In the many Microsoft Partner and customer meetings I am in each week, I am often demonstrating and telling stories about how Microsoft technologies can enhance our personal and professional lives. With the latest Microsoft cloud applications I focus on, I find many people are intrigued by the truly unique innovations our products contain. The common question I am often asked as part of these meetings and presentations is, just how do you learn and stay current with all of these new products across Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure?
I have my own approach and training resources that I want to take a few moments to share. I approach my learning with passion (keeping it challenging and fun) along with a variety of lab materials, how to guides, and videos from several key web sites. I also have my own way to focus my learning, free from the many distractions we all experience each day. Sound interesting? See below…
I am constantly learning to stay current and stay ahead. And yes, it takes a great amount of time and dedication. There are usually a lot of late nights, but at no time is it hard. Rather, with the passion I have for technology and the challenge it presents on a daily basis it is always fun and inspiring. OK, frustrating at times when things don't work exactly as planned, but it is always a great feeling when you finally get a problem sorted out. Figuring out something new and unique is just fuel to keep me coming back for more. Since the learning in the technology field never stops, stay in the right frame of mind and have some fun. Keep your passion.
Just 5-10 years ago, to learn something required me to take a class or install and configure technology in my own lab areas. These labs were typically made up of servers that were aging and taken out of production, but still had the resources needed for a lab environment. Just 5 years ago, I was using a laptop with a high-end processor, 32GB of memory and multiple Solid State Drives (SSD). The SSDs were a game changer for a home based lab because of the large increase in disk speed enabling me to run 10 or more Hyper-V systems with amazing performance. I could then quickly lab up anything to learn it or even replicate issues looking for a resolution. With the costs of SSDs and memory now at a very low cost, there is virtually no limit in what we can create in a learning lab. While this is still a great low-cost setup for on-premises based server applications, in this new cloud based world there are now new options to use for learning the latest technologies.
Microsoft has created a very large and feature rich cloud-based learning infrastructure to learn virtually any of its products. Best of all, these self-paced resources are available at no charge. By going to https://www.microsoft.com/handsonlabs/selfpacedlabs, you'll find over 240 virtual labs (as of June 2018) and growing. Even with a fantastic lab environment available, where do you begin to learn a new technology? In each of these labs, you'll find several guides with amazing levels of details that will walk you through the easiest setup to more advanced areas in a step-by-step approach. If you learn more from a hands-no approach instead of a classroom experience, this is the area you need to use!
If you are a Microsoft Partner and have an account linked to a Microsoft Partner Network(MPN) identification, you have access to even more virtual lab resources. Using https://demos.microsoft.com, logon with your partner account and create multiple Microsoft cloud tenants. These tenants can be created within minutes for specific products such as Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS), Exchange, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, etc. You can specify these tenants to include fictitious user accounts complete with email content, Skype for Business contacts, Yammer conversations, SharePoint files, etc. You won't find a better fully functional environment to not only learn in, but also as a great environment to present solutions from. There are also plenty of feature rich guides about how to learn new products or take much deeper dives in them.
While virtual labs are a great way to learn and gain experience, what about other areas and ways of learning? Microsoft has a variety of no cost online courses and presentations available to learn just about any of our products. From beginner courses to deep level dives, I have placed several examples of these course content areas below. Search for any learning topic within these links.
Like you, I am often busy and sometimes find it challenging to find the time to watch learning videos because of other distractions. I have found that watching any of these videos on a tablet while on an exercise bike is a great way to focus on learning. While on the bike I am focused, energized, and have the added benefit of staying in shape (so I think anyway). Find your focus area - free of distractions and be in the right mindset to learn.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) - enter any Microsoft product name into this online course area and you will find hours of no cost training available.
Product Channels on YouTube - the example in this link is for the Microsoft Azure channel. Many Microsoft products have a channel you can subscribe to. Here, you'll see a lot of short beginner learning videos to longer, more in-depth courses.
Microsoft Mechanics - these are great videos with presentations from many of the product owners at Microsoft. Many are 10-20 minutes in length that provide a wealth of how-to information.
Microsoft Ignite - This is one of several fantastic conferences that Microsoft holds each year. In this channel, you will find many of the recorded presentations to learn about just any Microsoft product. Microsoft Ignite 2018 will be held in Orlando, Florida from September 24-28, 2018.
It is often said the best way to learn a new topic is to teach it. I've taught many classes on Microsoft technology over the years, given many presentations, and worked at a lot of Microsoft conferences. In addition to the amount of preparation to do, in each of these forums I am often asked challenging questions. It is perfectly fine not to know something, but be sure to follow up on the question. As you research the answer, chances are you'll discover five additional items you never knew about that will further enhance your readiness.
If you and your team would like to learn more, consider teaching each other. I'm sure you have a team meeting once a week, every other week, or on some set schedule. Consider asking each person on your team to pick a new technology product, learn all they can, and then present/demonstrate what has been learned to the rest of the team by taking 15 minutes on a team call. On a team of ten people, that may be one presentation per teammate every ten weeks. Not only will everyone on the team learn more in each week meeting, but for those not as comfortable giving presentations, it will give them a fantastic opportunity.
Being in the technology industry can be challenging. You must have the passion and make the time to continuously learn. From building low cost on-premises or at home lab environments to the latest cloud based virtual labs, guides, and videos there are many ways to learn as much as possible about any Microsoft product.
Technology is evolving at ever increasing speeds where those of us in this field must remain current by being in a perpetual state of learning. Be passionate about what you do, about what you learn, and by all means have fun doing it.