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The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias

The random ramblings and rantings of frazzled SQL Server DBA

Setting the record straight - “So, What is an MVP Anyway?”

Today’s SSWUG Newsletter, brought up the topic So, What is an MVP Anyway?, where, what I can only guess is one of the editors, Ben Taylor talks briefly about how he often receives assistance from people in the community that aren’t Microsoft MVP awardees', but to him they are certainly Most Valued People/Professionals.  I don’t have anything wrong with that, there are people I know in the community as well that haven’t been recognized by Microsoft as being a SQL Server MVP, but have nonetheless provided me with excellent solutions to my problems and they are definitely valued by me and the other members in the community that they have helped.  I do have a problem with the reader comments that Ben decided to publish as a demonstration of this type of person, and once again, the problem stems from the fact that the user comments are just published as they come by SSWUG, and despite the fact that there are points in the comments that should have been discussed by the editorial, or addressed by the editors at SSWUG, one of which happens to be a MVP.

Lets forget for a few minutes the fact that, yes I am a SQL Server MVP currently and I have some comments regarding this which I will include later on in this post, and just look at the information offered by James in his comments, and then what reality actually is.

I am not a fan of the MVP status. It is so arbitrary. It is not something that is clearly defined. It is so Microsoft.

A Microsoft MVP Award isn’t something arbitrary, and the requirements to become an MVP in any subject matter area are documented on the MVP Support Site at Microsoft.  Beyond Microsoft’s site, I blogged How do I become a SQL MVP almost two years ago after I was first recognized by Microsoft as a SQL Server MVP and numerous other MVP’s have blogged about this same topic over time.  One of the most notable SQL Server MVP’s to blog about this is Paul Randal in his post Goals, obsessions, and aspirations: becoming an MVP.  If you want to become an MVP, it is certainly possible to do, but it takes time and above everything else, dedication to community.

I write and teach courses...not...the vendor’s in this case Microsoft’s courses. So I get no credit for this work in Microsoft’s eyes.

This one was interesting to read because there are so many MVP’s out there that write and teach courses that aren’t Microsoft courses, and the fact that they are teaching non-Microsoft courses has never affected their ability to be MVP’s.  The simple fact is that their status as a MVP generally has nothing to do with the courses that they teach for profit.  Being an MVP is all about what you do in the community that is free, not what you do to make money as a consultant or business, though at times the lines can get fuzzy for people that actively do both things. 

I won’t be biased and say that existing MVP’s never include their training sessions that are for profit in their list of annual accomplishments, and I also won’t assume that those sessions aren’t included by the MVP program as a part of their profile for the past year, I am sure at some level that they are.  However, what got those kinds of MVP’s to their MVP status wasn’t the for profit courses that they teach, it was their voluntary contributions to the community that were above and beyond those courses that initially got them their status.

Some examples, just off the top of my head of this are Paul Randal and Kimberly Tripp, who create their own training information, and train Microsoft internal employees as well, but also contribute to the community by blogging, answering forums questions, interacting on twitter, writing books and whitepapers, and speaking at major events like SQL Connections, TechEd, and PASS Summit.  Another big example is Kalen Delaney, who has her own training materials but still finds time to blog, write books, and answer questions on the SqlServer Newsgroups as well as on the forums.

I have four kids – I work for cash. I don’t have time to hang out on Microsoft’s forums answering questions. But I answer tons of questions every day from previous students and clients. Sure I get paid by the clients but I do not bill them for the 5-10 minute answers. I assume it is part of my ongoing work for them. Will I ever be considered for an MVP? No...

You know, I don’t know many MVP’s that don’t have kids and work for a living, yet somehow they all seem to have found a way to contribute back to the community here and there for free and make a big enough of an impact that someone noticed it and nominated them for the MVP Award.  If the only interaction you have is based on prior and current, for profit engagements with people that you’ve had, then you obviously haven’t met the most basic tenant of the MVP Award from Microsoft, which is that “technical communities foster the free and objective exchange of knowledge, thereby creating a reliable source of independent, real-world expertise that benefits everyone” (see Q2: Why does the MVP Award Exist? at http://mvp.support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;en-us;mvpfaqs).  I have two kids, and they happen to be the most important part of my life, in fact my entire day is built around my kids schedule, but I am not alone in this aspect.  Andy Leonard has five kids, and the third slide in everyone of his presentations that I have seen has included a picture of his entire family, yet he somehow finds the time to write books, present at SQL Saturday events, and offer assistance online to people for free.  Ted Krueger has two boys and he dedicates significant time to them while still contributing to the community as well, and other notable SQL MVP’s with kids include Paul Randal, Joe Webb, and Kevin Kline, yet they all seem to find a way to give back to the community for free through blogging, presenting at local user group meetings, answering the occasional forum post, or doing Live Meetings.

Beyond the family aspect of this, one item that bothers me the most about this statement is that you have to hang out on  Microsoft’s forums to gain recognition as a MVP.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and there a good number of MVP’s that I have never seen on the Microsoft forums in the three years that I have been answering questions there.  In fact, there is no real requirement that you spend time on answering any posts on any forums at all to be an MVP.  I can think of a few SQL Server MVP’s off the top of my head that don’t engage in any forums at all, most notably Thomas LaRock and Jeremiah Peschka, who both give back to the community as PASS Board Members, as well as being constant bloggers, and Twitter users.  SQL Server MVP’s come from all over, and it is only a small portion of the SQL MVP’s that actually answer questions on Microsoft’s forums, a number of MVP’s answer questions on other sites like SQL Team, and SQL Server Central, but the core requirement is that they all foster growth of the SQL Server community for free in one way or another.

Conclusion

I said at the start of this post that I would touch on the fact that I am currently a SQL Server MVP, and one thing I’d like to make clear is that my current status doesn’t necessarily drive my response to this newsletter.  Prior to becoming a SQL Server MVP, I spent countless hours giving back to the community, primarily through answering forums posts, but also by blogging and presenting at local user groups and events.  My motivation at the time had nothing to do with becoming a Microsoft MVP, in fact I had to go out and Google what a Microsoft MVP was when I first encountered this tag on the MSDN forums.  Like most people I had never been involved with the community, and I had no idea what a Microsoft MVP actually was.  The initial draw into answering questions on the forums was simply the joy of helping others solve their problems associated with SQL Server, which was reward enough.  It wasn’t long before I realized that in answering other peoples questions, I was actually learning more about SQL Server myself, which further drove my desire to answer questions online about SQL.

One of the things that differentiates Microsoft MVP’s from James is that most of the Microsoft MVP’s would continue to offer their advice and assistance, even if Microsoft decided to terminate the MVP program entirely.  There is no way that James would continue to generate course materials and perform training if he wasn’t paid to do so, it is his bread and butter.  Few MVP’s got involved with the community seeking to gain MVP status.  Instead most find their ultimate reward in knowing they helped someone solve a problem, and the fact that they received recognition by Microsoft for doing so is just icing on the cake.  Personally, if Microsoft decides on October 1, 2010 that I no longer meet their requirements to be rewarded as a SQL Server MVP, it doesn’t change anything that I will do, or for that fact anything that I have done.  I will continue to answer forums posts on SQL Server Central and the MSDN Forums as time permits, and I will continue to blog and speak at public events.  I was recognized as an MVP because I do these things, I don’t do these things because I am an MVP.

Published Thursday, September 09, 2010 12:51 AM by Jonathan Kehayias

Comments

 

Todd McDermid said:

I agree wholeheartedly with your post Jonathan - specifically with regards to MVPs offering their time and knowledge with no expectation of return aside from an internal sense of accomplishment for giving back to the community.

MVPs are all different in my eyes - some forum troll (you and me for sure), some educate in person at UGs and other events, some produce fantastic (free) tools that enhance Microsofts' products, some publish books, and (in my mind) the best of them organize the community to make sure it involves everyone it possibly can.

I too know some stellar professionals that I simply can't comprehend why they aren't MVPs... but that only serves to reinforce to me how humbling being recognized is, and how few awards are handed out.

MVPs are definitely "evangelists"... but they're evangelists FOR the technical community ABOUT Microsoft's products.  NOT the other way around!  I for one look upon Microsoft's MVP award (except for myself) as one of the decisions they "get right" - those who are awarded deserve recognition for educating and nurturing the community.

You are a prime example, Jonathan.  Great post.

September 9, 2010 2:00 AM
 

Tim Chapman said:

Great post.  I agree w/ your words. Being a forum-junkie myself, its always been about helping others solve their SQL issues...we do it because we like it and its fun.  It helps us learn new things by helping others figure things out.  The MVP award I've received has been great...but like you said, if it went away, I'd still be answering questions in forums.

And also, to your point, you don't have to answer questions on MSDN forums.  I've always used experts-exchange.com...forums don't really matter...only that you're helping users figure stuff out.

Tim

September 9, 2010 10:46 AM
 

Ted Krueger said:

Thanks, Jonathan.  Coming from someone like you really means something.  

It does seem to get harder daily trying to put as much as I’d like to into the forums, blogging and finding expenses along with time to travel for everything else.  I’m still grasping the fact that I have the MVP title with my name on it.  Anyone that puts that down or doesn’t take it seriously either doesn’t deserve it or never should have been considered for it in my eyes.  I’ve always thought that, even long before I was awarded the status.

Making MVP says something about the individual.  It shows a level of dedication without greed in what we do.  The unconditional level that we take to and pour what we have learned and gained back into the community is what this is all about.  That is so lost in the SSWUG post that I’m still questioning why something like that would be posted openly.  

Yes, I have kids and a wife and a house and two dogs and never neglect them for a minute.  I still put all my extra energy into helping.  Even if that means I can only monitor a twitter hash tag like #sqlhelp for a week.  Nothing I get paid for and a lot of times, not even thanked for the help.  It never crosses my mind that I should be though.  That simply isn’t what it is all about

September 9, 2010 4:04 PM
 

Pat Wright said:

When I was an mvp I remember a post in the mvp forums and someone commented "Once an MVP always an MVP".  Because of what you said "I was recognized as an MVP because I do these things, I don’t do these things because I am an MVP."  Nothing changed when I wasn't re-awarded I still do all the things I did in the past.  Being an MVP is not a job it's a way of doing things.  :)  

Great post.

pat

September 9, 2010 4:04 PM
 

Alexander Kuznetsov said:

Once upon a time Phil Phactor wrote up an interesting piece on this:

http://www.simple-talk.com/community/blogs/philfactor/archive/2008/01/02/42036.aspx

September 9, 2010 5:50 PM
 

Tim Mitchell said:

"...most of the Microsoft MVP’s would continue to offer their advice and assistance, even if Microsoft decided to terminate the MVP program entirely."

That's the benchmark I favor the most, and I've found that it's true of almost all MVPs I've come across.

Great post, well said.

September 9, 2010 10:35 PM
 

Mike Walsh said:

Funny timing for this post, Jonathan. I am in the midst of responding to countless e-mails from SQL Server MVPs. For what? I am volunteering to help SQL PASS on two events at the Summit. Each event requires MVPs to volunteer their time at the Summit. Now there are some MVPs who are going to the Summit for free because of their MVP status and this volunteer time is required.

For the vast majority of other MVPs, they are already comped for other reasons (PASS Board Members, Volunteers on other committees, speaking, etc.). I e-mailed all of them, regardless of their comp status, letting them know about the opportunity.

The response is overwhelming so far (just like it was last year when I helped with the same event.. blew me away!). These MVPs are at the Summit to grow and learn themselves while sharing their knowledge. Each one of them replied with eagerness and excitement when selecting topics and in at least 75% of the responss the usual response is, "Here is what I am really interested in, but use me wherever you need me!"

These people humbly give up their time to help this thing called the "SQL Server Community." I am sure they don't do it for an MVP award and they certainly don't do it for money :-)

Thanks to all of those folks who give up their spare time to help folks like me learn and grow! I don't know if other technologies have a community full of so many givers. I think that is why the standard seems so high in the SQL Server community! There are too many good choices to choose from (That's why there are so many folks out there who aren't Microsoft MVPs but will always be MVPs in my book - Folks like Jack Corbett and Jorge Segarra to name a couple!)

September 12, 2010 11:13 PM
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