Microsoft Docs from the inside – interview with Nick Doelman

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This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

Hi all,

 

Welcome to a new Monday interview! Today I have a special guest and a special topic for you. I had a chat with former MVP and now full time Senior Content Developer at Microsoft, Nick Doelman! What is it like to work at Microsoft with Microsoft Docs? How can people outside of Microsoft get involved? Guidance for aspiring Content Developers? That and much more you will find out in this post and of course you will get to know our guest!

 

MSDocsWithNickDoelman.png

 

 

About Microsoft Docs

Before I introduce our guest, lets first talk a bit about our topic, Microsoft Docs. Microsoft Docs contains the official documentation for the products and services from Microsoft. Microsoft Learn lives in there and it also contains a Q&A section as well as Code Samples. This is what it says on the main page.

 

The home for Microsoft documentation and learning for developers and technology professionals

 

You probably have your favorite areas in it. You might have bookmarks and pages you go back to repeatedly. Most likely you return to Microsoft Docs regularly, either you find your way directly and know where to look or perhaps a search engine points you in the right direction.

 

Who doesn’t like a bit of history? Microsoft Docs was launched in June 2016, in Introducing microsoft.docs.com you can find glimpses from the past. In An Update on the MSDN and TechNet Migration to docs.microsoft.com you can read how Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) was born in 1992, the MSDN Online site in 1998, and how MSDN and TechNet was migrated into Microsoft Docs during 2017. The archive for newsletters is still found at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/archive/.

 

Today, you find Microsoft Docs on GitHub, the documentation is open source, and anyone can make a pull request. Our guest is one of those who might accept your pull request! Read on to hear his other tips for helping with improving the official Microsoft documentation!

 

 

About our guest

As a kid he dreamt of being a fireman or astronaut, but somewhere as a teenager, his dreams changed and history was written. He is a competitive powerlifter moving towards his first international competition. He still writes blog posts on his own blog and is a speaker. Florida (Microsoft Power Platform Conference) and Sweden (Nordic Summit) are lucky to have him as a speaker later this year.

 

NickDoelman.jpg

Say hello to the friendly and helpful Nick Doelman!

 

Tell us about yourself – Who are you, where are you, what’s your professional background?

My name is Nick Doelman and I am currently a Senior Content Developer at Microsoft, I’ve been in this position since September 2021. Prior to that I was an independent consultant and trainer and prior to that I worked for various Microsoft partners and for a while I even had my own company.

 

From 2017 to up until I joined Microsoft, I was a Microsoft MVP focusing on Dynamics 365, Dynamics CRM and Power Platform. I also did quite a bit of stuff on Power Apps portals and that helped lead into my current position. I am currently responsible for managing Microsoft Docs of Power Apps portals and of course what is currently in Public Preview, Power Pages.

 

Family and fun...

I live in Ottawa, Canada, with my family.

 

NickDoelmanfamily2022.jpg

 

For fun I am a competitive powerlifter, I have been doing that for about 10 years now. Currently I am training for my first international competition, North American Powerlifting Championships, which will be held in Panama City, Panama, in the middle of August.

 

What are your biggest projects right now?

The biggest project right now is going forward with Power Pages to be moved out of preview. It is the fifth pillar in the Power Platform, together with Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. We are working on documentation for some of the new features that will be a part of Power Pages.

 

Power Pages in Microsoft DocsPower Pages in Microsoft Docs

 

What about our existing portals?

Great question! I feel the best way to explain it is to have folks check out our topic in our documentation to explain this;

 

https://docs.microsoft.com/power-pages/difference-portals

 

Here is a favourite paragraph that I feel explains what Power Pages are in relation to Power Apps portals:

 

Power Pages is a superset of Power Apps portals. Current customers of Power Apps portals don't need to upgrade or migrate their running portals. Customers and partners who are building solutions on top of Power Apps portals shouldn't stop or cancel their projects.

 

 

What Nick has been working on lately!What Nick has been working on lately!

 

What was your dream job as a child and how did you get into tech?

When I was small, I wanted to be a fireman and as I got a little bit older, I wanted to be an astronaut and here I am, neither. When I was a teenager, I liked to take things apart to see how they worked. When I was 15, I got a Commodore 64, my first computer. I was always interested in computers before that, but from there I was able to start writing my own programs in Basic and learned a little bit of Assembler.

 

I thought that this is what I want to do, I want to work with technology like this! I was not sure if I wanted to go more on the hardware or software side. One of the projects I did in high school was connecting my Commodore 64 to an electric train set. I was able to program the train to go around the tracks, count how many times, stop after a certain number of minutes and those kind of things.

 

Commodore 64 - a part of a journey!Commodore 64 - a part of a journey!

 

I grew up on a farm. When I was 18 my dad asked me if I wanted to take over the farm. Half a second later I said nope. Farming is an amazing lifestyle and career, but it was not for me. I ended up going to college, Electronics Engineering Technology program. It was half hardware, half software. We built a computer from scratch and part of the education was programming software. It was tough, out of 130 who started the program, about 20 graduated at the end.

 

When I graduated, I knew I was leaning more towards the software side. I got into a position where I was originally support for a database application managing material safety data sheets, specifically for the veterinary industry. I rewrote the software, and we did updates to it. We sent it out on floppy disks at that time and later, compact discs. It was DOS based, written in an application called Paradox, which is a desktop database application with a built in programming language.

 

From there I moved on to various positions, one of them systems administrator for a bigger company. They had implemented Great Plains and Great Plains was eventually bought by Microsoft. I started to work with a Great Plains consulting firm. My job was installing the system and performing data migrations from legacy systems.

 

A friend of mine one day dropped these CDs on my desk, Microsoft Business Solutions CRM version 1

 

I still have those CDs and I got into that and that was my journey into Power Platform!

 

Without the CDs, would there have been blogging and speaking engagements...? Here's Nick at the Scottish Summit!Without the CDs, would there have been blogging and speaking engagements...? Here's Nick at the Scottish Summit!

 

Nick still regularly speaks at Power Platform related eventsNick still regularly speaks at Power Platform related events

 

Tell us more about those CDs...

I spun up some virtual machines and started playing with it. This looks very cool I thought, it’s all written in .NET, does all this neat stuff, and we tried to implement it at a couple of places. It was great, just missing 70 % of the features people wanted. So of course, we had to dive in and customize all of that and there was just so much code which today is only 2 button clicks.

 

This is a bit of trivia, which could show up in a pub quiz. The reporting engine for CRM version 1 was Crystal Reports. The difference between version 1 and 1.2 was Crystal Reports version 8 vs. 9 and maybe a couple of other small cosmetic features. I think version 3 was when they started to use the SQL Server Reporting Services. With CRM 3 you could create your own entities and that kind of thing. It became the version where you could really start building those xRM applications!

 

What motivates you every day?

It depends on what I am working on. I’m always keen to learn new things. A friend of mine has a saying.

 

Life never stops teaching, so we never stop learning

 

If I can learn something new and produce something at the end of the day, such as publish a new topic or create a new tutorial, that is very motivation for me. I am very result oriented.

 

I am a competitive powerlifter and go to the gym 4 times a week. I hear many people say that they are not motivated to go to the gym. For me it’s that next competition, I know that if I don’t train, I am not going to do well and that is my motivation. I have an end goal and I work backwards from there. If I don’t train, I am not going to be able to lift this amount of weight or be ready and I want to be ready. I need to follow the program, follow the plan.

 

 

Follow the plan! Here's Nick at the Canadian Powerlifting nationals 2021Follow the plan! Here's Nick at the Canadian Powerlifting nationals 2021

 

Every day I have a very thought-out to-do list, I try to accomplish that as much as possible and that is tied to some ultimate goals. I try to apply that to different aspects of life as well. For topics, I might know that I need to get 3 topics published by the end of the day or the end of the week. That is then my goal and I know the steps for how to do that.

 

Like anybody I get distracted easily, I get behind, but it always goes back to learning new things and satisfying the curiosity, I hope I never lose that.

 

Favorite travel destination and why?

I would have to say when I visited New Zealand, I have been there once, and I absolutely loved it! I hope to go back again very soon. That was the most interesting place I have been to. Sweden ;)  and Europe in general. I like the old history and historical buildings.

 

 

About being a Senior Content developer at Microsoft

By now we know how Nick got into tech and into working with Power Platform. But how did he get to the place where he is today, a Senior Content developer? How would he describe Microsoft Docs with his own words? What early memory does he have from Microsoft Docs?

 

How did you become a Senior Content Developer?

Though I wasn’t looking for a change, while working with some folks within Microsoft, this role came up in discussions. I explored it and thankfully it was something that I thought I was qualified for. The role matched the passion for content writing that I personally share as a common trait. Then I had quite a few conversations with them. One of the benefits was that I was able to continue to work from home, I did not have to move anywhere.

 

Basically, I am working at the same desk that I have done for the past 10 years. Microsoft now is very virtual. I talk to my manager and my colleagues a couple of times a week, but many of them I have never actually met in person – at least yet.

 

What do you like the most about your role?

Note that these are my personal experiences and not necessarily the exact day to day of every content developer at Microsoft.

 

I get to work really close to the engineering team, I see a lot of the new stuff that they are thinking about or that they are coming out with. As an MVP you are privileged to some of that, but now I can see it even before the MVPs see it. So sometimes I can say that this is a good idea or maybe you want to rethink this idea a little bit. A lot of times as an MVP when you see something, Microsoft is already down the road of “ok this is going to happen”. I find that interesting, to try out new stuff.

 

Another thing I like about working at Microsoft is that I get to work with skilled and talented people. I have learned so much; how the team is put together, how the products are made and the thought process behind.

 

The nice thing about Microsoft is that there is a great work-life balance, I can do a full day of work and then shut it down at the end of the day and not worry about it. I can take a day off, a week off and someone will be there as a backup. It is a good feeling to have that the world is not on your shoulder for a particular project.

 

It is quite a fun place to work, with a lot of different opportunities to do a lot of different things. I have been really enjoying it!

 

Are you in a Microsoft Docs team or Power Pages team?

If you look at the organization structure, I am part of the Docs team, and I have my colleagues who work with Docs and their aspects, e.g., Power Platform Docs and Dynamics 365 docs.

 

Everyone on the team has different backgrounds and experiences with Power Platform and are also very good technical writers. This mix of experiences and skillsets I feel produces great documentation.

 

In terms of the Power Pages product team, I do interact with them daily. I talk to various different Program Managers, developers, and designers spread across the world. We have a very collaborative team.

 

How is new content put together?

The content developer takes the lead in creating content, and collaborates with the team to organize the information architecture, topics, and we work to produce reference materials, tutorials, videos, and other types of content to make sure our customers are successful. It is a very iterative, collaborate process

 

We also make sure our documents are accessible and inclusive for everyone. We ensure that we put descriptive text for all our screenshots and diagrams. 

 

In addition to the technical reviews by the PM and devs, our articles are reviewed by professional copy editors who will double check our grammar, readability and also ensure that it meets the standards or the Microsoft Style Guide.

 

writingstyleguidebanner.png

 

Once a topic is published there is a separate team that will do the translation. Text and screenshot alternate texts will get translated but screenshots will typically be in English.

 

Unique perspective with field experience

As already mentioned, I like to try new features out myself and make sure it works as advertised. Sometimes it might be tricky because the feature may not have rolled out completely. Because I have field experience from working with Power Platform and Power Apps portals especially, I have a unique perspective and I like to provide feedback to the program managers. In a way I am kind of an internal MVP to the team, which makes my role a little bit unique. They can show me stuff and I can warn them if a feature works a little bit differently than expected.

 

Tell us about the publishing process...

We use GitHub for our whole publishing process. It all works well, we have our own branches, we go back and forth to see how it looks, see the end result and collaborate around it. We can make sure all the links work properly before we publish. What is also cool is the GitHub commenting feature. If anyone in the community sees something wrong with a particular topic, something confusing or even that a link is broken, folks can go in and make a comment and I will receive those comments.

 

 

MS Docs on GitHubMS Docs on GitHub

 

What are Microsoft Docs in your words?

I will explain Docs as how I explain to my mom what it is I do. My mom is 88 years old and has never really used technology or computers. I tell her that you know when you buy a new oven or something similar, it comes with a paper manual that explains how it works. I basically do that for software, putting together all the user manuals.

 

I have been using Docs as an end user and to me that is my go-to how things work, how to setup stuff and how to use a new feature.

 

What about Microsoft Docs vs. Community Content?

Microsoft Docs is the official documentation and approved by the product team. You can tell there are style guide rules. For example, I can’t throw in an image of cartoon, like I could do in my personal blog.

 

At times, our content is also supplemented by the community at large. Sometimes there are multiple ways to do one thing with the Power Platform and it would be impossible to document every different way. A lot of the community content is how someone took our information and applied to a specific business requirement. These are great learning resources to learn the different ways of doing things, workarounds, or lessons learned.

 

We also interact closely with the Power CAT team to produce guidance or best practices content that is inspired by Power CAT’s interactions with our community and customers. Here is a link to the Power Platform guidance content: Microsoft Power Platform guidance documentation - Power Platform | Microsoft Docs.

 

I don’t see docs as a competitive resource or a replacement for community content, but rather works in synergy with all the other information that is out there.

 

What are your earliest memories of Microsoft documentation?

Microsoft documentation has evolved over the years, I remember when it was TechNet and different platforms. In terms of the documentation in the current state, being on GitHub, I remember that being a big deal when it was rolled out.

 

When I first became an MVP, we had an event and one of the sessions was a hackathon to review and submit pull requests for Microsoft Docs. At that point the business applications had not yet been made editable by the public but it still was a good exposure to Microsoft Docs on GitHub.

 

 

Non-Microsoft employees can contribute to Microsoft Docs

What happens when a non-Microsoft employee makes a pull request? Are there other ways to help out? What can you do if you see something in Microsoft Docs that you think should be described in another way?

 

Tell us about how non-Microsoft employees can contribute to MS Docs

We have public guidance on how external people can contribute to our docs:

 

https://docs.microsoft.com/contribute/

 

Another option is you can post an issue against a particular topic that is stored as GitHub issues on our public repos. If you feel something is confusing, code samples are not working as expected or even if you discover a broken link, you can post an issue. We will work to resolve the documentation issue, but depending on the issue we sometimes might ask you to redirect your issue to support or to log a feature request as an idea.

 

There are idea sites for our different products. If there are others in the community that have the same requirement as you do, posting the idea will allow others to vote for it. Our product team will review the ideas posted.

 

What would be your guidance for aspiring Content developers?

You need to have good writing skills as well as having a passion for content writing and helping customers. You also need to learn the product, that is important. If you are working for a Microsoft partner or as an independent, then you already have a lot of great product knowledge and experience. If you don’t have that opportunity, try to teach the particular product or technology. I found that is an excellent way to learn something, when you have to teach it or explain it to someone else.

 

I have been writing my own personal blog for quite a few years. That is always a great way to get writing experience, to write a blog post and review your past posts. A lot of times I just wrote the blog and published it and then when I reviewed it later, I could find a sentence that made no sense or grammar errors. Try to get into that practice of writing regularly. I think that helped me to get my role.

 

As an independent, I have also worked with and created some content for Microsoft Learn. If you do get established, sometimes there are opportunities to create content for Microsoft.

 

Microsoft LearnMicrosoft Learn

 

The reason I started to write was to write for my future self. When you are working on different projects, one time you might be doing a lot of Power Automate and in the next project working on model-driven apps and you forget how to do things in flow like write the expressions, format the dates, get picklist values to show up etc. I began to write it down for myself as a reference, and I thought that if I have this question someone else might have it too. All of that practice helps me be successful at writing content for Microsoft Docs.

 

Today I write more for my former self and create the type of documents that would have helped me in previous projects or when I got started with new features and products. I have always found that the Docs on Power Apps portals are amazing, a very good reference, but I’ve always had ideas to improve it. I have been working with the team to add tutorials and videos specifically to help new makers use our products and tools.

 

Spending time to learn something in depth to simplify it for someone else, ultimately that is what the goal is

 

In terms of getting started to be a content developer, it is about putting together that kind of information for somebody. How to get started with something, step-by-step guides.

 

Anything more you want to tell us from the inside?

Again, this is from my perspective and experience so far. Microsoft Docs is constantly being updated and changing to reflect the changes in our products. Please keep visiting our site and know that we are always open for feedback and work hard to make our documentation better.

 

How would you describe yourself using 3 words?

 

Friendly helpful giant!

 

Thank you, Nick, for taking time to talk with me, best of luck with your speaking engagements and with the official documentation related to the realization of Power Pages becoming GA!

 

You can connect with Nick on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can follow his work at GitHub and you will find Power Platform and in particular Power Pages posts on his personal blog, https://readyxrm.blog.

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