Who are Microsoft MVPs? Microsoft uses this designation not for Most Valuable Players but rather for Most Valuable Professionals. According to the MVP website, “MVPs freely share their deep knowledge, real-world experience, and impartial, objective feedback to help people enhance the way they use technology. Of more than 100 million users who participate in technology communities, around 4,000 are recognized as Microsoft MVPs.”

The MVP award recognizes contributions made to the Microsoft technology community over the previous year and can be renewed on a yearly basis if the contributions continue to warrant it. In the early days, the main type of contributions consisted of participating in user help forums, starting with CompuServe, then moving to the NNTP forums, and then to Microsoft’s own public news server. In the last few years, much of the online help provided by MVPs has moved to www.microsoft.com/communities/forums/default.mspx. In addition, MVPs work with Microsoft at product launch events; present online webinars and training; speak at user group meetings and conferences; and write blog posts, magazine articles, and even books.

I was one of the very first SQL Server MVPs, and was absolutely amazed when I got my first “award.” I loved answering questions on the help forums and newsgroups, and I really felt reward was unnecessary. But the free MSDN subscription and certain other goodies were very much appreciated. In fact, it made me want to do even more and I renewed my efforts to be extra helpful.

The MVP program has changed over the years. Many of the MVPs now aren’t chosen for their technical competency but for community “leadership.” This leadership can include participating in or organizing a local user group or online event, whether they speak at it and share their knowledge or not. Although most people usually have some technical capabilities, there’s no requirement that they really be true experts to take such a leadership role. This calls to mind one of the first leaders of our local Puget Sound SQL Server User Group, who volunteered for the position because he was “interested in” SQL Server. He had never actually used the product at all. (This person didn’t become an MVP, but he was a community leader.) But just because someone isn’t a technology expert, does that mean he or she isn’t valuable to the SQL Server community?

One benefit provided to MVPs is the annual MVP Summit, which is taking place right now in the Redmond area. The first few summits were by invitation only, and Microsoft paid all the travel expenses. Then budget cutbacks and the growing number of MVPs made it so that MVPs now have to pay their transportation costs, but any MVP who wants to come is invited, and more than 1,300 MVPs decided it was worth their time and money to come to the event this year. Benefits of the MVP Summit include the ability to network with fellow MVPs, as well as members of the product groups at Microsoft, and to attend deep, technical sessions.

Another big change I’ve noticed over the many years that I’ve been attending the MVP Summit is that a lot of the focus in the sessions has shifted from the product developers sharing information with us about “how things work” to the developers asking the MVPs for feedback about what should be in the product, or whether we think some particular new feature might be useful. Personally, I go to the MVP Summit to learn. I love to have very deep training where the people with the real understanding of how SQL Server works can explain it to me. When the developers ask me what I think should be in the next release, it feels like I’m being shortchanged. I spend my time and money to come to the MVP Summit to learn, not to help the developers do their jobs and have them pick my brain.

But it turns out that many of my colleagues feel differently. When I mentioned my dissatisfaction today, I was told by quite a few other SQL Server MVPs that giving their feedback and suggestions, and knowing that Microsoft is really listening (after all, Microsoft paid a lot of money to put on this event), is one of the most valuable aspects of the MVP Summit. I didn’t find one other MVP who felt the same way I did. My dissatisfaction might be due to the fact I don’t develop SQL Server applications on a daily basis or manage SQL Server installations as my day job, so I don’t have a pressing need for particular enhancements. My job is writing and teaching about the way SQL Server works, so the more the product developers can teach me, the better I can do my job. So I’ve learned that just as what’s valuable about an MVP can vary with the individual, so too can what’s valuable to an MVP.