So, lots of tweets going on today about an article over at CMS Wire : The SharePoint Community: What it is, Why It's Important and Microsoft's Role. Now, aside from the fact that the CMS web site is a php web site, this article got me thinking…
It’s well written and authoritative, with comments from the experts, and is spot on… but couldn’t it basically have been written verbatim two years ago? And if it could have been written two years ago, how has the SharePoint Community changed in those two years? And are those changes for the best? Like I said.. It got me thinking.
You may be thinking “Why the heck (yes I said ‘heck’) should we give a darn what you think! You redneck!” First of all, no need to get personal.. okay? Second of all I am a Child of the SharePoint Community. I struggled and hated SharePoint for a long time before finding the community around 3 years ago. I started tweeting, blogging, speaking, and drinking that SharePoint Kool-aid with a Community chaser. There is no way I would know half of what I know were it not for these amazing people. In fact, I’ve been espousing the importance of said community since discovering it… and correct me if I’m wrong, but this was also when the community was fairly new? Some of the best friends I’ve ever had have come directly from this Community.. Lifelong friends… almost like family… brothers from another mother… sisters that I feel the need to protect like a big brother… even a couple of crazy aunts and uncles that no one likes to talk about… I am indebted to the community.. and I love you guys…
So, why do you think the community is past its prime?
Okay.. maybe “Past Its Prime” is not entirely what I believe, it just made a good blog title, but I do think the “Good ‘ol Days” may be behind us. The community has been rapidly growing for a few years and I’m afraid it’s reaching a size and maturity level that may NOT be beneficial, and BECAUSE I care about you guys I wanted to say something and hopefully step on as few toes as possible. This blog post is NOT about stirring the pot (although we know I enjoy a good stir), it’s about bringing attention to some red flags I see and trying to figure out how we can fix some things before they get broken. I want the community around for a long time… maybe we can even start some sort of pension plan seeing as how I have no hope of getting Social Security some day.
What are these red flags you speak of?
So, back before I was a SharePoint Junkie, I had attended a .NET event or two, nothing to immersive though, mostly user group meetings. Do you know what I found? It seemed there was always that “one” guy in the crowd that wanted to play “Stump the Chump” and try to look smarter than the speaker. It never failed, and I hated that. These people were trying to help and here’s some moron in the back trying to make sure everyone knows how smart HE is… When I found the SharePoint community there was NONE of that, in fact is was VERY common for some guru to sit in on sessions and root for the speakers and help them along the way. They weren’t trying to make themselves look smart, they were trying to help other people learn. That’s awesome, and one of the things that encouraged me to get started because I knew there would be some support there…. and that’s how it was… for a while at least. I have recently seen a growing trend of that “one” guy popping up in sessions. The one who knows more than the speaker and has to make sure everyone knows he knows more. The guy asking the leading question to try and trick the speaker. The guy who tells the speaker “Well… a better way that *I* use is this”. ugh… really? Are you so wrapped up in yourself and so threatened that someone is doing the same thing as you that you have to try and belittle them? I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times and have heard it from other speakers as well. I understand, it’s part of the community growing and bringing in more people. You are going to get some riff raff… ahhh.. but it wasn’t like that in the “Good ‘ol days”.
So yeah, as SharePoint matures and the technology matures the egos are starting to grow.. I’m sure I’m not immune to it and please feel free to slap me silly if I ever come off as “better than thou”. It just feels that there is less room and comfort for new people to be able to step in like I was able to. You have to play the political game with some people and you get to the point where you have to think about how everything you do might offend SOME person. At one point, SharePoint Saturdays were a proving ground for new and upcoming speakers, it has morphed into all-star lineups that have rock stars offended if they are not chosen to speak. I totally understand this and would have my ego bruised as well, but those of us who have proven that we can keep a crowd halfway entertained and educated get the honor of speaking at major conferences, it’s okay to let someone else have a turn. right?
I almost didn’t write this blog because it may not be seen as PC… but I think it’s too important to NOT say something. So, if your ego gets bruised and you want be mad at me.. fine.. be that way. I’m sure there’s a .NET user group you can go belittle as well. I’ve seen the community change people and not for the better. Is there any way at all to avoid this? Probably not! It makes sense that in the progression and maturity of a group like this that it would happen. I just wish it didn’t have to. Remember where you came from and who helped you get there. Any success I have in SharePoint is due to the community (and my massively huge brain of course)…
Conference Burn Out
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good conference (Even a THREE DAY SharePoint Saturday?) but at some point burn out is going to set in. Sponsors are going to stop sponsoring as they reach a market saturation and I know many sponsors are trying to sponsor less. Plus there’s a new crop of “For Profit” conferences popping up with people trying to make a buck off the back of the community without being involved in the community. I think it’s all culminating into something that’s not going to end well, but I think we as a community DO have some power here. Have some self control when planning your SharePoint Saturday. If someone close to you plans one first, don’t try to steal their thunder (and sponsorship dollars)… remember, it’s not about you.. it’s about the community? right? Also, community speakers should probably not help promote the fly by night SharePoint conferences just trying to make a quick buck and don’t’ care about the community. A good example of how it SHOULD be done is SPTechCon. BZMedia actually reached out to some of the leaders in the community about how to do their conference and are quite involved in the community in general and very vocal on Twitter. The Best Practices Conference also does an awesome job of embracing the community. Let’s keep the community strong by throwing our support in the right places.
Finally… how do I put this delicately? Microsoft, I love you to death but you at times are causing more problems than you are fixing. I realize Microsoft’s approach for the most part has been to stand back and let the community flourish. Well. it’s flourishing.. and it’s starting to get weeds.. and some of your practices contribute to some of the weeds. A good example of this is the *wincing as I type this* MVP program. Please don’t get me wrong. The MVP program is a phenomenal program and I think it’s really awesome the way Microsoft rewards some members of the community and the MVPs I know are so deserving of the title and I can only hope to be an MVP some day (is there enough brown on my nose yet?). Microsoft has created a problem with its own success here. You created SharePoint, you made this massive beast of a platform that necessitates the creation of this community in order for us to succeed with it, we join the community, we drink the Kool-aid, we get passionate about it, and want to share our passion.. evangelize if you will.. and you are stuck with a HOST of MVPs… and there is no way in the world everyone can be made an MVP… and people start to resent not being MVP.. and resent those they think don’t deserve MVP… and start competing to try to knock someone out so they can be MVP… it can be vicious… and not fun.. and can lead people to wonder why they are doing this if Microsoft won’t give them the time of day… I REALLY think Microsoft needs to step in here and do something before bitterness sets in and people start to resent the MVP program. I’m NOT suggesting you revamp the MVP program,but you GOTTA get more involved in the community, recognize those busting their butt for you, and take on some leadership role in the community. You can lead without controlling. You can reward without taking away from someone else. What about handing out some free SPC passes just for those involved in the community? Maybe doing “community member spotlights” or something to show you are taking notice. As it stands there are those with a secret disdain for the MVP program and those who’ll do anything to get in… I don’t want to see that rift grow…
Again, I’m not saying Microsoft needs to change the MVP program or that I deserve to be in there… in fact, I can’t imagine this blog post helps my chances, but I do think it’s time for Microsoft to step in and take on a much more visible role in the community, without controlling it.
So..is there any hope? Can the utopia we’ve help create endure?
I hope so. I really hope the community has plenty of room to grow… millions of gallons of SharePints to be had… new rock stars to nurture and grow… billions of blogs.. trillions of tweets… plethora of presentations… colossal conferences… and the best darn friends a guy could have…
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though… cracks are starting to show… let’s not spackle them over and pretend they aren’t there… let’s fix them before they get bad.. let’s take pride in what we’ve helped to create… and remember why we started doing this in the first place.
Thanks very much for all the comments, offline discussions, and polite deriding. Good to know I’m not shouting to the wind. I did want to quickly address a common thread I’ve read/talked about and that is "The things I see are common in a maturing community." I absolutely understand that. I really do. However, I posit that the SharePoint Community IS different and unique and important to the longevity of SharePoint. It is completely possible to be a proficient .NET developer without ever attending one .NET user group or code camp. I personally can write almost anything in .NET and I was never very involved in that community. However, when I did attend the few .NET events I went to, I learned some cool and helpful tips. You can also be a very competent SQL DBA without ever becoming part of the SQL community. It’s NOT a necessity. However… it IS necessary to be part of the SharePoint community to do it right!
How many admins and power users are giving up their weekends for a .NET code camp? How many user tracks are available at SQL events? What’s the mix like at those things? I honestly don’t know, but I’d bet every last dollar I have or will ever have that it is NOTHING compared to SharePoint. Want proof? Take any single .NET guy to a SharePoint event and the first he’ll say is “wow, there’s a lot of women here”. I believe (however ignorantly) that the SharePoint community is by FAR the most diverse community out there with a rich blend of users, administrators, developers, and architects all with their own specialties. Also, as I’ve stated over and over, it’s really not possible to be an expert at all of it. I need the admins. I need the IT Pros. I need the guy down the hall doing the FAST talk, or the branding guru who understands the ins and outs. I need to know who to talk to about DR. The list goes on and on and on. No other technology I’ve experienced has necessitated a community like this. Let’s face it, you can write horrible .NET code and recover from it, you can be a lousy DBA and recover from it. There are a lot of mines in SharePoint that are VERY hard to recover from. Even the most awesome dedicated developer needs an admin. No person is an island in SharePoint. Is that true with the other technologies that have been listed?
This is also not to bash the other communities at all. If you want to be the best .NET developer possible or do whatever you SQL guys do to the best of your potential, then the community is very vital to that, but it’s possible to get along fine in those technologies without it. I DON’T think the same is true for SharePoint. I have conversations every day with people where I used to work that prove that point…
I want the SharePoint community to stay strong and inviting and growing. I don’t want the cracks I see to start causing division and fracture the community. I don’t want to see SharePoint Sundays pop-up because they don’t want to be associated with those Saturday guys. So I blog… I shout to the wind… and have a SharePint… or three…
Thanks again for all you guys do.