What are you working on? (share early and often)

Hands working on clay project

I’ve always enjoyed “Show and Tell Fridays”, “Brown bag sessions” (i.e. bring your lunch and a presenter shares about a topic), and hackathons to see what cool things my peers are working on. Not only do I get to see / hear interesting projects and solutions they are building, it also sparks creativity in me to work on my own projects.

During our September 2022 company-wide hackathon I had the opportunity to collaborate with folks from multiple areas of Microsoft (Teams, Outlook, .Net Interactive, M365 Profile, and more) on interesting projects. What was really interesting to me is that 2 of these projects started via tweets on Twitter. A random message from myself was picked up by one engineering team for 1 project and a thread from a peer about “wouldn’t it be cool if…” started another project.

Ultimately, I highly recommend that you take the time to share early and share often your ideas, interests, side projects, and more. You never know how that may lead you and your peers to build the next innovative product / feature / etc.

For those interested, here is a link to one of the hackathon projects I worked on for a “Microsoft Graph extension for .Net Interactive”. For those unfamiliar, .Net Interactive Notebooks allow you to mix text (Markdown) and runnable code snippets (multiple languages supported) in a notebook style format. This custom extension allows authenticating to Microsoft Graph via 3 different authentication flows (possibly more to come) and run Microsoft Graph SDK queries easily.

I’ll be sharing more about this on my blog, M365 platform community call, and a few other places as it continues to develop. For now follow / star / fork / etc. the GitHub repo for more updates.

Microsoft Graph extension for .NET Interactive Notebooks
https://github.com/microsoftgraph/msgraph-dotnet-interactive-extension

-Frog Out

Drip by drip: cumulative progress over time

Starting July 1st of this year I set some goals for myself to get back into exercise routines and improve my overall health. Many of these are things that I had done before the pandemic but had not gotten back into.

  • Walk / run 4-mile (6.4 km) race before end of 2022
  • Workout for at least 10 mins a day, 4 days a week
  • Lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) by end of 2022

Rather than dive head-first into these goals, I made small adjustments to my daily / weekly schedule and continued adding every few weeks, but always being consistent.

Much of the inspiration for this approach came from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear which I read earlier this year.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40121378-atomic-habits

Ex.

  • Installed a phone app for “core body workouts” that I use for 10-15 mins in the morning
    • I didn’t have high hopes for the app but here I am 40+ days later making real progress, repeating 3 days on and 1 day off for rest (even through vacations with family).
  • Walk on my home office treadmill at least 2-3 times a week
    • I now don’t let myself watch nighttime TV unless I’m walking on the treadmill. This motivates me to walk longer but also avoid eating unhealthy foods after dinner.
  • Reduce after hours snacking
    • This used to be a frequent problem, but with the other areas I’m seeing results with losing 7 pounds (3.2 kg) already, and I’m motivated to not gain that back by eating unhealthy foods.
  • Signed up for a 4-mile race in Oct
    • I’m already registered and working my way up in distance (see above for nighttime TV motivator for compounding effect).

Progress started out small and slow with the workouts, but overall I’m feeling in much better shape and plan to keep this up through the rest of the year. I enjoy that it was small adjustments that started to compound the gains I was seeing across the board.

What positive habits have you started up this year that have made an impact?

-Frog Out

Management for the Non-manager: Part 1

As part of my org’s FHL (fix hack learn) week, I wanted to explore Management training for Non-managers. I found a great learning path on LinkedIn Learning called “Become a Manager“. Here are a few lessons so far from the copious notes I’ve been taking.

  • Impact of the team
    • “Make the shift from me to we
    • Important perspective for managers as well as principal or higher individual contributors (IC)
  • Transition plans
    • If you are moving from IC to manager (or between management roles), define transition plans before and during changes
  • Communications
    • Communicate more often than you may think you need to.
    • Build relationship with team members (1:1s, recognize wins / failures as a team, etc.)
    • Share constructive feedback in private but in a positive manner
  • Delegate tasks / projects
    • Delegate strategically, even if it challenges a person
    • Ensure team has the clarity, training, and support to succeed
  • Civility and candor
    • When communicating, have a balance of civility (empathy) and candor (directness)
    • Without candor, communication lacks substance and manager may be seen as just “a nice person”
  • Feedback
    • When sharing feedback, avoid generalities (ex. “I know you can be a better salesperson”)
    • Be concrete and give examples (ex. “I’m confident you can increase sales by X% next quarter to show you are improving as a salesperson”)
    • Think SMART goals to create clarity
  • Decision making style
    • Share your decision making style ahead of time so team knows what to expect
    • Styles
      • Autocratic – Manager makes decision and informs team
      • Collaborative – Seek input from team then make decision
      • Democratic – Team makes the decision
    • If using Autocratic or Collaborative, explain your decision afterwards (if appropriate) and stick to decision
  • Integrity
    • Fairness relates to equal opportunities, not necessarily equal outcomes or distributions
    • Share credit widely as well as pains / failures
  • Authenticity
    • Confidence is projected through what you say, body language, etc.
    • Competence is demonstrated through work you produce
    • Being Authentic = open, humble, show humanity, and always “model the way”
    • Promote your employees more than yourself
  • Lieutenant / 2nd in command
    • Informal relationship for someone who can be your stand-in when needed
    • Shares feedback, mobilizes support, can take opposing perspective (plays devil’s advocate), and potential candidate for succession plan
    • They are not:
    • A clone of you, a “yes person”, nor an enforcer of manager’s commands
  • Resiliency
    • Understand how to get back up when knocked down
      • (I call this “filling your cup up after being drained” or “energizing your batteries”)
    • Diet, exercise, and sleep are basics to take care of yourself
    • Proactively reflect on yourself / team
    • Choose to spend time with other resilient, positive, and successful
  • Take notes
    • Easier to refer back to what was discussed / decided
    • Can be shared with others asynchronously

This post is only a partial copy of my notes from ~2hrs of training, but as you can see, writing / recording things helps for re-enforcing concepts but also being able to share afterwards.

I have more courses to complete in the learning path and will try to share out notes in a later post. Feel free to share in the comments other recommended training in the “management for non-managers” space.

-Frog Out

Power Automate Sample – Custom Microsoft Teams Reminder for Meeting

In this post I’ll walk through a sample workflow I created for sending out Microsoft Teams messages for a team sync meeting. This is part of my Spring 2022 Fix Hack Learn (FHL) project.

Requirements

  • Send individual reminder to teammates (35+) to capture “weekly accomplishments” for next sync meeting
  • Schedule to run weekly (Fridays)

Solution

The high-level architecture for the solution I prototyped is as follows:

  • Trigger
    • Recurrence – weekly on Fridays
  • Actions
    • Create variables for tracking date when flow is run and “next Tuesday”
    • Create copy of template file and rename to desired filename
    • Get list of team members
    • For each team member
      • Send Teams message with link to above file

Below is a sample of the Teams message that is sent.

Challenges

Dynamic links in Teams chat message

When using the HTML designer for the Teams “message”, you are only able to specify static links. In our scenario we need to include a dynamic link to the upcoming document for weekly accomplishments.

Through some investigation online (link) we found that this can be achieved using the Code View. Once in Code View, you can specify an HTML anchor element <a href=…> and include the “link to item” for the file in SharePoint.

Rename files in SharePoint Online document library

Power Automate has a SharePoint action for copying a file, but you have little control over naming the file (ex. replace, new copy with an incremented integer, etc.). Separately, there are currently no native actions for renaming a file.

Instead, I found a quick workaround (link) to copy the contents of an existing “template” file and then create a copy using the contents of the template file. In the process we can provide whichever name we desire.

Calculate date for “next Tuesday”

As part of the renaming of file, I wanted this flow to be able to dynamically calculate the date for the next Tuesday on the calendar. Aside from being an interesting calculation I was personally curious about, this would also allow sending out the reminder on any day of the week.

After much searching online, I found solutions for calculating this in Excel (example), but that made use of a different set of functions that are not available in Power Automate. In the end I decided not to spend too much time on this and instead hard coded the calculation to be Friday’s date + 4 days. See below for the formula.

formatDateTime(addDays(variables('currentDate'),4), 'yyyy-MM-dd')

Conclusion

Hopefully this example can give you inspiration if you need a similar solution for sending out customized reminders of a recurring event or meeting. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to prototype the first iteration of this (less than 1 hour) and then iterate on it with a few enhancements before the day was done. I’m a big fan of how easy Power Automate makes it to automate and simplify manual processes. If you have any suggested improvements, share them in the comments.

-Frog Out

Resources

Flow does not generate clickable links for dynamic paths
https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/General-Power-Automate/Flow-does-not-generate-clickable-links-for-dynamic-paths/m-p/789336#M63152

Power Automate Rename File
https://www.enjoysharepoint.com/power-automate-rename-file/

How To Round Date To Previous Or Next Specific Weekday In Excel?
https://www.extendoffice.com/documents/excel/2663-excel-roud-date-to-nearest-sunday.html

How I Use Stream Deck

In this post I’ll walk through the configurations I currently use with my Stream Deck 15 key.

Stream Deck home screen example

(Last updated 2022-03-14)

Background

For those of you who are not familiar, the Elegato Stream Deck is a device that helps automate keyboard shortcuts as well as offer integrations with many popular content creation platforms or streaming services (ex. OBS, YouTube, Twitch, XSplit, and more). Currently it is available in 6 key, 15 key, and 32 key combinations. Each of the keys is a mini LCD screen that you can customize with text, images, or even dynamic content through developer extensibility. On top of that you can nest folders within folders for additional use cases.

My Configuration

My “homescreen” is split up into the following folders (with sub-actions) and actions.

  • Folders
    • Time zones
      • (5 different time zones corresponding to various teams that I work with regularly)
    • Recording
      • OBS Studio
      • Clipchamp
      • Descript
      • Carnac (app to show keystrokes on screen)
      • Scene switcher for OBS Studio (3x)
      • TikTok
      • File Explorer launch to folder for editing videos
      • Record (start / stop)
    • Community call admin
      • (various hotkeys and launchers related to community calls I co-host)
    • Media
      • Spotify
      • Windows Weekly (locally downloaded episodes)
      • Player.fm (podcatcher app)
      • Xbox Cloud Gaming
      • Goodreads
      • Play / pause control
      • Mute / unmute control
    • OneNote
      • (links to various OneNote notebooks I use through my week)
    • Text snippets
      • (multiple text snippets that I use on a regular basis)
    • Microsoft Teams
      • (keyboard shortcuts to control Microsoft Teams meetings / presentations / etc.)
      • Sysinternals ZoomIt (draw on screen, zoom screen, timer, and more)
  • Home screen actions
    • Microsoft stock ticker (custom app)
    • Dice Roller (for fun)
    • Elegato Key Light controls (on / off, brightness +/-)

Plugins

I primarily use out of the box (or installed by default) actions, but there are a few useful plugins that I do use (all from the same developer BarRaider. You can search for these and more in the Stream Deck Store as part of the configuration app.

  • Plugins
    • Advanced Launcher (BarRaider)
      • Launch Microsoft Store apps and additional customizations for launching processes
    • Games (BarRaider)
    • Stock Ticker (BarRaider)
    • World Time (BarRaider)

Extra tips

Launch browser profiles

For many years I have been using browser profiles in Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and Firefox. Each implements them slightly differently, but the general idea is that you can have different “profiles” for different personas. This includes a separate instance of saved credentials, home pages, favorites, and more. I use these extensively to test out Microsoft 365 sandbox tenants as various users, personal vs. work profiles for myself, and more.

Thankfully my friend Paul Schaeflein already blogged about launching browser sessions with different profiles. Read more on his post How I use Stream Deck – Browser Profiles.

Conclusion

In this post I overviewed the general configuration I use with my 15 key Stream Deck. I I’ve only been using my Stream Deck for a few months, but hopefully this post gives you a few insights into what / how you can use your own. Depending on future configuration changes I will update this post for major updates.

-Frog Out

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