Monday, March 09, 2020

"What did it take to become a MVP?"

This tweet made me pause. I'll explain.

(skip if you're not interested):

On Sunday March 1, I got an email awarding my Microsoft Data Platform MVP status for 2020-2021. The first person I told was my wife and some close friends we were hanging out with. The first person I thanked was Melody Zacharias, my good friend, co-author, and the MVP who nominated me in 2019.

Fast forward past the coronavirus pushing the MVP Summit to virtual-only, past my supportive wife being my supportive wife and supportive Randolph being supportive Randolph. @KennyB7322 replied with the above question, and I was stopped in my tracks. I didn't know how to reply because to be frank, I had thought MVP was something that was out of reach for me.

Years ago I'd made my peace with not being able to attain MVP status, despite being nominated several times over the years via the various processes that existed at the time. I had periodically provided my MVP-qualified activities list in all via the various ways that one self-applied over the past decade. I even got an unexpected MVP email rejection while I was leaving Seattle after PASS Summit 2018, an ill-timed punch in the gut after what was otherwise a really active and positive week of community interaction.

I'd made peace with my level of activity and involvement and location and travel not being enough, and I'd moved on. I still organized SQLSaturday Baton Rouge, helped run the SQL User Group, raised up and megaphoned the tech community how I could, spoke to other SQLSat events regionally and user groups groups when I traveled, though I never invested heavily in travel. I volunteered for local STEM initiatives and nonprofits and folded them into the overlapping audience that attended SQLSaturday Baton Rouge. I enjoyed being a regional mentor for PASS and sharing at PASS organizer meetings at Summit for the past 3 years. I was very fortunate to be on the international author team of a couple Microsoft Press books, a circle for which I have my old friend Patrick Leblanc to thank for roping me into initially. I'm not suggesting these are common everyperson activities, I'm only suggesting that I was doing them despite having long since acquiesced not having MVP recognition. When Melody nominated me last year, I begrudgingly updated my activity via the new MVP status site, and months later, I got the email.

What did it take?

When reviewing the last decade of my career, and all my active and passive efforts towards MVP, I replied as honestly as I could.
I feel this answer was a bit of an easy escape for me, but I didn't have a better answer.

I talked it over with other MVPs and Melody Zacharias was most clear and concise to what I was trying to capture with this blog post:
"The biggest issue people have is trying to guess what Microsoft is looking for and in that forgetting to be themselves. MVP is not something you try to attain, that it is something the community and Microsoft use to recognize your commitment and contributions to community."
So without knowing or having any specific guidance on becoming an MVP, here are a few pieces of advice:

1. Understand that I don't know - I'm not sure if any MVPs do - what exactly was the special sauce that got them awarded or renewed, other than the accumulation of individual activities that enhance the community in a positive way. Microsoft has a qualitative process they discuss here and here, and they are - from what I gather - pretty dialed into the community. For the Data Platform MVP process, they are clearly dialed into PASS, among other circles. If you have questions about this process, a Community Program Manager (CPM) from Microsoft will explain this better than I, their contacts are listed here.

2. How many DISTINCT talks are you giving at user groups and SQLSaturdays and other tech conferences? In a conference call Q&A that Microsoft hosted for nominated MVP candidates in December 2019, one bit of feedback that caught my attention was that they didn't want to see the same presentation over and over again in your activity list. (They specifically gave an example of an MVP with a rotation of 7 different talks in the field.) I've had mainstay presentations on DMVs and also Security for a decade that I've presented dozens of times... so it was initially scary to hear that. But upon review, I have mixed in other topics, including current events topics like "What's New in SQL 20nn?" and non-technical topics, and also different educational settings. For example recently my wife and I have started jointly presenting a session on Ethics in Modern Data, which has been a great experience itself.  

3. What can you do to uplift others in the tech community? I was encouraged by other MVPs after I was nominated to provide much more on my MVP activity list than just PASS events, including: volunteering and organizing events and groups, nontechnical blog posts about community activities, articles or other activities published or picked up by other websites, collaborations with other technical and STEM groups and events, hackathons, volunteering, mentorship. (Note that paid stuff you do via your job is probably not supposed to be part of your MVP activity list.) I did not go so far as to add each of my blog posts to the activities list, only the most substantial and relevant. And certainly, I have not provided a complete list of all things you could put on your activity list.

4. On that note, my wife had a great idea during her job search in the completely unrelated field of I/O Psychology, to add a chronology of speaking or other public engagements to her blog. It was a long list once she started adding training she'd led, community workshops, and events she'd facilitated for various organizations, in addition to groups and conferences. So I did the same on my blog. I don't believe this helped me because the timing doesn't work out, but it couldn't hurt your online presence. Before you are nominated for MVP, this might provide a nice historical list of your qualified activity.

I hope this blog is helpful and constructive, without over-promising. If you have anything to add, please do, and link to it the comments below. Happy to discuss. 

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