This is the technical blog of Keyvan Nayyeri, a 29 years old software engineer at Match.Com, speaker and author. You will find content about computer science, programming, and technology on here.
Every once in a while, Microsoft releases the list of new and renewed MVPs and usually a bunch of congratulation messages appear on social networks and blogs, and there is also some stuff against the program. This time, it's a little warmer!
Despite the expectation of many people, I never received a Microsoft MVP award and was nominated only once. There have been several people who believed that I am an MVP already! I failed to gain that award that one time after nomination because I responded to their email with less than 25% of my contributions in hurry in less than 5 minutes, and as Rob Eisenberg has written in his good post, I couldn't sell myself to Microsoft to receive an award that is supposed to appreciate my activities based on the research that they do!
I don't think I need to write much about this program and what a disastrous source of technical and geological discrimination it has been in years. Other than Microsoft employees and current MVPs who naturally defend this program, and have been complaining about the recent reactions, everybody else has a partially or completely true view about this program. A former Microsoft employee, Phil Haack, has a post reflecting his opinions on this program which implicitly admits the problems that everybody has mentioned in years! I'd like to talk to all those Microsoft employees and current MVPs and tell them that things will change for all of you sooner or later. You may have limitations to say something against this program, but at least, keep an open mind and don't defend something blindly!
I had written about the fact that the Most Valuable Professional is the worst name chosen for these programs because by no means they reflect any value of professionalism in an individual, and it's just based on certain activities without considering the quality and emphasizing on quantity! Here I try to share my thoughts on this program that are my own based on almost 10 years of observing the .NET community since its very first days!
I said technical discrimination above because this program has failed to recognize many active and talented people, and I said geographical discrimination because they don't recognize people from certain countries for budget and political reasons!
As of technical aspects, many of you may not be old enough to remember that they didn't (and still don't for some) recognize some people like Phil Haack, Jeff Atwood, Scott Koon, Jon Galloway, and many others despite all their activities. It was the force of the community that made them recognize a few people, and it's still like that. Every now and then, community members use their knife to make a group of employees at Microsoft see the real MVPs! What is wrong, really? These people get paid to do one thing and they simply fail at it!
As of geographical aspects, in many smaller countries with smaller communities, they don't recognize people in certain areas simply because they don't have budget for that. For this reason many people from south America, Africa, or Middle East are not considered at all! In one view, it's like a marketing distribution. If you live somewhere that has a better market for Microsoft products, you have better chances for an MVP award!
Likewise, they don't consider some countries for political reasons at all! Iran is one of them and maybe one of the reasons I wasn't recognized for years before I come to the US! But the most interesting/frustrating point is that there are people living in such countries who use certain tricks to be recognized! It's yet another sign of a weak system!
The nomination process is vague, and the best view that we have of this process is that if a bunch of prominent community leaders and Microsoft employees keep ranting about the nomination of a person, he may be seen by Microsoft MVP program employees!
They assert that there are some ways for being nominated, and of course, some areas like open source are overlooked. For other areas, it's very clear that they don't differ by importance. For example, if you spend a lot of time and give a novel talk to 200 people, it's kind of the same as writing an article on a small site on DateTime type in .NET in 2012!
Likewise, it's all about quantity rather than quality. If you have one high-quality item, it will lose to 5 poor-quality items. As Rob has reflected in his post, there are some people recognized only by maintaining a daily link-blog of aggregated items from other bloggers because they have 365 blog posts per year, or simply because they have created a community site where other people publish content and they just watch!
Of course, some people say that other peers, MVPs, or Microsoft MVPs can nominate you, but I realized that this varies significantly by teams and since most Microsoft employees are living in caves ignoring the community, most people have no chance!
After being nominated, you need to be selected to be an MVP! For the selection process, a Microsoft employee contacts you to ask for a list of activities that you have had in the past year. That's the part when you need to sell yourself to Microsoft like a marketing guy. I found this the strangest part of the process.
What is expected for an award program is that the organization monitors the activities of people and rewards them without asking them what they have done. If you know what you're doing, you shouldn't ask somebody else to show you what to do!
After receiving the award, you need to repeat your activities to renew your award for the next year. In my experience, this is mostly like a monopoly because most of the MVPs that I've known have had less activities but were renewed in the next years! Again, there will be some current and former MVPs disagreeing but I don't think anybody can buy that!
Many independent individuals and business owners already know that MVP status doesn't have any technical value, and cannot be used as a method for recruiting or promotion, but why is it still breathing? During these years I realized that there are three main reasons for that.
First, Microsoft tries to make a big deal out of this program. They keep referring to it like it's very important even though they don't count it in action themselves. Since Micorosft is the central authority behind its community and most people only follow it, it still receives attention. Don't forget that the main body of Microsoft developers are not an active part of the community and a simple status can fool them because they don't know who is who!
Second, it's the current MVPs who try to make it look like it's important. I don't think it's necessary to explain this one!
Third, it's the atmosphere on the community in certain countries that makes this program important. For example, I learned that Indians put too much emphasis and value on this program and try hard to gain it. If you follow some Twitter accounts or blogs, you see this clearly.
There will be some people disagreeing with this whole post or parts of it and I respect their opinions but let's be honest and see the truth. This program has been a marketing tool for having a group of people working as an evangelist and support guru for different Microsoft products in years. The reward doesn't match the cost of the hours of work spent on gaining it. The only positive outcome for an individual may be the attention he receives to make better networks. I know some former MVPs who found their way to work at Microsoft only by meeting some managers at MVP summit!
As Phil states, it's the satisfaction of people that should be the goal for contributions. It's the help to the humankind that is the sweetest part of a contribution. I wrote 4 books, over 850 articles, tutorials, and tips/tricks, coordinated 15 open source project, had several talks, contributed to some internal Microsoft programs with different teams, have been a VSX insider, and tweeted over 10'000 technical tweets about Microsoft products in a period of six years or so. One thing about all these activities was that they were all novel and have been serving the Microsoft community for years as a primary resource, and people keep thanking me for helping them, and that's what puts smile on my face every day. I never needed and wanted a Microsoft MVP award even though I was overqualified to receive that for years, but I never stopped because there was a blind eye not seeing me. Unfortunately, Microsoft is passing the worst time of its history being flooded with B and C level players, and such issues are totally expected (read the last chapter of Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson).
The one lesson I learned in all these years is that it's the biggest mistake of somebody to invest much into a company like Microsoft, Apple, or Google for his career. After all, it's all about business and the money matters much more than a passionate individual to them. You see how people change their view of these companies once they lose their awards or leave their jobs, so with a little smartness, you would understand that all the noise is superficial and truth is not told by people! Therefore, if you're a young reader at the beginning of your career path, I can tell you that you better contribute with passion for people not awards and companies! It has hurt me, but I'm lucky that I had alternative plans, so beware!