Late Friday night a couple of weeks ago, I got an interesting and a bit of a surprising email from Microsoft. Flabbergasted, I tweeted this right after:
Wait, WHAT? First of all, when did #Microsoft learn to write proper Finnish, second of all, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? :D— Antti K. Koskela #MVPBuzz (@koskila) November 1, 2019
I’m genuinely at a loss of words. Just… Thanks everyone for sparring and pushing me – I’ll do my best to be worthy of y’alls trust! 🤩 #MVPBuzz #MVP pic.twitter.com/wn3EMKfrvA
And some 3 weeks later, I’m still astonished – and even more so after all the incredible support and feedback I’ve gotten. And wow, it’s all just a bit overwhelming, to tell you the truth!
Surprisingly, despite the all of the logistics unions (I think I counted 6 different ones) being on strike and mail and packages not really moving much in Finland right now, my MVP kit made its way through!
Microsoft MVP – what’s that?
Okay, okay – let’s take a step back. For the readers who aren’t as involved with whatever Microsoft’s doing at any given time, the award might not be well known.
There’s a lot of content online about being or becoming a Microsoft MVP – some more precise than others, some more personal than others, some more perplexing than others – but it’s always a bit opaque and somewhat mysterious. And I think it’s a bit different for pretty much everyone – so it doesn’t make sense to read too much into what people say about it.
Oh – and Microsoft actually has the answer to the question themselves… So why not RTFM (that’s short for “refer to the documentation”)? 😉
— the Microsoft MVP Award is our way of saying “Thanks!” to outstanding community leaders. The contributions MVPs make to the community, ranging from speaking engagements, to social media posts, to writing books, to helping others in online communities, have incredible impact.https://mvp.microsoft.com/en-US/Overview
How to become an MVP, then? Well, Microsoft continues on:
There are 3 very simple steps: Be an expert, do lots of what you love, and let us know! Really, there isn’t a long checklist of things you need to do to become an MVP. The best MVPs really excel in step #2: they LOVE what they do. And we can tell! Whether you’re a great speaker, have a talent in blogging, lead a top technical community, are a social media superstar, a top GitHub or StackOverflow contributor or have a totally different and cool way to share your passion for our products and services, we’d love to know more!https://mvp.microsoft.com/en-US/Overview
These quotes make the point quite clear: while you need to know something yourself, participating and contributing in the community is the key.
That said, let me take a look at my path to becoming an MVP.
What’s it mean to me?
I could say a couple of thousand words about the importance of the community – but I think that’d be pretty moot. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know I appreciate the community and the interaction greatly. No, let’s talk about something else this time!
Obviously, this is a milestone that I’m proud of… But in a way, it also feels almost awkward.
“How come?“, one might ask.
Well, this blog’s tagline has been “Solutions are worthless unless shared!” for quite a while now. There’s quite a clear reason why I adopted it: while my day-to-day work has essentially been problem solving for pretty much my whole career in IT, documentation is something that’s always lacking.
And I don’t just mean the documentation for tools, products and frameworks – I also, specifically, mean MY documentation for the hacks (or as my colleague calls them – thoughtful workarounds) I’ve applied to resolve the issue.
In the end, to be quite honest here: I’m sharing my knowledge for somewhat selfish reasons – to maintain my documentation, and to learn.
After all, that’s how I internalize new knowledge the easiest, and that’s how I also learn a lot from YOU – mainly due to the feedback you leave on my blog. That said, it’s great to hear it’s helped a lot of you out as well, and I love your input on a lot of the articles!
And if it wasn’t for this blog, I wouldn’t be documenting this stuff. Finding the motivation to write any kind of documentation is tough.
However, while maintaining the blog has been immensely useful (mainly for documentative purposes), it’s not really challenging me. What else is there, then?
The blog, the whole blog, and nothing but the blog?
Maintaining the site takes some time, but it’s still, at its core, a natural and a straightforward task for me.
On the contrary, however, an area where I’ve had to improve in the last few years, and one which I think played a part in the MVP award as well, has been public speaking.
I used to absolutely dread public speaking.
I haven’t ever been much of a speaker or a presenter, but the last few years have slowly started to change that. After Valo started slightly pushing me to go to international events (because I was already abroad anyway, and since I was one of the easier-to-persuade of the more technical team members), and I got to experience a few different conferences and SharePoint Saturdays with 2 of the most fun people in the whole MVP community (that would be Vlad and Seb, both from Montréal, and now working for Valo), I started to be intrigued by the opportunity to maybe present something myself, eventually. There’s a lot of cool tech I absolutely love tinkering with, after all, and maybe some of that would interest someone else as well?
It did take me about a year of going to events, interacting with people and attending other people’s sessions to finally submit something on my own.
I built an interesting session combining a few things I absolutely love: SharePoint Online, Azure Functions and Microsoft Flow (or as it’s known now, Microsoft Power Automate). Spent a lot of time outlining the contents and writing a cool session description.
I thought it was pretty cool – I had won 3rd place in a Microsoft-organized hackathon for the solution my main demo was based on.
So, I went and submitted the session – and got turned down. What a crushing (but completely expected) experience for a fledgling speaker. 😨
Took me more than 6 months to submit again. This time, I was smarter – and actually asked for some help in crafting a great session outline. One of the best speakers in the whole greater SharePoint community also happens to be a friend of mine, so I got in touch with Vlad Catrinescu, who gave me some great feedback on the materials, tips on how to make them more interesting, and finally, how to actually deliver the session!
(If you haven’t already, check out Vlad’s great blog at https://vladtalkstech.com/).
And this is actually a great point to any inexperienced speaker:
Ask for feedback. Ask for opinions about your session topics. Ask for help with your materials.
There’s a lot of experienced speakers in the community, who’re open to coaching and sparring – don’t be afraid to get in touch!
Speaking is fun – but writing is effective!
In the end, I enjoy the challenge and the experience that speaking at events is, and love doing it, but I still feel like blogging and contributing online is far more wide-reaching. I mean, I can spend 2-3 days preparing and delivering a session, reaching on a good day maybe a hundred people at a community event, or I can spend 2-3 hours writing a blog post that’ll alone reach some 25 000 people in the next 12 months.
That doesn’t mean that going to the events isn’t useful and fun – it’s certainly the best way to actually meet and get to know people, and the coolest experience has been meeting some of you all face-to-face at different events!
And as a learning experience, challenging myself to actually go out there, talk tech & deliver a session has been irreplaceable. I don’t know whether my contribution to the community has been that great on that area, but the community’s contribution on my self has been quite something :)
And as far as my schedule allows it, I’d love to do both in the future as well, of course. But we’ll see!
That’s about enough reflection, then. What’s next?
Well, the whole MVP thing also sets certain expectations: essentially, you need to be a shining example of a community contributor. That’s a big responsibility – and I thank the whole community for the trust. And I’ll do my best! :)
And as always – don’t hesitate to get in touch. I read the comments, appreciate the feedback, and do my best to help out whenever I can!
And finally – I want to thank Microsoft for the program and the recognition. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the response, and even all the new channels opening up – but the onboarding by Microsoft has been great (a shoutout to my MVP lead Tina Stenderup-Larsen who’s been a big help there!)