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Growing the Pool of SQL Speakers – Part 2

About a week ago I wrote Part 1, and got some interesting feedback (which I appreciate). Today I want to try to think about some of those comments and try to evolve the idea some. I want to defend my ideas a little, but not sink into defensiveness. I definitely expect my own thinking to change as I go, but hoping maybe I get yours to change some too!

Overall what I heard was a few different challenges to look at:

  • Opposition to requiring speakers at the Summit to take a year off here and there (and note, I have no say in that – just my idea)
  • How to qualify who gets help in terms of funding to speak
  • Whether there is really a speaker shortage

On the first one about speakers at the Summit, my first thought was that I should have just left that out. We haven’t done badly so far and so far there have been few complaints, so why bring it up? Why not just focus on new speakers and worry about the rest later?


But I like to think long term, and I think the problem will arrive within 2-3 years that will require the program committee to do something. Last year it was 400 abstracts that lead to perhaps a 100 speakers. What do we do when we get 1000 abstracts from 250 speakers, all who have done at least a chapter meeting and a SQLSaturday? If six people want to talk about XML in SQL, how do we pick the best one? Is it the speaker we had last year on the same topic?

Yes, we can do scoring, and in most cases that leads to people speaking that have already been at the Summit. They are a known quantity and certainly should get some karma for having done it and succeeded. That in turn can easily lead to stagnation, as those on the island get to stay on the island.

Now if you’re on the bottom trying to work your way up, my plan probably sounds good! But if you’ve invested the sweat to finally make it to the top, the idea of sitting out a year doesn’t sound good at all – dues have been paid, time to enjoy the fruits of the labor. I get that. I deliberately didn’t submit a session last year, the first time since 2000. Right thing for me to do, but definitely missed having the chance to speak. Undecided about this year so far.

So…I don’t care so much about how we get there, whether it’s scoring, volunteering to just be an attendee for a year, or something else – as long as it’s not waiting on someone to retire to open up a slot for someone new (but not a newbie speaker). I want to see tons of friendly competition, some new faces, and to make sure that if you’re willing to invest the time, you’re not locked out of the top row because you weren’t a first mover (or old enough to have been one).

For now I’m hoping that you’ll just think about it, and as we get closer to that point, we’ll see what happens. What’s best for the community?

Next week I’ll continue with thoughts on the other two points (and maybe more), and we’ll see if I get clobbered for not giving up on this part of it!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Jason Brimhall on 26 February 2010

Difficult topic to find the right mix.  I do think that different speakers need to have a chance from time to time.  Maybe a percentage every year should be people that have not had a chance to present at PASS in the past.  So long as there are people that meet that requirement and the abstract indicates that their presentation would be good.  Maybe they should provide references if they are a first time presenter.

Keeping the pool fresh with presenters is important to keep the event a top notch event.

Posted by david_wendelken on 3 March 2010

I've been on the speaking end and the organizing end of conferences.  I've seen quite a few variations on how to do this.

1) Blind abstracts.  A committee chooses which presentations are to occur without knowing who the speaker is.

Very good at getting new speakers in.  Not as good at getting in "the big names" that will draw in a big crowd.

Very good at getting "perceived as popular" topics.  Not good at getting unusual but very valuable, often cutting edge new ideas.

2) Abstracts with speaker knowledge attached, plus measurement of the speaker's success in prior conferences.

Very good at getting established, "big name" speakers in.  Not as good at getting untried speakers.

Very good at getting "perceived as popular" topics.  Not good at getting unusual but very valuable, often cutting edge new ideas.

3) As #2, but with a fair-sized percentage of slots reserved for new or occasional speakers.  

Better at getting new speakers in while still getting established speakers.

Just as bad at filtering out those topics not "perceived as popular".

4) As #3, but with very skilled speakers asked to present on what they want to talk about, i.e., they skip the abstract process entirely.  The expectation is as follows: "If this really sharp individual thinks it's worth their time to talk about a topic, it's probably worth my time to hear it, even if I don't yet know why."

In the past, I've been approached by folks who want to present.  They'll write up a paper or presentation and send it to me to see if I think it would be a good presentation or not.  Some of them were quite original work that would make an outstanding presentation.

If you add an ability for speakers with proven judgment to "pass on a good word" in situations like this, it's a bonus way to get an otherwise ignored, "not perceived as popular" presentation by a new speaker into the mix.

This is the mix of methods that I've found to work the best so far.

Posted by Andy Warren on 4 March 2010

David, thanks for sharing that and I'll forward that to the Program Committee to see what they think. In particular I appreciate the point about having some space for the unusual.

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