Microsoft gives a “Most Valuable Professional” (MVP) award each year to deserving individuals. Individuals that are “technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies.” This article is the first in a series we’ll be publishing each week about the MVP experience, and how each person came to be a part of the “family”. This week, meet Ken Slovak, the longest running member of the Outlook MVP group, pictured here with the best co-worker he’s ever had:
Want to read more interviews with Outlook MVPs? Check out this list..
You’ve been an MVP for almost 20 years, any advice you would give to the newbies?
Three things mainly:
- Do whatever community work or support that you do for the pleasure of helping people, not so you can become an MVP. People will notice the difference.
- Remember that MS owns the product or technology for which you’re an MVP. You should advocate for the consumer, but it’s MS that decides where the product will go.
- There is very little or no institutional memory in the product groups. People come and go, and often after a major release the entire roster of the product group turns over. Make sure that the new product group members know of previous discussions, bugs, promises, product shortcomings and things that work well. The product group will do what it wants but it’s important that they have the benefit of the historical perspective and continuity that the MVP’s provide.
I know you’ve written and contributed to several books, such as The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. Are you working on a new book? Or contributing to a new book?
No, I’m not working on any books at the moment. I mostly wrote or contributed to programming books, and those don’t sell these days. Even MS Press doesn’t put out books any more about programming Outlook, my specialty.
I know you’re part of the core/original Outlook MVP group. How has the group changed over the years? Do you all stay in contact?
We still stay in touch to some extent, but not like before when we were all MVP’s. We’ve lost and added members over the years, but the comradery and team spirit we had in those days with the people from the original Outlook 97 and then Outlook 98 betas hasn’t been duplicated since. That’s something I really miss.
How did you end up working on Outlook? What made you choose Microsoft products?
I became an engineering consultant in 1997 and needed something to be a personal information manager and email program for my business. I started using Outlook for that from the Office 97 suite and soon found I had questions that the books and manuals couldn’t answer. I started asking questions in the Outlook support newsgroups and soon started answering questions myself. In the summer of 1998 I was invited to become an Outlook MVP, and I soon shifted my business model from engineering work to Outlook programming, which I enjoyed more.
You’ve developed several .COM add-ins for Outlook over the years. Which one was your favorite or most successful?
I think the one I enjoyed the most was Reminder Manager. I wrote that to respond to requests for MS to provide Outlook reminders from locations such as Exchange public folders, Exchange delegate mailboxes, non-default PST files and other data stores and locations not supported for reminders by MS in Outlook. I also wrote Reminder Manger as a technical demonstration of the types of programs I could create. A few years later at a pre-beta party for Office 2007 I was approached by one of the PM’s on the Outlook team and told that they had started providing reminders from a number of previously unsupported locations because of my Reminder Manager product.
Any plans to visit Seattle again to meet up with everyone?
I haven’t traveled as much as I used to in recent years, so I’m not sure about any reunions in Seattle.
Thanks for speaking with me Ken!