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.
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.