It’s not an Oscar but…

Just over 3-years ago I finished my last construction project. The construction market was deep in recession and I was struggling to see where the next opportunity would come from. I faced a choice, one faced by many of my colleagues, the choice to “stick or twist”. Some of my colleagues chose to “twist”, dusting off their CV’s and striking out for roles, typically outside of the industry. My choice was to “stick”, well at least with the same company, as there where opportunities if I was willing to move outside of construction. I took a gamble with a six-month secondment into our internal IT service.

For me, IT was a gamble as all of my formal training is in construction and engineering. I gambled on having some transferable skills coupled with a passing interest in technology. I felt that I offered great value as I could help the service with my experience in how colleagues actually used the technology provided to them. I’ve always had a passing interest in technology and I’ve tried to include it in my construction projects whenever I could – from the early days of installing the foundations to the Reading Room at the British Museum to the digital models used in my last project.

As it happened it took a while for me to understand which of my skills where actually transferrable. I extended my secondment several times before settling in my current role. It’s in this role where I have finally realised which skills are actually transferrable. It’s also this role that’s led to a moment of real pride. In fact, its generated the same satisfaction that I used to get when I walked around a completed construction project.

About 18-months ago, the decision was made to rollout Office 365. My role was to use my business knowledge to shape the solutions that we would provide through Office 365. One thing led to another and I found myself becoming deeply immersed in the product and the solutions. I even started to describe myself as a fledgling Enterprise Architect in my LinkedIn profile. I found skills that I learned from construction, like the ability to take a holistic view and the value of a good specification, helped me assimilate and understand the complexity and depth of Office 365. Similarly, there are parallels between how construction projects run and how IT deliver projects. On a construction site, the team would meet daily to discuss the tasks to be completed. The meetings would not have a name but typically the team would gather around the project plan or a set of drawings and work through the days and weeks ahead focussing upon the items to be built in the period. In IT, Developers do the same thing but call it a ‘daily stand-up’ and describe the process of focusing on the items to be built in a period as ‘Agile’.

In the last 12-months, I’ve become both architect and evangelist. I attribute a lot of my success to my involvement in the Office 365 Network. It’s through this network that I’ve been able to accelerate my learning, deepen my knowledge and crucially make contacts and friends with people who are on a similar journey. The Office 365 Network is built on a product called Yammer and I’ve taken to Yammer like a duck to water. Perhaps there is something in Yammer that appeals to the engineer in me and it certainly clicks with my personality type.

Unbeknownst to me, my contributions to the Office 365 Network had been spotted by staff in Microsoft. I suddenly became aware when a notification landed in my inbox just before Christmas. I had been nominated for consideration as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP):

The Microsoft MVP Award is an annual award that recognises exceptional technology community leaders worldwide who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with users and Microsoft. All of us at Microsoft recognise and appreciate Simon’s extraordinary contributions.

I was flabbergasted and humbled by the nomination. To be perfectly honest I expected nothing to come of it. There are only around 4,000 MVP’s in the world and most have worked in the industry for years building up their knowledge, networks and reputation. I felt that I did not fit the mould. However, the emails kept coming from Microsoft and today one landed with the subject:

“Congratulations 2016 Microsoft MVP!”


Tonight I’m proud, engineer proud. 🙂