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The current state of the Microsoft community in Singapore

Disclaimer: What I write in this post does not represent my company, the community, Microsoft, or its employees. These are my independent thoughts of the current state of the Microsoft community in Singapore ONLY based on my own observations.

Where do I even start? How about last week when I was speaking at the recent event at Microsoft? I observed the following:

  1. The entire event was handled by an events company.
  2. The host, a Microsoft employee, only appeared for 2 minutes to introduce me and did not return again.
  3. Evaluation forms and ratings were expressively indicated to be more important to Microsoft than actual interaction and getting direct feedback.
  4. The host even got the summary of my topic wrong.
  5. There was originally supposed to be a Wine and Discussion session after my presentation, but since nobody knew about it.
  6. The audience were quiet, unresponsive, but were very forthcoming for one-on-one questions.

Based on my observations, my conclusions are that Microsoft is not doing a good job at engaging the Microsoft community at large. Thus, corroding the entire community infrastructure to a bunch of zombie people just receiving content and being told what they should do, rather than passionate individuals with their souls and fire ignited to speak out and contribute to the discussions.

A lot of you might say that the developer community in Singapore are so jaded by the problems that they just lost all of that fire. Let me give a huge rebuttal that I’m one of the co-founders of HackerspaceSG and I do not see that at all. We have GeekCamp, UnConference, BarCamp, and various other user groups out there with many developers that are so passionate about what they do, what they want to share, the pains and difficulties, and even the pleasures of developing on a certain platform and technology. So don’t give me that crap about developers are jaded. Not all are.

So what is missing at Microsoft then? What is Microsoft doing that is wrong? Let me break it into various points.

No familiar face during community events

Where are the Microsoft employees? Are the developer evangelists supposed to be attending all these events and care for the community? Why are they always stuck at meetings after meetings? Come on, it is your job to grow the community, care for it, and show that you’re the person in charge for their needs.

Host not appearing at your own event

I don’t know, but doesn’t this sound like bad PR and marketing to me? Even appearing for just 2 minutes is NOT ENOUGH. I really have nothing else to say about this except good luck if you think you can continue doing this.

About your bonus, not the community

So here’s the problem I think is prominent with Microsoft Singapore. Everyone employed to cater for the community (aka developer evangelists) are troubled by Key Performance Indicators (KPI). This determines their performance in the company, thus affects their bonus or salary or re-contract. That’s why if you attend ANY Microsoft event, they always emphasize on filling up the feedback form and getting their metrics and numbers.

HELLO!! I agree you need that, but don’t you think that the basic requirements of a community like discussions and interactions is higher priority than feedback? You’re being paid to look after the community, NOT YOUR BONUS. Once you bring into focus the correct target, which is the community, everything will follow through.

Where’s the passion, Microsoft?

I always believe that there needs to be a catalyst in community building. Someone needs to be able to bring out that passion from each individual and keep the flame burning. If you’re a developer evangelist, I expect you to be the one since you’re being paid to do so. You just need a few people with the energy and passion to create the culture and vibe across the community and you’ll start to see individuals speak out. Where are these individuals? I know of only one, Dennis Chung.

Making use of Microsoft MVPs

I keep telling everyone this, that Microsoft MVPs are not Microsoft employees. To you Microsoft employees, we are not your BITCHES. The reason why we’re awarded as MVPs is NOT because we grovel and lick your feet, wag our tails at your every achievement, it is because we are an independent voice that is NOT Microsoft, providing an objective view to what is good and bad about Microsoft technologies, and providing alternative solutions to problems with Microsoft technologies. Despite all the failures and flaws, we care enough to want Microsoft to improve and create better products and technologies. If you think we’re just there to “evangelise” and you want to force us not to say anything bad about your technologies, THINK AGAIN. We’re not your BITCHES. You can very well threaten to take away my MVP award for all I care. I will still continue doing what I’m passionate about, which is to share my objective view towards what’s great and problems with Microsoft technologies. If you think you can make use of MVPs and treat them like that, I’m sorry but this is very degrading of what the entire MVP program is about.

One way transfer of knowledge

I realise that Microsoft Singapore’s events are so caught up in trying to get people excited about cool technologies, and their newest and greatest innovations that they forget about the 2 way knowledge transfer called discussions. Many developers out there still use the older technologies by Microsoft and they want to talk about their problems. Or maybe their cool solutions and workarounds. To grow a community, you need community engagement. IMHO, Microsoft Singapore has gotten the meaning of “engagement” wrong. Engagement is a 2 way flow of discussion where you need to encourage the community to voice out their displeasure with certain technologies, or talk about their experience with Microsoft technologies. It is much more convincing to get the community to talk about it, rather than Microsoft evangelists.

Your events are so passe

Hey, do you know the difference between barcamp, geekcamp, unconference, versus Microsoft Singapore’s own event? The biggest difference is user-created content. The people actually using the technologies come out to talk about it, express their feelings. I attend all these non-Microsoft events and I see a huge difference in the vibrancy of the community I am sad by the fact that Microsoft Singapore themselves are just killing themselves with their old thinking and KPI driven techniques. My advice to you? Rebuild the community again and show your social passion. Encourage community content rather than you providing the content.

Different Developers

Oh I’m sorry, but you concentrate on different types of developers? Yes I agree that there are different types, but neglecting any of them for a long period of time is really your loss. I stress again, developers are developers. You neglect some, you neglect all. Rethink your strategy, and not base everything on your KPI.

The current state of the Microsoft developer community?

I call them zombies. Jaded by the fact that they don’t have the power to influence or make a change at all. All these built into them by the consistent marketing propaganda that is being stuffed into them by Microsoft. Imagine taking away the voice of someone, forcing that person to listen to music he hates without the ability to voice out “STOP IT PLEASE!” Well, that’s exactly what I see the Microsoft developer community to be right now, and I’m very sadden by this fact. I look at other non-Microsoft developer communities congregating at HackerspaceSG and other places, and I continuously ask myself, why isn’t Microsoft doing what these other communities are doing with little or no money at all? Then I come back to reality that it isn’t about community, it is about numbers.

I know I’m going to get very screwed by a lot of people from Microsoft Singapore, but I feel they need a wake up call and realise the current state of the community. I care enough to voice out to the Microsoft community that you need to stand up again and be passionate! I was there back in 2004 when I co-founded SgDotNet and I saw the passion. I was there again in 2006 when Chewy Chong took over as Developer Evangelist and I saw the passion. Now that I’m back again in 2009, I see a dying community.

Where are you now?

About Justin Lee

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20 comments

  1. OK, now I know why you are a MVP. Well written article.

  2. Well said.. I had heard similar complaints about the work culture at M$ in Singapore from a friend who used to work in M$.. He couldn’t take it and he quit.. Haiz..

  3. i wanted to voice this out many months ago.
    i did a presentation at microsoft and the same thing happened.
    The user group owner only stay in the session for a few minutes.. then MIA (dunno go do wat) ….. and come pack to lock the room.

    i told myself… WTF am i putting the eoffrt to do the presentation and dont get the credit?…. and not being appreciated?

  4. Thanks. I just hope Microsoft Singapore changes for the better. It was so much better back in the days.

  5. Microsoft, if you’re reading his post you better realise that he’s doing this because he wants to help you. If I were him I wouldn’t even bother and just give up. It’s rare to have someone so passionate to help the very community that you need to grow and prosper.

  6. sarbjit singh gill

    Being one of the pioneer of user groups and community here in Singapore, i must say how mis-leaded your guys are.
    1. you can always choose to say “no, i can’t present” when called for events.
    2. you look for credit when you present? is that why you present?
    3. i have presented at so many sessions, i did not need the host to stay for me. i was the lead in the presentation. i was the center stage.
    4. this is not about ms, this is about you and the people who came to listen to you. that is it. MS provided you the space and environment.
    5. no matter how screwed up the organisation of an event is, i ALWAYS walked away leaving the attendees happier, more knowledgable and also myself satisfied. I show the audience how to increase their value in the market and how to make sure they stay at the top of what they do and not just new ways of writing codes and installing and configuring systems. All this is available on the www.
    6. in my 6 years as an MVP with close to hundred public events and presentation, i never felt like a bitch.
    7. MS is a big company and it has it’s issues. so don’t add on to it.
    8. as a MVP don’t wash your dirty laundry in public. do it internally with that. i do that especially when the SharePoint 2010 beta testing was running.

    YES, i don’t deny there are MS folks who only think about the KPI and the business BUT who was on the stage at the presentation? YOu or them ? and you can always speak the truth to the attendee as long as it is not NDA. Simple. You can say MS technology/product/service/platform can’t do this and that because of this and that. Why not?

    You need MS technology and software to be the best you can be in your work and life. So use it they way it best fits you.

    I have been to an event which was so badly organised (even food was messed up) but the crowd loved the presentations and we all walked out feeling good and knowing what we need to do next.

    Engagement is where each of the party thinks about giving ONLY and NOT about receiving and giving.

    I will have more to say.

  7. @sarbjit singh gill: I totally agree with you with regards to the events part. But there are points that I didn’t mention at all which I felt it’ll not be wise to write about. Those I’ve spoken to knows what those are. I left with the audience happy, asking one-on-one questions, learning something new, and I think that’s great for everyone. There is no relation between the events held + the MVP points. I think that got a little side-tracked and misunderstood.

    By the way, I’ve already talked about it internally, and they do know a week beforehand that I’ll be posting this up.

    But that’s not my point. It is really about whatever happened to the community out there because it doesn’t seem to be around any more. I see participants, nothing more.

    By all means comment more, because I would love to see what’s going on and be proven so very wrong. This is particularly for the developer community and not the rest. I’ve seen Dennis doing an awesome job with the IT Pro side and I appreciate that very much. But I feel that the developer community is slowly rotting with staleness.

  8. From a developer/community lead perspective, I beg to differ with your opinions. While I’ve haven’t been around as long as @King Gill (sarbjit singh gill), I wouldn’t be so quick to conclude that developers in Singapore are a bunch of zombies.
    1) Yes, we don’t respond to questions in topics; but people do come to me/you one-on-one to talk about issues, feedback and problems.
    2) Whether the host is present or not, the host has provided all the leg/brain work prior to the event (be it Microsoft or UG), and do you simply wipe those off simply because they’re not _present_ during your lime light?
    3) The various individuals whom I spoke to within Microsoft Singapore recognise that “today’s technology” is important.
    4) As a MVP, I don’t see how Microsoft Singapore is making use of me. To me, it has always been a 2-way relationship, whereby we scrub each other’s back and move towards a common goal.
    5) Microsoft Singapore has more than ONCE engaged the developer community (SGDOTNET) in order to move things ahead.
    6) There are countless of initiatives from the developer community (SGDOTNET) like CodeCamp, CTU, Hands-on Lab, VSTS Activists which are strongly supported by Microsoft Singapore – Financially, physically and logistically.

    I would like to highlight that the existing Microsoft Singapore DE is doing a good job. While he may not be as smooth as Chewy, or as vocal as Dennis, he’s every bit concerned and committed about engaging the local developer community.

    I’m not proclaiming that the local developer community is without problem or issues. Which household will not have its own set of problems? However, rather than spending time airing dirty linen in public, I rather spend time looking after the developer community, my day job and my “real” family.

  9. Probably, Microsoft should take this as feedback rather as criticisms. There are companies out there who are dying to have people like Justin who are passionate about their technologies and willing to evangelize and make an impact for the community.

  10. It is just like the host create a party, invite guests to the party and invite a celebrity for the party.
    The lime light of the celebrity is only at the particular moment and not suppose to be through out the whole show.
    The main person is still the host.

    It is like the person organising the event is not event there for the event. Then what is the point of that person to organise it? Might as well as the celebrity to organise.

    Have you ever been to a gathering that is organise by your friend and on the actual day, that person is unable to turn up?

    I’m not pin pointing to anyone, neither did I go for the event that is mentioned. I am just speaking from a 3rd party view.

  11. Hi Justin, just read your blog post. I am a Windows Mobile MVP with Mobinauts.com (formerly PPCSG.com) I do share certain sentiments with you as with all companies it is not what you know but who you know and the relationship that counts. I was global Mobile Devices MVP before I was transferred over to our sector in Asia/Singapore, participated in numerous events in the US and in various Alpha and Beta sessions, sometimes unknown to the Singapore side too. And the experience has been great these past few years, it is nothing like what you mentioned.

    Over on the Singapore side I deal mainly with the leads and they do an awesome job, we have a annual event and we basically take over the entire event and run it as our own and sometimes (blush) Microsoft is there to attend to our needs to the point I feel embarrassed as I am humbled by their service to the community. We invite them as our speakers, we play host on Microsoft turf and get to plan out what topic they should talk about and usually it is done at night.

    And they are always accommodating and supportive, and many times they stay throughout the event, once till 11.30pm way past as our event dragged on quite enthusiastically as the conversations among the consumers/user/members from our site kept shooting questions at Microsoft good and bad. And I can say, they took every punch and replied with grace and sense. They supported us in many ways and sometimes 11th hour assistance.

    They are super busy people and the work they do has to be measure ( which company isn’t – regarding the KPI thingy) I too, get my fair share of KPIs that I have not choice at times but to power through, with work, family and other responsibilities it takes a toll on everyone.

    Voicing out with your Leads and also with others would be good.

    I guess different groups experience different things, but wanted to say my peace as my experience was different. By the way, there are many times I cannot make it to speak at certain events, I will just decline, no harm done, they will figure something out.

    Expectations are measured by similar expectations that we give to people, at any time we feel that we have done our best and want to move on, we move on. If not talk to some superiors.

    As an MVP I am proud of it, from a hobby to a “professional” – wow, just because I am doing something I like.

    Peace bro and Keep the faith!

  12. For the people who are saying that things are fine, that there is engagement between MS and the “community” and there is no need for a _young_ MVP like Justin to rock the boat and make a big fuss, I would urge you to open your eyes and look at your own “touch points” with the/your community.

    Just like you’re being in the center of the stage, receiving all the limelight and distilling wisdom on “its all about GIVING and not GETTING”, have you ever lift your blinds and take a look at exactly the issues that Justin is talking about?

    So many blogs, so many posts and yet, not a single comment in any one of them? Yes, so it’s all about GIVING, to you, but do you think there is anyone who is getting, or wants to take whatever you’re giving?

    Simply by having forums and thinking that somehow this translates to a community? Has anyone taken a look at the activity, the latest posts in them? Is the community being “engaged”? Perhaps this is still some kind of justification as engagement, at the glacial pace.

    The thing is, without MS providing you a “platform” to stand up on for the limelight to shine down, can you stand on your own? Are you still someone without the MVP title bestowed on you? Will you still have influence and leadership and sway over the masses that come to your shows then? Does the “community” know who you are? Or even care?

    While saying this, I received an email from Dennis about CTU2009, again. I agree with Justin, this guy is really something and even when I haven’t met him, or seen him, I’m impressed by the passion he has.

    So what if you have 3 or 4 blogs and/or a nice website with a largely empty forum and announcements dating back to January? Ask yourself, do you make a difference? Can you make a difference without MS or whoever? Do people care? Do you even know with all that light shining in your face?

    Who cares?

  13. @sarbjit singh gill & @Alvin Lau: I’m utterly amazed by the response from the 2 of you. Is that really coming from your heart or are you trying to suck up to someone in Microsoft so that you can renew your MVP next year?

    If everything is like what the 2 of you describe, then kindly explain the current sorry state that Microsoft Singapore Community. Or are the 2 of you still pretending that everything is fine?

    This blog entry by Justin is a wake up call to Microsoft Singapore. If Microsoft Singapore continue to be in denial state, then all I can say is “So long and thank you for the fish”.

  14. From what i am reading, as well as interpreting from my own observations, i do not feel this is centrally about how Microsoft or MVPs per se engage the audience at events or presentations. I think that is a red herring.

    The core problem is how “unparticipative” and “non-activity” the Microsoft developer community at large is. What Justin mentions of other communities and user groups are of “ordinary common folk” coming out to discuss and do the things they are interested in, interacting with each other. I am not referring to talking one-on-one with speakers, but people mingling and collaborating with each other. This is something sorely lacking in the general Microsoft developer populace. There may be some, but it somewhat seems to be always the same regular few. Too few. Personally i _am_ jaded by this lack of hot spots and community energy.

    What can Microsoft Singapore itself do about this? Giving talks and training and making people feel enlightened and happy is one thing, and then getting them to mix and work with each other is another. I am personally unsure how Microsoft can solve something that is a larger cultural and societal problem.

  15. Wow, there are so much response.
    Its nice to see the general community wanting to “click” together to do something. Its really heart warming.

    Being in MS and also as an MVP, working in the community is a huge challenge. There are just so many aspects to it. Really, i can sit down with you for an entire day and work out the entire eco-system of the community aspects.

    Let me put in a fair word on both sides. Everyone’s got their point. I love MVPs, and i love the communities. But there is always a larger picture to things.

    I’ll put up an entry on my blog at http://pingdennis.com about this. Didn’t respond earlier because my batt(thats me, not my laptop ) got juiced out (CTU, TechNet blabla).

    I’ll put in a fair word on this, and its my personal take. 🙂 No flames, no prejudice, just my honest feel and story from under the desk.

    Once i put that blog up, i’ll post here the link. I think its too long to just be a comment. But communities that make noise, are good communities because they indicate that it exists, and paving the way for improvements.

    Thanks to all who contributed on this comment lines, and trust me, there are really things that you do not see on the surface. Be right back with the blog post.. 🙂
    .-= Dennis Chung´s last blog ..Community Technology Update 2009 II – An Inside Update =-.

  16. sarbjit singh gill

    #Halls … suck up to Microsoft ? Now why do i need to do that? Do i need to do that to get my MVP renewed? of course NOT.

    I just keep doing what i do in the IT field and the MVP gets renewed. Even now i am sitting in Seattle having enjoyed a week of collaboration with the SQL Server team. I love it. This had nothing to do with being an MVP but it was about being an MCT.

    So you see Halls, if you get out from under the rock you are in, you will see that the MVP for me, is just a part of what i do.

    Even without it i will still be there in the community. I worked with companies as far as the US (i joined one, UnifySquare) while sitting in Singapore, ran my own consulting business and have customers with me for over 3 years, travelled on tours (NZ, India, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand on Security) with Microsoft and all this had nothing to do with an MVP.

    For me, the MVP status i have is not about the limelite dude. I am not looking for that. I have 4 kids who make me the limelite of their life and that is 100% fullfiling. Ask MicroLau(Alvin) about his kid.

    The MVP is about getting in touch with the product team and other MVPs around the world when i hit the wall on a complex platform/server issues with a customer at 2am at a Data Center on Tuesday. The last time i spend 3 nights solving some ISA integration issue using the free MS support calls MS offers to MVP. My client had vessels in the sea and a change of array configuration brought down very important VPN connectivity to the vessel which does oil and gas production.

    The MVP status is when i am called by Microsoft to do a pre-sales to their enterprise customer which then converts into an engagement to me. Note i am not a MS partner / gold partner, still i get engagements with MS to make a decent and honest living.

    You had it all wrong thinking it was all about MVPs just want to enjoy the limelite. We enjoy the relationship with Microsoft to enhance the customer and community experience and at the same time make a decent living and honest earning for my family.

    When i lost my job at BT in April, MS folks in Redmond helped me connect to companies to see if i can find a job. i was touched but their effort. That is how i joined UnifySquare Inc in Bellevue in November last year.

    So I love what Microsoft does and always will. Also with what Bill Gates does with the Gates and Malinda foundation.

    You immature soul.

  17. Gill don’t get suckered into such an argument. We know this issue has very little, really, about MVPs, and all about the spread of the community – the people, the developers who use .NET as their application development platform.

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