How many topic areas can a person be considered a subject matter expert at? Do you have the luxury of focusing on one or two things? What is the brain really capable of? It’s a pretty well known issue in my ranks, and I’m not just talking about Microsoft employees. I remember when I came to Microsoft almost a decade ago. We hadn’t yet shipped Exchange Server 4.0 and Outlook. Since that time, think how the Internet has changed, the number of products Microsoft alone has shipped and the pace of innovation.
The IT Pros I work with are laughing at me. Many of them don’t get the luxury of running a pure Microsoft shop so they have to be experts at a variety of products from a variety of suppliers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Microsoft employee? Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Warning, Microsoft time isn’t on a solar clock and is not derived from UTC. You can work as much as you want here and never be an expert at everything or anything.
I work with some really bright people. But even if you are in the upper percentiles of memory storage, retrieval and correlation, where is the threshold? No, I am not talking about a new kewl computer. I am talking about the careers we’ve chosen in the world of information and entertainment technology. Notice I threw in entertainment? Think about the pace of innovation in consumer electronics, games, HDTV, and all of the fun gadgets we buy. I am asked all the time how I keep up. Answer: Microsoft Time.
The guys on my team worry about this a lot. We have several excellent subject matter experts. Kai Axford is fast becoming known for his mad security skillz. He needs to market that a bit more so I created a blog for him. Don’t worry about Kai’s blog… it’s brand spanking new and we are dragging him kicking and screaming into the bloggesphere. I have a secret weapon… his wife.
Harold Wong is an expert at Exchange Server. Bryan Von Axelson is a well known SQL Server evangelist. Matt Hester is a Windows Active Directory Group Policy wizard. Those are just a couple of the subject matter experts on my team and that’s just the close circle of TechNet Evangelists I work with. There are 63,000 other Microsoft wizards at my company.
The problem is that my role is a morphing multi dimensional monster. Sound familiar? Across one dimension are the customer segments. Another dimension are the product launches and the hunger for information relevant to those products. Another dimension is the information need for products that have been around for some time that still need to be maintained, monitored and tweaked to keep them running securely and efficiently. Add dimensions for my personal passions, what my management wants, what my managers managers want, what the business units want, etc. etc. etc. Now add relevant content as a dimension.
Remember I mentioned customer segments? Can a person be a subject matter expert to our Enterprise customers as well as the small and medium business customer segments? This is precisely why I mentioned relevant content. Presenting a block of content is part science, part art. Good presenters pick up the pulse of an audience early and take advantage of information they’ve gathered. Making information relevant is hard. It’s especially hard if I have a a presentation on enterprise products and demos but my audience for the day is 50% small and medium sized businesses. Fortunately for me, my wife has a small business so I can relate to the mom and pop shops. I also used to work for one of the “Big 6” systems integraters before I joined Microsoft so I know all about big enterprise. Have you ever had to build a network to support 500,000 machines? It’s a scary thought isn’t it?
So back to the original question… How many areas can a person be a subject matter expert at?
To give you an idea, in the past couple of weeks I’ve delivered talks on Windows Vista to a bunch of IT Pros, Wireless Network Security to the FBI and US Secret Service, Security for Windows 2000 and Windows XP desktops, Securing MOM 2005, UNIX Interoperability in Windows Server 2003 R2, Keeping SBS 2003 Free of Viruses and Worms, Windows XP Media Center Edition and those are just the formal events from my calendar and don’t include the virtual teams and discussions. I also wrote a thirty five page paper on blogging, screencasting and tools Microsoft employees use. Did I mention Microsoft Time?
I’m good, but my subject matter dam is breaking… What about yours?