Here’s the third post in what we hope will be a long series of guest posts by Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs). Since the early 1990s, Microsoft has recognized the inspiring activities of MVPs around the world with the MVP Award. MVPs freely share their deep knowledge, real-world experience, and impartial and objective feedback to help people enhance the way they use technology. Of more than 100 million users who participate in technology communities, around 4,000 are recognized as Microsoft MVPs.
This post is by Mitch Garvis, Windows Client MVP.
Mitch here. Microsoft appreciates its MVPs. I feel that appreciation in myriad ways throughout the year. However for four days every year Microsoft invites us all down to Redmond for the MVP Summit, which is where I probably feel it most.
For four days every year, Microsoft puts us up in nice hotels in Bellevue (right next to Redmond). They feed us, they ply us with booze, and they throw fancy parties at cool venues.
For the lucky among us, MVP Summit is essentially four days of NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) material from the product teams of our primary competencies. It is deep-dive training on next versions, roadmaps, and giving feedback to the product teams.
My core competency is called Windows Expert: IT Pro. That means that this year should be a great summit for me, as rumour has it Microsoft is releasing a new version of the Windows Client OS (Operating System) sometime in this calendar year. In other words, there should be plenty of interesting content for me and my peers.
MVP Summit is also a time for old friends to reconnect, and to meet new friends. You are going to be in a room for several days with people from all over the world who have similar interests to you (technologically, anyways). As the program matures, many of those same people come back year after year, and you cannot help but make friends with some of them. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to make friends with them!
Although I keep making threats, I have not missed a Summit yet. I was awarded my MVP in October, 2006… and every October since. That makes this my sixth Summit, and although my core competency has changed several times over the years, my excitement at Summit has not waned.
Changing competencies does not mean that you lose friends; it means that you make more friends. Two years ago at Summit I had left the SBS/EBS fold – a close-knit group to be sure. I had switched because I no longer work with or support SBS, and EBS was discontinued as a product. Still the SBS MVPs who had been my friends for several years got together and gave me a present for my newborn son. I had tears in my eyes.
So imagine this: You are part of a group of industry-leading technical experts, and for most of the year you are the only one in the room; then all of a sudden, for four days, everyone in the room is just like you. The MVP Summit brings in people from all over the world… since I landed yesterday afternoon I have already seen friends from Korea, Germany, Holland, Slovakia, and of course the USA. It is traditionally a great week to meet new people and old friends, hear about technology from the horse’s mouth, and just geek out.
Registration opened this morning, and my roommate and I sauntered down around 9:15. We always get a ‘goodie-bag’… traditionally a shirt (for the first time this year it was a golf shirt instead of the usual button-down) and a water bottle. They also give us our badge, Pocket Guide, and a voucher to spend our own money at the Company Store. This year they also gave us a scarf, with a note to wear the scarf at the big Attendee Party which will be Thursday evening at CenturyLink Field (formerly the Kingdome), which is where the Seattle Seahawks play. Last year’s event was a cool party at Qwest Field (where the Seattle Marlins play) and it was a great evening.
The water bottle is, in my opinion, poorly designed. The top is a double-screw top, one screw to fill it and a different one to drink. The issue is that both turn the same way to open and close, and I can foresee a lot of people intending to open one and accidentally splashing water (or whatever the contents are) all over themselves. I have used it already, and to mitigate this possible issue I screwed the one top in very tight, and the other hardly at all.
Today (Monday) is mostly for registration, although there are a number of other pre-events going on. There was a Women in Technology luncheon panel that I walked into for a minute and then left, partially because I am not entirely concerned with the cause, and partly because the food they were serving is not on my diet. I spent some time hanging out at registration and speaking with people I know, and met some new ones.
Monday evening I encountered a problem that I have had nearly every night at every MVP Summit I have attended since 2006; I had to decide what dinners and what parties to attend. I started the evening having dinner with colleagues – not actually an MVP Summit event, but definitely a key aspect of the Summit – business. I was glad that my colleagues were willing to have an early dinner for two reasons: it would give me the chance to spend more time at more parties without having to stumble into my room in the wee hours of the morning, but also because I am dieting, and knew the slightly larger dinner would be have more time to digest before bedtime!
From dinner I went to the SBS Party, sponsored by HP. On the one hand I have moved away from SMBs and especially SBS over the past few years, but I do have a lot of friends in that group that I only get to see at Summit, so I dropped in. It was great so see the gang, catch up, and hear what they are up to.
The Regional MVP Lead for Canada (Simran Chaudhry) would have been a bit hurt if I hadn’t dropped in on the Canadian MVPs party, which I would later in the evening. I walked over from Paddy Coyne’s to Earl’s (most years that would have been stumbled… my diet has me on the wagon!)
Tuesday was the first ‘official’ day of the Summit, and I was like a kid in a candy store. As Windows Client MVPs, we were told that we would be spending two full days in closed-door NDA sessions on Windows 8. It is not always like that, and if you follow product release cycles that is not always going to be the case – last year we were a year into Windows 7, and two years away from Windows 8. Information-wise, we got nothing. However this year we are the opposite, and although Microsoft is not ready to share a lot of the information with the public yet, the MVPs (from two specific product groups only) were invited to spend two really great days with people from the product team, and although there is nothing I can say about it yet, I will tell you that Windows 8 will be a game-changer, and everyone should be excited about it!
This evening was the Welcome Reception, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt hotel. It is always fun, and the Canadian MVP Leads made it more so… they added a bit of a scavenger hunt for us. I have been an MVP for six years, and each year we (Canadians) set the bar for everyone else to follow. Six years ago our then-Lead (Sasha) got us all Team Canada jerseys, and every year since we have made sure to bring them along, and have seen to it that all of our newbies have gotten shirts as well. This year we were told that the first Canadian MVP who submitted photos of seven MVP-Leads from around the world wearing our jersey would win a prize. It’s a really good prize, and I hope I won! I should find out tomorrow. As we always do, we arranged to meet for our group photo, a sea of red. We posed and sang Oh Canada as MVPs from around the world snapped photos and shot videos.
This was the first year we took the photo in the evening – it has traditionally been held either before or after the Keynote Speech… but this year there was no keynote scheduled. Apparently some MVPs complained about it, which is too bad because while it is not always educational, it is always interesting. The first year I attended the keynote was delivered by Bill Gates. Subsequent years have been delivered by either Steve Ballmer or Ray Ozzie, or other high-level people from the company. Apparently last year it was not well received, so it was cancelled this year. I have heard a LOT of people who are upset about that… as am I. Hopefully we will all put it on our evaluations this year, and it will be resumed next year.
After the party Sim (my MVP Lead) told me that a lot of the Canadians were heading over to the Tap House for drinks. It was fun, but I came back to the hotel early. My brain was hurting, both from all the information we received, and from all of the great folks I got to chat with during the day and evening… from all over the world, in dozens of accents. I also wanted to get a good night’s sleep because I know that the information deluge continues tomorrow!
It is amazing the great people I get to meet (and often reconnect with) during the Summit. People like Mark Russinovich, Stephen Rose, Mark Minasi, Michael Niehaus, and a hundred other people that you may not have heard of, but without which Windows would not be Windows. Some of them are Microsoft employees, others fellow MVPs. The fact that these people not only make time to talk to us, but also give freely and really make you feel welcome is just amazing. Last year the Product Manager for a certain technology gave a session; afterwards I asked if he had a few minutes to give me a few minutes to help me understand something better. He met me in my hotel that evening and we spent two hours in the café until he was confident I understood it. If I had to choose a single real tangible advantage to being an MVP I would say that is it. Thanks Dave!
Today is the day that Geeks, Windows fanatics, enthusiasts, and even haters have been waiting for: the next pre-release version of Windows 8 – dubbed the Consumer Preview – was released for download. Scuttlebutt says that the bandwidth at all of the hotels where MVPs are staying has dropped to a crawl – everyone is downloading the bits. I assume the bandwidth on campus will be the same by 9:30 or so, but so far I have not seen any problems. I have not joined the marauding hoards – as a Windows MVP I will get the bits today from our product team. I have to admit I am excited not because we are getting new bits, but because I have a presentation to do on Windows 8 at an event on Friday, and with the differences between the previous release and the current one being so substantial, I want a couple of days to play with it.
While I assume today will be a different story, the wireless Internet on the Microsoft Campus this week have been a huge improvement over years past. I was impressed that I was not terribly throttled, although I admit I was not doing anything all that taxing – e-mail and such when I had time. Today there are probably 1,500 people who are downloading the bits for Windows 8. With that being said, Microsoft has listened to us – our session room had a super-duper wireless hotspot, and the general consensus from people was that it was a huge improvement.
I have now been running Windows 8 on my HP EliteBook 2740p Tablet for several hours, and while I am not yet in love, I certainly like it a lot better than I did the Developer Preview. Frankly if the worst thing that a group of geeks can say about it is ‘We want the Start Button back’ then I think Microsoft may have a hit on their hands.
Wednesday evening is, as it seems is every other night, a party evening – except this party is at the Commons, essentially the giant communal food court of the Microsoft Campus. It reminds me a lot of Le Faubourg Ste. Catherine in Montreal – very hip, upscale, but at the same time comfortable and unpretentious. There are several restaurants split between two buildings, and each product group sits together (although there is a lot of intermingling). One of the big complaints I hear from fellow MVPs is that we are awarded in our competency, and sometimes it feels like we are expected to stay within that competency forever. However most technologists do not pigeon-hole themselves; as an example, while my primary competency is the Windows Client, I spend most of my time working in server virtualization, with a healthy dose of System Center, Windows Server, and even a little bit of Office. The Commons Mixer allows us to wander to different groups and either reconnect with people we have known for years (shout outs to Wally Mead and Kevin Beares to name just two), as well as meet people in other areas of interest. It was a fun evening, reminiscent of the same event last year 😉
Before I went to the Commons I did veer off the MVP Summit schedule for an hour. I met with one of the Community Leads from Microsoft Learning for a very nice dinner in downtown Bellevue. The Summit is of course an opportunity for us to connect with the Microsofties that we need (or want) to, but it is also a golden opportunity for them. Veronica sent out a tweet on Monday that she was looking for a number of MVPs who were also MCTs (Microsoft Certified Trainers) to sit down and chat with. What better time to reach out than when you have fifteen hundred of us in town, and instead of an impersonal phone call or e-mail exchange, you can sit down and talk for an hour face to face without having to pay T&E. I had two such meetings this week, and was glad to do it because if we expect Microsoft to help the community, we the community leaders have to maintain that dialogue with the appropriate teams within Microsoft. As for my second meeting, Jen Lussier is probably still trying to decide if people in Newfoundland really kiss fish (they do!).
Thursday was the last official day of the Summit, even though the events would go right through the week-end. I spent the morning drinking Windows Server 8 ‘beta’ from the fire hose – so much juicy information, and nothing that we can discuss! I don’t mind… I’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the time does come.
I also had a rather unique opportunity to connect with one of the product engineers who has a vested interest in a user group session that I am currently building. Just like last year, despite how busy he was he set aside an hour to talk with me about my plans. It was one of those unique opportunities that I couldn’t pass up – and I am glad that he made time for me! The information I was able to glean from him was amazing, and the relationship that we are building will benefit both of us for years to come.
The Attendee Party – the main event, as it were. Last year it was held at Safeco field, and as a baseball lover I really had a blast! This year they took us next door – CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders play. For reasons that defy logic (unless you are in training, as I am) I decided to fast on Thursday, so I did not get to enjoy any of the grub… but I still expect I gained three pounds from enjoying the aromas. Every sort of wonderfully fattening and bad for your teeth food you could think of, to be washed down with any beverage (alcoholic or otherwise) that you liked. I drank water. What a maroon.
We took a group photo, and because there was no keynote session this year (BRING BACK THE KEYNOTES!) it was the only time that we were all there. Most of us donned our MVP scarves, and it was a lot of fun. Following the picture they let us out onto the field, where there were plenty of footballs and soccer balls for us to kick and toss around. Here you could really tell the difference between the Americans (who were all tossing the footballs, many quite well) and the Europeans and South Americans, who were expertly kicking the soccer balls around. I’m a little of both so I fit in all around, and had a blast.
Inside at field level there were blow-up games of skill (try to kick a soccer ball through a hole barely bigger than the ball from 30 feet – it’s a challenge!) and of course food and drinks. Upstairs we had several bars with dance floors, karaoke, and a dozen other activities, and everyone seemed to have a great time. I for one enjoyed myself tremendously, and only wish I was not in training… the food looked and smelled great!
Diet aside, I love the fact that I was able to reconnect with so many of my MVP friends from around the world. There was Elias from Venezuela, Sun Ki from Korea, Nick from Ireland, Paula from Poland, and of course Raymond from The Netherlands, just to name a few. I saw friends from Canada whom I never see in Canada, friends from around the US and the globe whom I have met at Summit, and in many cases they have visited me or vice versa.
My Summit ended Thursday evening, but there was another event held on campus Friday and Saturday at which I was invited to speak. MVP Nation, an offshoot of SMB Nation, is one of these great events where MVPs and non-MVPs get to interact… there were two days of presentations given by MVPs (and some by sponsors) that is not actually a Microsoft event, but is put on by community members for community members. It was a lot of fun, and although I know I disappointed a lot of people by not breaking my NDA, I was still glad to do my first ever presentation on Windows 8. Something tells me it will not be my last.
Although this event is not part of Summit, there is no doubt that the timing was calculated just right… MVPs are on campus, let’s see who wants to hear them speak? I don’t mind… part of being an MVP is giving back, and I am glad to do so. Besides, it gave me two extra days to spend in Redmond with friends and peers!
If someone were to ask me what the benefit of being an MVP is, it would be impossible to choose just one. The connection with the product teams, seeing and learning about new products months (or longer!) before they are released, and getting individual recognition and attention from people within the product groups are all incredible. Being given the recognition to the larger community is nice too… but having the chance to meet and get to know so many of our peers, and to form lasting friendships that will last a lifetime with people who previously were just other names on a newsgroup, forum, mailing list, or panel… getting to know not only their technological interests but hear about their families, hobbies, interests, and what beer they drink… that is huge too. Ask me which one of these is the most important, and I’ll answer you very simply… go out, participate, contribute, get recognized, and get awarded… and you’ll be able to decide for yourself!