Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals Are More Than Experts
This year’s Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Summit in Redmond, Washington was an excellent event that showcased over 50 technical sessions and brought together many influential people from around the World.
I’ve had the honor of being successfully nominated as a Microsoft MVP for seven years running, and I was eager to participate in this year’s event.
I’m also excited to share some of the highlights from the event with you because I believe in the MVP program and what we’ve accomplished as professionals in such a dynamic and deep industry over the years, and I wanted to give aspiring MVPs and the community some insight into the program.
So who are these Microsoft MVP’s anyway?
Microsoft defines the Most Valuable Professional Award as:
The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award is an annual award given to outstanding members of Microsoft's technical communities based on contributions made during the previous 12 months to offline and online Microsoft-related technical communities.
The nomination process is open to everyone over the age of 18, and it is useful to look at the information that Microsoft collects on the MVP application form here (You will need to login to access the form).
For the most part, the process to award MVP designation to applicants is not accessible to the public, however, I can share with you a few key elements that all MVPs get evaluated on.
An MVP is considered to be a subject matter expert in a Microsoft technology that they get nominated in.
A subject matter expert is a user of Microsoft technology that can have their expertise demonstrated through Microsoft certification (e.g., MCSE, MCP, MCSD), teaching courses or publishing content on how to use Microsoft technologies in the real world.
Recently, Microsoft has introduced newer classifications that allow MVPs to be recognized under a more broad scope of skills, however, the classifications remain specific to designation as there are still some very specific designations, e.g., Microsoft Project.
Microsoft has outlined some of their new classifications here, and how some of the designations have been consolidated into broader categories. Overall, the consolidation of roles makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t fit your broader skill set.
Social engagement matters to MVPs
One of the driving reasons for the MVP program is to recognize visible members in the community who participate in sharing knowledge about Microsoft products. The goal is to ensure that the ecosystem of Microsoft products is supported by an engaged and active user base that works collaboratively to deliver professional solutions.
This doesn’t mean you have to restrict your contributions to only a specific technology, but it does help identify where you would best fit during the nomination process.
Sharing of knowledge can come in many forms:
- Running user groups
- Social Media
- Public speaking
- Creating tools
- Participating in technology forums
- and many others
The nomination comes from inside Microsoft another MVP or yourself!
If you have completed one (or more) Microsoft Certifications, worked directly implementing your expertise into real-world solutions, or are an an active member of the community, then likely someone inside Microsoft or another MVP will put your name forward.
- Everyone who is nominated receives an email notice that his or her name has been put forward.
- If your nomination is successful you will receive a follow-up email that contains the onboarding instructions for the program.
Note. This sometimes doesn’t happen the first time. In the event that you don’t get accepted right away, I recommend that you don’t get discouraged and keep doing what you’ve been doing. I was nominated three times before I was finally accepted.
Generally speaking, technologies that have been around longer are the most competitive programs because you are competing against an established roster of MVPs who may be very active.
If you have decided to specialize in a new technology, then do so because it aligns with your professional goals not because you think it affords you a marketing advantage. I would strongly discourage aspiring MVPs from approaching the program this way.
Your MVP designation should be about your passion and not just an achievement.
If you’re an active member of the community, and you consistently produce quality content, then you will make it!
Tip. A great way to get feedback is to engage with MVPs in the designation you are interested in, and look up the MVP lead for your region as they may be able to help mentor you.
Why the MVP designation matters
At this point you might be wondering, what’s the big deal about the program? Does the significant time and effort required to qualify for a nomination provide a return on your investment?
The benefits of a MVP designation
If you ask me, the most important benefit is the recognition amongst fellow MVPs in my specialization and direct contact with the product group for my MVP specialization in Microsoft technology. I can turn to fellow MVPs to provide thoughtful, razor sharp feedback and support about problems and issues that emerge in my own environments.
High up on the list of benefits is access to the yearly MVP summit. This is where MVPs from around the World get to meet face-to-face and forge lasting relationships throughout their industries with fellow MVPs and employees at Microsoft. Microsoft takes care of a significant portion of the cost to attend, and, if that weren’t enough, they schedule an extensive array of technical sessions where Microsoft Product Managers and Developers showcase new developments and solicit feedback from the MVP community.
Beyond the yearly summit, my MVP status gives me access to the Product Managers and Product Team for my designated technology throughout the year. I’m able to provide the product team with valuable data and insight such as use cases not considered by the product team or errors that that cause significant pain to customers. This in turn helps improve the product design and helps prioritize issues inside the development team.
Another useful benefit of the MVP Award is a MSDN membership, which gives you access to software, Office 365 subscription and Azure credits so you can explore the Microsoft cloud.
There are some free support tickets to assist you if you really get stuck using Microsoft products in your lab environment and access to training materials found through Yammer, Pluralsight subscriptions and other channels.
Some vendors even offer free software or NFR licenses to MVPs which helps expand your understanding of the Microsoft ecosystem by exploring some third-party enhancements. If you do some research sometimes it is surprising what you have access to.
What has made the program even more valuable has been the additional mailing lists with related technologies and product group meetings.
There is a new trend towards openness (a relatively new phenomenon) within Microsoft, which I believe gives the program far more value than when I started many moons ago. The world at Microsoft has changed. There is more focus on customer feedback to drive design decisions.
I’ve also found it easier to reach outside of my designation and talk to product groups outside of my designation. Like many of you reading this, many MVPs consult on more than one Microsoft technology, as such, Microsoft’s commitment to openness more closely mirrors our daily experiences with customers and user groups.
One final benefit of the MVP program is that we are some of the first non-Microsoft professionals that are brought up to speed on the latest developments and technologies at Microsoft. This is often covered by a strict non-disclosure agreement, but I find that there is still value because I get quality information and the opportunity to give early feedback before these technologies are introduced to the public.
More About This Year’s MVP Summit
The MVP Summit is exclusive to current MVPs and Microsoft pays for your accommodation if you split your room with another MVP or subsidizes your room if you prefer a private room. The conference is free and meals are provided along with networking events. This is the time of year where MVPs get to meet with members of the product groups and some of the senior executives at Microsoft.
This year’s MVP summit takes the openness to a new level where the freedom given to choose which sessions you attend has opened up significantly. I believe this is more valuable because I can pick sessions outside my expertise, and even sit in on developer sessions where my specific MVP designation may not suggest my interest/experience in that technology.
The best thing I have seen overall is the shift in Microsoft to be more customer focused and really listen to feedback.
Even having earned the status of MVP, I had the opinion that some of the product groups were like a “brick wall” when submitting feedback. Having said that, it appears that the culture within Microsoft has begun to embrace openness and that has been exciting to watch as the organization takes on more aggressive product development cycles, and a willingness to listen and evaluate feedback from the industry.
The networking that happened this year was something I enjoyed very much, especially when you run into various MVPs from different backgrounds and regions. Everyone that I talked to was more than happy to entertain questions and share their insights on technologies and trends.
I had two main goals this year at the Summit. One, was to get feedback about Microsoft’s efforts in the cloud and, two, deepen my understanding about how Microsoft’s focus on all things “cloud” impacts my line of work and the future direction for my career.
The take home message when it comes to becoming a successful Microsoft MVP is to never stop learning and changing who you are. Especially with more emphasis on cloud technologies and agile development methodologies, you see products updating once a month or in some cases, even faster.
It is a new world almost everyday, and I find it exciting.
If you are passionate about technology and like sharing knowledge, then I recommend that you consider the route of becoming a Microsoft MVP!
Share your experiences about becoming a Microsoft MVP in the comments below.