Graham’s Journey as a Microsoft Solutions Architect at OIVAN

Our Microsoft Solutions Architect, Graham, invites you on an exciting journey through technology, travel, and personal growth. In this blog post, Graham shares his story of navigating from the UK to various corners of the globe, blending his passion for adventure with his expertise in Microsoft solutions.

Can you share your personal and professional background? What led you to OIVAN?

I hail from the UK, but my early years were shaped by a diverse international experience, including living in Nigeria for three years with my family. Despite returning to Yorkshire, I always anticipated moving abroad again. My father’s career took him to various countries, including Nigeria, Lebanon, France, Hong Kong, and a decade in Russia. Following this inspiration, I seized my opportunity to work overseas in 2007, accepting a job offer from Microsoft in Muscat, Oman. This marked the beginning of my international career journey.

Over the years, I have lived and worked in several countries: four years in Oman, three years in Phuket, Thailand—where I also worked as a scuba instructor and met my wife—seven years in Cape Town, South Africa, and most recently, three years in Saudi Arabia.
My initial position in Saudi Arabia was shorter than anticipated, prompting me to seek new opportunities proactively. That made me introduce myself to OIVAN. Although there was no immediate role available, my persistence paid off when, a few months later, OIVAN invited me to interview for a position involving Microsoft technologies. I am pleased to say that this led to my current role with the company.

What initially drew you to specialize in Microsoft solutions? Could you describe your role as a Microsoft Solutions Architect at OIVAN? What are some of the primary responsibilities?

I began my career as a computer trainer, teaching users how to navigate Windows 3.0/3.1/3.11 and Microsoft Office 4.2, including PowerPoint 4.0, Word 6.0, Excel 4.0, Access 2.0, Lotus 123, and Lotus SmartSuite. This entry into the IT world eventually led me to specialize in Microsoft Windows Server, server products, and networking. I earned three Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) qualifications to advance my career, which paved the way for my transition into Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Azure.

At OIVAN, my role as a Microsoft Solutions Architect is diverse and engaging. My responsibilities primarily involve securing Microsoft environments, whether on-premises with Active Directory and Exchange Server or in the cloud with Microsoft 365 and Azure. This entails analyzing these environments against a set of security controls and providing recommendations for remediation of any identified issues. Much of my work has focused on implementing the Microsoft 365 Zero Trust model to enhance security.

Could you describe a recent project in which you implemented Microsoft technologies? What were the challenges and outcomes?

The most recent project I worked on was a Microsoft 365 Zero Trust assessment. This assessment led to subsequent engagements to remediate the identified issues and an invitation to take on a higher-level role as a contract Enterprise Architect. This new role presented several intriguing challenges, such as integrating Microsoft products with other enterprise applications, technically managing the deployment of Microsoft 365 E5 (the most comprehensive M365 license), and providing strategic advice on deploying other products within the enterprise environment.

Being onsite most of the time, I regularly interface with high-level IT business representatives, including the CIO and CISO. This close interaction has enabled me to identify additional projects and opportunities for OIVAN, leading to more work that currently engages four other OIVAN team members.

How do you stay updated with the constantly evolving Microsoft technologies, and how do you ensure these updates are effectively integrated into OIVAN’s operations?

Staying current with new technologies is considerably more accessible than it used to be. When I prepared for my first MCSE, I had to bring a computer home from work, set it up in my living room, and study from a book. Nowadays, the process is much more streamlined.

My preferred method for staying updated is to choose specific exams, primarily Microsoft exams, and aim to pass them. This approach forces me to cover topics I might not otherwise explore, ensuring I learn new and relevant information. Additionally, I am a fan of Udemy and often invest in courses to enhance my skills. I believe in taking proactive steps to further my education, rather than waiting for external help.

Integrating these skills into OIVAN operations has contributed to diversifying OIVAN’s offerings by bringing in expertise that was previously lacking. As one of the few Microsoft specialists at OIVAN, I enjoy my unique perspective and the opportunity to contribute to the company’s growth in this area.

What are your hobbies or personal interests outside of work, and do they influence your professional life in any way?

I would like to say skydiving, but I don’t have many chances. Saudi Arabia isn’t the most exciting place on earth, so I have to entertain myself by pretending I go to the gym and sometimes play volleyball and paddle with the KCC gang. My pastimes can be broken down into three periods: I played rugby for 20 years, I scuba dived for around 12 years, then I took up skydiving, which eventually took over. I’ve done over 900 jumps, but opportunities to jump are limited in KSA; I hope that will change.

My other pastime is self-learning, which is how I got to where I am. I had to decide on my career a few years ago, so I completed a series of Microsoft exams to prove my expertise. This period of intense study directly led to my current role at OIVAN.

OIVAN for you in one sentence?

Friendly, skilled, and helpful colleagues who I’m happy to socialize with out of work, too.

“I am genuinely happy that I found OIVAN and OIVAN found me”.

Join our multicultural team.

Are you interested in joining us? Check out our open positions below. We also accept open applications. Just send us an open application, and we will get back to you.