Welcome to the very first episode of the #ShiftHappens Podcast! In this episode, learn how Samit Saini went from a security officer at Heathrow Airport to IT Office 365 Solution Specialist who personally inspired Satya Nadella.
Samit joined the security team at Heathrow at just 16 years old. During his time working as a security officer, Samit noticed challenges that could be solved through the Microsoft Power Platform.
With no IT background, Samit learned PowerApps to build an application that would solve the obstacles Heathrow was facing.
Learn more about Samit’s inspiring story in this episode of #ShiftHappens.
In this episode:
The start of his PowerApps journey
I’ve been working in the airport security for 13 years, since I was 16 years old. My day-to-day job was asking passengers, “Could you please remove your liquid, laptops and iPad?”
Until one day, our business change manager came up to us and said, “We have Office 365 available for everyone to use, not just office colleagues, but also including the frontline colleagues. Go check it out.” But you see, we at the frontline hardly even use Outlook. But then, she said to check it out, and that’s what I did. So that night after my shift, I ran straight home, sat down and looked at every single application that was available to us.
I knew about Excel, PowerPoint and Word, but I didn’t know all these other new applications like Yammer. Then I came across PowerApps and I was like, “Okay, this sounds interesting. Never heard of it before. So let me go and click on that button.” And this is where my journey started with Power Apps. By clicking on the blog and reading the instructions, I was able to create an app in five minutes. And it was fascinating.
When my application was being created, I was like, “Why does no one notice how simple it was?” Literally in five minutes, I’ve just created my first application! Like, I didn’t have to do any coding or anything like that. I was blown away. It actually made me feel so smart building my first app.
Building his first app: the translation app
The first app that I wanted to make was a translation app. We are one of the busiest airports—we are an international airport, and we have so many passengers that come at Heathrow that cannot speak English. For officers like us who cannot speak many languages, we use an 80-page book that translates our reminders to different languages. Now, if the passenger didn’t understand the rules and the bag gets rejected, it’s going to be very time consuming. So, I thought, “Why not take this book home and make it into an app?” And that’s what I did.
I went home straight away and scanned the pages, and then input images and buttons into this app. And that was the first phase of it. The more I learned about PowerApps, I was able to add videos and connect it to Microsoft Translator and add a translation button to it. It took me a week to build.
I was so excited when I created that app, so I went straight to my manager and said, “This is what I’ve created.” He went to ask about the costs and stuff, but I said it wouldn’t cost us since it was part of the Office 365 license. I showed him how it could upgrade us up. And then he goes, “You need to talk to IT.”
The beginning of a new career
As soon as I met with IT, I was asked to go around the different business units to show what I created. I showed them the processes and discussed what they can also do for their own departments. I was showing them that you don’t have to be technical to learn PowerApps, how easy it was to learn, and take away that mindset of associating apps with coding. I was doing all that while still being a security guard—until I was offered a position in IT.
Now I’ve got a permanent job in IT as a Solution Specialist. My job is not just to build apps, but to help others from different departments to bring their ideas into reality by teaching them how they can build the apps. Part of my job is also looking at the governance and admin for PowerApps and Flow.
Heathrow’s Work Experience Program
At Heathrow, we have a work experience program for kids who are from 13 to 15 years old. So, part of my job, along with other people from different departments, was to help out with these kids. They come to Heathrow for two to three days and they look around Heathrow. And then after that, I set them a challenge. “You need to build a certain app for kids that come to Heathrow.” Or, “You got all this information about Heathrow. We’d like you to build a questionnaire, or a game on an app.”
On day one, I’ll show them how to simply add images and buttons and so on. On the second day, they go and build this app. And on the third day, they get to present it to the teachers. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s great to see kids properly interacting. And we have all types of kids, like autistic kids, learning PowerApps at Heathrow as well. It’s great.
And then we have a graduate program. So, we have graduates who come in at Heathrow, and I’ll give them a challenge also, “I’m going to teach you Power Apps. And then after a year, let’s see what you can do with the knowledge and skills that you have to build an app.” And we have one graduate who built an acronym app. He already left, but what he did was now being used by all of us at Heathrow.
The value of apps
But the thing is, we don’t just build apps for the sake of it. We think about, “What are the quantifiable benefits for Heathrow?”, “Why are you building these apps?”, “What was the problem or the opportunities, your reason to build these apps?”
At the moment, we have 12 live apps being used at Heathrow, in and out every day, from audit apps to health and safety apps, and the acronym app. What PowerApps enabled us to do is save a lot of time and processes. Taking those away, we can now use our time to add value somewhere else.
Aside from that, we’re also saving a lot of costs. Now we save around 2000 sheets of paper a month just for one app. Time, on the other hand, is saved through automations done in Flow and PowerBI. All in all, we have saved up to £792,000 by building our own apps, because now we don’t have to use third-party businesses for our apps.
Getting people onboard
One of the challenges that we had was getting people to leave the old processes behind. So, to show them the value of these apps, we asked the managers involved about the things they liked and disliked about those processes. And with that, we took what they liked and put them in the app, and they loved it. They also liked the simplicity of the apps, including the features that helped them get stuff done easier. We made it simply for them, and that’s what they loved.
We always try to make our apps very easy to use. When we have meetings with our app builders, we tell them, “If you can use Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, those kinds of products, without any training at all, then your own application should be the same.” And that’s what we aim to do with PowerApps.
Of course, I want to make sure that our apps not only meet GDPR regulations, but also meet our needs. What I used to do was meet people face-to-face and say, “What are you trying to build? Let me try and help you. These are the rules and regulations.”
With great help from Manuela and Denise from Microsoft, now I have a central excellence tool which gives me a visualization of the apps being built, who built them, and from which department. I also get notifications right away, so that made it easier for me to track things. What happens now is, once someone builds an app, they get an email notification that says, “Hi, this is PowerApps developer. These are the guidelines at Heathrow. Those are branding and GDPR. Fill these forms in so we get a better understanding of what you’re trying to build.” And it’s great.
Another important thing why we need good governance is so our apps would be consistent across departments. There’s no point having one app that is totally different from the other apps. The aim is to have similar apps that have the same look and feel so as not to confuse our users. We’re also working on automating the process of deleting apps that are not being used for a year or so, so there’s that.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve learned so much, not just from myself, but by learning from our community, the Microsoft community, and the PowerApps champions. So, I would say, reach out. It doesn’t matter if it’s on LinkedIn or on YouTube or on Twitter, do reach out if you’re intrigued about something. Nothing stops you from reaching out and finding answers.
Cause that’s what I did. And I’ve been really, really grateful, but this journey of mine has not been possible without the support of anyone and everyone from the Microsoft department, from Heathrow, from the PowerApps champions. I learned so much from them, and you can too as well. If you’re on Twitter, go find these amazing people out there. Go to PowerApps sub-site, go and learn. There’s no way that you cannot learn something new today by going to these websites.
On dyslexia and empowering people:
When I was at school, I thought there were limits to what I can do. But since learning Power Apps, not once did I think that dyslexia would stop me from doing something. What it actually enabled to me to do was to think differently. For me, it has opened up a growth mindset.
And I want to tell people that nothing should stop you. It doesn’t matter what your background is or what your skill sets are. Nothing should be able to stop you. And that’s what I tell my kids all the time. I actually spend like five to 10 minutes with them, giving them affirmations and telling them they’re strong, they’re confident and they’ve got the power to be able to do anything and everything. And since my journey last year with meeting Satya Nadella and everything else, that’s how I feel. I feel like I can learn something new. And I get inspired from everyone in the community that if they can do it, I can do it too. It’s a matter of time.
Today’s takeaway from Samit:
“Unless you delve into something, you wouldn’t know the possibilities. People will say it’s difficult, but I tell you, it can be done. Learning PowerApps taught me that anything is possible.”
Hear from Samit Saini firsthand at the #ShiftHappens Conference 2020!
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