Modality Systems is proud to be sponsoring the Sync DevelopHer awards 2018. In the lead up to the award ceremony on November 28, we catch up with three female leaders making waves in the technology industry. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking to Office 365 Coach and prolific blogger Tracy van der Schyff.
Tracy shared lots of stories and insights in her 60-minute conversation with us so we’ve highlighted additional topics explored, alongside a Soundcloud recording of the full interview, at the end of this page. We highly recommend you listen in for even more career tips, knowledge sharing and humorous anecdotes.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role.
I work for myself – I’m too stubborn to work for other people! I think the thing that sums me up the easiest is that I’m a crazy biker chick with 80 tattoos who travels the world with a sheep. I absolutely love what I do. I Love Microsoft and I love people. That’s pretty much me in a nutshell.
[Note: The sheep Tracy is referring to is an adorable stuffed toy named Braam! More about him at 29:37 in the audio recording below.]
We see you’ve got quite a few tattoos! How many are Microsoft inspired?
Well, I got Microsoft Teams yesterday and I have Sharepoint, Yammer, Windows and Clippy. Then I have AI and Robotics – a lot of them are Microsoft inspired.
I’ve got a thing about numbers. There’s magic in numbers for me, so when I turned forty-two I was super psyched about it. I don’t know if you know the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but forty-two is the number ["the answer to the ultimate question of life, the Universe and everything"] so for my birthday I got a Hitchhikers Guide tattoo - the thumbs up - and from there it was down-hill!
When did you decide that you wanted to work in technology?
I never made that decision. I think with people who go and study the cause is different, but I don’t think a lot of us make that decision. Looking back at my life, I’ve been a driving instructor, a book keeper, I’ve had an art shop, I gave art classes, I’ve designed furniture and clothes… I’ve just done all these wonderful things. My passion for helping and training people has always led me a certain way. I’m also very curious and nosey – I can’t stop interfering with other people’s problems! I’m so overly passionate about helping people who are struggling with things, that I ended up in IT. Eventually I became an Intranet Manager, which was my first introduction to SharePoint, and it’s my passion for people that’s driven that.
“I think my passion for helping and training people has always led me a certain way…I’m so overly passionate about helping people who are struggling with things, that I ended up in IT.”
What do you enjoy most about your day-to-day job?
The most precious thing for me is when people’s eyes light up with empowerment. There’s nothing that beats that. I love Microsoft, and I have tattoos to prove it, but Microsoft is just the catalyst that’s my foot in the door to help people. There’s absolutely nothing that makes me happier than when that light goes on for people and changes their lives.
Conversely, what’s the thing that you find most challenging?
I think a challenge is that companies still don’t understand the value of training. They still think that if the app is pretty enough or if they’ve paid enough for it, people will adopt it, and that’s the biggest mistake they are making. I’m fighting a long hard battle with companies to sit up and take notice that we need to invest in our users, who are our greatest assets. Company culture is something we need to pay attention to.
What would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
The greatest lesson, I think, is to have empathy. Everything for me comes down to people. I might talk technology, but the common denominator is always people. You might be in a project meeting and someone’s hard on you, and it’s not fair or deserved, but you have to have empathy to understand where they’re coming from. They might have been burnt on a previous project or let down by suppliers. Don’t take it personally. When things get tough and people are being difficult, just stand back and say maybe this comes from somewhere, maybe it’s not about you. Having empathy is the biggest lesson I’ve learned.
“For me, everything is about values. The values we have at home, we have at business. We just deal with different tools.”
Another great lesson is around life balance. I don’t understand professional versus personal, business versus home. For me, everything is about values. The values we have at home, we have at business. We just deal with different tools. It’s all about helping people. For my whole life I’ve tried to chase balance, and then I realised that my job is what I love to do and that’s personal for me. So I’ve taken that wall away where we try to create balance and I’ve said that the balance in my life is Ikigui [a reason for being] - I have a tattoo for that as well! When you do what you love, you’re good at it, the world needs it and you get paid for it, then you have balance in life. I think a lot of people don’t understand that. They try and keep those things separate and we shouldn’t.
Do you have any advice for young women interested in working in the technology industry?
For anyone stepping into any career, check your values. I’ve become more involved in women in IT and diversity and was fortunate at Microsoft Ignite to be involved in a couple of the panels. I think one of the lessons I try to get across is to be very careful to look at exclusion, because inclusion starts with self. I’m forty-three now and for most of the years in my career of about twenty-eight years I’ve excluded myself. I was the one who stepped back when job opportunities came up and said, ‘I’m not good enough to do that, I’m going to get Peter to take the job because he deserves it’. I’ve had my fair share of not being included and not being treated right - I’m not saying that didn’t happen - but be very careful not to get on a bandwagon where you think you’re being excluded. A lot of that comes from ourselves.
“…don’t just focus on technical certifications. Focus on building your digital literacy and your soft skills. Learn to be strong and assertive.”
If you’re interested in any career, whether it’s IT or not, I think all of us need to invest time in building our values, our self-esteem and our soft skills because that’s very necessary in all kinds of projects. Then you’ll fight harder for your spot in the industry. It took me a long time to build up the confidence to speak at a conference or to write a blog. It wasn’t guys telling me that I wasn’t good enough, it was this little voice inside. It was about me working on my self-esteem and how I communicate with people. So don’t just focus on technical certifications. Focus on building your digital literacy and your soft skills. Learn to be strong and assertive. There are so many programmess out there that support people with degrees. This girl sitting in front of you doesn’t have a single degree or certification, so I think I’m the perfect example of where hard work begets passion. I believe that if you work hard, passion starts to grow on you, and passion will lead you to opportunities where success happens.
Where did the idea to write 365 blogs in a year come from? That's quite a commitment!
Firstly, I haven’t done this once, I’ve done it twice - so I’ve written 730 blogs! To explain where this comes from, I was sitting in my garden with a glass of wine in February 2016 and I remembered this story from my childhood, ‘Around the World in 80 days.’ Then I thought, how about I do ‘Around the Office in 365 days’, where I share my passion with people. I put a challenge out there on social media and said that if I can’t share something new and cool with you every day about Office 365, for 365 days I’ll change my job, and I didn’t run out of things to say.
Every day I thought I wouldn’t finish, and that was my self-esteem. Every single day I thought I wasn’t going to make it, right up to the end. It was unbelievably stressful because I was travelling around the world across different time zones. I’ve been in an Uber at twelve o’clock at night writing a blog on my phone, but I had this thing that I wanted to achieve. It’s the best thing I could have done for my self-esteem. When I finished that challenge, I thought I’m never going to do that again, that’s just crazy. Then Microsoft launched Microsoft 365 and I thought, ‘I have to do this again!’...
"Don’t wait to be an expert before you start doing things. Put yourself out there... That’s how you become better at what you do and gain experience."
A big lesson for me is how much there is to learn, and how much I didn’t write about. I did it twice and I still haven’t said everything I wanted to say. Don’t wait to be an expert before you start doing things. Put yourself out there and say, ‘hey guys, we’re all on this journey to learn, so this is me documenting my journey to learn with you’. That’s how you become better at what you do and gain experience.
I’ve now started up a Movember challenge, where I publish a blog every day in November for cancer awareness and catch up on everything I missed at Microsoft Ignite.
In your opinion, what’s the most exciting thing about Microsoft’s evolving communications toolset?
For many years, technology pushed us apart. It caused us to be unhappy with each other and in our jobs. I think it’s now helping people work better together, and in an easier way. What Microsoft has done in these past two years has made me really excited. It’s really bringing people together and it empowers them to do more.
There’s a little catch phrase that I always use about Microsoft which is, ‘Microsoft has brought extra to ordinary, and that makes extraordinary’, because now more than five percent of your users can be amazing. It’s really incredible what every day users can create now, without having to be developers or very technical.
That’s the stuff that really excites me about Microsoft. Their vision has really come back around to empowering people.
“Microsoft has brought extra to ordinary, and that makes extraordinary, because now more than five percent of your users can be amazing.”
Tracy van der Schyff
Office 365 Coach and Catalyst | The Guid Stuff
Watch out for Tracy’s next challenge, the ‘365 Hour Outreach Programme’, where she will travel to as many communities as possible in 15 days to create awareness around Digital Literacy and give users an overview of Office 365.
00:26:01 - The story behind the 365 Hour Outreach Programme
00:37:23 - An example of how one company was empowered by Microsoft Technology
00:41:24 - The importance of computer literacy and how to effectively train users
00:53:17 - Why Microsoft Teams is the ultimate user adoption catalyst
Tracy’s top resources for young women interested in technology and the world of Microsoft:
- What’s new in Office 365
- Microsoft Tech Community
- Microsoft Cloud Society Learning
- Office 365 Training Center
- Office 365 Roadmap
Recommended blogs written by Tracy:
- ROI on Training, transform your business!
- Digital Literacy and the Impact on User Adoption
- Diversity, Roles & Responsibilities in Tech
- PC Literacy basics everyone should know
- Why Teams is the User Adoption Catalyst
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