Why aren’t I an MVP?
There’s a problem with the MVP program I’d like to talk about. The fact that I’m no longer an MVP (haven’t been for over a year now) isn’t the problem, merely a symptom. My problem is that I don’t know why I’m not an MVP, and by extension I don’t know why others are. The process of becoming and remaining an MVP is completely opaque. Plainly, the MVP program lacks transparency.
I’ve always thought the veil of secrecy was a little alarming – I remember discussing it with my MVP lead. However, I’ve since come to the conclusion that it completely undermines the legitimacy of the program. Take this statement from outspoken (and former MVP) Scott Bellware:
[The MVP program is] no longer an award for doing good things in Microsoft community. It’s for doing good things for Microsoft in community.
Now you can disagree with that thought, but you certainly can’t prove Scott wrong. Without knowing the criteria Microsoft uses to select MVPs, it’s truly impossible to judge their claim that MVPs represent “independent experts.” For all we know many MVPs are merely awarded the title because they say the right things to the right people, believe in the right God, or like Fruit Loops. The sheer size of the program and its success probably makes this unavoidable. But Microsoft’s secrecy and lack of open objectivity certainly makes things worse and more open to abuse.
From what I know of the actual process, which is quite little, becoming an MVP hinges on a highly subjective, multi-layered review made by individuals lacking the necessary technical skills. Let’s face it, if the core Microsoft programmers think LINQ to SQL is a good idea, the failed VBA programmer who’s now evaluating technical merits of MVP candidates isn’t going to think too highly of a “LINQ to SQL Sucks” post – no matter how valuable it is to the community and to Microsoft.
Of course Microsoft has tolerance for non-conformist opinions. There are plenty of MVPs who think, and have stated that, LINQ to SQL sucks. The problem remains though, that the more you have vested into becoming/remaining an MVP (I’m talking about serious monetary reasons here), and the more secret Microsoft keeps the process, the less likely you are to nerd-rage on them. There’s a line and no one knows where it is.
The judgment for being an MVP is like a strike zone – it depends on who’s at bat and who’s behind the plate. Piss off the wrong person, and no amount of technical expertise and community leadership will help your case. Well, maybe…we don’t know.
I’m not sure what the solution is, mainly because any program as successful as Microsoft MVP program is going to be gamed from inside and out. Obviously, I think that Microsoft should move to a more transparent and objective evaluation system – I’ve heard regional directors have a points system (but I’m not sure that’s a good system to copy since RDs are the ultimate cheerleaders). I think a portion of an MVPs “points” should be community driven, and all of the information on why someone is an MVP should be made public. To help keep this manageable, I also think a major culling would be required, both of actual MVPs and bureaucratic layers within Microsoft’s MVP team.
There is pressure on many MVPs to remain MVPs, and pressure on Microsoft to manage every aspect of its PR. If you’re whatsoever interested in remaining an MVP, it is far safer to drink the Koolaid than risk offending the wrong people – STAY OFF THE RADAR PEOPLE.