MVP, RD, MCT, etc., or How the Microsoft expert ecosystem works
One day, I received a call from the technology evangelist of Microsoft Ukraine. “Do you want to be an RD?” — he asked me. At that time, I heard something about Microsoft Research, and therefore cooperation with Microsoft’s R&D department attracted me a lot. “Yes, of course,” — I replied. After receiving a welcome letter, I unexpectedly found out that RD is not Research & Development, but the Microsoft Regional Director program. This is how my cooperation with Microsoft began.
I was 23 years old at that time, which made me one of the youngest Regional Director in history. My cooperation has lasted for more than 14 years, which is also quite a long period.
In this article, I will talk about how Microsoft’s expert ecosystem works.
Microsoft Regional Director
Microsoft Regional Director is not a job position, but an award. Over the last decade, the number of Microsoft RDs has ranged between 160–200 members, and the requirements are a C-level position, knowledge of Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies, expertise in various areas (for example, artificial intelligence), and/or significant contribution to open source and/or social impact initiatives. Microsoft calls RDs “Trusted advisors to the developer and IT professional audiences and Microsoft” which is a blurry description.
In short, RDs are independent advisors to Microsoft. Often — critics, “early adopters” or insiders. Every big conference (in particular, Build, Ignite, Inspire, etc.) has separate activities for RD — additional meetings, mini-conferences, and meetings with top managers of the company.
There were some funny situations connected with the RD award.
Microsoft’s local office constantly enrolled me in their ranks, indicating the place of work “Microsoft Ukraine” on the badge. Then I was invited to the foreign conference as the “Regional Director of Microsoft Ukraine” to make a keynote speech, and almost lost consciousness when they found out that that was not that “director”.
The head of Microsoft’s local representative office is called “Country Manager”, which is often translated into Ukrainian as “General Director”. As you can see, the difference between “General Director” and “Regional Director” might not be obvious to the people outside the Microsoft ecosystem.
The award is granted for 2 years. Current RDs or Microsoft employees can nominate. Participation in the program requires the signing of an NDA.
Official site: Microsoft Regional Directors.
Microsoft Most Valuable Professional
Unlike RD, the Microsoft MVP program is more numerous and tied to a specific field or direction, such as AI, Microsoft Azure, or Power Platform. At different times, 2,000–4,000 people around the world simultaneously held MVP status. Formally, the status of Microsoft MVP is not given because a person is the best technical expert in their field, but because a person has made a significant contribution to technical community building. The following activities are also allowed: writing technical articles, speaking at technological conferences, conducting meetups, and webinars, volunteering at hackathons or other technical events and writing documentation or examples for Microsoft Docs.
Neither RDs nor MVPs are paid for their volunteer work. If this person does something on commercial terms, this cannot be considered a contribution to MVP program. Although Microsoft often collaborates with MVPs on a commercial basis, it is a very short-term collaboration that does not even come close to the salaries MVPs receive in their main jobs.
The biggest complaint against MVP is that these people can’t seem to be sincere, because they have a personal benefit from advertising Microsoft services. I can’t speak for everyone, but MVPs tend to be mega-professionals and highly paid specialists. And none of these people will risk their reputation for cheap or bad PR.
Once a year, all RD/MVPs can participate in the Microsoft MVP Summit, where 1.5–2 thousand specialists from all over the world gather. Hundreds of presentations, workshops, and meetings with Microsoft developers and product managers are held during the week. Of course, all this is accompanied by many informal activities.
Another bonus is the opportunity to communicate directly with Microsoft engineers. This allows you to learn about new products much earlier, as well as solve problems directly with those who are behind the development of all these technologies.
I was nominated in Windows Phone & Windows Platform, ASP.NET/IIS, and AI categories.
There are also many fun incidents with MVP status. Once I was signed as “the most highly paid Microsoft specialist”, then “the most respected” … Therefore, I constantly must check each time the RD/MVP spelling or translation to avoid such situations.
MVPs are constantly contributing to all major conferences related to .NET and Microsoft. And during the Russian-Ukrainian war, MVPs consult non-profit and academic institutions, government, and even businesses for free by helping with cloud migration, deployment, and security.
Many RDs are also MVPs. It is not forbidden.
The status is granted for a period of 1 year. Current RDs, MVPs, or Microsoft employees can nominate. Participation in the program requires the signing of an NDA.
Official site: Microsoft MVP Award.
For students, there is an analog of MVP — Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador.
Unlike the RD/MVP programs, which are quite difficult to get into and have several undocumented requirements, all you need to do to become a Microsoft Certified Professional is pass one or more exams.
According to the level of certification, they are divided into Fundamentals, Associate, Expert, and, separately, Specialty (a list of all certifications is available here). Over the last few years, there has been a transition from a product-based approach to a role-based approach (DevOps, Developer, Data Engineer, Data Scientist, Architect, etc.). Therefore, the acronyms MCE, MCSA, MCSD, MCSE, MOS, and MTA will expire soon.
Currently, the certification is valid for only 1 year (previously it was 2 years), but you can take an assessment test on the Microsoft Learn platform every year and extend the validity of the certificate for free.
At the beginning of the year, we launched the Upskilling Initiative to help everyone who wants to get certified. You can find a lot of useful content from Ukrainian Microsoft MVPs on our YouTube channel (the content is in Ukrainian).
You can issue all your certifications on the Credly service, e.g., here is my page). A link to this page can tell your potential employer more than a CV.
Microsoft Certified Trainer
To get MCT status you must be:
- a certified specialist;
- have teaching experience in public or private educational institutions including training centers.
A Ph.D. is also a plus, but not required.
MCT status entitles you to prepare specialists for certification.
Status is granted for 1 year. Self-nomination is possible if all requirements are fulfilled. Participation in the program requires the signing of an NDA.
Microsoft Partner/Microsoft Cloud Partner
Unlike previous awards, Microsoft Partner is not an individual status, but a corporate one. Companies can get Silver or Gold partner status in one or more specialties. For example, DevRain has one Gold and several Silver competencies. Starting in October 2022, Microsoft will evolve the Microsoft Partner program into Microsoft Cloud Partner. There will be no more Silver/Gold competencies. Instead of this, companies can become Solution Partner in the following specialties: Data & AI, Digital & App Innovation, Infrastructure, Security, Business Applications, and Modern Work.
In my opinion, this is a good and correct step. And educational institutions (both public and private) should also follow this trend.
To become a partner, you need to fulfill many requirements, one of which is the presence of certified specialists. Interestingly, RD/MVP statuses are not counted in this case.
Along with the status, the company gets several benefits such as:
- partner’s recognition in the market;
- specialized technical assistance at all stages of the project;
- additional licenses and subscriptions.
All requirements/metrics must be met to become a Microsoft Partner/Microsoft Cloud Partner. The status is granted for 1 year. Participation in the program is paid.
Microsoft Docs Contributors
Microsoft has been reforming the technical documentation for several years now (docs.microsoft.com, now learn.microsoft.com/docs). All documentation is translated into markdown format and is located on GitHub. That means anyone can contribute, e.g., write cases or examples that will become a part of the documentation.
Here you can find how to become a contributor: Microsoft Learn contributor guide overview — Contributor Guide.
In addition to the mentioned programs, there are also Windows Insiders, Xbox Ambassadors, Xamarin MVP, and others, but they are very specific and niche.