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Microsoft MVP Profile: Turning a Power Apps challenge into community leadership, Part 1

by Linda Rosencrance
Contributing Writer, MSDW

Four years ago, if you had told 17-year-old Ashlee Culmsee that by the time she was 20 she'd be working in technology as the youngest female Microsoft MVP in the world, as well as one half of the only father-daughter MVP duo, she'd have said you were crazy.

But crazy or not, you would have been right on the money. Culmsee, whose specialty is Microsoft Power Apps, received the MVP award in February, when she was just 20 years old. She turned 21 several weeks ago. And her dad, Paul Culmsee, managing partner at Seven Sigma Business Solutions, received his MVP award in 2017. Ashlee shared her remarkable story with MSDW.

From junk mail to PowerApps

At 18, Culmsee was in her last year as a high school student in Perth, Australia. Like many teenagers, she was looking for a way to make some money. Although her dad tried his best to get her to consider IT, she wasn't interested.

"For as long as I can remember, my dad has always been someone who's worked in IT," she says. "He's done it for years and years. Everyday when he came home from work, he'd try and get me into it. He say, 'Oh, can I tell you about something I did today? Can I explain how IP addresses work?'"

But as a kid, Culmsee didn't really care about that, especially since it was coming from one of her parents. Still, she had to earn some money, so she got a job delivering junk mail around the neighborhood.

"Basically every week I got a giant pile of catalogs, magazines, flyers and all that sort of stuff," she says. "I had to sift through and sort them all out, put them in piles and fold them all up. That took a few days. Then I had to go around to a certain assigned area -- mine was part of my neighborhood -- and deliver this pile of paper and catalogs to every single mailbox I could find."

It wasn't easy walking around the neighborhood lugging around a massive pile of junk mail. Since Culmsee didn't drive, she convinced her parents to help a bit. So every Saturday they'd drive her to her assigned area of the neighborhood and sit in the car while she walked down a few streets, delivering the junk mail – and all for only about $50 a week.  It wasn't long before her parents got fed up with the entire situation.

"It was awful, which is why my dad just got sick of it," Culmsee says. "He said, 'OK, Ash, it takes you about 10 hours to do this every week, right?' I agreed with him. Then he said, 'I'll pay you the same amount that they pay you if you'll just spend 10 hours with me learning PowerApps.'"

And that was a deal she just couldn't pass up.

"I said, 'Yeah, that sounds a lot better. I can do this from the comfort of my house. I don't have to walk around and get a bad back from lugging everything around," she says. "Seemed like a win-win to me. So he started teaching me PowerApps and I realized that it was actually something that was really interesting and fun. And I really enjoyed doing it. My dad was thinking, 'My plan worked. I've finally gotten her into something.'"

A big red button and a fidget spinner

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About Linda Rosencrance

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer/editor in the Boston area. Rosencrance has over 25 years experience as an reporter/investigative reporter, writing for many newspapers in the metropolitan Boston area. Rosencrance has been writing about information technology for the past 16 years.

She has covered a variety of IT subjects, including Microsoft Dynamics, mobile security issues such as data loss prevention, network management, secure mobile app development, privacy, cloud computing, BI, big data, analytics, HR, CRM, ERP, and enterprise IT.

Rosencrance is the author of six true crime books for Kensington Publishing Corp.