While walking through Tech Ed’s expo hall a week ago in New Orleans I discovered VMware’s booth tucked far into one of the corners. I stopped by to say “hi” and introduce myself, and had this conversation:
- “Hello. My name is Greg Shields. I’ve been writing about your products for a while now.”
- “Nice to meet you.”
- “Are you looking for speakers? I’ve done quite a bit of speaking in my day, and I’m very familiar with your products and your messaging. I am also a vExpert.”
- “I’m sorry. A vee-what?”
This conversation, had with a VMware Product Manager and (I believe) a Marketing Manager highlights the comparative failure of VMware’s attempt at a Microsoft MVP program equivalent. Microsoft’s MVP program is lauded worldwide for its elevation of key evangelists to spread its gospel. MVPs are invited to numerous meetings to provide input on Microsoft products, too many to attend them all, with Microsoft paying special attention to their MVP eyes in the field. Once heard stated by a Microsoft employee about the program, “They [Microsoft decision makers] might listen to us, but they really listen to you people.”
Yet while VMware’s few who are actually aware of its vExpert program claim executive sponsorship, this awardee discovered through talking with many that the program – just recently into its second year – remains low on VMware’s radar.
VMware created the vExpert program in 2009 to recognize “individuals who have significantly contributed to the community of VMware users over the past year.” VMware suggests on its landing page that vExperts are “book authors, bloggers, VMUG leaders, tool builders, and other IT professionals who share their knowledge and passion with others.”
Believed to be VMware’s attempt at an equivalent program to Microsoft’s MVP or Citrix’s CTP, the vExpert uses a similar closed nomination-based process to select its awardees. Awardees gain the credential for one year, and must be nominated and again selected each subsequent year.
Yet while the vExpert on paper appears to mimic the MVP or CTP, the similarities end there. The problem: Few people, even inside VMware, know about it.
The result is a program that promises much but accomplishes little. As a vExpert recipient myself in 2009, I was invited to few opportunities to interact directly with VMware engineers. Avenues for providing product improvement suggestions were not formalized. Requests for software licenses were either rejected or required multiple layers of approval and long delays in receiving. The vExpert, it seems, does not gain one access to the very software its members are expected to evangelize.
Can the program be salvaged? Potentially, but only with a substantial investment from VMware’s executive leadership. That investment is said to be coming, as discussed at the last VMworld conference and reported by the web site Yellow Bricks, “During VMworld 2009 in San Francisco there was a vExpert ‘Session’ hosted by John Troyer. John invited [VMware VP of Technology Development] Steve Herrod for a Q&A session…As of now Steve Herrod is the executive sponsor for the vExpert program. What this will lead to is still unclear…”
Through its MVP program Microsoft gains priceless information about how their products are being used in the field and where they’re succeeding and failing. They at the same time create an ecosystem of individuals who are tagged as “Experts”, aiding in new business development as well as personal and career growth for awardees. VMware could stand to gain from the same kinds of raw input and awardee recognition, but only with a dramatically improved investment in the program.
Only time will tell if that investment is forthcoming.