Redmond Review

MVP Summit Highlights a Shared Future

As I write this, this year's MVP Summit just ended, and before it even started, I knew I'd write this month's column about it. But it's hard to write about an event when its content is covered by a non-disclosure agreement. I wasn't sure how I'd handle this. As it turns out, I learned something important at the Summit that I can share in full. For me, it's a huge help in analyzing Microsoft in the market. It's not about technology, though. Rather, it's about getting older.

Microsoft is at a point in its history where it's mature and enjoying the spoils of its dominance, but where it's also fighting off stasis. I realized the same is true for a number of MVPs. I might include myself in that category: I was 28 when my first column ran in this magazine, and the column you're reading now is being published almost exactly on my 45th birthday. This is about more than years of service. It's about success, coming of age, coping with keeping up, and changing one's game to stay relevant. That's true for me, that's true for other MVPs and it's true for Microsoft, too.

Report from the Front
Microsoft's mature enterprise technologies must continue to be fed and cared for. We need SQL Server to remain a solid relational database. We need SharePoint to keep growing market share. We need Windows Server and all of its SKUs to remain in full force in the datacenter. We need the .NET Framework and Visual Studio to stick around, and we need Team Foundation Server and the rest of the Visual Studio application lifecycle management (ALM) suite to continue their ascent to critical mass. At the MVP Summit, it was clear that each of these efforts is going well. That's good.

But you can't just keep dancing to the same music, or you'll go from having cutting-edge taste to being someone who listens only to oldies. The same is true for Microsoft, and for us. We need to create "apps" on the smartphones people like to carry around, not just applications on PCs they use at work. We need to build software in the cloud, not just on the desktop, or the server in the datacenter. Our databases can't just do relational storage and query anymore. Instead, we need them to handle data modeling and in-memory analytics -- and the releases have to be rapid. In each of these areas -- with Windows Phone, with SQL Server and with Windows Azure -- Microsoft is making great strides.

Microsoft also needs to draw on its history. It needs to return to its roots of making line-of-business application development simple, fast and relatively easy. As the Visual Studio LightSwitch product gets closer to release, as awareness of it grows throughout other product groups and as it harnesses the power of new technologies, including Windows Azure, I can't help but be impressed by the resources of a company with a rich history, a future-facing outlook and the wisdom to combine the two.

In It Together
I regret being short on specifics, but I guess they matter less than the trend anyway. The trend I see is gradual adaptation to the new realities of the industry, both on Microsoft's part and on the part of the MVPs. In fact, not only are MVPs adjusting, they're pushing hard on Microsoft to change, and to accelerate the rate of that change. As much as Microsoft is behind on tablet technology, as much of an uphill battle as it faces in the smartphone market, as tough a competitor as Amazon Web Services is to Windows Azure, MVPs new and old are there telling Microsoft to get a move on. I think it's working.

What Microsoft has done well, perhaps better than any other company in the industry, is deputize its customers and its partners to shape the future of the company. The MVP Summit is perhaps the best example of that foundational practice.

In his keynote at the Summit, Steve Ballmer pointed out that the MVP program has been in existence for almost 20 years. That's yet another sign of the company's age, but it's a byproduct of the timeless value of the program. If Microsoft can transition to meet the technology industry's new demands, it will be due in no small part to the MVPs and other allies of the company. What makes me optimistic about that is that the reverse is true as well.

About the Author

Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!

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