Hi Leon, first of all, congratulations on being recognised as a Microsoft MVP! What were the first thoughts that went through your head when you heard the news?
I thought WOW!, is this a mistake, is this really true?! I was in the office that day, so I leapt in the air and let out a loud cheer! Then I had to explain to my colleagues what I was cheering about – obviously, they were all delighted for me. I ran downstairs to the meeting room and burst into my boss Simon’s meeting with our MD to let them know the good news. They were chuffed as well! I had a beaming smile for the rest of the day and don’t think I have stopped smiling since!
How did your Microsoft MVP journey unfold? What did you do to be successful in your nomination?
I guess I’ve always had a passion for learning. It started way back in 2009 in London at a small IT consultancy where I was presented with a SharePoint project as I had “experience” with building websites. Truth be told, I had no idea what SharePoint was and when I confessed this to my boss, he politely told me I needed to learn it fast! A steep uphill learning path followed, and I guess I’ve been on that path ever since.
A spell working in New Zealand followed, and in 2019, just as I was moving back to the UK, I decided to create my blog as a place to share my learnings in Microsoft 365. I find that writing about something really reinforces my knowledge of the technology and the possible scenarios it can be used for.
In 2020, as a little side project to demonstrate what SharePoint lists can do I styled a list using SharePoint view formatting to look like a London Underground line status board. The list was also updated in real-time as it was connected to the London Underground API to receive the latest line statuses and blogged about it. My blog was picked up by Chris Kent and Vesa Juvonen and they invited me to speak on a PnP community call which felt surreal as I didn’t think my content was worthy of appearing on this prestigious live event! Chris Kent supported me at the time and explained all about the Microsoft MVP Programme. He encouraged me to keep on doing what I’m doing and that one day I could become a Microsoft MVP. He advised keeping a spreadsheet of all the community activities I do.
I continued to blog regularly and contribute to open-source initiatives i.e. PnP PowerShell on GitHub. Last year, I took a great interest in SharePoint Syntex and started to blog about it frequently and was able to share some of my learnings with customers. This year I also started to speak at more online and in-person events around this technology.
Last June at the Commsverse conference I gave a presentation about Syntex. Afterwards, I was chatting to Kevin McDonnell, another MVP who very kindly complimented me on the community content I had been putting out. He asked if he could nominate me for an MVP award. I was honoured to get nominated, but still didn’t think I was worthy of the MVP award! I was just doing what I was passionate about and the nomination was a bonus.
To complete my nomination, I had to submit a list of all my contributions from the past year to Microsoft and answer some questions to support my nomination.
On September 1, I received that fantastic email – awarding me the MVP status! If I had to guess what made my nomination successful it would be the variety of different community contributions I’ve made – speaking online and at in-person conferences, blogging, contributing to open-source initiatives (PnP PowerShell, PnP Script Samples and PnP Syntex Samples) and also providing feedback to the SharePoint Syntex product team regarding Syntex.
Is there anything you would have done differently and what advice would you give your younger self?
I wish I had started blogging, speaking and contributing sooner. I was worried that nobody would be interested in my content and people wouldn’t find it helpful or wouldn’t turn up when I was speaking.
I’d say everyone has something they can share, which others can learn from.
Don’t get disheartened at the start of your community journey if you feel like your content isn’t getting much of an audience or engagement from others. At the start, I was hardly getting any readers to my blog and could have thought “what’s the point?”. But I persevered as I was also doing it for my own learning and slowly built up more connections after each blog. These connections would then share my blogs, invite me to speak at events, invite me to contribute to open source etc. The blog audience numbers started to increase. I found putting myself out there has led to some amazing interactions and I’ve met some great people I’ve learnt from and helped along the way. It’s never too late/early to get started!
A piece of advice for my younger self would be to get a free M365 developer tenant whilst learning and to try out existing and new M365 technology in an M365 demo tenant, because I now realise that I learn more efficiently when I can see the technology in action. I would tell myself to keep doing what I am passionate about and put myself out there more often and who knows what opportunities might come my way!
Is there any Microsoft technology that gets you particularly excited?
SharePoint Syntex is definitely up there for me. I’m a SharePoint man by heart, so I enjoy how SharePoint is still being improved and is the storage layer for most content in M365.
I love building customised search experiences with SharePoint search using the PnP Modern Search web parts and I’m looking forward to Microsoft Search getting better and better. So many exciting changes are coming to M365, it’s hard to keep up with it all!
Now that you have been named Microsoft MVP, what are your future career aspirations?
For now, I want to enjoy the MVP Programme and the opportunities it brings along. MVPs often get informed early on about new M365 features through MVP NDA briefings, regional MVP meetings or even the MVP Global Summit. I hope to continue doing what I love, which is learning about new technology and sharing this with others. I hope I can continue all of this and be recognised as an MVP for many years to come.
I am looking forward to meeting more members of the community and fellow MVPs to put a few faces to their names! There is a great community out there that I strongly encourage you to get involved in.
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