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Will the New PASS Summit Attendees be Back?

Despite the down economy, the 2009 PASS Summit attendance was down only 8% compared to the 15% of other conferences - in large part due to new attendees. 40% of the attendees this year were new - including myself. Will they be back?

I'll be back. The quality of the conference was high. The question is not if - but when. I haven't decided whether I'll go every year or every other year. It will take a while to absorb all the know-how and do things with it.

I do have some feedback though that I think prospective, new and even veteran attendees might like to hear.

Imagine deciding on the roster of conference sessions. That takes some guestimations about the makeup of attendees - like what their skill and experience levels are. One would imagine that being willing to attend an expensive conference would bring out mainly veterans of SQL Server. So most sessions should be advanced. I'd say that most of them were - and even veteran attendees were stretched.

However, as the stats show, the landscape is changing. I'd venture to say that many of those new attendees that made up 40% are also fairly new to SQL Server. I interacted with a lot of attendees and found that to be the case. That poses challenges for selecting the right experience level of sessions. I suspect the mix needs to change along with the attendees.

Times are changing for SQL Server, I think. Just looking from a 10K mile perspective, one can see the trends. One trend to note is that the SQL Server platform is becoming a more collaborative space where non-database professionals and those of related areas of expertise are to take part in various activities historically entrusted only to admins and others who are more accustomed to limiting access.

One of the big mantras I heard from Microsoft at the conference this year was "BI to the People." Microsoft is introducing PowerPivot - an extension for Excel that broadens the spectrum of people who are capable of doing business intelligence with data. One demo I saw at the conference showed Excel reports being built using over 10M rows - far beyond the typical 65K or so Excel row limit of the past. This is definitely an expansion of collaboration.

Another expansion of collaboration is the rise of domain specific languages and development frameworks like "Oslo" and SQL Server Modeling. The idea here is that more people in different roles like business analysts and less-technical stakeholders are getting together to help decide what to build even including the modeling of the database layer on an iterative basis.

So the takeaway is that one can expect a more diverse, less specialized crowd attending the conference in the future.

So, one adjustment I think should be made is that attendance should include the DVDs of all the sessions. That way, everyone can go back and continue learning and feel enriched even if many of the sessions were a bit over their head or not what was expected.

Now, part of the satisfaction equation is what an attendee puts in. I tried to go in highly prepared to learn and enjoy myself. The conference website offered an itinerary builder for those who wanted to plan out all their sessions. What a great app! I availed myself of that and went in with an itinerary. It definitely helped.

I also looked at what was going on around Seattle so I didn't just go back to the hotel. That turned out to be a good idea. That opened up a lot of conversations with other attendees that lead in turn to making valuable connections.

It was the first of the month - and the first Thursday is when Seattle hosts its Art Walk. There was a jazz festival going on all week. The Dine Around Town event was going on where some of the top restaurants were offering three-course high-end meals for only $30. There were some good concerts going on. They Symphony was playing Tchaikovsky's violin concerto. The Seattle Art Museum threw a big party on Friday - and were showing a Micahelangelo exhibit. I availed myself of all these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Of course, there are some things that will always slip through the cracks. A couple of my sessions were a miss. Also, I stayed at the Sheraton - and nearly the whole time I was not aware that on the 35th floor, there's a two-story workout gym complete with a lap pool and hot tub, with amazing views of the entire city and the waterfront. Doh!

Well, having those DVDs makes up for the sessions that I should have attended. The other stuff can only be rectified through experience and repeat visits.

Now I know that one shouldn't bother renting a car - because there are cabs going everywhere - the public transit is free in the entire metro zone - and the local garages charge about $26 per night for parking. Also, the Fox Sports Grill right next to the conference center serves the best steak chili I've ever had in my life. The posh restaurant "Art" at the Four Seasons down near the waterfront charged me $6 for a glass of cranberry juice - but the food might have made up for it. Lots of people didn't bring their netbooks and laptops because previous years didn't offer free WiFi. But this year and hopefully beyond, the WiFi was there and was free. Many attendees used the WiFi to communicate via Twitter, Facebook and the like. I even tried to invent a rumor that John Hodgman was there at the conference - mainly because that would be cool if he were there - but it didn't work. My netbook battery, however, doesn't last long. I was stuck a few times without a pen and paper backup. Not next time.

Bill Nicolich

A big fan of SQLServerCentral, I hope to add good posts for the general enjoyment of other readers at SQLServer Central. Also check my personal blog for additional comments, recommendations and such at SQLFave.blogspot.com.


Posted by Steve Jones on 12 November 2009

Glad you enjoyed it, and hope we see you again. I'll second the note for no cars. Cabs are cheap, and I've walked from Qwest field (S side of downtown) to the convention center. It's not that bad, though it's also a $8 cab ride.

The Space Needle needs a cab, but there are other things over there. I'd recommend a day extra to see some of Seattle.

Posted by Bill Graziano on 12 November 2009


Glad you enjoyed the event.  Thanks for the comments. The DVD's are an interesting problem.  They incur extra costs to produce and ship.  We've looked at just including them but that didn't seem fair to those attendees that didn't want them.  It's something we'll continue to look at.


Posted by Kathi Kellenberger on 12 November 2009

PASS has made the recordings available online for free for attendees. As far as I know they are doing the same this year. I went ahead and purchased the DVD this year because I don't have a very good connection at home.

Posted by bfrederick on 13 November 2009

Great Summit.  This was my first one and already pushing to attend next years event. Lots of great learning. Everyone should attend who hasn't had the opportunity to do so.  Well worth the money.

Posted by Dave Schutz on 13 November 2009

One idea for the DVDs, and this is not my idea - someone brighter than me, was to get a sponsor to pay for the DVDs next year.

This was my first year at PASS and the itinerary builder was a great idea. Also someone posted a top 10 list of sessions for new DBAs that was also good. Hope to be back next year!

Posted by TheSQLGuru on 13 November 2009

Each year there are plenty of attendies that feel that they don't get value from PASS.  I have felt that way myself in the past to be honest with you.  This year though I REALLY saw value in the super collection of presentations, technical-assist options and networking events.  I heard a lot of very positive feedback from other attendees as well.  I hope I can make it to next year's event.  

Posted by rad.tim on 13 November 2009

I am one of those first time attendees to pass this year as well.  I will be attending every chance I get.  I was very impressed with all the sessions.  I did purchase the DVD's, there was just to many great sessions that I could not attend.  One thing I learned was to bring and extension cord so I won't have to sit so close to the wall to plug in the powercord for my laptop.  

Posted by Bob Hovious on 13 November 2009

I'm another first time attendee and thought the Summit was an excellent event.   Out of the entire week, there was only one session where I failed to take away at least one item of value.   I also got to meet any number of good people and really felt the sense of community that PASS is intended to foster.

Posted by SQLRockstar on 13 November 2009

i like the idea of having tracks dedicated to accidental DBA's, definitely something to consider. we need to do our best to make certain those 40% come back again.

Posted by Andy Warren on 13 November 2009

Bill, I'm glad you found the event to be worthwhile, allowing me to avoid any blame for recommending it!

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 13 November 2009

Great feedback.

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