Igor Kulman

My (negative) experience with the Microsoft MVP awards

· Igor Kulman

Getting a MVP is a big thing when you are a developer working with the Microsoft stack. It is supposed to be some kind of approval a sign that you are doing something well. I applied for the MVP award back in 2012 and then got nominated in 2016. I want to tell you about both cases because they really made me think that the whole MVP concept is just wrong.

Disclaimer: First, this post is not a hate post because I did not get an MVP award. I do not really care about it. I just want you to know how it works and what is it like. Second, I am in no way generalizing and saying the MVP awards work like this in every region. This is my experience with the Czech Microsoft branch (2012) and later with the CEE, Russia & CIS (2016). I suspect things may work differently in different regions and with different Microsoft branches.

Applying in 2012

In 2012 I started working as a full-time Windows Phone developer in Prague, Czech Republic. I created a few good apps, wrote some programming blog posts, kicked off my StackOverflow answering, did a few user group talks and even taught the Windows Phone development part of a mobile development course on a Czech university. It seemed like I had everything needed to get an MVP award.

I applied and got a big Excel sheet to fill in. Everything was numbers based. They did not really care what apps you created and how good or big they were, just their count. The same with everything else. It looked like writing 2 trivial blog posts would count for more than teaching 1 university course. But I tried, I thought I did enough. I wrote every single blog post, every single app, everything to this Excel sheet and sent it.

I did not get the MVP award so I was curious why. A friend close to the local Microsoft branch told me I failed the “attitude test”. I am a blunt person, I often criticize stuff when it does not work. I wrote some blog posts about problems with Windows Phone and the then just emerging WinRT and how to solve them and I was vocal about it at Twitter. The local Microsoft branch did not like it. One does not get an MVP award here when being critical to Microsoft products.

So I let it go, turning into a fanboy was not an option for me and I was already on a blacklist because of a blunt talk about the then just starting Windows Store at a local Microsoft conference. Or maybe for acknowledging that Microsoft directly financed some Windows Phone apps, because otherwise they would never be developed. I do not remember.

Getting nominated in 2016

A few years passed and an MVP friend, when bored at his job, decided to nominate me for an MVP for fun. He wanted to know if I am still on the blacklist. The idea was that maybe the blacklist was not shared from the local Microsoft branch to CEE, Russia & CIS that handles the MVPs for the whole region now.

My nomination got accepted, telling him that my GitHub profile looked impressive. I got a form to fill. It was not an Excel sheet this time but an online form that showed in Russian, broke when using translation in Chrome and only worked when I changed the ru-RU in the url to en-US.

The idea of the form was the same. Numbers, numbers, just some numbers. So I filled it in, focusing on my apps, blog posts, StackOverflow answers, GitHub repos and a conference talk. A day later I got a mass email sent to all the MVP nominees telling me about a call about filling in the form the next day. Kind of a short notice and I already filled in the form.

I asked if the call was mandatory, the response was that it was not. By my local MVP friend told me I should attend, that they say it is not mandatory but check who is on the call and who is not.

I joined the call and listened in. Took me about 20 minutes to leave it. It was everything I remember hating about the program, telling the nominees to focus on numbers, fill in as much stuff as they could no matter the quality, etc. Those people from CEE, Russia & CIS were a bit delusional for my taste, especially with emails starting with stuff like “Thank you again for your interest to our amazing MVP Award Program!”. They did not ask for anything after the call or contact me in any way.

As expected, I did not get the MVP. I was curious so I checked who got the MVP for the same category and the same country. I found the name and wanted to check who he was and what he did. It was hard because he had basically no online presence (no web or blog or Github or StackOverflow) other than a Twitter with no original content just retweeting stuff praising Microsoft. I do not know who he could have put into the numbers oriented form. Then I wrote an email to the CEE, Russia & CIS telling them I am curious how the awarding works, what was the reason for people not getting MVP etc. I never heard back.

Seems to me that nothing has changed about the MVP awards in my region and probably never will. This is definitely not something I want to take part in anymore.

See also