By Nicola Wright
It’s been 26 years since the launch of the Microsoft MVP program.
Since its inception, the program has toasted thousands of ardent Microsoft professionals and users.
The highly valued and often elusive accolade is a mark of honor for Microsoft professionals, recognizing their zeal for the technology, and their extensive contributions to the Microsoft community.
According to Microsoft themselves, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional is not just a technological expert with a deep understanding of Microsoft products and services. They’re also a community leader; someone who avidly shares their knowledge with the community, displaying exceptional leadership and a constant willingness to help others.
The MVP program got its start in 1993 when a developer named Calvin Hsia developed a system to rank the most active users of the technology support forum CompuServe. His list of “Most Verbose People,” as he dubbed it, was initially created for fun, but it soon caught the eye of Microsoft.
Keen to acknowledge the contribution that these supportive, forthcoming champions were making to the tech community, the company saw the list as a great opportunity.
Microsoft used “Calvin’s List” to generate its initial list of 34 of its Most Valuable Professionals. These MVPs were then invited to the first TechEd conference in Orlando to recognize the work they were doing by promoting Microsoft’s products and aiding its customers.
Six months down the line, those 34 happy helpers—including Hsia himself—received letters from Microsoft officiating their status as MVPs, thus sparking the beginning of the program. Hsia later joined Microsoft and was honored as a vital supporter of the program at MVP Global Summit as part of the program’s 20th-anniversary celebrations.
There are currently around 3,550 MVPs in the program, from over 90 countries, with new MVPs joining the program every month. Between posting and replying on forums and social media, publishing blogs, and leading user groups and talks, Microsoft guesstimates that MVPs assist a million users every single day.
Microsoft hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about its selection process. While there’s no discernible formula for becoming an MVP, candidates are typically judged on their engagement with the Microsoft community.
Eligible activity for the program comprises primarily of independent volunteer work that helps further the development and understanding of their particular technological specialism.
This could entail being active on online forums and social media, publishing or contributing to podcasts, books or blogs, creating open-source software, or participating in conferences and user groups. Just one of these activities isn’t often enough, however—you’ve got to have your fingers in a lot of pies to be considered for MVP status.
Like its certification structure, Microsoft recently shook up its MVP categories to better align them with its new cloud-first, mobile-first strategy.
MVPs are currently characterized by the following categories:
To be considered for the program, candidates must be nominated by either a Microsoft Full Time Employee (FTE) or an active Microsoft MVP.
Once an MVP has their status confirmed by Microsoft, their status is good for one year, with renewals considered in July each year. MVPs must reapply every year to prove that they’ve continued to be active in the community.
Check out our Class of 2019 list and discover the 25 Microsoft MVPs you should be following.
Having an MVP status can be a boon for IT professionals. With the MVP badge comes an inferred technical proficiency, and an expectation of being a cut above other Microsoft professionals.
Though not as exclusive a club as it used to be, maintaining the MVP status takes enormous dedication, engagement, and passion; values that are incredibly appealing to potential employers.
Microsoft’s online MVP hub features a database of MVPs, searchable by location and specialism. Each MVP profile features contact details, work history and recent activity, which is of obvious benefit to those MVPs running their own businesses.
Though Microsoft endorses them, MVPs are independent professionals and don’t receive any remuneration for their services. That said, there are some perks that come with program membership.
MVPs often receive early access to Microsoft products and exclusive communication channels with product teams. On their reception into the program, MVPs must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement to ensure they don’t leak any information before it’s publicly available.
They also receive access to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive, week-long annual event hosted in Microsoft’s Seattle HQ. Here, MVPs can connect with others in the program, meet Microsoft executives, and offer feedback on Microsoft products and technologies.
The growth of the program is indicative of both the hard work and enthusiasm of Microsoft professionals and Microsoft’s willingness to recognize that work when they see it. Although, there are some Microsoft professionals who are more cynical about the future of the program.
MVPs are expected to answer user questions, fix issues and encourage user adoption. Because of this, some MVPs feel that Microsoft is overly reliant on the program to fill the gaps in the company’s own documentation and training offerings.
If Microsoft’s calculations concerning the number of users who are assisted by an MVP in some capacity every day are correct, that’s one million customers whom Microsoft did not have to spend time and resources aiding themselves. You could say that’s not a bad return on a few thousand glass trophies and subsidized hotel stays.
Microsoft has been considering the future of the program in the past few years.
It first announced plans for updates in 2015 when Chief Evangelist Steve Guggenheimer revealed plans for the next generation of the Microsoft MVP Award. Part of the move was to drop the number of MVP categories from 36 to 10 broader catch-alls, to reflect the “broad array of community contributions across technologies”.
Guggenheimer also announced at the time that “investments are being made to add more value to the MVP-Microsoft relationship”, including opening up the company’s Channel 9 video platform to MVPs. The changes rolled out in February 2017 were heralded as part of this continued evolution, and a further step in a “broad vision to transform the program”.
As well as upping the frequency of new admissions to the program from quarterly to monthly, and shifting to a single renewal date for all MVPs, the major result of this transformation plan was a shakeup of the MVP benefits package, with a renewed focus on continued education.
All MVPs now receive free access to interactive mobile development training from Xamarin University, 50% discount on two MCP exams every year, access to exclusive instructor-led certification preparation sessions, attendance at MVP Community Connection events, and priority registration at Microsoft conferences, as well as numerous third-party offerings.
So, what’s it like to be a Microsoft MVP? We spoke to three MVPs to get their take on the past, present, and future of the program, and the impact it’s had on their lives and careers.
Jukka Niiranen is a Microsoft Dynamics blogger and the Dynamics 365 Technical Lead at Finnish telecommunications company Elisa. Niiranen has been an MVP for Business Solutions since 2013, and is one of an exclusive group; Business Solutions MVPs make up only 6% of the total number of awardees.
For Niiranen, the most valuable benefit of earning MVP status has been the opportunity to network, share ideas and collaborate with other MVPs in the same ecosystem.
“These well-known community experts form a knowledge pool that will pretty much have answers to all questions that realistically can be answered, outside of Microsoft,” he says.
Being an MVP puts you at the front of the line when it comes to hearing about developments. A direct line to Microsoft’s product teams means MVPs earn the opportunity to offer input and feedback before a product update even hits the ground.
This privileged position afforded to MVP awardees has clearly been a boon for Niiranen’s career in Microsoft Dynamics. “The channel that we have for communicating directly with the Microsoft product team is invaluable for staying up to date with the latest developments affecting our everyday work,” remarks Niiranen, “as well as getting insights on what direction the Dynamics products may be heading towards in the future.”
Having won her first MVP award in 2017, Joanne Klein is quickly seeing the perks that exclusive access to Microsoft insiders can bring to an IT professional.
A SharePoint and Office 365 specialist, Klein earned her MVP status in the Office Apps and Services category. Klein runs Canada-based consulting company NexNovus Consulting, and regularly shares her experiences with the SharePoint and Office 365 online.
“The MVP program has helped me on several fronts,” Klein says. “It has created career opportunities that likely wouldn’t have been there without it. I attribute that in part to the great reputation the program has in the industry.”
Andrew Butenko, a senior consultant at Hitachi Solutions, agrees that having first-hand communication with Microsoft engineers has played a massive part in putting him ahead of others in his industry.
“Once I received an MVP award, I was afforded a direct channel to the Microsoft product team, which allowed me to get insights into future products faster than I did before and sooner than others in my field,” Butenko states. “This was useful in that it enabled me to plan my next steps using the new features of products that were soon to be released.”
Butenko was first awarded MVP status for his work with Business Solutions in 2010, and has maintained it ever since. In true MVP fashion, Butenko’s commitment to his work and community is evident. For the past eight years, he has shared his knowledge of Dynamics CRM development through his blog, and was instrumental in launching the first Dynamics CRM user group in his native Ukraine.
Butenko later relocated to the United States; a move that was made smoother by his MVP status.
That notion of a worldwide community, always ready and willing to help those in the ecosystem is a large part of what makes the MVP award special to Klein.
“I’ve made tremendous contacts with other MVPs. I can’t begin to describe how invaluable this has been for both my personal and professional growth,” she says. “This includes everything from asking specific questions I may have and answering questions others may have, to discussing an idea or decision with someone else who is an expert in that field.”
Not content with collaborating with peers, Klein has also harbored ambitions to support learning at a grassroots level. This is a goal that the MVP program, with fraternity and knowledge-sharing at the very heart of its philosophy, has helped her achieve.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity the MVP award has given me by inviting me to participate in the Canadian MVP Mentorship program,” says Klein. “This is a joint effort with the Canadian Microsoft Student Partners team, and will allow me to give back to others in a way that has been afforded me over my 15+ year IT career.”
And although the official number of current MVPs is around 2,600, the MVP clan, in reality, is even bigger. Through the MVP Reconnect program, former and current MVPs can stay in touch, ensuring that no knowledge, or relationship, falls through the cracks; something that Klein is especially keen on. “It shows Microsoft’s commitment to building a strong community,” she states, “whether you’re a current award recipient or not.”
How do MVPs see that community changing, as Microsoft continues to evolve the MVP program and its processes? As technology continues to develop at breakneck speed, Niiranen feels that the changes are essential to ensuring users and MVPs alike can keep up.
“There appears to be a lot more emphasis on identifying the community members who are contributing information right this moment and getting them awarded as MVPs, as opposed to requiring a longer track record of community activity,” he remarks.
“This makes a lot of sense, given how fast the product release cycles are now. Microsoft obviously wants to support those experts who dive into the very latest features and share their discoveries to the wider community.”
While Klein agrees that the move to bequeathing new awards on a monthly, rather than quarterly, basis allows the program to be more responsive to new technologies, she stresses that safeguarding the requirements for the awards is crucial to its integrity. “It’s in everyone’s best interests not to dilute the significance of the MVP award.”
It also seems likely that MVPs will see the continued evolution of award categories, as well as how they’re given out, our MVPs predict.
“I expect new award categories to be introduced as Microsoft products continue to evolve—a Microsoft Teams category is a good example—as well as new and creative ways for the award program to be enhanced,” says Klein.
As Microsoft continues to break down silos between its products through cloud technology, Niiranen estimates that MVPs will need to expand their knowledge bases, and lean more towards becoming generalists.
And this broadening of specialisms will force further change in the MVP program: “Everyone’s going to need to master a wider stack of MS technologies when designing business solutions for customers in the future,” he says, “so I’d expect this to be reflected both in how the MVPs will target their community contributions, as well as how Microsoft aligns these with their internal structures for the MVP program, and the product team interaction through it.”
However the program will nominate and classify MVPs in the future, its focus on developing knowledge and idea within a helpful, supportive community will surely remain unchanged, and Klein has some ideas as to how the program can ensure a bright future for Microsoft and its MVPs.
“I would like to see some emphasis on ‘Building Technical Community’ from Microsoft in a more formal way, as their guidance would be invaluable for those building community at the grassroots level; something we all benefit from.”
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