Today chief Microsoft evangelist Steve Guggenheimer announced dramatic changes to the MVP program on his blog.
In case you are unfamiliar with the MVP program, it is a recognition Microsoft gives to members of the developer community and is generally understood as a mark of expertise in a particular Microsoft technology (e.g. Windows Phone, Outlook, Kinect for Windows). In truth, though, there are many ways to get the MVP recognition without necessarily being an expert in any particular technology and running user groups or helping at coding events are common ways. The origins of the program go back to the days when it was given out for answering forum questions about Microsoft technologies. This is a good way to understand the program – it is a reward of sorts for people who are basically helping their communities out as well as helping Microsoft out. Besides the status conferred by the award, the MVP includes an annual subscription to MSDN and an annual invitation to the Redmond campus for the MVP summit. Depending on the discipline as well as marketing cycles, you may also have access to regular calls with particular product teams. MVPs also have to renew every year by explaining what they’ve done in the prior 12 months to help the developer, IT or consumer community.
As with any sort of status thingy that confers a sense of self-worth and may even affect income, it is occasionally a source of turmoil, stress and drama for people. Like soccer mom levels of drama. For instance, occasionally a product category like Silverlight will just disappear and that particular discipline has to be scrapped. The people who are Silverlight MVPs will typically feel hurt by this and understandably feel slighted. They didn’t become suddenly unworthy, after all, simply because the product they had poured so much energy into isn’t around anymore.
Some products are hot and some are not, while others start off hot then become not. If you were one of those Silverlight MVPs, you probably would like to point out that you are in fact worthy and know lots of other things but had been ignoring other technical interests in order to promote just Silverlight. You probably would feel that it is unjust to be punished for overinvesting in one technology.
In response to situations such as this, the Microsoft MVP program is undergoing a re-organization.
I’ll quote the synoptic statement from Steve’s post:
Moving forward, the MVP Award structure will shift to encompass the broad array of community contributions across technologies. For our Developer and IT Pro oriented MVPs, we’re moving from 36 areas of technical expertise to a set of 10 broader categories that encompass a combined set of 90 technology areas—including open source technologies.
best most fun way to understand this is in terms of Dungeons & Dragons. To do so it is important that I first try to explain the difference between class-based role playing games and skills-based RPGs. Diablo is a great example of a class-based RPG. You choose from a handful of classes like barbarian, demon hunter or monk, and based on that your skills are pretty much picked out for you. At the opposite extreme is a game like Fallout where you have full control over how to upgrade your abilities; the game doesn’t prescribe how you should play at all. In the middle are RPGs like World of Warcraft which has cross-class skills but also provides a boost to certain skills depending on what class you initially choose. Certain class/skill combinations are advisable, but none are proscribed. You have freedom to play the game the way you want – for instance as an elf hunter with mutton chops and a musket. Totally do-able.
Dungeons & Dragons is a game that changes its rules every so often and causes lots of consternation whenever it does so. One of the corrections happened between D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 when the game went from a simplified class-based system to a more open skills based system. This allowed players a lot more freedom in how they customized their characters who could now gain skills that aren’t traditionally tied to their class.
This, I believe, will help meliorate the problem of people basing their self-worth on a fixed idea of what their MVP-ness means or the bigger problem of comparing their MVP-ness to the MVP-nesses of others. Going forward, one’s MVP-ness is whatever one makes of it. And that’s a good thing.