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

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

What I’m Working On – March 2021

It has been a couple months since I last posted here, so sharing an update on things I’ve been working on the past few months.

Microsoft Graph connectors

Starting in December 2020 I’ve taken on the role of subject matter expert (SME) for Graph connectors on my team. For those not aware, Graph connectors allow customers and partners to ingest external data (outside of Microsoft 365) into Microsoft Graph so that that data can participate in Microsoft 365 experiences such as search, intelligent discovery, eDiscovery, and more. The end goal is to increase discoverability and drive engagement to that content no matter where a user may be.

I’ve been working very closely with a number of customers and partners to get them started developing connectors and support their efforts as it relates to a few other larger picture integrations. This will continue to be one of my main focus areas going forward. If you’d like to get started with Graph connectors take a look at the developer documentation or try out the Postman collection.

Developer Documentation
https://aka.ms/graphconnectorsapi

Graph Connectors Postman Collection
https://aka.ms/graphconnectorspostman

Personally I’m looking forward to the future of Graph connectors and seeing how our customers and partners leverage them in their own environments.

Microsoft Graph Mailbag blog series

In December 2020 myself and a handful of other folks at Microsoft started the Microsoft Graph Mailbag blog series. This is a twice a month (2nd and 4th Tuesday) opportunity to share lessons learned, interesting solutions, or additional highlight of announcements related to Microsoft Graph. So far a variety of authors have published on topics ranging from Microsoft Graph Toolkit to Graph Explorer to Azure Functions + Microsoft Graph and beyond.

Ever since leading the 30 Days of Microsoft Graph blog series back in 2018 I’ve enjoyed establishing a platform for other people to share their knowledge more broadly. We have a few upcoming posts that I’m particularly interested in sharing out publicly.

On a related note, I recently recorded a podcast with Jeremy Thake and Paul Schaeflein on the Microsoft 365 Developer Podcast where we discussed the Microsoft Graph Mailbag blog series, our Graph CPx team, and more. Look for that episode to release within the next week or so.

Onboarding Graph CPx Team Members

As mentioned in my post “A New Role with Microsoft Graph Team” last May, I’ve taken a new role at Microsoft on the Microsoft Graph Customer and Partner Experience (CPx) team. This team was started from scratch with myself and my manager Jeremy Thake. Over the past ~year we have onboarded Fabian Williams, Sébastien Levert, and Nik Charlebois. Additionally Gladys Alvarez has joined us as a LEAP apprentice for ~3 months to work on a special project. We have 1 more person planned to onboard in April and another open position (at the time of writing, see link below).

Senior CPX Program Manager
https://careers.microsoft.com/us/en/job/1009801/Senior-CPX-Program-Manager

Each week I spend time ensuring everyone is adjusting to Microsoft / our team as best as possible. This includes formalizing / standardizing processes, 1:1 chats, team retrospectives, etc. Additionally we’ve shared out responsibilities for hosting the Microsoft Graph community call (1st Tues of each month at 9am PT) and other regular activities on our team. Overall this has been a rewarding experience to start on a new team and help establish / build out what we are capable of delivering.

Reading Books

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

If you’ve known my reading habits in the past then you’ll know that I generally didn’t get (or more accurately “make”) much time to read books except during time off from work (summer vacation or time off in December). At those times I would plunge into a book or two and read through them in a few days.

In the past year though I’ve gotten a number of recommendations for business, finance, and other genres of books. The strong majority of these books have been immensely helpful for my day-to-day work, personal / family planning, and more. I set a goal for myself in 2021 to read at least 2 books by the end of the year. March is not even over and I’m already on my 4th book for the year… so I guess you could say the pace of reading (and on a more regular basis) has picked up.

If you’re interested in seeing which books I’ve been reading lately you can take a look at my Good Reads list. I try to keep it updated on a weekly basis. If you have any recommendations please share in the comments or via Good Reads.

https://www.goodreads.com/briantjackett

Conclusion

Today’s post was not a technical one. More for me to share out things that have been keeping me busy the past few months. Hopefully you are doing well and I’ll see you around online.

-Frog Out

Retrospective for 2020

For many of the past years I’ve written a retrospective (2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) or look ahead (2019, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) post to walk through my goals.  2020 was a year unlike many others but I’ve been reflecting on what this year has meant to me, my family, and my career. Thanks again to my mentor Sean McDonough for encouraging me to get this written as I hadn’t written a looking ahead post at the start of the year.

Retrospective

2020 brought a number of changes to my life. I accepted a position with the newly created Microsoft Graph Customer and Partner Experience (CPx) team (link), my oldest daughter started kindergarten, and the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us work / travel / live our lives.

Through all of the changes there have been a few constants though. Earlier this year I published a newsletter / post about “Positivity through uncertainty“. That theme continues in this post. As mentioned in a recent Twitter thread (link) I have been reflecting on my 2020 year. The #1 feeling I have is “being thankful”. I am thankful for:

  • my family is in good health
  • I have a great job that allows me to provide for my family
  • my team and company are extremely supportive and inspire me to share my best
  • my kids are each showing an early interest in different areas and my wife and I are working to encourage them on those
  • I’ve been keeping up with my monthly personal retrospectives for almost 3 years

Yes, living through this pandemic has added additional stresses to daily life, myself included. In response to that there are some activities that I have started or been keeping up to reduce or negate those stresses. Here are a few I recommend you look into if you aren’t already doing them.

Check-in with others regularly

Take the time to check in with family, teammates, neighbors, etc. on a regular basis. It can be a simple “how are you doing today?” or you can dig deeper. With my new teammates I try to have at least 15-25 mins every 2-3 weeks (separate from regular team meetings) to see how they are doing. Think all-inclusively of work, personal life, career progression, and more.

Know how to recharge yourself

Back when I delivered all-day workshops to customers 2-5 days in a single week I learned quickly that those sessions can easily drain your personal energy level, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. Working remotely, being on video calls for hours a day, and attending to multiple family duties can also be just as draining. It is important that you find things that can “recharge your batteries”.

During the first half of this year I started to spend more time on video games, TV shows, and other “mindless” activities. The thing with all of those activities is that while they may help pass the time, they didn’t truly re-energize me or give me new inspiration.

The things that really give me energy are sharing out my knowledge / experience and giving other people a platform to share their own voice. Knowing this I try to find projects in my job or personal life that help me to do more of those types of things. A recent example is starting up the Microsoft Graph Mailbag blog series.

Focus on the important

You may have seen a diagram such as the below illustrating importance and urgency on separate axes.

Throughout my life I have tried to focus on the more important + urgent things in life and work, but I feel like 2020 pushed me more on this topic in all of the quadrants. I recommend using the preceding diagram (or something similar) to help guide you in taking an inventory of the things that you are currently working on and divide them up into the respective categories. This can help you focus on the “obvious priorities” while taking the appropriate actions with the others.

For another take on the prioritization aspects of life, read the story (there are many adaptations, this is just one) about the “big rocks of life” here: http://appleseeds.org/Big-Rocks_Covey.htm

The power of music

On multiple occasions over the past year music has been a source of joy, inspiration, community building, and more. I have witnessed the power of music bringing our Microsoft Graph team together during a holiday “name that tune” game time meeting all the way to the other end of the spectrum with my 1.5 yr old dancing with complete joy at the first few seconds of any (yes I mean “any”) song she hears. Personally I find music helps me get into a specific mood (read more at halfway through this post) when needed and also recharges my batteries.

The power of meditation / prayer / taking a breath

For me personally there is a positive effect to meditation / prayer. Whether you believe in an organized religion or not you can take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, listen to soothing music, and shut out all of the distractions of the world. This may be more difficult depending on your circumstances / noise levels / etc., but if it is a priority you can likely find a way to make it happen. A few times a week I like to pray the rosary in the early morning before others have woken up or late at night before bed. In a few short minutes I’m much more at ease and have a clearer mind afterwards.

Know the right time of day for the right work / activity

As mentioned above, I know that I’m best able to pray in the early morning or late night. Similarly I know that I’m not at my best for meetings in the late afternoon my time zone. I also try to avoid email in the morning as it will be 9am and then next thing you know it is noon and I haven’t gotten to the big tasks for the day yet.

Try to identify the times of day when you are at your best for specific tasks or activities. If it helps, put appointments on your calendar for those times so that you block out your day / week to get those done during the optimal times / days. It may also help having a to-do tracking list that you can write things down and then schedule those on your calendar similarly.

Conclusion

What started out as a retrospective on 2020 turned into a “share my positivity and tips” post. Needless to say, I hope that each and every one of you can look back at 2020 and find as many positive things as you can and celebrate them with others. They can be small things or big things but don’t keep them just to yourself. Next up is looking forward to 2021. Have a great start to this year!

-Frog Out