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Neon Smoke

MVP Diaries

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Becoming an MVP is part of a journey, not a destination. This is what I always say when someone asks about the award and how to get there. Let’s remember; we all have a different story in terms of how we got the award. A true testament of how diverse the Microsoft Community is.

Why is there so many questions and interest around it? I recently reflected on it after having the opportunity to share my story alongside fellow MVP and Avanade colleague Foyin Olajide-Bello in an internal employee resource group for Women in Software Engineering. Also, a post came about by the legendary Jukka Niiranen and his deeper thoughts about his future with the program.

So, here are my own honest stories and thoughts around the MVP program for those who are considering it in their present or future. Or existing/ alumni MVPs who are curious about what someone else’s perspective is.

Let’s start with the basics: What is the Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) Program?

  • Recognition of outstanding community leaders for technical expertise, online influence, speaking experience, and commitment to solving user problems.

  • Connecting bridge between industries, the community and Microsoft. They grow community’s skills and inclusivity whilst exploring emerging technologies.

  • Advocacy of Microsoft technology to build the products of the future with early previews and direct interactions with product teams as well as senior leaders.

How did I start getting involved in the Microsoft Community?

I initially got involved virtually through a work colleague in early 2021. A curious newbie, I started attending conferences and engaging with other members. I vividly remember my first event being South Coast Summit in October that year. Meeting people was so exciting after all the lockdowns. I led my first Power Platform Hackathon team with the best of comrades (Big shout out to Rory Neary, Joe Griffin, and Angelique Grootenboer, as well as Christ Huntingford for believing I had the right level of madness to do it!).

It was such a fun learning experience building IoT automations with Flic buttons for vulnerable patients who need to keep up with prescriptions and automate their intake history for their doctor. What stood out was the rife energy and infectious passion for solving real world problems. It all seemed like one great rock show can change the world.

What changed that made me want to actively contribute more?

It is so easy to feel imposter syndrome; we are human. At my first South Coast Summit, watching MVP and Microsoft legends up on stage with so much charisma, made me think wow. Just wow. No way I could do the same. And to be fair, until then, I had multiple people who did not believe I could make it in IT. My background was Marketing and Financial Services, no one seemed to see more. And sadly, I used to believe them. Mistake alert: I stopped myself from dreaming. Please don’t do that. We should all dream a dream. Because we all have a story to tell.

The catalyst was being mentored early on by my close friend, long-term MVP and speaker/ now Microsoft Azure Service Bus Senior PM, Eldert Grootenboer. He coached me on how to write my first abstract, navigate Sessionize and gave me insights into how Call for Speakers work. He also helped me identify my niche: I was passionate about CRM apps by bringing the users' voice to life with amazing UX, accessible designs and change management. My long-term experience in various cloud solutions and business applications had turned me into a digital chameleon who truly understood user pains and opportunities. That inspiring realization became a mission. My first abstract took 10 minutes to write. A sign of self-discovery. You can't just say you're not gonna do it without doing it.

So how did I go from writing the first abstract to 25 speaking sessions since last May of 2022?

It was a series of super cool, sometimes random, and most certainly fun events, which truly embody the quote You're not hardcore unless you live hardcore. There is a bit of a numbers game when it comes to Call for Speakers. Bear in mind there is usually a long wait between applying for an event and finding out the result of your submission.

Nevertheless, being passionate about the human impact of our tech, I decided to go as far and wide as I could. Exploring new concepts and topics after each event, to either refine existing sessions or create new ones. I harnessed the excited “squirrel” moments of being neurodiverse by making it a superpower. After all, there were not enough people talking about my topics of choice, so the human evangelist was gradually born. I was starting to get the industry to rethink their digital transformation practices, the way they were designing solutions and how important it was to make them accessible at scale. Turns out, my geeky and whimsical writing style with themed sessions such as Rolling (out) in the Deep or Silence of the Technical Lambs were hits with progressively higher acceptance rates. I was so attentive to curating engaging and insightful content which is both a learning and fun experience. Giving back to people who spend their time in each session was always key for me. Rock isn't about getting an A. It's about the “Ahhhh”.

And how about the nomination to announcement journey of becoming an MVP?

What a whirlwind. It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll. To begin with, very much in the imposter syndrome mindset, regardless of how much success I was having in conferences, user groups and podcasts, there was still a voice inside of me telling me I could not dream of the MVP award. Sadly, there is not enough vulnerability role-modelled to admit these hard moments. Multiple people had approached me to suggest a nomination. It took quite a few conversations to dispel the myths of the program; from the fact MVPs are human and not perfect, infallible idols, to needing to be the most technical persona in the room with decades of experience or to what contributions meant. What eventually convinced me was the realization that for me the award was correlated to a journey and a calling. The epiphany moment was being involved with the National Museum of Computing and their STEM program through the inspiring Storm Rae, their Head of Learning. The potential for impact was clear; championing a diverse perspective of non-traditional paths into tech and the MVP program, a different way of designing apps and demystifying user-centered design. In the application’s questions and throughout my conversation with Claire Smyth, the head of the UK program, I explained the same; How I wanted to be the connecting link between technical experts, designers, business, and end users to solve real problems. It took a few months to find out (~6) before getting the exciting news. I squealed like a hybrid between a fox and a squirrel.

How do I stay motivated for new contributions like blogging to managing a life balance?

By exploring new avenues, session topics and collaborations with community members and Microsoft Product Groups, I have been able to drive impact whilst expressing my creativity as well as community purpose. This journey has also helped me embrace my full self; geeky, movie and music lover, and social butterfly in the right tribe. Having those personal interactions with new and familiar community members where they mention I have inspired them or helped them somehow with an idea, tool recommendation or methodology; it means something. It motivates me and reminds me of what the community’s connectedness was meant for. Knowing that I can contribute to Microsoft building new products which are meaningful to users and underrepresented communities, again has a deep meaning. Managing a life balance is still a challenge, and there are days where it feels like I am pondering into an unknown abyss. What grounds me is the love, care, and friendships I have formed. The unexpected moments of positive surprises, and the clear purpose throughout. The legacy potential of it all.

To summarize:

The Microsoft Community is such a diverse ecosystem; just like the best rock and metal song it has amazing riffs and some complex solos. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and each of us should make a conscious decision about if and how to be fully involved. Whether you want to participate here and there or dedicate more time to potentially become an MVP; It must mean something to YOU, so the time you invest is worth it.

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