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Interview with Sean O'Driscoll, Global Director: Product Support Services and Community

ActiveWin.com: What prominent changes have been made in the Microsoft MVP program in the past year?

Sean O'Driscoll: A couple things really come to mind. Probably the biggest theme for us is thinking of the diversity of program globally. When I say that - I am talking about three elements of diversity. Certainly, one is the availability of the program in eight countries that representation never existed in before, which is an important first step.  The second element is representation of new products and technologies from Microsoft which the MVP program has never been associated previously, such as the Microsoft Business Solutions or Visual Tools for Office technologies. The third issue is really thinking about the communities the program represents. Three to four years ago people thought the MVP program represented the newsgroup community only from an award and recognition standpoint. However, communities have changed. Communities are where customers want to go to interact with one another and get answers and expertise. Whether that is within newsgroups, local user groups, blogs, or third party communities, the role of the MVP program is to make sure we have gone to those destinations customers care about and identified the best of the best to be included in the program.

ActiveWin.com: Has Microsoft’s continued commitment to the program been ensured?

Sean O'Driscoll: Well, we hope this announcement goes a long way to dispel any fears or vibes along those lines. We have had this announcement planned for awhile, and we started on the summit months ago in terms of venues, dates and other challenges in planning a large scale event. I would not want people to think we are reacting to those rumors in any way – because we are well ahead of that curve. But certainly we hope people see this as a strong statement to say look, “we are committed to the program, the program has continued to grow, we continue to really focus on quality of award recipients, to the summit, etc. We are committed to touching MVPs perhaps in more ways than people have really seen. For example, we are doing work on regional summits to go out locally and interact with MVPs on their home turf. All of these are important statements to the program.

ActiveWin.com: As you touched on this earlier, what direction do you see the MVP Program headed in globally, specifically in areas which include customers that haven’t had access to support before?

Sean O'Driscoll: Absolutely, and we show that in the press release as some of the countries mentioned (Egypt, Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, etc.) weren’t included previously. As another evidence point, at the end of February we are holding a regional MVP summit in Prague really just to focus on interacting with MVP that we’re inviting from eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa to provide a special gathering to learn about some of their issues, provide an opportunity for them to interact with each other, and to get feedback on what unique cultural and/or geographic differences or language differences that we need to contemplate in the program.

ActiveWin.com: Some feel the large size of the MVP Program dilutes quality. How do you feel the large size makes a positive impact?

Sean O'Driscoll: Well, that’s a great question. I think there are a couple of ways the large size contributes to helping the program, which include some of the issues we have already talked about before. Global and language diversification within the program is an important element when we think about the product set we are taking to market with our customers. The scale of the voice of having the MVPs that represent those languages and some of the unique issues that may be present in local language versions of products provides a whole different task for us to learn whether or not we are building the right products, right features, right capabilities, or whether the documentation is meeting needs, etc. The size of the voice isn’t one guy but it is a collection of Most Valuable Professional customers expressing input that we should be listening to.

ActiveWin.com: Are all Microsoft products represented by the MVP Program? What product groups are represented by the most MVPs?

Sean O'Driscoll: Some of the new categories are MSN, MBS, and Visual Tools for Office. We have also introduced a new solution architect category in the developer space. Overall developer includes the largest group of MVPs. Within developer, Visual C# is quite large. The SQL Server group within the Windows Server System is quite large as well. 

ActiveWin.com: For those who are not familiar with the MVP Program; how do individuals go about receiving the MVP award for the first time?

Sean O'Driscoll:  I think people are curious about this topic and how the process works. Really, the first thing that has to happen is an individual gets nominated. Nearly anyone can nominate someone into the MVP program; an individual in the community, other MVPs, Microsoft employees (whether it’s in the support organization, field organization, or development organization). The key to what makes the process work is the rigor is what we put behind the nomination process to validate whether or not those folks that we are awarding into the program really meet the criteria of recognized, credible and accessible that we think about to maintain the high quality bar that we aspire to for those awarded into the program.

ActiveWin.com: How do you feel the MVP Program adds to the overall value of Microsoft products?

Sean O'Driscoll: There are a number of things. One I mentioned already that is fresh of mind because we’ve been doing things in this area – I think about local language products and their documentation, meeting needs in local countries, and some of the great feedback and process we have put in place where MVPs are helping us learn about issues we can improve. Certainly, I feel the strength and the passion of the voice in the product feedback process. One of the great things about the MVP summit is that it is not a one way conversation, but a bidirectional conversation between MVPs and their peers within our product groups. I think that level of connection with people using our technologies and stressing our technologies is irreplaceable in thinking about the direction that Microsoft products should take.

ActiveWin.com: What types of technical communities at Microsoft and other areas are MVPs involved with?

Sean O'Driscoll: It runs the gamut. Newsgroups are a huge community in many, many parts of the world. Blogs have come on in value and popularity and so obviously we have MVPs represent those spaces, user groups are important, listservs, and third party communities, etc. In some ways two years ago if we were to have this conversation I am not sure if would talk about blogs. In two years from now, we may have a conversation about something we haven’t heard about yet. If the program is going in the direction it should, it needs to accommodate those changes and how communities evolve for how people want to receive assistance. You do see regional and cultural differences on this. For example, in Japan newsgroups aren’t really the preferred assistance mechanism, whereas authenticated third party websites and local user groups are really important in those environments. So there are some differences that are valuable to understand in how the program develops.

ActiveWin.com:  What does support does the MVP program receive from Microsoft senior executives?

Sean O'Driscoll:  On one level you can look no further than the MVP summit, and you can see some of the most senior Microsoft executives committing their time months in advance to engage and learn from the MVPs. But I do not think that fully captures it. We have regular quarterly reviews with executives in the product groups that are specifically on the topic of how MVPs help the product evolve, etc. For example, Joe Peterson one of the senior corporate vice presidents for Longhorn, was recently in Asia and made it a point of scheduling specific roundtable meetings with MVPs for feedback on Longhorn. The executive commitment isn’t just once a year – it is a sustained commitment month-in month-out where they try to interact, learn, engage and really set a positive example for their entire organization about the value of this important community.

ActiveWin.com:  What kind of public attention are you giving MVPs to better increase the awareness of the program?

Sean O'Driscoll: We are continuing to invest in participation in major industry shows where we can have a footprint in those shows to talk who the MVP community is and the amazing work they do. In events like TechEd, it is now uncommon to not find MVPs as active experts or session presenters. Another thing we have done that I am personally excited about, is some of the work we have done off of Microsoft.com. MVPs can self managed their profile, and we propagate MVP profiles to the relevant Microsoft product communities. There are dozen Microsoft webpages in the product groups and internationally where we promote the profiles, photos, etc. So the customers going to these sites are not only learning about Microsoft, but also seeing the experts in communities that they should be aware of.

ActiveWin.com:  What do you personally like best about the program?

Sean O'Driscoll:  The biggest thing for me is the global attributes of the program and how things are different similar around the world with different kinds of communities – that is always a very fun element of the role. The most inspiring part is that all of these people would do what they do in the community without the MVP program – that is part of what makes them MVPs. They do this all very selflessly, they genuinely have the motivation to help other people and that is the true reward for them. I think it is important Microsoft takes the step in acknowledging these individuals, but to me that is what I think is invigorating and exciting in the program.

Additional Information: 

Microsoft MVP Program Website

2005 Microsoft MVP Press Release

 


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