Breaking into a new field is hard. You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know who to ask, you’re afraid to ask, it takes a long time to get traction. That was my experience when I first started with SharePoint almost 7 years ago. I struggled through it with no idea what I was doing, but was blessed with working with someone who believed in me from day one and pushed me to do better every single day. And with his support, I got to spread my wings.
This year I started a new hobby – organic gardening / small scale farming to get away from genetically modified food. I realised that I would have to do an entire lifestyle change to succeed in this. My experience with SharePoint immediately kicked in and the learning curve has dropped exponentially! What took me almost 2 years in SharePoint, I achieved in 4 months in the organic world. This is what I did.
1. Find out who the key people are in the industry
Read books and Google the authors of the ones you like. Find their websites, read their blogs, see who there refer. Make note of who’s names keep coming up – those are the industry specialists.
2. Use social media
Introduce yourself to those book authors, comment on their blogs, add them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, follow their Facebook pages, email them. Be polite, tell them who you are, that you’re new, and that you need their help. Engage in conversations with people on social media. Many people think Facebook is just for fun, but it is a gigantic online community filled with very interesting, knowledgeable people who are only too happy to share and engage with you.
3. Do your homework
Don’t be lazy and just pummel all the specialists with 800 questions. Be diligent and do some research yourself first. Show that you are meeting them half way so you aren’t wasting their time. Specialists in all industries are always busy people, respect that. Come up with specific questions about something you’ve discovered.
4. Put yourself out there
Go to events, courses, shops, offices in person and meet people in the flesh. Make sure you always have business cards on you and follow up with an email after the meeting. Be consistent. If there are user groups for the industry, start attending them religiously.
5. Choose people wisely
If anyone is unkind to you on your new journey, get away from them and find someone else. If you’re really passionate about the subject, you may want to be in that field for a long time. It’s important to surround yourself with nice people. Horrible people can make your journey an utter misery. Learn to pick up the signs fast and move on; there’s plenty of amazing people out there, go find them.
6. Document your journey
None of us live in a bubble, if you are interested in changing your stars, chances are there’s a whole army of people wanting to do the same. Once you’ve been in an industry for a long time, you forget what it was like the first year. That’s when you can get arrogant about your skills. Don’t become like that. So document your entire journey so others can follow one day and you can remember where you came from.
7. Be patient
It’s a process and you won’t know everything overnight. It is said that to become an expert you need 10 000 hours / 10 years experience. Most people don’t have the fortitude to stick something out that long. One day at a time. And no matter how slow you’re going, it’s still faster than the person sitting on the couch watching TV. Everything will happen when it’ supposed to.
8. Google is your friend
The best advice I ever got in my first year of SharePoint, was “Google it”. I was driving my mentor crazy with questions and in sheer frustration he sent me to Google. While I was kinda miffed at that, it was the best advice ever! Don’t go to mainstream media for your information, find alternative news sources. Check your facts over and over. Don’t believe just once source, check 10 to see if they all say the same thing. Confirm your findings with industry specialists.
9. Be innovative
Newbies may not know it all, but the one thing they do have is a fresh perspective on an old problem. Don’t be afraid to make innovative suggestions – and then follow through with them. Those that have been around a while sometimes get stuck in the “can’t see the wood for the trees” type of thing.
10. Pay it forward
When someone in the new industry helps and mentors you; when you are able, do the same. Never forget where you came from.