As a Microsoft MVP, one of the events that I look forward to most every year is the MVP Summit, held in Redmond at the Microsoft campus. It is an event held every year in March where all Microsoft MVPs are invited to speak to the product groups, hear about upcoming technology, and provide feedback on what is working and what isn’t. Beyond that, the Microsoft MVP groups have become tight-knit families. Every group has their way of keeping in touch and communicating throughout the year, so everyone coming to Redmond is like a family reunion of sorts.
In light of recent world events surrounding social distancing and pandemics, the world is rapidly changing. Everyone has to adapt to a new “normal.” With conferences starting to see cancellations and postponements as far back as February, Microsoft had to make some quick decisions on what to do about MVP Summit, which is held every year in mid-March. Would it be safe to bring up to 4000 MVPs on-site to the Microsoft campus? What kind of impact would there be if canceled or postponed? Ultimately, on March 2nd, the decision was made not to cancel but instead hold a virtual MVP Summit. That gave the team at Microsoft two weeks to change the format of the MVP Summit to a virtual Summit while also adapting to their new “normal” as well.
The team at Microsoft worked hard and put in a tremendous amount of effort to provide the best virtual MVP Summit experience possible. The content was of high quality, and we were able to interact with the people we needed to. The technology held up surprisingly well, and it was fun to see everyone in their home offices. More than once, I heard a dog or a child in the background. A simple reminder that we are all in this together and trying to figure out how to adapt.
The conference began on Monday, March 16th, just two short weeks after the announcement that it would be a virtual experience. The conference itself was held on Microsoft Teams. Microsoft had one Team for the overall MVP Summit with a multitude of channels within. The channels aligned nicely with the award groups, and sessions were held within each channel throughout the week. There was even a Community Zone channel for extracurricular activities!
So, what kind of extracurricular activities could be held at a virtual conference? First of all, there was a community outreach event called Missing Maps. It is a project that is backed by the Red Cross, where volunteers can trace images on satellite maps to help first responders find people in the event of a disaster or crisis. It can also help humanitarian efforts to deliver aid to people in need. I came in 2nd place, mapping 422 buildings. Overall, 5928 buildings were mapped through our project! If you would like more information on how to get involved in these efforts, visit www.missingmaps.org.
Another event that got a lot of attention was a virtual yoga session! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend either of the virtual yoga sessions due to adjusting to the new “normal” in my personal life. Still, I thought it was an excellent idea!
Lastly, another community event that occurred between the morning and evening timeslot of sessions was a virtual bar. I joined in on the festivities on St. Patrick’s Day and shared a beer with my fellow MVPs over Teams. The Community Program Managers, some Microsoft speakers from earlier in the day, and even Clippy made an appearance at the virtual bar! While not a traditional bar experience, I discovered that it enabled me to venture outside of my usual group of friends to meet other people from around the world. It was a blast!
Benefits of Being Virtual
The Virtual MVP Summit allowed a more significant number of MVPs to be involved. Many people cannot come annually due to travel or family constraints, and this format allowed for them to be included as well. I met so many people from different areas of the world, and in collaborating with them, I learned about how other people and their companies have been adapting to the rapidly changing world of working from home. Toilet paper hoarding was a hot topic of discussion, and the Microsoft Teams team went out of their way to add toilet paper backgrounds for the speakers to use.
Another benefit of being virtual was that I could still maintain a sense of normalcy in my home life. I was able to help kids with their schoolwork and cook dinner for everyone – while learning about all of the cool new features coming soon to Dynamics 365! Fortunately, I learned that my cat was under NDA as well.
— Kelly Kane (@KellyLappKane) March 18, 2020
Things I Missed
Alas, while it was great to be virtual, I did miss going to Redmond. While this year would not have been the same experience as years past, it makes me a little bit sad that I did not get to partake in the benefits of being on-site. One thing I missed was being able to walk around the Microsoft campus and shop at the Microsoft store. Another thing I missed was the great food that is brought in for all of us during not only the days but also for the night time parties. Oh, and the parties. It is always so much fun to meet people face to face.
Ultimately, I am glad to have the experience of a virtual conference under my belt. Microsoft did a great job making this interactive and fun. In the future, I am hopeful for a blended conference experience that will have an online portion. This will ultimately increase the inclusivity of the MVP Summit, allowing for the attendance of my new friends from all over the world, friends who would not have been able to attend the in-person MVP Summit in Redmond.