Want to become a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), one of the company's elite volunteer army of tech experts?
Then now's the time to brush up on Windows Vista and Windows 7, the upcoming cloud-computing platform Windows Azure and virtualisation software such as Hyper-V, according to a Microsoft executive in charge of the MVP program.
And plan on sharing that knowledge as widely as possible on developer and user forums run by Microsoft and others.
Microsoft is heavily recruiting MVPs for these areas, Toby Richards, general manager for community and online support, said this week. It is also actively looking for MVP candidates in important overseas Microsoft markets such as China, Russia, India and Brazil.
Microsoft, which holds its annual MVP Summit 1 – 4 March in Seattle, added several hundred MVPs this year and now has 4,200 worldwide.
"We would like to keep expanding our pool of influencers," said Richards, adding that despite recent layoffs and belt-tightening at Microsoft, the MVP program has seen "no de-investment."
Microsoft started the MVP program in 1993 with 38 initial MVPs.
MVPs are chosen primarily for the amount and quality of free technical advice they dispense in web forums and blogs. Contrary to some myths and jokes, there is no set formula that determines whether someone is MVP material, said Richards.
But a willingness to evangelise, and, if necessary, defend Microsoft products from haters helps. "I have not met one MVP who lacked the conviction and courage to challenge" attacks on Microsoft software, said Richards.
MVPs are unpaid, and the title does not connote any minimum level of technical knowledge, as a Microsoft certification does. However, the awards carry prestige in the large Microsoft technical community, and often open up job opportunities for awardees at Microsoft and its partner firms.
Another perk is the opportunity to attend the MVP Summit. Some 1,500 MVPs and/or their employers are expected, according to Richards.
Microsoft is trotting out a line-up of executives for speeches and Q&A sessions worthy of its much larger conferences. They include CEO Steve Ballmer; Antoine Leblond, senior vice president for Office productivity applications; Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president for developer tools; Mike Nash, corporate vice president for Windows product management; and Bob Kelly, corporate vice president for infrastructure server marketing.
Microsoft wants to give MVPs, 75 percent of whom are IT professionals or developers in their own right, early access to beta products and more say on those products, something they continue to clamour for.
At the MVP Summit, Microsoft plans to hold 700 sessions, bringing together MVPs with product and engineering teams.
That outside feedback helps supplement the vast amount of quantitative research that Microsoft collects, Richards said. The bigger value for Microsoft is the timely technical help that MVPs provide. For instance, 92 percent of the questions around Windows 7 posted on Microsoft's TechNet forum for IT pros is answered by a non-Microsoft employee, such as an MVP.
Over on the Microsoft Developer Network forum, every answer provided by an identified MVP is viewed on average 875 times, said Richards. Each view potentially saves Microsoft the several-hundred-dollar cost of providing a technical support phone call, he said.
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