Congratulations, You’re an MVP! Here’s What You Need to Know.

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!