Is Microsoft Sharepoint hard to learn?
June 19, 2014 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Or is it easy enough to learn that I could learn it in a couple of weeks for a job?

I am filling out an application for a job that fits my profile really well. A large part of the job looks like it will involve data management, which actually sounds great to me. This is not high-level data management, of course. I don't do programming or real database design. However, a large part of what I did for my previous job included working with and eventually learning to make some kind of complex updates to the design of a Microsoft Access database. This job is asking for experience with Sharepoint, however. I only have a vague notion of what it even is in the first place. At my last job, we were considering using Sharepoint, but it was an ongoing debate/discussion when I left two years ago to go to graduate school.

Is Sharepoint something that is relatively easy to learn? I hesitate to say that I know it when I don't, but I do have basic computer proficiency and actually greatly enjoy figuring out complex Excel formulas and enjoyed the Access design. Do you think it would be a big thing if I didn't have direct Sharepoint experience, if I could demonstrate an affinity for data management elsewhere? This is a federal job application that is asking direct questions about my proficiency in Sharepoint, fyi. (Actually if you have any comments on the difficulty of MS Project as well, it is also asking about that . . .)
posted by thesnowyslaps to Work & Money (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
SharePoint is like Othello (the game). It's easy enough to pick up if you've used Office, but it's damn near impossible to master. When it breaks, there's often no rhyme or reason to it.

Don't worry about only having a vague notion of what it even is in the first place. Everyone else is in the same boat. Having supported it (also federal) for a time, the joke was often made that SharePoint is a solution in need of a problem. One group was even trying to use it for large-scale version-controlled document management (bad idea, but it mostly worked).

There's a StackExchange stack specifically for SharePoint (here) that might give you some idea of what to expect.
posted by chaosys at 3:27 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

SharePoint is big platform that can do a ton of things. It is not hard to learn the user-level basics (uploading files, accessing files, searching for things via tags, etc.), but there are a LOT of extra things you can do with it that do take some time to learn. If you represent yourself as being proficient in it I would think that your employer would expect you to be able to do the higher-level fancy stuff.

Also, using SharePoint as just an average user is one thing, but many workplaces have someone behind the scenes who is setting up or administering the SharePoint site, and that is again much harder (companies also pay consultants thousands of dollars to do this for them). It's really customizable so there is a lot you can do.

If you like diving in and learning new platforms and you are pretty savvy about this kind of thing already, I think you can learn SharePoint well, but you likely won't be able to do an overnight crash course and fool someone into thinking you are a SP expert when you're not.
posted by aka burlap at 3:27 PM on June 19, 2014

Yeah (should have previewed), chiming in again to agree with chaosys. Your potential employers probably don't know much about SharePoint themselves. They are probably throwing it on every job posting now in the hopes that someone will come in and be able to fix all their SharePoint problems for them! In addition to being complicated and hard to fix when it breaks, it's also super hard to get organizations to migrate to it b/c of (in part) how big and comprehensive it is. So odds are that this agency has halfway migrated to SharePoint and that most people there half-understand it at best. So, don't lie, but your lack of direct experience probably won't hurt you as much as you fear, especially if you show up having done some homework and eager to become their new SharePoint fixer and expert.
posted by aka burlap at 3:31 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well...the problem with Sharepoint is that you can - if you throw enough effort at it - do anything in Sharepoint, from a developer perspective. Including things that are really stupid to do in Sharepoint. But you still could!

There are many faces of Sharepoint. Install and config expects you have a basic-ish understanding of IIS and SQL. Setup stuff is truly internal to Sharepoint - setting up document libraries, configuring existing or third-party plugins. Design stuff is web-ish. Architecture is...I dunno, a knack? (Because the framework is so wide open and basically every Sharepoint site I've implemented has almost immediately turned into the virtual equivalent of an abandoned storage unit, or a fileshare, and then nobody uses it.)

I've seen some fairly useful HR and process-tracking stuff done with the Workflow engine, and I have a few customers who have done some pretty fly Infopath form-submission data stuff (which I think shares some skillsets with Access). Everywhere I've worked has attempted to maintain a couple of document libraries for customer documents and presentation templates, to varying levels of success.

You can learn enough skills to look like you've seen Sharepoint in an afternoon on YouTube.

I know install and config well enough to be certified, and I still don't know what "not high level data management" means w/r/t the product. Uploading documents into document libraries? Working on spreadsheets and Access databases that are stored in a document library? (That would actually be my guess - they want to know you are capable of understanding the concept of editing a document even if it's not stored on your desktop. It is a surprisingly unusual skill.) Using an in-house-developed database front end? Could be anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:34 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hm, let's see, if it helps, to answer stoneweaver's question. Says I am being judged partly on:

- Computer proficiency in MS Word, Excel PowerPoint, MS Project, and Web-based management information systems (e.g. SharePoint)

The bullet point relating to the duties of the job that seems related to this says:

- Contribute to information management and knowledge sharing by designing, developing and implementing systems (and databases) to organize, consolidate and share data used routinely to fulfill internal as well as external reporting requirements- and maintain a library of documents specific to individual projects

I don't think that I will want to directly lie and say that I have used Sharepoint when I have not (actually, the question says Sharepoint or web-based information management systems - which, again, I feel like the Access experience is probably related but not exactly it). But it is tricky with these federal applications where they ring your questionnaire through their systems and assign you points based on your answers.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 3:44 PM on June 19, 2014

SharePoint is super easy to use, if it's already set up and someone else is doing the admin on it.

Do this, check out some of the You Tubes, and then go online and do a tutorial, mostly so you can know how it works.

No matter what, each company is going to do their own thing with how it's organized, so you'll still need someone to show you how Company ABC does their SharePoint.

When asked about it, just say: I've used it, but I'm not an administrator.

SharePoint Admins, make SERIOUS bank, because it is a freaking NIGHTMARE!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2014

The weak link in Sharepoint is the people. If it's not designed properly or maintained or access levels are incorrect it can be a pain. My Sharepoint joke is "Sharepoint is where data goes to die." (Or to live forever if you prefer.)

It's like any other tool. It has to be maintained to be good, it will always do more than you'll use it for, there will always be things to learn on it, and you will find there are too many ways to accomplish the same task.

I used to use Sharepoint a lot. I am glad we no longer do. I dread the idea of using it again.

You can't learn it in a week, but you can learn how to start using it in an afternoon (as stated above).
posted by cjorgensen at 5:17 PM on June 19, 2014

I agree with the others. You can get the end user basics in a short period of time, but SharePoint may be the most complex thing Microsoft makes from a back-end administration perspective.

You might consider buying a one month license to use SharePoint Online. I know SharePoint a little, but Microsoft's licensing has always been a nightmare. I'm not even sure you can buy a month.

That being said, I think you can get a SharePoint Online site to use for a month for $3. I'd say with YouTube, some web research and not knowing any SharePoint people, you could realistically learn the very basics in a few work days.

Edit: Wrox - Beginning SharePoint 2013: Building Business Solutions isn't a bad reference, though I wouldn't say it's an entertaining read. Maybe there's a "For Dummies" book?
posted by cnc at 5:24 PM on June 19, 2014

If their expectations of your Sharepoint experience didn't warrant additional info in the job posting, I imagine you'll be fine with knowing the basic concepts. You'll pick up the specifics when you find out what you're even supposed to be doing. As others have mentioned, your potential employers likely have no idea what they're doing with their own Sharepoint, and it probably hasn't been updated since someone posted an announcement about benefits enrollment in 2009.

I worked at a place that had a decently implemented Sharepoint site. No one used it, but every single person, without fail, insisted "everybody else" used it all the time. It hadn't been updated in years. Unfortunately, in my experience, this is more often the case than places that actually use their Sharepoint and expect people to know what they're doing.

TL;DR: I agree with everyone who said to watch some YouTube videos. You'll then be more proficient with Sharepoint than most applicants.
posted by nobejen at 6:13 PM on June 19, 2014

Short answer: you can very likely learn it pretty easily to the degree that will likely be required by the position.

This is a federal job application that is asking direct questions about my proficiency in Sharepoint, fyi.

I've been a Federal employee for over 30 years, and have worked for 3 different agencies. I can tell you from much experience that Federal job requirements in vacancy announcements are (no surprise) INCREDIBLY over-written to sound way more complicated than they are. It's not BS, really, it's just that they want things explained to a level of detail that most other employers don't worry about.

Just one thing: if your application process is similar to the ones I have done, your answers to the questions will need to be supported in the narrative portion of your resume. You'll have to be honest in the narrative, and it's better to not exaggerate your proficiency, but don't sell yourself short either. The ideal thing would be to run through some tutorials and volunteer to put together a few sites for friends so that you can honestly say you've done it.

It's also very likely (depending on the position) that the Sharepoint infrastructure and templates are already set up for the agency by the IT department, and you may not even be allowed to do anything beyond creating a site within the strict parameters of the templates, or add pages to sites that are already in place.

Be warned: as others have said, Sharepoint can be gigantic pain in the ass due to its complexity. I managed several such sites for my agency (with only self-training) and once our agency moved to Google mail and apps, the first thing I did was convince my boss to let me kill our Sharepoint sites and move the info to Google Sites and Google Drive. Much better.

(Actually if you have any comments on the difficulty of MS Project as well, it is also asking about that . . .)

I spend most of my working day dealing with MS Project, using it to track and schedule dozens of engineering projects involving dams, recreation areas, power plants, and related structures, taking place over multiple years for tens of millions of dollars. I was thrown into it rather suddenly when a coworker retired. I got a couple books, watched tutorials, and Googled constantly every time I had to do something. It's relatively logical, but also extraordinarily complex and powerful. It really comes down to what kind of projects you are using it for, how detailed and complex they are, and what the desired result is. It can be used to track and plan projects down to the smallest detail, or just give a basic, broad-strokes overview of time-frames. I have no doubt that any relatively computer literate and logical person can learn to use it pretty quickly. It just might be harder to truthfully say you have any experience with it if you don't. I'm not sure if you can get your hands on a copy to play with, but if you can't there are numerous web-based and open source project management programs that you could play with which use the same basic principles. In the end, there's nothing wrong with saying that even though you may not have experience with a specific piece of software that you are confident you can learn and perform the duties, etc.

Good luck.

(Sorry for the verbosity. Federal employee, y'know.)
posted by The Deej at 7:14 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The quotes from the job description sound like they'll want you to be able to maintain document libraries on SharePoint. It's easy - if you're mucking around in Access, you'll be fine in SharePoint.

My skill level is high-level end user. I'm pretty skilled with the UI (setting up sites and lists, setting navigation, permission management, etc.), but I know nothing about the back end and haven't used SharePoint Designer.

Microsoft's own tutorials are a good place to start learning, but here's some basics to help you be oriented:

From the user's perspective, SharePoint is organized as a series of "sites." The organization of these sites is completely flexible - I've usually seen it sites organized around departments, functions, or projects.

Each site can have a variety of components:
Libraries - for files of various types (document libraries hold documents, image libraries hold images, etc.)
Lists - for tasks, links, issue tracking, etc. (These are really customizable, making them handy for any set of items you need to track or share.)

You can integrate different kinds of lists with Excel and Access in some clever ways, and the document libraries let multiple people edit Word documents at the same time if things are configured properly (sort of like Google Docs).

Sites can also have child sites. You might have a structure that puts the HR Division site at the top level, then child sites for Benefits and Employment. Each of the parent and child sites has their own lists, libraries, calendars, etc.

You can set view and access permissions at each level of the hierarchy, down to the individual document or item (I'm not saying you SHOULD, I just saying it is possible).

I've worked in an organization where SharePoint was useful and used by everybody, one where it was in struggling to gain traction and use, and one where it was a disaster.

MS Project is a really fancy Gantt chart maker. If you understand some project management basics (tasks, due dates, dependencies, resources), and Excel, you can pick it up.
posted by jeoc at 7:23 PM on June 19, 2014

Sign up for a one month PluralSight account, and take the SharePoint 2013 Admin training. You'll know very quickly if it's for you.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:35 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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