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What a mouthful. Do customers care? Six title-holders quizzed

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Vendor schemes that put users on a pedestal are sprouting like never before. But what's in it for those who win these laurels?

Apparently it doesn't necessarily draw in the customers....

“It does give you a certain cachet,” says Microsoft MVP Carol Wapshere, although “other techies and my employers tend to be more impressed than customers, who couldn’t really care less.”

Wapshere adds that winning the MVP “has been a way to meet other smart and enthusiastic people.”

“It also helped me get the job I wanted … because I’m a 'name'.”

Microsoft's venerable MVP programme opened for business in 1993 and now describes itself as “our way of saying thank you to exceptional, independent community leaders who share their passion, technical expertise, and real-world knowledge of Microsoft products with others.”

VMware's “vExpert” programme, meanwhile, celebrates “commitment to sharing … knowledge and passion for VMware technology above and beyond … job requirements. Last year EMC created “Elect” for similar reasons, while Cisco this year decided it would anoint “Champions” to recognise “technology enthusiasts with a passion for sharing their expertise and thought leadership about Cisco and the I.T. Industry.”

It's obvious what the vendors get from these programmes: by singling out those who already spend a fair slab of time talking up their technologies, they both acknowledge those efforts and make it more likely they will continue.

Another MVP, James Bannan, says “The most immediate benefits are the MSDN subscription and access to the dedicated email/Yammer groups which are associated with each technology space.”

Bannan says he also enjoys “very good access to internal [Microsoft] knowledge about our particular technology space, access to pre-release updates and features, and can ask questions directly to the product team.”

“I have also found that being an MVP is quite a bit plus from a career perspective,” Bannan says. “It carries quite a lot of weight in the IT industry, especially if you are active, maintain your public profile and have been consistently re-awarded.”

“It also opens opportunities for dealing directly with Microsoft – internal Microsoft staff are more willing to assist you when you engage with them directly, as MVPs do quite a lot of unpaid work for which Microsoft benefits, both directly and indirectly.”

Others talk of softer benefits.

“You get to know some of the most brilliant people in the community,” says Danish vExpert Liselotte Foverskov.

Another vExpert, Justin Warren, points out that “vExperts get a bunch of licenses to run VMware software in your own lab, and lots of tech companies with related software give you vExpert-only not-for-resale (NFR) lab licenses too.”

“This year PluralSight have offered everyone a free year's subscription to their online training stuff, which is very cool. It's not just VMware training, either, but stuff on photoshop, video editing, all sorts.” He even scored “a custom vExpert embroidered shirt from Tintri with my Twitter handle on it.”

Warren also says winning a vExpert title “... will open a bunch of networking and career doors that you might not even know exist.”

Dan Frith, who is both an EMC Elect and a vExpert, advises self-nominating for your chosen programme. “Don't rely on others to promote your passion. Sometimes people simply haven't heard of you, but they're happy when they do.”

Others agree, and say you don't need to do massive amounts of work to make yourself a candidate.

Foverskov says she works about seven hours a week blogging, speaking at events, participating in social media and performing VMware user group meetings.

“I don't do this work to be a vExpert - but to feel awesome in a unique community. vExpert is a great gift that I'm very grateful for.” So grateful that when she learned of her appointment “I danced around my living room and was really proud.”

Frith says he did “nothing I wasn't already doing” to win the former title. “I'd been blogging since 2007 on a semi-regular basis as a way of keeping track of what I was doing in the field. I sometimes help people via Twitter and LinkedIn as well.”

Carol Wapshere says her blog helped too. She feels that specialisation is a plus, as the software in which she specialises – Forefront Information Manager (FIM) 2010 - “is a pretty obscure product and there are only 12 or so FIM MVPs worldwide”.

Which is not to say Microsoft gives MVPs out like candy to make sure there are some for each of its products. Wapshere points out that MVPs are re-assessed every year. Winning the title six years running is obviously not something that happens by accident or out of sympathy. Bannan recommends those who desire a title start by “learning who the MVPs are in the technology space you are most interested in, and start engaging with them, then start your own blog and write technical articles which you yourself would like to read” as a first step towards making yourself a candidate.

Others talk of making sure they are present at events (where title-holders get privileged access to people and special functions), taking up offers to deliver talks and generally making sure they engage with the community more days than not.

None of the six title-holders The Reg contacted feel compromised by the close attention they get from vendors, or an obligation to be nice once they win a title.

Dan Frith seems aware that might be the perception, but said “I'd like to think that I'm not just a cheap mouth-piece for EMC, and that I'll get publicly shirty with them when I have a problem.”

“I also like to think that there's just enough snark in my product launch posts that EMC can't use them with too many customers :)”.

vExpert Trevor Pott, who writes the Reg's sysadmin blog, says holding the title brings with it an obligation to be honest.

"The title of vExpert also – at least in my mind – imposes an obligation regarding greater efforts towards truth," he says. "With very few exceptions, ever vExpert I know is passionate about cutting through FUD, biases and 'who signs your paycheque' to get to the truth of the matter.

"Anyone who abuses that position in order to pimp their employer, or push their personal biases is frowned upon." ®

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