Meet a Microsoft MVP: J. C. Griffith

John C. Griffith is a Microsoft Windows Expert-Consumer and owner of the Sysnative support forums, which is staffed by Microsoft MVPs and other helpful technical experts, some of which have been interviewed here already.

1. John, please tell us a little of your background: employment, training, your first PC, etc.

I earned a degree in Accounting/Finance from Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. I ended up specializing in State/Local Sales & Use Taxes during my first job after college with a Fortune 100 company in Wilmington, DE. 80386 DOS-based PCs were widely in use at the time, but I used PCs primarily to access IBM mainframe DBs and financial/tax reports.

I have no formal training in systems, but did manage to learn DOS and various IBM mainframe related languages on my own. I enjoyed the challenges associated with programming and before long was transferred to the systems side of the aisle within the Finance Department supporting financial related systems.

An opportunity for a complete re-write of the company’s US & Canadian Sales & Use Tax system presented itself and I ended up as project director. I greatly enjoyed the project as I was proficient in both the tax and programming sides.

My career path with this company and others that followed swung back and forth between systems and finance. Ultimately, I went out on my own as a consultant specializing in sales & use taxes and mainframe systems.

It wasn’t until late 2007 that I ventured behind the Windows Desktop for the very first time under Vista after experiencing a BSOD epidemic that the laptop manufacturer was unable to solve. They kept replacing hardware parts, but to no avail. I ended up learning just enough of Windows and BSOD kernel debugging (Windbg) on my own to determine that an outdated wifi driver was the sole cause of my BSODs!

2. How did you become an MVP, and what were your thoughts when you first heard of getting the award?

I became fascinated by the World of Windows and Windbg troubleshooting who solved my BSOD issue. I joined my very first technical forum (TSF Forums) in late 2007 where I began helping others with their problems.

In early 2008, I was asked to join TSF’s Microsoft Support Staff and became a Moderator six months later. In October 2009, I was a recipient of the Microsoft MVP award for the first time. In May 2010, I was promoted to Microsoft Support Manager at TSF. A year later, I accepted a position as a site Administrator. Looking back now, I find it incredible that I never knew these forums existed before this time, but I used PCs primarily to access mainframe systems and not the Internet in general.

My first inkling that I was a candidate for MVP came on September 14, 2009, when I received an email from Microsoft titled “Regarding MVP Award – Shipping Address”. The content read: “As we complete your MVP award, we have one item I need to finalize. What mailing address would be the best to use to ship to you?”. I wasn’t sure what to make of it as I had no other correspondence from Microsoft regarding the MVP award, so I asked others at the forum about it. Several told me to discard the email – that it was spam! I decided to answer it and asked if I was indeed an MVP award recipient. Microsoft replied: “Officially, you will have to wait until October 1 to get the award notification. . . but unofficially, the address is used only to mail MVP award kits. J”

On October 1, 2009, I received the official MVP award email. Needless to say, I am glad that I replied to the email!

I honestly didn’t know much about the MVP program and was rather stunned when awarded as I had only been posting at tech forums for 1.5 years. The MVP award was not something that I sought out, but obviously someone nominated me thinking my work on the forums deserved recognition. I have since learned who likely nominated me and am very grateful as I have thoroughly enjoyed being a Microsoft MVP for the last 5+ years.

3. Microsoft considers you a Windows Expert-Consumer MVP, but what areas or subjects do you like to ‘specialize’ in or feel you are most proficient in?

I primarily focus on Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) issues as well as general Windows troubleshooting. I enjoy working on “running threads” where a lot of Q&A with the OP is needed or those threads where the OP’s problem is not something that can easily be found with a simple Google search.

One thread that comes to mind involved Sound Recorder in 2010. While not particularly difficult in the end, this thread illustrates the type of troubleshooting I enjoy –

4. Tell us about your site, what made you decide to start your own forums?

I was looking for a repository for script and app development related to forum work and a forum setup seemed the best way to go. Sysnative Forums was set up in February 2012, but it wasn’t until the release of the Sysnative BSOD Processing Apps in May 2012 that we decided to become a competing technical forum.

Also, I was not thrilled with the backroom politics occurring at larger tech forums and was convinced that with the right group of people, top-notch service in a friendly, yet professional manner environment could be achieved.

I believe in macro-management and therefore have a large staff at Sysnative Forums – currently 13 Administrators (5 of which are MVPs), 11 Moderators (5 are MVPs) and >20 Staff members (2 are MVPs). Each has undoubtedly earned their position at Sysnative. The large staff may seem absurd to some, but it works for us. I am pleased to be able to say that we have never had any turf wars or personnel incidents typically found within forum communities.

Sysnative Forums works closely with Microsoft MVPs. We have 32 Microsoft MVPs registered, although all are not active. We have a private “MVP Lounge” sub-forum where MVPs can discuss any non-NDA issue they wish.

Sysnative Forum Leaders –

The types of scripts and apps that we develop and maintain vary. We originally focused on the automation of mundane tasks associated with BSOD kernel dump debugging. Obtaining dump files and system information from OPs was often difficult and resulted in the Sysnative File Collection app, found in the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) Posting Instructions at Sysnative Forums, TSF Forums and many others. The app is currently being updated once again with the help of Microsoft MVP Patrick Barker.

On the BSOD Analysis side, MS MVP writhziden has automated much of monotonous tasks associated with Windbg with his Sysnative BSOD Processing Apps. HERE is a 30 second Youtube video of an early version.

MS MVP John Carrona developed the Driver Reference Table (DRT), which is used by the Sysnative BSOD Processing App to auto-ID drivers found in kernel dump memory dumps.

Other than BSODs, MS MVP nominees niemiro and Tom 982 have developed an SFCFix app (found in our Windows Updates threads) to help OPs with Windows Updates issues.

Sysnative is a very young forum compared to most others, but we are growing rapidly and are gaining a reputation as very tech savvy forum where almost any system issue can be solved.

5. Tell us your thoughts about the evolution of Microsoft Windows over the years from your unique perspective as an expert troubleshooter.

I don’t have much to say on this topic as I learned Windows under Vista and consider myself to be very fortunate (some say spoiled!) to have missed out on the early days of Windows where events from a simple hardware device install to “DLL Hell” made life very difficult.

6. Downtime: what things do you like to do away from technology?

Spending time with the kids and family, driving, watching movies and some travelling.

Thanks, John!