Retrospective for 2021

Continuing my tradition of writing a retrospective (2020, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) or look ahead (2019, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010), in this post I’ll recap 2021 and share goals for what is ahead in 2022.

Retrospective

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit full scale in the US in 2020, I didn’t know that we would still be dealing / struggling with this throughout all of 2021. I’ve heard others describe 2021 as “a year that just was”. Some have even joked about COVID Standard Time being a continual extension of 2020 (today is Tuesday, March 674th, 2020 by the way).

For my family, we adapted as best as possible and found ways to shake things up. We had a few notable events and updates that I’ll cover in the following sections. Overall, my feelings for the year were a blend of 1) being thankful for all of the blessings, friends, and support that we have received and 2) consciously needing to let go of some things in order to focus on the happy / positive side of things.

Promotion

One of the biggest events of 2021 was my promotion to Principal Program Manager (level 65) at Microsoft. I found out in late November and it was made official in December. As I mentioned in my LinkedIn post, promotion to from level 64 to level 65 at Microsoft is a rather big jump (compared to previous promotions). This includes new responsibilities and invitation to larger opportunities for continued impact internally and externally.

I’m thankfully to everyone that has helped me to get to this point, especially my mentors, team leads, and peer teams across Microsoft. I look to pay forward whatever and whenever I can all that these people have extended to me.

Reading books

In the past I’ve enjoyed reading books, but usually didn’t make / find the time to read more than 2 books a year (usually all compressed into the few days around big holiday breaks). In 2021, I set a goal to read 4 books. I also took the advice of a coworker to track it on Goodreads (link).

Surprisingly, not only did I hit my goal, but I doubled it by reading 8 books! I’m thankful to my many peers (Jennifer, Kristin, Sara, Mike, Ken, and more) sharing book recommendations and giving continual encouragement to keep up with reading. Many of their recommendations turned out to be great books with useful concepts and lessons that I am already applying to my personal and work life. Feel free to review my book list and / or suggest new ones (in comments or find me on Goodreads and share there).

Disney World trip

While my family took some smaller trips in 2020, our trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida is the biggest (duration, cost, amount of activities, etc.) we’ve taken in a few years. We had originally planned the trip in December 2020 but those plans were changed due to the pandemic.

Initially I was apprehensive of traveling and being around so many people, but I was appreciative of the health and safety efforts that Disney has implemented. Our 3 young kids (7, 5, and 2) each loved different aspects of the trip, but for sure having rest days in between park days and a decent sized house to relax helped. I look forward to taking them back when they are older and can ride more rides and appreciate other parts of Disney World.

Dance lessons

For me, exercise during the pandemic has been a challenge. While we’ve been able to take bike rides, walks, park visits, etc. in the warm months, these aren’t always possible, especially when the weather is bad.

With that in mind, my wife has always talked about taking dance lessons at a ballroom dance studio. I’m not one to shy away from dancing, but I knew this could be a big commitment from a time and money perspective. For my wife’s birthday I decided to get a Groupon for a small set of dance lessons to see if it is something we would like.

We’ve been taking lessons 3-5 times a month now for the past few months. We cover many styles of dance including rumba, cha cha, tango, waltz, swing, and more. I’m happy to say it has been fun and also a great way for us to spend 1 on 1 time together without other interruptions.

TikTok videos

As I mentioned in my Weekly Tips and Experimenting with New Mediums and In Search of Creativity posts, I started sharing short #PSAforTheDay tips and tricks. First it was Twitter posts with static images, then animated GIFs, and finally short form videos on TikTok. This was primarily a creativity outlet but also enabled me to learn new technology and processes (ex. creating GIFs, editing videos efficiently, adding subtitles to video, etc.)

The key through it all though was I was curious to learn and driven to share. I’ve always enjoyed the quote:

“Knowledge learned that is not shared is knowledge lost.”

This felt like a great way to ensure that knowledge I’ve picked up over many years (and still learning) is not lost.

PSAforTheDay posts on Twitter

BrianTJackett videos on TikTok

Looking ahead

I have a few high-level goals for 2022. I like to document them publicly to help hold me accountable throughout the year.

  • Read 6 books (started book 1 this week already)
  • Walk 5 miles per week (treadmill delivering this week)
  • Compete in a dance competition (signed up for March)

Conclusion

How about you? How was your 2021? I hope it was a good and fruitful year and that you can appreciate the positive parts. Now that we’re a few days into 2022 I challenge you to reflect on your past year and set SMART goals for the year ahead.

-Frog Out

Sources

Header Image by bertvthul from Pixabay: link

Weekly Tips and Experimenting with New Mediums

For the past ~9 months, I have been posting a weekly #PSAforTheDay tip or trick. These have spanned a number of areas including developer productivity, Windows / Office, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), PowerShell, presentation tips, remote work, and more. Here are a few things I’ve learned since I started.

  • Format
    • I originally posted all tips on Twitter as static images with simple edits using Paint.Net.
    • Then I moved to creating short GIFs with software called LICEcap for added animation.
    • Next I started recording short-form videos (1-3 mins) with narrated audio using OBS Studio and edited in Video Editor (Win 10/11 native app). Videos are posted to TikTok (and sharing out on Twitter and LinkedIn).
    • Currently, I am creating <1 min videos and doing post-processing in ClipChamp (edit clips, add visual effects, and add 1st layer of titles or callout text) and also Descript (convert audio to text and add captions).
  • Timing
    • Tips are recorded and published on Thursdays.
    • My goal from the beginning has been to keep the entire process per tip produced under 10 mins. With the addition of adding captions (increased accessibility among other reasons) it now takes closer to 20 mins, but I think that is an acceptable reason to budget more time.
  • Benefits
    • On a weekly or monthly basis, a co-worker will see something I do or ask about something that I have a tip for. Having a quick and sharable tweet / video makes it easy to show them (and for them to share with others).
    • Adding captions to videos (efficiently) was something I always wanted to learn how to do. Picking up skills like this has been personally gratifying and now I can re-use that on numerous opportunities in the future.
  • Challenges
    • Now that I have 9 months of weekly tips, it is getting more difficult to find a specific tip and send them a link to the tweet / video. I’m considering a simple page on my blog with an index / search box for the tips.
    • Embedding videos into Twitter and LinkedIn can be problematic, especially when the video comes from an external service like TikTok. I’m still trying to figure out the right approach here.
  • Tools

Take a look at all #PSAforTheDay tips and tricks:

PSAforTheDay posts on Twitter

BrianTJackett videos on TikTok

Tips on Email Signatures

In this post I’ll share tips and questions to ask yourself when creating an email signature. The instructions will be specific to Outlook, but the concepts apply to any email program.

Background

This week a peer of mine asked me:

“Do you have any tips or advice for creating an email signature? I interact with external customers quite a bit and would like to appear more professional over email.”

For those of you who are not familiar with email signatures, you can create a templatized signature at the bottom of your emails to include text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, and more. You can set up Outlook (or your favorite email client of choice) so that signatures are automatically added to all outgoing messages (replies and / or new messages) or add it to emails manually on a case-by-case basis.

Questions to ask yourself

Before you create your signature, take some time to think about who is the audience that will be reading your email signature. What things might they want to know about you, the work you do, how to find you (calendar, blog, etc.), etc.? The following are a series of items you may want to consider:

  • LinkedIn profile link
  • GitHub profile link
  • personal / work blog link
  • links to documentation or projects you work on
  • link to schedule a meeting with you (could be your work calendar availability or a scheduling service)
  • email address for sharing feedback (ex. manager, group alias, etc.)
  • upcoming OOF (you need to update regularly)
  • time zone / working hours
  • inspirational quote
  • …and more

An additional thought is to look at signatures that you can seen from other people and ask them if it is ok to borrow / copy / adapt it. I’ve done this many times in the past and my current signature was adapted from a colleague at Microsoft.

Example

The following is my current signature as an example:

Brian T. Jackett
Sr. Program Manager | Microsoft Graph CPx
Blog: BrianTJackett.com | Microsoft Teams (Chat) | Calendar availability (EST/EDT)
If you have any feedback about my work, please share with me or my manager, <redacted>.

How to add your email signature to Outlook

  • Copy your email signature
  • Open a new email message in Outlook
  • On the Message menu, select Signatures, then New, and type in a nickname for this signature
  • Paste in your new signature
  • Select OK to save and exit the email signature editor

Detailed instructions:​

Conclusion

Hopefully this post gives you some inspiration on what you would like to include. If you have suggestions or would like to share your own signature(s) please post in the comments.

-Frog Out

Microsoft Graph team on the Hello World show

Last week, a number of my fellow teammates (Darrel Miller, Fabian Williams, Sebastian Levert, Beth Pan, Vincent Biret, and Walkdek Mastykarz) from the Microsoft Graph team joined the Hello World show for a special episode. We covered a number of great topics like getting started with Microsoft Graph, using Microsoft Graph Toolkit, and learning about SDK support. Check out the recording or jump to specific segments of the show!

Generic Image

Hello World: Microsoft Graph (recorded 2021-09-16)

Generic Image

-Frog Out

Reflecting on 10 Years at Microsoft

In July 2021 I celebrated my 10th anniversary working for Microsoft. I reflected on my 10 years here in a recent team meeting and wanted to share some of my thoughts.

Thankful

First and foremost I am thankful. I am thankful to so many people that have shared opportunities to grow personally and professionally as well as challenges to tackle. 10 years is the longest that I have been at a single company and I feel that I’m part of our culture as well as I have a responsibility to continue our culture forward.

Advice

My manager Jeremy Thake asked me to share with our broader team “what advice would you give to your ’10 years ago self’?” Speaking honestly, I didn’t have to think about it too long. There were two things that came to mind.

Grow your network

I work with many amazingly talented people (intellectual, empathetic, generous with their time, and more). Getting to work with such great people is one of the primary factors that brought me to Microsoft and keeps me here as well. My peers are the smartest, most passionate, and inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to meet.

As much as possible, grow your network of contacts. This includes people that you can help, people that are experts in specific areas, and people that inspire you. The person that you help today may come around to be the person that helps you years down the road. Despite Microsoft having over 100,000+ employees, it’s amazing how I bump into certain people over time and those relationships benefit both of us.

Find your specialty and share often

As you grow your network it also helps to be known for something specific. Throughout my years at Microsoft I have been known as “the PowerShell guy” or “the person who always had a tech tip to share” or “the Microsoft Graph SME“.

When you are known for a specific topic, people will search for you as you become “the go-to person on topic X”. Take this as an opportunity to share what you know. If you can, also find out what others are good at also. Now when you have a question on topic Y, you know who to reach out to. This tends to create a virtuous cycle that grows your network, helps you find answers / information quickly, and benefits other people as well.

Conclusion

I’ve worked with computers and software since I was 5 years old but I never imagined that one day I would get to work at Microsoft. Now that I am here, I want to take the opportunity to have the biggest impact that I can (internally and externally) and help others feel welcomed at Microsoft. I’m thankful for these past 10 years and looking forward to the next 10+ years.

-Frog Out

Credit: image from Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/vbQsU3kVVPI

In Search of Creativity

In March 2020 I wrote a post / newsletter about Positivity through uncertainty. Little did I know at the time that the pandemic would last for over a year and have far reaching impacts on life across the globe. In this post I want to share my reflection on personal experiences since Jan 2021.

2 halves of brain with mathematical symbols on left and multiple artistic colors on right

Languishing

Note: I do not take lightly topics such as mental health issues. If you are currently experiencing mental health issues please seek appropriate medical / psychological help.

In Apr 2021, my teammate Ryan Gregg shared an article with our team that really resonated with me. The New York Times article below (sorry if you get blocked by a paywall) describes a middle ground between depression and thriving called “languishing”.

After reading the article I saw a number of similarities to my personal life. I still had energy to devote to my work, interact with my family, and be social online. I did feel like I was missing some of the former creative spark that I had in years past though. In 1:1 chats with a number of peers I heard similar experiences and many were also in search of something, anything to get motivation and creativity back into their lives.

In search of creativity…

Are people born creative? Or is it something that you can acquire / cultivate / grow?

I happen to believe it is the latter. Rather than stay in that state of languishing, I wanted to start doing things that would break me out of that cycle. The below items are things that I started (or continued) doing to get my creative energies flowing. If you identify with these or have other suggestions I would love to hear about them. Feel free to share in the comments or contact me on email / Twitter (@BrianTJackett).

Reading books

As mentioned in my What I’m Working On – March 2021 post, I started reading books more consistently at the start of 2021. Not only has reading kept my mind sharper but I’ve also gotten many ideas for improving my professional and social skills. Feel free to check out my recent reading list or books on my “to-read” list on GoodReads.

https://www.goodreads.com/briantjackett

Books I’ve read / recommend in 2021

Morning walk / bike ride

Prior to the pandemic I tried to work out at least 2-4 times a week. This included 5k runs, working out at the gym, yardwork, and more. Despite those previous healthy habits my exercise routine stopped altogether with gyms being closed (or not offering childcare) and working long hours from home each day. By the time my typical work day wraps up, my wife and I were busy with making dinner, taking kids to sports, putting them to bed, and finally crashing on the couch late in the evening.

Thankfully, during the summer of 2020 my children started showing interest in bike rides around the neighborhood and my oldest (6) learned to ride on her own. Separately my wife found a bike trailer that we can hook up to either of our bikes. Now I can bike with my youngest two to a nearby playground, let them run around, and then hop back in and head home. Everyone gets exercise and a break from the house.

Separately, for the last 4 weeks, each morning I take a 10-15 min walk around our neighborhood. My oldest daughter has joined me on many of these walks and we do math problems, tell stories, or talk about her school week. This is a nice break to spend some 1:1 time with her that we don’t always get otherwise. These short walks don’t compare to my previous exercise routine but it does help.

PixelArt

Many years ago I used to play around with image editing software (Microsoft Paint, Paint.Net, etc.) as a side hobby. Mostly I used those tools to “photoshop” a co-worker’s head onto a funny comic or prepare screenshots for a blog post (How I Blog – Updated 2018).

Recently a peer at Microsoft (@MaximRouiller) shared a pixel art image he did with animation (link). I saw the hashtag #LearnPixelArt and decided to check out the weekly “challenge”. I’ve been spending some time each Friday morning creating my own pixel art and sharing back to the challenge. It’s a nice break to create “art” and try to have some fun with the topic or category suggested. You can find my items here:

Brian’s #LearnPixelArt creations

Here’s a sneak peek at a design I’ve been doing on the side: the Microsoft Graph logo 🙂

#PSAforTheDay

Over the course of my 15+ yr technology career I’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks for Windows, Office, and other platforms. Recently I decided to start sharing these out on a weekly basis (Thurs mornings). Not only do I get to share with others but I’ve also gotten a few tips from others in return. Additionally I’ve started to explore creating animated GIFs to illustrate many of these tips. Up until a few weeks ago I had never created GIFs so this was a fun way to explore animation / GIFs. I am using LICEcap but if you have alternate suggestions I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Brian’s #PSAforTheDay posts

Side note, my manager Jeremy Thake recently suggested I take a look at TikTok as a way to share out these types of tips and tricks. Honestly, I’ve never used / look at TikTok before, but might be worth exploring in the coming weeks. I’ve created an account but at the time of publishing don’t have anything shared yet. Feel free to follow for when (not if) I give this a try.

https://www.tiktok.com/@briantjackett

Conclusion

If you find yourself in a similar experience in search of creativity, start exploring options and activities to get yourself going. Creativity isn’t something you are born with, you have to work at it at times. Hopefully some of the suggestions shared above will motivate you to try something new. I would love to hear what others are doing. Please share in the comments.

-Frog Out