What Does Being an MVP Mean to ME?

This month I will be speaking at the SMB Nation Fall Conference.  My main presentation will be on what IT will look like for small- and mid-sized businesses in what I call the ‘Post-SBS Era.’  I will be discussing Private Cloud, System Center, Virtualization, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Intune.

I have also been asked to lead a panel of Microsoft MVPs.  Topic: Open.  I can pick a topic, or I can simply open the floor to questions.  I briefly considered calling the panel ‘Whaddya mean you do it for FREE?!’ but thought better of it… however it would be fitting because MVPs do not get paid for what they do… at least not for what they do in order to be an MVP.

I have invited four other MVPs to join me on stage; until I get confirmation from all of them I will not reveal who they are.  However I tried to select people with different experiences as MVPs.  It should be an interesting time.

Over the past few days that I have been thinking about this panel I have given some thought to what it means to me.  Last week I was recognized for the seventh time (Microsoft MVPs are awarded for a period of one year, and my award date is October 1st).  I guess by now I can be considered a ‘veteran MVP,’ but I know that there are so many MVPs who have been around much longer than I have been.

In 2005 or 2006 there was an MVP Roadshow that came to Montreal; Jeff Middleton and the gang came up and after their day-long event, they agreed to do a user group event for us in the evening.  Somebody in the audience asked Jeff ‘What is expected of you as MVPs?’  I expected Jeff to start talking about speaking to user groups, answering questions in the forums and newsgroups, and whatever else.  He surprised me when he answered (not a direct quote) ‘Nothing.  The MVP Award is strictly for past contributions.  It is not a contract, and you are not actually expected to do anything further.’

It was an interesting answer, and on the surface an honest and accurate one.  It does not, however, account for the fact that if MVPs want to continue being MVPs then there are certain expectations of us.  Depending on several factors I think those expectations are not the same for all of us, but that is another topic altogether.

In November 2004 I had a conversation with a young Harp Girn who was at the time a vendor with Microsoft Canada.  He had, earlier in the evening, gotten me to volunteer to start a user group in Montreal for IT Professionals.  He made it clear to me that although he and his team would help, there wouldn’t be any direct, tangible benefits.  ‘I can’t make any promises, but a lot of user group leaders get recognized as Microsoft MVPs.’  I am not sure, but it may have been the first time I had ever heard the term.  He was right – 23 months later I did get the award.

It has been an incredible six years… My life, my career, my outlook have changed so much in that time, and who knew – a lot of that change can be traced back to the MVP Award.  Most of that indirectly of course, but a lot of the opportunities that I have been afforded over the past several years have been because I was an MVP.  Microsoft Canada has done a lot for me, and oftentimes it was because of a conversation started with the phrase ‘…do you know of any MVPs who could do this for us?’  Many of the certifications I hold (especially the Charter certs) are because Microsoft Learning sent out invites to write beta exams to… you guessed it – MVPs.

Shortly after I received the award for the first time a consulting firm asked me to do some work with them – it started as training roadshows but eventually evolved into courseware creation.  When they asked me what I knew about server virtualization I replied honestly that I knew nothing about it.  They had me learn, and that would eventually evolve into several career-changing moments, not the least of which was the opportunity to write Microsoft’s original courseware (e-learning) for Hyper-V.  That led to roadshows of course, and a company that heard about me because of the roadshow asked if I would be interested in learning VMware and then consulting and teaching it for them in Canada (and eventually internationally).  The original consulting firm that got the ball rolling on this told me point-blank that they would not have considered me had I not been a Microsoft MVP.

When the Partner team at Microsoft Canada decided to create a program called the Virtual Partner Technology Advisors, they looked for MVPs who were strong on virtualization.  That led to dozens of contracts over the course of several years, as well as the opportunity to present myself as one of the foremost VMware-compete guys in the country.

And of course, when the DPE Team at Microsoft Canada started discussing a new position called ‘Virtual Technical Evangelist’ they again looked for MVPs.

Someone asked me earlier today what I would do if I wasn’t doing what I do.  It’s a tough question and frankly I cannot fathom an answer.  I guess I need more time, but I’ll come up with something, I promise.  The question got me thinking (and not for the first time) where I would be today if I had not put my hand up to volunteer to create a local user group in Montreal, which in turn led to my eventual nomination as a Microsoft MVP.  The consequences of that single action are impossible to quantify, but let’s start with a quick list:

  • I would probably still be living in Montreal
  • I would likely have a couple of certifications… but nowhere near what I have today.
  • I would not have the vast majority of the friends I have made over the past eight years.
  • I would never have met my wife and her (now OUR) son, and we would not have had our baby.
  • It is unlikely that I would be a Black Belt
  • It is unfathomable that I would have several positions within Microsoft
  • It is highly doubtful I would have started a blog that today is read by ten thousand readers per month
  • I would never have had the opportunity to travel to 8 provinces (several times), 35 states (with many repeats), and twelve countries on behalf of companies like Microsoft and HP
  • I would never have been asked to consult on deployment projects for companies on the Fortune 15 list, nor for such organizations as the New York Police Department.

Wow… that is a simple list that took me all of five minutes to compile, but each point is easy to make the case for.  I honestly believe that had I not been awarded the Microsoft MVP way back then my life would have gone in a very different direction.  I cannot fathom what it would look like today… but it isn’t a stretch to guess that broader minds bring broader opportunities, and I would not be doing as well were I still living in Montreal servicing small business IT shops.

So while Microsoft uses the MVP Program as a thank-you for its community leaders, I expect a lot of us owe Microsoft a big thank-you back for the opportunities that have come about from our award.

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