Road to Microsoft MVP - My Journey
As many of you know from Twitter, I became a Microsoft MVP on 1st June 2018. It's still kind of crazy to think about even a few days later but I wanted to share my thoughts, feelings and experiences that led me to get here. Many of you reading may be dreaming of becoming an MVP yourself and this might give you some idea of what you can do too.
TLDR: Get involved as much as you can. Blog, tweet, public speak if you feel able to, reach out to lots of people, this community is amazing! Being an MVP as I proved is not about smashing code out at 3am with your eyes closed, it's about loving what you do and giving back.
I will start as recently as 2017 because that is when it really started properly. I have loved Xamarin since around 2015 but that just led me to trying to make hobby apps every once in a while and following relevant content on Twitter, Xamarin University while I had a a subscription, and Channel 9.
But in 2017 a lot changed in my life. I left a job as a Mobile Software Developer where I was on a team working with Xamarin. It might seem strange to give that up but I had to travel 10 hours a week every week and live out of hotels which made me miserable. Plus the project I was working on had fallen foul of a lot of common architectural errors when it comes to mobile apps and Xamarin so had serious issues that a lot of people were blaming on Xamarin. I can assure you the problems existed once but didn't now, it was just this project was in such a mess the packages couldn't be updated to take in Xamarin fixes and updates.
So for those reasons I decided to give it up and take up a job at the BBC not using Xamarin or even .Net. However giving up Xamarin meant I missed it, so I decided to start a Xamarin User Group here in Manchester in July so I could bring together other members of the community with an interest in Xamarin so we could talk about it, share experiences and meet excellent speakers.
I was lucky to already have good friends in the local .Net user group so when Microsoft were doing a 3-stop tour of the UK to take local community leaders out for dinner, Pete Vickers dropped me an email to make sure I knew about it. This turned out to be an absolutely excellent dinner. 3 courses at Albert Square Chop House which were all delicious and a chance to meet other local user group leaders. You never realise how useful networking is until you do it.
I only had to turn up to this event not organise it in anyway but it was organised and run by Claire Smyth, the Community Program Manager for MVP's here in the UK. As part of her presentation to us about Microsoft and their new focus on working with community, she mentioned the MVP program and an eagerness to ensure that great leaders and experts in the UK in Microsoft product areas are rewarded with MVP status.
Later on in the evening I walked Claire back to her hotel as it involved some less well lit areas in a city she didn't know. We had chance to chat about the MVP program, what it involves and the benefits. I was explaining what it is I do and she gave me an ultimatum in a supportive way; nominate myself within the next week and start building up my portfolio or she will do it herself. I was nowhere near an MVP and never thought I would be but she assured me that applications are reviewed monthly so it is just good to keep adding contributions.
So the next day I did as I was told and nominated myself. I logged the blog post I had written about discovering tech, the link to my user group, the talk I gave in my first user group meetup in early August and a PR I submitted to one of James Montemagno's projects to fix typos.
Talking to all these inspirational local and international leaders though and hearing about what they do reminded me I needed to actually get back into blogging so I slowly started to write a few more blog posts. But these were still few and far between. I actually didn't write a blog post between August and December! :O
In December I wrote a few blog posts covering experiences like coming runner up in the Manchester Hackathon and my trip to the Space Centre in Leicester as part of the MVP and Community Leaders event.
Blogging is something I still don't feel I do enough of but one thing I have learned this year which has helped my blogging to gain some kind of momentum is to find something to write a series about.
My first series was a sort of review of Xamarin in Action by Jim Bennett which is how our friendship started and flourished. I simply wrote posts covering a single chapter or multiple chapters and worked my way through the code sharing my experiences. But I found it easier to blog regularly because it was a series. Plus the book is amazing and kept me wanting to read more. I actually found myself writing posts on my iPad on the tram!
The second series I did and actually only finished and published on Sunday June 3rd is my experience at Microsoft Build in Seattle.
Public Speaking is something I still get super nervous about. Confession time, I have never completed an application! expects shocked faces You heard me right, for one reason or another I have never completed an app. Yet here I am talking about speaking in public!
So to anyone reading this who thinks they are not good enough or don't know enough to give talks, just remember that and think again. Honestly anyone can do it.
I don't have a lot of public speaking experience if I am honest but I have learnt the value of just giving it a go. The workshop I mentioned above is the longest I have stood on a stage but that was fairly easy going as it was just a case of following some instructions from Xamarin and filling in the gaps in some code while explaining to attendees what the heck the code did. Nobody wants you to fail and I found the crowd really helpful when I did silly things like forget a ".
Early on in 2018 I saw a twitter post from a friend of mine from the Manchester tech scene mentioning UpFrontConf, a local front-end web developer conference held annually. They were running a diversity scholarship whereby 5 selected people would receive a full day's training, a free ticket and a 5-minute lightning talk slot at the conference. I assumed hundreds of people would apply so I filled it in with the sort of "why not?" mindset. A few weeks later I found out I was one of the selected, woah!
But I received amazing training on presenting as well as help actually writing the presentation, I met some lovely women who are also kick-ass speakers and got the chance to stand in front of 250 people and talk about how a Tracy Beaker themed meeting room in the BBC got me thinking about neurodiversity. I wouldn't have got that chance if I hadn't gone for it and just applied.
This new found confidence and "just give it a go" attitude also helped me secure a spot at ProgNet 2018 in London later in the year. My talk isn't even written yet it is just an idea but I submitted an application to speak anyway and was accepted, woah!
I have also done some other odd bits and pieces that seemed to make contributions.
As I touched on earlier, one of my first 'OSS contributions' I made was to start submitting pull requests on the Readme's of some of James Montemagno's blogs. I am lucky to call him my friend so he won't mind me saying that he is sometimes terrible at writing docs and blog posts! The content is absolutely amazing every time but there are often typos, missed words and sentences that don't make sense because his brain is too hyped on caffeine and genius ideas. But he knows this and has openly admitted on Merge Conflict (his podcast with the equally amazing Frank Krueger) more than once that he appreciates corrections. So I started making a habit of it. I was too scared/overwhelmed by Imposter Syndrome to fix bugs or issues but correcting typo's was a nice cosy way of feeling like I was contributing while not leaving my comfort zone.
I have been a lover of Merge Conflict since episode one, a question I tweeted James actually led to a whole episode about app design. I also sold James a NES Classic last year (he wouldn't take it for free before you say anything lol) and took the opportunity to send them something I bet they never receive, real fan mail and not just tweets or email. They loved it and got super excited on the podcast about it <3.
So when I woke up on New Years Day 2018 and saw a new episode of Merge Conflict was out I immediately took a look. I always have a sneak peek at the episode links as it gives a taster of what is to come and my eyes were immediately drawn to Patreon. "I can be their first ever supporter? Totally I LOVE them. GO GO GO" was the thought process in my head. Patreon was actually down for maintenence which made it super stressful as it meant a lot to me to be the first supporter considering how much the podcast has helped me but I did it!
The best part about being a supporter though is access to a Discord group where you can chat to other supporters and the legend presenters themselves! This just naturally led to James and I chatting far more than we did on Twitter, practically every day for a while and I was able to message him corrections to things not on Github like Episode descriptions or his blog posts. It's not exactly an industry secret that James never stops. I did my best to make his life as easy as possible by always giving him corrections in markdown format so all he had to do was copy and paste.
But after a while he realised it was easier to just let me edit things myself and he knew me well enough to trust me completely with his personal blog (I can post new posts on montemagno.com not just edit so that is real trust) that he added me as an Editor on his Ghost admin so I can log in and fix things either in retrospect or while still in draft state. As time has gone on it has moved from just me logging in to fix things (yes I sat there and edited every single post he has ever written for at least the past 2 years if not longer) to him actually dropping me a message to ask me to check over stuff for him.
Yup community contributions can come from really weird places!
My pedantry and love of Xamarin is public knowledge (mainly on Twitter) which also led me to being asked by my favourite Xamarin University trainer if I wanted to join him curating relevant Xamarin content for the Weekly Xamarin newsletter. It takes a lot of time and the more perspectives you get the more interesting each issue is. Of course I said yes! A new issue comes out each Friday on Weekly Xamarin and over the course of the week Kym, Geoff Huntley and I gather together links for stuff you might find cool or helpful. Apparently we have 2,900 subscribers so shows how much Xamarin is loved!
I won't count Youtube as I have only ever found the confidence to make one video.
Twitter is an interesting one. I am up to nearly 400 followers now which seems crazy. But that has slowly grown over time as I have interacted with more people. Whether that be directly, likes or retweets. The key is to just share what you find interesting. Simple as that. Don't try to be someone you are not. There will always be people out there who love what you do.
Twitter is actually how I talk to Jim Bennett and he has literally changed my life. We DM at least once a week but regularly like and retweet each other's content because we love the same things including GIF's <3. Thanks to Jim, I was gifted a ticket to Microsoft Build in Seattle from the Cloud Developer Advocacy team as a thank you for all my community contributions.
I had to self-fund the travel and expenses so will be paying it off for the rest of the year but I had the trip of a lifetime and that was all thanks to the community and Microsoft so get yourself out there and you will be amazed what things can happen; in the space of 4 weeks I travelled to the USA, met amazing people including Miguel de Icaza, James and Frank, saw an incredible city I fell in love with and then became a Microsoft MVP.
This for me is a bit like the acknowledgements section you get in the front of books but I would not be here, either in life or as an MVP if it wasn't for some people so I just wanted to take a minute to recognise their contributions as me becoming an MVP was a team effort.
Mitch Muenster - Mitch contacted me last year because he read my blog post about how discovering code saved my life and my mention of being neurodiverse. We got chatting about our experiences living life with Autistic Spectrum Conditions as developers and in general. Mitch has been a well-deserved Microsoft and Xamarin MVP for many years now and was one of the first to encourage me to step out my comfort zone and get involved in the community because I made no secret of how much I wanted to give back after technology changed my life.
Jim Bennett - Jim seems to crop up in nearly every single one of my blog posts because he has made that much of a difference to my life. Whether it be writing an awesome book I could review, retweeting nearly everything I write allowing my profile to be raised or being an unwavering and amazing member of the Luce fan club. He has been encouraging me to get involved, making sure I never undersell my contributions (I am not allowed to call my ticket to Build free for example as he argues I earned it) and seems to be around or responsible for some of the best moments of my life like meeting James, Miguel and visiting the Channel 9 Studio. Plus it turns out he sponsored my MVP nomination when asked so I really wouldn't be an MVP without him!
James Montemagno - Amazingly I have only met James once but as you can tell from this blog post, we have spoken quite a lot. But to me James is the public speaker I want to be. He is enthusiastic, passionate, knowledgable and amazingly calm when stuff happens! James' knowledge, kind soul, attitude and generosity in time, wisdom (and waffles) have inspired me regularly to try stuff out. He is the first Xamarin developer I binge watched on Youtube and he deserves every cent of my $20 in Patreon support for the amount of stuff I know now about Xamarin because of him.
Anna Holland-Smith - Anna is a former colleague at the BBC and now a great friend. She is a total rock star in the local tech scene. She runs a bootcamp to help refugees learn to code, is co-organiser of the local Code First: Girls course and also co-organises Codebar.io here in Manchester (as well as so many other things to help the community ranging from organising to appearing on panels through to podcasts) and without her I wouldn't have had so many opportunities to help pass on my knowledge and experiences learning to code to new students.
My Friends - I didn't have any proper, true real-life friends until 10 years ago because I struggled to know how to interact with people and nobody would give me a chance. But I feel like the 19 years I spent mostly alone were worth it for the friends I now have. None of my friends except 1 I am talking about in this section are actually mobile developers in any way. But they support me no matter what and make me believe in myself enough to give it a go.
My mum - last but not least my mum. It might seem cheesy writing about my mum but for a long time she was my only real friend that lasted. To this day she is still one of my best friends. She had a lot to deal with when my brother and I were young yet she still managed to be a hard working inspiration. I ring her every few days even now and share my week with her, hear about hers and talk tech. She hardly ever understands what I am talking about (despite being incredibly techy for a mum) but she listens anyway and celebrates all my successes. That unwavering support and listening ear is what keeps me sane as I love to talk!
It sounds weird, Luce Carter - Microsoft MVP but it has happened. If I can do it, so can you! I didn't set out to become an MVP at all. All I ever want to do is give back to the community and make sure as many people as possible who want to discover tech or learn to code can find a way to do that. But becoming an MVP for me is validation I do the right things for the community so I am thrilled. I plan to use my new found powers and access to resources to spread that love and access even further and I can't wait to see what the next year brings.
I will be honest, even now the Imposter Syndrome hasn't gone. I actually feel even more pressure to be this 'expert' Microsoft keep describing MVP's as. I can't sit there and tell you the perfect way to architect your Xamarin app for every possible scenario but I can tell you where to go to find the right people. I can send you a link, make an introduction or use my access to product teams to get help I can pass on. I can't send you a link to an app I have released on iOS, Android or any other platform because I haven't released one, but I can promise to give as much advice as I can, share your successes on Twitter and be genuinely pleased for you when you release something.
So dear readers that is what you get from this MVP. Not 20 years worth of tech experience as I only graduated from University in late 2014 but I promise to give you as much as I can in knowledge, love, support and time. Thank you for reading this and being part of the amazing community that has got me into this incredible position I feel so lucky to be in.