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He ... (Steve Ballmer) ... told me, MVPs are his favourite customer!
Toby Richards
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Rich and Dave catch up with Toby Richards the new World Wide MVP lead. They chat about Toby's ideas for the MVP program for the next few years, about Daylight Saving time and about the upcoming MVP Summit in Seattle in March 2009
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Since 1999, Red Gate Software has produced ingeniously simple tools for over 600,000 Microsoft technology professionals worldwide. We currently specialize in tools for MS SQL Server, .NET, Oracle, and Windows Azure. Our philosophy is to design highly usable, reliable tools that solve the problems of DBAs and developers.
Since 1999, Red Gate Software has produced ingeniously simple tools for over 600,000 Microsoft technology professionals worldwide. We currently specialize in tools for MS SQL Server, .NET, Oracle, and Windows Azure. Our philosophy is to design highly usable, reliable tools that solve the problems of DBAs and developers.
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NxtGenUG Interview
Toby Richards Saturday, October 04, 2008
Rich and Dave catch up with Toby Richards the new World Wide MVP lead. They chat about Toby's ideas for the MVP program for the next few years, about Daylight Saving time and about the upcoming MVP Summit in Seattle in March 2009
The Interview 
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] We're straight to the top here aren't we Rich?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Yeah
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] We're very pleased to have the new World Wide MVP Lead ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] ... I thought you were going to say World Champion ...
[Toby] ... Well sure, that works! ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] We've got Toby Richards, Toby Hi!
[Toby] Hi, how are you?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] We're great, and you're here for the MVP Summit?
[Toby] The MVP Open Day! I could advertise the Summit if you want to, if you want to attend, beginning of March in Seattle?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Well I've just been renewed, so I'm alright, Dave? ...
[Toby] (laughs) ... Congratulations ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] ... I don't think Dave's going to make it though ...
[Toby] ... Yeah, you might be on the bubble ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] ... I know, my bubble will burst ... (laughs)
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] So let's talk about the Open Day, the UK and Ireland Open Day?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] So how come you're over here? Part of a world tour I believe?
[Toby] Yes, a world tour, this is the first of about 30 events that we're doing to bring the MVPs together. It's fun when we have our Global Summit but we only get about 40% of the people there. So we have an opportunity to go around the globe and bring the local community together to share ideas and best practices, but also to make sure that there's a connection between the local Microsoft Profesionals and the MVPs around the globe, so its a great opportunity to connect every year.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] So where are you heading to after here?
[Toby] After here? I will be going to Brazil and Argentina, and then I will be going to Japan, and then I think I come to Paris at some point in time, so I've got a number of events.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Phew ... OK ...
[Toby] ... Fortunately I don't go to all thirty. I think my wife would not accept me back (laughs) ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Are you out to meet all 4,236 MVPs?
[Toby] Whatever it equates to for that number of cities, maybe a thousand, I don't know. Well we've got about 75 or 80 here and we're growing in countries like Brazil because those are markets where the technology and appetite and adoption is driving at a faster rate than mature markets like the UK and other countries. That's kind of a fun part of the business as well.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] So why do Microsoft run the MVP program? What's in it for them?
[Toby] Well we do it for ... we do it a number of ways. We do it just to say "Thanks!". The MVPs represent the most, dedicated, committed Microsoft customer there is. So "Thanks" is Number One. But I think the reality is, is that when you have professionals who are so ... who have so much expertise in our technologies, we want to improve the way in which we listen. So we're doing a lot more these days than we ever have in the past ensuring that the feedback coming back from MVPs is adopted into our products. That might be the next release, it might be the release after that, it might be a fix, it might be a knowledge base article something like that. It's clearly an area we're improving. And in the local offices too for some of the MVPs who want to engage with the local offices because they have a passion for a particular technology against a particular scenario, there's often-times a chance to partner in that in a way that might be of benefit to the MVP as well as Microsoft.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] A good point you made in your keynote this morning was, and maybe worth repeating, you talked about VS2005, the impact the MVPs had on ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Yeah, feedback on the products.
[Toby] Yeah, I would say ... like when you think about our developer group, they probably have the stongest level of partnership engagement with the MVP Community. And you can kind of understand that, as the developer community, in general, is that way in terms of that level of community, really being part of the experience. And so some of the things that we've seen are improvements in like how ... just recently for eaxmple some installation scripts of how SQL Server were going to be deployed as a requirement of some Visual Studio technology which is needed to be on the machine before the thing would install. And honestly the product group was "Well, we'll just publish a knowledge base article on how to get around it". "Hey! This is the MVPs telling you! And if an MVP is telling you this, it means that its going to affect a lot of people, this isn't just some random scenario!" And so we're able to get a feature like that fixed.
Also with ASP.NET, we this year localised that product in Portuguese, and the only reason it got localised was that 31 MVPs in Brazil localised the entire thing. That is why that product is localised, so it just kind of talks about the level of passion and the commitment, I mean, that's all volunteer, they're just passionate about it.
So anyway we're making a lot of in roads in terms of the area of product quality. We also have a top issues process that we're running with MVPs on just big issues that are happening around the globe and let's make sure that if an MVP escalates that type of situation, we have a way in which we can engineer taking action on that, as well as kind of an early warning system. If you think about the whole Daylight Saving Time it was... well I don't know if you'd call it a fiasco ... it could have been a fiasco, about a year and a half ago, well ... we were really late to the game, Microsoft was in terms of like really figuring it out, because while the daylight saving time change was primarily in the United States and a couple of other ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Could you explain, some people in the UK may not know what the problem is?
[Toby] Yeah, OK, I believe that the date was March 11th 2007 and the United States decided "Hey, we're gonna extend daylight saving time for 4 weeks". The whole idea was tied to the United States Energy Act, because they felt as if this would be a way to save money. Well, we live in a global economy, so even though it technically affected the United States, if you are a company in the UK, doing business in the United States and all of your applications in terms of the timestamps, banking applications, your energy, whatever, you were affected. So the entire globe was affected, and we really didn't get on this problem until like 2 months earlier. But if you're a developer or an IT Pro, you gotta know this stuff and so since then, we have built an early warning system, and the MVP program is built into that. So if there is something coming like Daylight Saving Time or some issue that an MVP can see down the road, by working with their MVP lead, they have a very formal process now where that gets inputted to this early warning system for Microsoft, and so teams can then start reacting to it. So it's just another example of where we're trying to do a better job of listening.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Was the Daylight Saving issue ... did it come through an MVP? or was it like somebody in one morning and says 'You know what?'
[Toby] (laughs) That one was a combination, we had a number of MVPs telling us, we had a number of enterprise accounts telling us. And kind of what was happening was .. it wasn't like we'd never heard about it, but it kind of came in through silos.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Yes
[Toby] Right, oh yeah, the Outlook team knew about it, and they made their little patch, oh yeah and the Windows Server team heard about it they're working on their patch. But alot ... you know all these technologies work together so there wasn't a unified scenario, so I think through the help of MVPs, Partners, it really came together to create a much better scenario... We survived and we were lucky, fortunately it wasn't like a Y2K thing, where there are like big issues at risk, so ... we survived ... but the whole point is MVPs, given how adept they are with the technologies, have the ability to tell us, "Hey, I see this thing coming, you guys gotta react to it" and we actually now have a process in which we can do that.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] So what are your plans then Toby for the MVP program, you must have some plans in place? If you could change one thing about it?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Sort out the wheat from the chaff, your name is on the desk ... (looks at Dave).
[Toby] (laughs) Yeah ,exactly ...I look at it probably three ways. Changes for Microsoft, changes for the MVP and changes for my Team. I'll take the easy one first. Changes for my team, there are ways in which ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] They just do what you say ...
[Toby] Well, yeah, they can do what I say (laughs), but we can be more responsive, there's just some productivity things that we can fix to be more responsive to MVPs. I think for two, the MVPs themselves, is that we have a great opprtunity to create a better experience. I mean you think about our member site. It's not like you're dying to go there every single day...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave,Rich] (laughs).
[Toby] You pretty much go there to get your benefits, I'm not sure you go there any other time, maybe to see a calendar of events ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] I go every three months to ...
[Toby] Exactly, to go to the newsgroup! So one of the things we are working on right now, is a new backend platform on our side that for our side allows us to manage the relationship better. But for the MVP that will translate into a much better web communication experience, more personalised more dynamic. MVPs won't see that for a little while, we want to get the backend right and then deliver on a great experience. We've hired a user experience company to really think about the persona of an MVP, and so its not just like, you won't see what we think of you. You will see what ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Well as long as they don't talk to Rich they'll be OK.
[Toby] Yeah, exactly! So anyway we're trying to do some things around improving the experience. The core benefits will I think generally be the same I think. One thing want to do is try to create more of an equal level of engagement in terms of how the product groups work with MVPs. You know I was just talking with a new MVP who works on, he's an expert at Flight Simulator, builds a lot of add-ons and that sort of thing as a development environment...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Didn't even know you could do that!
[Toby] I know, apprently you can, neither did I! There's no engagement with the product group, but that's not a product group that's traditionally been a big MVP created community, then you take the complete opposite, and the ASP.NET people who get a great experience. How can we kind of ... how can we take the best and get all of the other product teams up, and so that's an opportunity that we have to kind of improve that engagement. The big areas that we continue to push is the Windows guys. I think we promised a lot for Vista, and the market probably responded in a way that said, "You didn't deliver everything you said" and so and considering the competitive pressures, they want us to surprise people, they want us to come out with a great thing and so they have a tighter disclosure policy and from a business perspective I get it! I think from a customer perspective and from an MVP perspective at the same time I say ... "Yeah, but you want all these people passionate about the product when the thing comes out so lets engage them sooner". So that's an example of one that we have active dialog about, "Hey! lets do more with the MVPs", so that would be another piece. Then the last thing... so I think about the team, I think about the MVPs, I think about from Microsoft .. we've a lot of opportunity to broaden our portfolio of expertises and tune them in such a way that are very strategic to Microsoft. And I know a lot of MVPS don't like hearing that, but this is, belive it or not, a $32,000,000 program that Microsoft runs, and I have a responsibility as a business owner do demonstrate Return On Investment. So hey, we don't have enough Hyper-V MVPs, we don't have enough Internet Explorer MVPs and we've got a very major release coming out with Inernet Explorer 8 in terms of how it renders websites and things like that, and I haven't got enough coverage. So I have to think about it in terms from a Microsoft business perspective of how we think about the balance of expertise and things like that. So there's a few things. The experience is a huge one. I just think its our website ... and that is fairly criminal.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] You should have a word with the ASP.NET guys!
[Toby] Yeah, hey we could go on for an hour on newsgroups versus forums, maybe would should save that for part 2 or something ... we are doing a lot of work in the forumsspace and trying to make those a great experience, not just from a performance and scale perspective just in terms of richer feature sets in terms of ranking, reputation, things like that, over time we'll get there.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Do you want to plug the Summit?
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Yeah, beginning of March?
[Toby] Yeah, beginning of March, its horrible that I don't know the official dates, I know its the vary first week of March. It's going to be a great event, there's going to be a big Windows 7 opportunity, Mike Nash, corporate Vice President of Windows will be one of the keynote speakers, Steve Ballmer will be a keynote speaker ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Ray, is he going to be there?
[Toby] No, Ray could not be there this time.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] So if we're out there , we could get Steve Ballmer on a podcast?
[Toby] Yeah maybe we could, he loves MVPs, so that's good. He told me, MVPs are his favourite customer! I keep reminding him of that, in case he was not being truthful (laughs). Yeah, I'm trying to think who our other keynote is ... I think its somebody from the Server and Tools business. Sorry I shouldn't even guess, 'cos somebody will hear the podcast and say, "Well he said ..". Anyway, Mike Nash Windows 7, Rich Kaplan customer advocacy, Steve Ballmer and then a killer keynote that I've completely forgot!
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Fantastic.
[Toby] Now I will warn people, this last summit was in April and the weather was pretty darn good. Now in March ... I don't know what to tell you, maybe bring ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Rich] Woolly coats
[Toby] Yeah exactly and a Goretex jacket or something like that.
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] Well Toby its great to meet you, great to see you over here ...
[Toby] ... Thank you ...
NxtGenUG FAQ[Dave] ... and we hope to see you over here again, and we'll hopefully see you over at the Summit.
[Toby] Great, thank you for taking the time, appreciate it.
About Toby
As general manager of Community Support Services within Microsoft Corp.’s Customer Service and Support (CSS) organization, Toby Richards is responsible for programs that identify, award and enable community influencers around the world, creating deeper relationships and richer feedback opportunities that improve Microsoft products and services.

In this role, Toby Richards leads the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Program, which recognizes approximately 4,000 MVPs in more than 90 countries. Microsoft MVPs are exceptional technical community leaders who foster the free and objective exchange of knowledge by actively sharing — with both users and Microsoft — their real-world expertise about more than 90 Microsoft technologies.
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