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Moving From Heroes to Mentors

Moving From Heroes to Mentors

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In July 2010, I switched roles from Developer Platform Evangelism to become a Premier Field Engineer for SharePoint.  My role in DPE was amazing as it afforded me time for activities that I love, like participating in user groups, speaking at conferences, writing blogs, and sometimes posting videos to Channel9.  After joining PFE, I largely stopped those activities because I wanted to focus on the technology, immersing myself to succeed in my new role.  Occasionally I will still squeak a blog post out, maybe speak at a conference or two, but I am nowhere near as engaged with the community as I had been previously.

Going Through The Change

Our mission is to show our customers how to improve the health of their environment proactively, teaching them how to better manage and operate their environment.  We joke that the most successful PFE will work themselves out of a job, but that’s the whole point… if our customers don’t need our services any longer, we’ve succeeded.  Unfortunately, the technologies we work with are incredibly complex and provide many variations in the way our customers implement them.  Heck, SharePoint is a booming business for just that very reason.

PFE has some of the brightest minds in the industry within its group. These are people with deep troubleshooting skills, people who routinely work with customers to improve their experience with Microsoft products.  When your SharePoint farm goes down, SQL crashes, Exchange becomes unavailable, whatever the problem, these are the people who you work with to fix the issue and help prevent the issue from ever occurring again.  These are people who are very deep with the technology but don’t have experience with writing or public speaking.  Wouldn’t it be great to learn from someone with that depth of experience?

This past fall, Premier Field Engineering held a series of internal conferences called GeekReady. At this event, the General Manager for PFE, Shannan Collins, unveiled a new direction for PFE called “Heroes to Mentors”. There wasn’t much tactical information announced, it was very much a vision for where PFE is headed, in fact it was intentionally vague to tell the field to pick up the ball and run with it. Heroes to Mentors means changing the culture of PFE, something that is much more than an exec issuing an edict.  Heroes to Mentors implies change at every level within PFE, from the execs to the Directors to Managers to the engineers themselves.  It implies that engineers should work harder to share knowledge internally and continue to raise the technical capabilities of our team.  It implies that we work to share that knowledge externally with our customers and partners.  It means that we are given leeway to start doing many of the things that I loved so much from my days in DPE.

What’s In It For You

I hear regularly from user group leaders across the country asking for me to participate in events like SharePoint Saturday, speaking at a user group event, even speaking at conferences.  Often I have to decline since I don’t have a business reason to travel and afford the T&E.  The unfortunate part is that I don’t often pass that opportunity or introduction on to another PFE in that area to see if they might be interested.  I am changing that, and will be encouraging my peers to reach out to their local user group leaders to see how they can contribute.  I am also personally going to make an effort to participate in user group and SharePoint Saturday events more frequently.  While I still am not able to travel to as many events as I would like (I’m not flying to Antarctica, for instance), I am going to say no a whole lot less often.  And I am going to make sure to introduce other PFE folks in the area that will want to participate as well.

Another initiative that I am resurrecting is my Channel9 video blog.  No, there’s no new content there yet… I am working on the recordings to make sure that they are much more than marketing introductions.  I want to introduce you to some of the brightest folks in the industry, but also have them show you something valuable.  Just watch http://twitter.com/kaevans or this blog for announcements.  And if there are PFE that are reading this, look for announcements about opportunities to fulfill your Heroes to Mentors commitments Smile

It’s not just me.  There are some PFE that are already heavily engaged in the community. This includes folks like Bob Fox, Ryan Campbell, Jason Gallicchio, Josh Gavant, Eric Harlan.  These guys are also working to draw some of our colleagues out of their hiding spaces.  We will be working to find better ways to make ourselves more accessible.  We are working internally to help folks get started, trying to find ways to better engage our colleagues, and working on ways that we can be more effective in creating content and sharing it with the rest of the community.  I have a few more things that I am not yet ready to share, but watch this space as we continue to make announcements.

There are many other projects that PFE works on that you are familiar with that have made amazing contributions to the community.  The PAL tool written by Clint Huffman is a great example of a tool that PFE regularly uses for troubleshooting but some of our customers are not yet familiar with how to use the tool.  Folks like Greg Varveris, who worked on the SPDisposeCheck tool, are working on some fantastic new initiatives that our customers need to see.  I can’t wait to show you what Greg is working on with fellow PFE Tom Fuller.  I am making the commitment to break out of my SharePoint shell and to start finding ways to show you what the rest of PFE is doing.

Looking Forward

This is just the beginning.  I am incredibly excited about this change. Admittedly, culture change is very difficult, and it will be slow as we move our colleagues from the mindset of being a hero to becoming a mentor both internally at Microsoft and externally with our customers, partners, and community. 

  • Wow.  You guy do an amazing job.  I can't imagine how much of a pleasure it must be to work in that field.  And speaking of user groups, I shall be joining one this summer.  

  • Well said Kirk!  Having just started PFE three months ago and having an extensive background of heavy technical community involvement as well as being a former Evangelist, I was relieved to hear the new mindset discussed by our leadership and look forward to what the future holds.  I am still a user group leader and still present at weekend conferences and am looking to continue this going forward as well as helping our coworkers and community leaders/groups connect.  Thanks for the write-up!

  • @cron22 - thanks!  PFE is an amazing group to work with,  I have learned so much in my short 2 years.  We are always looking for talented individuals to join the team!  Just visit http://careers.microsoft.com.  And make sure to tell them I sent ya... I could always use the referral bonus :)

  • Kirk - it's so great to hear the real meaning of "Heroes to Mentors" has hit home with at least one!  Keep telling the story.

  • Great post Kirk, this explains exactly what our mission is and why we love what we do! Keep on evangelizing!!!!!!

  • Thanks for sharing this with us Kirk.  I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

  • As the Admin for the Premier Field Engineering group that brought you on board in July 2010, I have been so impressed with your knowledge, expertise and demeanor  - your post exactly exemplifies such.  Keep up the good work and continue setting the example of what PFE is all about!

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