Is the MVP program OK?
Dave Lemphers did start a bit of a discussion in the local MVP community recently with this post and this followup. Dave's a great guy and I've spent some fun time with him, including amazing adventures in Malaysia last year but I don't agree with him on this one even though I think I follow where some of the intent comes from.
I don't see the concept of an award that runs for a year and then is almost impossible to renew as workable. Dave says that contacts, etc. can be made during that year and then used in an ongoing way. Many of the internal programs in Microsoft that MVPs have access to are limited to current MVPs so awareness of the people and the programs wouldn't help much.
Dave also mentions that a popular vote be the way to decide membership of the program. While this might have superficial appeal, the problem is that it's very hard for anyone who might vote to have the full picture on those that might be candidates. Every time I see details of what other MVPs have been achieving, I'm amazed at how little I knew of what they'd been doing even though I'm probably in a better position to have seen this than many who would take part in a popular vote.
A number of other people posting on this have mentioned guys like Bill McCarthy. If a popular vote was taken, I don't know that Bill would have the sort of profile that would be required to get picked. But I can tell you that I see *one* aspect of what Bill does every single day in internal mailing lists with the product groups and I have no doubt that the products you get to work with tomorrow are *so* much better because of what he does, almost invisibly to most people.
I have to say, first-up that overall, I think the MVP program is in quite a healthy state. If I had to pick areas that concern me it would be the following two:
1. I suspect there is a problem with lack of churn in the program.
The MVP program is a one year award. I'd like to see each and every renewal decided 100% on what was accomplished the previous year with no free rides for any of us. If anyone doesn't have a solid year, so be it, we're encouraged to try and get back in again next year.
2. It appears that awards are being made to encourage people to do things rather than to recognise what they have already done during the past year.
It's Microsoft's program so they are entitled to run it as they see fit but unless the aims of the program have changed, if you combine that with #1, that could be a problem. I think this is particularly so in some of the newer technologies. Awards seem to being made in areas that haven't had a solid community for a year let alone strong contributors to those communities for a year. I also don't want to see a situation where as soon as someone starts a user group or starts to do a few presentations, they get nominated.
A discussion recently came up regarding a candidate from one of the smaller cities. The discussion was that the person can't do too much because there isn't the population in his/her town to support it. I just don't agree. Regardless of whether they live in small or large cities, the community isn't comprised of just the person's town. There are some great MVPs around in small towns. Glen Millar (Powerpoint MVP) was appointed when he was in Emerald in country Queensland.
Also, in Dave's post he said he was an MVP for a few days. But he also said "See, before I joined Microsoft, I worked for a range of consulting firms, doing a range of things from .NET, SharePoint and BizTalk, and I had never had much involvement with the Microsoft community.". Dave also says "So it wasn’t until I joined Microsoft, and started to work very closely with the community, that I discovered the MVP programme.". What I don't understand about that is how he would have then been nominated at all.
There is also often criticism about the apparent desire to grow the size of the program. I don't see that as a problem at all. If 500 members of the local community do great things to help the rest of the community in a given year, we'll all benefit and I can't see that there should be any magical numeric limit on the number of awards, apart from economic viability of the program for the product groups involved.
So, I'd encourage everyone to get more involved in the community and that doesn't just mean your own town.