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2012 MVP Summit Preview

2012 MVP Summit Preview

Next week I will be attending the 2012 Microsoft MVP Summit. This will be my third Summit but it feels like my first because there are going to be a lot of new faces there for the first time. That’s why I wanted to take the time to remind everyone that the MVP Summit is essentially like Fight Club, but with less soap.

Not only is the MVP Summit crowded in secrecy, but so is the process that Microsoft uses to even select someone as an MVP. Oh sure, they list some details on their website but the process itself is rather a mystery even to those of us in the program. Many days I find myself channeling my inner Groucho Marx as I wonder why I am so lucky to be able to mingle with so many great people. The bottom line is this: no one can tell you what it takes to be an MVP.

Everything about the MVP program, especially the Summit, is clouded in secrecy just like the club started by Tyler Durden. In fact, let’s look at some of the rules for the MVP Summit that were emailed to me earlier this week:

Rules of MVP Summit

  1. You do not talk about the MVP Summit.
  2. You do not talk about the MVP Summit.
  3. When someone yells “JAVA” or goes limp, or taps out, the session is over.
  4. Only two MVP’s to a hotel room.
  5. One session at a time.
  6. No Twitter, no Twitpic, and no G+.
  7. Sidebars go on as long as they have to.
  8. If this is your first time at the MVP Summit, you have to try the salmon.

After reading those rules it just seemed like a natural fit. Let’s get to the preview!

“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!”

Attendees at the MVP Summit are under a strict non-disclosure agreement with regards to the materials they will be shown during the sessions. The NDA we sign covers us at all times throughout the year; not just the Summit. You may not know it but people are asked to leave the MVP program periodically for violating their NDA. Wait…I wonder if I just violated my NDA by telling you about how others have violated their NDA? Oh, the irony.

The bottom line here is that we are asked to provide feedback on features and products that have not gone to market yet. Discussing these items is not really an option for those that wish the remain in the program.

“You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?

This quote covers a couple of things. It gives a glimpse into the grind that is travel. Fortunately I do not travel as frequently as Tyler did, but even when I do travel things can be difficult. Just being away from the family these days gets harder and harder. This quote also touches upon how fleeting our lives are, ending one minute at a time. In this case, my current MVP status is ending one minute at a time. I am up for renewal in April which means if I don’t get renewed then I may not get another chance to attend a Summit. So for me it is a no-brainer to attend.

“You had to give it to him: he had a plan. And it started to make sense, in a Tyler sort of way. No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”

The whole point for the Summit is for Microsoft to get feedback from the most active members of their communities. Now, think about what it must be like to be in Microsoft’s shoes. A year ago, some member of the SQL development team was given an assignment. They have been working on something for months. They slaved to get some feature put into SQL 2012 that will be shown to us during a session. And when we see it we will likely be underwhelmed, or critical of the implementation chosen. Some of us try to be polite about our feelings; others are a bit more…direct in their approach.

People and companies that build software have this ability about them to take suggestions or criticisms, shrug off the ones that do not matter, and instead focus on the ones they recognize as importantAnd the good companies do that very well.

“In that case, sir, may I advise against the lady eating clam chowder?”

I have heard a lot about the food at the Summit, and last year I was also able to read about it on Twitter. I have no idea what is on the menu this year, but I am looking forward to breaking bread and bacon with some good friends for a few days.

“He was full of pep. Must’ve had his grande-latte enema.”

The MVP Summit is technically not in Seattle, but it is certainly close enough (Bellevue) for us to have a reference to coffee somehow. I have no idea at what point if and when they will be offering enemas at this years Summit, as I didn’t see that on my schedule builder. It may just be a service offered at the Hyatt for their Platinum members. 

“Can I get the icon in cornflower blue?”

This quote is for the inane requests that all software companies can receive. I have seen and heard the crazy requests that the product team is given during the Summit. I would get them all the time as a DBA. My personal favorite was the time I was asked to increase the size of the data page for one database and to “let them know when it is complete” (not if it was possible, just when I finished getting it done). The point here is that people are going to ask for some crazy things, as well as for things that have no functional purpose whatsoever. Having icons in certain colors really doesn’t matter. Being forced to see the blue-on-blue in PBM does matter, but there may be little to nothing that will be done about it. But, hey, we are there to provide feedback, right?

“Uh, well… You’re not gonna believe this…”

Besides feedback the product and development teams get a lot of support requests in the form of sidebars. I know that I do not think twice about asking for help with anything “strange” that I have been seeing. I have seen times where someone is asking for feedback during a session and someone raises their hand and starts in with a “why are you wasting your time with this as opposed to fixing this other thing?” Or, it could be the case where we are sharing a meal and we find out that we are talking with someone who works on the product team and we start in with a “you won’t believe the stuff I have seen in my shop.” Microsoft is looking for feedback from real world scenarios, and I am always happy to oblige where I can.

“Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”

This quote is perfect for recognizing the effort given by a lot of different people. The amount of effort that the product and development teams put into their work is nothing short of amazing. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of effort, and a lot of coordination in order to get things done, specifically for shipping a product as complex as SQL Server. And it also warrants mentioning the event itself. Putting on the Summit requires a great deal of effort as well, and should be recognized.

“Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion?”

I am arriving late in the afternoon on Monday and leaving Friday afternoon. I live on the East Coast and getting home from Seattle makes for a long day (or a long day and night). I try to time my arrival and departure as best as possible to attend sessions and every year it seems as if extra sessions are added to the agenda after I have already booked my travel. It’s frustrating but I can’t complain because just being invited to the MVP Summit is like winning the lottery and I would have to be an idiot to complain about not being able to have everything work in my favor.

I did notice that there isn’t a keynote on the agenda for this year. I’m not sure why that is the case, and perhaps one has been added recently.

“What do you do for a living? Why? So you can pretend like you’re interested?”

This quote speaks directly to the networking aspect of the MVP Summit. I have no idea how many MVP’s there are in the world, but I do know that MVP’s exist for just about everything. xBox, Zune, OpsMgr, SQL, and even Visio have people recognize as MVP’s. That means I am going to have the opportunity to meet a lot of new people outside of SQL Community in addition to the people inside the SQL team itself. If you are reading this and heading to the MVP Summit, track me down and say hello, I would love to meet as many new people as possible.

And if you are every uncertain about something, or need some direction in life, you can always stop and ponder the question: “What would Tyler Durden do?”

Can I get the icon in cornflower blue?

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