When I ran for the PASS Board of Directors last year I committed to providing a monthly update on PASS related activities. I wasn't elected, but in mid-January I was appointed to a one year position; long overdue, it's time to make good on that promise. This marks the first in a set of monthly recaps that I'm posting this week to bring the SQL community up to date on PASS from my viewpoint as a Board member.
January was mostly about getting up to speed as quickly as possible for me. As with starting any new job there were some unavoidable administrative tasks to be completed: setting up email, signing agreements, etc.. The more challenging task was figuring out where things stood with the SQLSaturday portfolio - I've been assigned to be the steward of it this year - without losing any momentum on current projects or letting anything fall through the cracks during the transition. Fortunately Karla Landrum (Blog | Twitter), PASS's community evangelist, kept things running smoothly while I got up to speed.
At the end of the month we held our first in-person Board meeting of the year in Seattle. These quarterly meetings last 2-3 days are where the rubber meets the road and most of the real strategic work for PASS happens. Having heard war stories from past board meetings I wasn't sure whether to expect something civil or if it would turn into some kind of cutthroat cage match; I'm happy to report that it was very much the former.
The meeting minutes are available on the PASS website and I'd encourage you to read them to get a better idea of everything we discussed during the 2 days. Among the things we covered: 2012 Summit planning, the call for proposals for SQLRally North America 2013, the prospect of holding a PASS managed BI conference, global growth (i.e. how to transition from a U.S. centric organization to one with a worldwide representation\presence), and the 2011 elections & subsequent board appointments.
Focusing on elections for a moment, following two years of controversy I had hoped that 2011 would be issue free - especially after an overhaul in the process that resulted from an extensive review. Technically the elections themselves were but the subsequent appointments immediately after the elections ended caused a stir because one of the appointees had not run for one of the open positions. Key to why many people were upset was past precedent that the next highest vote getters in the election would be offered an appointment (despite no such stipulation in the bylaws) and that precedent was not followed. As in previous years the community was divided - there was a petition to change to the bylaws and PASS was labeled unprofessional (and unethical) while others felt the appointments were made with PASS's best interests in mind. Discarding some of the extreme behavioral lows that I saw, the debate was both necessary and healthy. After a lengthy discussion taking all of the community feedback into consideration the consensus was the appointment process could have been handled with better communication of intent during the election cycle but no bylaw changes were necessary.
Fast forward 8 months to today, and now looking back with the luxury of time and the benefit of perspective I agree with the decision. Having seen the work that James Rowland Jones has put into the global growth initiatives I believe that his appointment fit what PASS needed most at the time...but the PASS membership at large didn't know that. In early February Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror notoriety) posted Listen to Your Community, But Don't Let Them Tell You What to Do. It's a great read, and I found one point in particular fitting:
"Community feedback is great, but it should never be used as a crutch, a substitute for thinking deeply about what you're building and why. Always try to identify what the underlying needs are, and come up with a sensible roadmap."
I'd like to think the Executive Board had a plan for global growth in mind when they offered James an appointment but undermined themselves by not communicating their plans earlier on in the election cycle. I'd also like to think they learned an important lesson from it and hope that we'll see a clean, non-controversial election in 2012.
On Wednesday night we were invited to dinner with Ted Kummert (Senior VP of the Business Platform Division at Microsoft and regular PASS keynote speaker) and I ended up sitting at the same table with him. Eventually we got on the subject of PASS keynotes and I made my best plea for more technical content and less marketing. We'll see if I was persuasive enough come keynote time at the 2012 Summit!
One of the projects I'd been hoping to take on if I got on the Board was the speaker bureau. As it turned out it was up for grabs; I volunteered to help drive it forward along with Allen Kinsel and Adam Jorgensen. With no budget set aside for it yet the best we could do was start carving out requirements and figure out how to get money to fund any development work needed to make it happen. Stay tuned for more on this later.
The Board meetings finished on Thursday and on Friday Karla (who joined us in Seattle for the day) and I visited the Microsoft campus. We got to talk with User Group Support Services about upcoming changes to their programs that PASS will benefit from. Good stuff but nothing public I can say just yet. We also talked with Jennifer Moser in the SQL marketing group (and also a PASS Board member) about an idea to leverage PASS chapters, both real and virtual, to help people earn SQL 2012 certifications. Again, nothing tangible to report on yet but if it becomes a reality we'll have another great reason for people to get involved with their local chapters.
I went home from my first meeting feeling optimistic for the year ahead. Knowing that I'm holding an appointed position is a bit of a double edged sword - it's motivation to do as much good as I can while at the same time knowing that my time - and ability to affect positive change - is limited.
February's update coming in the next post.