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 »

6 Responses to “The MVP Program–My Experience”

  1. rAj Says:

    There are many who have negative views about MVP program. Plenty of such views are from former MVPs. Surely they cannot be ignored.

  2. arcanecode Says:

    rAj, I couldn’t agree more. I’m hoping that many current MVPs will help me take these issues to the summit and see if we can get them addressed.

    I felt it was important though, that in addition to the negative posts referenced here, people got to see there are many positive things too with the MVP program.

  3. bertrandaaron Says:

    Just to clarify, the costs Onuara talked about were slightly wrong. Yes, you have to get to Seattle yourself. But Microsoft will pay your hotel for you, if you can stand to have a roommate (or a roommate can stand to have you). If you can’t have a roommate, they will still cover half. It’s too bad that he didn’t find the Summit worth investigating, but it’s his own fault – he admitted he didn’t even know what the Summit was. Maybe he should have asked some fellow MVPs who had been there before he decided it wasn’t worth it.

  4. bertrandaaron Says:

    rAj, I think you will find that the number of MVPs and former MVPs who *don’t* have negative views about the program outnumber those who do by at least 100:1. You’re always going to find people who don’t get enough out of the program to make it worthwhile for them, but that doesn’t make the program bad. I think there are definitely some indications that certain programs (or maybe even certain leads) are not up to snuff. But again that does not mean that the MVP program is worthless. The rest of us will continue to enjoy the program, getting as much or more out of it than we put in, and I can confidently tell you that even when there comes a day when I am no longer involved with the program, I will still have plenty of positive things to say about it. As with anything, there are always going to be little issues, and each individual can choose to overlook those in favor of the whole, or turn them into bigger issues. These two bloggers Rob pointed out chose to do the latter. Nothing anyone can do about that. I’m still finding it hard to determine the truth:spin ratio in those two posts. YMMV.

  5. way0utwest Says:

    Good post, Robert.

    I’ve found the MVP program to be what I make of it. I can ignore it, and get nothing out of it other than the token gifts, or I can interact and gain something from it.

  6. Steef-Jan Wiggers Says:

    I have read your story and the other less positive stories. As BizTalk MVP I can relate more to your experience/story than the others you mention. Before I was awarded I loved doing integration work, shared my knowledge with community and I still do that. And yes with MVP you have so more benefits, ability to interact directly with Microsoft (Summit) and more oppertunities. I for instance am writing a book, so I can share my knowlegde that way too. So good post.


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