Microsoft Most Valuable Professional – a title which so many people want, desire and which once was a synonym of great technical expertise, but now… Times have changed, things have changed and so did the program and people in it, and finally how Microsoft hands out the reward. Here is why I think that.

But before we begin let us get the obvious things out of the way which will surface for sure:

  • Tomasz – are you an MVP?
  • No.
  • Have you ever been an MVP?
  • No.
  • So how you can say anything valuable about this program and all of this?

I have been actively taking part and engaging in Microsoft tech communities since more or less 2007 as a speaker, group leader, event organizer and many more. After joining Microsoft, I have been taking part in various communities as a speaker and was also supplying feedback to the MVP program about current and future MVPs. And now almost two years outside Microsoft I am also fully engaged in the Azure community in Poland in various aspects, so I strongly believe that I have a thing or two to say about what is going on and I can clearly see the bad things happening.

Cheating the system

No system is perfect, every system no matter what it does can be compromised, broken, “hacked” or however you want to call it, and the same thing happened to the MVP nomination and acceptance program. And what is the most common way to cheat the system nowadays to get your “dream MVP badge”? Online videos! Academies, schools, courses, online trainings. Especially now in “COVID times” it got super popular. But you may ask – what is the problem with that? It is a simple mechanism – people produced a whole bunch of usually shorter, sometimes a bit longer videos on a given subject – Azure, Office, Power Platform – you name it, they are usually well produced in terms quality but not in terms of content they try to show. But the main issue here is that always they are just a marketing campaign for fully paid courses of that author. True community work was never in any way connected so much to commercial work as it is now. People were doing things after hours, sacrificing their evenings, nights, weekends to do something valuable for the community and it was not promoting any of their businesses. And now? You produce useless videos for a couple of months, promote your paid course/academy/school whatever thanks to that and boom – MVP badge awarded – sic! IMHO all such activities should be banned from counting into the MVP recognition program – you either do something fully community based, or you do it commercially.

Forced diversity

This is a super sensitive topic in today’s world but important to point out. And I am talking here about gender diversity. All big corporations - tech included - struggle with diversity. They have different approaches to how to change that – most of them unfortunately are completely stupid and this has also touched the MVP program. Microsoft wants to drive diversity in this program which is super cool – I also believe that there should be more woman in IT in general but that is another topic – but just do not force it! There are instances where Microsoft awards the title in a category in which the girl/woman does not specialize in! Yes, there are more and less important MVP categories for Microsoft according to current trends, marketing plans etc. It is both surprising for that person and for the community. Microsoft – get it together – this not the way to go.

[UPDATE 2020-09-16] This paragraph does not imply in any way that girls/woman don’t produce high quality community engagements. It says that MSFT is not recognizing them in the right category because they want to built diversity in the category which is more important to them from a business/marketing perspective.

Low quality content

Back in the days – I sound old now – being an MVP meant to the other people, community, job market – wow! This person really knows their stuff. It was given to people with super in-depth knowledge about a particular piece of tech. You were THE person to go to. And now? Many of the MVPs produce entry level documentation-based content. Is that bad in itself? No, but it is time for Microsoft to change a bit the program, titles they give and for people who do basic stuff for communities which is valuable, get some other kind of award name. Also, the level of questions which are asked by MVPs on various forums, user groups etc. many times is just scary that they lack the basic knowledge about the technology that they are supposed to be experts in. Raise the quality not the quantity Microsoft!

The notorious requests for nominations

There are people believe it or not, who notoriously ask for an MVP nomination. Like literally they go around other MVPs in a particular category and ask each and every one of them to put a nomination for them (FYI currently only an active MVP or a Microsoft employee can nominate someone for the award). The only effect they get besides being annoying is that they cancel themselves out of the potential MVP nominees. How weak must be your contributions to the community that you have to ask around for a nomination? Don’t you think that if you are doing a good, quality job you will not be noticed? How, after receiving such an award, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say – god job XYZ! And another thing regarding this point – getting an MVP award should never be your driver for community work. Why? Because you may not get one and then what? Disappointment? Anger? Community work should be done with a “community focused” mindset. I want to do stuff for other people, share my knowledge, give them my time in various ways. Don’t think about awards. This is not a competition. Remember that you are giving, but also receiving a lot from others. As mentioned before, I have been doing tech community related activities for many, many years, and the most valuable thing I ever got from that time is the community itself. I have developed many relationships, done super cool things with so many people. The three letters you can put on LinkedIn will never give you that. And I know that even after many years I have so many friends around the globe that if I have a problem with anything – I can just “pick up the phone” (does anyone do that anymore?) and ask for help. That is the true value of taking part in tech communities.

The community leaders

Another category of people who get an MVP award are not necessary technology experts in the area they get the award in. They do a lot of community activities, they run user groups, meetups, organize events. Should they be recognized and awarded? Sure! But it is time for Microsoft to modernize and acknowledge this and create some more MVP categories for such people – something in the lines of “Most Valuable Community Leader/Member” (not everyone needs and can be a leader) maybe?

The summary

“Tomasz, why are you complaining about this? This is their [Microsoft] award. They can do with it whatever they want.” Sure, I understand that, but the problem is that they are not giving it to their employees but to the community which they are not running, not creating etc. so people in those communities shouldn’t just blindly be bound and respect all the rules that someone has put in place many years ago and now for multiple reasons they are lowering the bar, quality and the meaning of the program. With so many bad MVPs “on the market” in a couple of years this title/award will lose its value completely – it will not mean that you know the tech, it will mean that you fell into corporate buckets, rules and you just fit with what is the vision of someone far away and your contributions are meaningless to the real community.