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Tips For PASS Summit First Timers

In less than one week the 2010 PASS Summit begins in Seattle and with each day the excitement and anticipation builds (at least for me it does!). Last year was my first time at the Summit and although I had a good idea going into it what to expect there was no way I could have imagined how awesome of an experience it actually ended up being. No hard numbers here, but I've heard that almost 1\3 of Summit registrations this year are for first time attendees. With that in mind I'm going to share some things that I learned last year.

Stay Healthy
Conferences are notorious for people getting sick from the spread of germs. It doesn't take a germaphobe to realize that when you get close to 3,000 people from all over the globe together in the same place for a week that you're going to be exposed to all kinds of fun stuff! There are a few simple things that you can do to protect your health while you're at the Summit:

  • Build your immune system ahead of time. Load up on Vitamin C, Airborne, or whatever natural supplement you use to help ward off sickness.
  • Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth. Don't even give germs a chance to get into your body.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you for the times a bathroom isn't nearby or otherwise convenient.
  • Eat well. Don't load up on sugar and junk every day!
  • Bring a mini first-aid kit. Include aspirin\ibuprofen in case you get a headache.

Don't believe this stuff works? Go watch the Mybusters episode "Flu Fiction" and see for yourself how easy it is for germs to spread at a party.

Learn
There's a TON of great technical content for all levels of expertise. The only downside? There's so many great sessions that you just can't make them all. I suggest picking the two a day that you must see and two more that you'd like to see if you can. Then go buy the DVDs. Last year they were $125 for Summit attendees. Think about it - that's less than $1 per session to be able to watch them all whenever you want. You can't beat that value!

Want to really dive deep into a subject? For a minimal cost you can attend a pre or post-conference session. Precons are on Monday, postcons on Friday. These are presented by the best of the best in the SQL community.

Let me also make the pitch to go to the keynotes every morning. I know some people think keynotes are marketing fluff and skip them but rumor has it that there are going to be some pretty big product announcements this year. If nothing else make it a point to put the Day 3 Keynote from David DeWitt on your schedule. Dr. DeWitt gave a fantastic presentation last year; the guy knows his stuff and promises no marketing during his talk. You will not be disappointed.

Network
Sure there's lots of great learning at the Summit, but the real secret of why it's so awesome is the people who are there. Where else can you meet authors, bloggers, MVPs, and so many other database professionals just like all at the same time? The Summit is like a big family reunion, only everyone actually gets along with each other! Make sure you bring business cards with you to exchange with the people you meet. If you don't have business cards there's a FedEx Kinko's downstairs in the conference center that you can visit and have some printed onsite.

Don't stop at meeting people in person, either. If you're not on Twitter already you should be! The SQL Community on Twitter will be buzzing all week long - make sure to follow the #sqlpass hashtag to see what everyone is talking about throughout the week (hint: especially entertaining during the keynotes!). New to Twitter? Check out Brent Ozar's info-fest on how to make the most of Twitter.

Don't Forget About All The Other Stuff
As if the learning and networking weren't enough, there's a bunch of other great stuff that you should make time to go do at the Summit:

  • Expo Hall…Can you say swag?! All of the vendors that we know and love will be there to talk to you about their products and, if you ask nicely, give you something cool to take home to your kids, office buddies, user groups, etc.. And don't worry, they're not going to try and sell you a used car (at least not the ones I know!). In fact, if you talk with them for a few minutes you might actually find out they make something that could make your life easier. Ever heard of Red Gate SQL Prompt? Want to learn about solid state drives? Go check out the expo hall and you will. NOTE: The expo hall is only open Tuesday and Wednesday. Go early in the week; if you wait you'll miss out!
  • Lunches…a different experience every day.
    • Tuesday is Birds of a Feather, where you can sit at a table with an MVP and talk shop about a specific feature of SQL Server.
    • Wednesday is the Women In Tech lunch. You don't have to be a woman to attend. This is all about supporting Women in a field that's traditionally dominated by men. As a father of two girls and a brother to a female rocket scientist at NASA I'll be there. Plus they have better food than the normal lunch (it's not held in the regular lunch hall).
    • Thursday is the chapter lunch. Come sit with your local chapter. Or heck, find some other chapter and mingle with them to find out how they do things. Maybe you'll get a few ideas to try at your own meetings.
  • Ask The Experts & Chalk Talks…also located in the expo hall. "Ask the experts" is hosted by MVPs and Microsoft employees who will talk shop about one of ten topics. Chalk Talks are 40 minute interactive discussion sessions hosted by members of the SQL community.
  • SQL Server Clinic…remember the last time you had a problem with SQL Server and paid $250 to open a support ticket? Wouldn't it be cool if you could just walk into a room and get hooked up with someone from Customer Service and Support (CSS) or the SQL Customer Advisory Team (SQLCAT, but I call them the SQL ninjas)? The SQL Server Clinic is one of the true hidden gems of the Summit. Visit room 611 with any SQL server problem big or small and these two teams will be on hand to help you out for FREE.

Party Like It's 1999
What would a good conference be without parties? You may have heard that a lot of vendors throw private parties (which they do) but if you're not on the invite list don't worry - there are plenty of options to go have a good time!

  • Opening reception…Monday night at 6:30 in the expo hall. Food. The quiz bowl (a live SQL Server game show on stage). Good times. Open to all Summit attendees at no additional cost.
  • SQLServerCentral Party…Immediately following the opening reception. You need a ticket to get in and they're $30 if you don't have one already. It's casino style - you get chips to gamble with for a few hours while you meet some of the folks behind sqlservercentral.com. You usually walk away with a shirt and a book at the end. You also take whatever "money" you've won and exchange it for raffle tickets at the end of the night (hint: don't go for broke at the end like I did last year - you'll end up with no raffle tickets!). Up for grabs - DVDs, books, and electronics. Read more about the party here.
  • Microsoft Appreciation Party…Wednesday night at GameWorks (across the street from the convention center). Food, drinks (beer & soda), and all the video games you can play for 3 hours. Open to all Summit attendees at no additional cost.
  • SQLKaraoke…An after hours event at Bush Garden, a local bar in the International District (short cab ride but also walking distance from the convention center). You don't have to get up and sing, but it's fun if you do.  I don't know the exact details, but follow the #sqlkaraoke hashtag on Twitter for the lowdown. You buy your own drinks for this one.

All The Other Stuff I Couldn't Squeeze In
But wait, there's more! Here's some other random stuff I wish I would have known last year:

  • Bring a real camera. I used my iPhone last year. Wish I hadn't. There's a photowalk on Monday morning if you want to get out for a nice walk around the city with other folks who are in town for the Summit.
  • If you want transportation in from the airport on the cheap check out the Link Light Rail. It's $2.50 to go from the airport to downtown in roughly 40 minutes and the station (Westlake) is about 3 blocks away from the convention center.
  • Have you figured out that the Summit is all about the people yet? Do not be afraid to walk up to people and introduce yourself.
  • Fancy a great donut and a good cup of coffee? Try hitting Top Pot on 5th Ave for breakfast one morning. Speaking of breakfast, be careful if you decide to eat in the hotels - I hear they're expensive!
  • Quest is sponsoring a breakfast at 6:30 AM on Thursday morning. Last year it was PACKED - the line out the door must have been at least 100 people long. Go early to get a seat, otherwise you may want to bail for the breakfast downstairs in the expo area.
  • Alcohol at the convention center is expensive - last year $7 for a bottle of domestic  beer. I saved my money and went across the street to the Tap House - 160 beers on tap. Some will set you back more than $7 but I can promise it'll taste much better on tap than out of a bottle.
  • Get out of your hotel! There's no sense in paying a lot of money to go to such an awesome event like the Summit and then spend your evenings in the hotel. Seattle is a great city, lots of things to do within walking distance of downtown, and you'll have 3,000 people just like you who are looking for things to do.

I think that's enough for one blog post. I'm looking forward to seeing YOU at the Summit next week!

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