Inland Empire .NET User's Group - Most Valuable Member

By James at July 09, 2008 12:26
Filed Under: Inland Empire .NET UG, Life in General

When I started the Inland Empire .NET User's Group almost 5 years ago, my goal was to create a thriving .NET development community here in the IE, a place where people didn't have to drive so far to attend user group meetings, where local networks could form, where employers in the IE could come to recruit talented, professional developers and was recognized for our development prowess.

I was having a lot of fun with the group and watching it grow. People would come and go, some offering to help, but never coming back. But it was not the dynamic community I had envisioned.

So, a little over a year ago, I was thinking up some ways to increase both the membership and the involvement of the Inland Empire .NET User’s Group. I had heard of, run by David Silverlight, and decided to adapt it to the IEDOTNETUG, gearing it more towards a local community, and specifically for rewarding those who contributed directly back to the group. I had fun coming up with the topics and point system, some of which are:

Be the first to RSVP and Attend a monthly meeting 50 points
RSVP and Attend a monthly meeting 20 points
Assist with meeting setup 200 points
Assist with meeting teardown 150 points
Bring a guest 50 points
Give a 15 minute presentation to the group 300 points
Write a book review on a book won as a raffle prize 500 points
My intention was for the top point achiever to get 1) some recognition, 2) a boatload of swag, and 3) a little help in running the group.
Without much planning, or talking to those who could provide the "boatload of swag", I jumped right in and announced it at the July 2007 User Group meeting. There was some enthusiasm for the program, but most, I think, were like "yeah sure". It took a while for the idea to catch on in the group, and points weren't being generated like I had hoped. I started talking to my sponsors about helping out with prizes, but again, most of them were like, "MVM...what's that?" Every month at the UG meetings I would remind people to submit their points and give them an update on what the prizes were.
In talking with my good friend, Rachel Hawley at Red Gate software, she came on board, offering both some cool prizes, but most importantly some really good advice, suggestions and opinions.
Ah... our first MVM sponsor! Sweet! Now that the members could see there was something they could get for participating, the point submissions started coming in. But still not quite as much as I had hoped for. Thinking a bit on it, I came up with a devious plan, I changed the rules a bit:
  • Point submission would expire 2 months after the activity date (I didn't want to have to keep track of something 11 months ago.)
  • If points were submitted with 7 days of the meeting, they were doubled.
  • If there were more than 20 attendees at the meeting, the points were doubled again (see where I'm going? let's get more people at the meetings).
Think about it. Before, "Assist with meeting setup" was 200 points, but now it could be worth 800 points!
Once the new rules were in play, participation started growing. Ok, now I had players it was up to me to get the prizes. I had wanted Microsoft to donate a MSDN Subscription, and our MSFT DE, Woody Pewitt tried his darndest, but the lawyers and accountants got involved and this idea just wasn't going to fly. I also have developed a really fantastic relationship with my contact at JetBrains, Britt King. We communicate a lot and bounce a lot of ideas off of each other. Britt started getting excited about the MVM program as well, and committed to providing JetBrains licenses as well. Cool beans! Sponsor number 2.
It's April, the point totals are climbing, with more people participating and I'm still working on sponsors. Telerik is on board, Marsee at O'Reilly is on board. But Microsoft is still holding out. I can't figure it out, as this is a .NET User's Group.
Fast forward to June.The MVM awards event is next month. The sponsors are lined up, everyone is excited, there is a definite buzz about the program, and INETA is starting to ask me about it, "What is this MVM thing?". At our June meeting, I finally meet a local developer, who has been trying to come to the meetings, but just hasn't been able to make it. His name is Al Pascual, and he is a Microsoft MVP. He has in his hands a certificate for a MSDN Team Suite Premium Subscription, one of three which Microsoft gives to MVPs to hand out. YES!! The prizes are complete.
I am amazed at the level of competition which is taking off. I am being bombarded on a daily basis with MVM point submissions. There are 5 participants who are all within 2000 points of each other, and I start thinking, I can't just award one MVM. So I decide to have the MVM with a First and Second Runner Up. All the sponsors think it's a great idea and pitch in even more to support the program.
Carmina decides since this is such a special event, the typical pizza just won't do. She gets her good friend Imelda started on planning to make a giant batch of chile rellanos. Booyah! Carmina and I spend the weekend before the event putting the prizes together. Printing out certificates, making awards boxes, packaging up JetBrains t-shirts with Red Gate thumb drives to hand out to all the MVM participants. Sweating the details, practicing my presentation, making sure things will go right. We're ready to go, when "uh-oh".
My friend Efren Toscano who has this cool company TechZulu is going to come and videotape the event, but his correspondent has backed out, and we need to find someone who 1) knows tech, 2) has a great personality and 3) doesn't mind working for a piece of pizza and a Diet Pepsi. As I stare at my monitor, thinking about this, my eyes wander to my GTalk window, then to my buddy Josh Highland's icon. Josh has hacked GTalk so it always shows him as being available...usually he's not. Hmm, Josh meets the three criteria, plus he's a born and raised Inland Empire developer (PHP and ColdFusion, but I don't hold that against him).
Click, not expecting a response till morning. To my surprise he's there. Serendipity. It goes like this:

me: hey, give me a ping i have a favor to ask
joshhighland: yo
me: you're there? wow?
joshhighland: yup ha
me: are you doing anything Tuesday night?
joshhighland: id have to check with the schedule keeper, aka my wife whats going on?
me: TechZulu is coming to videotape the Most Valuable Member event he needs a correspondent...someone to do the interviews
joshhighland: awesome where at?
me: woud you be interested in doing it? i need someone with personalilty and is techy/geeky Riverside Medical Clinic
joshhighland: yeah, lets do it i'm in

It's all coming together and we're ready to go. The people are showing up, the chile rellanos are awesome, there is an excitement in the air. Carmina and Imelda are there checking in people and selling raffle tickets. Efren and Josh are doing their interviews. It doesn't get any better than this. We have our meeting, present the MVM awards, attendees are happy, excited and stoked. My presentation goes great. Afterwards people are hanging around talking and chatting.
This is what I live for with this group. This is why I do it.
Pictures of the event are on Flickr
edit 7/15/2008
This just in! My buddy Josh Highland just wrote about his experiences as a TechZulu correspondent. Read it here.

Comments (7) -

7/9/2008 1:12:23 PM #

Josh Highland

Great event James. I hope I get cover more of them. Keep doing what you are doing.

Josh Highland | Reply

7/10/2008 6:46:06 AM #

Lynn Langit

Awesome job James!  

Lynn Langit | Reply

7/10/2008 10:28:27 PM #


Always a pleasure James! Great to work with you ... as ever.

Rachel | Reply

7/20/2008 7:20:51 PM #

Britt King

Congrats on MVM being a huge success! We're thrilled to have been a part of it. Keep up the great work.

Britt King | Reply

7/29/2008 2:12:35 AM #

John Dunagan

Nice work adapting the points system to your Group.

I'm wondering myself, if I might want to do something like that with the local people for our upcoming Code Camp.

John Dunagan | Reply

7/29/2008 7:17:56 AM #


Hi John,

It's an easy program to implement. The hardest part was generating interest at first among the users. For a 2 day code camp, it might need some tweaking.


James | Reply

7/31/2008 10:49:09 AM #

Joe Walling


Thanks. There are some great ideas here.  We did something similar in Greenville SC, but didn't get as much participation as I would have expected.  I will have to try it again; only this time with some of the angles that you added in.

Joe Walling | Reply

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About the author

James James is a five time and current Microsoft MVP in Client App Development, a Telerik Insider, a past Director on the INETA North America Board, a husband and dad, and has been developing software since the early days of Laser Discs and HyperCard stacks. As the Founder and President of the Inland Empire .NET User's Group, he has fondly watched it grow from a twice-a-month, early Saturday morning group of five in 2003, to a robust and rambunctious gathering of all types and sizes of .NET developers.

James loves to dig deep into the latest cutting edge technologies - sometimes with spectacular disasters - and spread the word about the latest and greatest bits, getting people excited about developing web sites and applications on the .NET platform, and using the best tools for the job. He tries to blog as often as he can, but usually gets distracted by EF, LINQ, MVC, ASP, SQL, XML, and most other types of acronyms. To keep calm James plays a mean Djembe and tries to practice his violin. You can follow him on twitter at @latringo.

And as usual, the comments, suggestions, writings and rants are my own, and really shouldn't reflect the opinions of my employer. That is, unless it really does.

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