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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

MVPs and the Community


Earlier this month, David Woods decided to drop his MVP award. The move inspired some interesting comments and discussion among MVPs.

David's points are:

  • MVP Expertise
  • Microsoft Technology Products
  • Microsoft "Listens"
  • Cost-Benefits for an MVP

MVP Expertise

After mentioning he's encountered MVPs who are not experts, David states: "The way you get in is by contributing to the community."

Honestly, I don't know the specifics of how someone becomes a Microsoft MVP. And I'm ok with that. It's Microsoft's program and they can run it however they please. That's not a complaint, compliment, excuse, or endorsement. It's just the way it is. I've watched others become MVPs. I've nominated several people for the award and some of them have been awarded. They weren't awarded because I nominated them - they were awarded because the good folks at the Microsoft MVP Award program checked them out, vetted them, and agreed they should be MVPs.

What exactly does Microsoft consider? I don't know.

I cannot speak to other programs, but I know a lot of SQL Server MVPs. To a person, they're all experts. Do they all know everything about everything in SQL Server? No. But they know an awful lot about their preferred corner of SQL Server. Some rock on the relational engine and T-SQL. Others are masters of storage and SAN administration. Some know business intelligence, some don't. Quite a few SQL Server MVPs are proficient in several areas or disciplines. Very few are laser-focused on one aspect of the technology.

I can hear you thinking "Why?" I'm glad you asked! SQL Server is HUGE! Database professionals refer to the collection of technologies associated with SQL Server as the stack. The stack includes the SQL Server relational database engine, workstation tools for development and administration (SQL Server Management Studio, Busienss Intelligence Development Studio, SQL Server Profiler, Configuration tools, etc.), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS). There are sub-specialties within technologies as well: Notification Services (SQL Server 2005 only), Extended Events, XML, Spacial data, Data Warehousing, Change Data Capture, and more. In other words, there's a lot to keep up with!

I'm not sure who David encountered in his adventures, but it's entirely possible to find a SQL Server MVP who doesn't know much about some portion of the SQL Server stack or sub-specialties.

One of the coolest things about working with SQL Server is the community. The SQL Server community is chock full of expertise! And - news flash - the expertise doesn't lie solely with SQL Server MVPs. What makes this community so cool is: Everyone shares. If I get stuck on some aspect of the technology, I know who to contact for help. If someone gets stuck on a part of the stack that I know, they contact me.

This happens all the time!

Microsoft Technology Products

If you step back, you realize that Microsoft is a software development shop. They work with others to make devices (Zune, XBox, etc.), but David takes aim at a few software platforms and products.

Being a software development shop means sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. Sometimes your software is the hottest thing on the market; sometimes your software is not so hot. It happens to me, you... and Microsoft. Because Microsoft is larger and more experienced at building software, they're held to a higher standard than you or me. I don't hear them complaining about that. Instead, I see them working very hard to improve processes and the quality of their deliverables. This feeds into David's complaints about...

Microsoft "Listens"

David states "most products you never hear about until it is too late." I understand how this can be frustrating to anyone providing feedback to Microsoft who doesn't understand development lifecycles. I'm not sure I can share what I know about how Microsoft develops software internally.

Aside: MVPs know things that are not common knowledge. This bugs some people. If this bugs you, I'm sorry. Your government is keeping things from you. If you're in business, your competitor is as well. You never know everything, or even everything you want to know. That's part of life.

I know everyone who builds software employs some kind of development life cycle. At some point in this life cyle, there's a feature lock where nothing new is added to the product without major adjustment to the remainder of the life cycle. There are ways to develop software to facilitate for constantly-shifting requirements and these methodologies lend themselves to developing certain types of applications and platforms. But let's take a step back and think about the nature of a constantly-shifting-requirements application: this is messy. Will developing software in this manner lead to improved processes and quality for the deliverables?

Cost-Benefits for an MVP

I honestly don't know how to address this complaint. It smacks of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Maybe I'm being harsh - that is not my intention. I will share this: I know lots of people who aren't MVPs that travel to events to share their passion and expertise, and they do so at their own expense. I know plenty of MVPs who do the same, and all I know did so before they were awarded MVP. It may very well be part of the reason they are MVPs today, but (again) I do not know the criteria Microsoft uses to award MVPs.

Personally, I don't look at the expense. I don't (usually) drop in, present, and leave. I also receive training while attending events - especially events like the PASS Summit, Code Camps, and SQL Saturdays. I always learn something!

I also know of a lot of non-MVP community people who work behind the scenes to manage User Group meetings and the events listed above. They're all volunteers. I'm not sure of all their motivations, I can't see their hearts. But I see their tireless actions.

Volunteering isn't for everyone. And even those who enjoy volunteering can burn out. Perhaps that's what happened here. If so, I hope David takes a well-deserved break and returns to his community.


My experiences with the Microsoft MVP program have been positive. That's not to say there hasn't been the occasional bump in the road, but even during rough patches I've been treated with trust and respect by my peers (MVPs or no) and Microsoft.


Published Friday, February 11, 2011 11:51 AM by andyleonard

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mjswart said:

Re: Microsoft Listens

I've spent many many years as a developer and understand the development lifecycle. When David writes "it seems like the feedback that is given falls on deaf ears for many products" that rang true for me.

I can't say I have any experience with the MVP program, but bumps in the road like that are pretty serious and can't always be dismissed with a change in perspective.

That said, I believe the SQL Server community thrives and does better than most others. I don't know why, but I would bet PASS has more to do with it than Microsoft.

February 11, 2011 1:11 PM

AaronBertrand said:

Great post Andy. You've stated a lot of the things that I thought on first reading David's blog.

February 11, 2011 2:03 PM

Glenn Berry said:

Very thoughtful post, Andy.  The MVP award and program is what you make of it. It can help open some doors, but that should not be the main point of it.  I am glad to be part of the program myself.

February 11, 2011 2:07 PM

Ralph Wilson said:

I have met several MVP's and, considering that I have only officially been a part of the SQL Server community for a relatively brief period of time, I have found few who were not willing to provide assistance (courteously with a smile, most of the time) or who were even borderline rude . . . the vast majority seem to be perfectly willing to teach what they know and learn from whoever may know something that they don't.

Your points about the enormity of the whole SQL Server stack is something that most non-DBA's have difficulty grasping.  SQL Server may not be the proverbial "rocket scince" but it can be pretty close to as complex and the practicioners pretty close to as specialized as the various engineers required to get lift-off on a moon shot.  It may be that even some DBA's have trouble remembering that there is no possible way that any one person can know all that there is to know about all aspects of the SQL Server stack.

As you rightly point out, MVP's are a Microsoft invention and they not only make the rules and administer the process but they can alter the rules whenever they choose or ignore them if they wish.  However, Dave also has the right to decide whether or not to accept the (perhaps arbitrary) manner in which Microsoft designates MVP's and it would appear that he has exercised his right to opt out of the game.

Hopefully, this was a considered decision and not just a spontaneous reaction to some real or perceived slight because, having opted out, it may be hard to rejoin the game at a later date.

February 11, 2011 5:07 PM

dbaduck said:

I think that there is a lot of feedback that Microsoft can hear.  Having been an MVP Lead and an MVP now, I can say that there is always more that can be done, on both sides.  Remember that we all would like a perfect program just like we would love to have a perfect system at work.  As an MVP Lead, they do all they can to facilitate feedback and provide as much value as possible to the MVP and to Microsoft.

We call that Collaboration for mutual benefit and there can always be more of that.  I cannot speak to his concerns, because they are very personal to each MVP, but I resonate with much of what you have written Andy. Thanks for your involvement in the Community.

February 11, 2011 10:33 PM

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