Hello again

For years I blogged a lot.  It’s how many of you got to know me.  Then it became a chore and I let it slide lower and lower on my priority list until it no longer had a place on my to-do.  My last post was nearly 4 years ago, my last tech post, even longer.

I tried to revive my writing at the beginning of the pandemic, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  So, I decided to give myself a break and not feel like I had to exceed at everything all of the time.

With the pandemic I went from travelling more than 100,000 miles per year to nearly no miles per year.  We would go months without putting gas in the car.  Photography has always been a hobby, but without new adventures that slowed down so much that I wasn’t even keeping the batteries charged for my camera.  We couldn’t see our kids.  We couldn’t see our parents. I was in quite a funk like most all of us. 

I love to eat, so I’ve always loved to cook.  But now we were cooking all of our meals. I started documenting more of what we made.  I learned how to make my own wine, I named it Tipsy Traveler.

My random pandemic accomplishment was design school.  I attended, and graduated from, a self-paced online interior design program.  I’ve been putting that to use in designing our new house.

So, here I am trying this writing thing again. 

I split my blog, one for tech, one for the other stuff.

From a tech perspective my role has evolved to more training and curriculum and less hands on keys making things for clients.  I joined the board of directors for a non-profit that helps excite high schoolers in technology. I still share my voice to decision-makers in DC trying to help small tech and app makers.

For the other stuff, I started to document and share some of my cooking and design work.  And it makes me happy to relive the stories behind the photos, so I’ll be including that here.  And who knows, maybe there will be some new travels and new photos, too.

The techy stuff will be here, the non-techy stuff here.  And there will certainly be crossover between the two because that is who I am.

Oh, and I got a puppy.  His name is Lio. 

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Using browser translate for Microsoft Learn content

Використання перекладача браузера для матеріалів Microsoft Learn

I will show the steps in Edge browser, but Chrome has a nearly identical way to do this also.
Я покажу кроки в браузері Edge, але у Chrome є практично ідентичний спосіб це зробити також.

Navigate to the settings area of Edge browser.
Перейдіть до області налаштувань браузера Edge.

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Add your preferred language.
Додайте бажану мову.

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Prioritize your preferred language.
Встановіть пріоритет вашої бажаної мови.

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When on the page that needs to be translated, right click and select translate.
Коли ви перебуваєте на сторінці, яку потрібно перекласти, натисніть правою кнопкою миші і виберіть опцію "Перекласти".

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Your page will now be in the translated language.
Тепер ваша сторінка буде у перекладеній мові.

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If you use the lesson’s navigation to page to the next page the translation continues.
Якщо ви використовуєте навігацію уроку для переходу на наступну сторінку, переклад продовжується.


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If you navigate separately, you can simply right-click and translate again.
Якщо ви навігуєтесь окремо, ви можете просто клацнути правою кнопкою миші і знову перекласти.

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Now your page is displayed in the translated language again.
Тепер ваша сторінка знову відображається у перекладеній мові.

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What kind of apps would a citizen developer make?

Sure, I’ve been around this industry forever, but I hardly ever have a chance to make personal productivity apps for me.  I’m also spending loads of time training and have less and less time for building stuff.  I’ve never been into coding, not even copy/paste of someone’s script on a CRM form.

And as much as it pains me to say it, I made a Power App with an Excel data source.  But that’s what the situation called for, and that’s what Power Platform enabled me to do.

Please note that I am aware that there are a million ways to accomplish what I did, this is the way that I chose to make it with my time and available resources.

Power Apps come in all shapes and sizes to solve business problems of all kinds.  They don't have to be fancy, they have a job to do.  As long as they do the job, that's often just what you need.

This is the story of making a gradebook app.

Some of the details:

  • Four users of the app, we are all licensed users on the same tenant
  • We are supporting cohorts of students and their weekly assignments
  • Each cohort has about 100 members
  • Cohorts last six weeks
  • Most of the time we have two active cohorts because their weeks overlap, so that’s around 200 active students at a time

Also of note:

  • I am not an admin of the tenant
  • I have a good Enterprise Office/Microsoft 365 license, but no Power Platform add-ons

The general flow of things is that each week students have short writing assignments.   Trainers need to review the assignments and provide feedback to students in a timely manner. There are a few other things we track, but the heavy lifting is the writing assignments and feedback cycle.

The writing assignments

Each cohort has 6 forms, one for each week. We open up each week using native functionality to start the new week’s form on a certain date. 

Data

Let’s start with the backend, the data.

There is a connector that allows me to capture Forms responses.

There is a connector that allows me to populate an Excel row in a table.

Our unique identifier in this case is the student email address.  This comes with good and bad.  Good, it’s easy for me on the build side.  Bad, so many ways for this to not make the match we hope for, and it causes the cloud flow to fail.  For now, we review failures and manually correct our gradebook as needed.  Better error handling/avoidance is on the near-term backlog.  ***edited to add*** I added some error handling this weekend and woohoo, it was so easy!

Each week has a form.  Each form has a flow.  And because of data retention policies each cohort has its own series of forms.  So, March cohort has 6 forms and 6 flows; April cohort has 6 forms and 6 flows, and so on.  For me, for now, this is ok.  We have a master set of each and making the forms and flows for a new cohort takes fewer than ten minutes total.

The flow is very simple.  Very. 

The trigger is this named form is submitted.

Now take the info from the form.

Match to this row of this table of this file in this location.

Add these things to the row.

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The Power App

For the app itself, it is built in the Teams channel we use to manage the cohorts.

It has 8 screens.

Main screen- This is where we pick the student we need to view.  This is a read-only screen. 

Student detail screen- We see the student info to include identifying info and assignments in summary form. This is a read-only screen.

Weekly screens- there are six of these pages, one for each week.  They are effectively the same except each week shows that week’s questions and answers.  From here we can track some of their non-writing activities and we can offer them feedback on the writing assignments. 

Let’s look more at the functionality of each screen.

Main screen

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This is a simple page to select the student.  For now, the students are listed by their username they have on the cohort Team. That might change to their email in the future, we’ll see how it goes in practical day-to-day use.  Sometimes we need to see a student for weekly feedback.  Sometimes it’s to update their participation in other activities. 

When a trainer is going to spend some time offering feedback, it’s easier if we know who is waiting for the feedback.  So, the checkbox will only show us students who have submitted assignments and have not yet received feedback for that assignment.  This query was the most cumbersome because we have to perform the same check for each of the six weeks in this one query.  It was a bunch of if this and this or this and this, and so on.  Once the first weekly logic was set, adding the other weeks was very simple.

I had noticed that sometimes the selected student wasn’t clearing as expected.  It was sticky.  I would look at Student A, go back home.  Select Student B, and on view would see Student A instead.  So I added a clear button for when that happens.  It was so inconsistent that this was the fastest way to solve the problem instead of troubleshooting the why, we just solved it with a button.

Student detail screen

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The available actions on this page are to go home (click that shiny cohort badge/logo takes you home), or drill into a week.  Looking at this example you can quickly see that the first two weeks have the writing completed by the student, and feedback provided.  But the third week has the student input, but no feedback yet.  So, the trainer clicks the button for the week from the center of the page.  If you were here to track other activities, you would still drill into the week to track that.

Weekly feedback screens

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This is where the action happens.  Before we got here, everything was read-only and directional. First, we have the non-action, action items.  You can go home from here by selecting the icon.  You can go back to the student summary screen with the back button. 

Most of the fields on this page are read-only.

If you are here to track the non-writing activities, you can add your responses to those fields (there are two) and select the save icon.  This sends the updates back to the Excel table. (Yup, we’re still on Excel here, did you forget?)

If you are here to provide feedback to the writing assignment, you enter your text in the review box, and select the Send Feedback button.  This will send the save back to the table for any of the three fields you could have edited.  But it also uses the Office connector and sends feedback in an email to the student.  The email comes from the current user of the app.  This is NOT a flow, it’s via a formula here in the app.

If you need to view other weekly activities for this student while you are here, you can navigate to any of the weeks directly from this page using the buttons on the top.

Random findings

  • Still not a huge fan of Excel as a data source, but it’s what we have available here so it’s what we use. It is stored in a location far away from our other daily files, so chances of it accidentally being updated are less than if it were in a common location.
  • Even experienced people have to search for formula help, and they make things via trial and error. I’m surrounded by super smart people and asked for help when I needed it.  They still had to go look things up.  And often things didn’t work on the first try.
  • There is usually more than one way to do the same thing. For example, sending the feedback to the student each week could have been a cloud flow.  The send feedback button was originally intended to trigger a flow to grab info from the table, then compose and send the email.  But, it turned out for our purposes, using native functionality we could compose it all inline in the app itself and make it a more direct path to send, and it was easier to make it come from the current user with the in app email send.
  • I could probably make a single flow for each cohort combining the six weeks into one cloud flow. For me that adds a layer of complexity that is just not needed here.  It would make troubleshooting problems more difficult.
  • Flow error messages can give enough detailed information to be able to manually complete the task, if the task is small.
  • Things were easier for me because I am pretty good at quickly recognizing patterns and using them as needed with minor modifications.
  • Things were more difficult for me because I am a three-dimensional thinker and Excel is not a relational database, it’s pretty darn flat.
  • It’s ok to ask for help.

All in all, I spent about 20 hours on this so far.  That includes everything from the structure of the table that powers the backend to the apps and automation.  I also needed help a couple of times that added up to another couple of hours from my friends.  This app will save our team several times that amount in a single cohort and we start new cohorts each month.  It was definitely worth making this app.  Even with Excel.


How you can support the women around you

Full disclosure, you should be doing these things daily.  But if it took a special named day to get your attention, and now that I have your attention, I’m going to tell you how you can support women in your personal and professional orbit. 

  1. Support our choices with our bodies. That includes keeping your unwanted hands and opinions to yourself.
  2. Pay women what they are worth. 
  3. Stop charging more for women’s products.
  4. Celebrate the successes of women.
  5. Listen to us. We have great ideas.
  6. Stop talking over us. Finishing my sentence isn’t even cute if we’re married.
  7. Don’t take credit for our ideas and our work.
  8. See to it that others see your example, and feel free to tell them to do better when needed.
  9. It doesn’t matter if we are feminine, masculine, or somewhere in between, we belong at the table, on the stage, anywhere we want to be.

And if you just can’t do the things above, get out of the way.  You don’t have to help, just stop making it harder.


Certification renewals from Microsoft Learn

Recently we’ve had the option to incrementally update some of our certifications.  A certification has a shelf-life.  And it should.  The product, the training content, the exam questions, are all updated quite often.  However, the incremental differences are not worthy of a full re-do of a certification every year.  We now have the chance to take an assessment of the net new and extend a certification.

With the renewals, you have a few chances to pass.  My strategy, take the assessment to see what gaps I may have to fill to be more current.  Just like with the exams themselves, there is no better study guide than the test itself.  If I started the assessment and knew right away it was not going to end in my favor, then I slow down and re-read every question, every one of the answer options.  Make sure I know what is expected of me for the next time.  The renewals are free, and you get more than one chance to pass.

A million years ago, I did a blog post about my failing a certification exam.  You can find my post from 2011 here.  So much of it is still relevant today.  It even looks like Microsoft may have taken some of my advice and split the old-school applications exam into separate ones based on products/modules.

You should set realistic expectations of yourself.  No one has to know your score, unless you tell them.  Certifications are binary; you are certified, or you are not certified.

When you pass the exam by one question, you get the same certification as the person with a perfect score, no gold stars for anyone- Julie Yack, 2011

 

I did my renewal yesterday and am just as certified as anyone else. 

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How to build your own collection on Microsoft Learn

The Microsoft Learn platform hosts Collections.  These collections are several learning assets in a container.  There are official collections like the Biz Apps Skilling collection (https://aka.ms/BAPSkilling).
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You can also make (and share) your own collections.  You may have just completed a training such as one of the Business Applications Skilling cohort experiences and want to build your “what’s next” collection.  Here’s how. 

Login to Learn and click on your profile in the top right.  This will load a page like this one.  Select Collections from the options.  Click +New collection.
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Name and save your collection.
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You can fill your collection starting from the collection.  Add items to the collection.

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Or from viewing a lesson in Learn, when you click the +Save option.

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And choosing the collection.

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Collections can be just for you, or you might want to share one.  This is also where you can edit some of the details about your collection.

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See it in action as I build and organize a collection.







Getting geared up for conferences again

Wow, it's been a hot minute since we've all met in person, no?

I am immunocompromised and as vaccinated as vaccinated can be.  My doctor and I decided I can travel again, even speak at events.  So, come October, I'll be out there with you all.

I had written a post about being prepared for an event (CRMUG Summit 2016 to be precise).  And it is all still good advice.  But now we have to add a a few more items to the list.

  • We all missed in-person events, but many of us are still terrified of germs and have spent the last few years avoiding them.  Please don't be the person that gets me (or other vulnerable people) sick.  If you suspect you have an active contagious anything, stay home this round.

  • Don't be offended when someone like me is wearing a mask, or asks your vaccination status before giving that hug (can we establish a V hand signal, like V for victory and V for vaccinated??).  There are still people dying from COVID and flu.  I'd rather not be one of them.

  • Remember what we all loved about being in person.  Talking about the cool things we've been doing.  Sharing our stories from the field. Learning from each other.

  • Be forgiving.  We've all had an isolating couple of years.  We may have lost some of our social skills, we may have gained a few pounds, many have lost loved ones.

  • Be smart. Wash your hands often.  See a sanitizer station- use it.  Don't sneeze or cough toward others.

    I'm really getting excited about seeing my community again.  I really did miss you all.



    Original list:
  • Minimize distractions back at the office. Work extra hard now to avoid the trap of trying to work AND attend the conference. If you find yourself replying to emails three times in every session you attend, you aren’t really going to get much out of the session. If you have to keep up with the folks back at work, set aside time and plan for a session to spend working in a quiet corner instead of being partially engaged in several sessions.
  • To ease the stress of leaving behind people at the office that would rather be at the conference with you, get their questions to take with you. What are their burning questions or concerns? Make sure you find the answers and resources to take back with you. Share the schedule with them in advance and then set up a lunch-and-learn the week you return and share your new knowledge and skills.
  • Dress for comfort. Now, I will say no jammies for sure. But also, not a suit. Good shoes are the best thing you can bring. Promise.
  • Stash some good snacks in your bag. You may find yourself in a great discussion and miss a conference meal or break. So grab some granola bars, some durable candy, whatever helps you make it to the meal later on. And drink water. You will be walking more than you plan, avoid dehydration.
  • Every speaker, planner, expert is approachable, so approach them. Raise your hand in the session. Wait after the talk to ask your question. Find them at lunch and sit at the same table. Go to the medics’ station. They are there to share their knowledge. So let them.
  • Plan your sessions in advance, mostly. Be open to last minute choices.
  • Get yourself a fresh CRM trial before you go so you can immediately try that new cool thing you learned. Ok, get at least THREE new free trials. I suggest one that is bare, one that specializes (like sales or service) and one with a solution like Field Service or Project Service in it. Different things work different ways with added customizations or data.
  • Take notes. Doesn’t matter if you’re a pen and paper person (me too!), if you like to scribble on your tablet or if you type it all organized. Take notes. I promise you won’t remember it all the next day.
  • There will be booze. Don’t be THAT person that acts a fool and gets everyone to pull out their cameras and you find yourself rather embarrassed.
  • Make friends, make memories.

How did I get here?

I recently posted a tweet, asking you how you got to Power Platform.  The responses were great, full of so many different answers.  I love how diverse they were, and how it really solidified for me that any path can be the right path.

For me, my path here was anything but intentional. Anyone that knew me as a young adult would have had me editing a big glossy magazine and living in Manhattan.

But a broken leg changed my path. When I was stuck with nothing to do, I started working as a software tester. Then I was writing requirements. Then I was architecting solutions. And now here I am. 

Back when we called Power Platform plain old XRM, I was amazed at how much I could build without a single line of code.  Now, we have an entire ecosystem to empower anyone.  Wow.

I was always interested in tech, curious about how things work, how can we solve problems in the most logical way. When I had the chance to teach others how to do the same thing, I knew I found my place. The opportunity to help people find a better version of themselves is quite a motivator.

My work has brought me around the world.  Seeing great things, meeting great people, eating great food. 



How to craft a good entry for a call for speakers/presentations

I’ve presented probably hundreds of times. I’ve evaluated hundreds of sessions.

What sessions get picked? What sessions don’t get picked?

In general…

  1. Relevant topic is important. Super important.
  2. Unique topic is important. But not so niche that only 2 people will attend the session.
  3. Catchy, but not cutesy session title. Shorter is better.  We can help you with this later if needed.
  4. Catchy, but not cutesy session description. At least a paragraph, but not so long that I no longer need your presentation.
  5. If your session description is one poorly written sentence, but your bio is 5 paragraphs of perfection, that means you care about you (good) but don’t care about my event (bad).
  6. Fill out the details on the call for speakers. There’s lots of empty cells on those spreadsheets when we review, if yours is full of answers, we pay attention.
  7. When asked “how did you find out about us?” don’t say “online.” OF COURSE, you found out online, where, how, who?
  8. We don’t have to know you, but if we don’t make sure you have enough of an online presence that we can evaluate your fitness as a presenter and subject matter expert. Also, answer the question above if you have a named person that we do know that said to go submit, that gives credibility.
  9. I personally love to nurture new talent. So, don’t let lack of experience prevent you from submitting. And don’t assume a long pedigree is a magical front of the line pass.
  10. Ask for peer review on your submissions. Find someone that has subject matter expertise, and a good handle on the event, and get their feedback.

logo contest for @xrmvirtual

Are you just waiting for your claim to fame?  Ready for the riches that follow?  Well, we have what you’ve been waiting for!  Our CRM developer user group, xrmvirtual, needs a new logo.  Ours is tired.

You can win a $100 gift card to Amazon.com or $100 donation to the charity of your choosing? Email your designs, sketches or entries ideas for a new logo to [email protected]  by August 15, 2015. At September’s meeting we will announce the winner of the contest. 

We can’t wait to see everyone’s idea!! Don’t wait… Deadline is August 15th, 2015!!!

See, that’s a tired logo:

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INETA Business Announcement

In February of 2002 the .NET framework was released.  The same month, INETA was born.  The International .NET Association has served user groups and the developers they serve all around the globe.  In the beginning, funding was plentiful. But there has been a steady decline in funding the last several years.  It has been years since there has been funding of significance.  We have always had a steady group of sponsors that have jumped in to help when asked for our annual birthday celebrations or other specific asks.  But donations to our general fund have dried up.  This is the fund that primarily supports our speaker program and our evangelism of user groups and the communities they represent.

It is with this in mind that we share this message.  The Board of Directors for INETA (North America) voted and INETA (North America) will be closing its doors at the end of 2015.

We can choose to be sad or we can choose to be proud.

Proud of the work of all those that have worked so hard for this volunteer organization.  Proud of watching over user groups as they become self-sufficient.  We have worked ourselves out of a job.  How can that be an awful thing?

So, what’s the plan?  We plan to spend the remainder of 2015 with as much business as usual as possible.  After years of careful investments and spending cuts, we have a few extra dollars sitting around waiting to help our groups.  How can we help you?  How can we solidify the legacy of INETA?  Tell us?  (link: http://bit.ly/1Nsbzer )

Any funds leftover at the end of the year will be donated to a charity that the board has yet to select.  But it will most certainly be an organization that will continue to further the mission of giving back to the professional community and educating its members.

There will be some housekeeping things to deal with as the year comes to a close, so keep an eye out.  If it applies to you directly, we will be in touch with you directly.

We will never be able to aptly thank those that built this community and those that have given hours and hours of time to get us here.  It is our hope that they understand and respect the difficult course of action we've now had to take.

We are proud of our legacy.  Proud of our 736 user groups.  Proud of our 727 speakers.