The Fabulous 40 video series, hosted by VP of Product Technology Dan Stoll (@_danstoll) interviews members of the Office 365 & SharePoint community. Dan delivers a rapid fire of 40 questions that let you get to know about that things that drive and inspire the leading minds in Office 365.
In episode 3, Elaine van Bergen(@laneyvb) Senior Program Manager at Microsoft joins Dan. Elaine explains her amazing role within the Commercial Software Engineering team where she helps large organizations with hacks focused on machine learning and AI. Elaine takes us through her career and the great work she is doing to give back as a Superstar of STEM and Activator at SheEO.
Dan Stoll: Oh hey, just the person I was looking for actually. How are you going?
Elaine van Berg: I'm doing well. How are you?
Dan Stoll: I'm great. I'm just going to ask you a few questions if that's all right?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah, go for it.
Dan Stoll: All right, so you've been at Microsoft for two years now. Tell us about your current role.
Elaine van Berg: I'm in the Commercial Software Engineering team, which is think is the coolest team at Microsoft, and we run around and do hacks with large organizations on machine learning, AI, and all the shiny things.
Dan Stoll: Oh, nice. When did your love for Microsoft technology start?
Elaine van Berg: I don't even remember. I can't remember a time when I didn't love Microsoft technology. It's been my whole career pretty much.
Dan Stoll: I guess that goes to the same point around, what was the first language that you learned to code?
Elaine van Berg: Actually, at uni (university) I did a whole bunch of other stuff because I did electrical engineering. The first Microsoft languages I learned to code in would have been VB6 and ASP.
Dan Stoll: Oh, wow. Not even DOS?
Elaine van Berg: No, I'm pretty sure it's horrible VB6.
Dan Stoll: What languages do you code in these days?
Elaine van Berg: Geez, depends on the day. We bounce around across Node, C#, even a lot of Python and those other kind of things we would doing the data science areas. Depends on what's right for the job.
Dan Stoll: Right, got you, and it's fair to say that you're fulfilling your childhood dream now by working at Microsoft and being a Blue Badger?
Elaine van Berg: Yes, the Blue Badger was a while coming but yeah, certainly working at the new Microsoft was my dream.
Dan Stoll: Got you. What's the best thing about working for Microsoft?
Elaine van Berg: I think the alignment with trying to make a difference in the world is the best thing here now. It really is about trying to push things forward and drive conversations around AI, ethics, those kind of things. It's not just about the technology.
Dan Stoll: Right yeah, of course. We're in Melbourne so you want to go grab a coffee?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah of course. We have to while we're in Melbourne, right?
Dan Stoll: Exactly, I know. I'm dying for a real coffee, I swear. So how often do you head over to the Microsoft HQ?
Elaine van Berg: Usually only once a year, actually. We have a pretty good setup where we can work remotely, so we do a lot of online meetings.
Dan Stoll: Yeah, and why is Microsoft so good at turning everything into an acronym?
Elaine van Berg: I wish I knew. The only thing I can think of is it's because we're techies. We want to use as least many characters as possible.
Dan Stoll: That's so true. Your current role at Microsoft helps organizations achieve their business goals via hacks. How cool is that?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, it's amazing and I specialize in the health industry so lots of really cool stuff that's really going to make a difference.
Dan Stoll: So can you tell me what kind of solutions you're working on right now?
Elaine van Berg: Some of them are under NDA of course-
Dan Stoll: Of course.
Elaine van Berg: But lots of cool stuff with trying to preserve Indigenous culture in Australia. We've got a couple of projects there. Couple of things around chat bots, and lots of stuff for helping clinicians and people in clinical settings spend more time with their patients and less time typing, writing, those kind of things.
Dan Stoll: What are OpenHacks?
Elaine van Berg: OpenHacks are my favorite style of learning. They're basically these challenge based hacks we put together. We have a team of people that sit on a table and we give them a problem and as a mentor, our job is to not give them the answers but to kind of stop them from falling off the cliff, so they learn.
Dan Stoll: What Office 365 app do you use most in your role?
Elaine van Berg: Microsoft Teams without a doubt.
Dan Stoll: Of course, and what Office 365 app would you like to see more companies adopting?
Elaine van Berg: Microsoft Teams. It's an easy one, right. No, I see lots of people using it but they're using like 10%. It's crazy.
Dan Stoll: You're a seasoned conference and public speaker. How did you get into public speaking?
Elaine van Berg: I think I presented first at the .NET User Group, a nice little user group local here in Melbourne, that's actually still going. It's very old now. Then went on from there to bigger events.
Dan Stoll: What's your next conference that you're speaking at?
Elaine van Berg: At Digital Workplace Conference in New Zealand and then after that, it's Vegas.
Dan Stoll: Right, and what will you be presenting at DWC?
Elaine van Berg: I'm presenting there on building better bots, so I really want to give people some information on how to make bots that are not going to annoy the hell out of people.
Dan Stoll: You were one of just a few people to achieve that Microsoft Certified Master. How grueling was that?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, it was crazy hard. Best thing I've ever done though. We were locked in a room for a long time but well worth the effort.
Dan Stoll: Are you sad to see that Microsoft retired that program?
Elaine van Berg: In one way sad, yes. Great memories, great people, but I'd rather see it retired than diluted if that makes sense.
Dan Stoll: Yeah, that makes sense. You were also an MVP for SharePoint. Do you still help customers with SharePoint?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah, someone just told me a great phrase the other day. SharePoint's like glitter, you never get it off. So yeah, I still spend a lot of time helping people with SharePoint.
Dan Stoll: Yeah I know, right? It is one of those things. I feel like I did that a lot with Lotus Notes as well.
Elaine van Berg: Yeah. Can I get you a coffee?
Dan Stoll: Yeah, great. I've got some money here. Let's see if ... Do they take, do you take American dollars here? I mean, that 20 I think's at least worth...
Elaine van Berg: No, it's plastic money here mate.
Dan Stoll: Okay, great.
Elaine van Berg: Can we just grab two lattes?
Barista: Sure, large?
Elaine van Berg: Just the small.
Dan Stoll: So you were recently named a Superstar of STEM. Tell me about that.
Elaine van Berg: Oh, Superstars of STEM is an amazing program around lifting the visibility of female scientists and technologies in Australia. So really just trying to get some role models out there, so that different people can be seen in the media.
Dan Stoll: Yeah, and you're also an activator of the SheEO. What is SheEO?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah, it's really about trying to use radical generosity to change the model for start-ups. So female start-ups are really not getting funded and with SheEO, we put in a bunch of money and that gets given to key start-ups that we vote for that are all female led, to be able to give them a loan to get started.
Dan Stoll: Right, and how did you find out about SheEO?
Elaine van Berg: It was online through Twitter, actually. I've made a conscious effort to try to follow more diverse people on Twitter and I saw a bunch of great female business people tweeting about it and thought I should join up.
Dan Stoll: Oh great. How do people get involved with SheEO?
Elaine van Berg: Go to the sheeo.world website and all the information is there, or connect to me and I'm happy to chat to anyone about it.
Dan Stoll: Oh nice. How did you get into SharePoint development?
Elaine van Berg: I think I just fell into it, really. There was a project at work and someone said, "Hey can you work out how to use this thing?" From there, I just kept doing it.
Dan Stoll: Yeah. You've got a long history of consulting from way back in the day. What are some of those SharePoint projects you're most proud of?
Elaine van Berg: I quite like some of the ones we did for the Department of Education 'cause it was always a really good mix of trying to actually help students and help the department do more, but also build something that was used by lots and lots of people.
Dan Stoll: Yeah. Do you remember your first SharePoint Saturday?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, I don't remember my first one, no. I do remember one where the whole audience sang Happy Birthday to me. That was so embarrassing, I'll never forget that, but awesome.
Dan Stoll: What certificates should people working with Office 365 be looking at right now?
Elaine van Berg: Well, there's a lot of different ones. I think there's a Microsoft Fundamentals one is a good place to start. But I think the Adoption Specialist one is a really good place to look as well 'cause these days, it's not just about coding or infrastructure. It's about getting people to use the product.
Dan Stoll: Right. Any recommendations on study resources for these certificates?
Elaine van Berg: There's some good courses. There's also great information on Microsoft Learn and other websites but I think a lot of it is really getting out there and just trying to use the products yourself.
Dan Stoll: Right. Who are the women in tech that you look up to?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, there's quite a few but my absolute favorite is Dona Sarkar. She's just so brilliant about getting out there and just doing the thing and encouraging other people to do whatever they're passionate about.
Dan Stoll: Which woman in tech would you love to meet the most?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, I'd love to meet ... I don't know. Maybe Melinda Gates.
Dan Stoll: What are some great resources for women wanting to pursue a career in tech?
Elaine van Berg: Brilliant coffee. I think there's some really great user groups that you can become a part with. Women Who Code is one that's all over the world that I'm a member of the local chapter here, and I think that kind of support network is even more important than all the online work learning websites.
Dan Stoll: What are some great resources for women wanting to pursue a career in tech? Didn't I just ... I just asked that one, didn't I?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah.
Dan Stoll: Okay, let me try a different one. So what tech podcasts do you recommend?
Elaine van Berg: Well, you can't go past the Microsoft Cloud Show. I was devastated when it was nearly canceled, but I also listen to the Microsoft 365 Dev podcast and also the Women In Business and Tech podcast which is a Microsoft one where you're talking a lot about women in different business settings and technology as well.
Dan Stoll: Right. What e-book are you reading at the moment?
Elaine van Berg: At the moment, oh, I can't remember the name of it. It's ... You've got me.
Dan Stoll: Are you listening to a book maybe? What's your favorite podcast other than a tech podcast?
Elaine van Berg: Other than a tech podcast, I'll go with The Dollop. The stories of the crazy stuff that's happened in American history just keep me endlessly engaged.
Dan Stoll: Your sister Dee is also really tied up in the tech world. Have you been able to work with her at all?
Elaine van Berg: We've worked technically at the same company, the same parent company, but we've never actually worked on a project or anything together, no. It'd be interesting if it ever did happen.
Dan Stoll: Is that like a lifelong thing? I know as a sports player, it was always one of my things that I'd really love to be able to play football in the same team as my sons but I'm getting a bit long in the tooth now so it's probably never going to happen.
Elaine van Berg: Yeah, who knows? I reckon we would make the dream team but yeah, I don't know if it'll ever align. We're in different parts of the industry.
Dan Stoll: Are your sons into tech as well?
Elaine van Berg: My youngest son is the STEM captain at his school.
Dan Stoll: Oh, very good.
Elaine van Berg: He achieved that through knowing how to turn computers off and on again, so a little bit of a tech bug
Dan Stoll: And how to fix the printer.
Elaine van Berg: Yes.
Dan Stoll: What's the tech gadget you can't live without?
Elaine van Berg: Oh, it'd have to be my phone. I feel lost without it. It tells me where to go, where I'm staying, what flight to get on.
Dan Stoll: Nice. You're heavily into heavy metal like myself. So have you got your ticket to Wacken this year?
Elaine van Berg: Yeah, you have to buy them a year before. So I'll be there for the 30th anniversary of Wacken.
Dan Stoll: Nice, and what new stuff are you listening to at the moment?
Elaine van Berg: Favorite new band, a band called Alien Weaponry. They're a New Zealand band that do part of their lyrics in Maori. It's really interesting.
Dan Stoll: What's your favorite band T-shirt?
Elaine van Berg: Favorite band T-shirt? Ministry. They're my all-time favorite.
Dan Stoll: Right yeah, awesome. Do you listen to Dream Theater at all?
Elaine van Berg: No, I hate Dream Theater.
Dan Stoll: No. Get out of town. They just came out with a new album and it's fantastic.
Elaine van Berg: So I'm told by all my friends.
Dan Stoll: Oh great, okay. Well thanks for that, Elaine. I'm going to head off. I've got to do this coffee and jet off to my next interview.
Elaine van Berg: Cheers.
Dan Stoll: Right, thanks mate. Bye.
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