Encouraging Diversity & Inclusion Through Microsoft’s MVP Program

Diversity and inclusion have never been more critical in all facets of culture. That includes IT, technology experts, and the technological infrastructures at large. Even the technology itself needs to take diversity and inclusion into consideration.

Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional program recognizes some of the greatest evangelists of their products and services, and helpers of the community of users at large. MVPs are proven experts in their fields. They go above and beyond in this capacity, with a  willingness and passion to help those seeking to better understand the technologies they’re using. And they’re advancing diversity and inclusion efforts for companies.

Microsoft also recognizes the critical importance of diversity and inclusion. They have it as their mission to use their influence on the world to encourage positive change in the workplace and in communities everywhere. They are leveraging their demonstrated history as innovators to look at diversity and inclusion in new ways, so that companies of the future always hold it as one of their key values and act on it too.

There is also a connection between the MVP program and Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Here, we’ll be looking at exactly what the MVP program is, what it offers, and how it connects to diversity and inclusion initiatives at large.

How did the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional program get its start?

In 1993, developer Calvin Hsia created a list of the “Most Verbose People,” ranking the most active users in a CompuServe technology support forum. This list exists in fun to recognize the most active users. And Hsia didn’t necessarily expect anything to come of it.

But because at the time Microsoft offered a great deal of technical support to CompuServe, they took notice of Calvin’s List and those offering support of their own volition. Noting the difference these champions of technology were making for the community, they saw it as an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge their contributions in a more formal capacity.

We can guess with a fair bit of certainty that Microsoft also saw this as an opportunity to identify and leverage a talent pool, of which they weren’t previously aware.

Speculation aside, Calvin’s List identified the first ever 34 Most Valuable Professionals. The MVPs were invited to the first-ever Orlando TechEd conference. There, they could be recognized for their efforts in supporting Microsoft customers and promoting Microsoft products.

The initial list of 34 MVPs, including Hsia, got letters from Microsoft indicating their status as MVPs. This was the official beginning of the MVP awards program. Hsia would eventually join Microsoft and was also honored at the 20th Anniversary MVP Global Summit as a vital supporter of the program.

How many people are in the MVP program?

There are currently over 4,000 MVPs across 90 countries and regions – United States, Australia, Indonesia, Germany, Netherlands, India, Japan, Croatia, China, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and many, many others. This makes for a perfect environment for diversity and inclusion efforts, too.

Microsoft’s website is home to “Find an MVP” and “MPV Reconnect” portals, addressed later in this article.

What is a Microsoft MVP?

A Microsoft Most Valuable Professional refers to a technology expert who is passionate about what they do and freely shares their knowledge and expertise with the community, something they do in a “pro bono” or voluntary capacity.

MVPs are always “plugged in,” staying on top of new technologies and trends.They also have a deep understanding of Microsoft products and services. Most importantly, they are always willing to help others, a quality that can only stem from a passion for community.

One does not become an MVP, however, without demonstrating expertise in a variety of ways. MVPs must also demonstrate efforts in helping others through multiple channels (we’ll be covering what this might look like in a moment).

How to become a Microsoft MVP

The process to becoming a Microsoft MVP remains somewhat mercurial. Or, it may be better to say, it remains intentionally vague. Microsoft obviously applies their own criteria to identifying and finding potentials. However, visibility is obviously a big factor. So one must be able to create a public track record of productive technical support to others.

In Microsoft’s own words: “Be an expert, do lots of what you love, and let us know!”

More than anything, Microsoft is looking for people with a track record of engaging and supporting the community independently and voluntarily over the course of 12 months. This is difficult to accomplish without staying up to date with Microsoft products and continually educating yourself. So, if you’re looking to improve diversity and inclusion within your workplace, start with education.

There are a variety of activities to improve your chances of MVP recognition. For example:

  • Contributing to blogs, podcasts, and books
  • Helping users on forums and social media
  • Participating in user groups
  • Attending conferences and giving speeches
  • Building open-source software

Becoming an MVP, however, you will likely need to engage in a variety of activities. Focusing in one area often isn’t enough.

If you’re wondering where to put your energy and focus as a potential MVP, it would be good to know that Microsoft prioritizes the following award categories (this is where to put your focus):

  • Microsoft Azure
  • Windows development
  • M365 development
  • Developer technologies
  • Data platform
  • AI
  • Internet of Things
  • Cloud & datacenter management
  • Enterprise mobility
  • Windows & devices for IT
  • M365 apps & services
  • Business applications
  • Security
  • Mixed reality

However, there is a formal, defined process to getting on the map. To become an MVP, one must also receive a nomination referral by a Microsoft Full Time Employee (FTE) or Microsoft MVP. Having the right connections does make a difference.

How does The MVP program benefit IT Professionals?

People love recognition for their efforts. Of that there is little doubt!

Recognition as a Microsoft MVP can have a dramatic impact on one’s career. For example, employer, potential employer, and peer perceptions and reputations matter. But there’s so much more to it than perceptions alone. Being recognized as a cut above is just the tip of the iceberg.

IT professionals also benefit from:

  • Early access to Microsoft products.
  • Access to product teams.
  • Access to the Global MVP Summit.
  • Relationship with local Microsoft teams.
  • An executive recognition letter.
  • Visual Studio technical subscription.
  • An Office 365 subscription.

And these benefits continue to see improvements and augmentations by Microsoft, as they continue to look to the future of the MVP program.

And while these may be some of the “direct” benefits of becoming an MVP, MVPs enjoy a variety of other intangible and leveraged benefits we’ll be looking at momentarily. These include diversity and inclusion initiative advantages.

Find an MVP

Microsoft’s website features a Find an MVP portal where you can see:

  • The MVP’s picture
  • The MVP’s name
  • Their award category
  • Their country or region

If you know who you’re looking for, you can filter by keyword, award category, and country or region. You can also sort the entire list by award category, last name, first name, and country or region.

Additionally, you can learn more about each individual by clicking on their names. The amount of information on each MVP varies. But here are some of the tidbits you can expect to find on the Microsoft website:

  • Name
  • Country or region
  • Job title
  • Award category
  • The first year they achieved MVP
  • Number of MVP awards
  • Language(s) they speak
  • Certifications they’ve earned
  • Social media links
  • Biography
  • A timeline of recent activities

Anyone looking to reach out to a specific MVP for comment can learn something about them first by perusing this portal.

This portal also has a positive impact on the career of the MVPs as it gives them more visibility overall.

MVP Reconnect

There is a place for former MVPs as well. And it’s called the MVP Reconnect program. As with the Find An MVP function we just explored, you can search a database of more than 3,600 former MVPs who remain part of the greater MVP community using the MVP Reconnect portal.

What does it look like to be a Microsoft MVP?

Becoming an MVP takes commitment and hard work. But achieving this status opens the doors to valuable experiences, lucrative opportunities, support and collaboration, and a great deal more.

These are some of the ways MVPs benefit from the program and what their experiences are like:

  • MVPs are often the latest to hear about new developments in Microsoft. They also get to offer input and feedback on existing or new products. And if they have a stable of their own clients who are using Microsoft products, MVPs can offer timely, valuable, and specific guidance to them.
  • Some MVPs enjoy networking, sharing ideas, and collaborating with other MVPs. This should not come as a surprise, since MVPs have the answers to just about any question one might have about Microsoft products.
  • Being an MVP opens the door to new opportunities. The MVP program has a strong reputation. And anyone associated with it experiences a boost in their careers. Opportunities that may not have otherwise been available to them become available.
  • MVPs get to be on the cutting edge. The public isn’t privy to the latest developments at Microsoft, especially those not publicly announced. This gives MVPs the opportunity to build their awareness around new product features and incorporate them into their workflow.
  • Relocation matters. Some MVPs seek to establish themselves in new regions or communities. And with assistance from the MVP community, are able to find new jobs, homes, and more.
  • Getting answers quickly. In the MVP program, you have unprecedented access to like minded professionals with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge in their respective fields. MVPs get access to other MVPs, who can offer guidance.
  • Access to a larger community. Besides the current roster of MVPs, Microsoft also has the MVP Reconnect program, which gives way to the greater MVP community, consisting of over 3,600 members.

Wasn’t The MVP program canceled?

Microsoft ostensibly canceled the MVP program on October 22, 1999. There are speculations and different reasons circulating, too. At the time, AOL newsgroup leaders sued AOL because they felt they should have been paid for their work. And the cancellation of the MVP program may have been Microsoft’s response to this backlash for independent, unpaid help.

But it seems people felt differently about the MVP program, as there was an outpouring of support for it. Many emails were even sent directly to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. And the program was reinstated only three days later.

Having made the decision to keep the awards program, Microsoft then worked out the finer details and logistics of the program. This increased levels of success in the ensuing years.

Microsoft periodically evaluates the MVP program and considers what it might have in store for the future. Most new developments, however, center on additional benefits for MVPs.

How can MVPs support diversity and inclusion?

There are both obvious and less obvious ways MVPs can support (or are already supporting) diversity and inclusion.

Consider this broad overview of the many ways MVPs can (or already do) promote diversity and inclusion.

The MVP program already represents a very diverse group of people from across the globe

IT talent exists everywhere. Whether it’s Japan or Argentina, there are highly-skilled individuals within their roles. They enjoy their work and are passionate about helping the users who are in need of assistance.

While it may be too “obvious” a thing to say, the MVP program already represents diversity and inclusion in many ways. Whether male, female, young, old, or otherwise, there are established experts representing every possible demographic and ethnicity imaginable.

Promoting the MVP program promotes diversity and inclusion of its own accord, and it can have a very positive impact on companies everywhere, who will need to hold diversity and inclusion as a key tenant of their operations moving forward.

MVPs can use their status as influencers to share about diversity and inclusion

MVPs don’t simply enjoy recognition from Microsoft. They earn recognition within the communities they support. As they answer questions and solve problems for others, their faces earn additional respect. They experience increased recognition and appreciated for their efforts. Additionally, their participation in a community elevates them to influencer status.

Their influence represents an opportunity to create conversations around diversity and inclusion and broach the subject in a considerate, congruent, and tactful way. They can share meaningfully about their own experiences. And they share what diversity and inclusion means to them and why they value it.

MVPs have a built in platform already. They’ve been serving the community and have gained the favor of others by being of service to them. This gives them the platform they need to speak to matters of greater importance.

MVPs make Microsoft products more accessible to anyone

MVPs may be influential in their own right. This platform isn’t to be abused or disrespected. Instead, it should be a primary tool in affecting people positively in a variety of ways.

One of the very practical ways an MVP can promote diversity and inclusion is by doing what they already do best – helping a variety of people in different regions, even underrepresented people, better understand and utilize Microsoft products.

People can connect through technology. Technology is also empowering. People who may not have found a way to bring their projects to fruition may discover new approaches through technology. People who may not know what their passion is can find a new passion in software. And people who may have found it hard to find a job in the past may be able to find new work by becoming IT professionals themselves.

MVPs can empower a variety of people through their ongoing, tireless support work.

MVPs can share relevant issues with their communities

Whether it’s blog subscribers, a social media following, a forum or message board, email list, some combination thereof, or otherwise, MVPs are already in the know with their various communities. They’ve demonstrated their passion for their work and their willingness to add value to others.

Again, being mindful of when and where to share is critical to one’s success, but as relevant issues arise, MVPs can share these with their communities and open them to discussion. Usually, it’s about promoting more conversations. And by staying current with the issues, MVPs can bring a lot of value to the conversations as they unfold.

MVPs Encouraged to participate in community initiatives & speak at events

To become an MVP, an IT professional must support the community at large. These opportunities only grow as they are awarded and recognized for their efforts, and MVPs are often invited to speak at events too.

Every community initiative and speaking engagement represents an opportunity for an MVP to share on topics of value and interest. It would be unwise for an MVP to shoehorn a message about diversity and inclusion into a speech where it doesn’t belong, but in environments where it’s appropriate, it would be a good opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion.

Sometimes, the events themselves are held to promote diversity and inclusion, in which case the angle is baked into the initiative.

MVPs can contribute their expertise to creating & developing products that can be used by anyone

MVPs have access to development teams and first looks at products. They’re also the first to learn about new changes and features. Additionally, they’re afforded the opportunity to give their input and feedback on Microsoft products.

MVPs can leverage this knowledge in helping Microsoft develop products that are inclusive to all. MVPs can offer input on issues development teams may not be present to, and help them course correct so that their products and services aren’t exclusive or offensive to specific people.

Conclusion About MVP and Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

The Microsoft MVP program represents a significant opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion through multiple channels. The program itself is made up of a variety of people from across different regions, different ethnicities, at different ages and different genders too.

Beyond that, though, MVPs have access to Microsoft, its teams, and its projects to an extent no one else has (save for Microsoft employees). This means they can help steer the direction of projects and ensure everyone is included.

Thanks to their deep working knowledge of Microsoft products and services, MVPs can also impart their knowledge to underrepresented minorities and empower them with new skills, opportunities, careers, and more.

MVPs can also speak directly to their own following and communities, touching on relevant, current subjects as appropriate.

Finally, MVPs also take part in community initiatives and are invited to speak at various events. Some of these events represent good opportunities for them to speak out about relevant issues, especially if they have specific experiences to relay. It has never been more critical for companies to evaluate how people can connect through technology, and how this can encourage inclusion and diversity more broadly.