Last week, I had a great time and learned at lot at Microsoft MVP Summit. At these gatherings, it’s always exciting to mingle with the world’s best Microsoft technologists--both from inside Microsoft and from the partner community. Also, I learned a lot of exciting news about the next version of SQL Server, codenamed Katmai. Here are the 10 most exciting changes that will be happening in Katmai. This is breaking news that very few people know yet. Don’t forget--you heard it here first!

***** Note to readers: The top-10 list has been removed because sharing this information is prohibited by my non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Microsoft and I don’t want to be locked away in the secret dungeon that exists in the bowels of the Redmond campus where people are forced to accomplish all of their work using the Microsoft Bob interface. ****

Wow! Isn’t that list really cool and exciting? I’m looking forward to writing about all of these new features!

All humor aside, I did learn about a lot of exciting innovations and enhancements coming down the pike. I’ll enjoy writing about them when the NDA permits, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the latest and greatest in the SQL Server world as soon as we can talk about it.

Having early (quasi-NDA) information about next-generation SQL Server technology might not get you an invitation to the next Hollywood dinner party, but it can give you a leg up on managing your career. How does that work? Sure, it might seem boring when talking heads like me focus incessantly on the next version when you still have a job to do today with the current version. But understanding what will be cool a year from now gives you a chance to consider taking your career in new directions that might otherwise be hard to penetrate.

I’ll be exploring this topic in other editorials in coming weeks. For now, the point is simply that it’s easy to become an expert in an area that's brand new and that currently has no other experts. Arguably, the definition of being an expert is simply knowing more than most other people. So if most people know nothing about an emerging technology, then it’s going to be easier for you to become an expert.

At last week’s summit, I reminisced with some of the seasoned MVP veterans about MVP Summits of yesteryear, when Compuserve was the primary newsgroup forum and you could fit all of the SQL Server MVPs in the world around a single conference table. I’ve been an MVP since about 1994 (at least I think that’s the year), and the program has grown by leaps and bounds since then. The current SQL Server MVP roster lists 156 people and the MVP program now rates a keynote from Bill Gates. Personally, I still consider being an MVP being one of the greatest professional honors I’ve earned, and I’m humbled to be part of this illustrious group.

You might not care about the growth of the MVP program if you’re not an MVP and don’t hope be one. But, honestly, the MVP program does a world of good for the Microsoft community at large and the SQL Server community in particular. Let’s ignore the fact that MVPs answer a tremendous number of questions on the newsgroups. That contribution is easy to focus on. A contribution that’s not as obvious is the reliance of the Microsoft product teams on feedback from the MVP teams. Of course, Microsoft is collectively brilliant and no Microsoft program manager has ever had a silly idea (except maybe the product manager for Microsoft Bob.). But vetting ideas through MVPs who have real-world experience and insights is valuable to Microsoft.

Couldn’t Microsoft do focus groups and get feedback from “regular” people? Well, sure. But MVPs are constrained by tight NDAs and are seen as very loyal to Microsoft. Thus Microsoft can trust MVPs with information that, to be blunt, it wouldn’t share with a focus group. Plus, most MVPs are plugged in to the IT community. Talk to just one MVP and you might be getting the collective feedback of 10, 100, or 1000 users that the MVP has worked with.

The perks of being an MVP have certainly gotten better over the years. After all, who wouldn’t appreciate the MVP lifetime privilege that grants unlimited use of the Microsoft jet and corporate yacht? And all of the MVPs seem to love having Bill Gates as their personal butler on their birthday each year. However, as great as those privileges are, I’ve found that most MVPs, myself included, enjoy the insider access to product teams, the respect of their peers in the community, and recognition as an expert and community leader as the most valuable perks.

Have you ever thought, “Gee, wouldn’t it be fun to be an MVP?” I’m out of space this week but promise to discuss that topic sometime soon as I explore what it means to be an expert.

P.S. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the MVP program at http://mvp.support.microsoft.com.

P.P.S. I threw in the term “quasi-NDA” above. In case you’re wondering, Microsoft doesn’t really have a quasi-NDA. But I like to categorize Microsoft NDAs as “fake NDA” and “real NDA.” The fake NDA period is when someone, either at Microsoft or externally, has already leaked some information, either accidentally or on purpose, and Microsoft wants people to talk about it even though it’s technically under an NDA and the company has no official comment. Breaking a real NDA, of course, gets you thrown into the deepest dankest part of the Redmond dungeon I mentioned earlier. Didn’t know about the dungeon? Hmm, that must still be under an NDA.