Teresa Hennig: Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) - Microsoft Office Access; Noted International Programming Authority
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Teresa Hennig.
"I love Access because its powerful and intuitive user interface makes it so easy to manage, extract and manipulate data. The first time I used Access, I decided to become a business consultant and Access developer. That was 9 years ago, and I still love it! In fact, I'm even more excited now because Access 2007 is going to appeal to the masses. I want to help new users become fluent with Access so that they can quickly enjoy its power and benefits.
For several years, I've been honored to be president of the Pacific Northwest Access Developers Group and of the Seattle Access Group. Running 24 meetings a year, publishing 2 monthly newsletters and maintaining the SAG site (www.SeattleAccess.org) keeps me very busy - especially because our meetings actually include two sessions and cover so much content. The meetings don't just focus on technical presentations; they help create a sense of community and belonging. So I ensure that our meetings provide a welcoming environment that fosters networking and the open exchange of ideas. It is exciting and fulfilling to be able to use my skills to help others learn about Access and to provide them with opportunities that they otherwise would not have had.
In 2005, my community leadership earned a scholarship to TechEd, where I was immediately recruited to INETA's Community Activities Team. We serve over 800 user groups and 450,000 UG members. In 2006, we initiated the INETA Live webcasts. In addition to being the project lead, I am also privileged to host our monthly webcasts.
As the lead author of "Access 2007 VBA Programmer's Reference," I was privileged to invite new authors to our team. I was the coordinating lead author for the 2003 version, but that didn't prepare me for this edition. With so much many new features, it was essentially a total rewrite and consumed twice as much time as anticipated. This will finally hit the stores in May. While that was wrapping, I recruited an author and was consulting for another book, "Expert Access 2007 Programming." I recently teamed up with two Excel MVPs to write yet another book, but we're keeping the title under wraps for now. I'm very fortunate to have great support from my publisher, which allows me to help some really great developers make the step into becoming a published author.
I seem to thrive on challenges, new adventures and project management. And the books certainly provide all that. My next exciting prospect is to create Access training videos. I have a screen test in New York later in April. Then, if all goes well, we should have an Advanced Access training video ready in July! Now that's an aggressive schedule! I've never done anything like this, and it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - that will hopefully be repeated with several variations.
I also have time for my clients. Actually, I'm as passionate about my clients and their projects as I am about my groups. As a consultant, I am incredibly fortunate to get to work on projects from a wide spectrum of industries. Every project provides new challenges for finding ways to manage data, streamline and automate. Understanding my client's industries, operations and needs, I feel like I'm their partner and it is important to provide cost effective solutions. With the savings and benefits, my solutions typically pay for themselves in a matter of months. My biggest reward is knowing that I truly made a difference.
But my life is not just consumed with Access and user groups. I have a wonderful family and really great friends. They share in my adventures and have learned that I truly enjoy my roller-coaster ride of a life. Actually, my family, friends, user groups and clients have all pulled together to share my excitement and challenges. They have been especially supportive of my fund raising drives, such as climbing Mount Rainier for the American Lung Association of Washington and Riding from Seattle to Portland for SCS research. That drive is ongoing.
In 2006, I joined the STP and rode 220 miles - on a borrowed bike and with minimal training. But, my goal was enough incentive to finish. That was 10 miles for every year that my brother has been in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. I haven't quite reached my goal of $10,000, but I will in time for Kirk to present the check to Spinal Cord Society at our annual golf tournament in June. 100% of this money will go to research a cure for paralysis. Please visit http://www.DataDynamicsNW.com/ride for more information and to make a donation."
The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
|Index and links to Questions |
||There's an estimated 200 million ICT professionals worldwide, 3800 are nominated and selected for their outstanding technology/community contributions as Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) from 90+ countries, and in more than 90 technologies. From this initial 200 million, several MVPs were specially chosen to be profiled and interviewed for InsideTrack. Congratulations on this unique honour!
||Tell us more about your user group activities and the top ten lessons for forming a user group and ensuring its success.
||As a user group leader for many years, what are your top ten leadership rules based upon your experiences of what works?
||You spend a lot of time and energy supporting your groups. What is the biggest motivator for you?
||You are the project leader for INETA Live Webcasts serving over 800 user groups and 450,000 members. What are the key tips that you can share for producing live webcasts?
||You are a known world authority in Access VBA and the lead author for the VBA Programmer's Reference series. Please share your top 10 most useful tips-- those special gems that would not be widely known.
||How will Access evolve in the future?
||When working with your clients you come across best practice scenarios. Can you share five best practices from your long history of success?
||What are the five critical issues facing organizations today and how can they be addressed?
||What are the major challenges facing ICT professionals and what do you propose as solutions?
||How can ICT professionals get involved in making a difference and how can they make contributions?
||In your current role with the user groups, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions? How does this relate to business?
||What are the 5 biggest issues facing user group communities, IT societies today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
||Provide your predictions of future IT/Business trends and their implications/opportunities?
||With all the changes and updates, it is obviously a lot for anyone to keep up with. When you need to find information about a issue or feature, which are your top recommended resources?
||You are passionate about supporting spinal cord research. Can you provide your insights behind this and what you hope to achieve for the future?
||You mentioned the golf tournament, is that where Kirk will be giving the cheque to the Spinal Cord Society? How can people join you?
||You seem to be involved with a wide variety of activities, not just INETA and your user groups, but you are working on another book and are preparing Access training videos. How do you fit it all in?
||Tell us about why you are going to do training videos.
||Good luck with your new adventure into training videos. You seem to enjoy and are quite successful in a variety of areas. What is your secret, what keys to success can you share with others?
||With everything that you are involved with, where do you see your career going from here?
Opening Comment: Teresa, you were recently profiled in the internal Microsoft publication InsideTrack, due to your outstanding contributions and leadership over many years. We thank you for taking the time to share experiences and insights with our audience.
A: I was so surprised by the invitation to be interviewed. This was my first MVP summit, so I wasn't sure if being interviewed was pretty much part of the Summit. But, even if it was, I still felt incredibly special to be selected.
As excited as I was about participating in the MVP Summit, I really didn't know what to expect. Here I was, meeting with brilliant developers and leaders from around the world. Some of these people are like icons that have shared their expertise for years. So nothing prepared me for the overwhelming sense of community, welcome and acceptance that we experienced. For that short week, we were family and now we all have new friends for life.
Both the Summit and the InsideTrack interview are opening doors to new opportunities. Talking with you, now, is a perfect example. And, I truly appreciate it. For me, this interview provides another avenue to connect with others and to share some of my experiences, express appreciation and encourage more people to get involved.
Q1: There's an estimated 200 million ICT professionals worldwide, 3800 are nominated and selected for their outstanding technology/community contributions as Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) from 90+ countries, and in more than 90 technologies. MVPs are an independent body of leading, top-ranking global experts and much like "Fellows" found in many organizations recognized for their excellence. From this initial 200 million, several MVPs were specially chosen to be profiled and interviewed for InsideTrack. Congratulations on this unique honour!
A: That is soooo amazing. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize the magnitude of the honor that I had received. With thousands of remarkable and distinguished people around the world to choose from, Microsoft chose me to be featured in their paper.
Leading my user groups and supporting the membership is just a normal part of my life. So, it was thrilling to be interviewed and featured in Microsoft's paper. Thinking about it still makes my heart race. Obviously, being an MVP is a tremendous honor, but that interview was a true testament to the benefits that I am bringing to the community. It definitely energizes me to do more.
At the beginning of this year, I vowed to welcome opportunities and to travel and enjoy new challenges. And, that is exactly what is happening.
Q2: Tell us more about your user group activities and the top ten lessons for forming a user group and ensuring its success.
A: I started attending a beginner's Access group shortly after becoming an independent consultant/developer. Sadly, the group had dwindled to 4 or 5 attendees. So, rather than lose this networking resource, I volunteered to lead the group. We soon revitalized and expanded our services to include a tutorial lab session before every meeting. My focus was to provide a welcoming environment for novices and beginners to network, ask questions, see what's possible and be assured that there are helpful people available who will happily provide mentoring and assistance.
Our group continued to expand until we outgrew our meeting room, (literally had people standing at the back of the room), and we no longer have the computer lab for hands-on sessions. But, we still have the pre-meeting tutorials. I've been the president of the Seattle Access Group for about eight years. Our membership and attendance continues to fluctuate, but it never dwindles to the point of imploding. Our mission is too important to forsake … beginners need and deserve a place to ask questions and learn, (where they aren't intimidated by advanced concepts and acronyms).
The success of the SAG lead to my being invited to become the presentation coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Access Developers Group. That was a stretch for me because I hadn't attended the meetings, did not know the members, the topics, or the presenter pool. But, Armen Stein was very persuasive, so I agreed. Little did I know that he'd call the day before my very first meeting and ask me to run the meeting in his absence. This meant, not only showing up as an unknown and running the meeting, but also running the Q&A session. This was so out of my league, but it seemed important and I do love a challenge. My approach is to leverage talents and resources. So, when I got to the meeting, I introduced myself to the speaker, who happened to be Michael Kaplan, and I explained the situation and asked him to please also field the questions during the Q&A session. Michael occasionally reminds me that I still owe him for that.
After that, Armen asked me to run the meetings with him. After 6 years, he was ready to retire from office and I was nominated as President. I will always cherish the memories of election night. It was standing room only, and three distinguished Access MVPs showed up just to support my election, they couldn't stay the entire evening, but they wanted to be there for me. I had no idea that I could make such a difference. But, my groups are a priority and I continue to put that kind of energy and passion into their meetings.
So, that's how I got to be president of the two groups. And it gives a pretty strong basis for tips and suggestions for starting, invigorating and maintaining a successful user group.
- Attitude Attitude Attitude. The leader needs to infuse the room with positive energy and ensure that everyone feels welcome, appreciated and respected. There are many nuances to this, so maybe considering the antithesis will quickly illustrate just how important attitude or atmosphere can be.
Think about how uncomfortable or intimidating it can be to witness an altercation, even as minor as someone being rude. Or, consider how it can be to feel ignored or invisible. Remember when you were listening to someone drone on, even if they had valid ideas, your mind had shut down. To counter those possibilities, the leader's energy and positive attitude can foster a welcoming atmosphere that is energized so that people are receptive to learning and retaining and even creative thinking. Additionally, the leader needs to carefully monitor comments and actions to quickly and discreetly squelch negativity.
I want people to feel welcome, included and appreciated. We greet people as they arrive. I seek out guests and ask about their interests, expertise, what they are hoping to learn, and how they found out about the group.
- Focus on the audience. Find out what they are interested in, understand their skill levels, and anticipate what they may want to know about related programs, etc. Poll the group once or twice a year to find out what topics they want to see, ask for details, and ask for volunteer presenters. We hold an annual brainstorming session to come up with topic ideas for both main presentations and the Beginner's Corner. Building on each other's suggestions not only fosters fresh ideas, but it helps flush out topics so that presenters can tailor a talk for our group. Of course, we aren't limited to these topics and we can't cover them all, but it really helps to identify hot topics and even prospective presenters.
- QUALITY presentation content. This can not be over emphasized. People are paying with their time, so be respectful and give them value through good technical content. The presentation style, level of difficulty, and even venue can vary but the presentation needs to be rehearsed and smooth - that doesn't mean flashy. There are exceptions, such as when there is a panel discussion, during Q&A, or if you are coaching a new presenter. But for the most part, there needs to be a standard for both the content and delivery of the presentation.
- Have an Agenda and stick to it. That also includes starting the meetings on time and taking scheduled breaks. Again, this goes back to respecting people's time. Agendas give the speaker parameters for timing their presentations and they also allow participants to prepare for the meeting. (ok … we all fudge on this, but keep it close.)
- Facilitate networking. Don't just designate networking breaks, help people learn how to network. I remember times when we'd take a break and no one would even stand up. When that happens, I announce that it's networking time and encourage everyone to introduce themselves to someone that they haven't talked with. And then, I join in by talking briefly with people throughout the room.
It really helps to include beverages and light snacks. Hopefully, a sponsor will pay for this, but otherwise, consider pop, water, coffee and whatever snack food is convenient, appropriate for the time of day and within your budget. Our meetings start with pizza at 6 PM, beverages are available throughout and the meetings last until 9:30 with networking lingering later. So you can see why having food is important. (However, we did not have food and beverages the first few years of the SAG meetings and the group thrived based on the presentations.)
- Send out a newsletter shortly before the meeting. It's great to have a website, but the email with the meeting information and other current issues seems to make a difference in attendance. For many people, the newsletter works better than just scheduling the meetings on their calendar. Plus, many people like to forward the newsletter to invite colleagues to the meeting. So, the newsletter helps to expand the reach of the group. My newsletters have a direct mailing of around 500 members. And, they are redistributed through some companies and agencies, such as Microsoft, Boeing, a couple of county and federal agencies, and two universities.
- A group web site is a must. It should be easy to find, for members and non-members alike. Keep it updated with the current meeting topics, times, locations and any special information about driving, parking, restrictions, etc. The website is also a great place for sharing presentation content and tutorial sessions. These can be in a secured folder that only members can access or in a public folder for anyone to use. The site should also include links to current events, job opportunities, recommended resources and definitely sponsor sites. It could also have a download page for current and past newsletters.
Functionality is the key. The website should provide information, be up to date, and be easy to navigate. Beyond that, there are a myriad features that can be added to provide more benefits. But, keep in mind that someone needs to maintain the site and the information, so don't over-commit. It is better to be simple and effective than to never get it published or updated. Our group sites waver between those two states, but I try to always have the meeting topics published. (http://www.PNWADG.org and http://www.SeattleAccess.org).
- Find out what they want for review items and drawings. It is great to have door prizes and big drawings, but sometimes it easier to get a review item from a sponsor. Find out what people want to review. After the drawing, give the winner a couple of months to prepare a short presentation for the group. The write-up would typically get published on the site and/or sent to the sponsor. Of course, it is also great to get sponsors to provide software and door prizes, but the reviews give members practice with public speaking and the sponsor gets valuable publicity.
- Include variety, be open to new ideas and ask for members' opinions and support. Just being the leader doesn't mean that a person can or should do the presentations, do all the work, or always make unilateral decisions. However, leadership is afforded the latitude to incorporate variety and ad hoc presentations into the meetings. It is also incumbent upon leaders to help the groups see how they can benefit by being aware of related technology and programs. When pushing the envelope, however gently, it is important that you convey to the participants how they, individually and as a group, will benefit. You should solicit their feedback and support in a positive and encouraging manner.
- Be appreciative and encourage volunteers. It is human nature to want to help, so encourage people to volunteer, give them small assignments, and express appreciation not only for completing the task but also for participating in the group. Offer to mentor people for future leadership roles. This is their group and these are their meetings. We wouldn't be there without the members. Thank members for coming to the meetings and say that you are looking forward to seeing them at the next one --- and give the date.
At the end of the day, the participant's perception of whether or not the meeting was valuable and beneficial will often hinge on the leader's attitude, demeanor and presence.
Q3: As a user group leader for many years, what are your top ten leadership rules based upon your experiences of what works?
A: I think that my rules, as you want to call them, are really a combination of what I've learned and used throughout my careers as a program and project manager, business consultant, and developer, as well as from being president of several organizations.
First and foremost people have to decide on the type of environment and atmosphere that they want for their meetings. Not everything will run equally well under different structures. For now, I'm going to focus on the types of rules that seem to work well for my user groups. Of course, you'll notice a strong parallel to the ten lessons.
- Publish the agenda and stick to the schedule. This is true for most business meetings as well. Agendas help people to arrive prepared and by knowing the agenda the participants will help stick to it.
- Make sure that the presentations cover the basics. Again, this goes back to focus on the audience. If you have a beginners' group, you need to ensure that the presentations cover the fundamentals so that people can follow along. It is good to have stretch topics that show people what is possible. But even those go over better if they start by providing a foundation for people to build on.
- Set the tone and be friendly and respectful. Lead by example and you will find that the participants will be friendly, welcoming and will be volunteer for whatever tasks you can assign. You don't have to like everyone, but it helps if you act as though you do. Given a chance, you'll probably discover that each member has at least a few likeable characteristics.
- Be fair. Let people sign up for drawings, let people earn software by helping or doing reviews. It's great to reward volunteers, but spread the wealth, both in gratuities and in appreciation. Oh, and when you're handing out prizes, be happy for the winners and remark on some of the benefits. Your comments add value to the prize. Give generously but sincerely.
- There are no stupid questions. I want people to feel comfortable to ask any question that they have and that includes repeating a question or asking for an acronym to be explained. A surefire way to lose an audience is for them to feel lost or afraid to ask a question. I'll often monitor body language, to ensure that the group is comfortable and able to absorb the content. If I have any doubts, I will carefully phrase a question so that the presenter will provide additional background for a particular technique or point.
If you think about this, it can be rather fun and a relief to demonstrate that as the leader, you don't need to know all the answers. It is much better to let the group share their ideas and solutions. In fact, even when we have a designated lead for Q&A, I still moderate and solicit responses from the group. That encourages more questions and gives value to all the participants. We are there to gain from each others' experiences, not just from one person.
- Never attack the speaker. There are plenty of ways to ask a question without challenging the content or the presenter. Even if a seasoned presenter is comfortable having his theories attacked, there are likely people in the group who will be intimidated by the exchange. Worse yet, they will likely be discouraged from asking questions or even considering to give a presentation.
Be alert to inquiries that put the speaker on the spot. You may occasionally need to thank the audience for the question, while suggesting that it is outside the scope/time of the current talk, but that you'd welcome a follow-up during Q&A … or whatever fits for the situation. The key is to maintain the friendly atmosphere that is conducive for learning, exploring, and sharing.
Now, as a qualifier, there are certainly forums where this level of debate and exchange are encouraged. For the most part, it isn't appropriate at the typical user group meeting.
- Think, don't react. There will be times when human nature might be to lash out or to take offence at a comment or action. As the leader, it is your role to defuse a situation and to preserve the dignity of the meeting. Yes, this does sound like something I've been through a few times. It helps to know that when you're standing in front of the room, something that might feel like a battle cry to you is hardly likely to be remembered by anyone else - that's the way it will be if you skillfully avoid escalation.
- Plan ahead and have contingency plans. If possible, publish presentation schedules 2 or 3 months out. Then in the back of your mind, keep some ideas about what you can do "just in case." You may not think of everything, but have a backup plan in case a presenter doesn't show, the computer doesn't work or another group has your room. It doesn't mean have a second meeting location, but at least be able to think through some alternatives and then get agreement from the group for the plan.
Be ready to think on your feet and be willing to call in some favors. Remember, people feel good about helping others. So, if somebody knows you are in a real bind, they will try to help and they'll feel good knowing that you trusted them when it really mattered.
- Be the leader. Run the meetings, keep them on time, introduce the speakers, moderate the Q&A, assign volunteer duties, network, bring in new ideas and new sponsors, thank your sponsors, thank the participants, and the list keeps growing …
While you're at it, figure out your leadership styles. There are many effective leadership styles. Use the one that works best for you in the situation. If you're comfortable in charge, the ranks will be comfortable following your lead. After all, they want you to succeed. However, they also expect you to do the tough stuff, like keep the peace, moderate discussions, politely reign in verbose campaigners and even pull the plug on long-winded presenters. The great thing is that once you skillfully bluff your way through a tough situation, the next one will seem so much easier. You'll actually notice yourself evaluating options and probable outcomes before taking action.
- NETWORK! As a leader, you represent the group to sponsors, to your colleagues and to the community at large. You've got incredible power to network on behalf of the group, this can secure sponsorships to cover expenses and to provide drawing and review items. Networking is also the key to offering job opportunities, bringing in presenters on related technology, and expanding your membership base. Not only do you set an example for how to network within the group, but leaders are also role models. Meetings are excellent forums for both technical and professional development.
I'll end with the rule that is key to anyone's success … that is to "Have FUN"! The adage is to do what you love and you'll be good at it. Well, there sure seems to be a lot of truth in that for me. I am passionate about helping people, serving my members and affording them opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. I love leading the meetings. No matter how tired or over committed I am, on Tuesday nights my members are my number one focus. I try to take that level of energy and drive to every one of my meetings and into every project.
Q4: You spend a lot of time and energy supporting your groups. What is the biggest motivator for you?
A: That's an easy answer. The ability to empower affords a feeling like no other. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to create opportunities for my members and colleagues that they would otherwise would not have had. And, it isn't just my direct contacts because the members are taking the meeting material into the community and helping others as well. For example, one of the members drives 4 hours round trip, but he uses our meeting content as the foundation for the college classes that he teaches. I'm sponsoring another user group in Oregon, and they use my newsletter instead of creating their own. There are incredible success stories of people who joined the group not even knowing how to create a database but in a few years progressed to being database administrators and independent consultants.
I also work with sponsors so that members receive software that many otherwise could not afford. There have been several meetings at which we were able to give out several thousand dollars worth of software. I am just finalizing discussions that will provide the members of my groups and others a significant discount on laptops, PCs, RAM and other upgrades. Given the immediate need to upgrade to enjoy the full power of Vista, this is a huge benefit to my membership and the community.
But, some of the most memorable times have been from being the lead author on books. I have been able to invite people that I know to become authors and contributors to highly acclaimed reference books. This kind of credibility and visibility is something that you just can't buy. It was my privilege to invite my good friend Armen Stein, to join me as co-author for our 2003 edition. But, maybe the most memorable response was last year, from Rob Cooper: how many times does a person get to "make someone's dream come true."
So, my real motivator is knowing that I really am making a difference.
Q5: You are the project leader for INETA Live Webcasts serving over 800 user groups and 450,000 members. What are the key tips that you can share for producing live webcasts?
A: First and foremost, it takes a team to run a webcast. So, have everyone take some time to get familiar with the tools and technology. Some webcast services require that slides be uploaded to a website, others use a desktop sharing technology so the presenter is merely working from their own computer. Either way, the presenter needs to learn about and be comfortable using various tools, such as the white board, the highlighters, taking polls, switching controls and even adding a slide to the presentation.
The host will need to comfortable with moderating the presentation, watching for questions, coordinating things in the background, and know the benefit from taking polls, using the whiteboard, and being able to step in to go through slides when necessary.
If you have a conference call, the call coordinator needs to know how to disconnect lines, how to mute callers and how to turn off announcements. Then after the webcast, you'll need someone to edit the recording and arrange for it to be published for on-demand viewing.
Like I said, it takes a team.
Another challenge is to line up presenters and topics. You'd think that this would be a piece of cake and that people would be falling over each-other for the opportunity. But, that isn't the case, at least not for INETA. I am always seeking presenters to share expertise to help user group leaders. It is surprisingly difficult to even get 8 presentations scheduled in a year. So, maybe some of your readers will want to seize the day. I'd welcome their email, Tereas.Hennig@INETA.org. Let's see, to turn that into a tip, I'd say to create a schedule and try to get people to sign up 2 to 3 month's in advance. If you don't have a presenter, contact some user group leaders or established presenters and see if they have an interesting topic that is ready to go. Many presenters can repurpose a talk that they prepared for a conference or other meeting.
Another tip is to get the word out early and then again just before the webcast. Put notices on the group's website, in the newsletter and on any sites with which you have reciprocal agreements. Ask people to pre-register. With some services, this will automatically trigger a reminder email shortly before the webcast, if it doesn't, be sure to send them yourself.
Offer a draw item and select the winner from those who complete a survey at the end of the webcast. This is, of course, another benefit of networking. Because you can invite a company to sponsor the draw and give them some publicity in the announcements as well as on the slide leading to the survey. Plus, a nice prize may be just the extra incentive it takes to get more people to participate. Remember, success leads to success. You may have to work hard to get attendance at the first webcast. But, if you keep at it and schedule them consistently, word-of-mouth will help recruit participants.
Q6: You are a known world authority in Access VBA and the lead author for the VBA Programmer's Reference series. Please share your top 10 most useful tips-- those special gems that would not be widely known.
A: Wow, I'm already working on my third book and it still surprises me to hear such claims. I can't imagine that I have 10 secrets that aren't widely known. After all, my focus is on helping others and sharing knowledge. So, how about ten of the things that I think are most important. Of course, my list is subject to change based on new experiences. Yes, you can read into that … no one is exempt from getting exasperated, at least I'm sure not.
So, let's start with the basics.
- Normalize! I can't tell you how important this is. The more complex the project or the more programs that it will interact with, the more burdensome poor table structure can become. The critical thing here is to have only one subject in a table and to avoid repeating data. There are excellent, easy to read, reference books on normalization. Mike Hernandez wrote, "Database Design for Mere Mortals."
- Use a Naming Convention. There are established conventions that can be used as is or modified. I like to use short words or abbreviations and include a table identifier in the field names. Again, the more complex the solution the more helpful it is to have clear and concise names - not just on tables and fields, but on all the objects, including the controls on forms.
- Avoid reserved words and special characters - this includes those from your add-ins and programs that you will be integrating with. Using reserved words and special characters can create conflicts when running code or even an action query. It is far easier to strictly adhere to the rule of not using these than it is to trouble shoot and create work-arounds.
- Use error handling. And be nice about it. Create custom messages that advise the user of their options and indicate where the error occurred. When appropriate, trap the error and write it to a log so that you can trouble shoot and resolve the problem.
- Document your code. Don't just rewrite the function in English; most people who look at the code could figure that much out. Give the business rule or other nuances about why a function has to perform the way it does. If there are precautions or other issues, state those too. Include your initials and the date if you are modifying a legacy application or may be leaving this for someone else. In fact, you can almost always figure that you're leaving it for someone else.
- Don't reinvent the wheel. There are many functions and routines that you will use repeatedly within an application and throughout many applications. Create your own procedure library of functions and routines and then reuse them. This will not only save you time, but it minimizes the potential for errors. Additionally, there many third party tools and add-ins that are can really speed your development process and help with administrative tasks. Many developers like MZTools and FMS products, but there are dozens of options. A word of caution about using other people's tools: they may conflict with your solutions and they may not always work as anticipated. Be prepared to compromise. However, if you consider your time is money, then you're often ahead when you purchase these tools. After all, you're also benefiting from the experience and feedback of thousands of other users.
- Create templates for common reusable forms, reports, or even basic applications. A perfect candidate would be a form with a search function that builds a long string of criteria before building the record set. Other standard forms might be the splash screen, a main menu, a database relinking tool, a form to add new records, and even a form with the selection criteria for custom reports. There are likely standard reports; depending on the industry, one could have dozens of report templates ready to be customized.
- Don't overcomplicate things. Look for the simple, straightforward solutions. They don't have to be elegant, they just have to work and be efficient. One thing that is helpful to remember is to use worktables. Sometimes, there just doesn't seem to be a way to create the necessary recordset from a series of queries. Well, quit hitting the wall and create a work table. The thing is, you might want to create a separate back end file for work tables and be sure to include a clean-up routine to compact them.
- Design for the User not for you. Time spent listening and observing may be the most valuable time on the project. It takes a special talent to really do a good job with the needs analysis and then to transform that into concise specifications. You need to continue listening to the users as you go through the stages of development and deployment. Environments, needs and options change, so be prepared to be flexible and accommodating.
I can not overemphasize how important it is that the UI, or user interface, be comfortable for the users. The application and forms need to be clean, intuitive, easy to read and easy to navigate - they need to leverage data validation. In addition to saving time, the application should eliminate the potential for errors wherever feasible. But these areas are complete topics on their own.
- Network. Don't feel as though you have to go it alone. User groups will welcome you and help find a solution to your questions. Go online and research through some of the newsgroups, articles and MVP sites. You'll likely find someone who solved a similar situation. If you don't find the solution, then you have the opportunity to post your problem and learn from others.
Q7: How will Access evolve in the future?
A: That's a good question. I am very excited about the potentials and looking forward to helping a huge new wave of users learn how they can leverage and enjoy the benefits of Access. You know that Bill Gates included Access when he listed his favorite programs going into the future. That was right along with mobility and connectivity. Of course, this vision is no secret, just look at Vista, and how so many Office programs are working with web interfaces.
So, I'm guessing that it will continue to be easier to create and work with web based applications. Whether it is storing static data online or connecting to a remote file server, I expect that we'll have a lot more options and hopefully not require serious expertise in other programming languages.
The other area of emphasis that I see is for Access to become more of a user tool, right out of the box. Not to the extent that Excel is used for number crunching, but certainly to the point that people will be aware of the benefits of using a database instead of a spreadsheet and that it will be easy for them to make the transition. Access 2007 is pointing us in that direction. There are dozens of functions that once required VBA code and now they are not only built in, they provide more options and features than most programmers included. Some of great examples are the groups and totals for spread sheets, the ability to filter forms on the fly, and interactive reports that allow users to drill into data on a report.
Q8: When working with your clients you come across best practice scenarios. Can you share five best practices from your long history of success?
- Spend the time to interview the client and really find out what they need. Typically, they don't know what they really need, or what their options are. That's where a good consultant really proves her value, because correctly identifying and describing the needs is the only way to create the optimum solution given the client's situation and constraints. Think about it, you can create the absolutely best, rock solid application, but it if doesn't meet the need and isn't easily adapted by the users, it isn't an acceptable solution.
Sadly, the combination of inadequate requirements gathering, documentation and interpretation is the fundamental cause for as many as 45% of planned projects never being completed.
- THINK ABOUT THE USER! No matter how effective a design might be, acceptance of the user interface (UI) is pivotal to its success. The application and forms have to be clean, intuitive, easy to read and have straightforward navigation. Take into account the user’s industry, work environment, age, and comfort level with computers.
Find out what the users will be doing, how they will be working with the application, and ensure that the application meshes with and supports the flow of their input and work. Find out how and when management will request reports. Learn what they like about existing reports; retaining a familiar look can often ease a transition. Find out where and how each group of users might work with the application, and consider designing a custom interface for each user group. That might be as simple as creating one application and hiding various forms and controls based on who signs in.
The bottom line is that you are designing an application for the user. Anticipate their needs, automate as much of the process as you can, and build in lots of data validation. This both increases productivity and reduces errors.
- Use an iterative process and deliver the project in stages. Work with the client to decide what can be delivered first. This should give them immediate benefit and allow them to be testing, building confidence and fostering ideas about other features that they may want. Remember, you are creating this for the client. It is THEIR project and you want them to have pride of ownership every step of the way.
- Document changes, change requests, and resolutions to problems. Be sure that changes are authorized and document who, when, and why. If this is going to lead to a cost or schedule impact, be sure to include those issues and get necessary approvals. Be upfront and honest. You don't have to have all the answers, but it is important to tell your client if you don't have a solution but will look for one. Be prepared to handle the predictable "unpredictables" that seem to crop up in many development projects. Having a task take twice as long to solve is not necessarily the developers fault, especially if you are building interfaces with third-party programs. So, be fair and promptly advise the client, otherwise be prepared to take a hit on your time. If there are problems with the costs or schedule, let them know right away. Decide what is at issue and agree on a resolution. This type of documentation is a great foundation for lessons learned --- you should always be improving your methods and techniques.
- Leverage expertise. As my Dad would say, a good engineer wouldn't spend his time creating something that worked elsewhere. If someone else has included similar functionality in their solutions, you will likely benefit from their expertise and experience. As an independent consultant, I provide my clients with the best service and value by serving as the solution architect and then partnering with other developers who can bring relevant expertise to the table.
Again, this fits with "do what you love." I love project management and have a gift for seeing what is needed at both the big picture and minute detail levels. I work with the client and design a solution and my colleagues, who really like to focus on writing code, get to do what they enjoy. It is truly a win-win-win.
And of course, follow-up. Be there when your customers call and respond to their inquiries and requests. Many times, you can solve a little problem in a day. They will remember that for months.
Q9: What are the five critical issues facing organizations today and how can they be addressed?
A: I think that we're all facing the rapidly changing technology, costs of upgrades, competition from startups and lower cost areas, employee turnover and IT security threats
As an independent contractor, I have to deal with all of these issues but on a much smaller scale. For organizations, it is hard to create and stick with a 5 year technology plan because by the time they get it implemented both the hardware and software will be outdated.
I suppose that industries will benefit now more than ever by focusing on the workforce. If they acquire and retain workers who want to be mobile and take advantage of flexible schedules, the organizations can lighten their infrastructure. However, there are many industries and situations where that isn't possible.
So, planning for expansion and making upgrades in stages may be their best avenue.
Q10: What are the major challenges facing ICT professionals and what do you propose as solutions?
A: Here again the challenges seem to be rapidly changing technology both in the hardware and the software, increasing demands for web applications, overwhelming volumes of data, constantly changing security threats and of course the time and budget to provide a solution.
From my perspective, the solutions need to be based on good business practices. That means involving key personnel that can make decisions and authorize actions. They have to balance costs with features and the need to have flexibility to change direction or add more capacity. ICT people will have to have similar flexibility in their approach to supporting major transitions and upgrades. A key element will likely be periodic reviews for both lessons learned and status checks to see if new factors need to be accommodated.
Q11: How can ICT professionals get involved in making a difference and how can they make contributions?
A: Here, as in other cases, people make a difference by making informed decisions and being invested in the outcome. Be open to new approaches and ideas and be ready to explore and test concepts. Change will require team work, collaboration and cooperation.
If someone is in a bigger corporation or industry, they can learn about trends and working technologies from their trade magazines, networks, and conventions. You notice that networking shows up again. That is one of the best ways to share experiences and to leverage what others are doing. That brings us right back to user groups and other professional organizations.
Q12: In your current role with the user groups, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions? How does this relate to business?
Challenge one: Motivating people to do presentations and share their expertise.
Solution: First, I create a safe environment with a supportive audience so that presenters can focus on their material. I also offer mentoring and coaching. We can shorten the time or do team presentations. The goal is to make it easy for people to share their knowledge and experience.
These skills are critical to effective communications in the work place. Sharing ideas is a key element of process improvement and change. It is by building on each others' experience and expertise that we learn to think beyond our boundaries and create better solutions.
Challenge two: Setting Priorities
Solution: We all want to do more than we have time for. So, we have to pick what we'll do, when, and how well. We have to make these trade-offs in every part of our professional and personal lives, including at work and at user group meetings.
You need to be adept at quickly evaluating priorities, cost/benefits and timing. Basically the options are: go for it with all the resources available, eliminate, reduce the time, reduce the quality, delegate, or defer. The thing to remember is that most decisions are not final. If you set out priorities and plans one day, be flexible enough to adjust them when circumstances change.
Challenge three: Managing Time
Solution: Monitor your priorities and see if you are spending your time in consonance with the top priorities. We all know about urgency and how easy it is to be pulled off schedule by helping out or even being distracted. But, someone else's crisis does not necessarily become your urgent priority.
Besides, have you ever looked back at what seemed like a catastrophe and realized that it was relatively easy to resolve. Often, it is our natural emotional reaction that prompts us to rush to battle with all our resources, when all it really needed was a calm evaluation and a strategically placed solution.
Of a more routine nature, it is very helpful to use schedules and agendas for both personal and business events. As mentioned earlier, I'm a strong proponent of agendas. They help participants prepare for the meeting, let everyone know when and where they need to be, what decisions will be made, and what they will take home. A properly scheduled and managed meeting can be a powerful tool, a poorly run meeting can be a sinkhole and cost thousands of dollars in lost productivity.
Challenge four: Keeping up with email that includes newsletters, et al.
Solution: This is a huge impact for businesses, employees and in personal life. I recently read that up to 40% of the average worker's time is consumed by email. So, as convenient as this can be for both communicating and providing documentation, we need to manage it more effectively. This effects the management of the groups because I might receive a dozen or more emails and newsletters in one day from members, sponsors, vendors, presenters, and our host. I have to filter through, respond to inquiries and maintain strong relationships. It is like managing a small business. The thing is, to effectively manage email, requires cooperation from everyone.
Here are some good guidelines.
- First, keep business communications brief and to the point. Don't let the message get lost in the pleasantries.
- Use relevant subject lines and maintain them for the entire thread.
- Speaking of threads, leave the earlier content in the body of the email. Why search through 10 messages when it could easily be in one. Then you can delete past messages, because the final is the compilation for that thread.
- Don't change topics in a thread. That is an obvious complement to leaving the thread intact. Start a new thread if you are changing topics.
Those are some initial thoughts to creating more effective email. Then, you need a good policy for flagging them, putting them into folders and even for searching through archives. Outlook has great tools for most of that. Windows desktop search will do an excellent job of finding any document that you have indexed. Use the tools.
I'm not sure that those are truly the biggest challenges, but they are definitely significant.
Q13: What are the 5 biggest issues facing user group communities, IT societies today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
- Issue: Declining membership
Recommendation: focus on serving the members in ways that recognize the high demand on their time, the issues that they are currently dealing with and the technology available to serve their needs. User groups need to compliment, not compete with, news groups and other online services.
- Issue: Scheduling quality presenters
Recommendation: It can be challenging to schedule experienced presenters who are ready to speak on a topic that is of current interest to your group. Look for ways to help presenters gain skills. Maybe hold a training session - these are often done in conjunction with code camps. We also encourage team presentations; (sometimes this is with a mentor helping a first time presenter), but it also works well with two friends. This takes the pressure off and allows them to become more comfortable in front of a group. Or, have two shorter presentations during one meeting; these require less prep time and are less intimidating for first-time presenters.
- Issue: Presenting current topics
Recommendation: With the rapid changes in technology, it can be challenging to balance between, demonstrating the latest features and advances, and discussing features that are relevant to the membership's current work and interests. We often do a mix of showing what can be done, but also demonstrate the use of the technology that they are currently using.
Look to related industries and technologies to see what your membership needs to understand and work with. Then, invite a company to do a technical presentation, (not a marketing spiel), demonstrating how their tool/service leverages and extends the reach of your program. This also a great way to get drawing and review items. It is critical that this is not a sales pitch!
- Issue: Perception of Value
Recommendation: We all know that value is a perception. Help the audience recognize the benefits of networking, of having the Q&A sessions where they get immediate solutions to answer THEIR unique problems, of seeing what others are doing. We often mention that it can be as important to know that something CAN be done as it is to be able to do it. That's where meetings are so valuable. They expose members to features, techniques, and approaches of which they might otherwise be unaware, but when they come across a situation in their work, they will draw the correlation and be able to respond. Whether that means calling in expertise or knowing that they can research the topic for examples, they have the advantage of knowing how to get started.
- Issue: Meeting space and equipment
Recommendation: Many companies will sponsor a group by providing a meeting room. Ideally, this will have a computer and projector set-up, but not always. If it doesn't, perhaps the group will invest in a projector - then every presenter's laptop becomes a podium machine. Other meeting locations that work are community centers, libraries, convention buildings, a community rec room. With more people moving to laptops, we will hopefully see a resurgence in lab sessions. And, with a few CDs, jump drives, or router and cables, people can quickly share files and work through exercises.
Q14: Provide your predictions of future IT/Business trends and their implications/opportunities?
I'm going to slant my response more from the independent contractor perspective.
Trend 1: More independent contractors, consultants or temporary staff.
Implication/opportunities: As companies are facing such rapidly changing technology, it is often more cost effective for them to hire expertise when they need it than to have those people on staff. This is an excellent way to reduce overhead, particularly the huge expenses associated with hiring, training, retaining, and providing office space for staff. But there are some obvious downsides, such as loyalty, quality, conflicting approaches, availability, and the list goes on.
For a good IC, these opportunities afford a breadth of experience that was previously unattainable. They can travel, cross industries, work in areas of their passion - essentially pick their industry and life style. Of course, most of us will be somewhere in the middle, balancing our opportunities with responsibilities and enjoying significant independence.
Trend 2: More web based applications and solutions.
Implication/opportunities: There will be a huge need for people to build interfaces so that existing operations can effectively interface with web solutions. Some of the challenges with the transition will be to identify what is practical and makes good business sense. This will also open the doors to a myriad of security aspects to manage. People who are adept at understanding a business model and customizing solutions should have a limitless supply of opportunities. This seems like a great area for creating some basic solutions that can be repurposed and customized.
We'll see several industries, including some that we might not anticipate, that will find new markets by making their data accessible via the internet. We'll see companies reduce their floor space as their staff enjoy telecommuting and flex time.
Trend 3: Continued emphasis on networking and security.
Implication/opportunities: Everyone is threatened by security issues. So corporations and home users will have to be more vigilant about networking, protecting data and identify theft. We'll likely be more reliant on solutions that start at the operating system and are automatically updated. And, along with the move to telecommuting and web based applications, people will need easy-to-maintain identities or log-in personas so that it is easy to isolate users of one laptop/pc. I think we'll see more programs focused on identity protection - that make it safer to browse, shop, work online without exposing information about who you really are.
Trend 4: Mobility is a favorite area for Bill Gates, so we'll continue to see advances there.
Implication/opportunities: We are seeing more functionality and reliability in smart phones, and that is just a precursor of what may come. I'd expect that we'll see all sorts of devices that can be controlled remotely, provide navigation, customize our environments. Basically, the potentials are limited only by creativity … and having people willing to try it. But, I think that as technology evolves, we are becoming more agile, so we are more open to, and even looking forward to, changes that would previously have seemed foreign.
Trend 5: Continued move to low cost support centers and tech workers.
Implication/opportunities: To be competitive, businesses will continue to tap into global resources to provide a growing range of services at a lower cost. They will need to do a thorough evaluation so that things such as call center services do not cost the business the loss of clients. We've probably all endured calls where the language barrier made it painfully difficult to understand instructions. Perhaps the call centers will have a "smart" device that better matches the technician with the caller. But, that's not the key point here. The issue is that we'll be seeing more areas of work and support being transferred to overseas offices. This will be relatively easy for programming, especially web based solutions. It won't just be large companies that utilize these lower cost services; small companies and even independent developers will establish contacts and build relationships so that they too can not only stay competitive, but can tap into this pool of expertise.
Trend 6: Early burn out and high stress life styles.
Implication/opportunities: You can see this coming, because we are already experiencing it. Things are changing so fast and at so many levels simultaneously, that technology workers can not keep up. It is overwhelming. Trying to stay on the leading edge in like being on a treadmill locked on 5 mph. You might be able to sprint, but there's no way to maintain that pace day in and day out. It isn't just the personal drive of the ICT workers that is pushing this pace. Businesses are trying to keep up and implement solutions, so they are making these demands of the staff. So, either people will develop tools and techniques for finding a balance and managing their lives or they'll feel excessively stressed and eventually burn out.
Q15: With all the changes and updates, it is obviously a lot for anyone to keep up with. When you need to find information about a issue or feature, which are your top recommended resources?
A: The best resource, of course, will vary with technology and current need. I like to have a reference library of books, mostly about Access, but also Windows and other areas of interest. I'll often turn to a book for an example of code or to confirm on naming conventions and such. And yes, that's why I insisted that our Access VBA Programmer's Reference series have a comprehensive appendix that includes compiled lists from multiple sources. I like having that material in one place so that I can find it any time I want. But, in addition to having some good books, my favorite resources would include:
- Network - your peers are probably your best resource. As a user group leader, I'd suggest starting with user group meetings. There is no substitute for the in-person exchange of ideas and experiences.
- For most technologies, find the MVP site, so for Access, that is http://www.mvps.org/access
- Search MSDN and Microsoft.com for postings, white papers, KB articles. http://office.microsoft.com, http://support.microsoft.com. I also subscribe to and customize my MSDN newsletter; that provides lots of current information and links.
- Newsgroups, of course, you need to be selective in implementing responses. It is best to do a little research for existing solutions before posting a question/request for help. But, newsgroups are a fertile ground for ideas and assistance.
- Industry magazines and their online compliments, such as AdvisorMedia and http://www.advisor.com
Q16: You are passionate about supporting spinal cord research. Can you provide your insights behind this and what you hope to achieve for the future?
A: My brother, Kirk, has suffered from quadriplegia since his injury 23 years ago. He, like so many, was in the prime of life, and in a freak construction accident, lost most of his mobility. But he is fiercely independent and lives his life to be a contributor to society. He returned to college and earned another degree, this time in construction management. He held various jobs and was a consultant, but more importantly, Kirk helps others who are suffering from injuries. He led the way to establish a mentoring program to support the newly injured and their loved ones, he is on several medical boards and he devotes a lot of his time to helping others learn skills and become independent.
Kirk is also a pillar in the Northwest chapter of the Spinal Cord Society (SCS) http://www.scsnw.com. He is active in their annual golf tournament which raises about $100,000 annually. This is a totally volunteer chapter, and 100% of the proceeds go to research, not overhead. Kirk believes that SCS is the best foundation for supporting research to cure paralysis. They are focused on CURE not care. SCS is exclusively donation-funded (no tax dollars), has extremely low overhead, and is not burdened by large administrative controls or reporting demands or organizational protocols - all of which demand so much time from researchers in large institutions and/or with government funding.
The statistics vary, but nearly one in six people in industrialized countries will suffer from a severe neurological disorder. SCS research is making great strides in helping so many people. We are seeing people who have been wheelchair bound for years gaining the ability to walk, we are helping people with Parkinsonism and so many other diseases.
I dedicated my fundraising effort to my brother. At his suggestion, I rode 220 miles, 10 miles for each year that he had been in a wheel chair, to raise $10,000 for research to cure paralysis. I still have a couple thousand to raise before our annual golf tournament on June 18th. So, any and all help is appreciated. More information about my ride and fundraiser is available at http://www.DataDynamicsNW.com/ride. And, since donations are tax deductible, the site also has the necessary receipt form. Yes, that is a plea for donations, but SCS research is helping countless thousands of people and, given the statistics it is likely that each of us have loved ones and friends that will directly benefit from SCS research. So, thank you for asking.
Q17: You mentioned the golf tournament, is that where Kirk will be giving the cheque to the Spinal Cord Society? How can people join you?
A: Yes, this will be our 12th annual golf tournament. It is my goal that Kirk will present SCS with a cheque for $10,000. As a chapter, we hope to raise $100,000 through the golf tournament and general donations. Even the smallest donation helps because it all adds up and will make a big difference. That's illustrated by our chapter. We are a small chapter of volunteers, and we've managed to send over $1.1 million to research a cure for paralysis.
Anyone wanting to join us can register online at http://www.SCSNW.com. This has earned acclaim as one of the best golf tournaments on the west coast, and even includes a $50,000 JetBlue Challenge. There is something for all skill levels, and non-golfers have a great time at the dinner and auctions. If they also send me a note (Teresa@DataDyamicsNW.com), I would be pleased to help with local information and to meet with them at the tournament. Of course, it would also be wonderful for people to donate items to our silent or live auction.
Q18: You seem to be involved with a wide variety of activities, not just INETA and your user groups, but you are working on another book and are preparing Access training videos. How do you fit it all in?
A: Oh, making it all fit in is not even possible. So, I'm constantly juggling priorities and demands as best that I can. Sometimes, I have to give up something that I really want to do, in order to solve an urgent issue for a client. But those are choices that I make. And like I mentioned earlier, it is a constant balancing act and we have to be flexible in our schedules. When making a decision about responding to a client's urgent request I not only consider my priorities and schedule, but also the impact of delays to their business.
That's exactly what happened the day before I flew to New York for my test screen shot. A client called and urgently needed my time. I was also leading the Access meeting that night and had other commitments. I chose to defer some of my plans and resolve the issue for my client. The alternative would have been to delay some of their work for 4 days. Knowing the cost impact to them, I changed my priorities. That is the type of relationship that I have with my clients. I feel as though I am a partner to their success. And really, their success is one of the most fulfilling parts of what I do - to be able to make things possible for others.
Q19: Tell us about why you are going to do training videos.
A: The videos are another way of reaching out to the community and providing resources for people to help themselves. We all have preferred learning styles or processes, and that can be influenced by both what and why we are trying to learn something. I'm very much a hands-on person. So, if I get to do something I have a much better chance of assimilating and retaining the knowledge.
I'm hoping that the training videos will provide that type of experience for new Access users. With the fantastic new features in Access 2007, I am anticipating that it will appeal to an entire new audience of users. Home users and even small businesses will find it much easier to create and use Access applications.
I know how important it is to have a support network, to learn from others and to see how something is done. So, I'm very excited to have been offered the opportunity to create training videos so that people can get this kind of help at a time that works for them. When you think about it, doing videos seems like a perfect fit for me. It's a wonderful combination of helping others, empowering people, working on a project and making a presentation. This is all very exciting. I've never done anything like this, but based on my demo they said that I'm a natural. So, wish me luck and watch for a new Access title from Total Training.
Q20: Good luck with your new adventure into training videos. You seem to enjoy and are quite successful in a variety of areas. What is your secret, what keys to success can you share with others?
A: Oh my, where do we start? There are so many factors that get rolled into this. I know that my energy and positive attitude carry me through a lot. I've endured my share of knocks and setbacks, but from every experience, I've gained insights and learned valuable lessons. They prepared me for future events and gave me strength and confidence that I otherwise would not have.
- Be reliable and set high standards. You are building a reputation and that will be your most valuable asset. Some people think that I demand a lot of myself, but for me, it is a standard I grew up with. I'm committed to success, to getting a job done and doing it well. But, I also have a realistic balance of what is practical and doing the right job for the circumstances. Sometimes, it is important to recognize that we don't have the big picture, so we need to accept certain boundaries or limits. Understanding how we fit into the grand scheme isn't always easy, but it is particularly important in the corporate world. So obviously you need to be a team player.
- Leverage your expertise, and those of your colleagues. As I explained earlier, I love project management, working with people and leadership. Since I was a teenager, I've been able to walk into a business and almost intuitively understand their processes and needs to be able to design solutions. Thankfully, I'm also able to clearly communicate with the client and transform their needs into requirements so that developers can deliver effective solutions. It's a wonderful partnership that allows each of us to make the most of what we do best. As one of my colleagues expressed it:
"Teresa has the rare ability to understand a project from the concept perspective BEFORE we are all buried in the application feature detail. The ability to quickly understand the business concept combined with Teresa's exceptional communication skills allows her to design clear, concise and user friendly software applications."
- Stretch yourself and take on challenges. Life is full of challenges, these are opportunities that enrich our lives and fill it with excitement. People should not limit themselves based on their past experiences or current knowledge and they certainly shouldn't limit themselves based on their own perceptions! Some of my own accomplishments illustrate that. If you know something can be done and you have access to resources, then you have the potential to accomplish the task. Remember, you are not required to go solo, you have a network of colleagues and friends who also want you to succeed. Keep in mind that success is not necessarily being first across the finish line.
When I mentioned not limiting yourself based on your own perceptions, you can take that to heart. I don't see myself as athletic, I loathe exercise, have never gone to a gym. But, in order to raise awareness and help find a cure for paralysis, I finished the STP, riding 220 miles from Seattle to Portland. The fact that I didn't ride or even own a bike didn't stop me.
Challenges can be a great motivator. You can anticipate the inherit reward of adrenalin rush and sense of accomplishment. You don't have to finish first, but you need to get into the game. And then, make the most of it.
Q21: With everything that you are involved with, where do you see your career going from here?
A: Well, I intend to live my motto:
Live is full of opportunities, celebrate them all.
We need to enjoy our lives as we live them. Yes, they are full of choices, but isn't it wonderful to have so many things to choose amongst. This year, I vowed to be more open to new adventures and opportunities and to travel more.
That is exactly what is happening. As the MVP Summit was approaching, I was still finishing our book, consulting on an Access Experts book and talking about another title. And, just before the summit, I was invited to create a demo tape for the Access training videos. It was a tight squeeze, but I managed to create the demo tape less than an hour before heading to the MVP Summit. Now I'm about to go to New York for the test screening. After that, I'll only have 2 months to create the video content. Plus I've already teamed up for yet another book that we'll finish in August. Right in the middle, I'm also hoping to be at TechEd to help INETA with webcasts and the Leadership Summit and Birds of a Feather. Those are just the highlights of things that are supporting the Access and ICT communities.
In addition to that, I'm always looking for ways to expand both my experiences and my client base. That's one of the wonders of project management, instead of having a niche in one industry or region, I am constantly introduced to new industries and situations. They all benefit from my diverse background and wealth of contacts. I'm fortunate to already have clients across the country, and although it is often helpful to visit their offices, I have also created solutions and prototypes without meeting in person.
Since I really enjoy consulting and public speaking, I'm looking forward to opportunities to speak at conferences and maybe do some management team consulting to help companies define their projects or even redirect projects that seem to have missed the mark. That was a skill that I honed as a federal employee. I was recognized for turning projects around, dealing with tense situations and building consensus.
Although I don't know where my career is going right now, I am enjoying the opportunities as they are presented. That's the most important factor in success. To do what you enjoy and to enjoy what you are doing.
Closing Comment: Teresa, we thank you for sharing your time with us and we wish you continued success for the future.
A: Thank you for this opportunity. You've asked some really good questions that deserve a lot of thought. We've spent a lot more time than either of us anticipated, but it is for a worthwhile purpose. I hope that people will gain a lot from our discussion. There are some really great tips, not just for user groups, but for running good meetings in general. I'd like to express that it was a privilege to spend this time with you and I hope to hear from some of the readers.