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So you got an award email from Microsoft awarding you MVP status, and you’re wondering, “What happens next?  What does all this mean?”

First off, congratulations from a fellow MVP.  I’ve been one for a few years now, and for me at least, the giddy feeling doesn’t go away.  I’m really proud that Microsoft likes what I do for the community.  When I look at other MVPs, I think, “Wow, these people are awesome!”  I’m honored to be a part of that community, and you should too.  It’s a privilege.

You’ll sign an electronic NDA and behavior guidelines.  Read it carefully and take it seriously – because Microsoft does.  As an MVP, you will get access to some behind-the-scenes stuff.  If you share NDA-covered information publicly, even amongst small groups like local presentations, Microsoft can (and does) revoke your MVP status.  They’ll also yank it if you get drunk and grope Steve Ballmer.  (I’m still in the program because I was sober at the time.)

You’ll get access to a fun and insightful MVP email list.  Set up a rule in your email client (or preferably on the mail server) to automatically move these emails into a different folder outside of your inbox.  Don’t try to keep up with it in your in-box – there’s a lot of volume, and the signal-to-noise ratio can be pretty tough.  Just once a day or so, scan through the email subjects to see if there’s interesting topics.  I rarely respond – I just love soaking in the technical details, and I file away my favorite threads to read later on planes.  There’s a lot of smart people talking about wild edge cases.

You’ll be assigned an MVP lead.  If something goes horribly awry with your MVP experience, drop them a line.  They’re like the lifeguards in the pool – they’re not going to teach you how to swim, and they’re not going to clean up when you poop in the pool, but if you see somebody pooping in the pool, tell the lifeguard.

In a few weeks, you’ll get a free MSDN and/or TechNet subscription.  These give you the ability to download software for development and demo purposes.  Sometimes these subscriptions get slightly early access to beta or even production software, but don’t bank on it.  That’s just a nice surprise when it happens.  Other companies also give free software to Microsoft MVPs, so if there’s a paid product you’re considering purchasing, ask them first if they offer a free non-for-resale (NFR) license for MVPs.

Kendra, Jeremiah, and Tim Ford at the MVP Summit

Save the dates of the next MVP Summit.  Microsoft puts on an annual gathering of the geeks in Redmond.  MVPs from all disciplines attend for presentations during the day and fun after-hours events.  The session scheduling tool doesn’t always show you all specialties (just yours) and there are some sessions that are invite-only.  If you’ve got a passion for a particular technology (like Windows or clustering or Xbox), ask your MVP lead if you can get introduced to the lead for that specialty.

Every year around this same time, you’ll face the renewal process.  If you were awarded on October 1st, then your renewal email will (hopefully) arrive on October 1st.  Some time prior to that, you’ll get an email from your MVP lead asking for an update on your community activities.  To make this as easy as possible, keep your Microsoft MVP profile page up to date with your speaking engagements, webcasts, big blog posts, books, etc.  It’s somewhat of a mystery how Microsoft chooses to award MVPs, but here’s a hint from the about-MVP page:

The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award is our way of saying thank you to exceptional, independent community leaders who share their passion, technical expertise, and real-world knowledge of Microsoft products with others.

If staying an MVP is important to you, keep doing what you’re already doing – giving back.  Then again, I probably don’t have to tell you that if you’re already an MVP, because you did a good enough job to get recognized by Microsoft in the first place.

You don’t owe Microsoft anything.  They awarded you the MVP status for things you’re already doing.  You don’t have to start wallpapering over negatives when you talk about Microsoft software.  You don’t have to post all-caps comments on Oracle blog posts talking about how bad their software sucks.  If Microsoft wanted cheerleading yes-men, they’d hire you as an employee.  (ZING!  There goes my award.)  Part of the MVP marketing is that you’re an independent expert.

Never forget how you feel right now: thankful.  Microsoft awarded you with MVP status, and that’s a good thing.  They’re not making you an employee, they’re not giving you stock, and you don’t get source code access.  It’s a gift.  Be thankful for whatever cool benefits come your way.  Enjoy the ride!

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  1. Thanks for the post and good summary!

  2. This post would mean a lot more if I got the award :)
    Brent, could you briefly tell us how you got yours? I mean did you blog 100 times the year you got it? Add a new SQL Server feature?

    I guess what I’m going for is a general description of how us regular SQL Geeks can excel and become MVPs. Passion is not enough obviously, help us direct it and be useful to the community.

    As usual, thanks for the nice post.

    • Ayman – they don’t tell us how we get our MVP award. Microsoft says they give it to people who “share their passion, technical expertise, and real-world knowledge of Microsoft products with others.”

      I love blogging, presenting, and just generally sharing what I’ve learned so that other people can learn these lessons easier. I try to find new ways to see peoples’ eyes light up when they discover how things work.

      It’s not free – it costs me time and money. For example, I got up at 5AM this morning and started answering emails, tweets, and blog comments. I usually spend about an hour each morning on that, and then I like to write after that. Sometimes it’s blogs, but this time of year (before the conference season) it’s usually presentations. My presentations for PASS and DevConnections aren’t really done the way I want them to be done, so I’ve got 40-80 more hours to put into those. Then we’ve got our weekly Tuesday webcasts too, and we have to write and deliver those – plus pay for ‘em, because WebEx isn’t free either.

      It’s totally worth it. Every time I see someone’s eyes light up because they understand a topic for the first time, that’s the payoff.

      That’s why a lot of folks (like Paul in the comments below) say if you’re going after the MVP program just to be seen as an MVP, it won’t be rewarding for you. You won’t enjoy the work to get there, and you won’t enjoy the work it takes to stay there. If you love the work, then just do it – the accolades will come later.

      • “It’s totally worth it. Every time I see someone’s eyes light up because they understand a topic for the first time, that’s the payoff.”

        That’s why I became a MCT and started my own blog; although I can’t see the eyes light up through the internet I have received thank you emails which make my day. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing that light bulb turn on. No title could give me the same satisfaction to be honest.

        For me as a “new kid” on the scene it’s nice to know what our MVPs do behind the scenes. I see it as an opportunity to learn about where I need to step up and help the community as the next wave of SQL professionals. Thanks for sharing your experience on this one. I have to say that every single MVP I have interacted with has been super helpful and definitely deserve the title. It has been a pleasure interacting with them all. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for folks like you and the other MVPs.

  3. I have never understood the criteria for an MVP award. There are so many different types of people getting it that it is really impossible to tell. I have seen several people also whom I *thought* were MVPs on count of their considerable technical knowledge and community work but they weren’t. When I started community work 7 years ago this was on my list of aspirations – not to self nominate but to be worthy of being nominated. After 7 years i am really not so sure what it takes and have given that up.

  4. Maybe it’s still the MVP afterglow talking but best post ever! Thanks for the info Brent.

  5. As Brent said, the MVP award is an award. Pretty much all of us wouldn’t change what we are doing if the MVP program folded up tomorrow. We do this because we have a passion for helping the community, not because Microsoft sends us a box and a letter every year. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the recognition and the opportunity to interact with Microsoft and my fellow MVPs. Some of the benefits help us help the community, but we were all doing this before we were awarded. Microsoft intentionally keeps the criteria vague because one size does not fit all.

    One clue I have been able to decipher is that Microsoft wants MVPs that cover all aspects of the product, so if there is an area you are passionate about that also doesn’t have any MVPs contributing to the community, then your efforts there stand a greater chance of recognition.

    • Geoff – agreed about all aspects of the product, and I got laughs out of the TypeScript launch this week. John Sheehan tweeted that he was digging into the product to see what it would take to become a TypeScript MVP, hahaha.

  6. “You don’t owe Microsoft anything.” Exactly.

    And even more importantly: Microsoft doesn’t owe you anything. You didn’t enter into a contract to do a bunch of community stuff in exchange for an MVP award. You did a bunch of community stuff and received the award, and that’s it until next year.

    By the way, I keep all of the MVP list emails in my inbox and usually manage to keep up relatively well. YMMV as always ;-)

    –Adam

  7. Geoff, from what I understood you have to do some community work before being awarded. Yes most people who work for community would do it even without being awarded but there is no denying that it is the best award there is for community work – i must confess it does feel like a burnout many times just doing it for the sake of itself (you just have to read some feedback from events and the sky high expectations people have of free events, or the proportion of genuine thank-yous to such expectations) although I would continue it all the same. There is such a huge mix of people in the MVP pool that it is tough to even figure out anything – i like what you say on finding a niche technical skill, that helps MVP or not. Thanks.

    • Mala – I understand the feeling of burnout. I’ll turn it around though and ask you: when you’ve attended sessions, how often have you thanked the speaker afterwards? Many folks think they will, but then at the end of the session, there’s a huge line of people asking questions, so the thank-you attendees end up leaving. I know – I’ve been there too. There’s been so many presenters I wanted to thank for doing a great job, but I had to just send an email instead because I needed to go to the next session.

      Tom LaRock once told me something that really stuck with me: do things that energize you, and avoid things that drain you. If something’s draining you, stop doing it. The love might come back later, or it might never come back – people change, and what motivates us changes over the years.

      For me, that means I don’t answer forum questions. I know there’s MVPs who thrive on answering forum questions and they love it. That’s great. It infuriates me, so I skip it. Do what you love, and the accolades will follow.

      • That is a very good question Brent. And one I will remember more consciously. I have tried to thank speakers I have found approachable, truthfully i have. But if people seemed too self absorbed/unfriendly/etc etc then I don’t – even if i have learnt from them. I just go with intuition and have been wrong many times – but I learnt and move on. What you say on doing things that energize you makes 100% sense to me, no arguing that at all. This year , in short, for me, is for more study and less community work. And who knows , as you say, the love might come back. I am sure it will but now is just a time to give it a break!!

        • Brent, upon re reading i understand your ‘thanking the speaker’ analogy better. You are equating it perhaps to mvp= like speakers who are lucky to get thanked, others dont get thanked but go on anyway? That makes sense, and I get what you told Paul on badge versus love of work too.I am still trying to understand it more though.There is more to it than ‘good’ mvps who love their work and treat it largely as an optional add on versus people who commercialise it as a badge and fake community work or go after community work with just that in mind. I have seen more gray areas than just those two extremes, that is all. Don’t wish to go on and on about this. Thanks.

  8. Great post, Brent.I like the last part and that’s what I meant by always “revisiting the attitude of gratitude.”

    Mala,

    I totally understand how you feel because all of us feel the same way even in our daily job. That’s why you need to start asking yourself why you are doing it in the first place. When you are not being recognized by your boss/spouse/friends/peers for doing a great job, do you just stop doing what you do? Imagine how many non-profit organizations and humanitarian institutions would have closed shop if they operate on that premise. I’m sure they also feel the burnout of doing good for others and not being recognized for it. But they go back and revisit their WHY on a regular basis to pursue the mission of the organization. I blogged about a higher purpose in what we do earlier this year
    http://bassplayerdocs.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/searching-for-a-deeper-purpose-in-your-work/

    I have to admit that I was one of those who initially turned down the MVP nomination a couple of times. I finally gave in when my former boss joked about firing me if I didn’t accept. I got the award after years of being active on the newsgroups, forums, IRCs and BBS (yes, that’s how far back I started.) Why do I do it? Because I have received and, therefore, I give. A kid I didn’t know on the BBS taught me how to write VB code – line after line. He was persistent and patient with me, reviewing codes that I shared with him, until I was proficient in writing VB code. That took almost a month, averaging around 8 to 16 hours every single day. He disappeared after that and that was the last time I was in contact with him. He never asked for anything in return – he just gave. And I am grateful that he did because he started me on this path of giving back to the technical communities. And every time I felt like giving up on what I’m doing, I recall the time when I was in need and somebody gave. Gratitude makes a whole lot of difference.

    • Can’t say anything but :) at that comment

    • Edwin, I don’t feel that way about my daily job. I get paid for my job and I feel exploited then I try to find another place that makes better use of my talent and abilities. I know that sounds easy and it isn’t but sticking to a chronically exploitative job is not what I’d like to do. You are a rare person who turned down an MVP nomination, I know others who have but for different reasons that you state. I hesitate to comment on that further because it has strongly to do with one’s values and also what goes into what you say you ‘received’. Different people receive different gifts and not all have to be overwhelmingly greatful if that does not add to something significant for them. I am still doing community work and will continue to because I believe it and it helps me connect with so many others. But it would be dishonest to not admit that it does feel very thankless at times, that is all. Am hardly someone lacking in gratitude, just stating some facts of community work in general. Thank you.

  9. Mala,

    Let me take this opportunity to thank you for what you are doing in the community. It’s what you do that makes it a lot better now than it was before.

  10. thank you Edwin :)

  11. I went off on a sopabox this evening on twitter – here it is:
    I think a lot of people don’t get it – if you’re trying hard to become an MVP, you’re doing it wrong.

    If becoming an MVP is a really, really important goal in your life, I would take stock and reevaluate your priorities.

    There are far more important things to achieve in life than a title bestowed by a giant company to entice you to continue supporting them

    I like being an MVP, but I don’t worry that what I’m doing will help/hinder getting renewed – I just get on with what I do anyway.

    People labor under the misconception that the MVP award is a reward. It isn’t – it’s a recognition.

    Yes, there are cool free things – that’s to get you to continue doing the community stuff to build community and product sales

    Microsoft is not a giant altruistic company giving away stuff from the goodness of it’s heart, it’s a business. MVP program is marketing.

    And very effective marketing at that – and beneficial to the community hugely.

    But don’t forget – if you’re pouring 100s of your hours into trying to be an MVP just to be an MVP, you’re wasting your life IMHO.

    Either you do that stuff as a matter of course, or you shouldn’t bother and enrich your life in some other way.

    • Paul, it is important for some people to be an MVP because of the people you get to hang with and because of how it changes lives – most people I know experience a huge boost in self esteem after becoming MVPs. It is a reward, i understand but one that most think of like an Oscar. You are different, you know more and are respected simply for what you know,these titles are just add ons. But majority people are that way. I do though absolutely love what you say ‘There are far more important things to achieve in life than a title bestowed by a giant company to entice you to continue supporting them:)) Well said.

      • Mala – ooo, I’d actually disagree with that. I don’t think the MVP part is what changes lives. The journey is what changes you, not the destination. On their way to becoming MVPs, people get very involved in the community. The community is what changes your life – changes the way you get jobs, changes the way you think about giving back, and sharpens your skills.

        Notice I didn’t say improves your self-esteem. The MVP program definitely does not do that. If anything, you’ll be humbled because you know so little compared to the other folks in the room. There’s some mighty smart folks in there.

        • Hi Brent, I was only quoting what I have heard from people – about the self esteem issues as well as about the program changing lives. I can see what you say about the self esteem part – to me it works both ways. I am in a room with people who know an awful lot more than I do – I feel privileged and proud, as well as humble at the same time. Does that make any sense? Sorta like hangin with you on SQL cruise, in a small way, maybe :)) Yes though it does change lives. MVPs get a lot more exposure than others – there are companies that take pride in employing someone with the title, and vendors who take great pride in associating with people who have it. For people have strived too long for it that it is just an add on, but there are others who get it after lesser effort and for them it definitely does. In an ideal world it perhaps should not be so but the world we live in hardly ideal, is it?

    • Paul – I’m actually going to disagree with you on this one. I think aiming for the MVP award is completely okay. Gamification has affected so many industries. People bust their tails on sites like StackOverflow.com and ServerFault.com in order to earn badges, and they’re very proud of those badges. That’s a good thing.

      I haven’t seen a good gamification approach to community participation yet, but until we’ve got one, the MVP logo represents a badge that people are going to aim for. (The MCM certainly was a badge for me.) Some people like you and me are motivated just by the work we do – the work in itself is the reward. Other people are motivated by badges, reputation points, and awards, and if aiming for the MVP program gets more people involved in the community, I’m cool with that.

      The problem is that the requirements for the badge aren’t clear, so people throw poop against the wall trying to figure it out. I understand that if MS published the requirements, the gamification would go full throttle, and people would be racing through the achievements in order to unlock the MVP badge. I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. If we were suddenly swamped with people competing to deliver the best sessions reaching the most people, I’d be excited!

      • I should clarify – I think that if people are doing community stuff *just* to get the MVP badge, that’s wrong. They should be doing it because they want to help the community, and if they get the MVP as part of that, excellent. But to only be putting in the time because they want the MVP badge isn’t the right mindset. I’ve seen people strive for MVP, get it, and then drop out of the community.

        Make more sense now?

        • Well they can only use the MVP title if it is current, right? So when they drop out, after a year they lose the title. Unless maintaining the title is a lot easier than getting it. Or am I missing something?

          • Ayman, community service is not an easy thing to measure. You can still keep blogging and answering questions on forums etc – or engage in more active forms such as speaking at sql saturdays and so on. What Paul is saying perhaps is people who act like they are interested in community till they land the badge and then quit doing some of what they do (or keep up a very barebones version of it) after they get it. There are people who are that way.

  12. Great Post Brent.

    I have been an MVP for five years and have to agree, the giddy and thankful feelings never really go away.

  13. Great post Brent!

    Just a couple of quick clarifications and additional suggestions, and I’m steering clear of the discussion about motivations for becoming an MVP.

    1. At the MVP Summit, travel costs are up to you, and accommodation costs may apply, depending on whether you are willing to room with another MVP. If you are thinking about going to the next Summit, you should start making those connections now.

    2. The MSDN benefit offers not only dev/test software but some programs are completely free to use in any scenario, as if you had purchased retail. Office for both Windows and Mac are currently in this category (I think both are valid for up to 10 machines, but that may be a moving target between versions).

    3. The mailing list is by far the greatest benefit – you learn a ton of stuff from most of your fellow MVPs as well as the product group. Hook it to another folder as Brent suggests, but as noisy as it may get, don’t delete things. You will almost always remember a conversation that happened a month or 6 months ago, and have to come asking the list for someone to re-post it. Keeping it in your archives will make sure you can always find it without relying on someone else to have saved it. The conversations are mostly just textual so you shouldn’t need to worry about exceeding your mail server’s limit.

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