One of the understandings in communities of any kind is you get as much as you give, and the Microsoft community is no different. As a product marketing manager at AvePoint, Hunter Willis is an active member of the broader Microsoft community, giving into the community in the form of articles, webinars, presentations and more, and growing from the relationships he makes. He serves as president of his local SharePoint user group and spends his spare time — a rare commodity in the life of a new dad — volunteering and bookbinding.
Organizations Need to Learn How to Pivot and Grow
What's your proudest accomplishment — personal or professional — from 2019?
My proudest accomplishment of 2019 is learning to maintain a synergy of work/life activities. The best part of my life right now is definitely being a new dad, but I've loved getting more involved in the tech/user group community in Richmond, Va. Somehow I've managed to do that, volunteer and advance my career — all while staying sane.
What gives you hope in the tech world today?
With user groups, social media and publications like CMSWire, there is a big push for techies to be good people and bring actual value to businesses and the community with what they are doing. With outlets like Reddit, GitHub and Microsoft Community Forums, there are more learning sources than ever for technologists or people wanting to get into tech. This is to say nothing of free formalized learning from many resources out there.
It's very important too that organizations that want to utilize tech have resources to learn and understand what will actually bring ROI to their businesses. More efficiency means more growth and more jobs — through growing tech companies and growing non-tech companies that utilize more and more technologies for growth.
There is a big push right now for diversity and inclusion in all of this process that's coming from the tech world, which I think is fantastic as well.
Which of the articles you wrote for CMSWire this year was your favorite and why?
I really enjoyed my "Everyone is Drinking From the Firehose" series, because I talk to many organizations that are at various phases of digital transformation, and frequently they feel like they are the only ones having these problems, and feel powerless. Helping people who are feeling the pains that change management can cause and the people-related challenges of technology implementations know that 1) you are not alone and 2) there are things you can do to help mitigate those pains has made them feel empowered. At the same time, I help them understand that the traditional mindsets toward change management and technological advancement are not able to keep up with the modern pace of change. In fact, we need new ways of thinking that can enable organizations to pivot and grow fast enough to avoid disruption.
If you could wake up tomorrow and be an expert in one thing, what would it be and why?
My mind kind of fizzle-popped on this one ... there are so many things I would LOVE to learn how to do. Honestly, I would love to just have 20 years of various (successful) tech implementation experience, with the change management that goes along with it. I do a fair amount of writing. I love to write, but I mostly write about what I see happening and ways to prevent mistakes I've seen various organizations make over the years. The more I see, the more I learn and can communicate.
You can be an expert in any solution or technology, but without the experience to understand how to implement it to solve real world problems, it's a toy — no disrespect to the gaming community.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
I really love helping people and empowering my coworkers and people in our industry. Every time I solve a use case it feels like opening a Christmas present. People are usually very appreciative and eager to learn as well. When it comes to the SharePoint/Teams/Office 365 world, so many people have extensive backgrounds and are amazing experts in one technology or another. Say someone is an SQL expert or has years of Exchange admin experience. When you can help them fit in a SharePoint/Teams/Office 365 piece of a puzzle, it can help them complete their story so to speak.
No one can know all of this stuff, which goes for everyone, including me (I definitely love those "ah-ha" moments).
This is one of the reasons the community and forums are so important — I really enjoy the relationships I've found through the Microsoft community.
What's an important story you'll be tracking in 2020?
There is so much cool stuff in the works for Office 365/Teams that is rolling out over the next year, especially with Power Automate, Power Apps and the new SharePoint list capabilities ... not to mention the AI and insight features that continue to be added to One Drive and SharePoint. When the things that Microsoft is talking about over the next year are released, it will be significantly more efficient for users to collaborate, and for power users and technologists to build applications in Office 365. The ability to build a no-code/low-code application that can produce easily consumable results for an entire organization in just minutes is pretty powerful stuff. It's getting people to understand the how that is the hard part (change management rearing its head again ...).
What advice would you give someone starting out in your field today?
Just keep learning, and don't be discouraged. You will be knowledgeable and able to produce value far before you have any confidence in what you are doing. Keep a steady pace and always double check your work. Read documentation, make as few assumptions as possible and leave good notes for collaborators. Learn how to write and communicate your thoughts, and don't ever join a meeting without a goal and at least a little bit of prep.
Always be learning, strive to meet and learn from others, be kind and inclusive, and play to your passions so you can have FUN with what you do!