Last fall, Microsoft announced significant changes to the Microsoft MVP program, with the goal of focusing more on developers and sysadmins. The first round of changes pared the categories down from 36 to 10. The company also decided to offer Microsoft MVP recognition in more than one category.
In March 2016, ZDNet reported that Microsoft either moved or eliminated the MVP program's U.S. Community Program Manager liaison positions. It didn't confirm the news (of course), saying the company wouldn't comment on rumors. With tools like Xbox 360 and Bing Ads no longer in the program, however, Microsoft intends to focus on its professional IT and software developer community. It's all a matter of enlightened self-interest for Microsoft and a way of aligning its brand evangelism to match its new product focus.
Most IT pros and members of the dev community are happy about the changes, whereas a few feel the updates water down their titles. Either way, they have a lot to say about how the MVP program has evolved.
A True Symbol of Excellence
When MVP started out back in 1993, its MVPs spent their time in online forums, helping users with support questions and sharing Microsoft product news. According to Redmond Magazine, the group launched with 34 members. Today, it has 4,000.
As it evolved from community of fans to respected IT credential, many developers and IT heads criticized what they viewed as Microsoft's quantity-over-quality approach. Tony Redmond, senior contributing editor of Windows IT Pro, put it best in his Exchange Unwashed blog: "As we all know, it is all too easy to cut and paste material to generate a blog post or retweet the observations of others to create a numerous (and boring) Twitter feed."
When the group originated, Microsoft chose MVPs largely based on the quantity of their contributions to product communities. Redmond said these MVPs racked up points by answering forum questions, but they were obviously out of their depth when discussing their so-called areas of expertise. As a result, many MVPs found themselves in less-than-knowledgeable company at the Microsoft MVP Summit and related conferences.
As Microsoft's product focus changes, it makes sense to build MVP around professionals instead of fandom and forum participation. According to Christian Buckley, a Microsoft MVP specializing in Office 365 and Sharepoint, being an MVP now requires more than just blogging and speaking occasionally at certain expos.
Although MVPs were grandfathered into the new program based on their old titles, Buckley points out in IT Unity that Microsoft plans to extend recognition to those with multiple areas of expertise. Titles may have become more generic — Buckley went from Office 365 MVP to Office Server and Services MVP — but IT pros can now be recognized for their entire body of work.
A Shift to Quality Over Quantity
Because Microsoft tended to overlook developers who didn't focus on Microsoft products exclusively, many of them assumed the company didn't embrace open source. And the developers who did weren't always viewed as being "on message."
Scott Hanselman, a Microsoft MVP, author of several ASP.NET books and host of multiple podcasts (including "This Developer's Life" and "Hanselminutes" — check 'em out when you get a chance), said in a blog post that recognizing open-source developers as MVPs marks a larger trend in the MVP program: a greater focus on body of work as opposed to blogging and forum participation.
Quoting a memo from Microsoft, Hanselman wrote: "The shift now is that a candidate can be reviewed and awarded solely on contributions in open-source projects, if the contributions are significant, without having other activities such as speeches, online forum supports, books, blogs, etc." In other words, Microsoft is moving away from awarding MVP status for those cut-and-paste blog posts and prolific-yet-boring Twitter feeds.
For MVPs who made their mark offering forum tips for Xbox tech support, it's game over. For IT pros or developers in the MVP program — or who want the MVP credential — the future is looking pretty bright.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons