Events

MBAS H4CK4Good – Atlanta – June 2019 A First Timers Account….

MBAS H4CK4Good – Atlanta – June 2019

A First Timers Account….

Graham “show-me-the-code” Tomkins
Expectations:
(Adrenaline Level: Normal +10)

Upon signing up for my first PowerApps Hackathon, my brain ran off with dreams of sleep deprivation, Visual Studio compiler errors, night long lock-ins, pizza, tears, Coca-Cola, intravenous coffee, lengthy presentation and a serious atmosphere….

How wrong was I (in a good way it turns out)!

Prep!:
(Adrenaline Level: Increasing +20)

After being contacted by Geetha the awesome leader of TeamBlack (woo go team!) my thoughts raced on further – just how much code can we produce? What constraints will we have? Etc.  Across the week preceding the Hack, the team was stood up, got to know one another, lost members, gained members – most importantly (or so we thought) we had used the numerous evening calls to read and understand the scenarios, choose one and put a plan together to ram as much of the platform into a solution as humanly possible – by the time it came to travel – we had a plan!

An awesome Plan.

Arrival and Openings:
(Adrenaline Level: Static +20)

With the jet lag kicking in and the immense American breakfast sitting heavy, we arrived early (ish) with the like of Chris H, Will, Lucy M, Sarah A and Sarah C to find an ever growing room of helpers and equipment getting setup – also crucially, there was ample caffeine available.

Give me the Coffee and No-One Get’s Hurt

After the meet and greet with the team – plus newly assigned awesome team members – and muchos consumption of coffee and diet coke – the opening presentations occurred in all of their profanity riddled glory – whilst they were great, it dawned on us as a team that they had underlined something fundamental that was missing with our plan….. a solid and relatable problem statement!

Oh $%^&!

GO GO GO!:
(Adrenaline Level: Argh! +50)

Panic! Quick find a problem statement to fit our plan…. Or better yet – torch the original tech driven plan in favour of something with a relatable and real world problem statement (Thanks to Ghaith)!

Light fuse and stand well back

The team rallied around the real world experience in a medical disaster relief situation and we re-formed the plan into a solvable problem, the tasks were divvy’ed up and we began!

GO TEAM! YEAHH! (American Style Wooping)

 

Access Denied? Build Build!:
(Adrenaline Level: Argh^2 +60)

After the sorting of permissions and the usual environment fun and games, everyone was in and working – Josh on PowerBI, Geetha on the Canvas App, Ludovic and Ghaith on real world data and guidance of the in progress Model Driven App whilst keeping one eye on the presentation and demo.

Problem 1 occurred – Why won’t it accept the Accelerator package solution?! It turns out regional locale settings dramatically affect the result of demo data 😊 after that we were away with the usual fun.

TBH the trial environments responded pretty well throughout the barrage of changes being hurled there way by teams left right and centre.

Who the Hell Pressed Publish ALL?!

 

Is that Food I can smell?:
(Adrenaline Level: Floor +0)

People kept walking past my desk with plates of something that smelt divine – and being a professional and 110% focussed on my work – I resisted…. For about 15 minutes….

Omnomnomnomnom omnomnom

The Blackout – where did my hours go?:
(Adrenaline Level: Ceiling +70)

After the chicken, mashed potato and on-boarding of more caffeine, we hunkered down… the carnage continued and we felt on track…. That was until William (full name used for serious effect) put the count down clock upon the screen…. It’s ok…. It must be a joke!…. right?…. we must have 3 or more hours remaining….. nope…. 41 minutes 19 seconds….

 

What The Actual *&^% Happened!

.…. The time ticked away and with 9 minutes to go we had a great framework, some things were working – others were bodged or ditched completely – at this point we felt like we had left enough time for the team to focus on the presentation practise and planning….

Honest. Guv.

Stop! Demo Time:
(Adrenaline Level: Penthouse +200)

The adrenaline started to peak, did it work? Who was first? Holy Crap where did all of these people come from??

We were up 2nd, it went well – didn’t it? No-one threw food or booed too loudly, that’s a plus right?

And breathe…

As we watched and applauded some awesome teams and results – the strength of the community I was sat in became ever more apparent.

Judges Deliberation:
(Adrenaline Level: And Relax +10)

Their task was tough, the teams had produced some fantastic outputs…. And bribes…. They needed time to think…. And that left a void in the plans and presentations, which, in any other arena would have been awkward and left me feeling uneasy – not here though.  As we went around the room for introducing and applauding the team leads, individuals from all over the place starting chipping in with feedback and comments, we heard from Lucy and most of her family tree, the charities who have given up their time on a Sunday etc. it dawned on me that all of the other ‘communities’ I had been party to, in my technical career prior to this were very much forced, cold, meeting like experiences in comparison – what we had here, in all of it’s profanity riddled glory, was the complete opposite.

Woo Group Hug

 

Overall:

The winners deserved it, I loved it and will be will be doing more, everyone had a great day (or so I think 😊), next time I will focus in on a smaller problem rather than trying to solve a wide array (which we did get close to but is damned impossible to demo in 5 mins!).

I will now be doing my best to pour some of my 13 years technical CRM (!) development experience into the community – #GottaLoveTheCode

Thanks All – This was not a boring Sunday

 

Proper Beer:
(Adrenaline Level: Replaced with Endorphins and Fermented Hops -100)

Oh and not to forget the lengthy celebrations that occurred after the event with a superb turn out at the German Beer Bar

Hack4Good – My First Hackathon

Hack4Good Group Photo

TL;DR

I’ll warn you – this is a long read! To summarise though – this Community is beyond awesome and the Hack4Good event just proved that we can genuinely change the world.

The Hype

When TDG announced that there was to be a hackathon in London, with the focus of it being the Non-Profit/Charity sector, I was straight in there on the registration (after which Mrs H was then informed  that I was booked in – easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission)

This was to be my first ever hackathon, a year ago I hadn’t even HEARD of hackathons, and it ticked so many boxes for me. For those who don’t know, it’s not hacking in the sense of breaking into systems etc – this is all about using software and platforms that are at your disposal to hack together a solution to a scenario within a given time limit. The most innovative, practical, deliverable, and potential-filled solution would win the day.

When the emails started to come out Chris asked (in typical CAPS LOCK STYLE) if I would lead a team. Me being me, I jumped at the chance – in for a penny, in for a pound.

And so the excitement began. Weeks turned into days, and my poor family and friends got fed up of hearing how stoked I was. When I saw this list of other team leaders, and saw the people who were on my team, I started to question my credentials. There were so many legends of the community involved – people I look up to, and follow with eagerness and anticipation.

The Buildup

At 5:30am on Saturday 16th February, loaded with snacks and tech, I headed towards the railway station. Nerves meeting with excitement, doubts meeting determination.

Arriving just before 8am I was struck by just how, on first impressions, the Microsoft Reactor in London is a strange space. Fully stocked drinks area, with stereotypical caffeine overload available, games area, and then a large open space with tables and a large video screen. It almost seemed spartan in its simplicity.

As everyone started to arrive, and we set up our various laptops and devices, that open space suddenly became this hive of technology and potential.

Hugs and Hellos were dished out with abandon, and cries of “It’s so good to meet you at last” were deafening in their abundance. I moved from person to person and finally got to meet people who I’d talked to online or who I’d been following for ages. I was even surprised to find people who wanted to meet me!

The Morning

With typical fervour and energy the trio of Chris Huntingford, Kyle Hill and William Dorrington (who had come over for the start despite having removal lorries outside his front door!) kicked off the day.

A surprise video message from James Phillips, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft, impressed upon all of us just how much the community is noticed by Microsoft and raised the expectations of all in the room another notch. If our dials were at 11 before that video, they were at 12 afterwards – and even Spinal Tap didn’t get to 12!

I’ll be honest at this point and admit that I can’t remember who presented exactly what and when – my mind was a maelstrom of ideas and planning.

The engaging Architect and Storyteller Alex Rijnoveanu (@WomanVsTech) from Microsoft delivered enthusiasm and encouragement.

The very funny, and trying-not-to-be-as-sweary, Sarah Critchley (@crmcat)presented in a way that only she could – with an idea about helping out stray cats using powerapps and other bits.

m-hance presented alongside Solent Mind, and that I related to what they did in a huge way because of the work I see in my day job at St. Andrew’s Healthcare. It was a sobering presentation in many ways, but also opened up our eyes as to “the art of the possible”.

Saurabh Pant and Sameer Bhangar had flown in from Microsoft (yes, all the way from Seattle) just for this event and then through away their planned roadmap presentation to give us all a major pep talk and stir us up even more. I have to say that the funniest thing was their very friendly (and also slightly sweary) rant about how much they had heard about Samit Saini in the past year! In so doing, it just served to show us all just what was possible – those who knew Samits journey smiled and laughed, and those who didn’t had their eyes opened to a new level of potential.

Quantiq presented some of the work they had done with the Leonard Cheshire charity and also give a glimpse of their toolkit for healthcare and the ideas kept flowing. As I look around at the other teams I could see people taking notes, typing away, and whispering to each other. This hackathon was going to be competitive, but boy was it going to deliver some amazing results.

I’ll apologise now to all the presenters as I haven’t done you justice in my few words, and I may have mangled your presentations up, but believe me when I say that all the presentations hit home with all of us listening. Those presentations took our plans, determination, and enthusiasm up to levels you just wouldn’t believe if you weren’t there!

Let The Hacking Commence

With a final presentation to lay down the rules of engagement, and also to make it clear that stopping for lunch was most definitely not an option, the starters gun was fired and the 4.5 hours of planning, building, and preparing began.

The buzz in the room was electric as each team discussed and planned out their scenario and then grabbing whiteboards and white space to map out what a solution could look like.

I’ll be writing more about the Team White proposal in the coming days, as there is more to come from that, but we settled on a solution that would utilise so much of the stack but would be able to be modularised and deployed as a “solution-in-a-box” approach.

With my amazing team of Penny, Josh, Denis and Raj we set about building Microsoft Forms, PowerApps, Dynamics 365 solutions, Flows, and the concept of the Hololens. Oh yes, Gadget King Raj had brought us a Hololens – and that just expanded the possibilities for us. We weren’t looking at gimmicks and tech-for-techs-sake, we were looking at a genuinely life-changing solution using some amazing software and hardware.

With a soundtrack of some amazing 80’s rock being pumped out (and yes, thanks Chris for Rickrolling us!), everyone was doing something. If you could have harnessed the energy in that room at that point you would have been able to power half of London.

Floor walkers popped by each of the teams each one listening and absorbing before offering advice, help, suggestions and more – but what was even more amazing was that the teams were all talking to each other. You read that right, the teams all talked to each other.

There was sharing of scenarios, encouragement, suggestions for improvement or additions, and helping hands. This was a competition that was like no other. This was a competition in which we ALL wanted to see every team achieve their goals. I’m a mildly (ok, seriously) competitive person at times and yet there was no sense of barging past each other to reach the finish line. This was collaboration and cooperation in competition towards a common goal.

The Winners

And with 4 and a half hours gone in the blink of an eye, the race was run. It was time to do the 5(ish) minute speed-dating presentation of the solutions.

As each team stepped up and shared I really do not know how I held it together. These were genuine scenarios, delivered with innovative solutions, and by passionate people.

Every last one.

We all watched, applauded and cheered. None of us could separate the competition. Judging was going to be tough, and so it proved.

With our hosts waffling as much as possible whilst the judges adjudicated, we all sat wondering just who it would be. We all wanted to win, but we all knew that whoever did win was fully deserving of it.

With the decision made, the announcement came that Team Grey (who had flown over from Germany to take part!) had won with an app for rounding up as you ordered food or transport and donated this to your charity of choice. Writing that makes it sound simplistic, but if you think of the implications of it you soon realise that it has massive potential.

It Is NOT Over!

The final speeches and thank you’s were made, the applause leaving hands feeling rather raw and sore, but this isn’t the end. Every proposition in the room has legs, and every person in the room knew that this couldn’t stop just because the clock had run down.

Saturday saw the start of something, the spark that starts a fire. We all felt it and reading all the posts on twitter and LinkedIn etc after the event just reaffirms that determination.

We saw not a glimpse, but rather a bright shining beacon of the power of the community. I go on and on (and on) about Community but what happened in that room on Saturday, with just a part of the enthusiastic and passionate community present, just proved what we can all achieve if we put our minds to it.

Here TDG we have the Community Collaboration Portal for working on community projects together, and there’s the Power Platform Bank for making solutions available, and then there’s all the social media channels out there as well.

Let’s turn this spark into a raging fire of change. Let’s use our collective skills to build new solutions to old problems.

Oh, and let’s do this again real soon!

 

 

 

All the voices

“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”  – Melinda Gates

 

Companies love dashboards. The idea of progress, of something to announce, is like a drug. Naturally, companies use data and dashboards to measure diversity.  With one click, we can see how many people of what origin, education and sexual identity are employed anywhere within that company.  What those dashboards can’t tell you, no matter what your amazing PowerBI skillz (sic) may be, is the actual effectiveness and impact of that diversity down to the team or individual level.   Data and dashboards struggle with the intangible, with context. (I say this with all due respect to data scientists and my “blue” colleagues.)  Dashboards struggle to tell you if all those amazing voices that the company has invested so much in recruiting are actually being heard. This is the nuance of inclusion.

This is where checking the box on the dashboard stops and the application of the sought-after differing points of views begins.  And honestly, this is where so many teams fail.   The representation is in the room, but the team culture hasn’t evolved, the manager is still talking at people, the environment isn’t functioning.  The loudest voice still stands out.  Suggestions are quickly brushed aside until repeated by another more well-known contributor.  Questions are directed at the wrong person.  And then people just shut down, go back to their old ways, and that highly sought-after talent leaves.  Oh well, she wasn’t a good fit anyway. 

The pressure on groups to produce results quickly isn’t going away.  This intangible nuance of hearing all voices is easily pushed aside in the name of speed since it can be very difficult to measure. Worse yet, incorporating all the voices can actually slow things down at first, while in the end making the output so much better. How to show that the end justifies the means?

I propose that the best way to measure something is to start with a remarkable subset.

Enter the #msdyn365 community at 365 Saturday.  For me, it started in Dublin.  Actually, it started way before then, it just became more deliberate in Dublin thanks to the event organizers (looking at you, Janet and Raz) then took further shape in London and most recently solidified in Glasgow.  At these all day events (on a Saturday, just like the name implies), informal groups of women at various stages of career gathered for an hour under the umbrella of Women in Technology (#wit), not quite sure what to expect.

Each session has been different, because as with many things, the conversation is a result of the sum of the amazing diverse parts.  Topics varied, yet it all came down to one overarching theme: communication.  Whether that be the how, the when or the why of when to use our voices.  We talked about #confidencehacks, about how to establish ourselves without crossing a line that makes us uncomfortable (and practicing not caring about making others uncomfortable), about connecting and expanding our networks, and then most importantly we talk about amplification – how we can help others’ voices be heard.  All voices, not just female.

Note: There are so many other cultural considerations here, for which I lack a point of reference.  There is also a whole discussion to be had about how people consume, digest and respond to information.  For example, the work culture that I grew up in was as follows: get in a room, review a PowerPoint, have a passionate discussion where the loudest voice usually wins, determine next steps, assign actions items, repeat.  That format doesn’t work for all.  What about the voice of the incredible introvert in the room that needs time to digest the info, consider all sides, and then voice their opinion?

And there is the other amazing thing about our #msdyn365 community.  Others want to know how they can help.  Sure, I was teased about “super-secret lunches” by male colleagues.  I saw that for exactly what it was – curiosity and a sincere wish for dialogue.  Why is it necessary to have a “womens’ anything”? Shouldn’t it just be about hiring the best person for the job?  How should we feel about this?  We all treat each other with respect, right? Isn’t it up to individuals to make themselves heard?

Truth is, I agree with everything above.  Inclusion, by its intent, is about everyone.  And therefore, everyone has a responsibility to feed this culture and in the end everyone will benefit. We all can and should help amplify the voices of others. What I love about getting small groups of women together is that the coaching and dialogue that happens in a really safe environment then goes out into the diverse world and multiplies. It starts with a subset. Never underestimate the ripple effect of small actions.

Fifty percent (50%) of the speakers at 365Saturday Scotland identified as female.  Fifty percent.  That is crazy insane goodness.  It did not just happen.  This was the result of a community (led by Marc, Janet, Claire , Iain and so many others) rallying to make sure that opportunities were presented and seized, that a safe place was created and maintained, and that voices were heard.  Shouldn’t that just happen naturally?  Yes, ideally someday the flywheel will be spinning with such momentum that this will be the case (oh, and 50% of the attendees will also be women… work to do there as well).  Then the focus will become how to maintain and feed that system.  The moment you take your eye of something, you risk losing the muscle memory. Omission by unintentional oversight does not remove responsibility.

There is a meme about equity vs equality running around our social media feeds.  The one that show people of different heights trying to watch a baseball game over a fence.  The size of the boxes they are standing on depicts the difference between being treated equally (same sized box) and equitably (different sized boxes raising all to the same level).  The lesser known version has a twist – it shows what it would look like if there was no fence at all.

This is the nuance of inclusion.  This is how the #msdyn365 community is working to remove the fence.  It starts with these conversations, these opportunities. Listening to all the voices takes time and deliberate effort.  This community is all in.

Raise your voices. 🙂

Carissa

 

An Event Like No Other

January 26th, 2019…. that date will be etched in my memory for a very long time. It was a momentous occasion as it was the very first Dynamics 365 Saturday event ever held in Scotland. If you haven’t been to an event like this before, and you are involved in Dynamics 365 in any capacity, it’s worth checking out (http://365saturday.com). These events are organised and presented by members of the community…. for members of the community.

The event was organised by four Dynamics rock stars – Mark Christie, Iain Connelly, Hayley Talent and Claire Carmichael. After sorting out the venue (University of Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow), the next step was to get some presenters. The line up read like a whose who in Dynamics…. There were Microsoft MVP’s, experts from partners, consultants and Microsoft representatives all there to share knowledge and experience with others willing and wanting to learn. Here is a quick look at the line up of sessions:

The welcome upon arrival was pretty impressive… we had a bagpiper guiding us through the entrance. It was something I don’t think I will ever forget. Hopefully the other attendees felt the same.

I had my own session to prep and plan for but was more excited about attending some of the others from my fellow presenters. I reviewed carefully, but no matter who I went to see, I was missing content from so many amazing people. In the end I opted to go to Ryan Maclean, Kyle Hill, Sara Lagerquist and Lucy Muscat. Each person had something different I knew I would be able to learn from. They were all amazing, as I had no doubt they would be. As a fellow speaker, I also felt a sense of pride and admiration for each person standing up and ‘doing their thing’ (not just the ones I was lucky enough to see). Anyone who has ever done this themselves will know, it takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of a room. So awesome job to each and every one of them!

The session had close to 250 in attendance. Feedback from those who had been to other D365 Saturday events is that the event in Scotland has set such a high bar, it’s the one to aspire to emulate. I am so so proud to have been a part of this experience. It was expertly planned by the organisers, but I think the speakers played a huge part in the run up to the event. We all tweeted, liked, shared, reshared and retweeted as much as we could without annoying others on social media.

I can’t wait for the next event, but it’s going to take a LONG time before I ever feel so much love, warmth and excitement being involved in this way.

365 Saturday, London – 2019

Wow! Where do I start, I type this through slightly blurry eyes thanks to an immense after party with the Solgari team, the Maximus IT team, the Power Apps champions (@keith_whatling , Samit & Martin), our very own TDG CL’s (@roryn, @khill, @chrishuntingford and myself) and so much other awesome people Ana Maria Demeny, Artur Zielinski, Guido Preite, Daniel Laskewitz & Jason Almeida – we really missed the Cognitive team & Mr. Rob Dawson!!! There was lots of antics from Tamara solving a Rubiks cube in front of our eyes to Rory showing us an awesome Blockbuster apps – and I must also state that there was a beer or two thrown in, then a few jager bombs and well best to stop there…

Now for the main event 365 Saturday London, 2019! First of all a MASSIVE shout out to Raz and Mohamed for all the effort they put into these events to not only bring the community together but also to provide an absolutely amazing day full of valuable knowledge sharing and a really fun vibe! In addition to others that must be mentioned and have been throughout this write-up a HUGE shout-out to Carissa for hosting the event as well and empowering many at all the various sessions including Women In Tech!!!

There were so many awesome sessions divided into four tracks [1] Power Track [2] Customer Engagement [3] Operations/Finance & Business Central [4] Azure/Developer – literally something for everybody. Sadly, I could not attend every session (although I wish I could(!)).

It kicked off with some opening speeches from the sponsors (Power Objects, Cognitive, Solgari, North 52, Resco.net, dox42 & FireStart) thank you so much to the sponsors of this event as without them there would be no event!

After Pavlos from Power Objects spoke we then we had the most amazing opening presentation delivered by the one & only Didem Un Ates, not only did she show us the most amazing demonstrations around Sales Team Management, Customer Management & much more but also around Microsoft’s AI strategy and the overarching history of it all – the audience was, rightly, blown away and i’m pretty sure Alan Turing himself is smiling pretty loudly!

 

I got to listen in on “Demystifying the Dynamics 365 and Power Platform Licencing”, the AMAZING Jukka Niiranen took this session and it was absolutely phenomenal he really pointed out all the good parts and issues of the licensing structures of the Dynamics ecosystem.

Up after Jukka, which is not an easy session to go after as he is a LEGEND, was Chris, Kyle and myself presenting on where to place particular resources (Project Managers, Workers, Resourcing Manager, Sales team and Human Resource Team) if you are implementing the stack (Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations, Customer Engagement (PSA/URS), Talent and the Power Platform). We ran through a particular scenario then broke down comparisons on where is the best fit for particular resources/users.

Up next I went and saw the AMAZING Rory Neary in his natural habitat – the POWER PLATFORM. Rory provided the most amazing crash course on how to build Power Apps and not only did he just walk you through it but he did so in the most amazing & engaging way, lots of music, lots of animation and lots of personal stories that people could really relate too!

Then I wandered into what I thought was a full flowing party – some loud music, a guy wearing a flashing hat, laughter I started to naturally look for the bar then I realised it was Ana and Dias Manjaly’s session on  “Party planning with BotV4, Dyn365CE and Durable Functions” – now this really helped me A LOT, I finally clicked what functions actually did and it has now filled me eagerness to go and get stuck in so thank you Ana and Dias!

I then caught the end of Colin Vermader’s session on PowerApps, where he connected via Skype for Business and showcased his awesome knowledge around the Power Platform & Dynamics 365 – a packed room with lots of excitement in the air!

Then, after a few technical issues that Didem came to the rescue off, the man himself Mr. Jonathan Keen from Cognitive provided a really engaging and informative view of 2019 and all the opportunities to grasp! The audience was really absorbed by Jonathan’s presentation and it really resonated and empowered every single person! Remember “Free Your People”; have a retention coffee with your boss (what you did last year, problems you’ve solved and what you wish to do this year that will help your company as well as allow you to grow), excite your team (keep them updated with all the awesomeness you’re aware off), learning – time incentives (permit your workers to take an hour or two off once a week to work on the project they’ve really wanted to do, allow them to go to events on Saturday but give them that time back), enhance a human skill – pick a particular human skill and nurture is (empathy, compassion etc.)!!!!

Raz and Mohamed then gave out a plethora of REALLY amazing prizes, my favourite part was the distribution of jackets into the crowd, thrown like deadly Frisbee’s!

So to wrap up here some of the evenings antics in picture form (also in sideways form as i’m pretty hungover and rotating pictures does not seem fun right now):