I thought I’d write this post to explain what a Microsoft Valuable Professional (MVP) is and how a person can become one. The description from the Microsoft web site is:
“MVPs make exceptional contributions to technical communities, sharing their passion, knowledge, and know-how. Meanwhile, because MVPs hear the opinions and needs of many others in the technical community, they are well-placed to share highly focused feedback with Microsoft.
MVPs are independent experts who are offered a close connection with people at Microsoft. To acknowledge MVPs’ leadership and provide a platform to help support their efforts, Microsoft often gives MVPs early access to Microsoft products, as well as the opportunity to pass on their highly targeted feedback and recommendations about product design, development, and support”.
To put it simply, Microsoft awards MVP status to people who are experts and who share their expertise. There are no exams. You are evaluated by Microsoft staff. An MVP will usually have some expertise on a specific product or set of products. For example, I have been a Configuration Manager MVP and I am currently a Virtual Machine MVP. The expertises span the breadth of Microsoft products, e.g. XBox to .NET to Active Directory. The directory gives you a good idea of what expertises are covered.
MVP’s come from around the world. There are around 4,000 of us globally, including 90 or so expertises and 40 languages. There are around 11 or 12 of us in Ireland.
The word independent is important when it comes to describing an MVP. We certainly are not shills. One Microsoft executive once described an MVP as a person who makes a statement of opinion to Microsoft and sticks a question mark on the end. Very often, we’re quite critical, trying to get the most out of the product. Dealing with MS employees, I feel very safe in saying that they genuinely want the same thing. I guess you could see us as being intermediaries; we often convey MS’s message to our audiences and we provide the feedback directly into the product groups in Microsoft.
It’s hard to describe how to become an MVP. It’s not like deciding to become an MCSE. You cannot sit down and say “I will be an MVP by June 2010”. It helps if you are an expert on some particular subject related to Microsoft products. You then have to share that expertise. That can come in many forms:
- Providing feedback during beta and release candidates
- Helping people on Microsoft and 3rd party forums
- Writing documentation
- Developing free solutions
- Running a user group
- Public speaking
Those last two really help. I think they were the difference to me originally becoming an MVP. I started the Windows User Group and I’ve done a good deal of speaking. Obviously it helps to write, blog and speak about your expertise. Paid work such as consulting doesn’t really count. This is about community and sharing.
You then need to be nominated either by an MVP or a Microsoft employee. Quite often your first awareness that you’ve been nominated is when a local MVP lead will then contact you to start the process. This varies depending on the region. It basically comes down to documenting your last year of activity that qualifies as participating in the community. This documentation is used to evaluate you. You either get the status or you don’t.
The awards are granted every 3 months, January 1st, April 1st, July 1st and October 1st. Your MVP status normally lasts for 1 year. Within your last 3 months you will be contacted again by the MVP lead and go through the documentation process again so Microsoft can re-evaluate you. My experience was that I was more tense when I was re-evaluated than when I was originally evaluated.
Why would you want to become an MVP? It doesn’t add points to your company’s partner status. Most people have no idea what MVP means so it’s not much good on your CV or resume. I sometimes wonder if people mistake it for a MCP!
When you become an MVP you are being recognised for your work. That’s pretty cool. But the real perks are things like:
- You gain access to the product group for your expertise. This means you have a way to ask questions, provide feedback, represent your neighbours, etc.
- You get NDA access to some information when the product group is in a position to share it. This is subject to a contract and is taken very seriously.
- You get great networking opportunities. Thanks to this program I’ve gotten to know MVP’s on failover clustering, Configuration Manager, etc, etc, as well as the cool folks in Virtual Machine. The folks I’ve met at the likes of conferences or the UK/Ireland get together have been really cool. It’s a great network and the answer to a question is often just an email away. I love how everyone is willing to help out, something that is often too rare in our business where too many people are secretive.
- You learn loads. Sometimes the information cannot be shared (for a while) but you will get better at your chosen path.
- Oh I nearly forgot: last year we also got a lead crystal trophy that you can defend your house with against intruders 🙂
The best of all the perks is the MVP Summit. This is a conference where all of the MVP’s are invited to get together over in Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond. After the obligatory firmware upgrade (kidding!), we get to interact with each other and members of the product groups in person. It’s an interesting opportunity. The product groups often brief the MVP’s on and demonstrate new technology that is still in the works. MVP’s learn lots and are able to prepare for when they can talk in public about it. Microsoft also gets feedback from independent people who are using these technologies, possibly in ways they didn’t anticipate. This is my second year as an MVP and the trip this year will be my first one.
Being an MVP has been fun. I’ve met and interacted with lots of cool and very intelligent people. I’ve gained personally by learning more and by getting exposure. And it’s probably fair to say that my employers gained too because I come away from different events knowing more and feeling excited about the stuff I work with. In fact, very often the sales people at work call me saying “I just met XYZ and they say they know you” but I don’t know them!
If this is something you are interested in then do the work. Learn something and share that knowledge. It can take years. It’ll boost your career and help others. Eventually you will have the body of work and get recognised. When that certificate comes in the post you’ll feel like I did … a million bucks! You’ll be a part of a small, invite-only club, with elite people from around the world.
Did I mention the secret handshake yet?