A couple of Sunday's ago was the last day of our family holiday. We'd hired a static caravan in Wales for the week, and other than busting my ankle at a trampoline park in Cardiff - it was a great holiday! And on that last day, it got a lot better! My wife Anna was at the beach with Jack (our eldest) and I was at the caravan with Mason (our 3-year-old). I checked my email on my phone, and saw that I had an email from Microsoft saying that I'd been awarded the Microsoft MVP award!!
I remember being so excited that I needed to tell someone straight away - so I told Mason, the only person with me at the time. Remember he's only 3. I think my excitement must have been contagious, as he also got really excited and kept on saying "where is it?", "I want to see it!", "where can I see it?" (in his tiny little cute 3-year-old voice). He didn't really understand the reason I was so excited, but he could clearly tell that I was! I couldn't really explain to him what a huge honour it is to receive this award!
Being a big Twitter user, I then posted a Tweet out about it...
Wow! Just had a very exciting email! I'm very honoured and proud to say that I've just been awarded the Microsoft MVP award (Developer Technologies category)! A massive thanks to @ClaireS_MS for her help! I cant stop grinning! 😁 I guess I now get to use the #MVPBuzz hashtag too!— Dan Clarke (@dracan) September 1, 2019
I was amazed at the positive response from the awesome Twitter community! So many nice comments, and I've never had a tweet with so many likes before!
Rather than explaining this myself, Microsoft has a nice explanation on their MVP website, which I'll pinch...
"For more than two decades, 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. Key benefits to MVPs include early access to Microsoft products, direct communication channels with our product teams and an invitation to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive annual event hosted in our global HQ in Redmond. They also have a very close relationship with the local Microsoft teams in their area, who are there to support and empower MVPs to address needs and opportunities in the local ecosystem. Other benefits include an executive recognition letter, an MSDN technical subscription, and an Office 365 subscription."
As mentioned in that quote, there are benefits that come with it - eg. MSDN subscription, LinkedIn Premium, plenty of free 3rd-party licences, etc. All of these are amazing benefits, but they are things you could buy if you wanted to. The true benefits come from the stuff money can't buy. Obviously, a big one is the MVP status. It's a sign that Microsoft has recognised you as an individual who has made exceptional (in their words!) contributions to the community. With there being only just over 2000 MVPs worldwide, this is quite a big thing to be able to say! Then there's the early access to things happening in some of Microsoft products (which we have to sign an NDA for obviously).
One other benefit that I'm particularly excited about is the global MVP Summit, which is a yearly event in Redmond for MVPs. From chatting with existing MVPs, this event sounds amazing! The next one is March next year, and I'm probably being too keen, but I've booked my flights already! Can't wait! :)
Flights now booked for next year's Microsoft MVP Summit! Can't wait! #mvpbuzz— Dan Clarke (@dracan) September 8, 2019
This is certainly something I keep on asking myself! But I thought in this section, I'd explain my journey to getting the award. First of all, none of what I've done in the community - eg. blogging, the user-groups, public speaking, etc - has been done with the intention of becoming an MVP. I did it because I have a deep love and passion of technology, learning, and also sharing what I learn. The MVP award is just a really nice bonus that I certainly wasn't expecting!
I was initially nominated by co-organiser of .NET Oxford, Matt Nield at the start of 2018. I was then nominated again by MVP Steve Gordon, who runs .NET South East, and I've gotten to know via various conversations about running user groups and also at many of the various DDD Conferences. I've also been down to his user-group in Brighton on an all-day hackathon he ran with Richard Campbell himself (see my blog post about this)! I'd like to say a massive thank you to both Matt and Steve for nominating me!
It wasn't until April this year when it came up in a random conversation on Twitter, where the MVP Lead at Microsoft, Claire Smyth got in touch to see if I was available for a chat over the phone about my nominations. I was quite nervous about this first meeting, as we'd never met and I had no idea if this meeting was a good sign, or if it was just so she could explain why I wasn't suitable! It turned out to be a good sign, although at the time, it was literally just a chat to get more information about the stuff that I've done. She was amazing though - really great to chat to, and I had no reason at all to be nervous. I can't remember exactly how long we spoke for, but I'm fairly sure it was over an hour - chatting about everything from technology to parenthood! And we've had quite a few catchup meetings since. We still haven't met in person yet, but I look forward to finally meeting and thanking her for all the help! I should point out that even though we'd had these discussions prior to my being awarded, I had no indication whether I would or would not get the award until the day I received it.
The category I was awarded under is 'Developer Technologies'. I think this is the perfect choice, as whilst .NET Oxford has the word '.NET' in the name - it's not just about .NET, and I'm also not really contributing anything towards the framework or languages themselves (which are now obviously open source). The aim of .NET Oxford is to cover topics of interest to a .NET developer. So it's a user-group for .NET developers. This covers a wide variety of topics. Likewise, my blog post and talks are quite general covering topics such as Azure, Docker, Kubernetes, Git, best practices, as well as .NET. So I think the 'Developer Technologies' category works really well.
I should probably touch on my background before delving into the community things I've worked on. First of all, I haven't got a degree. Yes, you don't have to have a degree to be an MVP! I did a National Diploma followed by a Higher National Diploma in Computer Studies from '94-98, then was offered a job as a programmer straight afterwards. I could have done a top-up degree, but given the job offer, I decided to go straight into the real world and start writing code as a career rather than just the hobby it was at the time.
This first job was working with 3D graphics using C++. I worked there for about three years before moving to another company for a year doing a similar kind of thing. It was there I decided that given I was working with 3D graphics and DirectX, I wanted to work in the computer games industry. I initially looked locally (which was the Lancashire/Manchester area at the time), but then decided that I'd tell the recruitment agencies that I could work anywhere in the country. This was where I got offered a job in Oxfordshire at an Empire Interactive studio called Razorworks working on actual computer games engines in C and C++. This involved most aspects of games engine programming - from 3D graphics, to audio, to networking, to user interfaces. It was actually at Razorworks where I met my now wife, Anna!
Six years after being at Razorworks, we got told the studio was closing down. After a month's consultation period, we actually got bought out by another local games company, Rebellion. So one day, we all put our computers in our cars, drove to the other side of Oxford, and walked into the Rebellion offices with computers in arms. The Rebellion offices were huge compared to what we were used to (and completely open-plan too!).
I was there for over 3 years before deciding that I needed a change from the games industry. I had been doing bits of web-based freelance on the side, and thought I'd give it a go full-time. Unfortunately, at the time, I soon found that this wasn't for me. Anna worked full-time, and back then we had no kids. I had been used to an open-plan office with ~200 people, and I found it far too isolating being at home all day on my own. Also, my only web experience at the time had been PHP - which really wasn't something I wanted to specialise in. I had done some WinForms C# desktop development, but that was about it at that stage. It was enough to know that I really liked .NET though! I decided to get a full-time job as a .NET developer to get experience before trying again on my own.
Luckily, I was hired by a local company developing websites with WebForms (one could argue that's not lucky at all, but remember this was quite a few years ago!). I was there for over three years before moving to another company in Newbury where I did quite a lot of work with automated testing and microservice REST APIs. Unfortunately this company went under after my being there for about 8 months (not due to me I might add! ;)).
I had been considering the move to contracting for a bit at this stage. When that company went under, this was the kick up the butt that I needed to start looking for a contract instead of a permanent job. Luckily I found my first main contract fairly quickly, and this is where I met Matt Nield (co-organiser of .NET Oxford). This was in 2016, and I've been contracting ever since, working with various different companies. Whilst all involving .NET, most have involved the full-stack dealing with frontend, backend, database, cloud, and architecture.
Whilst I've been programming for quite a long time now, and I've always enjoyed it - my true passion for it and the need to learn more and more and engage in the community really only initially came about when I started heavily listening to podcasts. I think the first podcast I started properly listening to was Security Now by Steve Gibson. This was many years ago, and I remember going for bike rides listening to it and also having it on in my car. I learnt a lot about security and cryptography from it, and this is where I started to realise how much more I was learning by listening to podcasts. Something I could do whilst doing other things, eg. riding my bike, driving the car, cooking, tidying the house, at the gym, etc, etc. I then started listening to other podcasts, eg. Deep Fried Bytes (which is sadly no longer a thing), then .NET Rocks, and many others.
Over time hearing the passion that both the presenters and speakers have about software development really started to rub off on me. It's true what they say - put yourself in the company of people you want to be like. At the time, there wasn't a huge amount of passion for software development at my current company, so I initially got this from podcasts. This then started to frustrate me at my current workplace where the more I learnt, the more I realised we could improve (we weren't using CI/CD, automated testing, etc), and even though I suggested these things many times, and it would have greatly increased productivity and saved a lot of time - the company weren't really that interested. So eventually, I resigned and moved to a company that was into much more interesting tech, and I was much happier. And as my own need to learn more and be more part of the community increased, and found myself blogging more. Then after a particular episode of .NET Rocks where the guest speaker was talking about starting a user-group - I decided to either join a local .NET user-group, or start one myself...
A big part of why I was awarded the MVP award is down to the .NET Oxford user group that I started together with Matt Nield nearly three years ago. Even writing this, I can't believe it's been that long! As mentioned above, when I initially had the idea of starting it, it was because I wanted to join a .NET group, then found there wasn't one in Oxford, so thought, well why not start one?! Since then, it's grown into a great community of developers in the Oxfordshire area - much bigger than I initially expected! We've even had big names joining us, for example, Jon Skeet (blog post) and Uncle Bob (meetup notes with video)!
I've met so many people through doing .NET Oxford - from local developers I've gotten to know from the events; to all the different speakers who have come to join us; to developers on Twitter who I've either interacted with on Twitter or met in person at various other user groups or conferences. It never ceases to amaze me how incredible the developer community is, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of it!
Up until recently, I've been writing quite in-depth blog post about each of our meetups. Because this was taking a lot of my time, instead of these blog posts, I've now created a dedicated website, dotnetoxford.com which includes meetup notes, photos, and any other relevant links for each meetup.
I certainly couldn't have done .NET Oxford on my own though - so I'd like to say a massive thank you to Matt (the other organiser, who also was one of the people who nominated me for the award!); our amazing sponsors Corriculo Recruitment; all the amazing speakers we've had; and of course all our members!
I'm a big fan of Azure, and .NET Oxford certainly has covered quite a few Azure topics. However, only a few months ago, I decided that given I want to focus more of my attention (both personal learning and with the community) to Azure - it might be a nice idea to start a dedicated Azure user-group. That way, we can cover a lot more Azure topics - for which there are many!
So I contacted Corriculo who sponsor .NET Oxford, and asked if they'd be interested in doing the same for Azure Oxford, and they said yes! So with the decision made, I started the ball rolling (see my blog post about Starting Azure Oxford). Shortly after writing that blog post, James World got in touch expressing interest in being a co-organiser. James has spoken quite a few times now at .NET Oxford (both full talks and lightning talks), and is someone I have a huge amount of respect for. An avid reader whose depth and breadth of knowledge never ceased to amaze me. So I was of course more than happy to start the Azure Oxford adventure together with James as co-founder!
Azure Oxford doesn't mean I'm doing anything less for .NET Oxford - this will still remain the same, and hopefully both monthly user-groups will be going strong for years to come!
Before starting .NET Oxford, the only public speaking I'd ever done was my wedding speech. In the lead-up to our first meetup, where I did the initial intro talk - I wasn't nervous at all. Then it was the event, and people started arriving! People actually started arriving. A lot of people. This is where the nerves kicked in! I had practised the intro talk, so didn't forget my lines - however, where when practising at home I was confident and using arm motions - I remember at the event, I was pacing and had my hands in my pockets, and was shaking (hopefully the shaking wasn't too obvious!). It all went okay though, I finished and our first-ever speaker, Stuart Leeks took over the stage for his talk. Stuart's a fantastic speaker and has spoken at .NET Oxford a few times now. Watching the energy and passion he put into the talk immediately made me want to get back up there. It's amazing how addictive public speaking can be, and I've found myself doing it ever since - going from the intro talks, to lightning talks, then full-length talks both at .NET Oxford, Azure Oxford, and conferences! The list of my talks can be found on my public speaking page in this blog.
But the gratification isn't just about my own public speaking either. We have regular lightning talk events, and seeing first-time speakers get up there and do a talk in front of an audience, knowing that they probably wouldn't have done it without this community you've helped build, is so immensely satisfying. And I think that's one of the key important things about doing this kind of work - it's not just about self-growth, but also that of others, and the community as a whole.
I've also been blogging for a few years now on and off. A lot of them have been about .NET Oxford and there are quite a lot of in-depth posts I've written about our meetups. There are also other posts talking about general developer related topics - eg. I've got posts on Docker, LINQPad, Vim, Git, etc, etc. I enjoy writing, and when I write posts, I must be honest, I don't really expect that many people to read them. So it always surprises me when people tell me over Twitter or come up to me at conferences and tell me that they read and enjoy my posts! It certainly motivates me to write more. If you're a fan of someone's blog, books, podcasts, whatever - do remember to let them know. Don't just enjoy their work in silence. It makes a huge difference, and motivates them to create more stuff!
Okay, so I've spent quite a long time there talking about me. What about you? Do you want to become an MVP? Trust me, if I can get awarded, anyone can! I'm not more intelligent than the next person, or any better than the next developer. The only difference is that I don't see software development as a job - I see it as a passion. And that's what it's all about. Don't aim to become an MVP - just do what you love, and share what you love. Start a blog. Find a local user-group, and submit a lightning talk. Contribute to open-source. Get out of your comfort zone, and most of all, have fun doing it! It can be life changing!