Microsoft hosted 1500 IT professionals and developers for the 2009 Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Global Summit in Seattle last week. The independent experts earn the MVP award from Microsoft for sharing their expertise with the community and bringing customer feedback to the Microsoft product teams. The annual MVP Summit is a chance for Microsoft to gather this elite group and share ideas for product direction and recognize the contributions these independent experts make to the Windows ecosystem.

SQL Server MVPs were among the attendees. So I touched base with SQL Server Magazine writers and contributing editors to get their thoughts on what it means to be a Microsoft MVP. Itzik Ben-Gan, Douglas McDowell, Rodney Landrum, and Derek Comingore shared their thoughts.

What does the MVP status mean to you? How has it affected your career?
Derek Comingore:
The MVP award recognizes those who willingly share their knowledge through community involvement. The award can be significant in the consulting field; however the real value is in the power of accomplishment and recognition for the individual.
Itzik Ben-Gan: The award means a lot because it represents for me a close relationship with the SQL Server developers and with extremely knowledgeable fellow MVPs.
Rodney Landrum: The primary benefit of being an MVP is having a direct communication link with Microsoft to offer and receive feedback on SQL Server technologies. It also helps bring our local communities together. Douglas McDowell: It is great to serve actively in the Microsoft technology community, and becoming an MVP is the highest honor for my community service.

How does MVP status compare to a Microsoft certification?
Itzik Ben-Gan:
A certification is something you actively pursue, and need to pass exams to receive. The MVP award is recognition from Microsoft. Also, there are fewer MVPs than certified people.
Rodney Landrum: MVPs are MVPs because of their community efforts. Certification is an avenue people take, MVPs included, to enhance their own skill sets and be recognized as an expert in their field. Many MVPs are certified as well; however, the distinction is that MVPs work with the technical communities to share their knowledge and expertise.
Douglas McDowell: The MVP award is not really comparable to Microsoft certification. Certification is a great step to prove to your employer, your clients, and/or yourself that you have a certain competence level in a specific technology. Receiving the MVP award is a result of using your technical expertise to help others in the community learn and excel and serving in that capacity over a prolonged period of time.

How has being an MVP changed or affected your relationship with Microsoft product teams?
Douglas McDowell: MVPs are under non-disclosure agreement with Microsoft and have unique access to product teams. MVPs definitely can get good product “futures” information, and the development teams listen keenly to feedback from MVPs.
Rodney Landrum: I am a new MVP. This is my first year at the summit, and so I am meeting many product teams for the first time. I can tell though that they certainly value our input.

When you become an MVP, does Microsoft attempt to influence you or are you obligated to promote Microsoft products? Does Microsoft place any limitations on what you can say about their products?
Derek Comingore:
No! In fact we are the trusted face of the larger community. Microsoft seeks our input (including current dislikes).
Itzik Ben-Gan: Microsoft doesn’t try to influence you explicitly, or obligate you to say or do specific things. We cannot talk about topics that are NDA.
Douglas McDowell: Microsoft just encourages you to keep doing your community service that got you noticed in the first place. The MVP award is all about serving the Microsoft technical community, so I would expect Microsoft not to renew any MVPs that change direction and no longer serve the Microsoft technical community. I did find something interesting in my 2009 MVP Code of Conduct that I don’t remember from past years: The General Rules specify “No impersonations of a Microsoft employee, agent, manager, host, or another user.” I wonder if there’s a good story behind that rule.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to become an MVP?
Itzik Ben-Gan:
Focus on being best at what you do. The MVP is a recognition that should be granted naturally to those that are best in the field and whose work contributes to the SQL Server community.
Derek Comingore: Participate in forums and do some speaking and writing. However, my advice is to not pursue the award for the sake of the award itself. True MVPs, in my opinion, win the award not because of their pursuit of the award itself but as a result of their desire to share knowledge around the particular Microsoft product or technology they are passionate about.
Rodney Landrum: Start or participate in a SQL Server or .Net user group in your area, maintain an active blog on your technology specialty, help users in the newsgroups, and write for SQL Server Magazine.
Douglas McDowell: First, you must be genuinely passionate about helping others learn and be successful in their use of Microsoft technologies. Next, you need to increase your reach. Microsoft discovers MVP award candidates in newsgroups, forums, blogs, and in magazine and online articles; at conferences; and in user groups. Microsoft recognizes those that consistently have helpful interaction with a large number of people.

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Microsoft MVPs Gather in Seattle
What Is an MVP, Anyway?