What's a Regional Director you ask??
RDs are 130 partners in 50 countries.  Microsoft Regional Directors are independent developers and architects, volunteers chosen for their leadership in their local technology circles, whose primary purpose is to share information about Microsoft technologies with their developer communities and to provide feedback from developers to Microsoft. Regional Directors are not Microsoft employees, but instead are industry experts who choose Microsoft technology in order to help their customers reach business goals and objectives.

[Scott Hanselman's Weblog]

The above is a summary of the Regional Director mission from a Microsoft perspective, but it's worth explaining this a bit more. Microsoft has set up this program several years ago. Local Microsoft offices (either those in the U.S. states or international subsidiaries) get to nominate one or multiple Regional Directors that shall be enrolled in the program. This sounds a lot like the Microsoft MVP program, but it's quite a bit different. MVPs are typically nominated based on their participation in online newsforums and are (well recognized) "domain experts", while RDs are typically architects, technology consultants, educators and even people in CEO/CTO/CIO-equivalent positions, who have a broader perspective on technology. Another qualification shared by the RDs is that we're absolutely able and willing to wear a tie (when absolutely necessary), are not shy to get up on stage in front of 500 people to share our experiences (and do that very well) and are likewise not shy to give Microsoft more brutally honest feedback than they sometimes wish for -- and we do that quite often before you need to deal with things.

So, why should you talk to your local "Microsoft Regional Director"?

  • We are typically quite well informed about what's coming from Redmond. While there's quite a few things we are not able to tell you, we can certainly tell you what makes sense for you to do strategically and where you should probably make technology choices or take architecture approaches that allow your stuff to become a bit more resilient against future change.
  • Customers of companies lucky enough to have one of the few Regional Directors (it's a personal thing, not a company thing) on board, have a very good chance to become nominated for early-adopter programs and get their hands on bits before anybody else does and even influence the product direction.
  • We're pretty well connected to the product groups and therefore we can help quite well with hard problems.
  • We admit that we may be biased towards Microsoft products (because our knowledge of their stuff pays for our family breakfast), but we haven't sold our souls to them (and we get no pay). That means: If you ask for a honest opinion about product XYZ, you will very likely get it and it may be an answer that would surprise you. You'd probably be surprised how many of the RDs know their NDS, Oracle, Linux, Solaris and Java stuff very well.
  • You need someone who gives you advice on whether or not to pick a certain technology. Again, because we're neither Microsoft marketing nor sales people, there is no automatic answer like "take Microsoft This'N'That 200x", but it may also be "don't use Microsoft This'N'That 200x in this case".

The benefit for Microsoft is that they have a community of people who they can ask for ideas and feedback on certain issues, who they can ask to present at own or third party events and we, in turn, get good access to information and help that we use to make our customers happier. 

I should add an explanatory word on the "customers" term: Every RD I know is more than happy to answer the one or the other quick question directly or relay them to your local Microsoft office, or depending on what you are asking for, even to Redmond. That's mostly independent of whether you are a customer of the RD's company or not. So if you don't get any help asking around in newsgroups, it's a good idea to look up your local RD or any RD with the expertise you are looking for and drop them a line. There's no guarantee that you'll get a satisfactory answer, but quite often you will at least get a pointer to information to look at. However, we are not a replacement for Microsoft's support and therefore we may even point you to go and talk to them. The seemingly paradox rule of thumb is: the more challenging a problem is, the more likely your RD will look at it. We're curious people. Also, if you work in a, say, financial software company and your RD works for a similar, possibly competing firm and you are afraid of asking because you feel that you may be giving away trade secrets -- just ask another RD.   

How do I find my local Microsoft Regional Director?

There is a lookup tool on http://www.microsoft.com/rd where you can find an RD in your region. Some RDs work regionally, some of them work throughout the Americas or Europe and some of them are doing business world-wide. So, for instance, if you want to talk to someone about your problem in Norwegian, try talking to Andreas (everybody in Norway knows this already ;)  In the very unlikely event that he doesn't know the answer, he can and probably will ask around in the RD community and someone will likely know.