Monday, April 4, 2022

Microsoft Power Platform lights up a young learner’s passion for tech

Do you love tech but feel like it doesn’t love you back? Michelle Sanchez, a first-generation Latina American techie, knows the feeling. Michelle grew up idolizing characters in movies, games, or comics who had special powers linked to technology. She loved tech but found it hard to imagine herself in those roles since the characters didn’t look or act like her. She recalls, “I didn’t see myself fitting into the mold, and it made me question if there was space for me in tech.” To make matters more challenging, when she was a teen, her family fell on hard times and school became a challenge. She felt unable to pursue her dream of tech because of low grades and the lack of a four-year degree. This is the story of how Michelle determined not to let those obstacles stand in her way.


Today Michelle works as a Senior Power Platform Consultant for HSO, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. It’s a far cry from the days when she, her mom, her sister, and their little dog fled domestic violence. They traveled from Massachusetts to California in a small hatchback, which became their home for a period of time. They spent time in tough neighborhoods with a lot of other people who were experiencing homelessness, addiction, and domestic violence. When they finally found a cheap apartment in downtown Los Angeles, it was infested with bedbugs. Then their dog died, and their car was repossessed. As Michelle puts it, “Everything hit at once. We were dealt a difficult hand, but these were also some of the happier moments of my life that I still cherish today.”  


As they moved around, Michelle frequently changed schools, and it was hard to focus on her studies when her life was in turmoil. The one bright spot was a computer programming class. She arrived late in the semester, but the teacher saw her drive and passion for tech. He challenged her to do the full semester’s work in a two-week period. By the end of that semester, she was the top student in the class. She never forgot that success. It was a rare moment in her youth when her abilities were acknowledged and respected.  


Picking up management and conflict-resolution skills

After she graduated from high school, Michelle was rejected by every college she applied to. No surprise, she says, since her GPA was less than favorable. Even if she had been accepted, she couldn’t afford to attend college. So she accepted her circumstances and started working. Michelle found a job as an assistant manager at a discount store, where she had to break up fights over holiday wrapping paper. She used this experience to add management and conflict-resolution skills to her résumé. She observed that these soft skills could be useful in any work setting. After a year, Michelle was at a turning point—she could either have a career in management at the discount store, or she could pursue her passion. So, despite the odds, she remembers, “I just had to go for it.” She enrolled in community college and set her sights on a career in tech.


Discovering the power of Power Apps

At community college, Michelle took a wide variety of courses to discover which technical path she wanted to pursue. She took classes in IT, studied databases, and learned programming languages, like C, C++, and C#. Michelle also took an internship, and she used the earnings from it to pay for her classes. The internship was on a small team that focused on Microsoft 365 and user experience. While she was working in SharePoint, she noticed an icon for Power Apps and asked about it.


Her manager told her to explore Power Apps and then tell her team about it. When Michelle started to figure it out, a light bulb went off in her head—she was immediately hooked by how fast she could create results using Power Apps. She thought, “This is way more my speed—Power Apps gives me the results quickly without doing anything extra.” She started spreading the word and soon had other interns learning Microsoft Power Platform. Michelle began building apps. Her group even started pitching their Microsoft Power Platform ideas to other departments, which was a big win for her team. As word spread, new departments were seeking their services and they got the chance to work on an enterprise solution—built fully on Microsoft Power Platform.


Michelle quickly came to appreciate the inviting technology of Microsoft Power Platform and the culture that has been built up around it. She observes, “It’s more accessible to everyday humans—it’s not just for developers. People are comfortable asking each other questions, and the community is so welcoming and supportive.”


Three months into the internship, Michelle was making so many apps that Microsoft invited her to join the Power Platform Champions group. She remembers how thrilling it was to meet other people “who do what I do.” It turns out that she was one of the first 100 Power Platform Champions.


Becoming a Power Platform Champion

Microsoft recognizes someone as a champion if they have embraced low code to make a big impact at their organization by using Microsoft Power Platform. Michelle was invited to the Microsoft Business Applications Summit in Seattle, which included special events for the champions. After an evening connecting and bonding with other champions, she was also invited to a post-summit event at Microsoft. This was her introduction to Microsoft culture. She appreciates the camaraderie of the Power Platform Champions group—they not only participate in regular Business Applications technology updates and webinars, but they also share information and help each other solve problems. She’s still in touch with colleagues she met at those early events and even works with other champions today.


Joining a partner and earning Microsoft Certifications

Michelle spent several years building her low-code skills with Power Apps. Then she parlayed those skills—along with her management experience and her network with the Power Platform Champions—to land a job as a consultant with a Microsoft Partner. She began studying for Microsoft Power Platform certifications. Michelle feels that certifications are vital for continuing to advance her career—even more important than her associate’s degree—and that it’s important to get more than one. She understands that cost can be an issue for a lot of people, so she recommends using the free resources on Microsoft Learn to study. “Go to Microsoft Learn and pick an area that you’re interested in and do the Microsoft Learn modules for it,” she suggests.


To get started with Microsoft Power Platform:

  1. Prepare for Exam PL-900: Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals.
  2. Download the Exam PL-900 skills outline, and track your progress as you learn each topic.
  3. Work through the Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals learning path, which explores all the exam topics.
  4. Pass the exam, and earn your Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals certification.

Michelle recommends getting this baseline certification first. If you love working with low-code solutions, like Michelle does, consider earning this certification. You can also start exploring your own journey to certification with the Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals journey map.

She states, “I like to deep dive and spend a couple of weeks preparing for a certification. If you don’t get it the first time, that’s okay. You can fail and then try again. Everyone in tech fails, but we also get back up after every failure. That’s the only secret to succeeding in tech—be resilient and keep learning!”


Michelle has earned the Microsoft Certified: Microsoft Power Platform App Maker Associate certification (pass Exam PL-100) and the Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Functional Consultant Associate certification (pass Exam PL-200).

Michelle finds her role as a Senior Power Platform Consultant at HSO to be compatible with both her technical skill set and her outlook on the world. She describes her experience at HSO as “inclusive, encouraging, and collaborative.” She’s inspired by the “huge contributions” of the HSO Cloud Application Platform team in the Microsoft Power Platform community. She states, “I’m surrounded by people who genuinely love what they do and know they can make a difference using Power Platform.”


She explains,The best part of being at HSO is the strong leadership that can support consultants in growing. They recruit good humans. Andrew Welch, the Vice President and Director of the Cloud Application Platform at HSO, has a saying, ‘Be a good human first, and the technology comes afterwards.’ HSO has a good support system, where you can lean on others and help others. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many kind, brilliant, and amazing friends here.”


Consultants can improve their skills and study for certification at the innovative HSO Academy, which is integrated into HSO culture. These training programs help consultants to deliver highly effective services to their clients’ businesses. HSO understands the importance of continuous learning.


Closing the inclusivity gap in tech

Michelle wants to see more women and people of color in her field. She views Microsoft Power Platform as an avenue into technology because it’s accessible “to everyday humans”—not just to developers—and because the culture around it encourages inclusivity and collaboration. She’s in Mark Smith’s mentorship program and a Twitter group that provides a safe space to chat about experiences in tech. She points out, “We’re hoping to be an inspiration for other people—so they see someone who looks like them and talks like them and comes from their lifestyle. Show that it’s actually possible to get into tech. You don’t have to be a super genius.”


She’s also becoming more visible in the Power Apps community. Michelle started a blog, The Loading Point, along with a YouTube channel, where she helps other people learn Power Apps. In June 2022, she’s giving a talk, called “Homeless to hero: Creating opportunities in low code,” at Scottish Summit, a Microsoft Cloud Community event.


Michelle wants to get the word out about the availability of vouchers that can help people pay for certification exams. She’s looking forward to Microsoft creating more of these opportunities.


Here are a few ways that others can look for vouchers to help with the cost of a Microsoft Certification exam:


Getting started on your own path

Successful women like Michelle love leaning into a challenge and encouraging others to join them on the path. As Michelle has shown, there are many opportunities across the Microsoft Power Platform space for anyone who is ready to skill up and meet today’s challenges. We invite you to use Microsoft Learn to take the next steps on your career journey. Certification—especially when paired with your drive and abilities—can help open career doors for you. No matter where you are on your journey, certifications not only validate your technical skills but can also help to ensure that you’re ready for the in-demand professional roles that employers these days are looking to fill.


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