Thoughts on MVP Summit 2015
I’ve just returned home from the almost week-long MVP Global Summit, held annually on Redmond campus (about 10 miles from my home office) and open to all current Microsoft MVPs. After a week of delayed responses to email, no-shows at recurring meetings, and a somewhat muted social presence compared to my usual activities, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Summit – not the content of what was shared, of course, as all of that is under non-disclosure agreements. But I figured I’d give non-MVPs a quick snapshot of what it is, what attendees experience, and why my fellow MVPs and I get tremendous value out of attending each year.
To start, for those who may not be familiar with the Microsoft MVP program, Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are technologists and community leaders from across every Microsoft technology area who demonstrate their commitment to their respective technologies. Some MVPs speak at conference around the world (many at their own cost) and write blogs and books, while others solve customer problems on various forums and online communities. Still others build solutions and, to some degree, act as an additional R&D wing to Microsoft. But across the board, MVPs go out of their way to share what they know with their communities. The MVP Award is an annual recognition of this level of expertise and a way for Microsoft to say ‘thank you’ to these valuable members of the independent community.
I was awarded the MVP award for SharePoint Server in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and then for Office 365 in January of this year. One of the questions I hear a lot is “How can I become an MVP?” While there is not a set list of criteria, and ultimately it is up to Microsoft to decide who receives the award, I’ve written a couple articles ion which I share some of the healthy habits you can develop which will go a long way toward this goal. You can find my most recent post on ITUnity here, where I also talk about some recent changes to the program.
Now, back to the main point of this post: What happens at the MVP Summit?
While the event gets officially underway on Monday morning, most people arrive on Saturday and Sunday for regional events. This year, for example, the MVPs from across the US gathered Sunday evening to network, meet with our MVP Leads (based on technology and region), and to hear from the Developer Experience (DX) team that runs the program. Following that event, people generally register for the week, and then meet up with other MVPs and Microsoft contacts for dinner. Since I live in the area, I stopped by the USA event for a couple hours, then headed home for one last night of rest before a long week of content, discussions, and networking.
What follows is several days of sessions around selected technologies. As an Office 365 MVP with a strong focus on SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, and Yammer, I attended sessions relevant to my area – although MVPs are able to attend other sessions should they have an interest of their specialty covers multiple areas. All content is under strict NDA. Even photos of attendees must be careful not to show screens, and certainly not any presentation material. Sometimes the content is a recap of information already available, but with much more detailed discussion behind some of the product decisions that were made – other times we are able to get a preview of what is coming. But the real value here is that its an opportunity for both MVPs and for Microsoft product and engineering teams to ask questions, dig into architectural and deployment issues, and to share real-world scenarios from customer experiences. While Microsoft has done a great job in improving their communication with experts and customers alike through community sites (like the Office 365 Network on Yammer at www.yammer.com/itpronetwork) and User Voice, as well as through more public channels like Twitter and Facebook (sometimes you need to go where customers hang out), you just can’t substitute all that for 4 days of face-to-face with the players behind the products. It is an amazing opportunity, and by far the most valuable aspect of the MVP award.
To pull back the curtain on the day, there’s not much to tell. I was describing the experience to my wife, and her response was “You’re sitting at long tables all day, listening to lectures, and talking? Sound incredibly boring.” But that’s the event in a nutshell – a schedule of sessions between a couple different buildings on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, each session lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. There is a lot of PowerPoint, live demos, and Q&A. Microsoft opens the kimono, to some extent, sharing their vision and plans for the coming year. This year we had an opening keynote by SharePoint and OneDrive for Business CVP Jeff Teper, who rejoined the team a couple months back, and who brings a lot of energy to the team (as if we needed the energy – we’re a pretty energized crowd). Throughout the event, attendees are well-fed, we’re able to take side meetings with members of the various product teams, and we’re building connections and learning a ton. And, of course, there are evening activities, a huge product group team event on campus, and the chance to meet with various vendors and experts outside of the event. For example, a large number of MVPs met over at the Nintex headquarters in downtown Bellevue for food and drinks.
Btw, if you’re interested in hearing some of what Jeff Teper talked about at the MVP Summit this week, be sure to watch the live stream of his keynote next Tuesday from the European SharePoint Conference taking place in Stockholm. Stream it here.
All in all, it was a fantastic event, and I must say that the event planning does seem to improve each year, with the product teams listening to feedback from past years and making adjustments to the content and activities. For example, last year an additional day was added for MVPs to present content to each other and to members of the product teams – and it was possibly the best day of the event. This year, an even larger crowd of MVPs extended their stay so that they could participate in this final day. I hope they plan to continue this session. But I’d also like to once again thank Microsoft for allowing me to be a part of this community, and for providing this invaluable event. See you next year!