Most Valuable Professionals Create Stronger Connections between Microsoft and Customers

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 11, 2003 — For a close-knit group that shares a strong sense of community, it may seem odd that many of the Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) gathered here for the Microsoft MVP Summit are meeting for the first time — meeting physically, that is. These MVPs are more accustomed to joining their peers online in the virtual world of technology newsgroups, product user groups and online communities — where they serve as respected experts and share their savvy and knowledge with Microsoft customers. Microsoft MVPs function as technology experts for thousands of computer users around the world; they also serve as the voice of Microsoft customers, bringing community-generated ideas and feedback to Microsoft.

Lori Moore, Corporate Vice President, Product Support Services

“Through the MVP program, we really get a sense of how customers are using our products,”
says Lori Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft Product Support Services.
“The MVPs are the `bridge’ to our customers, providing a channel for customer feedback. These 1,300 people worldwide help us effectively evolve our products and services to meet our customer’s needs and expectations. MVPs are a key group because they provide Microsoft the true customer connection.”

MVPs are selected by their peers, both from the online news and user groups as well as the teams they interact with at Microsoft. MVPs are rewarded for enthusiastically devoting many hours a week providing answers to technical questions posted on Microsoft news and user group sites.
“The Microsoft MVP award is given to the most outstanding members of Microsoft’s online communities for their exceptional contributions in providing help to customers,”
says Moore.
“It’s our way of reaching out to say thank you for their participation and willingness to help others. They have such a positive impact in the technical and product communities to which they belong.”

In a recent executive e-mail to customers, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted that the company’s goal is to fundamentally change the way software is developed.
“We’re working to establish more of a direct, interactive connection between developers and customers, leading to better software and happier customers,”
Ballmer wrote.

A Larger, More Global Summit

This year’s three-day MVP Summit is the largest ever, with nearly 700 participants. It’s also the most global, with representatives from 46 countries attending. Nearly half of the participants are from outside the United States.
“We’re thrilled to see such global growth in the MVP Program,”
says Moore.
“Our community of users is world-wide, so it’s imperative for us to incorporate that diverse input into our planning, feedback and development processes.”

Over the course of the summit, the MVPs will meet with each other and receive three days of detailed technical training from Microsoft product and development teams. The summit features nine executive speakers, including keynotes by Ballmer and Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

The summit also includes sessions hosted by product group leaders, as well as 48 technical discussions devoted to product reviews and question and answer sessions on future technology and products. Each session this year is structured to enhance information sharing and mutual learning between the MVPs and Microsoft.
“The sessions this year are very focused on establishing a dialogue among the MVPs, the product and unit managers, and the key developers and architects who design the products,”
says Moore.

Contact between MVPs and Microsoft is not limited to the annual summit.
“There is usually daily contact between the MVPs and Microsoft,”
says Moore.
“It’s not just a once a year kind of thing. It’s an ongoing dialogue that really encourages a strong customer connection within Microsoft.”

The MVPs engage with the product teams at Microsoft through a variety of means: email, chat sessions, face to face meetings and Web casts. Several of the product groups at Microsoft each have an
“MVP Lead”
whose job is to respond to the needs of the MVPs and to serve as their interface to the company.

MVPs represent a diverse group of individuals from around the world who have two things in common: deep expertise in one or more Microsoft products and a willingness to share their expertise and knowledge with others. Charles Pickrell, a software engineer and
“huge mobility fan”
from the San Francisco Bay area is making his first appearance at an MVP Summit, as is Justin Harrison, a 17-year-old expert in operating systems and gaming from Connecticut. Narayana Rao Surapaneni, a technology specialist working with Patni Computer Systems Limited, has made a longer journey: the expert in .NET technology and Web services has flown in from India.

Pickrell says the summit represents a chance for him to personally meet the people he usually only corresponds with online.
“I’ll have the opportunity to meet the other MVPs that I help support in newsgroups, as well as learn more about the Mobility Division itself. I hope to better understand the division and the resources there, so I can provide better support for users.”

Harrison, who began beta-testing operating systems for Microsoft when he was 13 years old, is excited to get away from the cold of a Connecticut winter and to get to know the people behind the scenes at the Microsoft campus at Redmond.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the developers behind Windows Media Center Edition, and learning what feedback they are incorporating into the software’s next edition.”

Surapaneni, who has written two books on .NET migration and interoperability and over 30 articles on technology, has previously attended Microsoft’s Asia MVP Summit. He is looking forward to joining his international colleagues at Microsoft’s Redmond campus and sharing his enthusiasm for technology and innovation.
“I am really impressed with the kind of encouragement and support given to me by the people at Microsoft,”
says Surapaneni.
“I have a passion for knowledge dissemination and I appreciate the opportunity that Microsoft gives me to share information as an MVP through the online user groups.”

“It’s a privilege and a pleasure to host the MVP Summit again this year,”
says Moore.
“These meetings allow us to strengthen the connections between the product and development teams and the MVPs who represent the customers. This dialogue is invaluable because we can educate the MVPs on future products and they can educate us about how we can improve them even further!”

“MVPs come from all walks of life. What they share is a passion for technology. It’s a pretty eclectic group,”
says Moore.
“The group is made up of doctors, lawyers, housewives, students, and members of the more traditional IT disciplines. MVPs embody the passion, expertise and enthusiasm for a particular product and they are natural leaders who willingly step forward to represent their communities.”

The valuable role played by MVPs has long been recognized by Microsoft and over the years the role of the MVP has evolved. The developer team at Microsoft continues to improve upon customer feedback in its products and another division involves MVPs in its specification review, insuring that the customer’s point of view plays a role while implementing product direction.
“The MVPs do more than alert us to a bug in the software,”
says Moore.
“Increasingly, the product teams at Microsoft engage the MVPs early on in the development cycle.”

The MVP Life: A Lot of Work, a Lot of Satisfaction

MVPs love the connections they create between the user communities and Microsoft. They also derive satisfaction from keeping up-to-date on emerging technology and having input into new versions of products.

Pickrell organizes and supports mobility user groups from around the world. His role is to support over 50 independent user group leaders and provide logistical information to Microsoft.
“I organize 50 different voices coming from these groups, and I filter this information up to Microsoft. I also filter information from Microsoft back out to the groups.”

Each of the group leaders he supports gets input directly from mobility users.
“The group leaders interact and support customers all day long,”
says Pickrell.
“They hear what customers are saying, what they are having problems with, what they like and don’t like. This information is passed onto the MVP leads at Microsoft, who give it to the appropriate development and product teams. The leads are able to say, ‘Gee, this is the input we’re getting from the MVPs out in the field, maybe these are things we need to focus on in the next edition of the product.'”

Pickrell loves being a Microsoft MVP.
“I get plugged into what’s going on behind the scenes with the Pocket PC and the SmartPhone. It gives me a better idea of where things are headed, and provides me with more information to help other people make the right decisions about what technology to buy.”
he says.

Harrison also enjoys interacting with customers. He not only provides online support for users of Windows XP Media Center Edition, he also helps support games for Windows XP, the new Microsoft Broadband Hardware, and the MSN Gaming Zone, for which he co-authored ZoneOrchestrator, an application for MSN Gaming Zone users, with Jonathan Holmes, another MVP.

Because Windows XP Media Center Edition is a relatively new product, Harrison is involved in tracking initial comment on the operating system.
“We pay distinct attention to what users of Windows XP Media Center Edition would like to see in future versions and ensure Microsoft is aware of what the community likes and dislikes,”
says Harrison.
“Our contacts at Microsoft have been very understanding and attentive to the feedback we gather and forward to them. At the MVP Summit we’ll get a chance to review our feedback and thoughts directly with the people who build the product.”

Harrison feels honored to be recognized as a Microsoft MVP.
“I don’t know of any other company that is this involved with its customers or that is this eager to promote a program like the MVP Program. I’ve really gained a lot from being an MVP, not only insight into Microsoft products and how they come to market, but also about how to deal with the public. It’s been a really fun process,”
he says.

As MVP, Surapaneni appreciates the opportunity to learn from close interaction with Microsoft and to share his knowledge with the larger online user community.
“As an MVP, the kind of attention and response I get from Microsoft is amazing,”
says Surapaneni.
“Every time I have asked them for information, I never fail to get a response. Many times they have acted instantly, which is very vital and key to customer satisfaction. With this kind of support, I am able to help people with quick and timely answers to their queries. As an advocate for the developer community, I think it is my responsibility as a knowledge champion to disseminate this knowledge back to this community in various ways and forums.”

As an author, engineer, educator and Microsoft MVP, Surapeneni keeps very busy.
“A year ago I used to receive around five to 10 queries a day. Now I get at least 50 a day. This makes me feel immensely proud — though sometimes overwhelmed! I am very pleased to say that I have almost lost track of how many times I have received appreciatory notes from different people expressing their satisfaction for the high quality of information they have received.”

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