From Unknown to MVP–My Journey So Far
I never set out to become an MVP it just sort of happened. Along the way I have met many people with similar back stories to me chugging away on Twitter, their own personal blogs and crowd support sites such as Experts Exchange, Petri and the likes. I get asked all the time, how do you become one, how did I do it?
In short the answer to that is sheer hard work and determination built on the willingness to share knowledge. Today I want to share my story on how I began on my journey.
About three years ago or so, I decided one day to start a blog with the sole intention of storing information and notes in a place that I could always find them. I signed up for a free WordPress.com account and away I went. My first post was shockingly awful and lacked any kind of substance. It literally was a 3 line post! Its still online today – you can see it here: https://three65.blog/2014/10/25/force-removal-of-mcafee-enterprise-8-x/ …Told you.
An accidental chance that set all this in motion!
In the early days my posts were rather sporadic and mainly centred around Exchange and Lync because of the nature of my role at the time, being third line Microsoft support for a channel MSP meant I had a varied working life. At the time my blog was just my blog, I didn’t have a twitter account or connections to social media to plug my work on the site. After all my blog was for me, and if anyone else happened to stumble on it and it helped them, great, but that’s wasn’t its primary focus at the time. Then, I applied to my employer to send me to Office365 Ignite in Amsterdam back in the early part of 2015. I wanted to get closer to the coalface of technology and the cost of an Ibis Hotel and an EasyJet flight was cheap enough to stand a chance of getting acceptance. So off I went not knowing what to expect. I sat in all of the Lync sessions and it was at the time that Skype for Business was being announced so there was a massive buzz in the air for that. People eager to understand what was coming, what changes would be made, new features etc. So I grabbed my notepad and pen and scribbled everything I heard down to take back and share with my fellow colleagues. On the final night, sitting alone in a cheap ibis room on an expenses budget that just about covered a McDonalds I decided that I would convert my notes from Ignite into a blog post. The end result was this post: https://three65.blog/2015/02/14/skype-for-business-whats-coming/
Little did I know, but this post was about to change my blogging “career” for ever!
Out of nowhere this post went viral, at one stage was out performing Microsoft and was ranked #1 on Google for people searching “Skype for Business” To date my blog has had nearly 410,000 views and this one post accounts for the best part of 100,000 of them! I was surprised at the uptake of this and played a massive part in the decision to take up blogging on a more serious course. Spurred on by the success of this post, I joined Twitter, linked my WordPress blog with my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, followed a few people that seemed to be making lots of noise in the Skype for Business space (Matt Landis, Jeff Schertz, the usual famous bunch). Now each time I blogged, Twitter and LinkedIn would post my updates. Slowly I began to start getting some followers and a few retweets here and there, and the views to my posts started to trickle from a 10-15 per day to a few hundred to a few thousand every now and then.
It’s about building your network slowly to gain credibility!
Spurred on by Retweets, post shares and likes I continued to blog everything I found as soon as I learnt about it. It was a real buzz for me to see how well the community received them, that became my drug and I was addicted. I have a few very special thank yous to make at this point to Randy Chapman (@randychapman), Guy Bachar (@GuyBachar), Andrew Morpeth (@andrewmorpeth) as these guys were the very first promoters of my work, and instrumental in building my online presence. Really Thank You Guys! As a result I started building up a small following and started to engage in conversations on Twitter with people who must have been thinking “Who the hell is this guy?” at first Why did I do this? Mainly to test my understanding of a subject against others who in my opinion knew far more than me. I am really grateful to the UC community for accepting this unknown n00b into it and talking to me as an equal. The great thing about the UC community is that we are small and as a result always there to help each other out. I’ve not experienced that with any other online community before! This is the best thing about it, MVP aside, that’s just a gong. Being able to reach out to these guys in the community to share experiences that’s worth way more than any trophy, sticker or disc. The process of trust and credibility takes time, it can’t be rushed or demanded, it’s earnt and granted by your peers.
Use your statistics to focus your content!
One thing I learnt was that certain blog topics were received better than others when comparing statistics. I set myself a target of one blog a week. While doing this I noticed that a certain type of blog post would get more traction than others. For instance, if I blogged about a specific issue to do with Skype for Business and then broke it down to step by step fixes, the post was welcomed by the community and retweeted, shared etc but these didn’t return in views to the extent I’d hoped for. I realised that these post, though incredibly valuable to people who are in that situation at a specific time, they weren’t “clickbait”. What really sets my blog on fire are the posts that I share my opinion on a subject. For instance take a technical blog post like this one: https://three65.blog/2017/04/10/no-ringback-heard-by-caller-skype-for-business-audiocodes/ it has 13 LinkedIn shares to its name and only 340 views. Now if someone had this issue and was under pressure to resolve, they would be forever grateful to this post. But if you want to drive people to your site, you have to blog at a higher architectural level and offer knowledge and opinions on business topics, like this post: https://three65.blog/2017/06/28/skype-for-business-online-cloudpbx-calling-plans-and-consumption-billing-explained/ written only two weeks ago and has 95 LinkedIn shares and over 2,000 views. These types of posts help you build your profile and increase your visibility so you’re more likely to get noticed.
Its not all about blogging, it’s about contributing
This is where many people come unstuck and wonder why they are being overlooked. It simply is not enough to churn out blog after blog after blog and them come to expect a reward for it. The blogs are of course extremely important, but they need to be relevant and they need to add value to the community and technology your apart of. This is the difference between blogging and contributing. The way I try to do this is to perform a quick search on the topic I want to blog about. If Microsoft haven’t covered it in the detail I think it warrants, and no one else has, and I still feel my version is worth it, I will blog it. If not, then I won’t. One thing that gets frowned on in the community especially is re-gurge of other people’s posts. If someone else has blogged it, then respect their content and try not to devalue it. It is hard in this day and age, and I sometimes fall foul to this despite my best intentions (Yes Greig.. I Know! but you’ve had your apology and back link ). The best advice is to find a niche in the space in which you operate and if you do this, then you’ll quickly become the source of authority and the go to blog for everything in your area. For instance Jeff Schertz – He is the Skype for Business Video Man, Matt Landis – He is the all things coming out new man, although his crown seems to be in jeopardy as Tom Arbuthnot seems to be excelling in this space. James Cussen is the Admin Tools man etc etc. We all have our space. The point is, your name and brand sticks based on your content, and once you’ve established that the community will not forget you and you’re easier to spot by Microsoft.
I am still yet to discover my niche, I think if I was asked now, it would be “The guy who does these videos on Channel 9”. But in reality I am not the type of person to blog about every single new feature or announcement out of Redmond, or the product review guy. I choose to blog on topics that interest me and I think have value. I have to feel enthused to sit down for 2 or 3 hours and churn it out. If I don’t have the will power, the laptop doesn’t get powered on.
So its not about the quantity of blogging that you need to focus on, its about adding value and contributing to the community in a meaningful way. I feel I do this OK, I may not be the most active person in the community, that’s down to day job, location and family commitments, but I do try and find a few hours a month to spend trying to add value where I can.
Blogging is just not enough, more is needed
When I got awarded my MVP, I received an internal e-mail from someone who will remain nameless. The email went something like this “How did you manage to get MVP? I’ve been trying and don’t understand how you’ve done it, I have my own blog too”. To be honest the reasons I believe I got there was because of the way I choose to blog, choosing relevant topics and adding value to them. But I did so much more than just blogging. I started my own monthly video webcast called The Skype Show and discussed topics on there with MVPs, vendors and people from Microsoft. I also attended UC Day – an independent UC conference in the UK and delivered a show from there interviewing vendors and MVP speakers etc. In addition to this I decided to venture onto Microsoft TechNet forums and help people on there. TN forums have all but died away now as we move towards Microsoft Tech Community but I spent hours on TN forums answering questions and gaining points. This is where my friendship with Anthony Caragol was born. Before my time on there he was the king of the Lync / SfB TN forums, that was his niche market. I remember him tweeting me asking me to give him a change . I apologised but he welcomed it and really supported me doing it. We had a little competition between us to see who could end up higher on the MSDN leaderboard each week. Fun times!
So when I look back I probably spent about 50-70 hours per month dedicated to the community beyond my day job and family life. This meant late nights, often to 1-2am. But I do it because I love what I do.
A huge Thank You to Anthony Caragol
One of the biggest helps on my journey has been given by Anthony Caragol who is also an MVP, and a MVP before me. He spent hours mentoring me towards MVP. Always there on Twitter and Skype when I was feeling dejected, frustrated or just needed some general advice. He offered advice on the MVP program, what it was about and tips to get noticed. Without Anthony’s support I would not be an MVP today that is for sure! I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Having a mentor already in the program was perhaps the biggest asset I had, and if you are thinking of working towards MVP, then my advice is to find yourself a mentor willing to coach you. Their experience is invaluable.
Remember MVP is a reward for hard work and contribution, not a something you study for and take an exam
It is important to understand that MVP is not a right, its a reward granted to you by your peers. You cannot study for it, you cannot take an exam and there is no acceptance criteria to speak of. So you cannot engineer the award. If you’re in this to just get the gong then you’re going to be seriously disappointed. It takes a lot of dedication to get there and you can only do it if you have the heart to contribute and share. Otherwise you’re going to get frustrated and bored fast. To get noticed you need to be consistent in your contributions and regular about them, blogging or posting in a forum once a month isn’t going to set you above the rest. Therefore, it takes some serious commitment. For me and many MVPs this comes easy because we have a willingness to share so it just sort of naturally happens after a while. I must admit in the early days it felt a bit forced for me but once in the rhythm it becomes second nature. So you’ve got to stick at it.
Its about being recognised in Microsoft too and this was the biggest barrier for me. How do the people who assess your nomination make the decision? We still don’t know, but they must see thousands of nominations each month, so how do you distinguish yourself between just a name on a form and a person that they can relate to? There is no real formula for this, you’ve just got to make yourself as visible as possible, engaging with Microsoft employees is a good place to start and building that rapport and trust there will help you get noticed eventually, but without guarantee.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!
Not very many people get awarded MVP off the back of their first nomination. So when you are nominated don’t get too expectant. A nomination does not result in an award. I am testament to this. Not many people know but I was nominated 11 times for MVP before being awarded. That is 11 times of filling out the nomination form, which anyone who has done this will know is really really painful. When you are nominated, you fill out the form and list your contributions for the last 12 months. If you have less than 12 consistent months of contributions, then you will not be considered, period. After that your nomination will be assessed and a decision made. When I was awarded, MVPs were awarded / reawarded on a quarterly basis, but now awards are each month with a global renewal each July. I am not too sure of the turnaround between nomination and award now, but expect that if you have not heard anything for 3-4 months then the chances are you haven’t been successful.
However, do not be put off by this keep going, keep contributing and you will be rewarded for your efforts. The biggest test of any potential MVP is to bounce back from rejection and keep going, this is how we separate the contributors from the pretenders!
A mixture of elation, satisfaction and demotivation, but it comes back!
When I got the email at 2:59pm on Oct 1st 2016 awarding me MVP, it was a feeling that every MVP gets, sheer elation and excitement, sense of achievement.. “I am on top of the world!!” (sorry Leo). It is a fantastic feeling and I was buzzing for the entire weekend. I was so excited that all plans for the weekend went away! I couldn’t believe I achieved it. I thought that after 12 times it was just not going to be for me and was ready to give up. I was completely satisfied and a massive sense of accomplishment. Then after a few days I crashed back to earth and got completely demotivated. I was like “Wow I have achieved this now, that’s all I ever wanted, what do I do now?” It was like on the come down from a sugar rush! The truth is for a couple of months I found it hard to pick up the laptop and contribute much like when I first started. This is the hardest bit when you’ve achieved something it is easy to just give up. Then all of a sudden I realised that I don’t need to change anything, I just need to continue doing what I have been doing and I truly find what motivates me. Sharing my experiences and knowledge with you, my readers and listeners. Will I get renewed next July? Who knows, but regardless of what happens I am OK with it, I know why I do this, not for the status of MVP, but just because I like to share and that won’t change.
Saving the last Thank you for someone special
My last and most important THANK YOU goes to you, the people who read, share, tweet and otherwise promote my contributions. You are the reason I do this and without your following I simply wouldn’t be where I am today without you. So genuinely, Thank You!
So there you have it, this is my story from a no-one to a no-one who is an MVP. Has it changed me? Nope! Do I think I deserve it? Nope! Do I appreciate it? Yep! If you or you know someone who deserves to be recognised in the community for their contributions head on over to https://mvp.microsoft.com today and nominate them!
Mark is an Independent Microsoft Teams Consultant with over 15 years experience in Microsoft Technology. Mark is the founder of Commsverse, a dedicated Microsoft Teams conference and former MVP. You can follow him on twitter @UnifiedVale