This post is my thoughts on the Board meeting, and my views on related topics. I encourage you to read the minutes (not yet published) as the official documentation.
I flew into Dallas around noon on Wed, catching an early flight so I could get to The Joule hotel and spend a quiet few hours doing some prep for the meeting before the scheduled dinner with the Board. Cold when I arrived, maybe 45-50, enough to discourage me from much in the way of exploring beyond the Starbucks around the corner. Got a few things done, caught up on email and did some meeting preparation, and then back to the hotel to put stuff away prior to dinner. The hotel is one of those boutique type hotels, not the standard drywall and concrete, and with the one attribute I appreciate during travel, a great shower. Looking at lists prices it’s not cheap, but we ended up paying $169/night, a little higher than I’d like but in the range of acceptable for business travel.
Dinner was at the Iron Cactus immediately next door, fairly reasonably priced (my fajitas were $15) and where we had the strange experience of the waiter telling Tom LaRock to not to get the meatloaf. Good meal all in all. I spent some good time chatting with new Board members Allen Kinsel and Mark Ginnebaugh, and then Sri Sridharan from the North Dallas SQL Server User Group (NTSSUG) joined as the end as well.
We spent a good chunk of Thursday looking at our global strategy, thinking about how we will grow and support SQLSaturday and SQLRally so that we can do some early sizing on the FY 2012 budget. Global growth brings complexity. An example is the SQLSaturday site is set up to manage money in dollars. Another is that if we move money across borders there may be tax implications on both sides. The next step is to learn some lessons by doing one or two, with our next step a SQLSaturday in Portugal, and then potentially a SQLRally in Sweden by the end of the year. We’ve also identified what we would like to have in time and resources, HQ will take that back and start looking at how to re-slice our current resource allocation to see if we want to do is possible.
We also talked about site selection for 2013. As I ‘m sure you know we’ve been in Seattle for a while and will be through 2012. Typically we sign contracts for space 2-3 years in advance, it’s the only way to be sure the space will be available within the date range we use for the Summit. Several months ago we built a list of around a dozen candidate cities. HQ has since done some research to help us understand what is available and the rough prices. At this meeting our task was to narrow the list to 3-4 cities. HQ will then send a formal RFP to those and we’ll start into the bake-off that should end with a site and a contract in March/April this year.
The list of cities is something we don’t publish in the minutes, and while we will announce when we sign the contract, we most likely will follow our previous pattern of not announcing the location until the end of the 2012 Summit. The rationale for this is that if people thinking about attending 2012 see that 2013 will be closer or in a more interesting location that they will defer attending for a year. From a pure business perspective maybe that makes sense, but I think it serves our members poorly. I see nothing wrong with letting them know 1-2 years out our plans. If they prefer to wait a year to save on travel, or to travel to a city they would like to visit, that’s good for them and ultimately good for PASS. I think it evens out year over year. More on this in a post later this week.
At 4:45 we started the journey across town to the monthly meeting of NTSSUG at the Microsoft office. Tom LaRock and I rode with Mark Sousa, Mark driving an F-150 he rented (only in Texas, right?), I was the navigator and Tom did the color commentary. We were worried about traffic and being late, but we arrived early and had a chance to mingle with the chapter members. We did a quick introduction of the Board, and then settled in to watch Sean McCown do a very nice hour class (part 1 of 6) on backup and restore strategy. That opening class has become part of their strategy to draw people in and it’s been effective. That was followed by Tom doing his presentation on wait states and queues.
After that we went to Red, Hot, and Blue for some ok barbecue, with a good handful of the chapter members joining us for discussion. It was cold out, had me wishing for home! We finished dinner about 10 pm and I called it a day when we got back to the hotel.
Friday morning we worked on our business plan and a “who we are” document, both are things I expect to see published in the next 30 days. The business plan was something that was largely done a year ago, but it didn’t quite make it out the door. Who we are, you might think, is something we should already know. 2 years ago PASS was the Summit and Chapters, today it’s the Summit, Chapters, Virtual Chapters (though to be fair we had them as SIG’s, but not very successful in my view), 24 Hours of PASS, SQLSaturday, and SQLRally (a work in progress to be fair, but still a big growth item). That’s a lot of change to absorb, and we’ve done it unevenly in places. That’s not unexpected or bad, it just means that we need to step back from growth mode and make sure we’re doing a good job and allocating appropriate time and resources to each area (which could mean adding more, or reducing).
We also need to make sure that you know what we see as our mission and where we’re spending time and money. My view is that we’re on step two of three or four on the path to being a “true” professional association. I don’t say that to dismiss our accomplishments or the work of our staff or volunteers. We’ve grown and matured, perhaps in more ways that we communicate. Yet many wish for PASS to be more. The hard part is that a full shared vision of “more” hasn’t evolved yet. At the heart of it is what we might do for members directly. Right now we have a strategy that is largely indirect – we build events, we facilitate, we connect, but we don’t a lot in the way of things that you can point to and say “my PASS membership means this and from I receive this and this and this”. I like our current strategy, I think it’s realistic, it’s functional, but it’s not sexy, and it’s still hard to explain to what I call the DBA in the back of the room, who says “why should I join?”. We can do more, I think a lot more, but the first step is to consolidate and make sure we do the things we do well. While we’re doing that we can be talking about what that next phase looks like that we might start 12-18 months from now.
On the time and money, Bill Graziano will be publishing more on that soon. We publish our budget, which has both too much and too little detail at times. We want to do more to show you how we apply resources to our various goals, and we want to make very clear what we contribute to things outside the Summit. I’ll write more in the next couple months to dig into what I get for resources for SQLRally and SQLSaturday.
We’ve been working on some revisions to the by-laws for several months and those should be published for review in the next week or so. Some of it is clean up and clarifying, making it very clear on things like term limits. We’ve removed the officer nomination committee which in the past nominated a “slate” that the Board would vote up or down, and instead it will be direct selection by the Board. We debated extensively moving to one year terms for officers. Not a one year limit, but a one year term. This is something I really believe in, I think it allows our Directors to step into a role and apply max energy. We’ll be publishing them for comment shortly, and I may add additional comments when we do.
Friday night I was lucky enough to have Tim Mitchell and Ryan Adams join me for dinner. Tim and I go back to SQLSaturday #3 and we just didn’t get much time to talk on Thursday, so it was nice to find some time in the week to talk more. Allen Kinsel was there, along with Mark Ginnebaugh and Bill Graziano. I was a spectator for part of it, listening to Bill chat with Tim and Ryan about chapters, and not for the first time wished we all talked more and more often.
Saturday morning I was up at 5 am for the taxi ride to the airport and the morning flight to Orlando, glad to be home.