My experience with Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional (MVP) has always been positive. Many times, MVPs are the ones who answer my tough questions in the newsgroups, or they have already posted the answer I need.

So, a few months ago, I read about how to become a MVP. On the heels of Microsoft’s MVP Global Summit last week, I had a chance to talk to Zubair Alexander, a Directory Services MVP, as well as Toby Richards, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Community Support Services, to learn a little more about the program.

Program stats

The MVP program has been in existence for 18 years. Currently, there are about 4,200 MVPs in 90 countries around the world. Roughly 75% of the MVPs are in areas related to development or professional IT; the other 25% or so are in home enthusiast areas, such as Windows Home Server. Some TechRepublic employees and contributors who have been awarded MVP status are Jason Hiner, Deb Shinder, and Steven Warren.

Selection criteria

Anyone can nominate someone to be an MVP; you can even nominate yourself. The number one criterion for selection is community involvement. While the most visible MVPs are often found in the various newsgroups for Microsoft products, many of them maintain a blog, answer questions on various online forums, or even volunteer in their local developer’s group.

MVPs are picked four times a year, and the award is for one year. There are MVPs across the product lines, even for products that are no longer in production, such as Visual FoxPro. But if you are eager to earn MVP status, it is best to focus on major, strategic items such as ASP.NET and Windows Server or upcoming products such as Windows 7 and Microsoft Azure.

Symbiotic relationship

The MVP program is a symbiotic relationship. MVPs have a greatly increased visibility, and the MVP title opens a lot of doors in terms of careers, particularly for consultants. Also, MVPs are given an MSDN membership and are granted a great deal of access to Microsoft, including direct contact with the product and server groups. Thanks to that direct access, MVPs find it much easier to get needed information. MVPs are invited to the annual Global Summit; other than their travel costs, all other expenses are paid for by Microsoft.

At the same time, Microsoft has a source of raw, unfiltered feedback “from the trenches.” When its products do not work properly or as expected, the MVPs let Microsoft know. Toby informed me that the product feedback from MVPs is used about four or five times as much by Microsoft as input from the broader audience. In addition, Microsoft gets a pool of people who are helping to support the community.

Additional program information

It was definitely interesting to learn more about this program. I had dealt with a few MVPs before, and I know a number of them in my personal life, but it is something I never really knew much about. For more information about the program, visit the MVP FAQ page.

I’m curious to hear other TechRepublic members’ impressions of the MVP program. If you have been awarded MVP status, was it a positive experience? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

Disclosure of Justin’s industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.