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Priority management, or “Why do you do that thing that you do?”

I hope this post doesn’t come across as contry-vershul as I expect it will. I do have a larger point to make. That said, I take comfort in the fact that I live in a country where laws are seen more as guidelines so I feel somewhat protected against people that will take this the wrong way. Regardless, it’s a meta-post that upon reflection, doesn’t say too much. But it took me &*%$ forever to type it up so off to the Internet it goes!

Before we get started, the over-arching theme of this post is priority management, not shit disturbance. But in order to get to it, I’m going to discuss both the MVP program and the book-writing process both of which came to the forefront of my mind recently as new MVPs were announced along with the release of our book (We made it on April Fool’s after all! Woohoo!).

Over a year ago, Karl Seguin did a piece on the MVP program, characteristically walking the fine line between rant and debate in a way I’ve only been able to achieve once, at our most recent family reunion where we discussed the finer points of the definition of “same sex marriage”. At the time, I was also a little disenchanted with the program as I felt I wasn’t recognized for what I thought were fairly significant efforts. But reading Karl’s post and letting it sit for a few more nomination cycles has led me to a different perspective.

I’ve had conversations over the last year with people who are graciously indignant that I’ve been passed over. We talk of inequities in the system and the grey area of where I live versus where I make my contributions and such. But since reading Karl’s post, the question that keeps coming up in my head is: Why do I want to be an MVP? And lately, that has morphed to: Would I accept it if it were offered?

We’ll get back to that but let’s move on to the next topic. Book-writing is hard. It’s not just the work involved but the constant feeling that you should be working on something when you aren’t. It makes you feel guilty when you’re out having a good time with your family when you know you should be getting other stuff done. Then when you’re doing it, you feel guilty because you’re not out having a good time with your family.

So the question that kept coming up in my head was: Why do I want to write a book? Why not just write the articles and release it as an ebook? Or a wiki?

These two issues made me wonder about my motives. I think it also helps being relatively isolated from the software community as I don’t regularly geek out with anyone locally. Mostly because geeking out down here involves GPS equipment on boats and the hillbilly ain’t what you would call a seafarin’ folk. Without regular reinforcement from peers, the intrinsic value of both activities starts to get a little fuzzy.

So I start wondering: what benefit might I gain from being an MVP? Free software, possibly. A half-expenses paid trip to Seattle each year. Possible consulting work. Inside look at new technology coming from Microsoft.

Ten years ago, that all sounded pretty good. These days, with the hillbilly closing in on forty, all of that sounds like more ambition than I have the energy for. Free software? Most of it would take up hard-drive space and never get used. Possible consulting work? I reserve the right to reconsider my position on this one if I’m ever out of work for longer than two months. New technology? I can’t even handle current tech. Besides which, all the interesting stuff isn’t in the actual technology anyway but the products that come out of it.

Note that I do recognize the similarity between this argument and the Fox and the Grapes fable. And it’s easy to say I wouldn’t accept the award if it were offered. That’s especially true now that I’ve declared so publicly which probably doesn’t bode well for me ever being nominated again. But the fact remains that the further I get into my career, the lower the value I place on the tangible benefits of the MVP program. The recognition that I thought I needed tends to come regardless of what the program dictates. In any case, if I were to get it now and not for the community work I did in 2008, my confidence in the selection process would be shattered.

As for book-writing, many of the same arguments apply, at least for the tangible benefits. The traditional arguments about the benefits (e.g. fame, wealth, power) are either just plain false or grossly exaggerated. If I were to release it as a wiki and get a single contract based on that contribution, the financial benefits are negated within one to two months. That said, there are considerable intangible benefits to writing a book depending, once again, on your priorities. A print book does tend to legitimize the ideas within, assuming the book is well-received. As my co-author pointed out early in the process, there is a wider chance that the ideas will reach the people we want to reach if it is published. I think that’s true, as much as we’d like it not to be. And given that assumption, that increased the priority I had for writing the book.

This is not to slam the MVP program or its current members. I don’t really have an opinion either way on how valuable the program is because it doesn’t really affect my daily life. Nor is it to dissuade anyone from writing a book (or an ebook or a wiki). Instead, it’s to consider the importance you place on these achievements and by corollary, the priorities you have in your career. Yes, I like to keep the running joke of my Slightly Below Most Valued Professional status going but not out of bitterness or for a personal agenda. I’m just a sucker for the ironic is all.

And as much as I complained during the book writing process (mostly internally), I’m very proud of the output from it. Whether or not it sells or gets good reviews, it’s already achieved the goal I set out to do: to make the information available to whomever wants to consume it. And in a way I’m happy with. For instance, one of the things I like most about it is that it ends on the word confidence. And we didn’t even plan that.

I really should dump some images in this post to break it up a bit. But it’s not at the top of my priority list right now.

Kyle the Prerogatory

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  • Neil

    Kyle,

    Congratulations on completing the book!

    I’ve been reading it since getting it through MEAP – I need to go back and download the final version (sorry! – ebook only for me I like to carry all my books around with me and, er, I’m a cheapskate!)

    You wrote: “I don’t really have an opinion either way on how valuable the program is because it doesn’t really affect my daily life”.
    I think that sums it up. There is no real value in the program for most of us because it doesn’t affect us (much) day to day. I say “much” because clearly I read things like codebetter.com and MVPs write here now and have done in the past and I am influenced by their work, but, whether or not they are MVPs is largely irrelevant. I hope that doesn’t come across as me knocking the program – I’m pleased for all those that do get recognised for their efforts and it has a value for Microsoft most of all.

    I had plenty more opinion on the main thrust of your post regarding priorities but if I go on I’ll have an article longer than yours! Suffice to say that I appreciate the sentiments – thanks for posting it!

  • http://joshuaflanagan.lostechies.com Joshua Flanagan

    Although, now that I’ve said that you might not get it because I said you might get it because you complained about not getting it, you might actually get it, cause they don’t want it to look like the rigorous selection process can be defeated by something so petty.
    Incidentally, these comments have guaranteed that *I* will never be awarded an MVP (or will they…)

  • http://joshuaflanagan.lostechies.com Joshua Flanagan

    Of course, whatever increase in attention you would have gotten from the MVP lords by complaining about not getting an MVP was probably just dashed by my comment about you getting an MVP for complaining about not getting an MVP, since they don’t want it to look like you increase your chances by complaining about not getting an MVP.

  • http://joshuaflanagan.lostechies.com Joshua Flanagan

    “now that I’ve declared so publicly which probably doesn’t bode well for me ever being nominated again”

    Not at all. In fact, this post is probably the most important step you could have taken toward becoming an MVP (forget all that work you did for the Bahama NUG). Complaining loudly about not being an MVP works wonders – see Roy Osherove.

  • John Mairs

    I found myself also wondering at age 41 and having done SW engineering why do I want to take EE courses to better understand DSP or communication theory. Shouldn’t I be with my 6 year old son? Well written, thank you.

  • http://tdev.org Taco

    Congratulations with finishing your book!

    I am looking forward reading it from cover to cover. Thank you very much for all the time spent getting this book done.

    With kind regards,
    Taco.