Everyone likes to get reliable answers from a trustworthy expert, right? Stoneridge Software is the expert that other organizations call when they need help tackling their most complex business systems. But what does it take these days to be an expert in a world that’s constantly changing—and to cultivate trust in that expertise? According to Stoneridge, it takes a love of technology, more than 200 Microsoft Certifications, and a company-wide commitment to learning.
The ever-curious team at Microsoft Learn wanted to find out more about what learning, training, and certification mean to Stoneridge Software and how these contribute to the company’s success. We talked to Principal Developer and Team Lead Nicole Gentz and her colleague, Team Manager Jessica Dunlap, and asked them about the company’s learning culture and how the experts at Stoneridge got so many Microsoft Certifications.
Staying Gold means staying on top of change
Stoneridge is a Microsoft Gold partner and an expert in Microsoft Dynamics 365—a suite of cloud-based products that bring together customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) functions for large and small organizations. It’s the software that companies need to run their mission-critical systems, including sales, finance, operations, service, human resources, and more.
“In tech especially, you're only as good as what you keep up with,” Dunlap points out. “In order for us to be the best in the industry, we have to make sure we're allowing people to invest in themselves.”
Stoneridge was founded in 2012 by former Microsoft employees who proudly call themselves “technology nerds.” It’s even on the Stoneridge website! Even longtime employees like Gentz invest in training classes. She has been with the company since its earliest days and has more than 20 years of ERP experience. “You can’t be stagnant,” she notes. “You have to constantly keep up and grow.”
Today she and Dunlap lead teams of expert consultants, solution architects, and developers who maintain their technology nerd status in a variety of ways—instructor-led programs taught by Microsoft Learning Partners, self-paced online courses, in-house lunch-and-learn events, monthly get-togethers, and tactical internet browsing.
That investment has helped Stoneridge grow into an award-winning global business that employs more than 200 people and provides guidance for a long client list that represents manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and other industries.
Certifications drive a culture that drives the certifications
To maintain Gold partner status, an organization needs to employ a certain number of employees who have current Microsoft Certifications. That’s another reason why Stoneridge promotes a culture of learning where employees are rewarded for achieving those certifications.
“It's a big reason why we want our employees to be certified,” explains Dunlap, “but at the same time, we realize how important it is to have the knowledge and skill set to support the type of clients we have asking for our services."
Gentz agrees, adding, “It says a lot to our clients to know, ‘Hey, these guys say they know what they’re doing!’ Certification is an extra layer.” Gentz has personally accumulated an impressive number of Microsoft Certifications in Dynamics 365 during her time at Stoneridge. “I worked in ERP for years, but the certifications helped me ensure that I knew what I knew.”
Gentz’s team supports enterprises that use Dynamics 365 Finance and other products in the suite that meet the needs of Stoneridge’s largest clients. Dunlap’s team works with small-to-medium-sized organizations with implementations of all Dynamics products, including Dynamics 365 Business Central and earlier versions of Dynamics. “Our training programs help us keep up with all the changes,” Dunlap notes. “It’s been great having the experts to show us what’s new.”
Regardless of the size of the client, the Stoneridge teams take their training seriously. This year, the company set a goal to achieve 60 new certifications by the end of the year. “We’re more than halfway there already,” Dunlap reports.
The training and certification process typically starts with a simple request, such as, “Hey, Jessica, I’d really like to get certified.” And she says, “OK! When?”
Even Stoneridge developers who’ve been at it for decades work toward Microsoft Certifications in their areas of interest. “I have guys on my team who worked at Microsoft for 25 years,” Gentz notes. “They still want to make sure their skills are up to par. The exams test you on another level.”
Gentz and Dunlap agree. When it comes to gaining the skills and knowledge for the associate and expert certifications, there’s no substitute for real-world experience. And that day-to-day, hands-on work with the technology augments the more structured training in the classroom. The result is good for Stoneridge clients, because as Gentz explains, “You really need to have a deep understanding of the products.”
According to Dunlap, “The timing of these courses was great for us, since we just rolled out our five-year vision.” The company’s focus is Dynamics 365, but it recognizes the value of Microsoft Power Platform and the growing trend of low-code and no-code projects. As noted in Microsoft named a Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and BI Platforms on the Microsoft Power BI Blog, 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using Microsoft Power Platform. Its popular approach to app making is creating a new category of users called “citizen developers.” Other developers also appreciate how quickly they can build apps using Microsoft Power Platform tools. For Stoneridge, that means added value for their Dynamics 365 clients.
However, even the most enthusiastic learners at Stoneridge have a busy client schedule. “Developers always think they’re too busy,” Dunlap laughs. However, every developer sets certification goals, and the team managers give them the time they need. It’s a key part of the company’s core values.
Dunlap’s strategy for her busy team is to find downtime between client engagements. “Before the next project starts, I like to give my team members a change of pace, a week to wind down and invest in some learning and development.” Even in a small project that might take only half a day of client work, “I tell them to spend the other half of your day investing in yourself. Study for an exam. Write a blog.”
Not only does the company maintain a budget for its learning culture, but also it encourages team members to share what they know. Team members write blog posts with practical tips from their Dynamics 365 client engagements. Internal experts lead “confabs” where they talk about the latest industry trends.
“Last week they talked about data lakes,” Dunlap recalls. “It was really interesting, and they put it in a way that people who aren’t technical can understand. It’s super important that we're not only investing in ourselves, but we share all the info we can to let others know, hey, this is great stuff!”
Expertise builds trust
Like any smart business, Stoneridge Software knows that fostering customer trust creates return engagements. Each individual Microsoft Certification is a building block toward creating that trust, and each team member’s commitment to training helps the company uphold its proud technology nerd status.
“Customers come to us for advice, asking, ‘How should I design my system?’” Gentz explains. “They come to us for expert knowledge. They come to us with big, long-term plans, and we have to be able to provide that. When we do, we gain their trust. And then they come back years later because of that trust.”