This is what I provided to the nominating committee today. I think I could have worked on this for weeks and still not gotten it quite right, lots of stuff to talk about. It will be interesting to see what the other candidates post.
My one sentence answer: I want to be on the Board of Directors because I believe that PASS is under serving the SQL Server community and I think I can help change that.
Why do I say under serving? I think about what I see in other professional associations and it seems like all we have is the conference. Shouldn't there be more to PASS than just a conference? PASS does have chapters, but in my experience they are loosely connected and get very little support from the main organization. We've taken 10 years to get to this point, shouldn't we expect more?
I'm going to list some areas of concern to me and some ideas I have, and also point you to some other items I've written on these topics. I'm not going to tell you that I'm the best candidate or that I have the best ideas, just that I'm willing to invest the time and effort to put my ideas in front of others and then invest more time and effort to get them done if they are approved.
First, we need a much higher degree of translucency. The Board may be doing or planning to do great things, but we get little insight into those efforts. For example, things I think that would help include the following:
- Summarized notes and attendee list of board meetings
- A yearly agenda and results of previous year (and quarterly goals if possible)
- Budget breakdown to event/department level
- How many members in the organization
- How many people attended chapter or regional meetings in the previous month?
Second, we need to do more for Chapters. We can't just talk about grass roots, we have to live it. Two thousand people or so will attend the Summit, can than be more than a couple percent of the SQL Server community? We need to understand the unique challenges that come with maintaining a user group and coach them to greater success. How can we build a solid member base without it? Some areas where we could improve:
- Providing incentives for groups to be established and to grow beyond their current attendance averages
- Provided centralized contact to possible sponsors (but not centralize sponsorship!)
- Make these Chapters a required entry point for new/future speakers, which would both increase the number of interested speakers and provide the first step in a system designed to grow new and better speakers for the Summit
Third, I think PASS has poor name recognition and value when it comes to the hiring process. If we're not adding value, why should SQL Server professionals want to participate in PASS? How can we change this?
- Building a PASS certification that would prove competence to an employer by building it on top of the existing Microsoft certifications, requiring 5 years documented experience, requiring letters of reference, continuing education, and a formal test/review. A big challenge, but it could put PASS on the map
- Make the PASS web site the portal to the SQL Server world. Pull in content from other communities, aggregate SQL Server blogs, provide the latest SQL Server news, and in general make it the place to find out about SQL Server. Make it the URL you tell to the college student looking for career ideas, the URL you show to employers when you can talk about your career choice. There's plenty of technical content already being generated, use PASS as the platform to recognize the best of it.
Fourth, we need to rethink (again) the concept of free members versus premium (voting) members. Without charging some type of dues we're stuck with the current system of only allowing conference attendees to vote. What does that say to all of our chapter members who can't afford the Summit? I believe much of the problem with premium members has been balancing price to benefits. Here's what I think we can do:
- The big thing to understand is that PASS shouldn't be about non SQL benefits like insurance, discounts, etc. The Internet has largely made those kinds of benefits obsolete
- We have to create the value first, then we can look at a $25-$50 annual membership - with the one direct benefit being a PASS polo branded with the year, something our members will wear to work and reinforce the brand
- There's definitely a place for free/non-voting members
Fifth, we need to build regional and larger local events to increase our membership and to reach those that won't/can't come to a Chapter meeting. My experience building SQLSaturday (details at www.sqlsaturday.com) tells me that it's going to be a lot of work and going to take a lot of coaching to make these local events as prevalent and as successful as Code Camps, but it can be done as long as we understand it's a local project that requires dedicated local volunteers, and all PASS (or SQLSaturday) can do is coach and encourage. Regional events - let's define them as 'for pay' events - would be another way to increase our membership and showcase the best and brightest of our community.
I'd like to note there that my involvement with SQLSaturday is the source of a potential conflict of interest. As I've noted in other places it's been my hope that at some point the entire web site and knowledge base can be given to PASS, but only once the brand and process if firmly establishing. Until then I think that we can grow these events much faster by having as little bureaucracy involved as possible. I invite you to talk with Brian Knight, Pam Shaw, Paul Waters, Wes Dumey, and Greg Larsen about our efforts with this event format so far.
Sixth, and finally, we just have to move faster. We can't afford to take a year or more to implement ideas. It might take multiple years for the biggest of them, but we can break them down into 90-120 day chunks of work that we can do and show progress. Part of that is translucency, but part of it just understanding that relying on an all volunteer effort may not be enough. We may need to hire a developer, or a web master, or a marketing person on a contract or long term basis to accomplish our agenda. We all know that the failure rate of projects is high, we can reduce the chance of failure and the cost of failure by taking a more agile approach to accomplishing our goals.
If you want to know more about me, a good starting point is my blog. I typically post each work day about something that interests me, and I definitely cover a range of topics beyond SQL Server. The main blog is at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/andy_warren, or just read the relevant posts on PASS at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/andy_warren/archive/tags/PASS/default.aspx. I also encourage you to read an article I posted on SQLServerCentral.com in October 2007 that lists more ideas I had and why I believed they were necessary and doable: http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/User+Groups/61245/.
I hope to meet many of you attending the Summit this week to discuss my ideas.