MVP – Most Valuable Professional. Is it or isn’t it?

David Woods wrote a blog post earlier this week which he outlines his thoughts on the MVP Program(s) at Microsoft – specifically the lack of value he finds in it.

Here are some notes if you will on some types of questions I’ve witnessed or have sensed gone unasked over the years inside Microsoft.

Is the MVP Program useful?

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It is and isn’t. Its an important concept to have attached to a Product within any company, as the idea in itself is righteous. An MVP is someone who can influence others to explore a given product within Microsoft and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The MVP doesn’t have to be the worlds best expert at the said product, in fact a lot of MVP’s are far from that – they are however someone with whom makes an impact within the community.

Impact and influence is why the MVP Program is useful, now the problem with it today is that it’s not consistent in its approach and lastly there are quite a lot of “fanbois” in the program that can at times disarm the program’s true potential – as everyone may paint all with the same brush “bah, bunch of Microsoft yes men, who cares about them..”

MVP Program is broken because Product Teams never tell you anything.

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Yup, they often will keep you in the dark about the product’s next roadmaps and at times treat you as if you were just a TechEd/MIX attendee instead of an MVP. It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing to do with you as a group it has everything to do with the word momentum.

Inside Microsoft when you own a product, you have to fight to get a launch buzz going. You fight because every other team inside the company is pretty much either getting ready to ship or talking about what could potentially ship. You in turn have to fight your way to the top of the headline heap for tech buzz.

I state this as when you have to go through this, telling an MVP is somewhat harmful to your upcoming surprise party as all it takes is an MVP to give Mary Jo / Tim Anderson (Tech Journalists) a heads up and boom not only did the surprise party fall flat but you’ve also given your competitors for the said product a heads up on talking points.

Talking points are important for competitors to know ahead of time, as when the journalists etc. get the said product briefing they in turn look for quotes / sound bytes from the said competitor (just like a political campaign). It pays to be ready.

That’s at the core of why you are probably kept in the dark about products. You got an MVP nomination because you can influence, nobody actually said you’re the chosen one and that all state secrets within Microsoft will fall before you. You need to make peace with that and more importantly you also need to understand that even Microsoft staff don’t get as much information as you do, so that is the reality an MVP today probably needs to come to grips with.

Not true, for example XYZ product team tell me stuff all the time!

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Yeah, I don’t doubt that each product team has their own unique communication pattern with the said products MVP’s. It comes really back to your individual relationships with the said product team. It also comes back to the competitive threat levels attached to the Product(s) you evangelize.

An example is that in 2009 the MVP summit within Redmond, the Windows Mobile team kept their cards close to their chest and it this really pissed off the Mobile MVP’s. I remember at the time thinking “yeah, that’s not a fun team to be in right now” but to be fair, Windows Phone 7 needed to be kept locked down as much as it could be. It was a dangerous secret to let loose given its importance to the device market. Some knew, most didn’t and it was a deliberate decision.

At the same summit, we also wanted to keep features within Silverlight/Expression secret. I remember our team made a point of keeping everyone in the dark. Then Scott Guthrie got on stage and pretty much told everyone everything, so we then in turn went “well, he’s the executive in charge, I guess its out now” so we in turn reacted to this and started the communication pipelines again.

That same year, 3 MVP’s also leaked information around the products and as a result at the time of the summit journalists pickedup on the information and ran with some stories – again, partially deflating the momentum we worked months building behind the scenes for MIX?

I also in that same time fought to NOT have those three MVP’s banned from the program for the said leaks – despite the witch hunt within gunning for them. My rationale was simple, they are excited about the product why do we punish them? isn’t this what we are supposed to do ? Two MVP’s were warned one was banned (simply because he named Kittyhawk aka now as Visual Studio Lightswitch publicly).

Do MVP’s influence the features then?

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In my experience they do. It’s not always obvious but there is definitely influence from MVP’s in most Microsoft Products. The problem I see in this question is I think MVP’s want a direct “you created this xyz feature, well done guys” moment. In reality it can be a small tiny spark of an idea that an MVP threw out there into the void, the teams then digest the concept and come up with some ideas similar to it etc – next thing you know, you have functional specs written and maybe the next release or thereafter, the said spark mutates into a feature.

Point is, you’d be surprised at what influence occurs via the MVP program and how it translates into a feature, its just not always obvious.

Give me an example of MVP influence?

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One year, I had an MVP stay with me for a week in Redmond. He at the time didn’t’ feel as if he got much value out of the MVP summit and had a lot of questions regarding the future of ASP.NET and problems within. I figured, this guy is an MVP who is deserving (he’s good at what he does, he does a lot for the community and most of all he’s quite a humble person to know), so with that, I personally walked him around to as many people within Microsoft campus as I could at the time. We had meetings with the ASP.NET teams and he hung out with the devdiv product managers as well.

I remember one question he asked was “which should I talk about, WebForms or MVC?” and our typical response to that question was “It depends”. This wasn’t helpful for him, so we talked it out more and as a result I watched my team members at the time see first hand that “it depends” response, was bogus. They could see this guy in front of him giving them the raw data that basically WebForms and MVC adoption decisions were a confusing story.

It’s also worth pointing out that during his time with the ASP.NET team a few specs were written based off the chat and as a result I think he made impact beyond what he or I could really measure first hand?

This MVP now works for Microsoft and I think him seeing first hand the internal culture within Microsoft campus influenced not only his expectations of Microsoft but also is likely to have ripple effects for quite some time.

Nobody knew this happened, so my point stands – influence at times isn’t always as obvious and that’s why the MVP program is healthy, despite its many flaws.

Can you help me then to become an MVP?

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I’ve personally been asked a few times to become an MVP since leaving Microsoft and I’ve turned them down. I don’t think I’m better than the program etc, I just don’t think I add value as to me an MVP is someone who is actually genuinely surprised at the recognition. If they wanted to make me an MVP, then it better be because I had influence or did something for the greater good.

Asking or proactively making yourself loud and obvious so that you can game the concept of becoming an MVP for me personally sours the program’s potential. It’s not about having the MVP badge on your resume, it’s about doing all the requirements of an MVP because you firstly enjoy it regardless of the title and secondly you create a two way dialogue with the very people your influencing. I grow weary of seeing the same muffin eaters at the same conferences talking the same crap over and over just so that they in turn can get the local Microsoft Evangelist’s attention in order to get a MVP nomination.

Don’t get me wrong, that formula will yield you a nomination but for me it’s the Microsoft folks who are proactive about the product that one day get an email / tweet about them being nominated as an MVP – to then have this expression of “really, wow, I hadn’t thought I meet the grade”.

Humility is needed more in the MVP ranks and ass kissing / cheer leading within the program is something that needs to be weeded out. An MVP should be also someone who’s not afraid to say “this sux, but this rox” in the same breathe.

Blind loyalty in a MVP is useless.

Never listen to critics, as they are never going to be happy with you, that’s why they’re critics. Never listen to your fans, as they are to busy being happy with everything you say. Listen to the ones that haven’t made up their mind, they in turn will help you more!

How should the MVP Program be reformed?

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Don’t know, all I do know is that its broken at this point. I think it has to do with Microsoft Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) has lost its way since Walid (CVP) took over years ago. The DPE guys are all over the place and often their budgets are cut so short that boarding a plane can be an exercise of begging / frustration. I spent over $50k+ in my first year at Microsoft in travel  + expenses alone, even though at the time our T&E budget was around $20k per person. I think its now much less.

Evangelism is important to the MVP program, as they are the ones who should find ways to work with the MVP’s in order to scale the evangelism rhythms. I just don’t’ see that right now.

Its broken, and it needs investigation as to why it’s broken in order to reform it. I think the answers are to few to formulate an actual plan right now.

Related Posts:

  • You got it right with your evangelism comment – it’s completely broken and that does have impact on the MVP programme.

    The way it looks, it either dies under Walid or it needs a radical shake-up when he’s gone but it can’t limp along like this much further.

  • I’d personally like to see the MSDN subscription removed as an award for being an MVP. As you mentioned above, you should become an MVP because you enjoy doing the community events and the evangilism bits, not because you get rewarded (directly) for doing so. I have heard in conversation people speaking at community events just to get their MVP status renewed so they don’t have to pay for a MSDN subscription… Ouch.

  • Ed

    Umm, the MVP Program is run under CSS, not DPE. Walid has nothing to do with the MVP Program at all, and MVPs are NOT evangelists for Microsoft.

  • @ Chris Hardy:

    Sounds more like a problem with the selection of MVP candidates and not with rewarding them. I’d guess most of those same people would still work to keep their MVP for the networking and status it gives them. Still the wrong reasons, but no different then doing it for MSDN.

  • @ Ed:
    True. Its DPE though who end up kickstarting / bootstrapping and grooming the said individuals for MVP status. CSS kicks in AFTER the bodies have been identified.

  • Nice post, and a good look at the program from the other side. As an MVP, I’m honored to be recognized, and don’t think that it means in any way that I should necessarily get more information, get it earlier, or that I get to decide how the products move forward.

    Instead I think that we have a dialog with the product groups, and try to represent the communities we serve. I hope that the product people consider our opinions, and from my experience it’s a coin flip. Sometimes they appear to listen, sometimes not, but at the end of the day, our opinion is an opinion, not a vote.

    Thanks for the view from the other side.

  • timheuer

    @MossyBlog great post

  • @timheuer thx! 🙂 I’m sure someone in msft is pissed off with me but hey normal day right? 🙂

  • timheuer

    @MossyBlog I actually think it is a really fair assessment. Not ever team treats the program the same and that makes it confusing

  • Yaroslav

    @ Chris Hardy:
    First of all, … in order for someone to be an expert in technology – you have to have access to software. Software is worthless to a fool. I doubt anyone gets renewed as MVP so they get MSDN subscription.

    Second, if you think MVPs get well rewarded – you’d be surprised. I have seen huge cuts to a program – to a point where apparently I have to pay 50$ my MVP t-shirt for a summit. The list goes on a on. For hours spent daily blogging, speaking, preparing to speaking, doing QA on the software – my work would have cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.
    But I don’t care – I do it all that for the benefit of the community – and don’t expect a reward.
    I don’t care whether MS gives me another MVP award next year …. title doesn’t make you successful – any MVP will tell you that. I realized that very quickly. It’s who YOU are and what YOU are willing to do.

    There is my 2 MVP cents 🙂

  • skibbe

    As I see, most of them belong some company and they try to use that benefit to take a more customer in my country.

    Of course, there are many person who write lots of article and give many an idea.

    I prefer that if the person who has an award of MVP should give their knowledge as much as with kind of way rather than marketing.

  • I agree with most parts of this article.
    I am an MVP for C++ since 2000. I have now 12 awards.
    When I was awarded I was proud and I was surprised that I was a C++ MVP. There were names in the community that seamed to have 100times more wisdom and knowledge than I have.
    In the past times I had the feeling that we were informed early and we could influence things. Yes and there were things we influenced.
    This times are gone now.

    In fact: I really can not remember any decision in the last 5 years, were C++ MVPs were informed better than any other MS-tech-geek.

    I am going to be tired about being an MVP, also it isn’t a reputation any longer. As said: They are influencers in the first role, no carriers of knowledge. The second might happen, and I know a lot of MVPs who are real specialist in there area. But this might be a minority today.

    Also I am tired to here from other MVPs that we are not worth to be MVPs because we have other ideas and criticism about some decisions MS made. An award should be a honor (say say).

    Back in 2000 I had the feeling that MS wants me as an MVP because they want to make things better and they want to get my opinion how to do that. So I still believe that saying whats going wrong and whats going well is the only way to change things.

    In the hope things will change.

    — Martin
    PS: I am a German, so I hope my words make sense to you 😉

  • Nice article.

    I enjoyed reading the big one. I saw the correct determinations. I felt justified complaints.

    Mentioned herein may be many reasons I left title MVP. I gave this decision a few months ago, and I resigned. Especially after seeing what happened this title without much of this was the right decision for me.

    I think I switched to the dark side: P

  • I know there are many MVPs. Most of my friend. Some of them sit for 1 year and never do anything that is not troubled. However, this is not the spirit of the title. Not the purpose. The important thing is stability. Innovation is not the only goal in a stable manner, even to share. In addition, an MVP be able to take part in the development of new products. Unfortunately, this does not apply. To me, the product groups and the MVP ‘s has a communication problem between. The solution is ignored. This also leads to an important result. Just to make information sharing. The spirit of the work still remains incomplete.

  • GP

    After meeting and listening to MVPs speak, I wonder how some of them actually got the title/honour.

    Why are people who ocassionally speak about a product rewarded with access to the roadmap and summits? I would have thought people who actually use or have used the product extensively would be of more use to Microsoft.

  • Ed Bouras

    MossyBlog – thanks for your well-balanced perspective. As a first year MVP I certainly fall under the category of exhibiting humility in light of the award. As Martin Richter stated, I see other MVPs with a hundred times more wisdom and knowledge than myself in MS technologies. In light of that I don’t see my primary role as being one to influence MS but rather to take this massive amount of information I have been given access to and synthesize it into a meaningful context for the people I have influence over. Now, in my case that is primarily in the MSDN forums where I am every day helping nacent developers – those who have already chosen a MS stack to some degree – become aware of the potential in that choice. It is to the clear benefit of MS that I am well informed.

    They have provided me an opportunity to challenge myself to be more active and to step up my game. I want to learn more and participate more in teh community as a direct result of this award, and I’ll step down if I don’t think I can meet that challenge. This perspective – from the humble bottom of the MVP pack – could perhaps be an angle on the program that is drowned out by the luminaries. I hear that echoed in your post and I applause your candor. Thanks.

  • bobt

    I think this is a very good article. I might add that the program needs to have a review of what MVPs put out after they get the award. I have seen many forum posts from people claiming to be MVPs that act like it is a chore to answer questions and that some of us who ask questions are stupid. Many are down right rude. I know many very good MVPs and I know the program adds value to the community and MS, I just wish they would develop a standard of public behavior that they adhere to. Maybe that is already there and it just needs to be enforced. With public recognition comes public resposibility.

  • Patrick

    I always thought you had to be an “expert” to become a MVP. Now I see that they only need to be good cheerleaders for the product. I have often thought that the MVPs answering questions in newsgroups really did not have a clue. They would give people answers that were blatantly wrong or outright lies. Granted, there were a few that had genuine knowledge and were very helpful. But there were more of the former than the latter.

    I know it is a marketing tool for Microsoft but I think they should just dismantle the whole MVP program.

  • Paul

    Yaroslav wrote:

    Second, if you think MVPs get well rewarded – you’d be surprised. I have seen huge cuts to a program – to a point where apparently I have to pay 50$ my MVP t-shirt for a summit.

    You do not have to pay $50 for the MVP shirt at the upcoming summit. You’ll get, like every year, a free shirt which is why you were asked for your shirt size when you registered. The only thing that you’re going to have to pay $52 for is the optional, limited edition MVP hockey jersey. Everyone attending the summit gets the free shirt, paying for the hockey jersey is your choice.

  • Paul

    Scott Barnes wrote:

    @ Ed:
    True. Its DPE though who end up kickstarting / bootstrapping and grooming the said individuals for MVP status. CSS kicks in AFTER the bodies have been identified.

    DPE has nothing at all to do with the MVP program directly. I’ve never had any contact with anyone from DPE and I’ve got no idea what you mean by “kickstarting / bootstrapping and grooming the said individuals for MVP status”. That simply doesn’t happen.

  • @ Paul:
    DPE has nothing to do with MVP’s? wow… i’m not sure what you do or where you work, but if its to do with the MVP program its prob time you explored beyond your inbox / zipcode? as DPE and MVP are 1st cousins / partners in crime constantly..

  • Fallon Massey

    Not related to MVP, but IMO, Microsoft may finally get the mobile space right.

    http://mobilitydigest.com/windows-phone-8-is-dead-already/

  • Over the years I’ve been an MVP for a couple of different programs. I have interacted with product teams for those products and others that I did not have an award in. How much or how little you knew as an MVP or were listened to varied depending on product group. Some actively listen to and interact wtih their MVPs and others, well seemed to think MVPs were just a nuisance corporate foisted on them.

    If I was involved with a group that wasn’t interested in being involved with their MVPs then I would have done as David is doing now years ago.

  • Paul

    @ Scott Barnes:

    There may be some interaction between DPE and a certain specific group of MVPs but I can assure you that your blanket statement that DPE “kickstart/bootstraps and grooms” MVPs prior to passing them off to CSS is simply false. I’ve been an MVP for 7 or 8 years now, both on the client side as one of the first two MVPs for Virtual PC and on the enterprise side as an Identity Lifecycle Manager MVP and I can assure you that I’ve had zero contact with DPE. Why would DPE ever be involved with Internet Explorer, Windows Live, XBox, Microsoft Office, etc., etc., etc., MVPs in the first place?
    As far as expanding beyond my own inbox/zip code, perhaps you’re the one that needs to expand your horizons somewhat. The MVP program is a global one and I, like many, many MVPs do not have a zip code. I work and speak at technical events worldwide so I think that my horizons are currently expansive as they can get.

  • mstrobel

    @MossyBlog Most Valuable mouthPiece?

  • martindotnet

    @MossyBlog so is it worth the long road to become a a MVP ? having read this im not sure

  • @martindotnet dunno.. personally i dont see any upside to MVP these days other than free MSDN? (personallY)

  • I have been honored to be an MVP for both FrontPage and Expression Web since 2007. I am up for the award in April. I do not claim to be an expert with either program BUT I do very much enjoy helping others learn HOW to use the programs. Whether I am an MVP or not, I would continue to work with folks in helping them develop websites. I have enjoyed the interaction with the EW Product Team in letting them know what the community is saying both good and bad about the product and having a chance to at least have some input into the features for future versions. The MSDN subscription is a nice benefit but it certainly is not why I would want to be an MVP.

  • @ Paul:

    Many MVPs are initially nominated (for their in-person community work) by their local evangelists. I believe that’s some or all of what Scott was talking about.

    There may be MVP disciplines that have a bunch of people who don’t know how to use the product. That wouldn’t meet the criteria for the two that I cover, though. We look for people who are helping other developers on a regular basis through speaking, blogging, answering questions and more.

    Pete