There are a number of articles on how to become an MVP and since is the 25th anniversary of the programme, I thought I should add my view and fill in some the background.
Last year Visio turned 25. I have volunteered with the product team for 24 of those years, something that no other MVP can say so I am in a unique position to talk about the MVP programme. I have haunted some of the same CompuServe forums with the original MVPs and I am honoured to be able to call them friends.
So, what is an MVP? The basic definition is a supporter of a Microsoft community. In the early days, it was a product, but it has been expanded to services. MVPs are not paid for their service but do receive a few perks like MSDN and some get togethers. They are not Microsoft yes men (or women) and are famous for criticizing MS. Of course, the criticism is not hollow. It usually is well thought out and comes with reasons.
So, what does it take to become an MVP? In the early days, it was a matter of being a prolific poster on certain CompuServe forums. Why CompuServe? In the early 1990s, a number of companies, including Microsoft, started to use CompuServe’s forums for customer support. This was a switch from one on one support that was available only during office hours to group support that was available 24×7. So, while waiting for a response, you could check out questions from other posters. This is the start of the MVP program. In addition to looking for solutions, people were providing answers. Other than killing time, why would they do that? They liked to help. They enjoyed a challenge in finding a solution. They had been helped by others and wanted to pay it back.
In 1993 Calvin Hsia, a FoxPro developer who lived in Hawaii, thought it might be fun to figure out who posted the most on the CompuServe’s forum. He then published a list of hundreds of the forum’s “Most Verbose People” as he liked to call them.
Microsoft saw value in that verbosity, so much so that the members of “Calvin’s List,” along with its creator, became Microsoft’s first Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs).
Initially, it was one person who thought that those who were helping out on the Microsoft forums deserved some recognition. It was just a thank you post. This idea was taken up by others at Microsoft, who on their own time, helped expand the list. Eventually some of the recognized were invited out to Redmond to meet the product teams they supported. This was the first MVP summit, a small group of volunteers who enjoyed helping their online communities getting recognition from Microsoft.
This was a grass roots movement and luckily, someone terminated the programme in 1999 because they thought that the access the MVPs were getting was a potential problem. Over the weekend, those who were helped in the forums were quite vocal with Microsoft upper management and let their feelings be known. The programme was quickly reinstated, but now they had the backing of upper management who remain a staple of the MVP summits. The initial MVP staff ran the MVP programme in addition to their regular work. With the reinstatement of the programme, they now had backing and support from upper management (and a budget).
Microsoft hands out awards for people who they believe excel at helping the various Microsoft communities. It is not a certification that can be studied for and earned.
Initially the programme was based around a few products and the leads were based with those products, now it covers most of the Microsoft products. (I am still waiting to meet the MS Bob MVP). Regional MVP leads have been added to address the needs of those MVPs around the world. The regional MVP leads need to understand the full suite of Microsoft offerings. So even though they may not know the nuisances of a certain switch in your product, they understand your passion and will try and get someone to help with the answer.
So, why did so and so not get an award? Like the Academy awards, only so many can be recognized. This does not mean that those not receiving an Academy award are terrible actors, just that the Academy saw something to recommend one of the others. Also, the programme has been expanded world wide and it is an extremely difficult task for the MVP leads to evaluate all the recommendations they receive. As far as I know, the MVP leads do not have a quota for having x number of Product Y MVPs in their area, but there are constraints on how large the programme can grow within their budget. So, there are many reasons why someone was not awarded.
So why is there not a shopping list for MVP criteria?
So, if I answer 500 or 1,00 questions, do I qualify? What is the quality of the answers? Is it a yes/no or does it have a detailed explanation or recommendation. Obviously, quantity alone can not be a criterion. Who is to say that talking to a user group of 25 is less important than talking to one of 3,000. Since they are making money, should authors be excluded? A number of authors actually loose money writing about technical products, some actually do get rich. Again, this is another criterion that is difficult to quantify. If the criteria is quantified like other certifications, Then we will have people going for the award rather than helping the communities. One year, several Office MVPs were not awarded because other individuals had higher answer counts. On further examination it was found that some of the answers were not useful and were just there to boost the counts. So, I hope that Microsoft keeps the award criteria a mystery. Yes, the MVP leads are human and do make mistakes, but the selection process is not easy.
MVPs do not drink the Kool-Aid, beer whiskey or iced tea, maybe lots of coffee, but definitely not the Kool-Aid.
MVPs loyalty is to the community they support, it is not to Microsoft. They love their product or service and Microsoft understands that. The MVPs may complain, but Microsoft knows the complaints are not hollow and are accompanied by a reason of what MS is missing or doing wrong. Of course, MVPs are not fallible, but MS understands that.
In the same vein, MVPs understands that there is competition and they do not provide hollow criticisms. In fact, MVPs understand and appreciate the competition and for certain scenarios may recommend competing products.
MVPs are not always on pedestals. Okay, there are a few that have a kiss my ring attitude, but they tend not to be the long-term MVPs. They understand they do not know everything and try to encourage others to present/publish They are the ones at the back of the room asking leading questions to help novice presenters because at one time they were there and know friends in the audience helps. They prefer to shine the spotlight on the product rather than themselves. MVPs inspire others to learn.
John Marshall… Visio MVP Visio.MVPs.org