As part of our new series Office Insider Spotlight, we will be introducing you to MVPs, creators, and tech leaders who love the Office Insider program. Office Insiders, meet Robert Sparnaaij!
You might know this MVP as Roady in the Microsoft forums. Robert Sparnaaij works for one of the largest logistics companies in Germany and runs his own Microsoft-focused business. Plus, he found the time to co-author the book, Configuring Microsoft Outlook 2003.
Sparnaaij has worked as an ICT Consultant and at an IT service desk and has been working professionally with Exchange and Outlook systems since 1999. He has a Bachelor of Engineering for Information Technology and Management, a graduate degree in Master of Science for ICT in Business.
Sparnaaij is passionate about helping people work efficiently with Outlook and related programs and systems daily.
Tell us about why you love the Office Insider program.
When supporting other people and writing a lot of documentation, it is good to stay ahead of the curve. The Office Insider program offers just that. It allows you to experience new features and other changes before they roll out to the masses. Therefore, any questions about them won’t take you by surprise (too much).
The Insider program also allows you to provide feedback at a development stage where changes and feedback can often still be implemented in a relatively easy way by the Product Team. My experiences with them have been quite good. They welcome the feedback and frequently explain why they made certain choices and how they see the feature develop.
What is something you’ve created because of the Office Insider program?
Screenshots of new features and many other changes 😉. As I write a lot of documentation, it is sometimes necessary to completely rework a guide every now and then. For instance, my “Where do I find…?” guide was used to help people find various everyday commands and settings for Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010 as there was quite a design change between these versions. With the release of the Simplified Ribbon in Outlook for Microsoft 365, it was a great opportunity to completely rework it, and the Office Insider program was a great way to get a head start. Ironically, this guide doesn’t contain any actual screenshots, though.
Tell us about your journey in tech.
During my Bachelor of Engineering for IT and Management, I started working at the Dutch Consumer Organization, where I developed an interest in Outlook and Exchange and various other collaboration technologies.
Outlook issues were always interesting mysteries to solve; How technicians perceive the application and how users actually work with it was very different. Correctly understanding the user’s working scenario is something I found very important and exciting. It also inspired me to find more users and use cases in NNTP newsgroups (which are nowadays forums like Answers) to learn more about Outlook.
I quickly found out that I was able to answer a lot of questions there and started to document some of my solutions. This was the start of HowTo-Outlook.com, and not much after that, I got recognized with the MVP award for the first time.
A few years later, I went to university to pursue a Master of Science degree in ICT in Business. Here I worked with a research company that did a lot of virtual collaboration. We’ve set up a data center-based network infrastructure and made it available to various other researchers. This practice is nowadays better known as Cloud-Based Computing.
I’m still doing that part-time while also working for one of the largest logistics companies in Germany. I mainly develop, maintain, and support Outlook, Exchange, Teams, and various other related Microsoft 365 applications and back-end services.
What aspects of technology inspire you the most?
Finding ways in which it can be used to make people more efficient or to achieve a certain goal they have in mind. And yes, just because something is new doesn’t automatically make it better, but just because something works now doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved or continued to be done like that. The trick is to find the correct technology for the specific working scenario. It is important to know about the “new and shiny” and know when to go for something more “proven.”
What is one word that best describes how you work?
Methodical. When working with complex or new scenarios, you can quickly become overwhelmed and get yourself stuck before you’ve even started. Once you’ve determined your starting point and goal, I find it helpful to split up everything into parts so small that they become actionable. At that point, you can get started with what you already know. From there, filling in the blanks becomes much more natural.
Which superhero character do connect with in real life?
Link, from The Legend of Zelda. While not a traditional superhero, unless curiosity is his superpower, I find his approach often matches how I work. I begin as pretty much a blank slate, orientate myself, explore, and learn some skills. Then I get some tools, build upon that and ultimately help somebody with my experience.
What movies or books or other forms of art inspire you the most?
Basically, anybody who is really good at something or is making a serious attempt to be good inspires me. At that point, I don’t even actually have to like it. For example, a music style. But you can directly pick up on the artist’s passion, skill, and effort. That is what makes it great and makes me want to up my game as well.