REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 29, 2005 — Of the nearly 3,000 individuals recognized as Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) worldwide, many lead something of a dual life. Accountants, engineers, educators, nurses and business people by profession, in their free time they double as technical enthusiasts who reach out to help others in their communities. Other MVPs are professionals within the software industry. All share a common passion for technology and a sincere desire to help others.
The Microsoft MVP Program celebrates a longstanding commitment to recognizing individuals who are making a difference in both the online and offline technical communities around the world. Those recognized as MVPs share this spirit of community and have demonstrated a passion for helping others —via the books and sites they author, the events where they speak and the expert advice they share in newsgroups, Web forums, blogs, user groups and more. Now more than ever, MVPs and the broader community are providing feedback on the evolution of Microsoft technologies while positively impacting customer-focused product designs. In other cases, the MVPs’ spirit of community reaches beyond technology to improve the lives of the people or neighborhoods in which they work and live.
As part of Microsoft’s acknowledgement of the contributions of MVPs to the technical communities and the credibility of the broad customer voice they represent, Microsoft is hosting the 2005 MVP Global Summit this week in Redmond, Wash. — an annual gathering that features keynotes and Q&As with senior Microsoft executives, over 350 technical sessions and demos by product teams and the opportunity for MVPs to engage with their peers from around the world. The four-day event, taking place Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, has drawn more than 1,500 MVPs from 73 countries.
“Part of what makes the MVP program unique and powerful is that it’s an incredibly diverse population of individuals,” says Sean O’Driscoll, senior director of Microsoft’s Worldwide MVP program. In total, there are 2,956 MVPs around the globe, representing 96 Microsoft technologies in 87 countries, in 33 different languages. “It’s that diversity that brings us the perspective of our broader customer community, which we deeply appreciate,” O’Driscoll says.
MVPs — Who Are They?
Tom Porterfield, a software developer in the IT department of a Chattanooga, Tenn., insurance company, remembers the day he became active in his technical community — a step that led to his becoming an MVP in 1998. He had posted a question on a Microsoft newsgroup after having trouble installing Microsoft Windows 98. He quickly got the answer he needed, then found himself browsing other users’ postings and knowing the answers to their questions.
“I saw that I could help others out while I was there,” says Porterfield, who has been an MVP ever since. “You just kind of get addicted.”
Thomas Bliesener, a lecturer at the University of Essen in western Germany, is in his second year as an MVP. “Whoever nominated me probably found I was posting a lot of answers on newsgroups and that I had developed a very comprehensive FAQ,” he says.
Nominations for MVPs come from a range of individuals, including Microsoft employees, members of the community at large or other MVPs. The award itself is aligned with particular product areas — Porterfield is passionate about Microsoft Windows Shell/User technologies; Bliesener is focused on Microsoft Office Live Meeting. The MVP award includes recognition as a Microsoft MVP, a complimentary one-year subscription to MSDN or TechNet, a modest award of Microsoft software, a certificate commemorating the award, access to private MVP newsgroups, a richer connection to Microsoft product and field teams as well as a dedicated relationship within the Microsoft Customer Service and Support organization. Among the most valued benefits to an MVP is their ability to network with their peers as well as Microsoft developers working on the products for which they are awarded.
“They’re people who are immensely passionate about technology and who have a genuine interest in sharing their expertise with others for no other reason than the sheer sense of reward they get from helping other people succeed with technology,” O’Driscoll says. “They’re people who would do what they do in their communities even if the MVP program didn’t exist.”
MVPs As Voice For Feedback
Little wonder then that MVPs are passionate about sharing feedback on Microsoft products throughout the lifecycle – from beta to release to post-release – in order to sustain a product. For example, MVPs had significant input into the development of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 through the beta and Community Technology Preview (CTP) programs. They are key participants in the current Windows Vista Beta program and will weigh in on the upcoming beta for Office 12, as well as dozens of other products and technologies, company officials say.
Sam White, a software test engineer with the Microsoft Windows Beta Team, says the feedback MVPs provide is a vital part of the product development process. “Generally speaking, MVPs are some of our most knowledgeable customers for Microsoft products and they tend to file very high quality issues that are very actionable for us.”
Currently, White’s team is testing the Windows Vista Beta and is getting feedback from independent software vendors, independent hardware vendors, developers, home and business users and corporate clients, among others. MVPs account for about 25 percent of the testing pool, White says. “We extended the offer to test Windows Vista Beta 1 to all of the nearly 3,000 MVPs worldwide, and just about everyone accepted,” he says.
Porterfield is among the MVPs testing the new features in Windows Vista Beta 1, including enhanced security features and fundamentals. “I put a couple of code builds on a test machine and I’m putting it through its paces,” he says, adding he reported about a dozen bugs in the Beta 1 code last month and so far has a half-dozen to file for the next Windows Vista code release. “I think it’s fun,” he says.
MVPs have played a significant role in other recent high-profile beta tests, too. They filed more than 1,500 bugs during the Visual Studio 2005 Beta program. That’s nearly 8 percent of the total bugs filed, and nearly six times more bugs than non-MVPs filed, officials say.
In addition, their feedback helped influence the Visual Basic 2005 product team to bring “refactoring” support — a means of improving existing code without changing its external behavior — to the Visual Basic developer. Their feedback formed the basis for more than 80 percent of the features in Visual FoxPro 9.0. And MVPs contributed valuable feedback on AJAX programming preferences that helped developers refine Microsoft’s ASP.NET “Atlas,” a package of new Web development technologies that simplifies the job of building AJAX applications, or Web applications with sophisticated graphics.
Like many customers and community members, MVPs file bugs or notifications via a variety of means. They can file bugs at the MSDN Feedback Center (http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/productfeedback/) — a.k.a. Ladybug — a public bug database where customers with access to pre-release builds can check the status of a bug or read comments from the developer team. The portal recognizes MVP bugs uniquely, “so we can ensure a more personal level of service around their feedback,” O’Driscoll says. In addition, MVPs from around the world can share feedback and track status through the exclusive Microsoft MVP member site.
The MVP Connection
It’s getting easier for MVPs to connect not only with Customer Service and Support and the product teams, but also with each other, their local Microsoft subsidiaries and the broader community. O’Driscoll says Microsoft is working to build “a holistic Microsoft experience” that gives MVPs a multi-dimensional connection with the entire company.
In addition to the 2005 MVP Global Summit, Microsoft product, field and services teams have worked collaboratively to host dozens of MVP Open Days around the world. By opening up local subsidiary facilities in Asia Pacific, Europe, Japan and the Americas, these more intimate events have provided MVPs the opportunity to network with peers, participate in deep technical sessions as well as to strengthen relationships with local teams and Microsoft executives.
Porterfield says both parties benefit from the meetings with product teams — MVPs get early insights into what technologies are coming down the pike, and product teams get feedback on issues out in the field. “A lot of times you’ll say something and their eyes open wide,” he says. “You can tell it’s the first time they’ve heard something like that.”
MVPs also have deepened their knowledge and expanded their connections by attending MVP-only events at Microsoft conferences, including Tech•Ed and IT Forum, and by participating in everything from chats, webcasts and roundtables to conference calls, technical conferences and developer code camps. They are frequently among the top-rated speakers at industry events and bring a different and valued independent perspective through their presence as experts at these events.
Microsoft has worked to acknowledge MVPs even further by enabling MVP awardees the opportunity to self-manage and share their personality and expertise. Today, MVPs can self-manage their profiles, pictures and bios through the MVP members’ portal, determine how they want to share their information, and in turn Microsoft systematically distributes their membership profiles globally across over 50 Microsoft Web sites spanning MSDN, TechNet, Microsoft.com and Office Online — where members receive more than 10 million impressions per quarter, officials say.
“It’s the first time in the history of the company that members in our communities have been able to self-manage their own profiles and stories, determine how they want to share, and appreciate recognition across the Microsoft domain, and as that story gets richer, so does their connection with Microsoft and with others within the community,” O’Driscoll says.
Furthermore, he says, the MVP award program is dynamically evolving to accommodate the explosion of new communities, such as blogs, wicki’s, podcasts, Webs sites and new media books. “It’s a much larger community ecosystem than it was when the MVP program started,” O’Driscoll says. “We’ve reached out to connect those dots as well.”
MVP Impact Beyond the Technical Communities— A Call To Action
Much of what MVPs do has important social benefits. For example, Bliesener is donating his time and expertise with Microsoft Windows Messenger, MSN Messenger and Live Meeting to help child leukemia patients at one of Germany’s top cancer clinics, located on his university’s campus. The clinic includes a specialized ward for children undergoing bone marrow transplants — considered a last resort for many leukemia sufferers. Because their immune systems are suppressed during the transplant process, the children must live for about three months in complete isolation.
“Imagine an 8-year-old child knowing their chance of survival is 50-50, and they can’t touch their parents,” says Bliesener. “They can only see each other through a window, and no brothers or sisters or playmates are allowed in. They’re cut off from everything that supports their regular life.”
Now, Bliesener is involved in a three-year implementation of a plan to use Microsoft Live Meeting and Messenger, Tablet PCs and desktop PCs, wireless networks and webcams to enable the children to see and talk to loved ones, continue their educations and even play, Bliesener says.
With about three patients in the ward at any given time, the project calls for about 15 computers — one for each of the five communication partners each patient might need. Tablet PCs play a key role. “For parents who are traveling, they give more freedom and can increase the frequency of communication,” Bliesener says.
Lacking the technology support needed to carry out the project, Bliesener contacted his Microsoft MVP Lead in Germany and learned of a pilot program run by Microsoft Germany. The program offers software, hardware and technical expertise to social and cultural institutions that need special support, while also sounding a call to action to developers and IT professionals. “The call to action is for IT pros and developers to engage themselves in such projects,” says Richard Stückl, manager of community services at Microsoft Germany. “It’s different from when we just say we want to tell them about some charity project we are doing.”
Microsoft Germany is donating the software for the project and is set to sign a contract with a German hardware partner to donate the hardware. “I just asked and they found a solution,” says Bliesener. “It’s very, very useful.”
Much of Bliesener’s contribution to the project is voluntary, though he says the project is still awaiting funding for a researcher to evaluate the social use of the technology. In the meantime a preliminary application is up and running, and the response has been very positive. “Most of the children were very grateful and playful,” Bliesener says.
O’Driscoll notes that such social engagement is not uncommon among MVPs. “You tend to find that same spirit of volunteerism that MVPs exhibit in technical communities extending beyond that sphere — whether it’s helping with a national emergency, a natural disaster, schools or other needs in their local communities,” he says. “It’s part of the inspirational DNA of these individuals.”
What’s In It For MVPs?
So what keeps these good Samaritans of technology coming back for more?
For Porterfield, the number one benefit of being an MVP is the interaction with the technical community. “Helping others is part of it, but at the same time you learn a lot from reading some of the very technically savvy things that other people write,” he says.
Bliesener says the hours of volunteerism he puts in keep him up to speed with the technologies involved and contribute to what he does professionally at the university. “I don’t do it for the MVP title, but it’s great to be acknowledged by Microsoft and to get appreciation for what I’m doing,” he says.
For both, the opportunity to meet fellow MVPs in the flesh is a big plus. “The MVP Summit in Redmond is an absolutely great event,” Bliesener says.
Porterfield agrees. “It’s a great opportunity to actually meet the people you’ve been bumping into online for months or years,” he says. “That adds a real special quality to it.”