[Opinion] My thoughts on the Microsoft MVP program

This post is following up on my tweet on the MVP program:

Ok, I admit that “circle jerk” was maybe a bit too much but that’s what frustration sometimes does. So I’m writing this post to explain why the MVP program annoys me.

 

What’s an MVP?

For those of you not familiar, MVP stands for Most Valueable Professional. It’s a recognition by Microsoft for people contributing to the Microsoft ecosystem, mainly in the form of community work. This might be contributing code, helping others and creating content. More information about that is found here. And even though “contributing code” and “helping others” are listed, most MVPs are known for their public talks. Basically you need to make yourself visible so that enough people notice and some might nominate you, in which case you might be elected.

 

If you’re a bit more skeptical as I am, you might also say that the MVP program is a smart move by Microsoft to keep people evangelizing their software and products. Of course I don’t have the numbers but I think I can safely state that paying all of the “MVP” hours would be a lot more expensive. But let’s be clear: that’s perfectly fine.

 

Recognition

Lets also look at the bright side: recognition for those who spend a lot of time, mostly their own personal time, in your ecosystem is of course great and needed. These people write code, make presentations, host events and talk at community events themselves. By doing that they help out a lot of others in the field. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s certainly worth recognizing!

Next to the title, MVPs are also granted some perks. Since I’m not one of them myself and I don’t have that much insight into the program I’m not exactly sure what this includes. But there’s an award thingy to put on your shelve. You can paste your photo into the MVP template and I’m pretty sure it involves at least some Azure credits, more direct access to product teams and an invitation to the yearly MVP summit in Redmond (for which travel and stay have to come out of your own pocket I believe). And that’s where things start going wrong in my opinion.

 

Head start

Being an MVP grants you access into an inner circle of MVPs and Microsoft employees. It gives you a head start on what’s coming. And there’s some logic to that; if you know what’s coming you’re in the position of updating your slides / courses and other material for the new stuff so that when it comes out, you’re ready. Makes sense, right? Also, since Microsoft values your work you can have better access to the product team to help them understand what’s going on in the market and at events. Microsoft engineers simply don’t have the time to keep track of all of that, it would distract focus from also building stuff. So again this seems like a win-win situation. But I would like to argue that a lot of non-MVP people could benefit from the same information as well and might provide valuable feedback too. I’m not saying that non-MVPs can’t provide feedback, but your means would be a bit more limited.

Being an MVP also provides you with a bit of status. People tend to look up at MVPs, they usually know what they’re talking about and they have great content. This will make it easier to get your talks accepted at conferences, mainly the larger ones which in turn bring more visibility.

 

Keeping up the good work

Once you are rewarded as an MVP, more doors will open up for you. That’s partly why being one is considered “an honor” and people tweet about being very humble when receiving it. As said, it’s easier to get your talks accepted. At some companies it also brings you more perks like (work)hours to work on your MVP status (write blogs, prepare talks). Those companies also like to boast how they have MVPs on board, again: status symbol.

Using all the perks their granted, MVPs can now more easily work on maintaining their status. You do more talks when more of your talks are actually accepted. You can do more talks if you company backs you up in doing so. And your talks will be better than others if you have inside information on what’s coming. MVPs usually have talks on content which was just released last week by Microsoft as they had their heads-up a couple of months earlier. Maybe they got to play with some beta bits in a private preview. So “the common folk” can’t ever beat that talk proposal as they simply don’t have access to the content.

 

Inner circles

Next to that, they’re now creating an inner circle within communities as well. At many events, speakers all know each other from all the other events they were invited to speak at. And so they have a nice speaker dinner, grab a beer afterwards and have a good time. Which makes these same people more likely to be invited over a next time and it raises the bar for newcomers to join. I’ve been a speaker at a couple of events and the first ones can be really awkward not knowing anyone whilst all these presenters appear to be long time friends. You can also check for the events you’re visiting. Take the speaker list and cross off: Microsoft employees, MVP’s, people who work at one of the event sponsors and women (nothing wrong here, but there’s simply relatively more female speakers then there’s female attendees or workers, that’s all). Chances are that you won’t have many names left which illustrates my point that it’s quite hard to get in.

Lastly, once you’ve worked hard to get in, it’s now easier to stay in. Since you can renew your membership of the program each year as long as you “keep up the good work”. Which, as I illustrated, is arguably easier when your talks get accepted more easily and you’re in the inner circle. In my opinion that, along with the social aspect, is why a lot of MVPs usually stay to be MVP for a number of years. I’ve even seen people stating they’re a 15-year MVP and that’s probably not the limit. Again: I’m not saying these people are not working hard any more, this is an important point to make. What I am saying is that as long as they occupy that seat, no one else can sit there.

 

You’re just jealous!

I’m fully aware that these ramblings will probably come across as being jealous. I understand that, even though I’m really not. I have never aspired to be an MVP and probably never will. I’m also not the person to travel the world talking at user groups in whatever country. The flight shame alone would get to me before that; why wouldn’t there be anyone in Croatia or New Zealand capable of talking about some Azure service just as well as I maybe could? And if there’s anything that COVID has proven it’s that we don’t need to be in airplanes all of the time.

I love my job, love Microsoft stuff and I learn, blog and present about it along the way whenever I feel fit. I’ve talked at events and have helped organize a few. I consider that to be all part of the job for which I’m already very well rewarded by my employer. I’m not in it for the fame and maybe I’m just not that ambitious, sue me.

But the yearly #mvpbuzz nonsense will keep annoying me when nothing changes. It’s mostly a repetition of what I’ve read last year. My opinion? There’s always room for improvement. Start with setting a limit on the number of years you can be an MVP. People who are passionate about their job will keep on doing the good work afterwards regardless. And the ones who don’t are apparently only in it for the fame. And maybe be more inclusive about the stuff that’s on the roadmap. That would help me in my daily job as well.

[Misc] Fixing annoying synchronization problem Outlook Android app

Since my outlook.com instance was upgraded to the ‘new’ experience, I’m having all kinds of issues. Two of the most annoying ones: my rules (junk sweep for instance) are not working. Not at all. Also, the synchronization on my mobile phone was pretty crappy, especially for people / contacts. It would not sync certain contacts (again: not at all) and others it would sometimes sync and sometimes delete. Being a nerd I could not stand this, so I went on to find a fix.

I tried all the logical stuff first: reset the account (which is an option in the app). Switch on / off contact syncing. Remove and add the account. Remove the app and reinstall it. I really tried pretty much everything, nothing worked.

With the update, legacy outlook.com account were moved over to a new infrastructure which is built on Office365 bits and pieces. It’s still Outlook.com, but it looks an awful lot like Outlook Online from Office365 now. And if you know Office365, you also know it’s basically Exchange behind the scenes. Read More

Changing jobs!

Having worked for four years at Atos now, early this year I began feeling like it might be time for something new. In these past four years I’ve learned a lot about how large companies work, having some of Hollands largest as my customers. It’s an intriguing world with it’s own problems, completely different from the small companies I used to work for before this job. Atos also gave me the chance to develop myself, shifting from being a hardcore developer to having more soft skills targeted towards advising customers and guiding them in today’s and tomorrow’s world of technology. For this I’m very thankful, really appreciated all of it.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end and so I’ve decided it was time to move on. Next to saying goodbye to a job, I’ll also be partly saying goodbye to the product I’ve worked with for so many years now. Yes, it’s time to let go of the “SharePoint Architect” title I was given 4 years ago. Never liked the architect part btw but that came with the job… Many projects with many customers and probably even more colleagues later, focusing purely on SharePoint just doesn’t do it for me any more. If you’ve kept track of my previous blog posts you probably noticed a lot more emphasis on Microsoft Azure and this is exactly what I’ll be moving to. I love the pace the Microsoft cloud platform is progressing at and how analysts like Gartner are increasingly confirming that Microsoft is a leader in this space. I’m not going to abandon Office365 completely though as I feel it’s a very important part of the Microsoft cloud offering, especially when combined with all the goodies Azure has to offer. It’s the combination that makes perfect and that allows me to still leverage part of my existing skill set.

So in my next role I’m going to shift focus a bit, focusing on developing solutions for and based on Microsoft Azure with Office365 when applicable. How exactly this will pan out I’ll see in the coming months. I’d love to help out customers in finding their way in all of the things the MS cloud has to offer. Making sure that solutions are future ready and leverage the cloud in the way they should, instead of simply shifting VMs over. Pretty excited about that and you might imagine I can’t wait to start!

In the next few weeks I’ve still got some project handovers to do and there’s a little break coming up. So that new start will be all fresh and spirited! Keep track of my blog or LinkedIn profile for more info! Talk later!

Gold For Experts, W02 – The round-up

It’s always nice to get back home after an information packed week. Especially when the temperature is somewhere around 16 – 17 degrees and there’s sun for a change. Spring seems to be peeking around the corner, which is nice after a dull winter (almost no snow, no ice skating, why do we even call it winter any more?).

The weather in Paderborn is probably better now too, all we saw was grey clouds. At least the clouds were somewhat appropriate. Wait, did I really make a cloud joke? Crap, time to move on… Read More

Gold for Experts, W02D02

If I were to count Sunday, which I probably could since I left around noon and most other guys left way more early, we’re already half way through this week of Gold for Experts. So time is flying once again, which is partially due to the ever so great weissbier they serve here in Germany. But I’m not here to talk about beer, there’s plenty of time for that when I leave for wintersport in 2,5 weeks 😉 Instead, I’m here to talk day one and two of GFE @ Paderborn.

For those who missed it (again), here are parts one and twoRead More

Gold for Experts; week 2!

I’m coming from you live from Paderborn Germany, where we will have our second week of Gold for Experts. For those of you who missed my previous blog about the first week, you can find it here.

It was always my plan to blog kind of live, but since my previous provider messed up my WordPress install, that didn’t go too well. It’s alive and kicking again now that I found a new provider so this week should be better. Don’t worry though, I’ll probably won’t spam you with a new update each day but do some write-ups during the week.

It’s been very nice to hear that some people have actually read the previous blog and found it usefull. Got some nice comments of colleagues on the same intake as myself, as well as colleagues who have been selected for intake 4 (starting in 3 weeks). That has been and is my goal for these series; give you guys an impression on what Gold is all about. So thanks for the nice comments again, and let’s get started with week 2 already!

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Gold for Experts – week 1

The end of last year I was given the news that I had been selected for an internal Atos program called “Gold for Experts”. This program is targeted towards employees with a technical background, who also like to speak up when it comes to things like strategy and future vision. My manager signed me up without my knowing, so it was kind of a surprise to get into the selection procedure and eventually into the program itself. Thanks again, Luc 🙂

Because the program is still new-ish (this was the third intake), I decided to blog about it a bit so that colleagues and people outside of Atos get an idea of what it’s all about. This post is the first of at least three, because the program consists of three weeks. The first and last week take place in Cambridge, UK. The second week is all about technology and takes place in Paderborn, Germany. The universities of Cambrigde and Paderborn both contribute to the program, along with Atos colleagues.

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Rocks or sucks: Windows 8

I love testing new stuff out. No, it´s not always perfect, but neither is the software I write myself. Making software perfect is a process of developing, getting it our there, reading your users´ responses and correcting the bits you´ve missed. It´s like that for me, it´s like that for Microsoft. So why not help them make things better by testing the new stuff out, right? And thus I´m typing this on my old PC running Windows 8 with Office 2013, Visual Studio 2012, and so on. Like!

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Windows Phone 8: loving it already!

Not too long ago I wrote a corporate blog post (Dutch) about Windows 8 and why I love the idea. In that same post, I mentioned the great interactivity all Windows devices will get because of the shared core. Today, Microsoft officially anounced that shared core at their Windows Phone 8 conference. Yay!

Not going into depth, the shared core comes down to developers being able to use Windows bits and pieces for Windows Phone development as well. That’s cool because you’ll won’t have to worry about writing the same code twice for different devices. And with Microsoft Surface (not the table but the slate) being launched in the end of this year as well, it means we developers will be using one codebase for phone, tablet and desktop apps. And that’s great. Kind of sounds like the way it was always meant to be if you ask me!

But that’s not all. Here’s a quick recap of all the nice features Windows Phone 8 will have:

  • Multi core support
  • Support for other resolutions (not there at this time)
  • Wallet. Not only for credit card payment, but also loyalty programs, paying via NFC, deals on your device, Airmiles. Cool! Finally we can get rid of all those stupid cards!
  • And with that comes in-app purchases
  • Navigation & directions (NAVTEQ / Nokia)
  • Deploying corporate software without using the marketplace
  • More HTML5 support (touch!)
  • Native C / C++ and Direct3D hardware acceleration
  • SQLite support
  • Incoming VoIP and Skype calls are just like normal calls

So yes. Some of you may argue that some of these features aren’t that new when compared to Android and iPhone devices. No they’re not. But integrating them all into one OS definitely is. And compared to the ‘new’ features Apple introduced for iOS6, I think this list is pretty awesome, especially from a developers point of view. With this toolkit, we get lots of goodies to implement in our apps. And I’m pretty sure the launch of Windows 8 together with Windows Phone 8 will stir things up a lot. Thinking differently that is 😉

The sucky part for current Windows Phone users: they won’t be upgrading all legacy devices. But there will be a WP7.8 version which features some of the functions of 8. But not all. So you might be forced to buy a different phone, although I’m guessing that the later models will have an upgrade option.

Disclaimer: I don’t own a Windows Phone device (yet), and I won’t be getting one for this blogpos also I’m afraid. But hey, wouldn’t want one at this time, I’m going to wait for the new Lumia’s to come out (which probably will be somewhere around the end of the year I assume). And disclaimer part two: most of the above info came from Engadget.