The 2010 MVP Summit took place last week on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. I arrived on Tuesday, barely making it out ahead of a snowstorm. I missed out on some sessions on Monday and Tuesday, having made my plans before any extra sessions were announced. When I got into town I couldn’t find any SQL peeps. The welcome reception was going on and I was sitting in my hotel room trying to find people when it hit me: get out of my room and get down to the reception, even if I don’t know anyone there!

Being naturally shy this was not easy for me. I entered the reception and recognized no one. I took a left and walked around the room, looking for a familiar face. I found none. But what I did find was amazing. It was not something I saw, it was something I heard.

Languages. Different than English. I heard German. I heard French. I heard Portuguese. I heard something else that sounded like someone had a cheese grater to their vocal chords. I was amazed to hear so many different languages in the room. I started to get mesmerized by all the different sounds and was snapped out of it by a few SQL peeps that saw me and said hello. We spent time getting caught up and then headed over to a private soiree hosted by SQL Diva’s husband.

Wednesday was the big day, of course, as we all headed over to the mothership for our sessions. The Microsoft campus is essentially like being at college, except it doesn’t smell like vomit and urine outside the dorms because there are no dorms, just office buildings. But it has a wonderful feel, the place is clean, the people are friendly, and they have basketball courts and even a soccer field. We were in a building called “the Mixer”, which I believe is the equivalent of a student union building.

The talks themselves were interesting enough. I expected it to be a type of “hey, what do you think of this feature” style presentation, something I have participated in before for other companies. But on Wednesday I happened to read an article by Kalen Delaney titled “The Value of an MVP“. In there she talks about how the MVP sessions used to be very technical and that they no longer are, they have become more of a feedback forum. Even the best session of the day, given by Conor Cunningham, was not an in-depth technical session. In fact, during the two days of sessions the phrase “magic pixie dust” was used frequently, as if the technical details were either not prepared to be discussed or not willing to be discussed.

This all got me thinking about SQL Server, and how it truly is like an F1 racing car. There are an incredible amount of features in both, and most of the features are things you will never need or use. And the earlier versions were always somewhat more clumsy, simplistic, and slower. If I had to compare SQL 2008 R2 to SQL Server 4.0, I would say the difference is the same as comparing an F1 race car to a Chevy Vega.

It's SQL Server 4.0!

Sure, the Vega could get you from one place to another (most of the time), and they allowed for you to get under the hood and do your own work when you needed to. But the current version of SQL 2008 R2 has so much stuffed under the hood that it is very hard to be aware of how everything works together.

For example, F1 cars have carbon composite rotors for their brakes, otherwise the regular cast iron brakes would melt, quickly. Do you need carbon composite rotors for the Vega? No, not at all. But the Vega still has brakes, right? Did you need to know exactly how they work? Not usually, no, all you really need to know is that they stop the car when you press the brake pedal.

At the MVP Summit, if we asked about the brakes we would be told something similar to “how they work isn’t really important right now, but what we want to know is would you like a warning light on your dashboard to be red or yellow?” For some features, that is all we really do need to know. For other features, we would clamor for more details, with the idea that it would be best to know how to drive the car so perfectly that you would never need your brakes, or not need them so much that they overheat.

But that might require in depth technical details, and such details were not always forthcoming during the sessions. Since this is my first Summit, I really didn’t know of a time where such details might have been shared. Others in attendance do have such memories and for them the MVP Summit may not hold the same value as it once did.

Why the change? I’m not really sure. Perhaps it is because the people are not comfortable presenting such details. Or perhaps it is because they value our feedback more than explaining technical details. After all, we are there as their guests, so I think they have every right to decide how and what they want to present. But I was also left wondering if part of the reason I heard the term “magic pixie dust” so frequently is because, in some cases, maybe they really don’t know the details themselves. Not everyone has been working with the product since it started, it could very well be the case that people simply know the brakes work, but never took them apart to find out why.

I know that I’ve never once checked the brakes on my car. And I’ve never dived into SQL Server Notification Services, either (except for one of the certification exams when I was told I needed to learn it, despite it having already been deprecated). No one is an expert in everything. And as SQL Server becomes more and more like an F1 race car with each passing version, the chances of us knowing all those technical details are getting smaller and smaller.