On being an MVP

I was first awarded as a Microsoft MVP about 10 years ago, in January 2008 but was nominated in April 2007. That first nomination was a complete surprise to me. Although I’d heard of the program and had listened to and spoken with other Microsoft MVPs at the time, I never thought about becoming one myself. Here is part of that initial email letting me know about my nomination:

MVPs are recognized by Microsoft for their voluntary participation in offline and online technical communities.

Your nomination is targeted to the Visual Developer - Visual C# competency in regards to your voluntary involvement in the C# technical communities and your technical expertise.

Involvement in technical communities includes a mix of offline and online activities such as:

  • Course instruction or training given
  • Books published
  • Articles and Papers published
  • Speaking engagements
  • Newsgroup / Web forum participation
  • Technical presentations
  • User group involvement

It took me another 9 months (3 award cycles since they were quarterly at that time) before I received the award. The biggest thing that changed for me over that time was becoming a speaker.

As it should, the program has changed quite a lot since then, and it is no longer the program it was when I first joined.

It has always been an award or recognition program. For the original program, the focus was purely on rewarding those individuals who contributed to and had a positive impact in the technical community for a given Microsoft product.

As the program evolved, it moved from the product teams to the Developer Evangelism (DX) group and finally to the Growth and Ecosystem Evangelism (G+E) group. It has changed from multiple renewal cycles per year (every quarter) to a single renewal cycle with monthly reviews for new MVPs, allowing the program to bring in a lot more new people and increase the total number of MVPs (one of the driving components behind how “successful” the program is). However, having more people in the program doesn’t necessarily make it better.

While the requirements to become an MVP were then, and are still, opaque, they have become more quantitative rather than qualitative. The intent of the program has changed. No longer is the quality of the interaction the focus; instead, it’s the number of interactions. While on the surface that would seem to be a good thing, many MVPs do things that aren’t readily quantified and don’t easily fit inside the neat little box that is our MVP profile.

Part of the email informing me that I wasn’t renewed read:

Firstly, I want to say Thank You! Not just for being an MVP, but for your dedication as a community leader and incredible impact that has truly made a positive difference to the technical communities. We are extremely grateful and always humbled by the level of commitment you have made to helping others; it truly is amazing!

As you know, the MVP Award is presented to individuals for their past year’s impactful contributions to both online and offline technical communities which stand out from others in the communities that focus on Microsoft technologies. In reviewing your impact, I am deeply sorry to inform you that you were not awarded as a Microsoft MVP for the July award cycle. On behalf of Microsoft, I’d like to express that we greatly value your past accomplishments, contributions, and support.

We understand what the MVP Award means to you and the importance it represents to the community. As someone with an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies and solutions to solve real world problems, we know that you will always be a community advocate. As such you have earned the right to call yourself an MVP and we want to empower you to stay connected and visible to the community.

I know many long-time MVPs that weren’t renewed this year, along with myself. Some have been in the program longer than I have, and some were names that I looked up to and respected before I even became an MVP. All of us have had, and will probably continue to have, impactful contributions to the community; just not necessarily the quantity being looked for.

While we all have our own experiences with the program, to me being an MVP is more than just the technical skills and a quantitive amount of contributions. It’s a defining trait of wanting to help others without regard for award or recognition.

I leave the program with a deeply mixed set of emotions. I’m thankful to Microsoft for the recognition of my contributions over the last 10 years, the doors it’s opened and the connections I’ve made (which hopefully continue outside of the program). Not being an MVP doesn’t change who I am. I enjoy contributing to the community, speaking, bringing my son up being involved in the community as much as I am. I’m also thankful that I no longer have to worry about whether or not my activities are “right” for the program - if I’ve done enough (back to quantity over quality) or fit Microsoft’s current idea of what it means to be an MVP.

Whether I become an MVP again or not, it won’t change anything about who I am or what I do.