Microsoft hosted 1500 IT professionals and developers for the 2009 Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Global Summit in Seattle last week. The independent experts earn the MVP designation from Microsoft for sharing their expertise with the community and bringing customer feedback to the Microsoft product teams. The annual MVP Summit is a chance for Microsoft to gather this elite group and share ideas for product direction and recognize the contributions these independent experts make to the Windows ecosystem.

I touched base with Group Policy MVP Darren Mar-Elia, Cluster MVP John Savill, SharePoint MVP Dan Holme, Exchange Server MVP Paul Robichaux, and Directory Services MVP Ethan Wilansky to see what being a Microsoft MVP means to them.

What does the MVP status mean to you? How has it affected your career?
John Savill:
Being an MVP has enabled me to get inside access to the Microsoft teams that create the features I use day-to-day and write about. The MVP program has given me access to resources to learn the technologies to the depth I need to help others understand them.
Dan Holme: The opportunity to connect with other talented professionals and to interact directly with the product groups at Microsoft and actually have the chance to make a difference has been important to my career.
Ethan Wilansky: The MVP award has become a recognized sign of technical achievement on the Microsoft platform. This has certainly been good for career distinction. In addition, access to the Microsoft product groups has been invaluable for getting an early look at Microsoft software and playing a role in product direction.

How does MVP status compare to a Microsoft certification?
Dan Holme: MVP status recognizes community contribution. While most MVPs are technically very deep, the MVP designation is not, itself, a technical designation.
Paul Robichaux: Anyone who meets the requirements for a certification can earn one, but the MVP credential is only awarded to people based on a sustained effort to share knowledge with others in the community.
Darren Mar-Elia: I view the MVP as being more valuable personally, because it recognizes practical contributions rather than the results of a test.

How has being an MVP affected your relationship with Microsoft product teams?
John Savill: I have a much better relationship with Microsoft as an MVP, in my particular area of expertise, Cluster. I am in touch with Microsoft almost daily about high availability topics, and my MVP lead also helps me get access to other program teams.
Dan Holme: I'm lucky to have an active and effective MVP Lead at Microsoft who has enabled me to better deliver solutions to the community and to my clients, and to better deliver customer feedback to the product team.
Paul Robichaux: The product teams seek our detailed feedback, and they’re happy to get it even when it amounts to us saying “you made a bad decision.”

When you become an MVP, does Microsoft attempt to influence you or are you obligated to promote Microsoft products? Does Microsoft place any limitations on what you can say about their products?
Dan Holme: Not at all. We are under NDA, so there are things we cannot say about upcoming products. Some MVPs are, in fact, some of the most vocal critics of Microsoft products. The key is that they are constructive critics.
Ethan Wilansky: Microsoft does not obligate me in any way to promote their products. It's really up to me. If I wasn't already passionate about my focus areas, there would be no reason to work on maintaining my status as an MVP.
Paul Robichaux: Microsoft has never attempted to influence me, or any MVP that I know of, to say anything particular about their products. They do restrict what we can say by putting some topics under NDA. For example, I’m at the MVP Summit right now learning a ton about Exchange 14, but I can’t share any of what I know until the NDA is lifted.
Darren Mar-Elia: No, in fact they respect our independence. Plenty of MVPs were walking around the MVP Summit with iPhones and iPods.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to become an MVP?
Ethan Wilansky: If you’re passionate about Microsoft technology and can share your knowledge through writing (articles/blogging/newsgroups) or presenting at conferences, you are on your way. Stay focused, go deep, and avoid becoming a generalist. Writing for Windows IT Pro has been a great mechanism for sharing knowledge, and it has certainly played an important role in maintaining my MVP status.
John Savill: The MVP is an award based on your commitment to the community and sharing information. Get out there and blog, help people on forums, and write some articles.
Darren Mar-Elia: Don’t try. I didn’t know what the MVP program was until I got this strange email notifying me of my award. The point is to help other people. Maybe you’ll get an MVP and maybe you won’t. But if your goal is to get an MVP award, I think it’s the wrong goal.
Dan Holme: I can't overstate the value of the network of MVPs themselves. SharePoint MVPs are very active, intelligent, and supportive. We're in constant touch with each other, and together we're definitely more valuable to the community and to our customers than we would ever be, alone. It's a brilliant and fun group that I'm honored to be a part of, every day!

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