Welcome to the second episode of tech talks with outstanding Microsoft community members. Most upcoming interviews will be with Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), and for that reason I interviewed Jan-Phillip Rombolotto who is in charge of the MVP Program in German speaking countries.

Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Mainpage 

Jan-Philipp Rombolotto

Interview transcribed & edited by Rafael Knuth

Flo:  Nice to talk with you, Jan. Can you please introduce yourself?

Jan: Sure, Flo. I am the Microsoft MVP Award Program Manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland operating out of our office in Munich.

Flo: Tell us a bit about the Microsoft MVP Program.

Jan: The Microsoft MVP Program was established almost 20 years ago. It’s a recognition for independent, exceptionally experienced experts in Microsoft products, who are delivering a lot of value to the IT community by sharing insights, helping others to make better use of our technology . The MVP Award is how we say “Thank you!” to those exceptional people.  Collaborating with independent experts makes a lot of sense for both, the IT community as well as for Microsoft. The IT community gets valuable insights into Microsoft technologies and in return Microsoft gets a very accurate, unfiltered feedback on our products from field.

Flo: How many people are currently awarded as a MVPs globally? Can you also give us some details on the program’s scope? What product categories are you covering?

Jan: Currently we have 4,000 MVPs worldwide, and we won’t grow that number since we have set our quality bar pretty high. We simply want to have the best of and the brightest members of the tech community in our program.

We have MVPs for almost every single product, which adds up to more than 90 product categories.

Flo: I just recently learned a couple of Virtual Machine MVPs in person, it’s really fun to interact with them and their knowledge is amazing. Which additional categories do you have? Are you focusing on enterprise solutions or do you have MVPs for consumer products also?

Jan: You can categorize our MVPs either by products or by their professional scope. As for the professional scope, we do have four categories. These are: Developers, Information Workers, IT Professionals and Consumer MVPs.

Let me explain: We do have a bunch of MVPs focusing on the same product such as Microsoft SharePoint for example. But each of those MVPs might have a different type of knowledge around that product. An IT Professional is focusing on different aspects than a Developer. The IT Professional’s expertise is around deploying, running and maintaining SharePoint, whereas a Developer does obviously have an in depth knowledge of developing for SharePoint.

Flo: How can one become a Microsoft MVP? What are your requirements?

Jan: That’s a very good question. We do not have a certification at Microsoft for the MVP Program, nor do we provide trainings for those who want to become a MVP. It’s a recognition for extraordinarily active and knowledgeable members of the Microsoft tech community.

There is no standardized path to become a Microsoft MVP, and we avoid awarding people who want to become a MVP for the sake of having a prestigious title. We are only giving the MVP Award to people with a strong intrinsic motivation and passion for technology – that’s our core requirement and we are very selective on that.

Flo: How do you become aware of potential candidates for the Microsoft MVP Program?

Jan: As I mentioned earlier, we are looking for people who are passionate about technology, who engage with the IT community without expecting a compensation in return. They have a strong visibility and credibility in the IT community due to various activities such as: speaking engagements at tech events, organizing user groups, writing a blog, sharing code etc.. Lastly, these people proactively drive a sincere feedback to us, which helps us make our products even better.

Flo: How long does someone remain MVP?

Jan: The MVP Award is limited to one year. Of course, we have MVPs who have been awarded for five years in a row, in some cases even 10 or 15 years. It’s a constant evaluation process every MVP has to go through every year.

Flo: So, you can also lose your MVP status?

Jan: Correct. But since all MVPs are passionate about technology and they are active community members, we have just very little fluctuation among MVPs.

Flo: What are the benefits of being an MVP?

Jan: Every MVP is of course under NDA and gets a privileged access to our product groups and information around upcoming products. We have several MVP events in each region which have a networking character … we host one event in Austria, one in Switzerland round two to three in Germany. In addition to that, we have a Global MVP Summit in Redmond every year. It’s the biggest event on the Microsoft campus by the way.

Flo: I know around 15 MVPs in person and they are all very proactive, approachable … they are responding quickly when you reach out to them with technical questions. It’s a pleasure working with each of them.

Jan: I am very happy about MVPs collaborating with Dell people and vice versa.

Flo: What type of companies do MVPs work for?

Jan: Typically for IT companies as you can imagine, form blue-chip level executives over SMB CEOs and CTOs to self-employed, the range is incredible. On the contrary we have also numerous autodidacts who do not work within the IT industry at all. You can imagine that it is fascinating to me managing such a heterogenic group across the regions I am responsible for.

Flo: What’s the value for customers working with Microsoft MVP? How do they benefit?

Jan: MVPs are the best and brightest within the IT community. Their expertise and network is incredible and customers can benefit from that.

Flo: What if a Microsoft tech expert is actively engaging in non-Microsoft communities around Citrix or VMware products? Does he have a chance to get awarded as an MVP?

Jan: Sure, as long as an MVP does not work for a competitor in his field of expertise there is no conflict of interest. In fact we have several MVP who are awarded for example by Citrix for their expertise. Again MVPs are independent experts, and we always emphasize their independence. The only conflict we see is employment at a competitor in the field of expertise as MVP do get lot of NDA information and deep insights into the respective product or service.

Flo: How do companies find MVPs if they want to hire or work with the?

Jan: All MVP worldwide with a public profile can be found on mvp.microsoft.com

Flo: Can a Microsoft employee become an MVP?

Jan: No, MVPs are independent experts and as such a Microsoft employee can’t be awarded as MVP. Even former Microsoft employees must work outside the company for at least a year to be considered for the nomination process.

Flo: What if a Microsoft MVP doesn’t like a certain product feature and publically criticizes your company? How do you respond?

Jan: Again, MVPs are independent experts and as such they can publically criticize our company as well as our products and services. Their credibility is crucial to us, we and our customers can’t learn from hardcore Fanboys who never criticize anything. Of course we have a decent code of conduct. This code of conduct is however linked to the fact that MVPs are rolemodels in the community, aggressive basing or insulting individuals is something we do not tolerate. However, there are hardly any cases on which we to take action worldwide.

Flo: Thank you for the interview, Jan.

Jan: You’re welcome, Flo!