My MVP Journey or put another way “The Making of a Microsoft MVP” (Most Valuable Professional)
On 1 October 2016 I was awarded the title of MVP (Most Valuable Professional) by Microsoft.
This was a huge achievement for me both personally and professionally, and I feel immensely proud to have been recognised.
For those of you that don’t know, the MVP title is given to “exceptional technology community leaders worldwide who actively share their high quality, real world expertise, with users and Microsoft”. There are less than 200 MVPs in the UK and a little under 4000 people across the globe.
The MVP award is by categories covering all aspects of Microsoft technology, meaning they encompass everything from Visual Studio development to Xbox gaming. I was recognised for my contribution to the Business Solutions category, one of only fifteen people to recognised in this field in the UK, and I believe the first person to be named MVP that specialises in Unified Service Desk (USD), Microsoft’s call centre technology.
Having supported me in my quest to become an MVP, the marketing team at Crimson, the company I work for, organised a Q&A session to create a record of my MVP journey.
Here’s what we discussed:
What put the idea of becoming an MVP into your head? When was this?
I don’t think anybody can set out to become an MVP. The award is based on 12 months’ effort you simply can’t keep up the required effort with only the award in mind. In fact, when I first started my blog I didn’t really understand what an MVP was. I started to think seriously about it earlier this year. Around May I contacted an MVP to ask him what he thought my blog. I was simply looking for his views on what improvements I could make, his response was to nominate me.
Why did you decide to go for it?
I didn’t really go for it until after my first nomination. (Did I mention I got three nominations?) In theory you can nominate yourself but realistically someone from Microsoft or another MVP is best. I was nominated by a MVP in May and then in June I was very lucky that a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft gave me a second nomination. From that point I admit I started to try really hard, spending all of my spare time blogging and answering questions in the Microsoft forums. The icing on the cake was a third nomination from a ‘fan’ of my blog.
But the reason I embarked on the journey starts with me breaking my foot. The healing process took much longer than expected. As I couldn’t go fishing I focused on my work. At that time, I was working with an off shore development team. The guys in Hyderabad were a brilliant bunch, so I started to help them by developing a Unified Service Desk training guide. Eventually my foot healed and around that time I also joined Crimson. My old friends in India would no longer have access to my training material. So I started a WordPress blog and published my training notes.
How did you raise your profile and become recognised?
My blog started small but I soon realised I was getting more views than I expected. Actually back then I was getting a month what I now get in a morning! Seeing my blog was receiving some interest I contacted the Dynamics Community forum and they agreed to syndicate it. Meaning whenever I made a post it would show on the Microsoft site. Linking my site to Microsoft was the first step towards my traffic increasing. I typically get around 25,000 views per month now. I also had some very useful tips from Crimson’s marketing expert (Will Astbury who is now asking me these questions). As initially I had no idea how to use social media, following Will’s advice to gain Twitter followers really helped.
Have you learnt any new skills, or had to do anything you had not done before, in the process of becoming an MVP?
Yes. Creating blog content and answering forum questions really helps me expand my knowledge. I think learning and sharing new things is a big motivation for me. Plus, as my ‘reputation’ has grown people send me questions. One of my followers actually makes requests blog posts. I love this as I get a kick out of helping, I learn new things and it allows me create fresh content.
How would you describe your Microsoft specialisms?
I think this is a great question, there is sometimes a perception that MVPs know everything. This is simply not true. Microsoft expect an MVP to demonstrate a deep knowledge of particular technology. For me that means Dynamics CRM. The focus of most of my work is in three areas. Firstly, the core CRM functionality, for example I publish guides to help people pass the CRM certifications. I also have an in interest in Field Service. (Formally known as FieldOne.) But my main focus has been in USD. If you don’t know, USD is an extension to CRM aimed at automation in contact centre environments.
Please describe the amount of additional work, hours you have had to put in to build your case?
I have never tried to work it out. What I can say is I spend most weekends helping people, be that writing blog posts or creating training videos. (I also have a YouTube channel) Also almost every day I will check the dynamics forums and answer questions.
In total I must spend 80+ hours per month, pretty much all of this time is early mornings, evenings and weekends. I often start ‘work’ at 4am, something my long suffering family has become accustomed to.
Over and above this I’ve actually built a fully functional Unified Service Desk solution, which I use as a test bed for the examples I publish in my blog.
As an MVP, what do you perceive are your duties? To teach, to learn?
I’m an MVP rookie so still getting my head around the concept of ‘duties’. If I tried to sum it up I would say ‘to help’. Sometimes that will be by teaching people but also simply trying to suggest ways to solve problems.
Do you see yourself as an ambassador of sorts for Microsoft?
Not exactly. MVPs are recognised by Microsoft but they aren’t linked to Microsoft. One of the phrases Microsoft has used is “independent experts, real world answers”. Meaning MVPs will comment on Microsoft technologies including the negatives. I’m very committed to Microsoft products and I’m certainly prepared to promote them. But some of the technologies / features I blog about are very new and they may suffer teething problems. Real world answers mean exploring the limitations of a product as well as its benefits.
How did it feel when you received the good news?
Microsoft make the announcements about winners on the first day of each quarter. (At exactly 3pm, via email!) I was first nominated in May, so my first opportunity to gain the award was July 1st. On that occasion I was unsuccessful, I was devastated. After that I really increased my efforts. So my first reaction was a sense of relief. Then gradually the congratulations messages started to arrive on LinkedIn and Twitter. It was then the significance really started to hit home. And since then I’ve been on a high!
What does this award mean to you professionally and personally?
We all have doubts about our abilities and never really know if our efforts are being recognised. So on a personal level it means a massive amount to my confidence.
Professionally gaining the award has to be one of the high spots of my career.
Why did Microsoft choose you over others?
They don’t say why you were chosen, being an award there isn’t a definitive answer as to why you should get it and someone else shouldn’t. There are obviously many people more technically able than me or people that contribute to technical communities to a greater extent. (Some of whom work for Crimson!) Me being involved with some interesting and upcoming technologies probably helped and I believe anyone helping people learn is viewed upon favourably.
How have your family, friends, and colleagues reacted?
Sue (my partner) has been very supportive of the hours I spend in front of my computer. Sue was just as happy as me and probably slightly relieved.
Our daughter Lauren thinks it’s great. (Although I’m not sure she understands what CRM is)
The reaction from friends and colleagues past and present has been fantastic.
And then there are the people who follow my blog, getting congratulation messages from all over the world is the most amazing feeling.
How would you describe the role of an MVP to someone that hasn’t heard of it before?
I wasn’t sure how to answer this question! I looking on Microsoft’s MVP site for inspiration, this is what Microsoft say ….
“Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community. They are always on the ‘bleeding edge’ and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. They have very deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs are driven by their passion, community spirit and their quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to their amazing technical abilities, MVPs are always willing to help others – that’s what sets them apart.”
What would you like to do in your role as an MVP?
Its early days. Firstly, I guess enjoy it. A couple of suggestions have been made about me presenting at the CRM User Group and maybe other events. I think I’d enjoy getting involved in that sort of thing.
I am really looking forward to visiting Microsoft’s head office in Redmond for the annual MVP Summit in November.
Do you have any future plans for further achievements?
The award lasts for 12 months, so my thoughts are already starting to turn to what I might need to do to gain the award next year. Any suggestions?