I spent all day today at the New York Microsoft office at a regional gathering of Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals). I have been a Visual Basic MVP for about a year now, in addition to being an RD (Regional Director) for about 3 years. RDs were invited as well, though I was the only one in attendance.
This was a great opportunity to meet other MVPs from the New York/New Jersey region as well as to meet MVP program execs from Redmond, TechNet event staff, and Bob Suess (pronounced "cease" and not like the guy who wrote "Cat in the Hat") who is the new Regional DPE Director for the entire East region. DPE stands for Developer Platform Evangelism, and despite the similarity in title, the Regional DPE Director is not an RD.
All Microsoft people present, both Redmond-based and NY/NJ-based, told us what they did, what their goals were and then very patiently listened to our feedback and ideas. Let me just say that it was refreshing to have Redmond people come out to "the field" and also very encouraging to see that someone in the field like Bob Suess was clearly excited about working with developer influencers and building community. Those of us who have been working for years to build successful user groups appreciate the local support and the opportunity to meet people from headquarters without having to get on a plane and go straight across the country and three timezones to do so.
I really know of no other software company that works so closely with 3rd party experts and enthusiasts. I'd like to hear from anybody who knows otherwise, because I have to assume that IBM, Oracle, Sun, and other firms must at least have some initiatives in this area, even if they're smaller and less organized.