#sqlpass is over. Some thought, comments, and reviews.

The 2009 SQL PASS Summit has ended.  Our friends and extended family have made there way home, or are on there way home.  As I sit in the airport on Saturday on my way home to Southern California it seams like a good time to put down some thoughts about this years PASS Summit.

I posted some blog posts about the keynotes on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as some photo’s already so I’ll try not to rehash to much of that information here.  I attended a wide range of sessions this week.  Some where good, some weren’t so good, and some were very, very funny (twitter commentary).  Most of the sessions that I attended were public, but a few where insider sessions for MVPs, TAP customers, etc and were covered by NDA, so I can’t talk about those.

The Sessions

I would say that the most talked about session of the summit was the Buck Woody (twitter) comedy show.  Also know as his very informative and very funny sessions which he gave on Thursday afternoon.  I wasn’t able to catch Bucks sessions in there entirety, but I was able to sit through most of them, and they were both funny and very informative.  I wish that I was able to be that kind of speaker.  Hopefully some day I will have the skills to do so.

The last session on Thursday was my presentation on “Storage for the DBA”.  I was honestly expecting a very small group to attend, as it was the last session of the day on the last day.  Which is normally not a good place to be presenting.  However with the summit being Tuesday through Thursday, most people didn’t leave until Friday so we were able to keep a lot of people there.  This along with the excellent topic selection (or at least I think it was excellent, but I’m biased) let to a packed room with people standing in the back.

During my session we had some great questions, and we covered a lot of topics.  My session this year was presented as a community session so it was 75 minutes.  Next year I think I’ll submit it as a spotlight session so that I’ll have 90 minutes.  As I review the revamp the slide deck over the next few months I may end up making it a two session presentation so that there is enough room for everything, and plenty of time for questions, maybe even a pre/post con which would give a ton of time. to really make that work though I think I’d need to get a hardware vendor to loan out some equipment so that we could do a hands on.

One this which I thought was a little strange, was that during the first ever Board of Directors Q&A panel discussion, only 16 people attended.  I was expecting a much fuller room to grill the board members about things which people had questions about.

The Summit it self

Personally I always have a great time at the PASS Summit.  However some people don’t, and this is something that we has a SQL Server community need to correct.  I was speaking with some of the board members Friday night at the hotel bar and they told me that 40% of the summit attendees were attending for the first time this year.  This is an amazing number of people coming for the first time.  However attendance was down from last year by ~6-8%.  With this many new people the question becomes, where is everyone from last year?  With 40% of the people being new this year, one would think that we would have a massive attendance growth.

There were some complaints which were over heard in the halls of the hotel that people didn’t know what to do after the summit’s official activities were over.  I can remember back to my first SQL Summit a few years ago and it was hard to find out where the after parties were happening.  It helps if you know a lot of people as the more people at the summit that you know the easier it is to find the parties.  We as the attendees who have been to the summit several times need to do better and making the new attendees feel welcome and show then the ropes.  Here they are in the strange city with a couple of thousand people they didn’t know, knowing that there’s a good time to be had, but just not sure where it is, or who to talk to in order to find it.

I spoke with some of the board about this, so that we can try and come up with a better way to make it easier to identify people so that the first timers can find the people who have been coming for a few years, and the people who have been coming for a few years can find the first timers and get them involved. No decision was reached (decisions really shouldn’t be made over been at 1am) but we got all the ideas down on a list so that they will at least be talked about my PASS HQ, and the board.

PASS can help some with this, but PASS can’t schedule every second of the day.  Even if they could would we really want them to?  Lets face it scheduled parties are fine, but dull.  It’s the after parties at places like Bush Garden (the karaoke bar) or at the Tap House which really make it the event that it is.  Now these aren’t scheduled parties, and the certainly aren’t sponsored parties (most of the time), but of all the after hours events that I went to this week these will be where I did the most networking with people I didn’t know, or that I had only met online.

I think that SQLServerPedia and PASS tried to help get people talking to each other via the SQLBingo, and I met a few people this way, but not nearly as many as I was expecting.  I think that this could have really helped the new people to the summit get to know the longer time attendees if we had some people playing looking for the squares.  I think that most of the squares did a decent job letting everyone know where they where during the week, but we need more visibility for people who aren’t on twitter, or who can’t use twitter from there cell phone to find people.  As an example most of our foreign attendees don’t have data plans on their cell phones so they can’t follow the twitter streams during the day without using their laptops.  The same goes for anyone using a corporate cell phone as it will be locked down so that they can’t install any twitter applications which would prevent them from participating.  I think that the monitor in front of the PASS HQ booth was a good start to this, but I think that we need one dedicated to SQLBingo next year (I’m working under the assumption that we try the SQLBingo one more time) which is constantly showing the SQLBingo feed in real time, no matter what comes across it.  (I’m not sure how many people noticed but the real time twitter feed which was up at the PASS HQ booth went away after the first day or so.)

Another thing which needs to change is the location of the PASS HQ booth.  It’s location my the registration desk is fine for Monday, but after that it should be moved to the top of the escalator on the fourth floor so that it is sitting right where 95% of the attendees will be walking by.  As it is now the only time anyone would go near the booth would be for breakfast or lunch.

I wanted to do stuff, but I couldn’t find out where anything was happening

I would agree that it can be tough to find out what is going on after the official stuff is done.  The typical DBA doesn’t really have the right personality to just walk up to people and talk to strangers and make new friends.  For some people this can be down right scary.  But I promise you that we won’t bite, and we won’t make fun of you for coming up to us, and we won’t send you away because we don’t know you.  The bulk of the people at the SQL PASS Summit are very approachable, and very friendly.  Those of us that have been coming to the summit for a few years know each other so we naturally gravitate towards each other in groups of 20-50.  However we are always happy to cram a few new people into the taxi with us and go drink and make asses of ourselves at the karaoke bar, and no drinking is not required we had plenty of people who don’t drink for one reason or another (religion, recovery, etc) with us.  Heck, I sang for the first (and probably last) time this year (it did take a lot of Jaeger to get .me up there though).

One of the problems with all the after parties being unofficial parties is that there isn’t really a way to find out about them without talking to people.  I’ve pitched an idea to have a couple of screens put out which would have meet up information posted on them as that info is seen on twitter or as people tell PASS HQ of an after party.  This will cost PASS some money as the monitors aren’t free, but if it gets people meeting each other and coming back year after year then it is money well spent in my mind.

A question for you

Of you, who have been to the summit and didn’t go back, I ask a question.  Why not?  What where you expecting from the summit that you didn’t get?  What turned you off of coming back to the summit?  Please feel free to leave me a comment here, or a private email to me directly via dcherry AT awarenesstech DOT com would be just fine.  Obviously I’m not on the board so I can’t make any changes myself, but I know people that are and I’ve got not problem calling them and telling them that my readers didn’t come back because of this.

What do you mean you haven’t been to PASS?

So you’ve read this far down, but you’ve never been to the SQL PASS Summit.  What on earth are you waiting for?  Yes I know it is a pricy event to attend.  You’ve got the entrance fee, the hotel and airfare costs to deal with so the whole thing can run a few thousand dollars (US) to go to, but the education and the experience are well worth it.

If you haven’t been to PASS, I highly recommend it.  If you’ve been before but had a bad experience speak up.  That way it can be fixed and hopefully you’ll come spend another week with us.  If you go regularly like me, then I hope that I was able to meet you (please don’t be offended when I don’t remember your name, I met easily 300 or more people and I’m really bad with names to begin with), and if not lets work on that at next years PASS.

See you in Seattle next November,



2 Responses

  1. Nice post Denny, you make a lot of good points and have some great ideas.

    I would bet that the people who don’t return are the ones who do not have much personal interaction with people, this is why one of my goals for next year (yup, I’m planning on returning next year) is to spend more time trying to find the “wall flowers” and get them involved.

    Twitter really helped me as I felt like I already knew some people like yourself even though we had never met in person prior to the Summit. It made is much easier to walk up and introduce myself.

    Already looking forward to seeing you again next year.

  2. [I]Of you, who have been to the summit and didn’t go back, I ask a question. Why not? [/I]

    Speaking for myself, it’s about both dollars as well as bang for the buck. I couldn’t justify it to make the money magically appear for the flight/entry. I also offered to pay for part of this…what company would allow that? Makes them look cheap. Anyway, I have a gameplan for next year, and that is to either speak at PASS or put the request in early. If it’s in the budget at the beginning of the year, there is a higher probability that I can go.

    Lee Everest
    [A href=”http://www.texastoo.com”]texastoo.com[/A]

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