Episode 35: Tech Mavens Tracy van der Schyff and Jethro Seghers

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. We are here for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. We're in the car and, uh, I am here with two lovely ones that I've just spent 10 days with in a van, all across South Africa. So Jethro and Tracy say hello. 

Jethro Seghers:  Hello. How are you guys? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Hello everyone. 

Heather Newman:  Hello. So, we're on the way to the airport here in Johannesburg and we're dropping Jethro off, sadly. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Very 

Jethro Seghers:  Yes. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  We're all crying if you can't hear that. 

Heather Newman:  Yup. And, uh, we have had a, so we all got here around what the 4th of April? And uh, got into town and Tracy heads up much of the SharePoint Saturday action here in South Africa. So how many do you typically do here in South Africa? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  The events? Sorry. Yeah, we, we've got three main events. We've got SharePoint Saturday Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. So, it's me and Alistair and some other people as well that helps us organize. But, uh, and then we do these crazy little mini in between ones. Of course, like this year we did East London and we did Port Elizabeth. So that's five in total at the moment, of what I'd call SharePoint Saturdays. But some of them doesn't happen on Saturdays, 

Heather Newman:  Right. The little ones were in the week in between. Absolutely. So, Jethro, have you ever been on a tour like this? Tell everybody what the tour is called and what we were doing. 

Jethro Seghers:  So, we actually did a tour, so we started in Johannesburg where we did the SharePoint Saturday and the Sunday after we actually all got in a van, the seven of us really nicely and tightly together. And we drove all the way to Durban and been to some amazing locations. And along the way we did mini SharePoint Saturdays where we could interact with local businesses, education like colleges and universities, and really give them a full overview of the Microsoft 365 stack and get them up to speed with what Microsoft is doing that might help them benefit their career, their educational trajectory, whatever they need it for. And at the meantime both Tracy, Al and Warren showed us a really amazing country. So that's pretty much what we've been doing the last full week. 

Heather Newman:  Have you ever been on a road trip like this before? 

Jethro Seghers:  No. No, not really. Um, and even if I was just the beauty of the landscape and just the amazingness of the people on the bus would probably made it beyond compare anyway. So, uh, it was amazing. 

Heather Newman:  And it's your first trip to South Africa, yeah? Or second? 

Jethro Seghers:  Technically second, but the first one I was here for a conference. It was literally in and out. But this one is a where I could really experience how beautiful this country, how amazing the people are. So Yep. First Time, let's say. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Yeah, absolutely. So Tracy, so Tracy is amazing, first of all, and she's a terrific presenter. Jethro and Tracy are both Microsoft MVPs and Jethro is, can we talk about that? About to take a job at Microsoft on the Microsoft Teams education team. Very exciting. So, Tracy, how long have you been an MVP? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Um, three years, I think. Three years. Yeah. This will be the fourth year. So we had that funny cycle in between where they change the years. But uh, but yeah, three cycles. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And you own a business? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  I do. I've got a company called The Guid Stuff because that's what it is. And, um, I have, I think in my business motto is to facilitate the evolution of human capabilities. And it really is, I'm by far Microsoft's biggest fan, I know that everyone in this car knows this, and everyone in the bus knows it, but I am Microsoft's biggest fan because I've always believed that the product enables and empowers people. So that's definitely what I focus on is helping companies like adopt the technologies and help them enable and empower the employees and, and that's what I get up for every day. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I think one of the other things that I think has been really powerful about our trip was, you know, one bringing Microsoft technology thoughts and all of that stuff too, you know, people in South Africa where you go every year, you see a lot of the same partners and customers and then you have new people come. But also I think, you know, when you go on a bus trip like this when you're in a van with people and driving, you know the first day was what, an eight hour trip I believe. So, you know, we got to, you know, we're all in the industry together and we were sharing ideas and talking about who does what and getting to know each other a little bit more deeper about how we do things. And I think that's really, you know, something about our community that's really exciting is that we all do help each other and we all talk about, you know, hey, I like what you did here and I share that and how do we, how do we continue to sort of cross populate and cross help each other when we're in something like this? I think you felt that too Jethro. Yeah? 

Jethro Seghers:  Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think sometimes what is really difficult for us when we're in our own little bubble is, we are our self-worst critics, right? When we look at some things like, oh, are people like really happy with the stuff that I do? Is the content good enough? And, but when we see other people, like when I see Tracy's blog or you Heather's blog is that I love what you guys do, but sometimes we have to vocalize or really put that in words towards each other. So being able to hear from each other like, hey, I really respect what you do. This is what I like. And all that stuff suddenly is like, wow, we're really, uh, spirits that really think the same and then really want to support each other. And it's really without any, any agenda or whatsoever is we're really, really providing a lot of feedback to each other, but also ideas, right? Sometimes it's like, hey I'm struggling with this in my company. How would I approach that? Like you've been in the same situation. Like how do you do that? And I think that that advice and just being able to just be a mirror for somebody, is so rewarding. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, we talk about some times imposter theory and you know, and what you were talking about, it's like, you know, I think, it doesn't matter who you are, where are you are in your career, your game or whatever, whether you're famous, whether you're not, whatever. We all work really hard to put things out into the universe, right? And I think there's always stage fright and there's always a little bit of like, well, are people going to like this and all of that kind of stuff. And I think it's really great to talk about that because we're all human, you know, we all have those things that, you know, we have that voice in our head that tells us, ughh, you know, you suck. You're not smart enough, you're this, you're that and da da da da da. And it's the quieting of that voice and the quieting of that voice by getting a reflection from somebody else that takes us to that next level, to where that next time we feel more confident about it. Right. Yeah. And Tracy, I know that you do a lot of workshops and I'm really excited, she and I have been talking a lot about this and I'm really excited to see you know, what you're going to come out with and what you're bringing to the table. I mean, you're such a great speaker. You're so powerful and you really get down to the, I love your direct, beautiful way of talking to people. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Also called aggressively and disruptive. But thank you Heather for the nice words. Direct. 

Heather Newman:  Yes, all that and a bag of chips. But I think, you know, one of your passions is, you know, I love your presentation that goes into PC literacy. Will you talk about that a little bit? Why that's important? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Absolutely. So, over the last couple of years, I realized that normal technical training, I wasn't getting the results that I wanted. And, um, I started doing some research, I'm going to call it luck, very likely the psychology behind because I'm definitely not a qualified, I don't know, whatever. But I started reading up a lot about how, how we adapt, what we do, what happens when we train. When does training stick, when does it not stick. And um, and something that I realized that even myself, and I'm pretty sure the industry, we're adding technical and very technical skills on top of foundations that doesn't exist. So, or that are just a little bit shaky. And if I, for example, I just think advanced SharePoint, you know, back in the day building sites and site collections, you know, web parts of building solutions, those type of things. I could take someone, you know, through a course and they could build amazing solutions, but it just wouldn't stick. And I realized that the logic behind it wasn't there. That self-esteem wasn't there. So, so I started looking at what is the foundation before we get to that. And our environment, we would know that as Windows or Office that we use every day, but just general, um, IT systems and e-safety and being comfortable with, uh, with online systems, etc. So I started speaking to companies about whether they thought that that could add value, adding it to the training. And of course, every single company told me no, it wasn't necessary because all their users were a hundred percent PC literate. You know, I was just like, that's interesting. You know, that's great. Obviously South Africa doesn't have a problem, but I think everyone else does. But, um, I then did some more research and I came across very, uh, very good articles and research that's been done. That pretty much tells us that about 70% of the people that was tested in that survey was not what they consider a PC literate. And of course digital literacy is much bigger. So our problem is much bigger. The challenge we have is so much bigger, but, but we're pushing technologies at people where they just not comfortable with a PC in front of them yet. And the challenge is that we only know what we know. So those people don't even realize that they have a problem. They think that that's just the way it's supposed to be. I'm not an IT user, you know, I'm not supposed to be that good at stuff and I'm like, nope, you are. You're supposed to be efficient. You're supposed to be effective. You're supposed to love what you do and get it done as quickly as possible and use all the tools that you have. So I've started baking that into my training in the last couple of years and started doing workshops that includes more than just the technical aspects or the product knowledge. And I can pretty much say that at this moment if I had to do five day engagements with a client, I can tell you that about three days of those has got very little to do with the technology itself that I'm busy training. It's all about uh, and I'm not going to say soft skills, I call it power skills, but it's the power skills we need like creativity and collaboration, and curation of content and e-safety. It's focusing on those things. And then, and then adding the more technical knowledge when, when they're in a safe environment where they can learn. So it's kind of like prepping the environment, if that makes sense. And we've never really done that. We've never prepared the environments for training. We've just added stuff on top of it because we assume that everyone knows everything and that's definitely something I'm very passionate about. 

Heather Newman:  I love it. I love your presentations on that. They're just, y'all, it's sort of, I don't want to say simple, but it is sometimes it's just those little things that will shave time off your day. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Exactly. 

Heather Newman:  That make you feel more confident that get you to do something that you always do just that little bit faster. That takes time. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  But that's definitely a very important thing and you'll remember from my slides, that's something I use for exec and c-levels as well when I have engagements with companies because we know that money is important, right? It's not that I can just walk through a door and say that I'm here to make your employees happy because that's not always a bullet point on a strategy 

Heather Newman:  People don't always want to pay for that. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  It's not, that's not part of my strategy to make happy people. I'm here to make money. Right? And I started doing some crazy exercises around, uh, if I could just save a company five minutes a day, I mean, this is going to be in South African currency now, but I mean, I've written a blog, you can definitely go and work it out. But I worked out for a company of about 5,000 users, if I could just save them five minutes a day, um, by being a little bit more effective or efficient or love what they're doing or use the tools that they already have without even spending money on new software or cloud technologies. It's comes to maybe about $26 million ZAR, which is a lot of money in a South African company. $26 million rand is a lot of money and when you start pulling those figures, 

Heather Newman:  And you said million? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Million ZAR. So that's a lot of money. 33 minutes a day, which was based on one of the research articles that I used as well. So it says that with basic PC literacy, so not even Office, basic PC literacy could add about 33 minutes of productive time to an employee's day. And I worked on 33 minutes and I think it worked out to $169 million rand a year in a company. And that makes people sit up and go, what? Because it's the small things that messes us over. We tend to focus on the big things, you know, I just want to do that onboarding solution or I want to completely change the leave application. I'm like, but did you realize that if you used Flow and you helped every employee in the company to just write one Flow, that saves attachments to OneDrive or to a SharePoint folder, stuff that they get every day, you'd save them five to 33 minutes a day and you'd have that type of savings. And I don't think we're always focused on the small things. We're so conditioned to just focus on those big ones. And it's the small ones that makes the biggest difference across companies. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, agreed. Jethro, I know that you've worked in education before and now you're about to go back. And what does it mean for Teams to Microsoft Teams that that new product that's out that everybody is very excited about, what does it mean to go into education for that? Like what does that, what does that look like? 

Jethro Seghers:  Well, I think there's multiple layers to it, right? Well, first of all, I strongly believe that if we can enable students with the skillset that they need in the business, they're going to be more efficient, faster, be of more value to their employer. And kind of what Tracy was saying as well is the fact of making sure that they're immediately active and that they can do whatever they need to do and saving that time again and not necessarily get them into a stage of PC literacy or Office literacy. So it's more than just Teams, it's getting students involved in basic skillsets with computers, with Office, with Windows, with Teams. And Teams is important now, and of course an important part now because it helps them to collaborate better and to be more efficient in their syllabus and getting to a point where they have better grades and where they learn to collaborate and when they learn to be efficient and learn to be in a team, which is super important. Of course for Microsoft is also a big part because when you have it in education, automatically they're going to start requesting that in the business as well. So it's not all completely for like nonprofit opportunities. But it is a large part where it's just trying to make a better society as well. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, that's cool. And so you live in Seattle, but you are from? 

Jethro Seghers:  Belgium! 

Heather Newman:  Yes. And so you made your way to Seattle by way of Belgium. Tell everybody about that a little bit. 

Jethro Seghers:  Well, about five, so I had my own company and it was one of the ways that I was doing stuff for education. And uh, about five years ago I got an opportunity to work for a company called BitSight as a program manager and I was like, you know what, I'd like to do something different, not necessarily go away from cloud or education, but it was one of those opportunities that I felt that I couldn't really pass up on. And we went for my for my immigration visa. That got all got approved, I moved over here, sold everything I had in Belgium, restarted everything. So that was very interesting going through the whole immigration process. Makes you kind of more in tune with what certain people have to go through to make a better living for themselves in the United States. Recently I got my green card and I was talking to people at Microsoft and they were like, hey, why don't you just apply for this, uh, this education job? And I was like, okay, yeah, I might just do that. And so I applied for it and within less than a week went through seven, eight job interviews and suddenly it was like, congratulations, you're hired. So yeah, absolutely. 

Heather Newman:  That's great. And you have a sail boat there in Seattle? 

Jethro Seghers:  I actually have a motor boat. 

Heather Newman:  Oh, is it a motorboat? 

Jethro Seghers:  Yes. I don't know how to sail. But it's, so Seattle is really, really fun. It's one of those areas where there’s a lot of green, you have Lake Washington where you can just spend your time on the water but you drive for 40 minutes and you're in the mountains and you can ski and snowboard during the winter or hike during the summer. So it has a little bit of everything. It's really a cool area to be. Very open minded as well. It's one of those areas were as an immigrant and sometimes as a different thinker, um, with different opinions. It's really open minded, allows you to be who you want to be. And it's definitely a part of the US that I really appreciate. 

Heather Newman:  I lived there for 10 years and went to college there myself. So yeah, I completely agree. Seattle is a really beautiful city with really open, wonderful people. And Tracy, how did you get started in IT? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  I didn't, don't tell anyone. I think and I can definitely see it if I just look at our little concentrated community we had on the bus and then the greater community as well as being surrounded by like-minded people. But I always see the same characteristics or attributes in the people that's in the community is that we are curious. We soft learners, we want to help people, we want to figure things out, we want to build cool things. And I think that whatever jobs I ended up with in my life, which was not IT jobs, I always ended up in an IT portion of it because I love technology. I've always wanted to help people. So, so pretty much I don't know, let me quickly add that up, seven, I don't know, about 12 or 13 years ago, I, um, I just got promoted into being the intranet manager at AFGRI. And I kind of said, so what, what's the Intranet? And they said, well, I don't know, it's built on SharePoint. And I went like, what's SharePoint, right? And that's just how things happened. A lot of us don't get promoted into these jobs. A lot of us end up there because we show up and we put our hands up and we say, let's do this, we will figure it out. And, and that's pretty much how I got involved. I've always been a trainer at heart. I've had driving school, I had an (?) shop in school. I've always loved helping people and empowering people. So this was just perfect to me. The more I got involved in the IT side and, and, and, and having the ability to build cool things and help people. It was just a, it was the perfect combination. 

Heather Newman:  And we got to, so everyone, I'll put some of this stuff in the show notes and Tracy's blog and some stuff about teens in education of course from Jethro and one of the things, so the, it's 365 TOUR dot C O dot Z (Zed) A and a, that's the site for the two events that we did. And then we also have that Hashtag out on social media. We had a videographer, Adam King from Insite Video who, I can't even imagine. It was like 3000 pictures and so much video. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  And we adore him, and we want to adopt him. We really want to adopt him. 

Heather Newman:  We're going to sop him up with a biscuit for sure. He's so cute and sweet and he came in from the UK, um, after doing another show in Amsterdam and he's off to something else after here. And, uh, Darrell Webster was in from New Zealand and he also, Darrell is brilliant and works for Adopt and Embrace and he also does a lot of on Regarding 365 and also just captured so much and made all these little videos, ended up teaching me how to use a couple of the different tools and we spent a lot of time doing that. It's like, here's how to use this on Instagram and here's how to do that and here's how to, Tracy be showing how she makes her cool little pictures with the words on them and all of that. So that was really neat. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  And then Jethro, of course, went and just floored us all by doing it much better and become the king of social media and mixable media. 

Heather Newman:  Yes, absolutely. And you know, Warren Marks was on the trip with us and Alistair Pugin of course. And Alistair's um, and sorry, Warren's company Ave Point was a sponsor and SkySync of the actual tour in the van and a big thank you to them for making this happen. And that was awesome. And all of the sponsors for SharePoint Saturday Johannesburg and SharePoint Saturday Cape Town. Thank you so much. It, it really, you know, building community is about all the things it's about showing up and it's about speakers and it's about the great money you give and being there to talk to people about your technologies and everything. And so that was really wonderful. So a big thank you I know from all of us that were on this tour. Um, and you know, I think the other thing it was what was really fun is that with both, with Alistair and Tracy and Warren it was like, you know, when you're in somebody else's country, one you're getting to see it through your own eyes, but you get to see it through their eyes and you also, you know, like we would drive by something and Tracy was like, well my dad built that bridge and Alistair was like, that's where I got my tonsils out and you know, so that was really fun too. So how is that, you know, this is your what third van trip? And how is that like seeing people's faces when they get to see your country? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Definitely kind of re-sparks the excitement that you have because we get so stuck in what we do every day and this crazy machine that we form part of that that we kind of don't allow ourselves those little special moments anymore to travel your own beautiful country. So, so firstly for me, it's always great to just kind of be reminded of how beautiful this country is. And secondly just, just to see that appreciation or just kind of like ignites that again, it's the same as a conference and it's the same with community does, but this was just a community about our country, right? Just kind of being reminded and having that affirmation that this is pretty cool cause of course humans we get used to things and it becomes a given, right? And then you just, when you experience it with other people for their first time, again, you just realize how fortunate we are and how incredible this country is. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, it's really, I know, it's like I was telling all these guys about, you know, my thoughts of Africa and I'm pretty well traveled. I know I've seen pictures and all of that, but I had no idea that South Africa looks very similar to Sonoma County wine country. You know, that was a surprise to me and it was so, uh, I was, you know, you sort of, I dunno, you have this thing where it's like there's lions and the Savannah and you know, and it's like not all of Africa is like that. And the drive from Hermanus to Cape Town, I believe probably is one of the top three beautiful drives I've ever been on in my entire life for sure. Like that was absolutely gorgeous. Oh, speaking of driving. Thank you Alistair, thank you Warren for all the amazing driving you did you both really rocked it. It was a couple of times when we went up on two wheels Alistair Pugin, but we all survived. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  I just kind of put it out there, thank you guys. But they wouldn't let me drive the bus with them, so I'm just putting that out there. 

Heather Newman:  Jethro, how about, you know, a moment that sticks out or a few or anything about the bus tour? I know that's a tough one, right? 

Jethro Seghers:  Yeah, there's so many, I think I'm going to stick with the mini SharePoint Saturday we had at the university, um, 

Heather Newman:  In East London? University of Fort Hare. 

Jethro Seghers:  Yeah. Here's the thing, right, is that when you connect with them and you show them something they can use, that they will be able to use to advance their career, to advance their life, to something they can use to build up on top of, they get so rewarding and sometimes we forget about that, right? It's like the immediate reward feeling that you get, they feel that, hey, you're here, you're explaining this to us. We're so grateful for you to do that. But at the same time, what they don't realize is they even teach us so much bigger lesson to like, look what they're doing. Look how they want to keep control of their, of their lives and want to advance. And we sometimes takes too much things for granted and getting it back to, um, a level set moment, let's call it, that was, that was intense for me. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, absolutely. And you know, being someone who also has managed conferences for years and years and running SharePoint Saturday LA, I know how much work and time and energy goes into just one, let alone three, let alone a tour. So Tracy, lady, seriously, ridiculously amazing. I know how much work and time and energy you put into this for all of us. So thank you, because sometimes that logistics piece of it doesn't get the thanks it deserves, having done that for a long time too. So, you really, thank you for letting us be in your country and be with you and be at your homes and Alistair, being at your homes as well. And yeah, I, I feel like, um, you know, it's fun to get a chance to be with your friends and your colleagues in their homes and you both are amazing people in the world that I am so happy to be colleagues with and friends with. And having got a chance to go a level either leveled up or a level deeper with you, whatever you want to call it in the gaming world. But yeah, and Tracy, um, there is another SharePoint Saturday coming up will you tell everybody about that too? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  There is, in Durban. Oh my word. Can I not remember which date it is? 

Heather Newman:  May 10th. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  There we go. Thank you Heather for remembering things, but it is round about then. So Durban is still coming up. Um, we had to kind of bring a gap in between it because we had other conferences happening and I think we just needed the break as well. And we normally do all three in a row, so Durban is coming up as well. I'd definitely, if anyone's listening to this please, if you're from that area, we'd love to see your pretty face there and for you to become part of the community and things. And um, it's just always amazing for us. I mean I think we're so fortunate in the community cause it kind of feels like you know everyone and you know where everything is. But man, there's people stuck out there in little basements without windows who thinks they're struggling on their own and they don't know how to make this happen. And they feel guilty or they won't make it, or I dunno, imposter syndrome and I can promise you if you form part of the community it just changes all of that, you know, just that support network that we have. So please join the conferences. I mean not just SharePoint Saturdays, it doesn't matter, but join the conferences, join the community. I mean like the tech community and the online forums and things and just become part of it because I can promise you every bit of it's worth it. 

Heather Newman:  Yup. Absolutely. So everyone, um, as usual we will put all the ways you can follow these two lovely ones in the show notes. And I know that Tracy has got workshops that she's going to be coming out with and talking to people about that you can book her for in your business. I also know that she, and if you haven't read her blogs that she did Office 365 and M365, a blog a day challenge that she did. And I'm saying it right here, right now there's a book coming out and coming soon from Tracy. Yes. In the next year, probably sooner. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Because when you say it, it happens. It's going to be sooner. 

Heather Newman:  It's going to be sooner than that. So she will have a book out and Jethro is going to continue to blog and put out great things on the tech forum. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  And be an awesome Microsoft person. 

Heather Newman:  And be a great advocate for all of us. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  And we all stalk him because he's a celebrity. 

Heather Newman:  So, any last words Jethro? 

Jethro Seghers:  Everybody should come to South Africa and visit it and be blown your mind. 

Heather Newman:  Awesome. How about you miss? 

Tracy van der Schyff:  I think from me, words are so important to me, but there is this beautiful African word called Ubuntu and Ubuntu says, I am who I am because of who we all are. Don't ever forget your role in the community and that, that we all become amazing together. And that's what's really important for me. And that's what this week summed up has done for me. 

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. And you know, it's the communities that you belong in locally. It's the communities that you belong in the larger world and we all are one big global community that affects each other all the time. Thank you both so much. 

Jethro Seghers:  Thank you. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Thank you for being in our country and doing this with us. 

Heather Newman:  I love it. It has been, uh, inspirational, beautiful, beautiful trip that I will not forget and I cannot wait to come back and I haven't even left yet. 

Tracy van der Schyff:  Well, my house is always open to you guys. 

Heather Newman:  Wonderful. Ah, Yay. All right, well folks, show notes will go up, transcripts will go up and you can find the Mavens Do It Better podcast at all of those places where you normally do up on iTunes, on Spotify, up on Stitcher, and up on the mavensdoitbetter.com website. And here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere.