Goals, obsessions, and aspirations: becoming an MVP

Several times this week I've been asked about how to become an MVP. A few people have posted on this, but here's my take. 

I think basically what it comes down to is that if you aspire to become something you're not already, you usually need to make changes in your life. Sometimes significant changes. But it's quite easy to prioritize the wrong thing by accident. Becoming an MVP doesn't mean compulsively answering every question on the SQL Server forums, or blogging huge amounts of stuff that others have already covered – but it doesn mean you have to get out there and interact with the community – it's all about the community. Here's what I recommend:

  • Starting answering forum questions, but make *really* sure the answer is correct. Make sure you help out on the MSDN forums too, as these are one of the first places the MVP team looks, and aim to become a moderator if you can. This can really become an obsession – you have to ensure you're adding value rather than just answering for the sake of getting your score/reputation/ranking higher.
  • Start a blog with regular interesting and informative posts about SQL Server (or whatever you're trying to become an MVP in). But again, don't be obsessive. It's easy to fall into the trap of posting stuff to try to get more people to read or become higher up a list. Check out this blog post I wrote: Are we too obsessed with rankings? And try to make your blog interesting with some entertaining stuff thrown in, for example Just how long should you make character fields? What's the longest word?
  • Get on Twitter and join in the community. Get on Facebook or LinkedIn – somewhere that people can see something behind the professional persona. IMHO community isn't just about always providing answers – it's about knowing some of the people there too. Another blog post with more info: How Twitter and social networking changed my life…
  • Start presenting. In the beginning this always sucks – it's hard to present when you've never done it before and most people find it terrifying. However, I'd say it's the #1 way to get involved in the community and get noticed. Don't aim for major conferences right away – it won't happen. Start with local user groups, SQL Saturdays, maybe do a podcast. In February I made my traditional Valentine's Day blog post to Kimberly a long description of how to speak in public, as a tribute to her helping me – see Public Speaking: A Primer.
  • Find a mentor who's already an MVP to help you out. This is pretty crucial – you need someone who will tell you if you need to change the way you're doing something, maybe obsessing, maybe goals are a little off. I had Kimberly as my mentor, and she didn't hold back on the advice and constructive criticism.
  • Be nice. No-one likes a smart-ass know-it-all who puts people down. This is a balancing act – don't be too humble either.
  • Make friends with other MVPs. It's a community, right? Get out there and talk to them.

Lastly, take a step back and consider why you aspire to become an MVP. Do you just want the badge so you can show off? Is it something you want to tick off a list of achievements? Do you want to increase your professional standing? Do you think it will make you more attractive as an employee or consultant? Do you want to become a leader in the community?

Not all of these are valid reasons IMHO – I'll let you think which are and which aren't.

PS Great point from @sqlagentman – an MVP isn't something you're awarded, it's something you're formally recognized as already being.

6 thoughts on “Goals, obsessions, and aspirations: becoming an MVP

  1. excellent point Paul! totally agree with you, an MVP should definitely be a community leader, rather than the guy who’s fixing the most T-SQL syntax errors in all the SQL forums…

  2. Good points Paul. People were always surprised I wasn’t an MVP for years, and only made it this year for Clustering (which is quite an honor for me considering most people see me just as a SQL guy AND there are only a handful of them). I didn’t really think about it because if it was meant to be, it was going to happen. I was more reminded of the fact I wasn’t one when someone asked me the million dollar question at a conference.

    I can certainly say that being outspoken (Paul’s point of "Be nice. No-one likes a smart-ass know-it-all who puts people down. This is a balancing act – don’t be too humble either.") can both work for and against you at the same time. Remember to be yourself at the end of the day. I tend to be critical sometimes (which may have been viewed as "negative") and it may have hurt me over the years, but at the same time, don’t say or do what you think is the right thing just to get MVP. Striking that balance is hard, but finding someone (or a few someones) to mentor and bring you along is key to say, "Hey, you know what you just said? Not smart!". As we all mature in our careers, we’re more self aware about these things. The younger me would have made a terrible MVP lol

    If you’re going to blog or speak to an audience, never be dishonest; remember to be genuine. If you don’t know, say you don’t. When I blog, it’s about stuff I am thinking about or find interesting, and hope others will, too. Doing a lot of what Paul is saying – LinkedIn, Facebook, blogging – for the sake of doing it isn’t the way. Have something to say.

    If you do get awarded MVP – whether it’s for SQL, Clustering, Exchange, or whatever else you’re an expert in – take the time and give back. Don’t do the work to get there and just stop. This year I’ll be speaking at a few user groups (I already did Chicago, and I live in Boston), and it was a very fun and rewarding experience. They didn’t pay me a dime to come out, nor did I expect to get any consulting business out of it. MVP gives you some cache, but don’t go into it expecting it’s going to raise your billing rates.

  3. Very nice.

    I was asked several times at TechEd about how to become an MVP, including one person who asked who they needed to petition at MS to get it. About half didn’t have a clue that it was an award for community involvement. All but two (imho) wanted it purely for the title and the prestige that came with it

  4. Nice article. I just stumbled across it when I added your blog to my RSS feeds!

    I’ve been active in the forums on SQLServerCentral.com for a number of years and I am now using the MSDN forums as well. I’m also just starting to set up a blog.

    The goal is to push myself towards MVP status for sure. Why do I want to do this? Well, a couple of reasons. One, it would be a fantastic personal achievement that my work in the community is recognized my fellow database professionals and two, answering questions in the forums, writing a blog or presenting (hopefully at the UK SQL Server Group) is one of the best ways for me to continually learn about SQL Server.

    Even if I don’t get there, I’ll certainly continue to build on my knowledge which will only benefit me in my daily job.

  5. Prestige and title are certainly things that come to mind when someone mentions Microsoft MVP, similar to the Oracle ACE award. What a lot of people don’t know is that an award is given for something you already are. I’ve seen lots of people get the MVP award the first year and never got re-awarded after that for the very reason that the attitude of giving and having the community spirit was never been there in the first place. Microsoft MVPs who have been going on for at least 5 years straight are the "real" community heroes as they simply become who they really are. It’s not about answering questions on the forums/newsgroups, blogging or doing presentations but the genuine attitude towards helping others.

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