So here I am, back in the Netherlands, after the MVP Summit 2012, still quite dazed from what hit me. It was my very first summit, and I was not quite sure what to expect. In retro respect the most amazing thing was what might be called ‘super Tuesday’. I spent a whole day with my fellow Windows Phone MVP’s and the product team. Suddenly all the people I only conversed with on twitter or live messenger were in one room: people like Ginny Caugey (I finally now know how to pronounce her last name), Matt Hidinger, Den ‘DennisCode’ Delimarsky (he actually is recognizable from his XBox avatar), Atley Hunter (who I think deserves the nickname ‘Fast Forward’) , Nick ‘ActiveNick’ Landry, Peter Novak, Rudy Huyn, to name just a few – and we where joined by people of the product team, which included Cliff Simpkins, Ben Lower and a few more whose name I omit because I am not even sure if I can mention them without spilling some beans. I feel a bit lame about this, but I like to err on the side of caution. For I must admit that when I got the award and was requested to sign an NDA documents it felt a bit over the top because frankly, I haven’t been seeing very much that required NDA for since October. Up until that remarkable Tuesday. I cannot go into any detail, other than that it was somewhat of a bewildering experience. For obvious reasons Microsoft are keeping their cards very close to the chest about anything related to Windows Phone, and this was quite different. To say the contents were interesting is like calling Mount Everest a ‘pretty steep hill’. After the formal sessions there was also an off-site event, which was at the Lucky Strike Lanes in Bellevue, where we got to know each other in a more informal way. I am still not sure who are the loudest, Canadians or Michiganians, but they give each other a run for the decibels ;-)
Another interesting observation I made during some sessions over the week was related to the recent row on the internet about MVP’s being Microsoft “marketing puppies”. Let me tell you this: behind doors, Microsoft asks for feedback and boy, do they get feedback from their MVP’s. A lot of typing and/or scribbling is being done while this is going on. Debates sometimes get pretty heated, but the setting is always a polite, frank exchange of ideas. Microsoft listens, listens intensely, and not only this occasion. But I feel a lot depends on how you put it in words. Think about what you would like to achieve before you spill your frustrations in a four-letter-words rant on the internet next time.
So what did I take from this occasion?
- A lot of solid information. I was told this differs from product group to product group; Windows Phone being pretty new and making aggressive movements forward, inherently is a hot spot where a lot is going on.
- Faces, names, and contact cards. It’s unbelievable how much people you meet. Being open to others is a natural things amongst most MVP’s – or else you would not be an MVP in the first place – and conversations start pretty easy, even for people who are bit contact shy like me. And it’s unbelievable how, in this time of online living, things are still different after you have shared a drink or talked a couple of hours into the evening. Apart from the people I mentioned above I met Rene Schulte, Laurent Bugnion, Scott Guthrie (thanks Laurent!), Scott Hanselman (sorry I pretended mixing you up with The Gu ;) ), Micheal Crump (he does exist, and I have pictures to prove it), Morten Nielsen, András Velvárt, Dave Bost, Chris Koening (both Windows Phone 7 DPE, equivalent to our own Matthijs Hoekstra), Davide Zordan (thanks for the Win8 copy!), David 'Wynapse' Campbell and I finally got the see our expertise group contact Tracey Hackney. They now have faces and voices. That still counts.
- Too little sleep, a crumpled back from spending too much time in a cramped aircraft chair and if I am not mistaken, a severe cold or a flue in development ;-)
Simply put: this was definitely worth the trouble.
Now that I’ve had - and survived ;-) - my first Summit, I think I have some advice for next-time-newbies:
- Try to get into one of the ‘central’ hotels: Hyatt, Westin, Silver Cloud or Courtyard. The other hotels are hotel-wise just a good but a lot more away from the ‘action’. Microsoft organizes a good shuttle service – but that stops at 9pm and I can assure you most times you are not done at that time. And then you have to get a cab or something.
- When you need to be on the campus early in the morning, allow for an hour travelling time. It’s actually more like 20 minutes, but you have to allow for traffic jams or the fact that the bus sometimes needs to take a tour along other hotels. And you do want to be on time. Some people weren’t in time for some special event organized by our Dutch MVP lead and simply missed it. Set an alarm clock, take a strong coffee (or tea) and get outta there.
- There’s usually a first-timers event early on the first evening. I found it useful to drop by. There were some Microsoft people and seasoned MVP’s talking with us newbies to get us in the mood. On the practical side, there’s food as well.
- Prepare. The Schedule Builder is sometimes confusing and I ran into a problem getting the app on my phone to run, which I only noticed being on-site. Hook up with some seasoned MVP’s up front and ask advice as to which side sessions and/or side parties to go to. I did not, and I missed a few things because of that.
- Download the MS Campus Maps app on your Windows Phone. It’s indispensible for getting around and getting directions.
- Download My ContacTile on your Windows Phone – it creates a QR code of your contact info to quickly share via Bing Vision.
- Hotel rooms are for storing suitcases, taking a quick shower and some essential sleeping. That’s all. Don’t spend time there. Although most expenses during the Summit are covered I think I paid about €800 to fly to the USA and stuff so I made sure I got the most out of it. I figured I would pay the fatigue price later (like now :-) ).
- Bring power. Have a charger with you all the time and/or buy yourself a simple ‘USB juice pack’. It’s also a great way to help out fellow MVP’s who did not bring one, so they can borrow yours. A great conversation starter if any.
- When you are in a shuttle bus and get to sit next to a stranger, or at the breakfast room: introduce yourself and talk. Ask after their expertise and what they are working on. I was able to help out two people by showing them a blog post I wrote.
- The attendee party is big and spectacular and usually the last occasion to meet everyone. Do go there and have fun.
- Especially on the first days you want to be sharp. Keep down the booze and try to get a least some sleep.
- Keep your NDA. Watch your use of social media. Don’t discuss things outside your product group or in public places. The hardest part is not to correct incorrect speculations or react with body language ;-). I resorted to “I’d rather talk about something else now” at one point. It made me respect the product group members who have to make this mental juggle all the time very much.
Some special advice to MVP’s from outside the USA:
- Make sure you have enough cash on you to be able to tip people. That’s what you do in the USA. Familiarize yourself with the unwritten rules. 10% is ok, 15% if you are really satisfied. Cafeteria and such sometimes don’t expect a tip to be handed over directly but then there is usually a kind of can where you can drop the change. It’s not always obvious to me.
- Even more important: make sure you have a credit card. You don’t exist without a credit card in the USA.
- There is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere but for whatever deity you care to believe in’s sake, get yourself a $25 AT&T 500mb data plan so you are online all the time so you can find your fellow MVP’s or use online maps and stuff like that. Also, it’s great for keeping contact with the home front. AT&T first tests your phone if it works at all and even configures it before they charge you.
- Buses and light trail in Seattle are dirt cheap. Inside the city you pay about $2.25 for a trip from any given place to another and if you get back within a few hours, the return trip is free. The 550 bus from downtown to Bellevue costs $2.50. It partly runs inside the light rail tunnel, that’s why I couldn’t find it at first. There is also the 560 bus from SEA-TAC to Bellevue. Same price.
- Visit the Microsoft Store in the Bellevue mall. You won’t believe your eyes. Think hard before you take your credit card along ;-)
- Bring an umbrella. Seattle weather is erratic at best of times, but in February you can get everything from sunny weather to snow an back again in one day. People from the Netherlands or the UK just have to pretend they prepare for the weather at home ;-)