Do the same stuff. Some classic metrics are actively blogging ORIGINAL and useful content, helping others in the MSDN online forums, presenting at user groups, writing articles, participating in CodePlex projects (but this isn’t nearly as important), etc.

Then, someone (MSFT employee / product MVP) notices and we nominate you. It isn’t something you go out and request… it is something that just happens. That’s when the whole analysis process starts."

Lawrence’s comments are good too "… love the product and the community around it, not the MVP status for it. That’s an important distinction to remember. The MVP award, especially the one for SharePoint, has many benefits, but those benefits can be abused by people with agendas different from loving the product/community. Just keep doing what you’re doing because you love it rather than shooting for the MVP award, and you will be an MVP sooner rather than later."

What’s good about both of these comments are they both try to set the expectation that if you’re looking for the "MVP" status to get recognition, then you’re going at it wrong.  If you are aspiring for greatness and are sincere then go for it, but don’t be dissapointed, it is a very small and tight group.  Despite some of the comments that would say don’t go for it, it will just happen, I’d disagree. 

I think it’s a fine thing to aspire to.  MVPs are cool, and contributing to the community with original content is something I’d highly encourage as well.  Unless you first contribute and then see what the return is you’d never have known how great it feels to have a blog that people read or care about.  The first time I had someone praise my blog, I was so floored.  I’m still taken back when someone says my blog is a SharePoint bible.  It feels great, and encourages me to continue my efforts.  Not for MVP status, that’s not why I blog.  But I’d say… If you never try you’ll never know how good it feels to blog, or contribute to the community.  If MVP aspirations encourage you to do it, then go for it.

</update>

 

Insights: Why SharePoint Projects Fail

I’ve been reading the musings of a very insightful chap at Cleverworkarounds.com.  Very, very impressive indeed.  Paul Culmsee does an amazing job of covering the IT decision makers and a few good bones to chew on for the IT implementers.  From ROI, Planning, Branding, Compliance, and content as deep as Disk I/O he speaks from his gut and gives it to you like he sees it.

I’m not going to tell you he’s wrong on right, since I’m not going to take them point by point, but I am impressed by the insights and wanted to tack on some of my own musings on the topic of failed SharePoint projects.  Love some of the images, and I got permission to use them.  I also recommend you do take the time to read through the 5 post series he’s put together on this topic.  Why?  Cause I want to make sure you don’t fall into chaos, anarchy, or any "SharePoint gone Wild" scenario.  We all want successful SharePoint deployments… well accept SharePoint Hellboy (the Satan of the SharePoint world), someone I met once through blog comments.  He wants there to be lots of failed deployments.  So if you want Hellboy to win, then don’t read this…

  • Why do SharePoint Projects Fail? – Part 1
  • Why do SharePoint Projects Fail? – Part 2
  • Why do SharePoint Projects Fail – Part 3
  • Why do SharePoint Projects Fail? Part 4
  • Why do SharePoint Project Fail? Part 5
  • Let me put these to you in what I’d consider top reasons.  First I’d recommend you look at my 10 Steps to Success Governance Deck, since I’m going to consider that supplemental material.  I hope to publish that in a TechNet article or something in the near future.

    Thinking that your Developers are Your Administrators or visa versa as a Great Way to save money (Think Again!)

    This should have a few other titles and let me give them to you.  You employ Jack, yep the Jack of all trades.  He dabbles in development and wants to fulfill you dream of seeing all the documents in a single web part on the home page, so he’s done it.  3 reasons that’s bad.  One he didn’t read the article or MSDN that explains the critical importance of disposing of objects, cause he hasn’t had time to follow real SharePoint development.  (By the way, it’s as important as adding sufficient RAM.) Two he didn’t get a chance to test out his tree control and dynamic navigation in a test environment, but it worked on his desktop, so it has to be good, and he’s also given great aggressive dates, so it wasn’t outsourced since it was soooo easy to build and could be deployed so quickly.  Now you’re wondering why you’re having perf issues, your environment keeps crashing, and you don’t know what is custom and what isn’t.  You had to fire Jack, or he left ’cause he became a SharePoint rockstar because "No One" knows SharePoint Development and Administration… (except Jack).  Even if someone did know both, you wouldn’t want to give them access to the development environment and production, cause it would break your processes around change management.

    You bought SharePoint ‘Cause it does everything

    (Cleverworkarounds.com – Thanks Paul)

    baby DM

    Those that buy SharePoint for BI, Collab, DM, RM, Portal, blogs, wikis, and on and on, and try to do all that with a single deployment, let alone a single server, and tried to scrap existing projects across the enterprise are now looking at this single web application and saying what did we do?  All those promises and I’ve got 80% of what I need.  Uh Oh.  What a platform right?  Well, if you’re ok with the 80% then you’re golden.  If you’re looking for 105% you’re going to be doing custom development till the cows come home, and they don’t want to come.  It’s the folks that glob onto records management and think that SharePoint comes fully featured and will solve all their digital asset management needs right out of the box that worry me.  I love SharePoint.  I think it’s an awesome platform, and an awesome application.  My biggest worry is the person who ripped out Cognos and plugs in Excel services and wonders where the Nth feature is.  It’s an easy to use, it is BI for the masses, but it takes discipline.

    Unfortunately NO document management system can be thrown in and have people just use it and require no process, planning, or framework.  If you don’t care how loose your document management is then you’ll be pleased, but you’ll end up with collaboration or a delegated form of document management and hopefully some other PM will pick up the pieces and run with it.

    The built it and they will come form of document management is rough, but as a service it can be facilitated under the right circumstances.  If anyone can have a site, how are they attracted to your site and your rigid Document Management processes?

    I tell customers that if they want to best take advantage of SharePoint they need to understand it’s history and where it came from a little bit.  They don’t need to know the features intimately, but to understand WSS 2.0 and SPS 2003 high level, they can understand where collaboration and document libraries were and where they are.  Microsoft does a decent job, maybe the best (I think so) at integrating with Office and that’s where most companies come from.  Starting from the user, Microsoft’s SharePoint offering is the easiest to use to upload a document, download a document, do check in/check out, add some required meta data.  That alone is huge and powerful.  Add on basic wikis and basic blogging capabilities and you’ve got quite the product… keep going and add rich search capabilities, KPIs, tasks lists, workflows, and on and on, and you have quite the rich feature set that will stack up well against anything.

    Providing so much in one box is actually the challenge for your deployment project.  If you expect to do something with everything, and integrate it individually with each team and group and your project will be endless and doomed.  Especially if you go to each group for requirements across all those capabilities.  The two week deployment that turns into two years can result from trying to do the right thing for every team with every buzzword in the product in a large company.

    You have to focus on what your business needs are generally and start with the groups that have the need that justified the purchase, then track the ROI and have those metrics before you release it.  Also because of all of these capabilities all in one box, maybe you have very specific scenarios and services you plan for hosting SharePoint inside your company.

    Unforunately I can’t be at every deployment and there aren’t enough MVPs on the planet to be at every large deployment or customer need around the globe.  So use caution.  I’ve given some recommendation around choosing partners and determining what is somewhat safe custom code.  Remember if you take some, be sure it’s a solution and make sure you know how to remove it especially if there’s a component that is on the page (like a web part).  Those are some of the hardest to remove in a clean way.

    KISS… Keep it simple stupid.  That’s what I have to tell people so they don’t start with the complex.  You can turn a simple SharePoint deployment into a very complex system very very quickly. (Just create some custom site and list definitions or download them from somewhere like maybe some of those custom app templates.  Just be careful if you do.  Problem is, you don’t know how to be careful that early in the game.

    Reliability is King… So why Destroy your reliability before you start?

    I get most frustrated and saddened by green field (new) deployments that…

    1. Don’t allocate enough hardware (for high availability given the requirement, have no dev, test, or place to test service packs, even)

    2. Don’t allocate dedicated SharePoint resources (An Exchange or AD Admin as your SharePoint Admin is just a bad idea (no offense Exchange guys)) See the first issue for more explanation.

    3. You have to change everything including the site settings UI before you release the product to your users.  Custom UI especially navigation has got to be the #1 reason for crazy performance issues.  It’s also the #1 reason people say the product doesn’t scale.  Sure they later like to point at list scalability, but lists are just not well understood.  Poor lists 🙁  People complain about list scalability without understanding that they can scale, you just have to know what you’re doing.

    4. Every desktop a developer…  Everyone having SharePoint Designer and Administrator rights is a bad combination.

    5. Assemblies required?  Why? Ask yourself 3 times and then go ask a few others if you think you need assemblies before you’ve deployed for the very first time.  I’m telling you and retelling you the more OOB the more stable your environment will be.  Custom code introduces change and moving parts.  The more inexperienced the developer, the more moving parts and likelihood of reliability and performance issues.

    Often SharePoint Projects are doomed from the start because there is no budget

    When SharePoint is sold as the cheapest, easiest option and all the budget is spent on hardware, or not even that, they went with the desktop or old server in the rack, it’s doomed from the start.  SharePoint requires SQL, SQL requires RAM/CPU, SharePoint requires RAM/CPU and whatever other resources it can get.  Resources are very important.  These days it is not unusual to hear about Web Front Ends with 16 or 32 GB of RAM.  Not unusual to hear of people are spending as much on RAM as they are on the quad proc quad core servers they bought.  Sad but true.  The bang for the buck in these systems is in the cores and in the RAM.  I’m a fan of blades.

    What happens when you run out of money?  A neglected SharePoint environment is amazingly resilient until it 1) runs out of physical resources including disk 2) passwords reset due to policies 3) some bottleneck including Disk I/O, RAM, (CPU not so much)

    Oh yeah, did we forget to check the backups!!!  Is anyone doing any clean up?  How are we saving by not doing anything?  Ok, so maintenance is important.

     

    SharePoint has a lot of new areas and still has some growing pains (Documentation and Customer Deployment Challenges and New Experiences)

    So, despite the fact that we’re on V3 and SharePoint is the hottest thing on the planet, we still don’t know everything.  It’s true we don’t.  We also know it’s huge, it’s big, it’s as complex as you make it.  It can touch everything in a datacenter and be the UI for everything as well.  These days everything from provisioning of accounts, to password resets, and managing your extranet to providing customer and sales opportunities, to providing financial forecasts.  I know I only missed a few other hundred or thousand things that it potentially could be doing for you.

    This doesn’t mean waiting, that’s the worst thing you can do.  The best thing you can do is to get it in.  Get your IT managing it centrally, get them offering a service, get them working with your departments and start with the easy stuff.  I have the concept in my head around a real BPIO model.  A model for where a business is, and where SharePoint fits into that maturity.  If you’re new to SharePoint my recommendation would be to start simple (master pages are ok), and attempt to use out of the box features before you change everything out from underneath IT.  First, this helps your IT group know what to expect OOB, and next it prepares them for what happens when things become moving parts.

    When the assembly line first showed up and started making automation simple, the design wasn’t to swap out the employees and make people do different parts of the job or to change the belts underneath.  It was about replaceable parts. 

    You could have anything you wanted as long as it was a black Model T.  Later you could have other colors, but in the beginning it was simple, and focused.

    Software quality was rated the most important service provided by IT.  If that’s the case, then stabilization, change control, and learning how to support what you’ve got out of box before parts start changing.

     

    Choose Your Own Adventure and Documentation

    <Image removed temporarily>

    (Used with Permission from CleverWorkArounds.com)

    When you can do anything you want and no one can give you clear scenarios and usage examples and case studies.  (sure you can find case studies, but can you find the real use scenarios in there?  I don’t think so.

    The biggest challenge I’ve seen with TechNet documentation is the scenarios.  SharePoint is too big to be taken in one or three or five or even twenty five scenarios and be complete.  By taking a dozen or so, and trying to come up with core content we’ve ended up with a bit of choose your own adventure.  You run along jump down a rabbit hole and sometimes you end up coming out the other end, and other times it’s a dead end.  How often do you land in the nest a trap or finding the rabbit?

    I use to hold my finger in the book as I went down the choice, with browsers I open new tabs.  When I have twenty tabs, I find IE doesn’t like me very much.  I usually try to stick with no more than about 10 tabs per browser and then add more browsers, but I do often get lost.  Where I end up starting back at the top or going to your favorite search engine and starting again.

    So this challenge of putting together documentation based on choices is tough, but so is your own deployment.  You’re going to find that your deployment is the same as many others, but also very unique the farther you go down the customization and choices rabbit hole.  What are we talking about now, Alice in Wonderland?  Then I must be the Cheshire Cat.  Smiling at your deployment and offering advice.  I’m not the Queen running around saying off with their heads… that’s someone else, and if they are in your environment you’re reading this here, maybe not first, but as a reminder of the reality that the Queen lives.

    My heart is in Myanmar – SharePoint for Disasters

    If any group/organization involved in the efforts to help people affected by the Cyclone in Myanmar needs a SharePoint Expert I am happy to devote my skills toward the effort.  I would love to leverage my skills to help these people.  You can contact me at joleson@yahoo.com.  I’ve spent a few weeks the last 2 summers in South East Asia and love the people and various cultures.  I will be back in August for TechEd South East Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia.  I’ve spent some time in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
     
    I know from experience that SharePoint was used with Katrina, and other disasters and could quickly be mobilized/setup and configured if needed.  It doesn’t make sense for me to set this up without it being coordinated with other efforts already under way.  If internet access is a problem, then potentially this could still be coordinated, but in other ways.
     
    Here’s 5 simple ways it could be used.
     
    1. Dynamic Communication/publishing platform on information people looking for news.
    2. Tracking of people (people that are found or info on those looking for loved ones). Including contact lists, pictures, profiles, with or without security
    3. Collaboration/Coordination of service work and supplies
    4. Extranet collaboration between companies assisting in the effort
    5. Search and aggregation portal.  A single place for aggregating information across multiple backend or other web infrastructure.
     
    I was chatting with an MVP who is also interested in helping.  We are reaching out to the Gates Foundation,  Red Cross and anyone who will listen. 
     
    There’s a good article on Microsoft’s web site about being a good corporate citizen and info on Disaster Relief and technology.  There’s information on SharePoint and Groove and how they can be of use in a disaster.  Also some references to NetHope a consortium of 22 NGOs.
     
    I highly recommend reading the ECB report on emergency relief and technology and its role.  I really hope that we as IT people can actually make a difference to peoples lives.
     
    Here’s a simple example of an app that could be built on SharePoint.  It’s a safe and well site where people can register and people can look for people that are lost.
     
     
    I think the restrictions are too high.  The information you get out of it doesn’t seem that rich vs. what you’re required to get any info out of it.  Phone numbers plus names is too restrictive I think.  People are obviously electing to be found.  Think about facebook, with just a name you get a picture and a list of the person’s friends and status with so much more comes with one more click.  I wonder if facebook itself with status will be used in future disasters to determine if you are safe…  Social networking can bring people together, can it also bring safety?
     
    I put a post together a few months ago on how I think SharePoint and Non Profits are an Awesome mix.
     
    Additional Resources
     
    SharePoint for Non Profits: http://www.sp4np.org/ – A forum with links and feeds
     
    Susquehanna has commitments and mission to help Non Profits
     
    Cyclone image from NASA

    Recap of SharePoint Middle East Trip – Part 3 – The Final Installment

    Ok.  After an amazing time in Jerusalem and an incredible couple of days at Avi’s house seeing Israel up close and personal I have to be very thankful for the wonderful opportunity I had in staying with him and his family over Shabbat (Sabbath).  Wow, what an amazing life experience.  Avi, and his family have special place in my heart forever. (You can find his version of this on his Blog (MOSS is my middle name (in hebrew))) Incredible… the spirit is still very strong as I think about this experience.

    Middle East 08 056 Middle East 08 960

    I think we both learned a lot from each other.  I have a lot of respect for the Jews.  After I got back one of the first things I did was go to the Holocaust museum.  Very sad. It as well is something that stood out in my trip to Amsterdam.  I highly recommend the Anne Frank House.  You have to see that some time in your life.  We need to make sure this doesn’t repeat itself anywhere in the world with any people, and as I say this I know there are real people being killed in Sudan, Somalia, and Burma/Myanmar.  Very sad.  Some day I hope we have the answer to end the killings.  For now I say it’s awareness and encouraging people to listen and try to see other people’s perspectives.  That’s definitely the lesson learned.  We all need to broaden our perspectives and attempt to understand each other, and walk a few steps in each others shoes.

    One moment that stood out on this trip was the late night Todd, Muhanad (Mo), Bander, Alex and the rest of the Jordan gang hung out where we talked about Palestine, and America, and the future.  It was a very open dialog where everyone talked and everyone listened.  It was a very peaceful discussion.  Very heartfelt.  I had started a conversation with Mo and Muhammed Zayed a few days earlier on our long drive and it was great to hear everyone’s perspectives.  I wish you could have all been there.  This SharePoint moment of real collaboration.  The world could have stopped and listened and we would have peace during those moments.

    So after one more run through Jerusalem with Avi and seeing a military museum and trying to make it to the Garden tomb, and one more time through the alley ways, I got dropped off at the airport in Tel Aviv. 

    Middle East 08 001 Middle East 08 015

    As I was taking it all in I got asked for my itinerary, and I said I only had a copy on my phone.  The guy asked me to step out of line.  He took me over to the screening area and they had me assigned to a couple of young ladies.  They again asked me if I had my itinerary and I said it was on my phone.  I explained I was going to Dubai through Amman.  For what they asked…  "The Dubai SharePoint Conference," I explained.  Then they asked me what SharePoint was, and after that it was what are you talking on, and then where are your slides, and why didn’t I print them out.  The questioning continued for another 15 minutes.  After going into governance with the airport authorities I guess I still wasn’t very convincing.  🙂  I was going to point them to my blog, but they didn’t seem too interested.  The part that really got me into trouble was when they asked me who I worked for.  Well… I use to work for Microsoft.  Can I see your badge, can I see your work credit card?  I obviously didn’t have either as I just got rid of them.  I did have one business card left, but it was bent and they weren’t impressed.  I handed them a few other business cards and one from one of my MS contacts in Tel Aviv,  Karen El Sar.  They were debating calling, but figured it was planted or something, so they moved on to more questioning and then carefully scanned all my bags, twice.  One guy asked, why were you in Indonesia?  "Surfing," I explained.  That’s essentially what I did when I was there.  I thought that was a better explanation than to see the monkey forest in Bali which is closer to reality.  (These pictures of me are in Bali Indonesia in August)

    100_0520 100_0501

    So the scrutiny continued.  I kept looking down at my watch.  There was now only 1hr and 30 minutes till the plane was to leave and I was still in security and I didn’t even have my ticket yet.  I was getting more and more nervous which obviously made them more nervous about me.  So they then finished scanning my bags and a guy asked me, "Do you ever want to come back to Israel?"  Yes, I said.  "Then come with me…"  He took me over to a special area for a more intimate scan in a closet area with a drape.  Now I was getting really worried.  He patted me down then asked me to turn around and more patting, then asked me to sit down and he did some serious rubbing on my feet.  I was thinking I was going to have to drop by pants, but it didn’t go any further, thank goodness.

    I was then let loose.  I asked for someone to help me get through.  They gave me a person to walk with me, but didn’t seem to have much authority as people were walking all over them.  As I got to the desk they explained they didn’t have my ticket and I’d have to go to the ticket booth.  So we then ran to the ticket booth, they printed an intinerary and we went back.  I said it was to Dubai and he said, no this is only to Amman.  Grrr.  I said no, this should be 2 tickets with stop over in Amman.  I said, NO, it should be both.  He said he didn’t have it.  The last guy at the ticket counter had them both, so I insisted.  He said I don’t have it, and I said, Yes you DO.  He said See for yourself.  So I walked over the belt and climbed over and sure enough he didn’t have it.  I had to run back to the ticket counter to get them to print out both tickets.  They couldn’t find it for another 15 minutes and finally they got it.  With less than an hour they took my bags and finally sent me through.  I hadn’t been through customs yet, so I was definitely getting nervous, but at least my bags were on their way.  My escort left and I was on my way.

    Customs was a long line, but when I got there, I was nervous they were going to freak out since I didn’t have the stamp on entering.  Yep.  I had explicitly asked to not have the stamp as I do travel to a lot of Muslim countries which aren’t so fond of Israel.  They had to do some checking, but they had allowed me in without the stamp, and were now letting me out without the stamp.  Woo Hoo!  I made my flight and was on my way.  It was pizza hut in Amman in the airport.  ("The supreme pizza looked like it had sausage, but I guess it was beef?")  Arriving in Dubai I ran into one of the Jordanian partner companies/SharePoint User Group guys.  It was cool to see someone had I met.  It was 1:30am as I walked out of the airport to find a HUGE line for taxis and no one waiting from my hotel.  I had been here a few days earlier and knew the hotel was right around the corner.  I found my Jordan buddy and convinced him we’d try and walk if we had to, but then I turned on my American charm and flagged a taxi as the traffic cop said I couldn’t and I tried to pretend like I didn’t understand him.  I told my new buddy to jump in and we were off. 

    The next morning after walking down stairs to the event, I saw Todd Klindt, Patrick, Sabah, Jerome Thiebauld, and a few other speakers and organizers who were all nervous that I wouldn’t make it. (Me too :))  Todd was ready to take over for me… Todd’s cool like that.  In the picture on the left you see me with a couple of cool attendees.  I think they are from Oman.  The Emirates wear white and white head scarves.  On the right, it’s Todd, me, and a regional .NET speaker who covered perf and backup.

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    It was great to already have a fan base that was there at the conference (my Jordanian friends).  Mo and Bander and Alex really took care of us.  Alex kept a good log of the trip.  Here’s his recap of Day 1, and Day 2. We had all sorts of fun things to do and Mo had a hot car which we squished 6 of us in.

     

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    Muhanad, Atif, Alex, Joel, Todd, Adnan

    The first day I did a session on Admin Fundamentals.  The core thing I was trying to get across was the building blocks.  It’s so important to understand that you can’t just go with the defaults.  You need to understand what you’re doing before you crack it open and install it in production.  I also tried to get across the part about avoiding basic installs, and avoiding WFE installs (two common mistakes).  Anyone installing SQL express, I just have to feel sorry for them.  I had some really great conversations with attendees on topics of backup, configuration, and sizes of content databases.  People question portals verses collaboration.  Still very confusing for them.  A lot of questions on upgrade too.  One guy said his upgrade took his sites and turned them into site collections.  I tried to convince him that wasn’t the case, and told him to check again.  Upgrade definitely shouldn’t be turning webs into site collections.  There are plenty of problems with upgrade, but that isn’t one of them.  The other one they pointed out was creating sites from the site directory creates sites and not site collections.  You can definitely easily fix that one.  Ben Curry has a simple enough explanation on setting it up right.  I know I have blogged on it at least twice, but mine weren’t step by step instructions I don’t think.

    The governance presentation in the afternoon focused on my top 10 list for avoiding chaos and ensuring success.  The real key points were having an exec sponsor, mission, solid information architecture, and policies/governance plan.  Training and educated team go without saying?  Keeping it simple rounded out the list which I see people over and over complicating their environment without the proper knowledge how to even run it out of the box without first changing what they’ve got.

    The most bizarre conversation I had was with a guy from Iran.  He explained we didn’t have a language pack in Farsi (Persian Language Pack).  I seemed to have remembered at least one or two mails on the topic back in Redmond.  He explained to me, that it was probably him.  He also said, he didn’t take No, or "well take it into consideration next time" for an answer.  He built his own!  He explained he is aware of more than 20 sites exposed to the Internet in Persian!  Impressive.  I told him if he sent them to me I’d post them.  Here’s the full list.  I have to laugh a little about http://www.iranianhospital.ae/.  Not at the site, the site is slick.  It’s just we had a close and personal experience with Iranian Hospital in Dubai.  I’m sure we were at a different location anyway, but very ironic that they had a SharePoint connection.  Shows how small the SharePoint world really is.  If you happen to get stuck in a tall tower in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find they use SharePoint too.  Long story, for another time.

    After the conference, all of us wanted to get out and see Dubai.  First we went to the massive Mall and saw the ski slope, and then on to 360.  360 is only the coolest club in Dubai.  It’s a 360 view of yachts with Birj al Arab in the background and Jamiera hotel.  Bander totally knew what to do when we got there.  Pinapple Juice.  You’ll find Todd pointing out Starbucks and doing the ski pose for you in front of Ski Dubai.  Don’t mind the lady behind him.  He’s skiing.

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    So Mo got sick and Bander and I took him to the hospital.  I felt really bad.  I did my comforting before the Iranians had their way and kicked me out.  I had a presentation in the morning, so I caught a cab back to the hotel. 

    The next morning it was Advanced Admin, basically global deployments with Intranet, Extranets, Internet sites with info on caching and firewalls. 

    The keynote featured a number of large deployments with some cool demos.  A few big deployments with various governmental organizations came out of the wood work.  An impressive number of English, Arabic, and other middle eastern languages.  West Azarbaijan’s governmental Portal or How about the Ministry of Science and Technology?  There were 600+ attendees and these attendees weren’t brand new to SharePoint, many of them were in there 3rd and 4th years of deployment.  I even heard that Syria cracked the MOSS key.  Not that I endorse that, I’m just saying there are a lot more SharePoint deployments in the middle east than anyone realizes.  Thanks Neo for the links and good luck with your consulting and deployments.

    I should mention, the ENTIRE conference was in English, so it was very easy to get around and everyone really everyone was very patient with me and even though most it may be their second language, we all got along great.  I tried out a head scarf I’d picked up in Jordan.  Mo (left) and Bander (right) enjoyed it.  I thought everything was cool, until someone said nice costume.  Then I realized it might be offensive or seem like I was making fun, which wasn’t my design.  If anything I was trying to fit in… not that the person was trying to say all that, but it got me thinking.

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    The last night, we went back to the mall, Todd and I didn’t miss the opportunity to go on the inside of the ski hill.  Todd hasn’t skied much so we decided to go sledding.

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    Then we went to the speaker dinner, great local food with a huge buffet spread.

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    We made some new friends and I got to know Sabah and Patrick, and we even hung out with a white African princess.  It was great to spend time with the whole speaker crew like Eray and Jerome and meet Joseph Khalaf.  There’s always a party going on with Joe.

    It was that night that I was beat.  After the dinner party, we went back to the hotel and met up with the Jordanian crew and had our deep thoughts conversation.  Very deep ties.  Mo, Alex, Bander, any of you guys… call me if you’re ever in the US or within a few thousand miles 🙂

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    So with that, the next morning, Todd and I would hang out in the pool until it got late, then we’d try and grab lunch as we realized we should really be at the airport.  We made it thanks to my charm and my business class seat. 🙂  You’re welcome Todd.

    The Istanbul crew… seen below was a subset of the Dubai crew, but we had some bonding moments, so we were ready to take on whatever was ahead of us.  After we arrived in Istanbul we saw the sign was already up, so we got a shot.

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    (l-r) Todd, Jerome, Eray, Patrick, Joseph, Joel

    http://www.sharepointconferencedubai.com/speakers/Pages/default.aspx

    http://www.sharepointconferenceistanbul.com/en/speakers/Pages/default.aspx

    After that we went to Taxim, a great walking area in Istanbul and then caught some local food.  I’ve been all of the world, and Turkish food put up the first real challenge I’ve had in a long time.  The other middle eastern countries and Mediterranean food didn’t really have any conflicts, but I’d find that the cold yogurt fish dishes didn’t agree with me.  Joe and Patrick enjoyed a huge fish.  You could always find turkish coffee.  The juices I found, Cherry and Peach were very easy to get.  Pineapple was very easy to get and was everywhere in Dubai.

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    The next day, the conference started.  Immediately we noticed a difference.  First the keynote was half in English and half in Turkish.  The Audience a little bit smaller than Dubai was very Turkish.  We had interpreters, something we didn’t have in Dubai.  After my first session I was told I really needed to slow down.  Wish I could have heard that before I started.

    The room was tight, we’d end up calling it the closet before the conference was over.  We tried to move the IT Pro room to one of the larger rooms without success.  The other two rooms were fine.

    The attendees were still very excited about SharePoint and the partner NGS we met with the second night said he got more solid leads from this conference than from the floor in SharePoint Seattle!  That really surprised me.

    I did get some really interesting troubleshooting questions after my sessions.  One very specific question involved a document and a specific client.  Trying to troubleshoot it without looking at the actual machine was tough and virtually impossible, but it was nice to empathize and hypothesize what the client issue might be.

    By the end of the second day, we saw numbers drop off.  It was a Friday and traffic in Istanbul was BAD.  So we all understood and quietly celebrated when they decided to drop the ask the experts session.  I was anxious to see some culture.

    We went out for dinner and had more local flavor in an interesting alley.  Took us an hour to get to the restaurant unfortunately. (right Taxim)

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    Friday night with the conference ending a bit early a few of us who had sessions that ended earlier… Jerome, Joe, and Myself were able to take in the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque and even a quick tour of Hagia Sofia. (l-r, drinks, blue Mosque, grand bazaar, Hagia Sofia)

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    The next day, Jerome, Todd, and I all took the Bosphorus cruise.  It started at the Egyptian Bazaar also known as spice Bazaar, then the bus dropped us at our boat and we went on the Bosphorus river which separates Europe from Asia.  It was amazing seeing all these magnificent structures from the time of Constantine to present.  After that I took Todd on a tour through Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque inside both.  This time I decided we needed a tour guide to better appreciate Hagia Sofia.  He was a tough bargainer, and we were taking it down to the minute.  The whole experience was beautiful and we both enjoyed it.  (bazaar, mosiac in Hagia Sofia)

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    I had been wanting to see some cultural dancing really bad.  Our flight was at 5am, so we really needed to be heading to the airport around 2/2:30am to be safe.  I was going to have a nice reclining seat to Amsterdam and back to Seattle.  Todd’s was going to be a bit more challenging, so he wanted to get some sleep.  So, I booked a last minute Whirling Dervish and traditional music evening.

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    The Dervishes were great.  It was neat to see them spin without falling down.  I don’t think you need to watch them for an hour, you get the gist in about 15 minutes, but I let it soak in and tried not to fall asleep.  It was very cool, but I was pretty tired after 2 weeks of amazing fun.

    After the dancing I had one last crazy, insane adventure.  I was walking and trying to decide if I should grab some food, look for other things to see or just head back and get some sleep before my 2:00am wake up call.

    As I walked I met this guy from Greece who spoke pretty good english.  He was heading to Taxim to get some food.  After talking to him for a while I saw him as pretty harmless and we went to Taxim.  He bought dinner.  Something I wasn’t expecting.  Then we walked around Taxim the walking area.  It was Friday night and it was packed.  I was saying I needed to head back, but he wanted to get one drink.  So we stopped at his choice of bar for a few minutes.  He met some girls and bought them drinks.  After about 20 minutes I was needing to leave and as he went to pay they didn’t take his card.  He asked to split the bill which I agreed was ok.  They brought our cards back saying they needed or PIN numbers.  He wrote his down.  I said "You’re Crazy!"  We then went up and they plugged in some HUGE number in Turkish Lira.  I was like no, that’s not right.  My new Greek friend says, yeah, 500 Euro.  I said that’s like $1000 dollars.  He said no not that much, I was like… what is this?  He said it was Champagne that he bought for the girls.  I said this is a scam and gave them 50 Lira (like $20) and he pushed it back to me and said it wasn’t enough.  I grabbed my money and ran.  It was insane.  They didn’t even have juice or pop/soda.  Bad sign.  I guess I’m a wanted man… at least at that crazy little bar.  As I took a taxi back to the hotel I looked back on the experience and think I have some advice.  When someone you don’t know who’s part of your party is buying someone else drinks and you might end up paying, you should figure out how much it is that they are paying if you happen to be in Turkey.  It just might be $200 a glass.

    Thanks for a great time Todd.  I’m sure we both wouldn’t have been had by scam.  Istanbul, I won’t take it personally, this time.  I did have a great time.  Beautiful city… I highly recommend working on your traffic situation.

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    Social Networking at Dunder Mifflin

    I was watching an episode of The Office (one of my favorite shows) and the background is they are in a meeting and discussing the new web site.
    Apparently the social networking feature of the Dunder Mifflin Infinity web site was infiltrated by sexual predators.  Then Dwight pops up and says he doesn’t understand why the site needs social networking features at all, and others agree including Jim.  Ryan, the previous intern turned executive, explains it’s for a one stop shop experience, you’re chatting about music or the election and all that’s happening on the virtual paper store.
    Let me suggest another answer, I think his explanation is really missing the vision.  It’s not about the common chat on the web site, but more having real experiences that integrate with the products or content on the site, not simply enabling services that consumers will use, but integrating features that support your products and vision.  If you have a paper company there are more relevant ways of integrating social networking or web 2.0 experiences.  Here are a few ideas…
    Chat for example is integrated for interactive and immediate support or for presence integration for quick access to the document or site authors and contributors.
    Forums are integrated for community and allow real feedback.  MVPs or champions or moderators and even end users can flag content as inappropriate.  With content filtering such as with Sybari Antigen could scan and block content from being uploaded.  Approval and/or workflows is another way to prevent content from being allowed.
    Blogs do allow expression and I do encourage policies based on existing policies in the handbook for acceptible use policies for example.  Blogs are very real time, so moderation or review is recommended.
    Wikis in corporations are usually not anonymous and have real tracking.  Even wikis on the internet most often have accounts associated with them, so those that contribute false information can be tracked and disciplined based on policies.
     
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