Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft's MVP Program Evolves in Unexpected Ways

What exactly makes a Microsoft MVP? In the wake of recent developments around Microsoft's selection and renewal process, not even this longtime MVP knows for certain.

Earlier this month, I was completely taken by surprise (seriously) when I was notified that I had received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award. The MVP Award is an annual award, and each year you have to requalify in order to receive the award again the next year.

It would be easy to assume that since I have been an MVP for 17 years, that Microsoft would just automatically renew me each year. However, it does not work that way; I have to requalify each year, just like everyone else.

There is always a bit of uncertainty with regard to the renewal process. Microsoft has never fully disclosed its MVP selection criteria. Since I don't know the criteria for renewal, I always find myself wondering from one year to the next if I am going to be renewed.

This year was different, though. While I have no idea what Microsoft has planned for the MVP program, I have noticed two very big -- albeit unofficial -- changes to the program.

The first change was something that I noticed about a year ago. Now, I have to admit that I am not as involved in the MVP program as I would like to be. My insanely busy schedule keeps me from attending very many MVP events, and I almost always miss the calls with the product groups. Last year, however, I managed to attend an MVP event in Florida. The thing that surprised me about the event is that the event's content was almost entirely geared toward developers. I have heard other MVPs say similar things about the events that they have attended.

During some of my earlier years in the MVP program, content was much more evenly distributed (sometimes even segmented) between developers and the admin types. I can't say for sure that Microsoft is moving toward a developer-first or developer-only model for the MVP program, but I will say that Microsoft seems to have embraced Steve Ballmer's old mantra of "developers, developers, developers."

The other change that I have observed is a bit more puzzling. Earlier, I said that I was completely taken by surprise when I was notified that I had received Microsoft's MVP award. That was not a lame attempt at fake humility or anything like that -- I really was completely surprised that I got renewed. I'm not really sure what is going on, but Microsoft seems to be in serious MVP house-cleaning mode right now.

Back in June, a couple of weeks before the renewal date, a friend posted on social media that she had been notified by Microsoft that her MVP award was not being renewed. That news surprised me for two reasons. First, my friend had been an MVP for almost as long as I have and, as far as I know, she was in good standing with the program.

The other reason the news surprised me was because in my 17 years of being an MVP, I have never heard of anyone getting advance notice of their renewal status. Ultimately, I assumed that my friend's career path must be going in a different direction from what Microsoft wants to see in its MVPs, and that because my friend had been an MVP for so long, Microsoft probably gave her advance notice of her status as a courtesy.

Within a day or two, however, my theory was completely disproved. One MVP after another started coming forward saying that they were not being renewed. For the most part, these were long-term, very high-profile MVPs. I want to be respectful of these former MVPs and therefore will avoid naming any names, but let's just say that if I were to write a list of the people who were not renewed, there is a good chance that you would recognize most of the names.

There were so many high-profile MVPs that were cut from the MVP program, that I did not think there was any way in the world that I was going to be renewed as an MVP. After all, most of these former MVPs were far more engaged in the program than I have ever been. Even now, I have no idea how I managed to get my MVP status renewed, when so many other knowledgeable and highly respected MVPs were dismissed from the program.

I remain perplexed as to what Microsoft is trying to do with the MVP program.

People frequently ask me how they might become a Microsoft MVP. In the past, I have told them that the selection criteria is a closely guarded secret, but that MVPs consistently demonstrate a willingness to help people with their technology challenges. Some MVPs spend a lot of time in Internet message boards answering questions, while others like myself create books, articles and videos.

The one thing that all Microsoft MVPs have historically had in common, though, is a willingness to help those in the IT community.

While I'm sure that the philosophy of putting others first is probably still a big part of the MVP selection process, the MVP program has undergone such a big shakeup this year that I am not really even sure of what other characteristics Microsoft finds desirable in potential MVPs.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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