top of page
Neon Smoke

MVP Diaries - Mike Hartley

Role-modelling honesty and vulnerability is no easy feat. We all live in a digital era where our polished versions can seem daunting. One of the things I always say about MVPs; they are as human and flawed as anyone else. We just happen to share our journey more publicly.

This next guest is no stranger to sharing their journey. You may have heard of Hart of the Midlands, or just attended one of his sessions on Accessibility. Let's give a warm welcome to Mike Hartley!I met Mike properly for the first time at Scottish Summit 2022. It was during the Accessibility Hackathon hosted by the usual suspects of Chris Huntingford and Will Dorrington. He was one of the judges alongside Dona Sarkar.

The way he spoke about Accessibility and Mental Health was so honest and moving. It sparked a passion in me about becoming a proper champion. This is Mike's viral impact. He inspires others.

Say Hello to Mike Hartley

Let's hear it straight from the source, what makes Mike...Mike!

" Passionate about people - Community, Accessibility, Diversity, Inclusion and more... all the while tackling personal mental health including social anxiety and depression. Been in IT for more than 30 years doing every job imaginable along the way."

You can keep up with Mike through here. Let’s see what made his tech journey so unique.

Origins: How did you discover your passion for technology and what was your first project?

I was always that awkward kid. No good at PE, not good with people, and socially awkward. Thus, when I met the Vic 20 and BBC Model B computers (and others of that era), I found my great escape. Fast forward, and I did pretty much every job around in IT from helpdesk to building, networking to sysadmin, developer to designer. At one job I got asked to configure a CRM system called Microsoft Dynamics 3.0. This was for a small startup doing wearables before Fitbit was a thing. I'd never heard of CRM, let alone use it. To make it more fun, we needed to customize it to store the wearable data and take a feed from the associated app. The day before we went live with it (on an internet-facing server, so cloud before cloud was a thing), we were told we were being upgraded to CRM 4. That night I needed to completely rework all I had built, so that we could go-live the next day. Yeah, not exactly the best QA and development processes. We went live on-time, with no bugs, and with the new platform. This meant I had also discovered a new thing I wanted to explore more and more... the rest is what has led me to today.

Award: What are some of the most rewarding or impactful experiences you have had during your time in the MVP program? How did they change the way you learn and interact with others?

I'm massively passionate about breaking down stigma around mental health. That means I need to put my own challenges out there so that people can see that you don't need to be strong, or brave, to be open about it.

We just need to have these conversations. As I got increasingly involved in the community, I got asked to head up the Accessibility track at Scottish Summit and that got me really focused on something that also impacts me (I have a degenerative spinal disorder).

As I pushed ahead with my advocacy and championing these issues within the community, I got awarded MVP. This has opened more doors to me to speak out and help others learn about what we need to think about. It has enabled me to connect with people globally, including teams at Microsoft, to drive things forward and raise issues.

When I stand on stage, virtually or physically, and talk about my mental health it allows me to encourage others further and to let more people know that "it's actually OK to be not OK".

Real talk: How do you balance work and personal life? Do you ever have to deal with imposter syndrome, and how?

Having had a breakdown in 2007, and a couple of blips since, I am massively protective of the balance between my own time and work time. I make it clear to employers that I will work my hours and will do extra when I screw up, when we have a go-live, or when there is a 5-alarm issue. But, that is the exception not the norm. Part of this is making sure I log off consistently each day. On Fridays, I shutdown my work gear, physically move it off my desk and out of sight in a drawer. This is something I champion with all the people I work with and strongly encourage within any team that I am a part of. It is a big part of keeping me balanced and in a good place. Imposter syndrome is something I have lived with my whole life, even if it didn't have a name when I was younger. When you combine that "who am I to be doing this" questioning with social anxiety and mental struggles, it can be a major challenge. When doing events I will have to push myself to leave the house as I get swamped in doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, and just a whole heap of negativity. I know I will enjoy myself. I know that I want to see people and give hugs (yes, I'm a hugger). But there's that almost crippling fear that makes it hard to take that step. Thankfully I have the most amazing wife who knows me and supports me. I also have a wide network of people within the community who know what I am dealing with and will look after me. They will tell me (very bluntly) if they see that I am pushing myself too far and need to step away from people to recharge. That recharge is one of the biggest lessons for me. Each day I need at least 30 minutes on my own to recharge and just allow myself to recover. When I do in-person events, I need at least one day afterwards to give me time to just reset and refresh away from people. I don't always get it right, but I'm learning every time that I push myself forward. I really couldn't do what I do without the army of people who support me.

Giving back: How do you support and uplift aspiring MVPs or Community members? How can we drive new perspectives, for example those with neurodiverse superpowers? Feel free to share your personal superpower stories.

I either try to find neurodiverse people who I can help, or people introduce us. Then, I will work with them through the tech stack, community involvement, events, etc., as well as introducing them to people to help them progress and get involved further. As a community, we have become more inclusive in the way we produce and run events. However, there is still a long way to go. It can often feel like inclusivity and accessibility are great as long as they don't require any additional effort. There can be a real challenge, especially with virtual events, to make them more accessible. I know that we, as a community, do this stuff in our own time. Nevertheless, we can grow and learn more by making our content accessible and inclusive.

Fun: If you had a WWE-style smackdown between 2 products, which ones would it be and why?

Clippy and Copilot. Would love to watch modern day Copilot deal with the whole "it looks like you're trying to cause the downfall of humanity, would you like help with that?"

Reflecting and learning with a smile:

Learning from each other brings us all closer. Here are my top five thoughts from what Mike has shared with us:

  • Speaking up about our struggles does not mean we have transcended our own problems

  • Accessibility is not a corporate nice-to-have but a public responsibility

  • Neurodiversity is a superpower, let's harness it!

  • It takes a village to uplift us, so we must find out tribe

  • Physical distance from work when doing breaks is quintessential

A massive thank you to Mike for joining the MVP Diaries series. Cannot wait to hear your thoughts and AHA moments which inspired you.

1 Comment

Hahaha Clippy and Copilot in one sentence! That make me laugh! It’s great that Mike addresses Mental Health, very important! I need to meet Mike one day 😊

bottom of page