What is a Microsoft MVP?


Well, let’s start by getting out of acronym land: Microsoft MVP = Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. The official MVP program website is here.


First, I don’t work in the MVP program so what I’m about to say is, in some cases, my perspective on the program and it may not reflect the feelings/opinions of the folks who own the MVP program. Hopefully, they will read this and add comments or ask me to update something if necessary. Additionally, I hope that some of the MVPs will add any pertinent comments. This page, written by the folks who run the MVP program, is something you should read if you want to understand the MVP program as it exists today.


I think it is important to give some historical context to the program (without telling every detail from day one though). The MVP program was originally created to reward the prolific posters to the public Microsoft newsgroups (and only those groups). That is, folks who are answering way more questions than they ask and their answers are technically accurate. 


A few years ago, the program changed a bit and Microsoft began to consider folks who were participating in other non-Microsoft newsgroup venues such as message boards, forums, and listservs. Microsoft recognized that there were certainly MVP worthy individuals that enjoyed other forms of peer-to-peer communication. As a result, there were more MVPs awarded and the program grew quite a bit (and also started to reflect a better cross section of the development community at large).


Very recently, the MVP program has been broadened again. There were MVPs awarded recently that had a mix of online peer-to-peer credentials and offline peer-to-peer credentials. So, folks were now being given an MVP award for things like User Group leadership, Industry conference speaking, writing books and magazine articles, and a variety of other offline oriented activities. I wouldn’t be suprised if in the future we see blogging become a factor in some folks recieving the MVP award. Some see this broadening as a good thing and some see it as a bad thing.


At some point during the MVP program lifetime, it became apparent that MVPs wanted more than a few dollars to the company store and it also became apparent that the MVPs could be much more influential and helpful if Microsoft armed them with the best information possible. The MVPs are a great vehicle for delivering technical information to the masses. The MVPs are also a small enough group that you can communicate semi-sensitive information to them in a controlled fashion and be reasonably sure that it will not be abused. I’m going to let a secret out here, many of the MVPs talk about the “private” information that is shared with them. This “leaking phenominon” is something that Microsoft field employees are also faced with every day. You have to know when and who it is appropriate to “leak” information to. I’m not talking about super secret Microsoft business plans but there are little tidbits about future Microsoft products and timing that can be very valuable to customers.


Who is a Microsoft MVP? This is an interesting aspect of the MVP program, IMHO. Microsoft awards MVPs for many of its products including Microsoft Word, Outlook, Money, Works, etc. So, the MVP program is much broader than just Software Developers/IT Pros. You can view the entire list of awards here. Microsoft MVPs do NOT work for Microsoft (there are exceptions where MVPs have worked on contract for Microsoft but not in a support capacity and it is very rare)..

Before you post questions regarding this post and/or the MVP program you should hop on over and read the Microsoft MVP Frequently Asked Questions page.


Roy, thinks we should do a better job educating the community on the existence and merits of the MVP program. I completely agree. This is definitely something we have on our radar and is also a goal of the evangelism group. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about the MVP program in the future.


Comments (24)

  1. Just to nitpick a tiny bit: the MVP program was originally created to reward prolific posters to the MSACCESS forum on CompuServe, well before you whippersnappers even HAD any public newsgroups :)

  2. Alex Lowe says:

    Like, I said, I wasn’t going to go into every piece of program history from day one. There are a lot of things I left out for the sake of brevity (and it still is probably my longest post to my blog). =)

  3. ms mobiles says:

    Robert Levy is MVP and he works for MS. So your statement above "Microsoft MVPs do NOT work for Microsoft." is incorrect.

  4. Alex Lowe says:

    He works as a contract employee for the FoxPro team. I’ve updated the text so it is correct.

  5. Frans Bouma says:

    I don’t understand what the criteria are to become an MVP. I see people becoming an MVP C# or .NET who can’t program their way out of a wet paper bag, hardly write any replies in newsgroups and I’ve never ever read any article from their hand.

    On the other hand, a lot of other people are not an MVP but fully deserve that, like Roy Osherove.

    It’s this BIG unfairness that makes the MVP program totally worthless: MVP’s get access to closed discussions but some of the better people out there aren’t MVP so will not participate. Some people are MVP but definitely do not deserve it if I compare their skills and education to some people who are not an MVP. The MVP title is used by a lot of people to show others that they are in fact an MVP so they are seen by MS as a valuable professional. If the MVP title is NOT given to very good people like Roy, who wrote even MSDN articles, released a free tool on regex’s etc., but instead to beginners like some people on this blogsite, the value of the MVP title is degraded by a large amount.

    Today I ignore the ‘MVP’ title if someone says s/he has one. I’m a B.sc. in CS, with 10 years of post-uni prof. experience. (i.o.w.: what’s the MVP title really saying?) It’s not a pissing contest.

    Conclusions:

    1) The MVP title is misused (or widely misinterpretated) as a title which shows you have great skills in the field you got the titel for. This is not true

    2) The MVP title is not given to the best in the community, but IMHO to random people. This is perhaps on purpose, however becuase of 1), it looks bad.

    3) The MVP title, because of 2), has little value nowadays. This is sad.

    4) The MVP title has to be seen as a title for a person who has helped fellow community people with free advice, free tools and/or free articles. At least, that’s what I think it should be. Not as a title for great skills.

    This implies that real professionals will never get the title, or only if they reply to a lot of questions in newsgroups, in forums etc. Trainers and article writers are far more able to get the title. Are they then good professionals? Perhaps. They help a lot of people, so are more able to get the reward which is given out to people who help a lot of others: the MVP award.

    I sincerily hope the MVP title is not meant for people who seem to be good in writing software in C# for example. Because then MS has a serious explaining to do why Roy Osherove is not an MVP but for example mr. McLaws is.

  6. Alex Lowe says:

    All awards in the world are unfair by your definition. Yes, some deserving people are missed by the MPV program. Yes, some of the MVPs may not be as deserving as someone else. Both are unfortunate. All the MVP folks can do is to canvas as much of the online world as they can to find deserving folks. Any Microsoft employee can nominate a candidate for the award. Existing MVPs can also nominate someone. Anyone can send an email mvpga@microsoft.com to recommend a candidate – I encourage you to do so. You can also email me off blog to point me to someone who deserves the award.

    As for people misusing the title, I don’t see what Micosoft can do about that. We clearly state that the award is given to people who are actively helping others in the community. This may or may not mean they have great skills.

    The MVP award is not given to random people. Again, no type of recognition is completely free from overlooking a deserving person and/or rewarding someone who isn’t necessarily deserving.

    The MVP award does have value. I have seen it. It does not have value to you but that does not mean it has little to no value. Additionally, it is not really meant to show value to anyone but Microsoft and the community. I think it does show that value – it does not necessarily show value to your programming team at XYZ company.

    That’s correct "real" professionals will not get the title unless they are actively supporting the community at large. A trainer, for example, will not get the award for simply being a trainer. There are very few (maybe none) trainers at Developmentor who are MVPs yet they are some of the best trainers in the world. Now, a trainer who also writes lots of articles and answers questions on newsgroups/listservs has a good chance to be awarded the MVP award.

    The MVP award is meant for people who are actively helping others in the community. Roy Osherhove has a great blog (that, I’m sure he’d agree is helping developers with some of its posts) and he’s released a free tool on regular expressions. Roy has also recently written a couple articles for MSDN. He is probably on the road to an MVP award. The award is generally given for work done over the course of a year.

    I don’t feel I need to defend every MVP (and I couldn’t because I don’t know all of them). I’m sorry that you don’t think Robert deserves to be an MVP. He does many great things both online (builder.com articles, Longhornblogs.com, PatchDayReview.co, he’s contributed a great deal to the ASP.NET Forums) and offline (he’s done a lot of work with his local user groups). I can see that he does a lot of things that help the community.

  7. Alex Lowe says:

    Frans, I’m SORRY! I meant to remove moo’s reply and accidentally whacked yours. I sent it to you via email so you can repost.

  8. Frans Bouma says:

    Ok :) I already wondered why you’d deleted it :)

    Here it is again. Thanks for mailing me :)

    —-

    Awards don’t have to be unfair, if the rules to get one aren’t vague. Let me give you an example. If you solely answer a lot of questions in the newsgroups, it’s highly unlikely you will get an MVP award. If you answer way less questions on http://www.asp.net‘s forums you still are very likely to get an MVP award.

    It gets unfair if the rules are vague and the MVP award gets valuable. FOr example, if you do contracting work, it’s very good for your business to get an MVP award, because not a lot of people have that award (In the country where I live for example, The Netherlands, only a dozen or so have one).

    Also if you want to get another job, it gets really handy to state on your resume that you’ve earned (!) a reward from Microsoft for your skills and excellence.

    "Anyone can send an email mvpga@microsoft.com to recommend a candidate – I encourage you to do so. You can also email me off blog to point me to someone who deserves the award."

    Roy Osherove. If he doesn’t get an MVP, I seriously doubt the program.

    "The MVP award does have value. I have seen it. It does not have value to you but that does not mean it has little to no value. "

    It did have value for me. I really tried to get an MVP award, back in 2002.

    After I released LLBLGen 1.x, open source DAL generator for .NET used by tens of thousands of developers worldwide, in 2002 I helped a lot of people in the newsgroups. During that period I discovered the MVP program, and

    thought: perhaps I get one, with what I’ve done for the community: spend a lot of my free time to write a code generator etc.. but no. No MVP in 2003.

    I discovered I totally did the wrong things to get the reward: I never posted to the asp.net forums, wrote just one article on codeproject.com etc.

    So tough luck. It did learn me a big lesson though: the MVP awards selection process is/was somewhat skewed. Today it’s better in balance I think, at least in the C# newsgroup people like Jon Skeet finally got their reward.

    "Additionally, it is not really meant to show value to anyone but Microsoft and the community. I think it does show that value – it does not necessarily show value to your programming team at XYZ company."

    It also shows to anyone who can read that you, the award holder, are recognized by the big company itself that you are one of the FEW who should be having that reward. This has bigger values than you probably imagine, especially for contracting work and for example the value of what you write.

    "There are very few (maybe none) trainers at Developmentor who are MVPs yet they are some of the best trainers in the world. Now, a trainer who also writes lots of articles and answers questions on newsgroups/listservs has a good chance to be awarded the MVP award."

    I think that’s a good thing, but it clashes with the general understanding of what the MVP award says: Is someone who writes 10 articles about .NET a good professional and can he/she develop great software? That has totally no relation with being able to write articles about detailed subjects. Still, carrying around an MVP award tells people that. That’s a problem I think.

    True, Microsoft can’t do a lot about it OTHER THAN (here’s that word again

    ;)) communicating better about it: what are the rules, WHY did someone get an MVP, what is the MVP award really about and also: do not make it a sort of diploma for having a great set of skills. Microsoft actually does that by creating private discussion groups for MVP’s, because (Scoble) these discussions are then of some level.

    "I don’t feel I need to defend every MVP (and I couldn’t because I don’t know all of them). I’m sorry that you don’t think Robert deserves to be an MVP. He does many great things both online (builder.com articles, Longhornblogs.com, PatchDayReview.co, he’s contributed a great deal to the ASP.NET Forums) and offline (he’s done a lot of work with his local user groups). I can see that he does a lot of things that help the community."

    I’m not asking you to defend anything :) I just want to mention that to me an MVP award doesn’t say a lot because I can’t judge it on its real value.

    If I have to hire a software engineer for my company and he / she says "I have an MVP award in .NET", I will congratulate the person and ignore the fact altogether. I don’t know if that’s fair, but I can’t judge the value.

    The rules are too vague and I can’t see why someone got an MVP and others haven’t. Robert does a lot of things on asp.net, probably the reason he got the award. If that are the rules, it’s fine by me, no questions asked. If someone gets an MVP for .NET/C# because he releases some blogging sites, I don’t think the rules are set correctly.

    I for one would value someone’s widely used free tool way more than some blogging site set up in an afternoon. Is Eric J. Smith an MVP? If not, why not? His tool Codesmith is used by thousands of .NET developers worldwide.

    He has spend, as I have too with LLBLGen 1.x, a lot of free time to build that tool for others, for free.

    That too is helping people in the community, but often forgotten. But like I

    said: the rules who is and who isn’t getting the reward are vague and unknown. If someone, say Roy, is nominated, does he get the reward automatically? I don’t think so (would be abit weird ;)), so some people are judging the nominated people. How do they do that? That’s unclear. And because it is unclear, the true value of an MVP award is IMHO low if not worthless. But because others have different opinions about the value of an MVP award, I’d like to see a bit more fairness in the award giving process so people like Roy and also Jan Tielens get their MVP award without questions asked.

    I mean, why do these people even have to get nominated, everybody can see they deserve the MVP award.

    Btw, Is Dino Esposito already an MVP? If not, I’d like to nominate him too

    :)

  9. Alex Lowe says:

    This statement "If you solely answer a lot of questions in the newsgroups, it’s highly unlikely you will get an MVP award. If you answer way less questions on http://www.asp.net‘s forums you still are very likely to get an MVP award." is true. It is true because online participation in a newsgroup or forum is rarely the only factor in someone being awarded the MVP award (this didn’t used to be the case).

    Microsoft needs only criteria to ensure that they feel comfortable that the people they reward are deserving. This DOES NOT mean that people who don’t have the award aren’t deserving – Microsoft simply hasn’t awarded them because they were not nominated by someone or the tools Microsoft uses did not pick up their activity.

    Your program, LLBGEN, is great. Products are not something that is picked up by the tools used to monitor the community. I will have to go to the tools and see how frequently you were posting on the newsgroups.

    I was an MVP before I came to Microsoft. I fully understand how the MVP award can be manipulated. The reality is that it is up to the prospective employer to research the MVP award. It is also up to the employer to base the decision to hire someone on many more things than an award (I don’t care what the award is). We have to agree to disagree on this point – I don’t feel that Microsoft’s lack of published criteria is the cause of MVPs misusing the award.

    I’ll take the feedback of publishing the guidelines back to the team.

    Again, I wouldn’t hire anyone based on an award. I would congratulate them too but there are many many other factors that would ultimately decide if I hired them.

    Generally, I agree with you that someone should not get an MVP award for simply creating a blog site. I don’t think that is what is happening. I think that people are being awarded for the cumulative community activity (weblog sites, newsgroup/forum participation, authoring articles/books, user group activity, etc.). You seem to pick one of those items and say they are not doing enough to deserve the award – that may very well be true. I say it is the cumulative effects of their activity.

    I don’t believe Eric is an MVP, at the moment. Why is he not an MVP? He is not an MVP because his activity is not measurable by the MVP group (i.e. no tools capture his product and its usage) and he was not nominated by anyone.

    The people have to get nominated because, while they have not published every detail about the program, the MVP program does have guidelines and rules. One of those guidelines is that people are either discovered (via the tools the MVP program uses) or nominated by someone.

    No, Dino is not currently an MVP. He should be.

    I’ve taken note of all of the people that you’ve mentioned and I’ll build an evidence list for those that meet the nomination criteria. Thanks for the input.

  10. I think that MVP says exactly what it means: someone who helps Microsoft succeed. By giving free help to MS developers (and users), an MVP becomes Valuable to Microsoft. I think that the letters could be misunderstood by employers and clients, but let’s be honest, how much of our world ISN’T occassionally misunderstood?

    I don’t think that the MVP title means a person can write good code but that they can help others write good code. There is an old saying "Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach." I’m not saying that MVPs can’t write good code, but I don’t think it is a requirement for being able to answer questions or mentoring or teaching. One of my favorite people to talk with about code only writes Unix RPG yet after talking to him about a problem I’m having, I always leave the room a little smarter than before. He’s my Most Valuable Programmer…

  11. The following DevelopMentor employees are also MVPs:

    Aaron Skonnard

    Bob Beauchemin

    Keith Brown

    Ian Griffiths

    Ted Neward

    As Alex noted, the MVP award is based on a number of factors. I don’t pretend to know what the criteria list is that is used to evaluate potential MVPs, but the consensus from discussions with other MVPs is that simply writing a book or a popular tool is not sufficient: extended newsgroup activity plays the most significant role. Roy has been quite active in the newsgroups, but really only since the very end of 2003.

    http://www.google.com/groups?as_q=Roy%20Osherove&safe=off&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&as_ugroup=microsoft.public.&as_drrb=b&as_mind=12&as_minm=5&as_miny=2002&as_maxd=8&as_maxm=9&as_maxy=2003&lr=&hl=en

    Fritz Onion, a non-MVP, has demonstrated his incredible depth of knowledge of ASP.NET through his book and several articles. But a newsgroup search shows very limited interaction on the microsoft.public newsgroups:

    http://www.google.com/groups?q=Fritz+Onion+group%3Amicrosoft.public.&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&safe=off&c2coff=1&as_drrb=b

    Again, I don’t know how much that plays a part, as I certainly can pull Google searches for current MVPs that return nearly 0 results. But the latest round of MVP awards seems to revolve around those who have a record of recognized and authoritative participation in the microsoft.public newsgroups as well as the ASP.NET and GotDotNet forums for 1 year or more.

  12. Frans Bouma says:

    Alex, if the MVP program uses tools to discover people’s activity, I’d like to know how they do that, because apparently they’re not totally correct. I mean: writing a couple of articles which are often linked to is more ‘eyecatching’ than writing a tool which costs you perhaps 500 hours of free time to write and which is used by a lot of people (like codesmith).

    Reading your latest reply I understand now that the potential MVP has to be active on a couple of fields to get the award. While that’s understandable, I don’t see why it is way more significantly ‘helping’ people by posting, say 500, messages on http://www.asp.net than writing a widely used tool like Codesmith.

    I really think that by delivering a free tool like Codesmith, Eric Smith has helped more people than a lot of forumposting/article writing MVP’s ever will. But that perception of course is related to the fact how you define ‘helping’. I think Shannon is right, it’s also about being Valuable for Microsoft: a free tool helps customers already there, people who already are in the trenches writing code. Writing articles, speaking at shows, is helping potential new people to get on the .NET wagon, more ‘PR’ wise.

    Looking forward to the effect this and other feedback will have on the communication teh MVP program will set up towards non-MVP’s out there.

  13. Frans Bouma says:

    (whoa, did I really post 1450 postings to the msnewsgroups… ? time flies.. :))

    http://www.google.com/groups?num=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&newwindow=1&safe=off&q=group%3Amicrosoft.public.*+author%3AFrans+author%3ABouma&btnG=Google+Search

  14. Alex Lowe says:

    It looks like you did have that many posts over 4 years. Good job!

  15. Alex Lowe says:

    Frans, the MVP program does use tools to monitor online activity. The tool centers around newsgroups. I already stated that it does not monitor articles or tools in a previous message. Should it? Yes.

    The tool, like the program, is constantly evolving so it is no surprise that things are not always in sync. Believe me, the MVP team will evolve the tools but it takes time and they aren’t exactly the team (in the company) with the most resources.

    I agree that Eric has written and released a great program in CodeSmith.

  16. interesting that it now includes magazine articles… is that slanted towards peer-to-peer help rather than us professional journalists?

  17. S Bradley says:

    http://netscan.research.microsoft.com/author/authorProfile.asp

    The tool to pull activity from newsgroups is basically that web page. The problem is in the other forums where you don’t have a good tool for considering MVP status.

    Number of postings does not equate to quality of postings.

    It’s hard. This isn’t easy finding the right people and worthy people do get missed.

  18. Alex Lowe says:

    Well, that is the version that is available to the public. The tool includes coverage of more newsgroups and even some non-newsgroup communities as well. As I said, as the program evolves so do the tools used to support it. Of course, that doesn’t happen overnight.

    Correct, number of postings do not equate to quality of postings. It is for this reasn that it costs a great deal of money/time/people to maintain the program. It is also the reason that nominations are the primary mechanism behind someone getting "noticed" (as opposed to tools). The tools are but one way to gain evidence on a community members activity.

    The entire process is much more difficult that one might think.

  19. Mark Cliggett (Microsoft) says:

    This is a great discussion.

    My team is responsible for improving our community efforts within Visual Studio and DevDiv as a whole. One of the things we just picked up is Influencers, including MVPs. As people pointed out above, there is a fair amount of inconsistency in how we approach this today. I see the comments saying that it’s easier to become an MVP in the asp.net forums and think "the ASP.NET team does a better job identifying the people helping them than other teams in our division and making sure they are acknowledged". Other teams do not do this as well.

    One of the causes here is internal org – the MVP program is actually driven out of PSS not our division. Our teams need to do a better job of taking/sharing ownership for who is in, not because PSS can’t do it well, but because we have another perspective and it should help with consistency. My predecessor in this job (I’ve been in this position 6 weeks) actually moved over to drive a lot of this in PSS, and we’ve been talking about how to make this better.

    There’s another piece of this thread that I didn’t see addressed – access to information about our plans. We want to address that issue in a different way – be more open about what we are doing with everyone. Look at Eclipse – where you can see who is working on which bug, read the specs, etc.. We want to head in that direction. We won’t get there overnight :-) But you’ll start to see specific steps in the coming months.

    Assuming we do better in being open with information, it raises the question of how we can make this group of customers feel loved. I’d love your thoughts here. I’m thinking we need to raise the bar on responsiveness to this group – answer questions more quickly, fix the bugs they report, etc.. Obviously we want to be responsive to any customer, but at some point we have to triage and do better with some than others.