The two questions I’m asked most often is what’s the best way to learn Dynamics and how do I get a job with Microsoft? Let’s address the first question and we’ll talk about the second one after you’ve become a Dynamics Jedi master. When someone asks me how I learned my usual response is “the hard way”. These days the amount of content available is much more significant than it once was back in the day, but at the same time, there is much more to learn. This is a basic perspective of how I look at education and knowledge maintenance efforts.
My Dynamics Journey
I come from a .NET developer background, so I was already building custom client/service applications before I was introduced to Dynamics. My first exposure to the Dynamics platform was in the early 2000’s in version 1.0. I remember installing it on my PC around 2002 if I’m not mistaken. I quickly found out I couldn’t customize anything, and I thought it was the most useless piece of garbage so I couldn’t remove it fast enough from my computer. You have to remember these are the days when you could just create an Access database and do more there than in Dynamics 1.0.
When I returned to the Dynamics space in 2010, we were in the tail end of Dynamics CRM 4.0 and the beginning of Dynamics 2011 which was still in beta at the time. Dynamics as a platform had obviously come a long way since my first experience and I now was on software project to create an integration with it so I had a reason to come back to the fold. When it came to learning the platform, however, I felt like there was very little in comprehensive or organized learning content so I scavenged for every piece of information I could get my hands on. I remember sitting in my office and someone threw a CRM 4.0 book on my desk and effectively said figure it out. Fortunately for me, that was one of the things I was already well versed at doing so I read and searched for anything I could find online.
There were a few books out at the time that were helpful for understanding the platform at a high level, but not as much from a development perspective. The two people who I give the most credit to for my early journey into Dynamics are Matthew Wittemann from Click Dimensions and David Yack from Colorado Technology Consultants. I worked with Matt in a previous life before I was at Microsoft and the first online training content I saw was from David. Once I landed at Microsoft I was not only surrounded by brilliant people, but I was hit with a tidal wave of content and training that I would never have access to before. Much of the knowledge I have today came from blood, sweat, tears and long nights at the office attempting to consume and rationalize the seemingly infinite Microsoft knowledge nexus.
Your Dynamics Journey
A wise man once said the future belongs to those who choose to prepare for it today. The first thing you need to do is understand what your life and career aspirations are and how you plan to make it a reality. Only then can the context of your time and effort really make sense. If you’ve chosen, the Microsoft platform as your focus niche then I would say you’ve chosen well (in my unbiased opinion). The Microsoft platform is a juggernaut that is only growing in leaps and bounds. I believe the demand for skills will continue to outpace the supply for quite some time so now ‘s the time to jump in with both feet and swim hard.
My personal learning plan is mostly organized around prioritized and scheduled topic study. It’s one thing to have depth in a subject, but breadth is what provides perspective. I generally prefer shorter introduction training up in various areas up front with deeper training based on need or projects requirements. The one thing you shouldn’t try to do is be an expert at everything because you will either fail or not have a life. Decide what your brand is going to be and add depths in that area. For some people, that’s a particular app such as Field Service or even a particular industry like financial. I personally prefer a technology focus as opposed to an industry focus, but that’s is something you’ll have to decide for yourself and your situation. If you are a Star Wars fan and know some of Obi-Wan’s background he believed in being well versed in many topics, but proficient at one. I think this makes a lot of sense especially if you’re a consultant and will be facing many different build scenarios.
The Study Plan
My general study plan includes an hour a day of study. This is a good pace and while you will probably never be able to achieve this 100% of the time it’s a goal that helps you move in the right direction. If you want to be an overachiever, then you can try to do more. My advice is only do this if you are in a situation where you have an urgent desire to make a significant career move. I’m generally more alert in the morning so I like to start sometime before work. Maybe your alertness level timing is different, so you do what works best for you. As an example, study schedule, before I interviewed with Microsoft my study schedule was 3 hours a day 6 days a week for 3 months in addition to working full-time. Yeah, I’m not even joking. I read and watched every piece of content I could get my hands on during that time. I didn’t exist in the world for that period of time, but I told myself I wasn’t going to make into Microsoft let it not be because I didn’t prepare for the interviews. If you keep a pace of just an hour a day in 3 years you will be one of the top people in your field of study. The challenge is keeping the schedule and being diligent.
Begin with The End In Mind
Wherever you are in your journey you have to decide what it is you want to accomplish and the amount of effort you’re willing to invest to get there. Working for Microsoft was on my short list of accomplishments in college, so I was extremely motivated to be ready for any question thrown at me and I think for the most part I was ready. In the 3 months of fire-hose learning, I probably consumed more than most do in years and it apparently worked. I’m certainly not advising you to do this as there are some personal sacrifices that you’ll have to make, but it will certainly separate you from many of your peers. The key is being strategic about how you spend your time.
Stop Wasting Time
I’ve been asked how I can consume so much material in a short amount of time and the answer is I waste less time than most people. What do I mean by wasting time? Do you have Netflix? Are you at level 50 in your favorite XBox game? Do you bolt out of the office at 4:59 PM so you can sit on the couch or hang out with friends? Television, gaming and socialization are probably the three biggest destroyers of careers all across the globe. The next thing is wasted time. How long does it take you to drive to and from work? What are you doing during that time where you literally can’t do anything other than steer and press a gas pedal? Listening to music? Listening to the sports commentators talk about your favorite team? How much time to do spend waiting in other places like the airport, the doctor’s office or just waiting anywhere? What are you actually doing that is taking your life in a better direction? This is where you can make up time you never thought you had. All that spare time amounts to a serious amount of hour every month and most people just throw it out the window. Use it to do something productive. According to Zig Ziglar if you spend an hour a day studying, you’ll have the equivalent education of a semester in college (university) in a year. In the age where you can save most things offline to your devices such as book or training videos or have an active internet connection, you have no excuse. If you do what everyone else is doing, you’ll most likely get the same results. If you want to be more you’re going to have to pay the dues and when it comes to this industry knowledge is one of your greatest weapons. We all have 24 hours in a day. Use your white-space and fill it with learning time.
When I look at my study strategy, I like to break down the technology stacks into different areas. While I try to cover the various subject areas, I’m always going to be weaker in some if I don’t have an urgent need that comes up from customer projects. As I mentioned before there’s too much goodness here to holistically consume. You should start by having a high-level comprehension of the various platforms and then raise your understanding, so you can have an intelligent conversation about it with someone else. The biggest reason I follow this strategy is from an enterprise architecture perspective I need to understand the value each platform brings to the table and the use cases where I can play into a system design. I may not be an expert on every platform, but I can dive deep when needed having a fundamental basis already established.
Below is my perspective on how I tend to break down my study areas. This is by no means a comprehensive list of technologies, but the ones that now stand out to me.
Dynamics 365 Platforms
- Customer Experience
- Business Central by Andrew King
- Finance and Operations
- Great Plains
- Office Apps
- OneDrive for Business
- Visual Studio
- Visual Studio Code
- Azure DevOps (Team Foundation Server)
- SQL Server
- SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS)
- SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
The resource below are ones that I’ve listed are what I rely on most often for my personal education and knowledge maintenance. If you consider the fact that the Microsoft product teams are following a bi-yearly release cycle you’ll never be able to know it all and even if you didn’t you’d be behind in 6 months without constant education.
LinkedIn Learning has a number of introductory courses on the Microsoft cloud platforms so I like that one from an awareness perspective. Pluralsight tends to be more developer focused so if you’re a functional consultant or business analyst you may want to go elsewhere. Udemy can helpful as they have a plethora of topics, but it can be hit or miss on content quality. There nothing quite like a good old-fashioned book which I still love to feel in my hands. The other resources are free and offer a great range of topic coverage for your enjoyment.
Broad Spectrum Training Sites
Sites that have training on just about any technical topic you can imagine.
Technical Training Courses
Training courses targeted at technical software developers.
- Building Custom Connectors for Microsoft Flow by David Yack
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 System Performance and Scalability by Stephan Smith
Functional Training Courses
Training courses targeted at functional consultants or business analysis.
- Introduction to Scrum for Dynamics 365 by Neil Benson
- Business Analysis Fundamentals
- Essential Modeling for the Business Analyst
- Business Analysis Process Series
- Identify and Define the Problem
- Conduct a Strategy Analysis
- Plan the Project
Other Training Sites
Training sites that generally have free courses available.
YouTube channels that provide free information about Dynamics and other related topics.
- CRM Audio Channel by Joel Lindstrom
- MVP Podcast Channel by Gus Gonzalez
- XRM Coaches by Mitch Milam
- Dynamics CRM Tip Of The Day
- Guy in a Cube (PowerBI) by Adam Saxton and Patrick LeBlanc
- GOTO Conferences
Microsoft YouTube Channels
Official Microsoft YouTube channels.
- Microsoft Ignite
- Microsoft Mechanics
- Microsoft Office 365
- Microsoft Power BI
- Microsoft PowerApps
- Microsoft Teams
- Microsoft Visual Studio
Dynamics 365, Office 365 and Azure podcasts and shows.
- CRM Audio Podcast Network
- MVP Podcast
- Channel 9
- This week on Channel 9
- Azure Friday
- Visual Studio Toolbox
- Microsoft Mechanics
- Office 365 Update Series
Design Patterns Books
Books that will bend your brain on how you look at the world, write code and design information systems.
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship
- Clean Architecture: A Craftsman’s Guide to Software Structure and Design
- The Pragmatic Programmer
- Building Evolutionary Architectures
- Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture
Software books to help you be a more effective Dynamics customizer and software developer.
- Dynamics 365 Application Development by Deepesh Somani, Nishant Rana
- Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
- Code Complete (Developer Best Practices)
This was an introduction to my personal study regimen and knowledge strategy which I give partial credit to helping me join Microsoft. With the content mentioned in this article you literally have NO EXCUSE to wonder where you can go to start your training. If anything I hope it gives you some perspective on how to go about creating your own education strategy and become a master in your chosen niche skill sets. Go out and start a blog and share your own thoughts. This will not only help you absorb the material but help raise your personal brand in the market. I look forward to learning something new from you in the future.