UPDATE: 04/25/08: Was catching up on some blog posts and found a link to this article: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/032608-microsoft-sharepoint.html?page=1. I make note of it because in addition to asking, "how do I learn sharepoint?", some people ask "why should I learn sharepoint?". That article partly answers the later.
In the last several months, a dozen or more folks from across the planet have been emailing me and asking the general question, "How do I learn SharePoint?"
I’m hardly authoritative, but I’ve had some success (and trying to get better all the time) so I thought I’d document my personal road map. Others may find it valuable.
Before I do that, I just want to observe that it’s obvious to me, based on these personal emails and the even greater number of MSDN / SharePoint University posts of the same nature, that there is huge developer interest in getting up to speed with WSS/MOSS. I wonder what it’s going to be like a year from now … easier to find good SharePoint talent? The same? Are folks committing themselves to the platform at a rate sufficient to keep up with demand for good resources? How could you even figure something like that out short of a WAG?
I was full time employed by the good folk at Conchango while I followed this road map. This means that from a learning perspective, I was actively engaged in projects as I followed the steps I outline below.
Some Basic Terms
For people entering this world, there are two key acronyms:
- WSS: Windows SharePoint Services
- MOSS: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server
WSS is "free" in that it’s bundled with windows server 2003 (or at least can be downloaded from MS). I put quotes around free because you need a box, a valid O/S license and probably SQL (though there’s a "free" kind of SQL as well).
MOSS is built on top of WSS and extends it. There is no MOSS without WSS. MOSS is not free.
Perhaps not day one, but soon after you’ve got some basic familiarity with the platform, it’s important to learn the differences. For example, a powerful web part, the Content Query Web Part, is a MOSS feature and not available WSS. People often make the incorrect assumption that CQWP is available in WSS and then end up scrambling for a stop-gap measure when they realize their error.
Hit the Books
I started working with WSS/MOSS on about 01/02/2007. I had a little prior experience with SPS 2003 but very little. To get myself started, I purchased the two books listed here (http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/lists/cns!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!203/).
I started with the big blue administration book. Naturally, it covers administration. At the same time, it provides a survey of all MOSS features (and WSS features as well).
For me, it’s not so important to remember all the various details (until it’s time to get certified) but it’s good to know the boundaries. (I follow this same approach in 1st person shooters I play on the xbox or PC — I enter a room and tend to make a counter-clockwise loop until I get back where I started. I just feel better knowing the shape of the box I’m in.)
After reading the big blue book, I would read the entire Inside WSS book. It dives deeply into issues that developers care most about.
Create a Virtual Environment
In order to do any development or properly use the environment, you need a full blown windows server operating system with SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio 2005 (2008 works, but some useful tools have yet to be ported as of the writing of this article), InfoPath 2007 and some other stuff. There are many good blog entries describing this process. I’d have a look at these two:
- How to Create a MOSS 2007 VPC Image: The Whole 9 Yards – SharePoint Reporter Blog
- How to build an optimal developer VPC for SharePoint Development – Blog
In addition, Andrew Connell shared his experiences with VMWare here:
Use your favorite search engine to see what other people do. It’s a useful learning exercise in and of itself.
Spend a few minutes angrily denouncing the fact that you need a server environment on which to do development. But … don’t bother blogging about it or posting it to MSDN forums. It’s already been done 🙂. Instead, embrace it and move on. You’ll be better off for it.
I believe that the MS SharePoint certification path, which consists four exams, is exhaustive. I suggest that you follow their online preparation guide and do your best to understand each of the areas of the test.
I do not suggest that you take the exam just to pass it. I do not suggest that you use one of the "brain dump" style 3rd party "tools" for passing MS tests. If you can take the test, pass it based on a combination of your own directed study and hands-on experience, you’ll be a stronger developer and job candidate for it.
There are four tests in two "tracks":
- TS: Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 – Application Development
- TS: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 – Application Development
- TS: Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, Configuring
- TS: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Configuring
I recommend that developers study for all of these exams. You’ll be strong for them, though I suppose if you skipped the admin exams, you would get by.
I found the WSS version to be considerably more challenging than the corresponding MOSS versions, much to my surprise. I was in a class recently and several others made the same point.
While I was studying for the 70-542 exam (MOSS development) I tracked my study resources. These may be helpful to you as well: http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!192.entry
Plug Yourself Into the Community
The SharePoint community is vibrant, strong and growing larger all the time.
You want to look at the following to start:
If you don’t understand RSS, stop everything and learn it. It will take 10 minutes to learn it, maybe another 10 minutes to find a web based RSS reader (I like google’s reader, www.google.com/reader).
Start by adding this blog to your RSS reader 🙂
Next, add www.sharepointblogs.com to your reader. They aggregate many blogs into a single feed.
Over time, you’ll find blogs that are not aggregated that way. Just add them individually.
I subscribe to a few dozen blogs which I’ve accumulate over the last year. If you want, I can export my list and email it.
Eventually, you may want to start your own blog. I personally think that a series of blog entries describing a "newbie’s" progress learning WSS/MOSS would be an interesting series. I wish I had done that myself.
I actively participate in two forum groups: MSDN and SharePoint University.
Forums are excellent places to learn. People ask questions ranging from the very simple ("How do I create a site column") to the panicked ("My server is down!") to more hypothetical design questions.
Once you get a flavor of the environment, venture out and start replying. Short of directly interacting with a customer, nothing is better than this for hands on experience.
Go to www.codeplex.com.
Check it out and search for SharePoint projects.
Subscribe to the daily summary Codeplex feed in your feed reader.
Add any new SharePoint projects to your feed reader.
Eventually, after reading the forums and facing down your own WSS/MOSS demons, consider putting together your own codeplex project.
As I write this blog entry, a lot of SharePoint folk have started using Twitter.
It’s hard to characterize Twitter. You’ll just have to check it out yourself.
That wraps up my roadmap and makes me current. I just started using Twitter two weeks ago.
WSS/MOSS is a very cool platform and the community is growing all the time. Use community resources to improve your skills and enjoy the journey!