Denny Cherry, Ed Webb and Me at the 1st ever MSMVP event in July 2010
One of the most common questions I get from people is how to obtain Microsoft MVP status. I’m sure people are allured by the perks that MVPs get for each year of their award, but I wanted to take a minute and really address what it means to not only strive for the MVP award, but what it means to be an MVP. Now of course, this is just my opinion so you can take it with any grain of salt that you want, but I’ve seen people approach this the definite right way and the definite wrong way. So if you are eyeing the MVP award, let me try to point you in the right direction.
First off, the MVP award shouldn’t be your goal. Don’t get up in the morning and say to yourself: “I’m going to do things that will cause Microsoft make me an MVP”. If you ask most MVPs about the moment they got the award (myself included) they will tell you that they were completely shocked when that email appeared. You see, the MVP award is given to you based upon the level of community impact that you made in the year prior to getting the award — and that can be as big as throwing a community event to something as simple as extensive help in the forums or on Twitter. Yet, do these things because you have a genuine love for it. Don’t look like you’re forced into the role or looking past the people you are helping.
Don’t get on a soapbox. I can’t tell you how jaw-dropping it is to see someone who feels they’re entitled to an MVP award. Listen, Microsoft doesn’t owe you anything for whatever community involvement you have. Getting on a soapbox somewhere and venting that or pleading your case doesn’t help your cause. I’ve seen this in the past too, people who think Microsoft must be nuts for not handing them the award. Stop and remember, when you are nominated, the MVP program folks will come to your site or to places where you’ve posted to verify the type of impact that you have. If they run into rants and raves about how if Microsoft doesn’t give you the award then they are just blind or something, you can best bet that your application is getting tossed into the wastebasket.
I would also advise that you have a strong passion for the technology. I loves Zune. Now don’t get that twisted and equal that to hating iPod. I don’t hate iPod. In fact, I’ve had friends tell me that they’re getting an iPod and my usual response is “enjoy it.” You can be passionate about something without feeling like you have to tear other people down because they don’t make that same choice as you. It’s why I could never understand blind fanboyism or trying to defend something that isn’t defendable simply because of the brand it’s attached to. So if you love Media Center, help others discover the best of Media Center. If you love Windows 7, help others discover the best of Windows 7. Zune has just been the right thing, for my life, in terms of how to consume music and media (haha, like “fish and seafood”) and I have no problem helping those with a Zune get back on track or answering questions of those who are interested in Zune.
You don’t have to feel like you have to do major earth-shattering things to be an MVP. Remember, you can do things as big as a community event or as small as helping people in forums or on social media. The idea is that you’re offering consistent information and assistance that helps people make proper, educated choices or helps them get back to life. I will say this though: Should you be awarded an MVP award, don’t rest on your laurels. Remember, the award is given for your contributions in the year prior to being handed to you. Don’t just sit around and think that it will continue to be given to you. It doesn’t work that way.
I learned this lesson early on and I’m passing it on to you: If you become an MVP don’t be a douchebag about the perks that you get with the MVP award. There are some very nice things that MVPs get (i.e. MVP Summit, early beta access, etc) but don’t go flaunting that in front of people. There are also things people are just going to naturally know that MVPs are involved with. I remember asking on Twitter a while ago if there was a true non-douchey way of showing people that you have early access to something. The best thing I can say is that it can be nice to show that you’re getting early access to something, but remember that most of the time it’s so that you can offer feedback and critique of that product so that when it comes to general availability the public will enjoy a much more fine tuned offering.
Be independent! Because I’m a Zune MVP, for example, I don’t shun anyone who uses iPod. If they ask me questions about Zune I answer them, plain and simple. To go back to something I said earlier, I never understood blind fanboyism for any product or brand. You should be a fanboy to the technologies that help you, in your particular lifestyle, move forward smoothly. If that means having a Zune HD for audio/media, but having an iPhone for handling calls and PDA purposes, that’s perfectly fine. The tagline for the MVP program is “Independent Experts. Real World Answers”. That simply means that we will give you straight-talk advice and suggestions about Microsoft technologies that you’re using, but we’ll have no qualms about suggesting Firefox over IE if Firefox is handling the web better, nor do we have a problem letting Microsoft product teams know when they’re particular offering isn’t satisfying the general need and how they can improve the situation.
Have fun! For corn’s sake, enjoy being an MVP. Enjoy the fact that you’re giving the community some advice and recommendations that could possibly make their lives easier to handle. I’m having an absolute blast networking with several MVPs in different disciplines as well as the community at-large. It’s one of those things that makes getting up and turning on a computer worthwhile.
So here, let me now tell you why I titled this post “Being an MVP remains a forever surreal experience…” I started my first 24-25 years of life as an introvert, as someone who would barely say more than 6 words to someone. Since then I’ve been not only able to break out of that shell somewhat, but I’ve managed to channel that energy into something that’s all kinds of worthwhile: the opportunity to go out everyday and make a difference in someone’s life. Whether it’s helping them get their Zune device to turn on again, suggesting a new album to someone who has never heard jazz, having a back and forth Twitter conversation with several prominent (and awesome) musicians and music lovers is already a surreal experience, in itself. Add to that the opportunity to be able to connect with Microsoft product teams on such a level that it allows you to better help the community is a wonderful thing that I’m honored to be a part of.
So listen, you want to be an MVP. Don’t sit and wait for the award to come to you. Don’t try to be all Red Dead Redemption and go out and try to rope it. Keep doing what you’re doing, feel the joy of a “thank you” or a smile from someone in the community that you helped. An MVP award is given to people who are already MVPs to begin with.
Good luck to each of you. I look forward to seeing all of your contributions to the community.