A Canadian in Redmond

Debra Dalgleish just can’t help herself from helping others.

For hours each month, the Mississauga, Ont.-based independent IT consultant sits at her desk, monitoring a Microsoft support site and answering user questions about one of its most popular programs, Excel. Hundreds of helpful hints later, a Microsoft executive noticed her contributions, and promptly named Dalgleish to the company’s most valuable professionals (MVP) program.

As a result, Dalgleish was one of 37 Canadians who recently flew to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., where she enjoyed meetings with chief software architect Bill Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer and developer division head Eric Rudder.

Dalgleish logged off of the newsgroup for a few minutes to talk with ITBusiness.ca about her Excel expertise, the most common questions, and what Bill Gates is really like.

ITBusiness.ca: How did you become an MVP?

Debra Dalgleish: I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon the newsgroups. Whether I was looking for an answer. You see people’s questions and you figure you can answer a couple of them. After doing that for about nine months I guess, I got an e-mail from Microsoft saying, “”Congratulations!”” (laughs).

ITB: Can you give an example of what kinds of questions they were asking you?

DD: Well, I visit the Excel newsgroup, and people just pose questions if they’re stuck on Excel. So it can be something very simple — a new user can be stuck trying to do a simple formula, or it can be someone who’s trying to do some complex programming and needs a push somewhere.

ITB: Were any of the problems consistent?

DD: There are some that you see repeatedly, but there was a real wide variety of questions being asked. You see a lot of people who — I’m trying to think of some common questions — wonder if they can have more columns in a workbook. I keep seeing this or that error. You just patiently answer those as though you’ve never heard that one before.

ITB: What was your Redmond experience like?

DD: They had a full day of executives. We spent the first full day with people from the Excel development team, which was quite interesting. It was a rare privilege for people working with Excel. Then they had a day of technical breakout sessions where you can pick from a menu and go wherever your interest led you.

ITB: What were the most important things you learned from the experience?

DD: Most of it was covered under NDA, so we can’t say too much, but they gave us some idea of where the products are headed, and gave us a chance especially with the Excel developers to really hash through som

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