We welcome Spencer Harbar, our new Chief Architect to guide our clients through their digital transformation journeys
We won’t be shy about it – Spencer joining our team is a massive scoop for us. He’s somewhat of a ‘Rockstar’ in the Microsoft community, although he isn’t at all fond of that label and is incredibly humble about his achievements. “It’s important to remember there are billions of people working hard and making a difference every day who get zero recognition,” he says.
“With the SharePoint community in particular, it’s important that we treat our privilege with considerable responsibility.”
Spencer certainly takes this responsibility very seriously. As the only person to hold all four of the advanced certifications for SharePoint, Spencer’s proudest achievement is helping others to develop their skills and see how they progress throughout their careers.
I’m particularly interested in hearing more about Spencer’s expertise and what makes him tick when I meet with him via Skype. That’s a pretty standard norm for us at ClearPeople. Our digital workspace ethos means we’re able to connect with our colleagues wherever they are in the world. This flexible working policy is one of the reasons that Spencer joined the team here.
“I had been looking for the right opportunity for quite a while and finding the right balance of technology and culture was paramount,” he says. “Aside from technical innovations, a key motivation for me joining was how the company operates, treats its staff and clients, and the values it upholds.”
ClearPeople had been on Spencer’s radar for some time owing to our presence in the content management system marketplace, but it was our contributions to the Office 365 and SharePoint PnP community initiative that really piqued his interest. This community is an open-source initiative coordinated by SharePoint engineers. It controls SharePoint development documentation, samples, reusable controls, and other relevant open-source initiatives related to SharePoint development.
It’s something Spencer has been involved with on the fringes since its inception. But how did he get involved in SharePoint in the first place? Back in the late nineties, he worked for a company that developed an XML, browser-based forms engine. Microsoft took a lot of interest in this and it was his first exposure to the yet to be named, and under development, SharePoint.
“I didn’t actually work with it much for a while,” he explains, “but I was then the architect for the first ‘geo distributed’ SharePoint 2001 deployment – such as it was at that time. I was initially more focused on other products back then but got into it seriously with one of the first large Plumtree migrations to SharePoint 2003 and CMS. I was actually a CMS MVP for a few years before that product was merged with SharePoint.”
The acronyms in the Microsoft ecosystem are infamous. And Spencer has a fair few of them listed on his enviable CV. The ‘Certified Master’ (MCM) is (or was) the top tier technical certification for SharePoint and Office 365. It covers both infrastructure and development and involved a three week ‘rotation’ at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, a three-part written exam and an all-day qualification lab. The ‘Certified Architect’ (MCA) is more about strategic consulting, involving written case studies, customer case studies and a board presentation. The MCM program was designed to address common customer deployment pain and is a prerequisite for the MCA. And Spencer also has a bundle of other Microsoft certifications which were required to enter the MCM in the first place! Furthermore, he’s an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) which isn’t an official certification but an award for community contributions.
With so many technical honours under his belt, I naturally wonder what the school-boy Spencer was like and how his love for computing first started. “I was probably a bit of a troublemaker, you’d have to ask my peers!” he jests. “I was always pretty curious and inquisitive but if I’m honest, I never really made a conscious decision to “have a career” with computing. Way back, my father got my sister and I a ZX81 and then a Spectrum. This was my first exposure to general purpose computing and since then it’s been part of everything I’ve done, from cricket, to music to photography.”
Music is another bigger passion of Spencer’s. A multi-instrumentalist and composer, he actually started his career in the music industry as a studio engineer. He muses: “You can’t beat the feeling of standing backstage and watching 70,000 people digging the show that you’ve helped to bring to life.”
But the bright lights of this new thing called the “Internet” saw Spencer swap his legato for the keyboard and he’s never looked back. Before joining ClearPeople, Harbar was often hand-picked to work with Microsoft on projects for huge global brands including Shell, BP, Unilever, Pfzier, British Airways and Microsoft themselves with a focus on Office 365, Azure, SharePoint, Identity Manager, Azure Active Directory and PowerShell.
“For the last fifteen years or so I’ve been working independently, mostly with large corporations helping them design, deploy and operate SharePoint related technologies.”
And now he’s super excited to get his teeth stuck into the digital transformation projects that ClearPeople collaborate with their clients on. But what exactly is a Chief Architect and how will Spencer be helping our clients?
“The job of a Chief Architect is such a mixed bag – it includes everything from strategic C-level consulting through to hands on issue resolution, of course solution design, and a significant amount of educational design and instruction,” he explains.
“In a nutshell, I’ll be translating business needs into technical implementation andhelping the development teams to deliver that vision.”
Sounds exciting, and with Spencer’s excellent relationship with Microsoft, we’re sure that our clients will see the benefits that Spencer can bring to their business.
He’s already got big things planned, including presenting at the upcoming European Collaboration Summit in Germany on 28-30 May. There he’ll be co-hosting a full-day SharePoint IT-Pro tutorial on the planning, architecture, configuration and hybrid deployment of SharePoint Server, as well as presenting about the changes to the User Profile Service in SharePoint Server 2019/16 and the implications for those looking to replicate, (pun intended), the behaviour of User Profile Synchronization or meet enterprise Identity Management requirements.
The future is a key topic covered in a lot of Spencer’s talks and the world of technology is constantly changing. I wonder how Spencer keeps up to date with all the latest innovations. “To me, this is all about solid foundations. Whilst the pace of innovation is increasingly rapid, the core underpinning technologies are not actually changing that much,” he explains.
“Computing from a software perspective is much more about cycles than change. Of course, the leading vendors are all about ‘change’ – that’s their business model, but ‘cycles’ is more accurate when describing solutions. Obviously the ‘cloud’ is the primary disruptive technology this decade, but in the future, it will be something else. Having that solid foundation enables one to keep pace and indeed is never more important than right now.”
Such an outlook is why we’re so excited to welcome Spencer to the ClearPeople family. We’re advocates of digital change and strive to truly help our clients transform through creating engaging intelligent digital workspaces.
It’s been an insightful meeting and I’ve enjoyed getting to understand more about the role Spencer will play. I ask for some parting advice for our clients and Spencer is happy to oblige:
“Embrace the flexibility that technology provides and never strive for 100% as you’ll never get there – there will always be a new way of working. Change is so important in terms of mindset when it comes to digital transformation, especially with Software as a Service, which in reality is not about technology change but cultural change.”