MVP Summit 2015 – A Few (Surprising) Lessons Learned

MVP Summit is always an amazing event. This year was no exception.  It’s one part boot camp, one part super-secret secret-telling time, and one part family reunion. Along with that, we get cool swag (like the utterly amazing Data Platform jackets Jennifer Moser hooked us up with this year), interesting conversations, and time with the guys & gals who build the products we’ve bet our careers on. Needless to say, I was happy to be there.

This year was also a little different, and I want to talk about that for a minute. There has been a lot of buzz since Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft that things were going to be Different. That product teams were going to align, that they’d be smarter about how they build software, and that they’d move faster than they ever have before. I have to be honest… I thought it was all marketing hype. Until last week.

The very first thing I noticed on Monday morning was that the level of transparency was through the roof. As a person who builds software for a living, I know that we all err on the side of pretending like we have all the answers and that our process is bulletproof. That was not the message from anyone on the Microsoft team last week. While it is always awesome to hear about what’s new on the technical side of things, there was another level of value coming out of the talks. Honesty. A willingness to fail. Engagement that was real. Actual two-way conversations.

One of the things I love to do during presentations is take a lot of notes. Along with the obligatory talking points and feature notes, I like to write down things that are said by the presenters that resonate. I cannot share the exact quotes because of NDA rules, but I have been given permission to share the gist of what I learned.  Because I spend way too much time on Imgur, I’m including memes to illustrate my points.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing, and failing fast, gets you to the good stuff.

success kid

Sometimes, you have to admit that you’re doing something totally new and that you might not already be an expert. This is okay. Go learn it, then you can build it.

doge

There’s a lot of new stuff coming at us. Embrace it. It ain’t going away.

kitten hug

Applaud the person who points out that things aren’t on the right track.  She’s the one who is unafraid.  (And as Mr. Herbert taught us, fear is the mind-killer)

penguin cake

Experiment. Try something different. Be willing to fail and then try again. It’s science.

meme by: http://knowyourmeme.com/users/deathbyexile
That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, y’all

In all seriousness, to hear these kinds of messages coming from the most venerable software development organization in our business was inspiring. It made me feel like going home and taking a few risks. It made me feel like we were all in this together. Data and data management is moving at an insane pace these days. Always changing, always moving forward. Keeping up is overwhelming on a good day. That the experts at Microsoft are saying , “We’re learning right along with you. We’ll get this.”, it is empowering.

My point is, the technical stuff was great. The product positioning information was helpful. But my real takeaway last week was that… well, let me share one little story…

I was in a meeting about a (NDA – sorry, y’all) thing. The presenter threw out some concepts and thoughts about the thing. I raised my hand and said, “I think I have a use case for you. Let me run you through a scenario that one of my clients has.” After I explained what I needed, I asked, “So, how would you solve this problem?”. The response? “I don’t know yet. But I think we can solve it together. Let’s stay in touch and see if we can come up with some good ideas.”

And that’s it right there. I went to a session about a topic where Microsoft didn’t have the answer yet. They still got in front of us and talked about where they were, what their goals were, and what they were doing to move forward. And when we had ideas or real-world problems to solve, they engaged. They asked us for help. Not “help”, as in, “fill out this survey for us; we promise we’ll do something with your feedback”. We were treated as peers and as people on the ground who had real value to add to the conversation. It was a little bit amazing.

And you know what? It’s working. They’re doing more, faster. They’re innovating in a way that big companies aren’t supposed to be able to do. I’m excited about where we’re headed.

So in short, thank you to Microsoft, the MVP Summit organizers, and everyone who makes our experience as MVP’s special. It was an awesome week.

Fail fast, my friends.

–Audrey

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