Chris O’Brien is the Product and Services Director at Content+Cloud and has been with us since 2010. He has been awarded MVP status 14 times since 2008 in the Office Apps and Services category.
Chris’ journey to MVP status
Chris started his career as a developer and began to specialise in content management and SharePoint in the early 2000s. For ten years, Chris was an independent consultant.
Typically, he was brought in to lead a team or the technical delivery of large programmes of work, initially with a focus on SharePoint and then with Office 365. This period included a spell with Microsoft.
In his current role, Chris leads a team of Product Directors for our core service lines including Modern Workplace, Azure, Cyber Security and Compliance and Fresh, our digital workplace product.
Where you can follow Chris
- Chris regularly writes long-form articles on his blog SharePoint Nuts and Bolts.
- He also speaks at Microsoft and industry conferences such as the European SharePoint, Office 365 and Azure Conference (ESPC) and the European Collaboration Summit.
- Chris also posts regularly via his LinkedIn account and on Twitter @ChrisO_Brien.
Quickfire Q&A with Microsoft MVP Chris O’Brien
What does being a Microsoft MVP mean to you?
The MVP award is all about having a positive impact on the technical community and helping to drive the industry forward by sharing knowledge and helping others to succeed.
In particular, it’s about stepping beyond the day job and finding ways to help at the macro level, rather than just the organisation you work for or the clients you serve. I often describe it as a lifestyle choice – it takes a continued investment of personal time. That can be difficult, so you have to really enjoy helping others to be continually motivated to make that sacrifice.
The MVP award is recognition from Microsoft that your efforts are judged to meet a certain bar in terms of quality and impact. But the intrinsic motivation to help is generally a bigger factor and there are many in the technical community who do great work without the MVP status.
In my case, I started with just three articles that I really wanted to write, with a firm conviction I’d stop there. It was the early days of SharePoint 2007 and Microsoft’s documentation was lacking. But at the same time lots of people were searching for answers. I got a lot of satisfaction from staying up late, finding solutions and establishing approaches that others would benefit from.
Of course, once I’d published those articles, I found the positive feedback and being part of the conversation was hugely motivating. 15 years later, I’m still writing and have notched up 300+ articles. In that time, the world has largely moved to the cloud. So, my content has expanded far beyond SharePoint to focus across Microsoft 365 and Azure, and hopefully my writing continues to help others.
How does being an MVP help your work at Content+Cloud?
Having early insight into Microsoft’s direction and product developments is one way. MVPs who stay in the program for several years tend to build great connections with product strategy and engineering teams in Redmond (Microsoft HQ).
We provide insights to Microsoft on customer needs and how existing products are used in the real world. In return Microsoft shares product strategy and roadmap information that isn’t otherwise available.
This is a privilege and Microsoft firmly expect our NDAs to be respected, so sharing certain forward-looking details with clients is often not possible. At the same time, having early insight and roadmap visibility helps us innovate faster and shape our services as a Microsoft partner in a way which is hugely beneficial. We also have a direct channel to engineering teams which can help raise or unblock certain issues at times.
A related benefit is the ability to influence product direction at Microsoft. Both Content+Cloud and myself as an individual are heavily invested in Microsoft and its success in the market is ultimately a shared goal.
Being able to provide feedback which helps steer technologies in the right direction based on ‘field experience’ that Microsoft product teams often do not have can be valuable all round. There have been many examples where MVP feedback has altered product direction in very meaningful ways.
Which Microsoft products do you enjoy working with the most?
I’ll always have a soft spot for SharePoint, since it’s the technology I’ve had the deepest involvement in through the years. Even if Microsoft Teams is at the forefront for many people, SharePoint is behind the scenes providing a huge part of Teams and the wider Microsoft 365 platform.
It’s amazing to see the continued investment and how Microsoft is innovating with AI and intelligent services. It’s helping to solve common organisational challenges, such as exponential content growth and the constant recreation of knowledge.
Following our involvement in the private preview, we’ve developed new services around Microsoft Viva Topics and SharePoint Syntex to help our clients maximise the benefits of these technologies.
Beyond AI and automation, I’ve also been focusing on Teams application development. I’m a strong believer that Teams will be one of the most significant platforms for solving business problems and creating line-of-business applications going forward. Arguably in the same way SharePoint has been for many years.
I’ve been driving this transition with our internal teams over the last 12-18 months, and it’s satisfying to see high-value collaborative Teams solutions emerge which are transforming how our clients work.
How do you contribute to the Microsoft community?
Providing thought leadership on my blog is still my single biggest form of community output. I also speak regularly at Microsoft and industry conferences.
I’ve presented at Microsoft’s biggest events such as Ignite (and TechEd, as it was in years gone by). I also enjoy speaking at events like the European SharePoint, Office 365 and Azure Conference (ESPC) and the European Collaboration Summit where there can be a more direct connection to attendees because of their size. I’ve spoken at both of those for the last few years alongside similar events.
I also occasionally appear as a guest on podcasts related to cloud tech. And for each of the recent Ignite conferences, I’ve produced my ‘Ignite on a slide’ summaries (e.g. Ignite October 2021 and Ignite March 2021) to help people catch up on major announcements and developments.
What’s your favourite thing about the Microsoft community?
There’s something incredible about people’s willingness to share hard-earned knowledge in a way which transcends boundaries. And while this can be common in technical communities, I’ve not seen it happen at this level elsewhere. There’s a sense of being in it together to help drive things forward. And I don’t think it’s an understatement to say this is part of Microsoft’s success in recent years.
As an organisation, Microsoft has learned how to foster community involvement. And it’s willing to invest heavily in support for local user groups and events like the annual MVP Summit. The event has been virtual for the past two years but is usually held on the Redmond campus in Seattle.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some great people and form really significant friendships through the Microsoft community. Often these are people in other countries who have quite different lives and sometimes beliefs. But we share a passion for the technology we use and continual improvement.
Catching up at a conference somewhere around the world is always a highlight of the year. And for many of us, these relationships that have spanned more than a decade. If nothing else, I think that’s a good reflection on the diversity of the community and how multi-dimensional the benefits can be.
At Content+Cloud, we have some of the foremost experts in Microsoft Office 365 working to help businesses like yours get the fullest value from it and transform how their people work. Find out more and get in touch to discuss your Office 365 implementation here.