My social media journey

Last week, I spent some time with the risual Marketing team recording a short interview on “my social media journey”. The idea was that I have an established blog and I’m prolific on Twitter – what could colleagues pick up from my experience that might help them?

Then the team decided to put it out on YouTube! You can watch the video below but I apologise for the constant glancing at my Surface screen – I only had 20 minutes to prepare and we shot it all in one take!

For those without time to watch the video – these are the notes I prepared in advance for Jordan’s questions:

risual: First off, can you talk about what influenced/inspired you to start using social media/your blog?

Mark: I started blogging in about 2004. We didn’t even use the term “social media” then around about then having a “weblog” had started to become popular. I just wanted somewhere to store my notes and thought they might be useful to others too. 13 years later and there are around 2500 posts on there!

I’m pretty bad at remembering things – even today it surprises me when I search for an answer and my own site comes up in search results!

Twitter was a bit different. I really didn’t “get it” at first, then it clicked one day when I was watching a keynote video and saw the moderated tweets on the hashtag alongside. I could really see the value. I started tweeting soon afterwards (at a Microsoft event) and over time Twitter has become my main social media output.

risual: In terms of starting off, did you have a goal? How did you build up your follower count?

Mark: I didn’t really have a goal, but the site sort of took off – as I wrote more, more people read it. Then I put some ads on the pages and it started to make money. Then Google changed their algorithm and I started to lose money ;-). I’m not in it for the money though.

Actually, there was a time (around 2005) when I was double-blogging on my own site and my employer’s site – myself and Jamie Thomson [@jamiet] (who also went on to be an MVP) had a bit of an internal battle at as the company’s most prolific bloggers – me for infrastructure and him for data!

As for followers, I’m not too worried about the number of followers – more in the quality of those followers.

If you create good content the followers will come naturally.

risual: How much time do you spend updating your blog or using social media daily?

Mark: Not enough and too much at the same time! I would like to have more time to write blog posts but you do have to be in the right frame of mind. I have loads of part-written posts – and even set up a Kanban board in Office 365 Planner a few nights ago to try and sort out my blog post planning!

Twitter is a lot easier – you can tweet on the train, in gaps between meetings, etc. But it’s good to tweet at times when people are around (UK and US business hours) – all too often I find myself catching up on Twitter at bedtime when I should be sleeping. It’s not healthy!

risual: Do you think it’s helped you engage better with other tech professionals with the ability to keep up to date with what topics are “hot”?

Mark: Absolutely. My personal brand has been greatly enhanced with blogging and tweeting. It’s probably how I got my MVP Award and, even though I’m not an MVP anymore I’m still recognised by Microsoft as what their marketing folks call an “influencer”.

risual: What do you get out of it all personally? You’ve obviously got a very busy job and have no obligation to do it, but do, why?

Mark: Narcissism! No, not really. I think personal branding is important in our industry. It’s amazing how often I meet people in the real world that I know via social media. In fact, I once attended an interview where the interviewer told me he read my blog – that was a bit of a curved ball!

risual: It may seem like an obvious question, but what’s your own advice for those starting out on Twitter hoping to build a following?

Mark: Not obvious at all!

  1. Just dive in there and start RTing things you think are relevant.
  2. Tweet links to your own blog posts.
  3. The more you tweet the more followers you will get. It’s just the way it is. Having said that, quality is more important than quantity.
  4. Engage, reply – don’t just broadcast.
  5. Don’t just tweet things to advertise your company! People don’t want to be marketed to (at least not in an obvious way). I sometimes tweet risual posts that I’ve been involved in – or if it’s something that could really make a difference to people – like what we’re doing in Education. But I also mix it with lots of tweets from other people (not just Microsoft!) and about 10% personal stuff. People follow people, not brands!

I have about 43,000 tweets at the moment. Over an 8 year period that’s not many a day (<15 on average) although I have to admit a big chunk of my tweeting was when I was working in a role where it was actually a part of my job!

risual: How do you keep up to date with the latest technology news in order to talk about them when they’re still hot out of the oven?

Mark: I listen to podcasts (like the Microsoft Cloud Show and WB-40) and Twitter is my main news source. I’d like to read more blogs but don’t have the time.

Twitter is a bit of an echo chamber at times but I’ve created some lists of people who tweet interesting content (I have a CTO watchlist, a Microsoft watchlist and a risual list) and I try to keep up to date with them. I don’t actually read all of the tweets for all the people I follow – mostly just the ones on these lists!

Architecture for the Microsoft platform: defining standards, principles, reference architecture and patterns

BlueprintIT architecture is a funny old game… you see, no-one does it the same way. Sure, we have frameworks and there’s a lot of discussion about “how” to “architect” (is that even a verb?) but there is no defined process that I’m aware of and that’s broadly adopted.

A few years ago, whilst working for a large systems integrator, I was responsible for parts of a technology standardisation programme that was intended to use architecture to drive consistency in the definition, design and delivery of solutions. We had a complicated system of offerings, a technology strategy, policies, architectural principles, a taxonomy, patterns, architecture advice notes, “best practice”, and a governance process with committees. It will probably come as no surprise that there was a fair amount of politics involved – some “not invented here” and some skunkworks projects with divisions defining their own approach because the one from our CTO Office “ivory tower” didn’t fit well.

I’m not writing this to bad-mouth a previous employer – that would be terribly bad form – but I honestly don’t believe that the scenario I’ve described would be significantly different in any large organisation. Politics is a fact of life when working in a large enterprise (and some smaller ones too!). And what we created was, at its heart, sound. I might have preferred a different technical solution to manage it (rather than a clunky portfolio application based on SharePoint lists and workflow) but I still think the principles were solid.

Fast-forward to 2016 and I’m working in a much smaller but rapidly-growing company and I’m, once again, trying to drive standardisation in our solutions (working with my peers in the Architecture Practice). This time I’m taking a much more lightweight approach and, I hope, bringing key stakeholders in our business on the journey too.

We have:

  • Standards: levels of quality or attainment used as a measure or model. These are what we consider as “normal”.
  • Principles: fundamental truths or propositions that serve as a foundation for a system or behaviour. These are the rules when designing or architecting a system – our commandments.

We’ve kept these simple – there are a handful of standards and around a dozen principles – but they seem to be serving us well so far.

Then, there’s our reference architecture. The team has defined three levels:

  • An overall reference model that provides a high level structure with domains around which we can build a set of architecture patterns.
  • The technical architecture – with an “architecture pattern” per domain. At this point, the patterns are still technology-agnostic – for example a domain called “Datacentre Services” might include “Compute”, “Storage”, “Location”, “Scalability” and so on. Although our business is purely built around the Microsoft platform, any number of products could theoretically be aligned to what is really a taxonomy of solution components – the core building blocks for our solutions.
  • “Design patterns” – this is where products come into play, describing the approach we take to implementing each component, with details of what it is, why it would be used, some examples, one or more diagrams with a pattern for implementing the solution component and some descriptive text including details such as dependencies, options and lifecycle considerations. These patterns adhere to our architectural standards and principles, bringing the whole thing full-circle.

It’s fair to say that what we’ve done so far is about technology solutions – there’s still more to be done to include business processes and on towards Enterprise Architecture but we’re heading in the right direction.

I can’t blog the details here – this is my personal blog and our reference architecture is confidential – but I’m pleased with what we’ve created. Defining all of the design patterns is laborious but will be worthwhile. The next stage is to make sure that all of the consulting teams are on board and aligned (during which I’m sure there will be some changes made to reflect the views of the guys who live and breathe technology every day – rather than just “arm waving” and “colouring in” as I do!) – but I’m determined to make this work in a collaborative manner.

Our work will never be complete – there’s a balance to strike between “standardisation” and “innovation” (an often mis-used word, hence the quotation marks). Patterns don’t have to be static – and we have to drive forward and adopt new technologies as they come on stream – not allowing ourselves to stagnate in the comfort of “but that’s how we’ve always done it”. Nevertheless, I’m sure that this approach has merit – if only through reduced risk and improved consistency of delivery.

Image credit: Blueprint, by Will Scullin on Flickr (used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence).

Future Decoded 2016 highlights (#FutureDecoded)

Two years ago, I attended Future Decoded – Microsoft’s largest UK event, which has taken place each November for the last few years at the ExCeL centre in London. It’s a great opportunity to keep up to date with the developments in the Microsoft stack, with separate Business-focused and Technical-focused days and some really good keynote speakers as well as quality breakout sessions.

Future Decoded has particular significance for me because it’s where I “met” risual, who have been headline sponsors for the last 3 events. After the 2014 event, I decided to find out more about risual and, in May 2015 I finally joined the “risual family”. This year I was lucky enough to be on one of our five stands (one headline stand in the form of a Shoreditch pub, complete with risuAle, and one each for our solutions businesses in retail, justice, education and productivity). I had a fantastic (if very tiring) day connecting with former colleagues, customers, industry contacts and potential new customers – as we chatted about how risual could help them on their digital transformation journey.

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Whilst I wasn’t able to attend a lot of the sessions, indeed I was consulting with a customer in the north-east of England on the first day, I did manage to catch the day 2 keynote and was blown away with some of the developments around machine learning and artificial intelligence (maybe more on that in another post). I also noticed the teams behind the Microsoft Business (@MSFTBusinessUK) and Microsoft Developer (@MSDevUK) Twitter handles were tweeting sketch notes, which I thought might be a useful summary of the event:

You can also catch all of the main announcements in these two Microsoft live blog posts from the event:

New year, and a new(ish) role as I move back to architecture

Back in May, I moved from Fujitsu to join risual. There were many reasons for me leaving, including that I think systems integrators are in for a really rough time as they attempt to adapt to a changing marketplace; that I was unhappy with some changes being made to the organisation and to my professional community; and that I had serious concerns about the company’s strategy for working with Microsoft (a partner whose technologies have been key to large parts of my career). I also wanted to get closer to technology again, and that wasn’t really an option for me where I was.

Jumping ship to a small but growing consultancy was a risky move and a six-month probation period gave me some concern but I’ve come through that and I have to say I’ve really enjoyed the last 7-and-a-half months. Of course, there have been challenges along the way but I’ve joined a great team (or family, as the directors prefer to refer to it) – and learning just after I joined that risual had been named Microsoft UK Partner of the Year for 2015 was a special bonus. I’m working bloody hard… but I don’t mind hard work when I can see where it’s headed, that it’s worthwhile, and that I’m enjoying it.

At its heart, risual is a consultancy business. That means that everyone who joins risual joins as a Consultant. The only exceptions are the support roles, sales people and Engagement Managers. risual doesn’t hire Architects directly, regardless of previous experience and background.

We do have an Architecture team though – and, earlier this month, I learned that my application had been successful and that, with immediate effect, I was to become one of the Enterprise Architects in risual’s Business Group. Whilst I’ve enjoyed working in the Unified Communications team, I’m a generalist and the guys there are specialists with some really good (deep) skills. My work now becomes more focused on achieving business outcomes through technology, helping customers to shape their strategy and leading some of the larger projects that we have from a technical perspective.

2015’s seen a lot of change as I rediscovered what it is I want to do and how to enjoy work again. 2016 looks like it will be the year I consolidate and build on my experience to drive my career forward. I’ve certainly got an increasingly-full diary with a challenging project to move a Government department to the Microsoft cloud, interspersed with some interesting business consulting engagements – and that’s just the next couple of months!

So, with that little update, I’m signing off for 2015. For everyone who reads this blog and the constant stream of tweets @markwilsonit, I’d to thank you for your support and to wish you all the best in 2016.

Moving on…

Just under ten years ago, I wrote a blog post to say I was leaving Conchango, and (re-)joining Fujitsu (it was ICL when I left).  Since then, I’ve moved through a succession of roles (technical, IT strategy and governance, management and pre-sales), worked with some extremely talented people and I’ve had some good times (as well as some less good) but one of the highlights has to be when I was given a Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer award last year.

Receiving a Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer award from Michael Keegan (Head of UK and Ireland region) and Jon Wrennall (CTO), in October 2014

Now, that time has come to an end, because today’s my last day at Fujitsu before I take up a new role in just over a week’s time.

For those who didn’t see my tweet last month, I’ll be returning to technical consultancy, joining the unified communications team at risual.

risual is a dedicated, UK based, globally recognised IT Services organisation delivering business aligned consultancy, solutions and services based solely on the Microsoft platform.  Along with several thousand others, I first came across risual when their corporate video was launched at Microsoft Future Decoded last year and what a refreshing change it made! Digging a little deeper told me they have a great reputation – and that’s capped off by appearing in The Sunday Times’ top 100 best small companies to work for list.

I have to admit I am a little anxious about the move – but really excited too and looking forward to joining the risual “family” and getting stuck in.  And, if ever there was proof of what a small industry we work in, I already found that I’m linked to quite a few of my new colleagues through Twitter or this blog!