REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 29, 2001 — Sandi Hardmeier doesn’t expect a “thank you” from the folks she helps each day as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), but it appears there’s no stopping some of the grateful thousands who’ve posted questions to the Microsoft online public newsgroup Hardmeier tends as an Internet Explorer MVP. During her two-year tenure as one of Microsoft’s approximately 750 MVPs, the Australian woman says she’s been promised everything from signed artwork to six-packs of beer.
“I enjoy being an MVP because I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people, not because they thank me in the end,” Hardmeier says. “It’s something I’m really, really proud of. There’s the recognition that goes along with that MVP signature next to my name that shows I’m part of the best of the best in Microsofts newsgroups. It’s an acknowledgement of expertise, and yes, it’s a thank you. But it’s trust more than anything.”
Last year, more than 11,000 people entrusted their questions to Hardmeier, a Perth, Australia-based paralegal, technical-support specialist and mother of two. Hardmeier, who in addition to her day job averages about 30 hours a week helping her peers, is being honored during Microsoft’s annual MVP Summit in Seattle, November 28-30. Some 400 MVPs from more than 40 countries are attending this week’s conference, which features a keynote address by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.
The ranks of Microsoft MVPs include police officers, firefighters, artists, retirees and teachers, and range from a homeschooled, 15-year-old .NET guru to 60-something computer whizzes and cardiologists. All are linked by a few common characteristics: their expertise in one or more Microsoft services or products, and a passion to share their knowledge free-of-charge with peers and other technical community leaders.
MVPs can be nominated for the distinction by a fellow online-community member, by another MVP, or by a Microsoft employee who is active in the online community.
“The MVPs are a wealth of information and represent what our customers want as well as what they do with our products every day,” says Lori Moore, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Product Support Services. “Through consistent and ongoing conversations with these community leaders, we can build better products. We view our MVPs as an integral component to the feedback loop that is vital for product improvement.”
Moore points out that Microsoft newsgroups receive roughly 20,000 posts per day, resulting in an estimated 7 million queries each year.
“The MVPs are a key part of the Microsoft community, and they absolutely help make the community thrive,” Moore says.
“Their passion for helping others is incredible; they continue to amaze me, day in and day out.”
The number and role of the MVPs has grown in the eight years the program has been around, Moore says. What began as an informal recognition of dedicated community members for their active participation and community leadership has evolved into a more formal appreciation process and even bigger company asset. Moore says she envisions the program growing by 40 percent in the next year.
“As Microsofts products and technologies grow, so will the number of MVPs that are experts in them.”
Several Microsoft executives now regularly chat with MVPs to bring them up to speed and answer questions they might have on certain products and services, Moore says. “It is becoming even more important for us to reach out to the technical community, particularly in the developer space. MVPs increasingly aid us in that endeavor. When new products launch, such as Visual Studio .NET and Windows XP, the MVPs are already answering questions, helping others, and becoming a knowledgeable source for the new version.
“We involved MVPs early in the development of Windows XP, and they helped us tremendously by having a real interest in the product itself and by contributing to questions new customers had about it in the newsgroups.”
Anthony Russell, Product Manager, Windows Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group, sees his MVPs as an anchor to Microsofts growing community of developers and instrumental in acquiring valuable product feedback. The Windows Embedded MVP program has grown from 27 to 70, and Russell forecasts that this latest tally will double within a year.
“MVPs extend our community and improve our products through their shared experience. By actively supporting these folks in their role as community leaders, we are able to help in the development of a vibrant Microsoft community that is rich in content, product feedback and peer-to-peer support. In general, Microsoft MVPs help everyone from a mom in North Dakota who needs assistance with Excel to a savvy developer with extremely technical questions on application, hardware or systems development,”
More specifically Windows Embedded MVPs are active in both our online community , as well as with our product teams. Whether posting in public newsgroups or providing feedback in a technology beta program, they add value throughout the product life cycle and play an important role in the product decisions that we make.”
Hardmeier says most people probably don’t realize what a great resource the MVPs can be until they actually seek help. But once they do, they often return. “Quite often people come into newsgroups seeking MVPs. They know we’re not going to lead anyone astray,” Hardmeier says. “The MVPs are an amazing resource. There are some fantastic brains out there. And they’re free!”