Changes to the MVP Program

Microsoft realigns MVP program to better match the company's own internal evolution.

Christian Buckley

by Christian Buckley on 10/7/2015

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Microsoft updates Microsoft MVP Award program

In an announcement today, Microsoft's Corporate VP of Developer Platform & Evangelism and Chief Evangelist, Steve Guggenheimer, shared that the company has made modifications to the MVP Award program, effective immediately. With the announcement, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a bit more information about the program, what these changes mean, and give some advice to those who aspire to earn this recognition from Microsoft.

Guggenheimer outlines what is changing as follows:

Moving forward, we are shifting the MVP Award structure to encompass the broad array of community contributions across technologies. For our Developer and IT Pro oriented MVPs, we’re moving from 36 areas of technical expertise to a set of 10 broader categories that encompass a combined set of 90 technology areas—including open source technologies. This will enable much broader contribution recognition for these MVPs, coupled with a durable award title and will also eliminate the limitation of awarding MVP status in only one area.

This structure is designed to keep the program aligned with Microsoft’s biggest priorities and, at the same time, allow us all to be agile with the pace of innovation and change in the market. With much better insight and recognition of the wide range of contributions you make, we expect our product and local field teams to capitalize on this enhanced visibility and have broader and deeper connections with MVPs

The Microsoft MVP award site now includes a table illustrating how the various technologies and specialties will roll-up under the new award categories. The idea here is that as some of the underlying brands and technologies evolve, the awards will remain largely static, which means people won't have to be re-classified every time Microsoft makes a change.

To put these changes into context, I thought I'd go into a bit more depth. First off, let's discuss what the program is all about. For more than two decades, Microsoft has recognized experts across the various technologies they create and support for the value that these individuals give back to the community. Per the Microsoft MVP Award site, MVPs are “ leaders who’ve demonstrated an exemplary commitment to helping others get the most out of their experience with Microsoft technologies. They share exceptional passion, real-world knowledge, and technical expertise with the community and with Microsoft.”

Community participation comes in all shapes and sizes, from forum participation to blogging to event organization and speaking. There is no recipe for earning an MVP award: recipients come from diverse backgrounds, and varying technical and business skills. Within Microsoft, the product and field teams provide input into the people who are having impact on their area, and submit names to the MVP program. Likewise, customers and partners, as well as other MVPs, can also submit the names of individuals who stand out in the community and deserve recognition. While MVPs represent some of the most engaged, technically competent, and prolific content creators within the community, ultimately it is up to Microsoft to decide who receives this recognition.

Second, the changes being made are, in my view, very positive. By now, you've all noticed that Microsoft has been going through a major transformation, both in their product portfolio as well as in how they develop technology internally. As the company has evolved internally, it has become readily apparent that the MVP program also needed to adjust to better match the internal changes, allowing MVPs to better fit with their respective technologies and teams. As outlined in the news today, each technology area that MVPs have previously been identified with are moving from 36 areas of technical expertise to a set of 10 broader categories.

What is the impact of this change? 

Most of the MVP designations will be changed to roll up underneath the same pillars that Microsoft employees work within. For MVP recipients, this change impacts the title of the award – but not the focus areas where MVPs spend their time. For example, my Office 365 MVP award and those who specialize in SharePoint will now be designated as Office Server and Services MVPs, which also includes those who specialize in Exchange and Skype for Business. Now, even though this changes the title of my award, I can continue to refer to myself as an Office 365 MVP, or a SharePoint MVP, or simply a Microsoft MVP specializing in Office 365 and SharePoint. All of these would be correct.

One major change is that MVPs could receive multiple awards, or recognition within multiple categories. So, for example, I might be focused heavily on all things SharePoint, but also write and speak extensively about Enterprise Security and other infrastructure management workloads, enough so that Microsoft decides that I should also be recognized under Cloud and Datacenter Management. I could then receive MVP award in both award categories. The benefit here is that many MVPs work across different workloads, and this change will now recognize the body of their work, not just that work that applies to a single award category. If the body of work (blogs, forums, speaking, etc.) is substantial and justifies the award (again, purely at Microsoft's discretion) then we will start seeing MVPs with 2 and 3 awards per cycle. For now, MVPs will be transitioned to the new award taxonomy under their existing award, but over the next year will be reviewed for additional categories.

I suspect that there will be some MVPs who will see this change as "watering down" their specialty, but my view is that this is nothing but positive for existing MVPs, and makes much more sense to those who aspire to achieve this recognition – and, most importantly, better aligns what we do as MVPs with the changes happening inside of Microsoft today, and in the future. Again, going forward MVPs can continue referring to themselves by their technology specialty. (I could continue to call myself an Office 365 MVP.)

How can I become an MVP?

Finally, I am often asked about what it takes to receive an MVP award, and have blogged on this topic numerous times – but given the news today, I thought it appropriate to share my list of "habits" that will put you on the right path toward the MVP award:

  1. Love what you do. 
    Passion is key. Find the most vocal and energetic people in the crowd, and you'll generally find the MVPs within that group. There are some who quietly give back, but most are sharing their opinions out front, encouraging others to participate in the community dialog.
  2. Give your time. 
    Another consistent theme is giving time and resources outside of work. While Axceler may cover my travel to events around the world, I'm often giving up my weekends and working long hours so that I can participate in community activities in addition to my regular workload. We all have day jobs, some more community-focused than others. But one of the distinguishing characteristics of an MVP is going above and beyond.
  3. Be honest about what you don't know. 
    Arguably, nobody knows *everything* about the platforms or specialties they support, so you're bound to occasionally get questions from the community for which you don't know the answer. That's ok. The difference with MVPs (and those who should be/likely will be) is that they'll help the person find the answer, either through a peer or community member, or by exploring the problem themselves, testing out various solutions until they feel confident they can answer the question.
  4. Create content. 
    Let's face it – content is king. Some do this through the forums, answering multiple questions on a daily basis. Others write profusely through their blogs, and some are more comfortable through video or tool development. The point is – share your knowledge. Sometimes the most recognizable way is to present at conferences, through your local SharePoint user groups, or through webinars. MVPs are constantly looking for opportunities to educate and share.

  5. Become an advocate for your local community. 
    Not every city or region has a user group. If not, help start one. If one already exists, attend it on a regular basis. Offer to present, to organize, to clean up afterward. Get to know the organizers, and the people within your community, especially any local MVPs, MCMs, or Microsoft people, because Microsoft will reach out to them for feedback should you be considered for the MVP program. In short, be involved locally as much as possible.

  6. Help Microsoft improve. 
    Be willing to share your feedback with the Microsoft product teams, and with your regional Microsoft representatives. They want to hear your specific use cases, your industry or customer experiences. Get to know who they are and develop relationships with them. It is easy to criticize the platform for what may be lacking, but you should focus on helping Microsoft understand the missing use cases and features so that they can work to improve the platform and/or documentation. If you do this regularly, you may just find yourself developing relationships with members of the product team, which is a good thing.

  7. Represent the community. 
    As an MVP, you are an ambassador for the community, representing the technology and, to some degree, Microsoft. Expectations are high for MVPs, both from the community and from Microsoft. Just remember that people are watching – before you earn your MVP and after. Be professional.

  8. Play nice. 
    People can get competitive, especially if you work for an independent software vendor (ISV) or a strategic integrator (SI, or consulting company). There is nothing wrong with a little competition, but remember that you represent the community AND that Microsoft is watching. The pie is huge, folks, and there's plenty for everyone. Try to remain diplomatic in your dealings with competitors, even if they are less than friendly.

  9. Take it to the next level. 
    Some regions have well-known and hard-working MVPs, so simply writing a blog and speaking at the occasional event may not be enough to capture Microsoft's attention. Watch what is happening in the community, and strive to do more. Volume of content is good, but looking for ways to add additional value to Microsoft and the community is even better. 

  10. Nominate others. 
    You can nominate yourself, but it's always more meaningful when the nomination comes from someone else in the community – especially if from a current or former MVP. I am a big believer in paying it forward. Recognize others for their contributions to the community, and learn from them, be like them.

There will always be a long list of people who, by any measure, deserve to receive this recognition – but never do. What I tell people, though, is that by following these suggestions and developing healthy habits around sharing and community participation, you will be enriched regardless of your MVP status. For me – and most of the MVPs I know, the award recognition is fantastic, but I would be doing what I do regardless of the award.

For existing MVPs, what do you think about these changes? And for those who want to know more about becoming an MVP, are there any questions I can answer? Otherwise, thanks for reading.

Topic: IT Unity

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