Evangelist Year One – a Retrospective

Just over one year ago, I wrote about a big change in my career as I joined the Sitecore Technical Marketing team to work as the North American Technical Evangelist. Over the last 12 months, a lot has happened, and in typical agile fashion I’m looking back at what has been happening, what worked well, and what didn’t!

FAIR WARNING: This is a long read, there is no TL;DR, this is mostly for me. Read at your own risk!

TL;DR: I lied. The short version is I had a blast all year and am way too excited about more big things this year!

Getting Started

My very first day on the job involved jumping on a plane to Copenhagen to meet with my new team. I spent the week getting up to speed on some of the basics of the position and even got to do an internal camera interview. My first learning was that I’m pretty terrible at being interviewed, so that’s something I need to work on.

I wasn’t sure exactly what my day to day was going to look like on those first few days, but that didn’t last long. We got cleared to go to MS Build in 2017, for the first time, so that was my first big task to work on.

In the first month on the job, I’d been to Copenhagen for onboarding, Montreal for an Azure event, Seattle for MS Build, and then SUGCON in Amsterdam. It was a crazy start but I had identified a few things already to work on.

First takeaways:

  1. Events are not just parties. A lot of work goes into getting an event off the ground.
  2. Sleep well, eat well. Staying healthy was going to be a key component of this job so I need to eat healthy while travelling.
  3. Great European community! SUGCON EU was an amazing community event with a great organizing team. I had not realized how big this was.
  4. Zombie Jason is no fun. Overnight flights to Europe inevitably end with you staying up for more than 24 hours, so plan for early check-in to get a quick refreshment nap.

A Summer of Sitecore

The summer months were filled with new things I hadn’t been involved in before. With Sitecore 9 about to be released, there was a lot of new stuff to learn and prepare. So much content to create!

I also had the opportunity to organize an internal enablement event, sort of like a minim MVP summit. I had a few presentations during the week which gave me some time to work on stage work and meet a lot of my new colleagues whom I had only spoken to on the phone.

Lessons learned:

  1. Establishing KPIs for a product release is sometimes tough. How do you measure something like enablement? How do you know that your audience is ready?
  2. Event schedules are hard. Everybody needs time to ask questions and sessions inevitably run long, so I think I need to plan for separate Q&A panels with speakers after the sessions are done.
  3. Time is still finite. Coming up with topics for enablement content is easy, finding the time to get everybody to create the content is hard. I need to assume that about half the content we want to do won’t be able to happen, so prioritization of content is key.

Road to Symposium

Fall is all about getting ready for Symposium, and it all started in Amsterdam as our team gathered for the first time with all our members. One of the big pieces I was focused on was the opening keynote for the event. I was honoured to be chosen to be one of the technical speakers during the event and this would be the largest audience I had spoken to. I was pretty pumped up!

When the big event finally hit, I was glad my big presentation was on the first day! I got to have all the energy and fun of the big stage and then relax to enjoy the rest of the week.  Moderating the DevOps panel was a nice way to get some of the brightest deployment minds chatting about different topics, and the MVP Summit is always a good time. This was the first time I saw things from behind the scenes, and there is definitely a lot of work that goes into pulling these events off!

What did I learn in Vegas?

  1. Always write my own script. If somebody else has the outline, that is great, it helps keep you on the rails, but it needs to be in your own voice to give you confidence.
  2. Practice does make perfect. You don’t want to be worrying about the content when the butterflies hit your belly. Have it down cold, make sure you know where you are going to be on the stage for each part too, it’s not just the words.
  3. Know the story, not the script. There are probably a few key words you need to hit in a sentence, but it’s important to be comfortable in the story you need to tell so you can freestyle when you inevitably make a mistake.
  4. Video demos are pretty awesome. I was so much more comfortable being free of the podium/laptop for tech demos. It allowed me to handtalk (as I do) and keep my energy up. I’m not sure I can go back to live laptop demos now!

Taking it on the road

Not everybody can make it to Symposium, so Sitecore brought the party on tour! The Digital Destiny Tour happened around the world and I got a chance to join the tour for a few stops. First up in November was the keynote in Tokyo. I had never been to Japan so this was a great opportunity! I hope I can go back because there is so much I didn’t have a chance to see.

Later, in March, the tour came to North America and I got the opportunity to do both the keynote as well as a “What’s New” session in 4 cities (Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York). I got to talk to a lot of people who came out to the events and hear about great projects that people are doing.

Takeaways

  1. Make time for connections. When moving from town to town, it’s good to spend a little time in the evenings with people you know in the region. This is such a great way to deepen connections and learn about what’s going on.
  2. Get home to the family. Even if it’s just for a day, it’s so important to break up these tours by making it home for part of the weekend before heading out again.
  3. Adjust for the audience. Even with a significant technical audience in the crowd, there are enough non-technical people at these events that I need to make sure I have a little bit for everybody and not go too deep into the tech. Definitely something to work on!

An opportunity for learning and teaching

With the release of Sitecore 9, there was a great challenge ahead of us. How would we learn about the new release and get as much material out to our technical audience as possible! Between tech previews, early access to eLearning, webinars, blogs, videos, enablement decks, and technical summits, there was giant list of things to create and co-ordinate. I think my experience with Kanban and other agile project management approaches was a natural fit for planning and tracking all the content we needed to create and I think our team did an excellent job.

I have always enjoyed the teaching aspect of sharing information with others, and this ongoing drive to create helpful material to educate employees, customers, and partners really spoke to me.

Can we do better?

I’d love to hear feedback from those about the material we created so we can do better next year. There are also a few things I’ve identified that I need to do better:

  1. Events are all-consuming. There are a lot of events in March and April. And Symposium in October! I need to plan this in advance for my content creation and content releases to make sure we can still help people out even when our team is heads down at the events.
  2. Breakup the PowerPoint Blah. I need to find some more non-standard learning activities into sessions. Full days of powerpoint gets a little long. Hands-on learning has always worked best for me when I learn… how can I incorporate that more?
  3. Is video content working? People are watching our videos consistently, but is it helping them learn? I’m seeing a lot of views of initial videos in a series, and then a sudden drop-off for subsequent portions. This usually indicates that the format of the education is not meeting with the needs of the interested audience. They are looking for something on the topic, but what they are seeing/hearing is not what they were looking for. I need to dig into this.

A great start for the new year is already underway!

Since my one-year mark passed, I got the chance to go to Berlin for SUGCON EU, our team held the first SUGCON IN, and attended MS Build! And GDPR came into effect. And the Developer Trial is about to launch… so much to be excited about!

I am looking forward to the amazing things our team is going to do with this coming year. If you have something you’d like to see from us, let me know!

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