Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Great MVP Debacle of 2012

Latest thing in the news:

Rob Eisenberg made the post above. (tl;dr - Rob gave back his MVP designation after being denied despite his open source work, then made a blog post outlining his reasons. People reacted). I just wanted to take a second out of my day, go a tad off-topic, and make a response from the position of a developer that's still coming up in the IT world.

When I see this program and the points Rob made about it, I think we're seeing the same problem that plagues other areas like certifications, and that is that it's inherently difficult to judge the measure of a developer in a standardized way. The MVP appears to be geared towards a corporate mentality, not open source. Rob's contributions to the open source community are legitimate and are advancing .NET open source. But should we sit here and complain when MVP status isn't awarded? Not at all. We should applaud it! The reason is that the MVP program was never designed with open source in mind, and it while it claims to showcase the best and brightest in a specific technology, the MVP program is meant to gather feedback for the purposes of learning how to better serve customers, and Microsoft's development efforts have always leaned towards business applications. Rob's moving towards open source. I don't see the problem here...

Granted, there are some serious problems with the MVP award. But these problems aren't just the domain of the MVP award, they are problems we face all over the place! I blame letting too many people into any given program. MVP should be something difficult to get into, and we as a community should start stepping up and making the MVP program what we want. If people are being awarded MVP status when it's not appropriate, we should be letting Microsoft know and let them fix it. It's hard to do, man, and that's where the weakness lies. It's easier to sit back and let the MVP program crumble than to do the hard thing and risk hurting someone's feelings. But if those developers are any good, they will be welcoming the opportunity for feedback! So really, the key here is policing the MVP program ourselves. Let's take the power into our own hands. I can't imagine Microsoft would turn down an offer to help make the sweetest recognition program on the planet. Let's make that offer, because it seems like no one else is. 

We should all start blogging our experiences. Let's talk about it, and discuss it. Let's link to each other and provide a clear picture of the problems with the programs we are a part of, and then let's all sit down and talk solutions. I'll go first.

I mentioned before that I felt certifications were in the same boat as MVPs. Too many people, myself included, download a list of questions off the Internet to study for an exam. We sit there and memorize the questions, then walk in and pass with 980. Let's be honest: It's cheating. I didn't learn the concepts behind the questions I'm answering. Sometimes, I don't even know what the question is referring to! The exam's goal, to prove my knowledge of a technology stack, is completely missed. The 980 really becomes an indication that the exam questions, despite being under an NDA, are out there and are of very high quality. The time it's going to take me to complete an exam and ultimately a certification has gone from a couple months to just a few weeks.

I didn't used to do it this way. I don't think anyone really set out to make a certification program that rewarded the lazier people. But it ended up that way. I caved because I'm trying to balance my clients, my extra roles at work, my pet projects, my boss who's set a company goal of becoming a Gold Partner and my home life. That's tough! And that's not even considering where I want to go with my career. If I want to avoid locking myself into a vendor, things get twice as hard. Really, why wouldn't I take the easy road? It feels like everyone else is, and I have 53 other things I want to work on.

Obviously, this isn't a good way to do things, and continuing this pattern will only make things worse. I'm not going to profess I have every answer, but I have some ideas. I would start narrowing the scope of the MVP program, clearly laying out what's required to gain that status, then look at filling the gaps for things like open source work. Narrowing the scope and increasing difficulty will turn the program from a "diploma from a local college" status to a "Master's from Harvard".

I would also increase communication. It's entirely possible that Rob's post was the first inkling MS is getting that there's problems with MVPs. Combine this with the reality that there's always people talking smack about your ideas, and it's easy to get caught in this "No one seems to be happy, so we'll just keep going and eventually they will see the dream we are trying to achieve" mindset. I get that all the time myself. It's a great strength (the ability to blaze my own trails), but also a great weakness (I'm stubborn as heck). I think we need to listen to Microsoft and try to understand the pressures they are under. Only then will we be able to work together and make a better industry.

I've gone on long enough. Suffice it to say, this is a complex issue and neither side is wrong. We just need to calm down, listen to each other, and try to fix it.

I always like to leave with one thing to try and be better at, and I think it's this: Let's start asking for more difficult exams. If you waltz into an exam and ace it after studying for only a week, tell them! Take the survey and let them know just how much work you put into it. Use the feedback mechanisms supplied to let them know your dissatisfaction. It will sting for a bit if it works, but we won't be stuck in a rut.


  1. The other question I have with certs is 'What is the value?' I am not convinced that having certifications is a good way to tell people about your skill set. No matter how hard the certification is to get it only tells you so much about the person. Even graduates from Harvard can suck at what they do.

    I am more inclined to be impressed by a portfolio piece or a recommendation from someone respected in the industry than a certification. I would like the industry be more driven by recommendations and reputation rather than badges and certificates. Let the work speak for itself.