The Road to #MSIgnite w/ @_achu: Microsoft Loves the Tech Community

Technical communities have been essential to the growth of the Microsoft ecosystem.  I’ve had the great opportunity to help organize SharePoint Saturday in the early days of  its’ inception, participate as a speaker in various user groups like DC Azure Gov meetup, and support new community groups like aOS Community. Through these community involvement, I have learned so much from industry experts, enabled me to give back to the broader community, and expanded my professional network, which often leads to business opportunities.

What’s even better is Microsoft’s commitment and support to the community by sponsoring events and meetings, providing swags and even sending speakers. Last year, to put icing on the cake, Microsoft Tech Community was launched. This online community serves as the central hub to facilitate engagement amongst Microsoft, customers and the broader community.  Check out my conversation with Anna Chu last year as she highlighted the launch.

I had the great privilege to catchup with Anna to learn about the latest with the Microsoft Tech Community, what Microsoft has in store for the community at Microsoft Ignite and what the Microsoft Ignite community reporter program is all about.

Sit back, relax and enjoy another episode of “The Road to #MSIgnite”!

Dux: Hi everyone, good morning. Welcome to another episode of “Dux Quax Road to Ignite.” It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Seattle.

Anna: Yeah, and it’s kind of crazy warm. I don’t even think I’m in Seattle. I feel like I’m in L.A., or actually I feel like I’m in Sydney.

Dux: Oh, Sydney?

Anna: Yeah, because this is the same kind of weather.

Dux: Does Sydney get this hot?

Anna: Oh yeah.

Dux: Oh, wow.

Anna: Yeah, I’m still in celsius, by the way, metric. So over 30 degrees Celsius is, like, typical Sydney weather.

Dux: And I’m glad that the smoke is clearing out, you know? It’s been smoky the past couple days. It’s funny when I look at the weather app it says, “Smoky” for Seattle. I’ve never seen that, smoky.

Anna: Blame Canada.

Dux: Exactly. Well, I mean..

Anna: It’s their fault. They’re bringing it over.

Dux: That’s true, that’s true. Well, anyway, Anna, so glad to have you. Thank you for hoping on this commute with me. A Seattle commute can be crazy.

Anna: It can be, yes.

Dux: Yeah, so listen. Why don’t you quickly introduce yourself? And then I wanna talk to you about a lot of goodness that’s coming down the pipe.

Anna: Yeah, so I’m Anna Chu. I lead community strategy for Microsoft Office, and I also run the MVP program for Office service and services. I’m kind of doing a lot of work focused on Microsoft Ignite, because that’s like, gosh, it’s less than seven weeks away. Can you believe it?

Dux: I mean, it was just, like, last year I was talking to you at Ignite.

Anna: Mm-hmm, yeah. So lots going on. So I’m kind of doing a bit of an expanded role thinking about Microsoft Ignite for the whole company, and thinking about community strategy, and MVP engagement specifically. How can we get more MVPs involved, give them the platform to showcase their expertise and engage with attendees?

Dux: Sure. So speaking of communities, I know when we spoke last year, at that time I think Tech Community was just launched.

Anna: Yeah.

Dux: So can you tell everybody about Tech Community and the exciting stuff that’s been happening this year with Microsoft Tech Community?

Anna: Yeah, so we had a really great year last year. We launched the Microsoft Tech Community at Ignite in September. And we positioned it as a community for IT pros and tech enthusiasts to connect with each other, to connect with Microsoft, to learn about product news and updates, share best practices. And it’s been doing so well. We hit just over 70,000 members last week, and we already hit 71,000 this week. And we’ve reached a million unique users back in May, so we hit a major milestone there, which really shows us that we really made a good bet in terms of moving to this platform, getting people more access to be able to find results through their search engine or choice. So yeah, it’s been doing really awesome.

Dux: And I think the team has done a phenomenal job curating and managing the community. Because obviously people can go and post and ask questions, but you guys facilitate things like, “Ask me anything,” relevant blog posts are there, content from events are there, too. And that, for me, what makes me wanna come back.

Anna: That’s the vision. We know that it’s super challenging for people to find what they’re looking for, right? There’s just so many disparate places that you can go to. And we kinda needed to build this so that we could easily centralize. We needed to build a home for other people to move to. So you’ll start seeing the, you know, even from our blog perspective, we have a lot more blogs starting to publish in the Tech Community that are much more detailed than what you see on, say, Office blogs, which is more like, “Hey, Premier tier 1 announcements.” Sometimes, you know, we can cover things that are a little bit more end-user focused. But we know IT pros, they want their detail. They wanna hear the insights from the product team, engineering team directly. So we’re giving them a platform to wax lyrical about that.

So yeah, we’re slowly adding more features. The Tech Community store back in September 2016 is not the same Tech Community you see today. We didn’t have blogs when we first launched. We didn’t have “Ask Microsoft Anything,” that’s what we call our AMAs. And we’re doing a lot more. With Ignite 2017 coming around the corner, we certainly wanna make sure that a lot of that Ignite content is really well consumed in the tech community. So we’re thinking about making not only all the slide decks available and recordings available, but we also wanna make it easier for people to interact with speakers, even if you weren’t at Microsoft Ignite, right? Because…yeah.

Dux: And that’s a great part, right? Because beyond Ignite, I remember last year, Tech Summit, for example, where essentially Microsoft took Ignite to the road, and it’s a free event. And even if people weren’t able to attend Tech Summit, the content’s there, people can ask questions, they can talk about it. So I think that was really, really well done.

Anna: Yeah. And we know that, you know, we can always do a better job. Because, you know, we just wanted to showcase that functionally the site can work to enable, you know, on-demand access to the slides, and recordings, and can facilitate discussion. The next step to take for us is to make sure that everyone from Microsoft is there, as many MVPs as possible are engaged to also add their perspective to those conversations. So yeah, like, I’m always open for new ideas, too, and what we can do to improve.

Dux: So question, so seeing the growth of the community, anything that stands out for you? Like, what are the most common topics? What are the most common questions? Or any kind of interaction that stands out for you?

Anna: I mean, there are lots of different ones that stand out for me. The ones that really give me a lot of joy are the ones where people share, “Oh my God, for someone to have posted this is truly amazing because it’s actually changed the way I think about a particular product, or it’s completely reduced a significant amount of time I spend doing admin,” or things like that. So, you know, people thanking other people is something that’s really a highlight for me.

Dux: That’s awesome. And that’s beyond the day-to-day work and technology, but it’s truly making connections. It’s the essence of community, right?

Anna: Yeah.

Dux: I mean, I can speak for myself, being involved in a SharePoint community, boy, I would say over 10 years now, it’s just phenomenal. And sometimes, you know, my friends, or even my family outside of this business, like, “Why are you speaking at a SharePoint Saturday? That’s work.” I go, “No, you don’t understand. It’s like this whole…” The analogy has, like, if you like Jimmy Buffet, there’s a lot of Buffet-heads, right? Or David Bowie. So it’s that kind of fervor and passion, which is awesome. Now I don’t know about other tech communities, but this is really something else.

Anna: Oh yeah, and there are certainly people who are really standing out. I mean, MVPs are doing a really great job. There are people who are literally logging in every single day, at least replying, or posting once, or shout out to the MVPs who have made the community a really great place to be. But there’s also up and coming people who, you know, I can see at the individual level that they’ve increased the number of posts that are coming in more often, and they’re kind of like pegged to potentially be MVPs, too. Because they clearly are showing value, they’re not just coming in and sharing random things that aren’t of interest.

Dux: Right, and really helping people, which is the essence of the MVP program, right?

Anna: Exactly.

Dux: Yeah. Well, speaking about Ignite, right? So let’s unpack Ignite. Can you share any of the goodness out there? I know that there’s a lot of announcements made already, from sessions, to the party at Universal Studios. But anything that folks should be keen and aware or, and that they should look forward to?

Anna: Yeah, there’s so much going on. I mean, everyone spends a lot of time prioritizing this event, so we wanna make sure it’s a fantastic experience, you know? From the sessions that we curate, to the different networking opportunities for people, we’ve got a lot going on. And we can start with the pre-days. People might not know that we have a specific…we have about over 30 different pre-days that people can choose to attend.

Dux: Pre-day workshops, right?

Anna: They’re pre-day workshops. There is a charge involved with that, but take a look and see if there’s any pre-days that would interest you. They’re all scheduled on a Sunday, so you would have to travel into Orlando by Saturday evening just to make sure that you’re well rested before a whole day, eight hours of a workshop. So there’s that. So I would recommend people take a look. We’ve got, outside of even just keynotes and breakouts, general sessions, we have a lot of community theater sessions. And these are really if you wanna hear third-party MVPs best practices, how-to guides. We have some short 20-minute sessions for people to just absorb and learn, you know, different perspectives, whether it’s…

Dux: And those are bite size and really straight to the point?

Anna: Yeah. So, you know, we’ve canvassed the community for the best of the best submissions. Honestly, I was completely floored by the number of submissions this year. I had to process, you know, over 1,000 different submissions between all of our community theater sessions, meet-ups, and podcast submissions, too. So it’s going to be an amazing event. I really wanna make sure people prioritize going to the community theater sessions, coming by to a meet-up. So it’s a great opportunity for someone, especially if you’re going to Ignite by yourself and don’t know a single person. The meet-ups are a fantastic opportunity for you to find people who are like yourself. If you’re an Office365 admin, if you’re a data scientist, come to one of our meet-ups and, you know, find other people that you might have a, you know, great future networking opportunity with, right?

Dux: Sure. I mean, for me, the biggest value of Ignite, I mean, certainly all the sessions are phenomenal, but there’s so much. The good news is, a lot of it’s recorded, and the top sessions are broadcast, and some of them live. But for me, the biggest value is, you know, true social networking, right? It’s meeting face-to-face, getting to know people, talking about what works, what doesn’t work. And with technology, with Microsoft Tech Community, it’s that lasting relationship we can have beyond the event.

Anna: Yes, absolutely. And for some people who feel a little bit uncomfortable making friends, I really find that Ignite, the people who are there, they’re really friendly. Even just, like, striking a conversation in the meal hall, you’ll be surprised at the kinds of people you meet. You might meet someone who’s literally from your home town. You might meet someone who is doing the exact same role as you but for a different company. And, you know, best practice sharing, experience sharing is just phenomenal.

Dux: And for me, I think the best way to start those connections, don’t wait till Ignite. I mean, once you register, go to Tech Community and you’ll see people talking about, “Oh, I’m going to Ignite. Here’s what I’m gonna do.” So apart from all the day-to-day activities, prepare and make sure you check out all the evening fun as well. Obviously there’s the big party at Universal, but there’s a lot of stuff going on, and that’s where you can meet a lot of wonderful people, too.

Anna: Mm-hmm, totally. Well, you’ve got a special role at Ignite, right?

Dux: Yeah, well, thank you. I’m so grateful. I’m so excited. I feel like, you know when you watch the Oscars, and there’s, like, Ryan Seacrest kinda?

Anna: You’re Ryan Seacrest.

Dux: I’m the Ryan Seacrest of…

Anna: For Microsoft Ignite.

Dux: That’s a great compliment. But no, thank you. So I’m really excited to be a part of Ignite Live. And maybe, Anna, you wanna kinda talk about what this is? This is brand new, and this is really exciting.

Anna: Yeah. So we found a bunch of really great people, like Dux, who will become community reporters. We have a bunch of these guys who will be covering specifics topics or products that you really care about. So we’ll have people covering data science, we’ll have people covering Windows, Azure, Office365, and other topics that might be of interest to you, such as women in business technology, accessibility, you know? Things that are really important in 2017 and in years to come.

So we wanted to give the community reporters a platform to be able to share out their experience at Ignite, but also be part of the day one live stream. So for those of you who don’t know, we are live streaming the key notes. The general sessions, a lot of them are running concurrently, so you have different channels to choose from. So if you are able to join us virtually, you know, get your coffee or your popcorn ready and just watch a few of our sessions, engage with us in the Tech Community, tell us what you like, what you don’t like. Keep us, you know, informed on Twitter. Share out what you think is really great. Yeah.

Dux: Boy, I’m so excited. I mean, being a community reporter, first and foremost I think this is a wonderful idea. It goes to show your commitment, Microsoft’s commitment to really expand the reach. And regardless if you’re at Ignite or not, you can still engage. Being a community reporter, like, the first day I’m looking forward to the key note, and the interactions that we can push out. And it’s not just day one, like, every day I’m already kinda planning on the blogs I’m gonna post, the Tweets, you know, the selfies, and definitely gonna Periscope, Facebook Live, or whatever new technology is available. And a lot of the posts will be on Microsoft Tech Community. So certainly everybody will have real-time access to it.

And the community, or I would say, the group of the reporters are a lot of the great folks that are involved in the community as well. So you’ve got [inaudible 00:14:39] Buckley, Alistair [inaudible 00:14:40], Laura Rodgers, Magnus out in [inaudible 00:14:43]. So it’s gonna be good fun, so make sure you guys stay tuned. And if you’re there at Ignite, we’d love to meet with you. And the best way, I guess, to connect and reach out is, you know, on Twitter. All of us are on Twitter. So I’m @meetDux. Or you’ll see the profiles, though I’m sure it’ll be in the Tech Community. And yeah, this is something really exciting.

Anna: Yeah, it’s the first time we’re doing it, so best of luck. No, it’s gonna be great. I’m really excited. The time is really gonna fly by, but it’s gonna be a really great event.

Dux: You know what we could do? Maybe I could rent a car and do something like this, live stream from the car, you know? Pick people from the airport, or not the airport, the hotel to the convention center. Or maybe at night, you know, driving to events. And maybe we could make money out of it. I could do Uber, you know?

Anna: I think so. I think Uber’s will be hard to find, or a Lyft.

Dux: Yeah, maybe I should sign up for Uber right now.

Anna: Maybe, I think that would be good. I don’t know if you’ll get a five-star rating, though.

Dux: No, why? This drive is not bad.

Anna: I don’t know, that speed bump was kinda weird.

Dux: Oh yeah, I know. That’s like a one-star list, that’s right.

Anna: Yeah.

Dux: Okay, so after Ignite, yeah? So it’s great, there’s a lot of good stuff in Tech Community. But will there be Tech Summits again? Because that was really cool.

Anna: Yeah, we’re bringing the show back on the road in 2017, 2018. So we’ve got 14 cities planned. We’ve planned to kick off in Sydney in November, late November.

Dux: Was that intentional?

Anna: I might have given away a bit of a scoop, but yeah, there will be more information to come out in August. So yeah. So we definitely are planning to meet everyone in these cities. We’re going to some cities that we’ve never been to before, so that will be fun. I’m not gonna share that. You guys can wait until August to find out all the different cities. But there are some cities that we’re revisiting, too. And the focus will be different, like, for example, last year I think you were in D.C., right?

Dux: Yes.

Anna: Yeah, so we do wanna go back to D.C. again and talk a little bit more about public sector. And there will be some, you know, events that we’re focusing on developers. Because in the cities where they’re located, there’s a lot of developers. So we wanna reach out to them. But for the most part, the majority of the cities are very focused on IT pros, IT pro content. The Tech Summit will be a bit different this year. So last year we had two days of content. We’re shifting things where we’re having a first day of content and the second day will be workshops.

Dux: That’s awesome, yeah.

Anna: Yeah, so at least there’s more time for people to dive deeper into learning and interacting with our facilitators there. We know that, you know, people aren’t able to prioritize time for some of these things, so if we give you a dedicated day to mark on your calendar to prioritize that, that’s good. And the other great thing about this is this is free.

Dux: It’s free, it’s awesome. And it’s pretty much taking, literally, Ignite to the road, the best of Ignite, right?

Anna: Yes.

Dux: And I assume, similar to Tech Summit last year, it will have Microsoft folks presenting, MVP is presenting, [inaudible 00:17:59] folks presenting.

Anna: Yes. And in fact, we have more MVPs presenting in Tech Summits this year, in this coming series of Tech Summits. So we’ll have community theater as well. You’ll see them at the “Ask the Experts” panel, which we do on the conclusion on the first day. We kind of have a bit of a mix in there. So definitely more MVP involvement. We really wanna see, you know, help the locals there understand who the MVPs are, what they specialize in, and kinda see them in action when they deliver the content. Yeah.

Dux: Awesome, that’s great. Well, a lot of goodness, Anna. And I’m sure these next few months will be crazy for you, but I’m sure it’s gonna be good.

Anna: Yeah, I don’t have a lot of breathing space between Ignite and Tech Summits. So yeah, I’ll definitely be consuming a lot of energy drinks, I think.

Dux: So on top of all this fun, but crazy, but busy schedule, do you take some time for yourself, or any guilty pleasure that you wanna share that people don’t know?

Anna: Yeah, well, I do watch a lot of Netflix, I must say. Sometimes, like, all I wanna do is watch “Parks and Recreation” for, like, the 10th time and just be a vegetable for a while. Because, you know, all this stuff is really exhausting. But man, I’m, like, really into “Games of Thrones” right now, of course.

Dux: I still haven’t started that.

Anna: Are you kidding me?

Dux: Well, the same as you with the time I have, I only watch this on the plane, because I download to my phone. But I just finished “House of Cards,” it was really awesome.

Anna: Yes, “House of Cards” is amazing. I can’t wait for the new season of that, too. But I’m kinda jealous, because that means you get to binge watch six seasons straight, or seven seasons, rather. Yeah, so, you know, that will take out an entire two months for you.

Dux: That’s true.

Anna: But it’s an amazing show. You’ve gotta watch it.

Dux: Okay, all right. Well, Anna, we’re here.

Anna: Thank you so much for the lift, it was awesome.

Dux: Thanks so much.

Anna: Let’s do this again.

Dux: For sure. Make sure y’all come to Ignite. And Anna’s Twitter handle is on this video. Connect with her. Check out Microsoft Tech Community. Other than that, have a great day, and we’ll see you in the next episode of “Dux Quax Road to Ignite.” Ciao.

Anna: Thank you so much, bye!

Dux: Bye.