Where do you go for expert SQL Server technical guidance? MSDN or TechNet, SQL Server Magazine, Microsoft newsgroups and MSDN forums, your local user group, technical conferences, or regional education events? If so, chances are you've been helped by a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP).

Every year, Microsoft awards MVP status to a limited number of professionals who are experts in a specific technology (e.g., Windows Server System - SQL Server) and have made significant contributions to the technical community in the previous year. Microsoft depends on these experts to fill in any gaps in its support infrastructure. Often, some of the most helpful experts who answer your questions in books, articles, newsgroup posts, and event presentations are "your" MVPs.

Last week, Microsoft brought thousands of MVPs from all over the world to Seattle for its MVP Summit, an event that happens every 12-18 months. I'd like to tell you everything about what happens at the MVP Summit, but I can't because a lot of the event is top secret. But I can say that Bill Gates still likes to give the keynote presentation every year to demonstrate the value he places on MVPs. It's fascinating to see so many self-proclaimed geeks in one place networking with each other and getting the inside track on their area of technical focus.

So what makes the MVP conference so "top secret?" Most of the briefings are about upcoming releases of products and future features, which provokes candid feedback about the products. Non-disclosure statements maintain the secrecy of all the information so that Microsoft can talk freely about features that might or might not make it into the next version while still getting the word out to its biggest proponents. As "insiders," MVPs can offer the best advice and make the best choices on behalf of their employer and in their corner of the technical community.

To get a more personal understanding about MVPs, I cornered Ben Miller at the Summit and asked him what he thought. Ben is the MVP Lead for SQL Server, Microsoft IIS, and XML. He's responsible for linking MVPs directly to Microsoft product teams and other resources. He said, "A MVP is someone who is incredibly passionate about their technology and focuses on helping others be just as passionate. It's all about building and supporting the technical community."

But what makes MVPs so active in the community? You can find the answer to this question in Ben's description: passion. Passion drives awardees to build user groups, write blogs, respond to technical questions in newsgroups and MSDN forums, speak at conferences, and write technical articles. At the end of the day, Microsoft awards MVP status to those who clearly exhibit their passion for technology.

In recent years, the number of SQL Server MVPs has increased, primarily because the product has grown so much--especially with the addition and maturity of the product's BI features. Of course this means that there are more MVPs, covering all of SQL Server and complementing technologies, to support the technical community. If you want to get the scoop on the MVP award, you should start here: http://mvp.support.microsoft.com . To find "your" SQL Server MVPs, see the Microsoft "Windows Server System - SQL Server" Web page.

You might be surprised by the MVP community's accessibility. Next time you need technical help, start by looking in all the usual MVP haunts: your local user group, the newsgroups, and forums. Try searching the Internet for informative blog posts and articles. When your search results in a few resources from MVPs, you know you're in the company of experts recognized by Microsoft.