Today I celebrate having been a Microsoft 365 Training Specialist at Centriq Training in Kansas City, Missouri for exactly 6 months. That may not seem like much to some, but it’s euphoric for me.
My previous two positions (and workplaces) before Centriq were not great fits for me and I stayed in each for less than a year. At each, I remember trying to push and mold the role and environment into something that would fit better. This strategy served me well in the past, but these positions and their individual contexts were proving inflexible in the way I needed them to be in order to feel well-utilized and happy.
The search continued.
Interviewing for Centriq
I applied for a role at Centriq last year when I saw it open on LinkedIn. I knew the name Centriq as a local powerhouse of corporate IT training and career skilling programs. I had only led training initiatives and occasional trainings in many of my previous roles but had never seriously considered doing it full time. But I knew I loved developing training content, helping people succeed in utilization of M365 tools, sharing knowledge, and ultimately building community near and far.
Centriq would be taking a gamble if they considered me. This Chamberlain guy just wrote a couple books, had a blog, spoke at some events, but wasn’t a “real trainer.” His history was all systems admin, business analysis, and consultant-ish. They could see I had two positions in the last year. Still, they called to arrange an interview.
My interview experience consisted of a phone screening, two separate one-on-one interviews, an “audition” training in a classroom of my would-be peers, and finally one-on-ones with those would-be peers afterwards. Each and every step of the way didn’t tax me at all – I already felt that I was speaking to “real” people who believed in the work they were doing. They weren’t interested in filling a vacancy – they wanted to build a team.
One of the most memorable things from the interviews is when Emma, now my Director, told me she built her own Power Automate flows and loved doing it.
I’m sure I did a double-take here. Did she say she enjoyed using a Microsoft 365 product and, moreso, chose to use it voluntarily because she realized the value it brought despite the work that went into learning and building in it?
I can’t tell you how often in the past co-workers (both peers and managers) would tell me tales of how and why they despise (or completely reject) the tech they “have to use” or manage. Often, this negativity was directed toward Microsoft 365 – the suite I managed, taught, became certified in, wrote books about, blogged about, and for which I became an MVP. And, in most cases, I’d venture to guess the negativity toward tech was actually more about change than the tech.
But this would be one of the first times in recent history my company wasn’t just using the bare minimum but excelling at using it regularly for real business processes…and enjoying it?
I was also excited to work with Craig, a fellow M365 trainer, who already during the interview was energized talking about engagement tools and classroom strategies.
I got to meet Mickie again, who I’d known outside of Centriq, who is our lead in the M365 space. She and Jessica, our VP of Operations, shared an enthusiasm for our direction as a team and company I found so very refreshing.
These seemingly small early interactions gave me a glimpse into the culture at Centriq and I wanted more. Positivity and joy are contagious.
Every single person, no matter their official role, cared about sharing knowledge, training, working hard, and making the most of Microsoft 365 apps and services. If you’ve gotten to meet any of our team, you’ll know firsthand that the enthusiasm and belief in what we do out in the community is palpable.
I was hired, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.
Now, reflecting at 6 months in, I have the good fortune of working with some of the kindest, most intelligent and creative professionals. Centriq has built a team across Kansas City and St. Louis that is made up of community advocates, innovative techies, amazing mentors, hard-working trainers, and inspiring leaders.
I haven’t felt that old “escape” urge to apply or look elsewhere. I know now from experience how hard it is to find a place and a role that uses your entire skillset regularly. But what really makes Centriq special is the people I work with daily. And, looking back, what I appreciated most about all of my previous roles was also the people with whom I built positive working relationships and friendships.
My first day was during my birthday week and Amy, our HR Manager, greeted me with homemade cookies, iced to perfection (see below). I’d later see that Amy had built her own stunning SharePoint site, Power Automate flows, and taught courses sometimes as well.
As I adjusted to my new role, I expressed interest in pursuing my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) credential. My leadership team not only said “Absolutely” but “Absolutely, and we’d also like to support you in getting your CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) cert while you’re at it.”
When I needed a classroom of students to participate in my CTT+ cert’s recorded practical component, my co-workers (some of whom I had only just met that day) volunteered their entire day to help me and another trainer be successful in meeting our certification requirements.
When the annual MVP Summit came up this year, I was given time during the workday to attend as professional development.
During a few back-to-back weeks of strenuous training deliveries, Lea, one of our Directors, was checking on me regularly not just from the “how can I help” perspective, but as a human being just checking on the wellbeing of another.
Our marketing team arranges and executes amazing, free webinars for the public on M365 (and other) topics. This is just one of the myriad things they’re working on during any given day. I’m grateful to be asked to present several of these. I’ve always cared deeply about creating accessible learning opportunities and knowing we regularly provide free training opportunities to a global community warms my heart. We couldn’t be the voice and influence in the community we’ve come to be without our amazing Marketing team (looking at you, Alison, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Ted). Thanks to their efforts, you’ll find us on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter.
And there are a total of four of us on the M365 trainer team: Mickie, Craig, Julie, and myself. Mickie and I handle a lot of custom training requests, and get to work together on new content outlines and deliveries. Craig and I create videos for our Centriq eTraining portal so we get many chances to co-create amazing, polished content for our customers. Julie is always willing to sit on a professional development webinar with me to learn or, when I’m presenting, moderate chat. I’m proud to get to co-author with, co-teach with, or moderate occasionally for each of these fantastic trainers, learning from them their unique experiences along the way. We learn, grow, and create successes together, and that’s all I ever wanted in a team.
I am supported every day.
Overall, when I have ideas, they’re heard. When I have questions, they’re answered. When I have problems, my peers help me through them. When I have frustrations, we find solutions. When I need a friend, I have one. When I need a mentor, they’re everywhere. When I’m feeling imposter syndrome or stressed, my colleagues make me feel like a million bucks and that weight falls away.
These qualities in my co-workers are not mandated by job descriptions, taught in orientation, part of a checklist, etc. These people just ARE the amazing way they are – you can’t teach or buy that.
I haven’t felt alone since starting, even though 99% of my time is spent away from my co-workers interacting primarily remotely. We work together well and I am only successful because we build every success together as a team.
While a lot of this is specific to my experience, I also get to see these amazing colleagues support each other in the same ways. Centriq has fostered this culture of positivity, transparency, empathy, supporting one another, being inclusive and open-minded, celebrating every win, working hard, continually improving (individually and as a company), and so much more I’m still picking up on.
If you had told me a year ago that this sort of place existed, I would have asked you which fantasy novel you were reading.
I can easily get emotional when I reflect on where I’m at today. I was not in a good place emotionally or mentally in 2020 (and I know I’m certainly not alone there). I allowed my former co-workers and social media (and my self-talk eventually) to tell me a tale of the world that convinced me I didn’t belong and would never be safe or happy again. I was a cog in an outdated machine. I started to believe that I deserved to be unhappy, that I’d hit a wall in my career, that karma was collecting extortionist rent, and that this world ultimately wasn’t for me despite my efforts to belong.
I was wrong.
I’m glad I didn’t give up. I’m glad I believed, despite the mountain of depression and anxiety resting on me more heavily each day, that things would get better. I believed hard work, perseverance, and bravery would all amount to something. I worked on my self-talk and reminded myself that not all roads are straight. Not all successful journeys are without pain, loss, or risk.
Today I don’t have to pretend to be someone else, or minimize my personality to make my co-workers more comfortable. I don’t have to bottle up my thoughts, ideas, or feelings because I know they’ll be respected, even if we were to disagree on something. I can be enthusiastic and nerdy about what I’m passionate about, and be accepted (if not encouraged to be even nerdier).
I can’t understate how amazing it is to feel seen and supported every single day. I went without that for so long, and some days the old me whispers that I’m unworthy of this joy and peace or that it won’t last. But, like former positions, I’m letting go of those thoughts and memories that are no longer serving me. I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, doing what makes me happy, alongside the best people around.
Are you searching for your next role?
If you find yourself looking for a role that’s better, just know that it’s out there. Know that it can take time, and may involve some frustrating detours on the route. Detours are just learning experiences in the journey. And time is an excellent space in which to keep applying, developing skills, practicing talents, and improving your self-talk.
Also, stick to your values and protect your individuality. Don’t sacrifice your happiness, potential, or personality to run someone else’s machine that doesn’t serve you. You’ll find the job (or it’ll find you). It’s out there.