Back Draft

 

What Is an MVP, Anyway?

 

By Jonathan Goodyear

 

In the context of sports, the term MVP (Most Valuable Player) is not difficult to define. However, for the sports- challenged among you, a team s MVP is usually either the most athletically talented player, or the player who demonstrates the greatest leadership. Sometimes the same player wears both hats.

 

In Microsoft parlance, MVP stands for Most Valuable Professional. I m an MVP, so people often ask me what that means. Frankly, I ve asked myself that very same question many times, and I wasn t very confident about the answer I came up with. As an experiment, I asked numerous other MVPs, Microsoft employees, and other influential people in the industry their definition of a Microsoft MVP. The range of answers I got was pretty broad. I heard everything from MVPs are super talented developers (Microsoft employees are pre-programmed to use the word super in every other sentence) to MVPs are developers who contribute to newsgroups a lot.

 

While either of the previous statements may or may not be a quality of a particular MVP, it does not define what an MVP is. I didn t have to look much further than the official Microsoft MVP Web site to track down the party line on their MVP definition (http://mvp.support.microsoft.com). It defines an MVP as:

 

...recognized, credible, and accessible individuals with expertise in one or more Microsoft products who actively participate in online and offline communities to share their knowledge and expertise with other Microsoft customers.

 

OK. So now that we know what an MVP is, how do you become one? The short answer is that someone (usually a Microsoft Developer Evangelist) nominates you and your case is put before a review board at Microsoft. But what does that review board actually review? Ahh, that s where the forest gets more dense. There is so much confusion as to what constitutes the proper credentials to become an MVP that many of the very people doing the nominations don t have it right. A scary proposition indeed!

 

To set the record straight, I went directly to the source and spoke with Sean O Driscoll, Senior Director of the Customer Service and Support Community and the MVP Program. Sean started off by saying that the MVP program is an award and recognition program. While a certain amount of technical skill is usually needed to accomplish the tenets of MVP membership, the MVP program is in no way a measuring stick of the technical merits of its members. Myth debunked.

 

When I asked Sean for details regarding how to become an MVP, he gave me some historical context. He said that the program was started more than 10 years ago as a thank you program for outstanding contributions to the community. At the time, community meant newsgroups. In my opinion, that narrow definition made the ambitious term MVP a bit of a misnomer. About three years ago, Microsoft decided that they should let their customers define what community is. As a result, several other community contribution avenues were added to the MVP selection criteria. Some of these are forum postings, books, articles, blogs, and speaking at and/or leading user groups and other community events.

 

The key take-away here is that the MVP program is now agnostic as to the venue (online or offline) that you use to make your community contributions. The result should be a greater amount of diversification in the program s membership, and, in some respects, it has worked. For instance, I never would have qualified for the MVP program under its old rules, but because I consistently get over a million community touches a year through my articles, speaking engagements, and other non-newsgroup community contributions, the new rules make me an ideal MVP candidate.

 

Unfortunately, many qualified developers are not even considered for MVP status, because the folks doing the nominations still think that only online community contributions count. Luckily, Sean s team is soon going to be launching a massive campaign to educate the folks at Microsoft on the new MVP definition and core ideals. I also have some exciting news to report. Starting shortly after Tech Ed 2006 in Boston, the MVP Web site will have a new section that allows existing MVPs to nominate others that they feel have done what it takes to become an MVP. This will no doubt make sure that fewer hardworking community contributors (especially in the offline community channels) get missed.

 

So, how do you become an MVP? You ve got to start making a lot of community contributions, preferably in more than one medium. Sean was adamant that MVP status should not be manufactured or contrived. The MVP program is designed for people who would make the same community contributions even if the program didn t exist. Another important factor that determines MVP membership is individual impact. As an example, a person in the Czech Republic who speaks consistently to a group of 100 developers makes a much bigger impact than someone who does the same in the United States. The first person s per-capita impact is much higher, so they more adequately meet the MVP selection criteria.

 

By no means is the current MVP selection process perfect. Besides the aforementioned problem with educating the Developer Evangelists who do the current nominations, there currently isn t a place in the MVP program for developers who make a large amount of community contributions that are spread across multiple Microsoft technologies. These individuals don t have enough credentials to become an MVP in any particular technology, yet when viewed holistically, their contributions are quite large. Sean referred to this as the generalist problem. He said they are working on potential solutions, but that nothing firm was in place yet.

 

In the time that I spent talking to Sean, he also shared some interesting and exciting information about the MVP program and the progress it has made recently. For instance, there are now over 3,100 MVPs in 75 countries worldwide, covering more than 75 technologies in nine languages. The individual product teams at Microsoft are now playing a much more active role in communicating with MVPs, which makes them much more effective at contributing to their respective communities. In fact, 1,500 Microsoft employees were present at the 2005 MVP Summit; that s quite a jump from the 300 who attended the 2004 MVP Summit.

 

Hopefully this column has cleared some of the fog surrounding the MVP program, and has given you some insight into the reason it exists, and how to put yourself into a position to be nominated. As a side-note, there are no program-based or regional quotas that determine how many developers are nominated or awarded MVP status each year. So don t get discouraged if you are surrounded by other hardworking community contributors where you live. That s a good thing. The MVP program definitely has some obstacles to overcome, but my impression is that Sean s team is hard at work finding solutions to those obstacles, as well as bringing the program current with the latest community contribution trends.

 

Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSoft (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and author of Debugging ASP.NET (New Riders). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto:jon@aspsoft.com or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.