Microsoft is cutting back still further on the benefits it offers members of its Most Valued Professional (MVP) award program. Given the amount of work an MVP puts in for free isn't it time to end the exploitation?
Depending on your viewpoint, the MVP program is either Microsoft's way of recognizing and rewarding experts in the use of Microsoft technology; or it's the way Microsoft gets lots of expert help on forums, online, and at conferences while avoiding paying for it.
The main change to the benefits this time is the cancelling of the annual MVP Global Summit in 2017. This is usually a chance for MVPs to network with other MVPs and with Microsoft personnel, and in some ways is reward for all that hard work.
However, this year's event has been canned, and the next one will now happen in March 2018. The official reason for this decision is to avoid the problem of MVPs hearing the same information twice, once at Microsoft Ignite, then a few weeks later at the Global Summit. For MVPs who have put many unpaid hours in working to ensure they can use the letters MVP, the loss of one of the few concrete benefits of the scheme seems particularly harsh.
The other changes announced at the beginning of February include a consolidation of the MVP renewal process. This will now happen just once a year, rather than quarterly as is the current case.
The news for MVPs isn't all negative; they will now have access for free to 80 courses run by Xamarin University, and will get a 50 percent discount for two MCP exams per year. They'll also get priority registration for Microsoft conferences such as Ignite.
MVPs used to have more benefits, including access to the Company Store. This let MVPs spend up to $120 of their own money on Microsoft hardware or software at employee prices. However, the benefit was withdrawn back in 2009, along with access to Microsoft's E-Academy, E-Reference Library and MS Press Book reviews.
The MVP program looks ever more a benefit to Microsoft rather than the MVPs. There are around 4000 MVPs worldwide; the award lasts for just a year, and MVPs only get re-elected as MVPs if they are still meeting Microsoft's criteria.
There are no guidelines for how to become an MVP, meaning would-be MVPs carry out massive amounts of work in the hope of getting the magic letters. Typical routes to becoming an MVP include contributing to and moderating online forums, writing articles and books, attending and speaking at conferences and events (without worrying too much about getting paid); running local user groups; and having blogs, online videos and courses.
The harder you've worked for free on Microsoft's behalf, the better chance you have of being nominated to become an MVP. If you are nominated, you'll be asked to provide documentation on topics such as how many people have clicked on your articles and videos; how many blog posts you've made and how many comments they received.
The level of effort is what makes the balance seem skewed in Microsoft's favor; MVPs say they answer thousands of questions on Microsoft forums before they stand a chance of getting noticed- cutting Microsoft's own online help costs, of course, while receiving no financial benefit themselves.
Writing TechNet articles that fill in the blanks in the official documentation is another favored route to getting nominated - another cost that a company of the size of Microsoft should be meeting itself.
There's no doubt that there are plenty of people willing to put in hundreds or thousands of hours of work for free in order to get a chance to be an MVP, and the loss of the Global Summit won't alter that, but that doesn't make the system any fairer.
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