I’m so glad you asked!
Here’s how it works: Microsoft makes products. (The one I talk about the most is SQL Server.) People use the products to fill business needs. These solutions can be complicated, so we all share information to get better at using the product. Everybody wins: Microsoft gets people who evangelize for them for free, teachers network and hone their own skills, and users get free support and training.
To encourage more of this, Microsoft gives the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award to “exceptional technical community leaders”. The criteria for selecting awardees is kept very secret – I’m an MVP, and friends with the head of the program, and I’ve never even gotten a hint. From the text on the MVP support page, and the observations I’ve made on the people and the process, it’s fairly safe to say that it’s centered on your contributions to the tech community.
What does an MVP get? There are some specific program benefits (plus a trophy, cert, and bragging rights), but the very big deal is being In The Club. You’re connected with the MVPs in your discipline, you’re invited to MVP training and networking events, and then there’s the annual MVP Summit held at the Microsoft campus. You’re privy to some of the secret goings-on of product development and planning (what we call NDA material), you rub elbows with the people making the products, and you get to have your say about the direction they’re heading.
The great thing is that by definition, MVPs are the people that care about SQL. We’re the nerds picking apart the opitimization engine, downloading and playing with the CTPs, finding a better way to explain high performance mirroring…and we’re the people that shout the loudest when a feature doesn’t work the way it should. Earlier today on Twitter I wrote, “A key feature of MVPs: the inability to withhold opinions.”
SQL Server MVPs aren’t experts in every facet of SQL. They didn’t pass the Microsoft Certified Master exam to get their MVP (though some MVPs are also MCMs). But they – we - are the people most likely to have really used, explored, improved upon, and complained passionately about our particular corner of SQL Server.
If you know someone who fits this description, nominate them for an MVP award!