The MVP Program–My Experience

Recently I saw two posts in which former participants writing about issues they perceived in the Microsoft MVP program. I’d like to take moment  to contrast their experience with mine, specifically commenting on posts made in the post by Onuora Amobi titled “My year as a Microsoft MVP and the 7 reasons Microsoft need to fix their MVP program”. I’ll then add a few thoughts about Rob Eisenberg’s post “How I Lost, Regained, and then Turned Down an MVP Award”.

Unfortunately, these gentleman had a bad experience with the MVP program. This is disappointing, as I truly believe the MVP program is great, based on my own experiences. Let me respond to the 7 points made in the first post, and contrast them with my experiences as a SQL Server MVP since 2008.

What’s the Point?

Mr. Amobi stated “The MVP program seemed rather pointless”. To me, the point was quite clear from the outset. The information and tools provided to me allowed me to further enhance my ability to be a conduit for the community. I had contacts to pass information to from the community, and vice versa.

Additionally the MSDN/TechNet subscriptions gave me the ability to further enhance my knowledge of Microsoft products. Just recently I’ve been practicing setting up a scale-out deployment of SSRS. No way I would have been able to have 3 different Windows Servers plus 3 SQL Server licenses without the benefit. I’m now going to be able to pass this information on to the community in the form of new presentations, blog posts, and the like.

Quality Control

Here the author echoed a point form the Rob Eisenberg’s post in which he met an MVP who had limited knowledge of Technology X, the subject of this MVPs award. However, this person had continually posted and retweeted information about Technology X.

A major consideration of the MVP Award is about reaching the community with information about Technology X. Getting information into the hands of people who use that technology. Microsoft judged that this person was doing an effective job of helping the community, and hence the award. Technical competence is certainly important, but it’s not the only criteria for getting an MVP award.

Lack of Communication

Mr. Amobi complains there were no opportunities to participate. Yet he passed up the main chance of the year to  communicate with the teams, the MVP Summit. For me the summit is the place I learn new things, give feed back to the teams, and learn things covered by my NDA. It’s where I learn what new technologies I should be focused on so I’ll be ready to help the community when they are released. Perhaps if he had attended he would have had the chance for the interaction that he desired.

Being an MVP also helped solidify relationships with other areas in Microsoft. The developer evangelist for our region, Glen Gordon, checks in with the MVPs in this area regularly. He often participates with us in events, or provides assistance for our Code Camps and SQL Saturdays.

NDA for what?

The author says that during his year he didn’t have any opportunities for calls or interactions with the teams, and hence no reason for his NDA. In addition to the summit, our SQL lead sends out weekly e-mails in which he lists upcoming conference calls / interactions with product teams, almost all of which are covered under NDA.

For him to get none of these notices is disappointing. Clearly someone dropped the ball. Our lead in the SQL group (who just moved to a new assignment) was very good about us getting this information. I hope Mr. Amobi didn’t wait for the end of his year to point this out. I’ve made it a point to make friends with as many of the Developer Evangelists, other MVPs (including those in other disciplines) and other MVP leads. This not only gives me multiple ways of reaching out, but more importantly has let me make some great friends.

Career Impact

Mr. Amobi didn’t see any benefit, career wise to being an MVP. For me it’s had a huge impact. Through my MVP award I was given the opportunity to participate in not one but two books. My current job at Pragmatic Works is also a direct result of being an MVP.

Arbitrary Renewals

The author first makes the assertion that his award wasn’t renewed because he was asking questions such as the ones in his post. I really can’t speak to that, but if it were the case many long time SQL MVPs wouldn’t be here anymore. As a rule most of us are pretty opinionated, and have no issues speaking out when we see problems with the program, or what Microsoft is doing in general.

That said, I have no inside information on the people who decide who gets an MVP award. Perhaps he’s right, and they did indeed drop him for the reasons he states.

He then makes a statement that I consider rather risky.

“I’ll put my Web or FaceBook or Google or Twitter or Technology stats up against any MVP and I guarantee that I represent the voice of thousands of Microsoft consumers way more than they do.”

I know MVPs who are “household” names in the SQL world.  I’m not doubting the reach of Mr. Amobi, clearly he has made significant contributions for which I applaud him. And in the consumer realm he may even be right. But in my opinion statements like the above degrade the conversation into a “mine is bigger than yours” contest.

Now let me speak to the arbitrariness of the award. In the other article I sited by Rob Eisenberg he complained the process of getting the award is a black box. He’s exactly right, it is. It’s a combination of achievements plus subjective judgment on the part of the Microsoft product teams.

That’s done for a very specific reason. If there were a set formula you would have people who would game the system, do things just to meet some minimum requirement in order to gain the perceived benefits of being an MVP. At that point it would cease to be an award and instead become another credential.

I much prefer the current system. I have a much greater confidence that the people who get the award are deserving people who are interested in helping the community, and not just trying to get the award as another notch on their career belt.

It’s clear that this is not an important program to Microsoft

Based on my experiences this could not be further from the truth. Just in money alone Microsoft has made a huge commitment to the program. But what really speaks to me is the involvement of he very highest level of Microsoft management. Had he attended the summit he would have seen Steve Ballmer himself addressing the crowd. When the CEO along with a slate of vice presidents takes time to address the audience it speaks volumes about Microsoft’s commitment.

True, as an MVP I had to pay part of the cost. Budgets are tight for everyone. I felt the program was so important though I paid for two of the last three summits out of my own pocket. But it was an investment in me and my career. I made contacts and solidified relationships that are mutually beneficial for me and my fellow MVPs.

Another word or two…

I’d like to take just a moment to address a few points from Rob Eisenberg’s post. He was upset that his MVP lead apparently didn’t know enough about his accomplishments, and seemed insulted that he should have to fill out a spreadsheet detailing his activities.

I know our SQL MVP lead has to deal with at least 300 just in our discipline. I’m not sure the exact number, but there’s just no humanly way possible that even with a fantastic relationship they could be expected to know every single contribution a person makes to the community over the course of  year. I made it as positive an experience as I could. It was a great time to update my resume, to add my community involvement, book authoring, etc.

I would like to say Rob makes a point about open source, although I do see some shifting of Microsoft’s involvement with open source. They established the CodePlex site, and use it as a conduit for distributing the SQL Server sample databases. They are now giving support for jQuery, and most recently announced support for Hadoop. 

While I wish they could move a bit faster, they do have a very tricky legal tight rope to walk. Many licenses in the open source world require that should code be used from that project derivatives must also be open source. For a company who makes money selling software and guarding trade secrets, this is not the ideal situation.

There is one point I totally agree with Rob on though. The format of the spreadsheet was pretty lame. 

The mystical MVP program

It saddens me that the two gentleman had such negative experiences. I wish a better job could have been done to keep talented people like these in the program. I am glad though they continue to be supportive of the community.

As for me, becoming an MVP was one of the highlights of my life, both personally and professionally. It opened doors for me, giving me a chance to fulfill a dream of becoming an author. It opened the door to become an employee of one of the most prestigious BI consulting firms in the world.

Most importantly, it has allowed me to make friends with some of the top professionals in not just the SQL community, but other disciplines such as .Net and SharePoint. The level of excellence these people have make me strive even harder to stay on top of my game.

For me, my MVP experience has been nothing but positive, and I will continue to serve as long as I can. 

Posted in Microsoft, MVP. Tags: , . 6 Comments »

Arcane 2011 Year in Review

Seems most folks I know are doing “Year in Review” posts for their blogs. Not wanting to miss a chance to do a blatant rip-off I thought I’d jump on the band wagon.

My MVP Award was renewed for 2011. This award is something I’m both proud and humbled to receive, especially in the SQL community. MVPs in general are a very helpful, friendly bunch, and the SQL especially so. I really like the new #SQLFamily hashtag that’s being used on Twitter. Aside from my family, I think becoming an MVP is the thing I’m most proud of in my life.

I was quite happy when my second co-authored book, SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Vol II came out. All proceeds went to charity, it felt great to help out both the children in Operation Smile and the SQL community.

I’ve continued my public speaking, being allowed to present at places such as the New York City Code Camp, SQL Rally in Orlando, and one of my favorites CodeStock.

I produced quite a bit of new training content for Pluralsight, to positive reviews. I’m glad this relationship is continuing, teaching is the best way to learn new things and I’ve learned a great deal, and hopefully helped a few others.

The most exciting news of my year though was going to work for Pragmatic Works! You could have knocked me over with a feather when, at the MVP Summit last year, Brian Knight (I should say THE Brian Knight) looks at me and says “So, you looking for a job?” When someone of Brian’s caliber asks if you want a job, you don’t say no.

Coming to work at Pragmatic Works was a great career move for me. We currently have five (yes, FIVE) MVPs working here. That’s a huge percentage considering the size of our company. And there’s quite a few of our guys that are working hard in the community, and I see an MVP award in their future. 

In addition to the regular consulting you might expect I’ve also gotten to do a lot of training. I love doing training, its so gratifying to share knowledge, guide students, see that look of “ah-ha” on their faces when it all clicks for them. I think that has been my favorite part of the job so far.

As a company Pragmatic Works is doing very well, entering into several new, exciting partnerships. Plus, they keep increasing our benefits! In a time when other companies are cutting costs, they have given us three new benefits!

With this level of technical expertise, it keeps me challenged. It also inspires me toward even more professional achievements.

On the home front, I now have a teenager living in my home. My sweet little baby girl turned 13 this year! Holy cow, how did that happen? I mean, last time I checked I was only 17 myself. And her sister is not far behind.

They had a great year, we home school and they got involved in a science program at Auburn University where they learn scientific techniques. They did some forensic investigations, and are now learning how to do proper experiments, clearly defining the various steps. They get all this brain power from their teacher / mother, my wife is the real brains in the family.

They also took up new extra curricular activities. My youngest, Anna, learned to ice skate and even did her first skating show just before Christmas. My older daughter, Raven, now plays the guitar and has given her first recital. My home office is under her bedroom, and I often get to enjoy the sounds of her practicing over my head.

And of course, last but not least, I have to give a special shout out to my lovely wife of 15 years, Ammie. She has been very supportive of my career, even though with the new work related travel it has meant more work for her. I know I’m very lucky to have a wife this supportive. Thanks sweetheart!

With that, another year bites the dust. 2012 is shaping up to be an exciting year. Assuming of course the world doesn’t end. But if it did, I suppose that would be exciting too, so either way it’s a win, excitement wise.

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