Please introduce yourself Hi everyone. My name is Helen Blunden and I was born, raised and educated in the beautiful city of Melbourne in Australia. I started my career in the Royal Australian Navy as a Training Officer and after ten years of service, transferred to the Navy Reserve into the field of Public Affairs reaching the rank of Commander. During that time, I was also in the field of Learning and Development working for various corporates in Australia such as Telstra, ANZ Bank, and the National Australia Bank.
Working in Learning and Development for over 24 years gave me an appreciation of how people perform at work. My responsibility was to partner with my internal business clients and help build skills and capabilities that would help support not only their professional development but also organizational strategic goals.
Over the years I have seen a real shift in the workplace and the importance of taking charge of our own learning so that we’re ready for the future. People have their own unique skills, knowledge, networks, experiences, and stories and my passion is to help people share that so that they can redefine work to be something that creates value and meaning for them and their organization.
I’m a Senior Adoption Consultant for Microsoft partner Adopt & Embrace for over a year and I’m new to the suite of Microsoft products and services. In that way, it allows me to empathize with my clients and especially teams and people who may be overwhelmed with the pace of change they’re seeing in their work and lives. My lens always comes from the perspective of openness to continual and lifelong learning – and looking at our workplace as an experience to learn from and with each other.
I’m a curious learner and a passionate explorer myself. I dabble in all sorts of experiments that have spectacularly failed at times and other times have given me wonderful opportunities. In my spare time, I like creating videos, knitting, travelling, blogging and reading. I’m a bit of a Captain Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) tragic.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting their career in tech, what would you tell them? Many years ago, someone had given me a piece of advice that I would never forget and it helped me in my career. It was, “volunteer for everything”.
When you’re starting out in your career, you’d want to make sure that you have many different experiences to learn from.
Sometimes these experiences come hidden as sideline conversations, requests or even ideas from people seeking out support in some projects that may have nothing to do with your normal day-to-day job.
I recall my best opportunities to learn, grow and develop in my field came from such experiences that exposed me to new people I would have otherwise never met, new skills I would never have otherwise learned, new travel opportunities I would never have gone on.
With each new opportunity, my outlook was broadened, my network built, my skillset expanded. Lookout and be aware of these hidden opportunities that are all around us; jump in and give it a go. Learn from it, share your experience. Don’t wait for things to fall into your lap.
How do you stay up to date with changing technologies and updates? I like to keep up to date with changes in technology and updates of what’s happening in Microsoft as well as my field of learning through RSS feeds captured on Feedly. I have a systematic approach of ensuring that content is filtered to me so that what I read is educational and informative. I use Twitter as my main social network to build connections with people in various fields and topics as well as use Twitter lists and use advanced hashtag searches to capture content that then gets fed into Feedly. I also ask my own colleagues at Adopt & Embrace who are all experts in their own areas of Microsoft too. Being a member of different online communities is also important for my own development such as Microsoft 365 Yammer Community as well as the Technical Community.
How has technology changed since you first started your career? I’m old enough to remember when there was no technology except for a phone, fax machine, and photocopier in the workplace! When I first started my career, I was a young Midshipman serving in the Royal Australian Navy. Computers were ugly and bulky pieces of equipment that were placed on a desk in some dark corner that you had to book a time to use (be under no illusion that people were rushing to use them). People were afraid of them. When someone (usually an IT guy) showed you how to turn it on and then scurry off, there was a fascination – and fear – that went with using them. You were afraid to press the keyboard. They’d make funny noises and a green light would blink at you demanding a command.
I remember that as an Instructor teaching basic electronics to sailors, I had to create my overhead transparencies for my classes. I’d use the graphics package on the scary computer to create them and print them out. I’d photocopy the print onto a laminate – called transparency – and then sticky tape those onto a cardboard frame. I remember having a whole folder of those OHTs and I’d walk into classes proudly to show one OHT after the next on the overhead projector.
Sometimes, you’d be unlucky. The bulb of the projector would blow and then you’d be stuck having to draw the concepts out on the whiteboard (an actual physical whiteboard) with markers. Add insult to injury, the sailors would have changed the whiteboard markers with permanent markers so you wouldn’t be able to erase anything. Then they’d roll around laughing watching my frustration trying to rub it all off…fun times.
When I think back to my professional life and how technology has changed, I’m thankful that I had an opportunity to witness a workplace without technology and to live through the introduction of it in the workplace – along with experiencing the feelings of awe and wonderment about what changes it would bring but also a slight trepidation of what may be lost.
I think we are at this point again in our lives.
What advice would you give to a first-time Microsoft Ignite attendee? Well, I’m going to be a first-time Microsoft Ignite attendee too and when I go to conferences for the first time, there’s a level of nervous excitement.
What I do is to find out as much as I can about the event and that involves consuming everything I can through the website, YouTube, trawling hashtags on Twitter and also speaking to people who have gone before…until I sit back overwhelmed with it all….
Then I take a deep breath… and ask myself “what is it that I want to get out of it?”
My advice would be that nowadays there’s SO much information online about anything and everything. Don’t get overwhelmed by it. Instead, come up with ONE goal or ONE plan that you want to achieve in your time there and work on that.
For example, it may be to “speak to people who may be able to support your idea of a particular project that you’re working on with the intention of presenting it at the next Ignite” or “ask one question in each of the sessions you attend that relates to an aspect of a project you’re working on to get a different or unique perspective or aspect you hadn’t considered.” It doesn’t stop there.
I’d also ask that you SHARE what you learned to your social networks and community. Add your own value by sharing what you think of the sessions – and how they link to your work and your experience - and be your own community reporter.
What are you packing for Microsoft Ignite? I had to chuckle with this one because the first thing I pack is my knitting. I’ll have a travel knitting project on the go, whether it’s a beanie, shawl or sock. You’d be surprised how much of a conversation starter this is with strangers when you knit while traveling. It’s also a great stress relief at the end of the day to knit a few rows and to relax your mind.
I have travelled to the USA before and know that they love their indoors air conditioning, so I think I’ll be packing a half-knitted shawl to finish off while I’m there and wear it.
The other most important thing I’d pack for Ignite would be a good book and all my tech gear of course. Camera, phone, Surface Pro, tripod, microphone, you name it…can’t forget those!
Why should people follow you for Microsoft Ignite coverage? The thing is that they don’t need to follow me. They should follow people who they feel would help them achieve their goal or aim of what they want to learn at Ignite. I’m looking forward to sharing the wonderful presentations at Ignite. My goal at Ignite is to be able to articulate and translate what we’re seeing to explain it to the person back in the workplace – at work, doing the work – how is what we are learning at Ignite going to provide meaning back to them? How will it make their work better, faster or smarter so it opens opportunities to create new value for their organization?