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PASS Summit 2004

By Brian Kelley,

First Impressions

Thanks to SQLServerCentral.com I was able to attend my first ever PASS Community Summit. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and met some of my peers at the SQLServerCentral.com reception that evening. My day-to-day job nowadays is very rarely SQL Server exclusively. I lead the security incident response and Active Directory implementation teams for my organization and there are days when the only SQL Server I look at is on "personal time" (in other words, at home after the boys go to bed). The reception gave me a chance to just talk SQL Server. What a blast! It was a good start to a great conference.

What I Liked

There were a lot of things I liked about the conference and a few naturally stood out. 

The Sessions

With SQL Server 2005 around the corner and most DBAs, myself included, trying to find out every scrap of information about this next release, the sessions proved invaluable. From real world examples of how others had gone about implementing SQL Server to Microsoft's briefings on the road ahead, I learned a great deal from this conference. I have begun sharing some of that knowledge with the other DBAs I work with and they have increased their lobbying with management to go next year as well.

The Keynotes

Having run and supported moderately-sized technology conferences when I was in the Air Force (1995-99 Air Force Information Technology Conferences), I know how hard it is to line up great keynote speakers. Even when you line them up, the keynotes might leave something to be desired. I felt the ones at PASS were great and well-targeted. PASS is a little easier to gauge for because everyone there is for SQL Server, but there were quite a few oohs and ahs at each keynote, especially with the demos. Among the things that stood out: ad-hoc reporting in Reporting Services, Service Broker, and HP's demonstration of their SQL Server deployment tools.

The People

This may have been the best part. I got the opportunity to meet face-to-face so many folks I trade postings with and talk "shop." Case in point: James Travis (Antares686) lives and works just up the road from me in Charlotte, NC. I'm in Columbia, SC, so that's not very far at all. However, this conference was the first chance I had to meet him. Computers are impersonal. Communication across computers is only slightly better. Talking with folks in person is so much better.

What I Didn't Like

No conference is perfect and the larger a conference gets the more likely folks are going to find fault with something. Taking that into account, I have a lot of praise for the conference. However, there were a few things which stuck with me even after some reflection.

Session Levels

When I looked at the notes for each session, I couldn't help but notice that quite a few were for 200, 300, and 400 level folks. With such a broad range it was sometimes difficult to figure out if the briefing would have enough material at the level I was looking for to keep me interested through the whole briefing. I heard others saying similar things. Having each session focus on one level exclusively would have been helpful. Now I understand that what may seem a 200 level to one person may be a 400 level to another. That can't be helped too much. But when the session says from 200 to 400, there's just too much room for confusion.

Vendor Floor Schedule

While the vendor floor was open for a good number of hours (and a large portion of the conference), most of that time occurred during the technical sessions. Except for the reception, there was little time to peruse the vendor floor when nothing else was going on. Granted, this is one of those hard items to balance in a schedule. You want to allocate enough time for attendees to be able to visit the vendors but you need to ensure enough time is available for a good number of technical sessions. 

Concluding Thoughts

I really enjoyed myself at this year's PASS Community Summit. I'm hoping to be able to attend next year and I'm going to try and submit an abstract or two to present if it looks like I may be able to get the time off of work. All in all it was a great learning experience and I've recommended it to the other DBAs where I work. Hopefully it all comes to fruition next year.


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