Expanded MVP Program Puts Knowledge, Real-life Experience to Work for Microsoft Customers Worldwide
REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 23, 2002 -- Yang Jie, Fernando Guerrero and Kelly Theriot would appear to have little in common:
The thread that connects the three is their designation as Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals or MVPs, people who provide technical assistance to other users of Microsoft technology, usually on the thousands of message boards, user groups and Web sites devoted to Microsoft products. They range in age from 18 to 80, and reside in more than 55 countries around the globe, from Brazil to China.
Microsoft began awarding the MVP status almost a decade ago to recognize the most outstanding contributions in these online, peer-to-peer communities. Earlier this month, to acknowledge the growing interest in the MVP program and in peer-to-peer assistance, Microsoft increased the size of the program to include more than 1,200 new and ongoing active members - more than double the number in previous years.
"Microsoft MVPs are much more than active online community members," says Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsoft's Platforms Division. "This group is very important to us. Their enthusiasm, expertise and commitment to the community make them super valuable, and we appreciate all the help they give us."
Many MVPs lead double lives. By day, they are authors, homemakers or students. A few are police officers, firefighters or doctors. But during their free time, they serve as experts on one or more Microsoft technologies, providing assistance and advice on more than 70 products, everything from Office to Visual Studio .NET. In addition to the help they provide online, some have written books or taught classes.
The growth of the program, according to Lori Moore, corporate vice president for Product Support Services, is a testament to worldwide customer connection. "Although the program has always been globally focused, the tremendous increase in efforts and support for technical communities outside of the United States reflects the increasing needs of some of our best customers," she says, noting that there is a growing desire and passion around the world for individuals to participate in the online technical communities, particularly in Japan, India, China, Germany, France and Latin America. While MVPs are recognized as being among the most credible and accessible individuals within the various technical communities, they also provide a valuable two-way conduit; offering Microsoft a picture of areas where products could be improved. Much of this feedback comes during the annual summit Microsoft holds each year on its Redmond campus for the MVPs and top Microsoft executives slated for early next year.
A good example of how this feedback works is the Outlook Express Feature Request Pack that Microsoft is preparing to release. "It's happening as a direct result of feedback from the MVPs at last year's MVP Summit," Allchin said.
For Theriot, the 40-something grandmother, helping users solve everyday problems is a great source of satisfaction. While she's never taken a computer course, she is well known in the online world for her registry edits and "fixes," of which she has authored more than 2,000. In fact, when Theriot receives a question to a problem she hasn't encountered before, she mimics the problem with her own system and then figures out how to solve it.
"I'm not sure why or where it came from, but I'm very interested in technology," she says. "I guess I was born this way. I'm a nice person, I'm left-handed and I like to help people. I like what I do."
Theriot, whose specialty is helping people with the Windows XP operating system, discovered her zeal for technology in 1995. "I was a college student, minding my own business," she recalls. Her major -- a blend of sociology, criminal justice and paralegal studies -- required lots of writing, so she bought a computer.
Liberated from paper writing once she finished school, Theriot decided to give the Internet a try. She helped her cousin fix a problem -- a CD wasn't being recognized. In 1999 she went into a newsgroup and started answering questions, and she hasn't stopped since. "I'm addicted," she says and now has her own website.
Fernando Guerrero can still recall the day he caught the technology bug. As a high school student, he was interested in science fiction; Isaac Asimov is one of his favorite authors. But shortly after starting college, where he majored in civil engineering, his scientific interest began to focus on computers. "In 1976, I saw the HP-67 programmable calculator," he says. "It changed my life forever."
Since that fateful day, Guerrero has become not only an MVP but a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) and IT consultant as well. "In my case I am very focused on the educational aspects of the product's development," he says. "I really enjoy being part of the process. It's also great to see improvements made based on my personal contribution."
With a focus on SQL Server, Guerrero sees himself as a direct link between users and the Microsoft developer team. "Thanks to an amazing commitment from the SQL Server developer team, we can give feedback about new features before they are implemented," he says. "They are very receptive to new ideas. And during the development phase we have some access to beta versions. We also help on testing official documentation and courseware to make sure it fits the user's needs."
Guerrero's contribution to technological understanding isn't confined to the online realm. "I try sharing what I know in many different ways," he says. "Sometimes it's on newsgroups, but in some cases it's through direct involvement in regional user groups, where I deliver free sessions on SQL Server." Guerrero speaks at conferences, shares information on his Web site, and has established a Spanish-speaking newsgroup for SQL Server.
For Yang, the MVP from China, his interest in how things work sprouted when he was a child. He used to take stereo equipment apart and put it back together again in order to understand its inner workings. After graduating from middle school, Yang entered a technical training school to study computer science. He quickly discovered that his inquisitiveness went beyond the boundaries of the classroom so he began to study more complex computer programming books he found at the library.
"Technology is the most powerful tool for human beings," he says. "The process of learning new technology is always a pleasure. That's the most important part for me."
It wasn't long before Yang began to pass his learning along to others. "I am happy whenever I resolve a problem for someone else," he says. "The variety of questions allows me to learn many different aspects of computer programming."
In 2001, Yang and a group of friends teamed up to provide on-site computer training services for homes and businesses. For home users, Yang offers his services free of charge. "I feel that my work is very important and satisfying, and each time someone I have helped says 'thanks' it encourages me to learn more and more," he says.
Yang's dream: to one day help create the largest technical support and training program in China, offering services to home users throughout the country.
An Organic Process
While thousands of individuals have been nominated for MVP status, a relatively small number of them - 1,200 - have actually obtained the designation. "There's no script, or plan, or formula," says Anthony Russell, MVP program manager. "It's a very organic, grass-roots driven process. The people, nominated by their peers within Microsoft and online, represent as wide a range in backgrounds and interests as our customers. No two of them are alike, but they all share demonstrated expertise in one or more Microsoft technologies and are among the most accessible folks within a particular technical community."
"Diversity and passion are the key ingredients to the Microsoft MVP program," Russell continues, "our goal is to recognize amazing users, listen to their feedback, support their efforts and deliver an amazing software experience. Whether you're a developer, IT professional or home user, the MVP Program is all about the ultimate customer connection and making great software."
To cement the camaraderie that develops among MVPs online, Microsoft hosts an annual summit at which MVPs meet each other and Microsoft executives and developers. "Getting that face time with one another -- taking the online experience and putting a face to it -- is amazing," Russell says.
Guerrero returns to the camaraderie among the group as one of the big draws of being an MVP. "This community includes not only MVPs but members of the Microsoft development and management teams as well," he says. "I don't know why, but I can guess that a team built of extremely generous people can only inspire instant friendship."
Yang says the recognition aspect of being an MVP has been helpful. "The honor of being recognized as a valuable professional gave me great confidence," he says. "I will keep learning while helping others in the community."
For Theriot, the social aspect of being an MVP extends beyond the yearly summit. "There is a special group with about 30 active members that grew out of Windows 95," she says. "People in that group plan vacations together. The camaraderie is hard to explain. The people in that group are there for each other through the highs and the lows. It's where my heart is. It's like home."