SharePoint ShopTalk: One IT Pro's SharePoint Adventure: Lesson 1

Editors' Note: We met Toby Mai at the SharePoint 2010 launch event and were struck by his energy and enthusiasm for SharePoint, and his honesty. We asked him to keep us informed about his SharePoint adventure. Here is Lesson 1.

Three years ago I took a job as a Help desk support technician for a veterinary medical college at a state university. Having spent over 20 years working in different roles as an IT pro, I was very comfortable with the work and it seemed to be a great fit for me.
A little over a year later I was asked to take on additional responsibilities as a web server administrator in addition to my Help desk work. As so often happens, my work quickly grew to include not just what I was doing with the Help desk and web server administration but also to being a webmaster for the IT group’s website, playing with a Windows SharePoint Services (WSS 3.0) proof of concept test site for the IT group, and other responsibilities.

Despite all the work, I was finally getting comfortable with everything on my plate when I received a huge shock: I came back from a few days off and was told I was being moved out of the IT group altogether. I was reassigned from my current position to a new position in a recently created PR/marketing group within the college. I would be the IT person in the group and my primary responsibilities would be the webmaster for the college and to bring the college’s web presence into a web content management system—specifically SharePoint.

The web presence includes three primary websites and numerous subsites with upwards of a 100,000 web pages total. I was given about two weeks to finish and hand over my current work. After that my grand SharePoint adventure would begin.

What have I learned in the eight months since then? A lot! In fact, way too much to put down all at once. Up to this point though, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is this: SharePoint is HUGE and is quite overwhelming when first trying to get your mind wrapped around it. This was true in SharePoint 2007 but all the more so in SharePoint 2010.

Why do I say that is such an important lesson? Well one of the most essential things to me in life is to enjoy myself in my work, to be productive, and to make a valuable contribution. Most important of all is doing all that without losing my personal life with my family or feeling completely overwhelmed all of the time (not always easy to do in the world of IT and I haven’t always been able to accomplish it).

Here is what I feel would have been beneficial for me to hear eight months ago: SharePoint is massive. It can easily overwhelm you if you let it. Knowing that SharePoint is huge and overwhelming can be a very healthy safeguard if you use that knowledge to avoid being consumed by all that is SharePoint.

Many ask: “What is SharePoint and what can it do?” The answers: It is both a product and a development platform, and, What do you want it to do?

Given enough time and resources there isn’t much it can’t do as a business tool and as a platform to build on. So knowing that, to avoid letting it take over your life, you need to focus on what specifically you’re trying to accomplish and concentrate on those areas of SharePoint that will help you to do that. Don’t get too caught up in all the other cool features and abilities it has, especially in areas unrelated to your project. The body of knowledge on SharePoint is vast and deep, and it’s easy to get sidetracked.

Unfortunately there isn’t a flowchart somewhere that will lead you down the SharePoint path, stating that if you want to accomplish Task A with SharePoint then Step 1 do this, Step 2 do that. So keep focused on what you are trying to achieve with this mighty tool and leave off learning what you don’t need to know at the moment.

What I highly recommend is to type up your project goal, print it out, and hang it up where you can see it while you are working so you can always refer to it as you are learning SharePoint. Maybe focus on phase one or just the highest priority of your project. Make it specific but simple, not a long dissertation—something like “Web Content Management” or “My Sites.” That should help you keep your project objective in mind and not get sidetracked.

Another thing I learned is that SharePoint isn’t just about technology. What do I mean by that? I’ll explain on my next installment about my SharePoint adventure. I hope what I have learned about SharePoint over the last eight months and what I continue to learn going forward with my SharePoint adventure will in some way benefit others.

Toby Mai ([email protected]) is an IT pro with over 20 years of experience in network administration, IT support, and technical training. He is now working as a SharePoint WCM project manager and webmaster, and trying to learn all things SharePoint 2010.

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