How Power Platform professionals re-invented their careers

January 11 2022

As Microsoft's Power Platform tools have grown in popularity, a community of professionals has arisen to meet demand for new applications, dashboards, and automations. While many of these workers come from traditional IT and development backgrounds, others come from industry roles or other types of jobs.

MSDW recently spoke with two people who have shifted their careers to focus on Power Platform. Nick Gill, a solution architect at AIS and Sheryl Netley, a Microsoft MVP and functional consultant at cloudThing, who told us about how and why they became Power Platform professionals and what it has meant for their careers and their lives. Unlike our recent podcast guest Derek Lichtenwalner, who transitioned from production to Power App development while staying with the same organization, Gill and Netley both took on new jobs in the Microsoft partner channel, serving as client-facing consultants designing and developing custom applications, reports, and automations, and providing other services. And while neither of them was formally trained for those roles, they have used both their real world experiences and their passion for learning, building, and using technology to help guide their careers

Experiences that began the journey

Nick GillNick Gill was a supervisor of CPR instructors at the American Red Cross with an interest in technology projects when he first discovered Power Platform. He was already involved in other IT-related initiatives like maintaining the organization's SharePoint site and working with InfoPath, along with his primary duties. But a business issue faced by his instructors led him to seek out a new technology solution.

We were faced with a project where we needed to try and identify and help improve the order life cycle for the CPR instructor. Picture this: you've got like 500, 600 CPR instructors nationwide. How do they get their supplies? They would fill out this paper request form requesting out the supplies. It would go to a number of different shared mailboxes and to a logistics person whose job was to pack and ship these supplies out.

Their paper-based process took three to four weeks from receiving the paper form to scanning it and picking and shipping the items back to the instructors. Worse, the operations team didn't have any data on how many orders were being submitted or what the real demand was on their inventory. Gill first turned to InfoPath, but when it couldn't meet the requirements, the public preview of Power Apps caught his attention. He began building an app to allow instructors to request supplies, and that app led to a range of process improvements. Order lifecycle dropped from three weeks to three business days, he recalled. It also sparked a cascade of other insights that made the team's operations more efficient:

[We were] able to have full visibility on not just the supplies that were being requested [by instructors], but…to even match that up [with inventory]. Then the schedule data. So it just continued to compile and compound as to what we found that we could do. Starting with the Power Apps and then going into Power BI, realizing that we could connect and match together our scheduling system with this Power Apps data, and then realizing we could even take the tracking numbers and then sync that with our FedEx data. So then we were able to start drilling into average cost per package.

Sheryl NetleySheryl Netley's work history prior to getting involved in Dynamics 365 and Power Platform had included plenty of time in Microsoft partner organizations, most recently working on IT service management projects and managing support desks, but never in building custom business solutions. But after being caught in layoffs at two companies in two years, she decided to change her career strategy.

I thought, I'm going to try and maybe switch track here because obviously the work that I was doing wasn't really panning out for me. So I figured out I have three months of money in the bank and I decided to spend a month that I could afford to take away from work learning Dynamics and Power Platform. So that's really what I did. Every day I came to work at the computer and I taught myself [starting from nothing] about the Microsoft stack. Obviously I'd used Word and Excel and things like that.

Learning the skills

At the American Red Cross, the organization let Gill take his order management project even further, involving the logistics team to add barcode scanning and other features while also assembling a group of Power Apps champions to improve uptake and get more involved in the Microsoft community. He also expanded his own skills with Power BI.

As you start learning how BI [works], then you start hearing about data models. And then I really [got] interested. It's like, well, geez, if I'm really going to understand this, I start Googling on data models. And understanding that whole piece. And the more I started looking and searching, I realized that this stuff isn't just for the frozen chosen, this information's out there, and now [Power BI] is just democratizing the ability for people to participate in it.

Gill was still in his supervisory role for CPR instructors, but as he got more involved in Power Platform work and in the community, people close to him noted his preference for app development. For example, his wife pointed out his obvious enthusiasm.

My wife would hear me on these geeky work calls [from my home office] on the Power Platform stuff. She says, 'You know, I hear you on these geeky calls and then I hear you on your other calls and you just seem like such a different person when you're on these geeky calls. Nick, I think you're in the wrong job.' And that was really it for me in terms of realizing that I'd be doing this stuff full time, getting paid for it rather than trying to squeeze time in the evenings and weekends… I realized that, you know, yeah, I'm gonna give this a go.

For Netley, resourcefulness was key to her success in her month of self-training, she says. Microsoft Learn was still in its infancy at the time, so she built up her learning resources piecemeal, from YouTube, LinkedIn, Dynamics Learning Portal, and beyond. And, perhaps just as important, she researched what skills employers were looking for in the Microsoft business applications space.

[Employers] seemed to be asking for three things: they wanted online deployment, they wanted [Dynamics 365] Customer Service, and they wanted configuration and customization. So I figured out what all the codes were for the training for those exams and found it all on YouTube. And I literally spent the whole of January learning.

She also credits her decision to join Azure study groups led by fellow MVP and trainer Julian Sharp with helping her prepare for and pass Azure certifications. The study groups also helped her make the connections that led to a new job focused on Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. She recalled:

About Jason Gumpert

As the editor of MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason oversees all editorial content on the site and at our events, as well as providing site management and strategy. He can be reached at jgumpert@msdynamicsworld.com.

Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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