Friday, March 06, 2009

MVP Summit thoughts

This week another MVP summit has started and finished. I spent time with various groups and got the chance to catch up with a number of old friends. For me there was a very different feel to this MVP summit. It is something that I have felt was coming for a while.
Many of the MVPs I spoke to felt that the product groups were not be open with them or telling the MVPs the whole story. Personally I think this is the right thing for the product groups to do. People are now awarded MVP status because they have blogs, twitter too much (more than not at all) and are generally loud mouths in the online world. If I had something secret I wouldn't share it with this group either. During the evenings when MVPs of different technology areas gathered I overheard many conversations between MVPs where they were sharing the things they had learned that day. The point of signing an NDA as an MVP seems most questionable. I would suggest that the MVPs really need to be reminded of the meaning of the NDA.
I have also been doing some _real_ work this week and having meetings with some of the Microsoft product groups. This is the first time that when a Microsoft employee asked if I was here for the MVP summit I cringed as if I felt I didn't want to be associated with the MVP group. MVP status used to be something I was proud of, something that helped differentiate me as a person that adds value. Now I feel that being an MVP associates me with a bunch of Microsoft fan-boys (and some girls) who want to be the first ones to break the news that Microsoft is releasing product XYZ. Of course there are still many MVPs who do the right thing, and understand the business value. Yet I do not get the impression that MVPs overall are perceived to be adding great business value, and in some cases are presenting a hindrance to the progress of Microsoft products.
This is a great challenge going forward and I really hope there are some folks within Microsoft thinking through how to address these issues.


Anonymous said...

Good post Dr. Neil! I'm not an MVP but i do know few over the last few years and sitting on the outside, I feel the same as you.

I used to view the MVP's as person who is the connection between the product and how the product is used in the wild. Those MVP's are given that opportunity because it will help direct the product in a more productive way -> feedback to molding it in a way which the public (read: real life application of the product) use it instead of a way which a score of knowledgeable people think it is being used or should be used (but isn't because of poor decision/development).

Please don't think i'm saying the MVP program is poor or is rotten - not at all. I think it's extreamly important! The product groups spend their time devleoping their specific products - they don't have the time to see all the applications and scenario's of how we use it. Sure, u can dogfood it (which is awesome to see happening!) but at the end of the day, us members of public always think of some interesting way to take advantage of each product. As such, we need to bring that specialised knowledge back to the product groups - hence the MVP program as I see it.

But what hits home about your post was the simple fact that you have raised this issue. I commend you and sincerly hope this boldness wakes up a few MVP's who (conciously or unconciously) sometimes try go for the award for the sake of ego (or $$$ it might bring in?), instead of making the specific product awesome, which makes our life and the planet more productive in the long run.


Miguel Madero said...

It's sad to hear this, but I'm afraid this might be an awful truth. I noticed this happening a couple of years ago when I was in Mexico and it's a shame that the same issues are perceived at the summit.

Dr. Neil said...

Wow and I thought it was bad to be an MVP at least I wasn't in the room for this little bit of '6 year old' behaviour

What exactly does this achieve?
Who does it help and how?

Come on Microsoft stop hiring idiots and get back to hiring super smart folks with real passion, not this fake _blah blah blah_

Scott Barnes said...

As a member of the Product Team, I'm somewhat disappointed in this post by Dr Neil.

This is absolutely the wrong attitude to take towards fellow MVP's. To also speak on our behalf is somewhat disappointing as well, as Dr Neil, you don't speak for Microsoft in this regard.

When we approach the MVP's we understand that leaks could potentially occur, whether by deliberate or accidental. It’s a risk matrix we undertake and whilst some have the perception we are holding back on full disclosure, let me clarify this is not the case at all. We often invite MVP’s in smaller groups to begin dialogue with our various product teams in a fashion that has a more direct focus.

Today & Yesterday for instance, I personally escorted an MVP around campus to have discussions with various product teams in which he made contact last week. He not only had dramatic impact, but as a result he’s left his fingerprints on the future of our products for years to come, and that is an important aspect of what it is to be an MVP.

At the summit, we’ll provide an overview of the directions we are heading, but it’s each MVP’s responsibility to make contact with the teams and ensure the dialogue stays open so that we are able to make feature adjustments where we see reality vs. potential.

Assuming due to the fact a very small amount of MVP’s accidentally leaked confidential information is disarming the MVP concept is simply a knee jerk response to the problem in question. Leaks are something not only Microsoft but all other software companies contend with on a yearly basis and attacking the program in the way you have via this post is simply not an appropriate approach and it’s someone bordering on blog-vigilantism.

I hope you reflect on this and look to educate and encourage the MVP’s in which you see potentially breaking NDA on why they are not only breaking it but also what impacts it could potentially have. It’s easy to just kick people out of the program in a cold fashion, but in the end all it does is produce negative emotion towards the program, instead peer mentoring is really more rewarding here – since you perceive yourself as a leader in the MVP program, please act like one and lead by example?

Scott Barnes
Rich Platforms Product Manager

Dr. Neil said...

Hi Scott,

I am not speaking for Microsoft, where do I say that I am?
This is my opinion and my thoughts on the last summit. As we were not in the same room during the summit I am sure we had different experiences. Like I said in the post, some MVPs do _get it_. Some do not.
Overall the experience of working with (not for) Microsoft over the last 20 years has changed. This is not that surprising. MVPs were originally the external support community that Microsoft awarded for helping users work out how to better use the products. There are still a number of this old school of MVPs around. Now there are a number of MVPs who seem to do little to support users or drive innovation.
I have done and will continue to help those that do innovate and really support better use of the software Microsoft ships.
Challenging the full time staff at Microsoft to do better is something MVPs have done for many many years. My challenge is to the MVP program staff to do better at selecting those that really add value in the software ecosystem.
Yes Scott I challenge you too, you can do better than rise to the complaints of a grumpy old timer who wishes the internet was full of something more useful than facebook profiles and out of date twitter comments. :)

Anonymous said...

here here Dr. Neil!

@ Scott Barnes: i feel like you've missed the point of what Dr. Neil was communicating. To me, his post was more about the ethos of what an MVP should be and how a number of us perceive them, these days, in comparrison.

Of courses there are always bad apples in a bunch and it's very important to not let the minority sound like they are the majority ... but sometimes i feel along the lines Dr. Neil was saying.

I know a number of MVP's who are utterly sincere to their award and the responsibilities it brings - so I think the program is a good thing. I sometimes just cringe at some of the people who get it for reasons i question (as stated by Dr. Neil). A good example of this is seeing MVP's teach other non-MVP's how to become one. Excuse me? Become one? Like ... I will go and get a certificate?

The MVP's who I've personally grown from are those people who live and breath tech. It's more than a job. So when i see and hear people try and go through the motions to try and go for the award, this is what i feel is a dark side to the program. It's a bit like Jeff Atwood's (aka. Coding Horror) post about Do Certifications Matter? and all the pro's and con's it brings.

Anyways, I'm just an anonymous guy so I'm sure these words will fall into the dev/null of the interweb. :)