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My first 10 Years of SharePoint

Ten years ago, I was working as a Systems Engineer in an IT services company. Back then a lot of the work involved implementing physical server hardware (HP ProLiant servers), installing and configuring Windows Server, network infrastructure and implementing Exchange and SQL Server.

An opportunity came up to work on a project implementing Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS 2007) for a client. My only exposure to SharePoint had been the ‘CompanyWeb’ on Small Business Server.

The client had straight forward requirements and a basic out of the box install with a few document libraries was the initial deliverable. The next couple of years would see the site grow in a way we would later describe as “organic”, with subsites, more libraries, more subsites, lists, calendars, nonsensical navigation and the obligatory security mess. Despite this the users were (mostly) happy, possibility because anyone who asked was given Full Control without a second thought.

Roll forward a few years a decision was made to upgrade to the newly released SharePoint 2010 Server. The detach / attach content database method was chosen and while the upgrade itself was painless it didn’t address the structural issues. A steering group was formed and tasked with resolving issues and implementing more functionality. The navigation was improved, branding was added, custom SharePoint solutions were developed and deployed into the farm, the User Profile Service was implemented, InfoPath and SharePoint Designer workflows started to appear.

SharePoint started to get momentum in a few areas of the clients’ business, but others complained that “they couldn’t find things in search” and issues with permissions continued to generate support tickets on a regular basis. More customisations were made, some better than others. We learnt more about the GAC and manually editing Web.Config that we should have.

When Microsoft announced SharePoint 2013 the steering committee was convinced it would solve a myriad of problems from oversized Content Databases to Search issues and almost everything else. We tried a test upgrade and it failed. Customisations didn’t migrate well, the branding looked awful and it didn’t solve the legacy issues from more than 5 years of organic development.

A project team set about redesigning SharePoint from the ground up. A decision was made to focus on configuration rather than development so that future upgrades would be easier. Permissions were simplified and standardised on Contribute and Read rather than Full Control or nothing. The branding was refreshed and finally got the tick of approval from the comms team. Navigation was standardised across the entire site. Time was spent improving Search.

There were still some issues with SharePoint but user adoption had improved and some areas of the clients business we asking for sites to meet specific business needs such as policy development, forms and workflows for business processes, project areas etc. It was around this time that the client started asking for external users access for collaborating with partners and to give users access to forms and documents outside the office. IT weren’t keen on this and decided to implement a VPN solution which really didn’t make it easy to get to the things users needed.

Roll forward to 2018, ten years after I did the initial install and I’m in a meeting discussing migration to Office 365 including SharePoint Online. Collaboration both internally and externally were high on the priority list. They decided to go with Modern Team and Communication sites, document libraries will be migrated with the SharePoint Migration Tool. Related sites will be connected using Hub Sites, with shared site branding and navigation. We have a lot of work to do with forms and workflows, we’ll evaluate each one and decided if they come across as is or we rebuild with PowerApps and Flow.

This site in many ways has helped shape my career, it has taught me many lessons, kept me awake at night, given me moments of happiness and anxiety! In the beginning 99% of my work was around implementing the infrastructure and configuring SharePoint, these days infrastructure accounts for perhaps 5% of my work with SharePoint, the rest is spent working with business teams to get the most out of SharePoint and how to move to the cloud.

I never imagined where the MOSS site would end up after ten years and right now I’m wondering where it will go in the next ten.

 

 

 

 

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My kids want to code and it makes me nervous!

This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about “why we should learn to code”. I shared it on Facebook and it generated an interesting response from a friend I went to primary school with who is now faced with raising kids who are really into technology and want to learn to code! I think it is fantastic that her kids want to learn this stuff. What I didn’t think about was how scary this might be for a parent who doesn’t know much about this stuff. I am sure my parents had a similar fear when I was that age, 30 years ago, but about mathematics! Keep Calm Here are my opinions on some of the questions raised:

Question.1: Is the education system letting them down?

I don’t think the education system is letting us down but I do think it could do better. We need to think about technology in a holistic way and recognise that we won’t all be Software Developers, but chances are we will all engage with technology throughout our lives and careers. Teachers can provide the tools, but reality is you’re better learning some things yourself and Coding falls into that category.

Question.2: Should we be teaching them ourselves?

Definitely! I see it kind of like reading. A child reads at school only, they won’t develop the skill as fast as someone who reads at home and has parents who read to them. Coding is kind of like reading, combined with a bit of math and critical thinking. The good news is there are a lot of free resources online that make it easy to start learning, all that is needed is time and a little motivation. I’ve included some links below.

Questions.3: I am nervous…is this OK?

YES! You can expect to be asked complicated questions that might as well be in a foreign language. Think back to the days when you had quadratic equations in your homework. How do you think that made your parents feel? It is OK to be nervous, the trick is to have a strategy. Now with math my Dad would say “ask your mother”. In today’s world you might say “take a look on Google” or “have you tried breaking the problem down into smaller parts?” How hard can it be? Learning to code takes time but can also be a lot of fun. Why not learn with your kids at home. Here are a few tips for parents with wannabe geeks!

  • Sign your kids up to Code Academy – everything they need is online.
  • A beginners HTML and (basic) CSS course is a good place to start (age 10+)
  • Take baby steps and repeat. Coding is like learning a language, so repeating the lessons will reinforce the concepts and make it easier to remember the core concepts and syntax.
  • If you have older children then languages like JavaScript and Python are popular in schools and Universities.

My two step-daughters aged 11 and 13 have joined Code Club. They started out learning Scratch and have more recently moved onto Python. This is a great way to get kids excited about coding. It’s great to turn up 10 mins before the end to see the results of the activities and learn a little yourself.

Expectations:

Now just because your child genius is learning to code doesn’t mean they will become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Chances are they won’t become a Billionaire but they will never the less have many other fabulous opportunities. Learning to code will give them a skill they can use for the rest of their lives in many careers, not just IT – think engineers, accountants, managers, sales, marketing, education to name a few. Of course there is always the odd exception to that rule.

If you do happen to have a genius then don’t worry about learning to code yourself, teach them business skills!

What are you thoughts on this?