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The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest

Transparency and PASS

I hate to start a blog war, but maybe there's one going on. The recent PASS 2009 election concluded a couple days ago and 3 new board members were elected.

That's 3 from 4 candidates, which is a little silly, IMHO opinion. As Geoff Hiten said in his PASS Fail post, "The problem is four people and three positions is a final round of musical chairs, not a board election." I tend to agree with it, and I've looked on in past years with a wary eye when I've seen three candidates for three positions (or two or four). That's not even an election. It's an engineered outcome.

To be fair I haven't been involved in the election process, and perhaps there were years where only 3 people submitted applications.

Kevin Kline wrote a response on his blog about the nomination committee, the process, and the history. I think he make some great points in some areas, but misses the boat, or maybe steers it in a different direction in others.

I don't think the nominating committee deliberately is seeking to do things poorly, or mislead the community. But I also don't think they're doing a good job. I know it's a job, and I appreciate the efforts, but being a volunteer doesn't excuse you from accountability, nor from poor performance.

Let me wander off the path for a moment. I worked for a guy years ago and we were examining a project that wasn't going well. We were debating if we should continue on, what changes to make, or if we should scrap it and start over in a different way. One of the people in the room said that we couldn't scrap it because we'd spent $200,000 on the project.

The guy I worked for said that was stupid. The $200,000 was gone, and we needed to move forward right now. Whether we continued on and fixed things or started over, the $200,000 didn't matter. We needed to make decisions about our expenses and direction from this point.

PASS as an organization needs to do that. It's helpful to look back at history and learn, but you cannot use history as an excuse for a lack of progress right now. To be successful, to have credibility, and to meet the needs of the community, the organization needs to disclose information on a regular and timely basis, and be accountable for mistakes and mis-steps.

The election process is a perfect example. How and why were these 4 of the 11 (or 12, can't remember) picked? What scores were used? Not to harp on Tim Ford, but how is he not qualified to be on the slate? I just don't get it. He's passionate, he works for PASS, he's intelligent. Whether or not he can answer questions to the nominating committee's satisfaction in the interview seems wrong to me. As much as I like and respect the members of the committee as technologies, I'm not sure they're eminently qualified to make that judgement.

And why aren't we, the members of PASS qualified to decide? Does the board of pass and the Nominating Committee think that we can't decide who's a good candidate? We can't judge someone's ability to articulate themselves in a paper or interview? Heck, it's the age of YouTube and blogs. Publish the applications, and the responses to the interview.

This is a popularity contest

That's what an election is. It's a choice, of the people (or populace), and the most popular ones, the ones with the most votes, get to serve. If we elect a bad candidate, then we deal with that, but we have minimal requirements, we publish those (something PASS hasn't done) and then we allow debate, discussion, stumping, recommendations, etc.

I disagree with Andy Leonard's litmus test for a board candidate, but I'm willing to listen to his ideas. At least he's publishing his thoughts on the matter, and giving us a reason not to vote for Matt Morollo. I don't agree with his reason, but I'm willing to listen.

When we elect leaders in government, there is plenty of debate, opinion, blogging, tweeting, etc. about their positions and thoughts. Why not here? Couldn't PASS do a series of interviews like Brent Ozar? Or at least link to relevant items from people writing about the election? I would think that would be easy to do. Maybe even allow members to post links to articles and blogs themselves?

Behind the Times

There are many complaints I've had of PASS over the years. To a large extent I've questioned what the point of it is at times. Why not just let Microsoft run a SQL Server conference every year? A lot of years I don't think PASS has done much  else.

Last year PASS introduced the PASSPort, a social networking idea to try to get members linked to each other. I think the concept failed, which isn't a bad thing, but what has been done in the meantime? With the tremendous amount of tweeting during the Summit last year, how can the board and management company not expect wide, and extremely real-time, discussion of what happens?

The election ended on Tuesday noon, PST. I check the web site for PASS, saw no mention of the winners, and then noticed the they would be announced on Wednesday. At noon, PST.

Really?

We are SQL professionals, and while we might get mired in details, can any of us think of a reason to not announce the results as 12:01PST on Tuesday? We elect, arguably, the most powerful man in the world through a process where votes are tallied and we can see the candidates' success in real time. A winner can be "announced" even with all the votes not in. The four candidates in this game of musical chairs are probably waiting and watching. There's no need to contact them, no press release, no messaging needed. Just put the results of the voting up there.

Heck, give them to @BlytheMorrow. I think a tremendous number of PASS members follow her. She can post it and we'll spread the word, no effort from PASS needed.

It's a small thing, but it's an example of where the board is behind the times. They're not in touch with the members, and don't (appear) to be willing to serve the electorate in an open manner.  We had a similar issue with the choice of speakers for the Summit, when choices weren't disclosed in a very timely manner.

Remember Who You Serve

I live in the SQL community every day. On Twitter, Facebook, through blogs, articles, and I'd like to think that I'm one of the few people whose job it is to keep a finger on the pulse of the community. I'm fortunate in that way because like Brent Ozar, it's my job to do so. I can interact with lots of people regularly without taking time away from other work. Or at least I can do it with a good excuse.

I have seen almost no publications, no releases, no accountability from the PASS board about what they have done for us. The highlights of the past year, from PASS, seem to be the conference, and the 24 Hours of PASS. Beyond that, I've seen very little transparency that explains what has been done.

What were the goals for 2009? Were they met? If so, what happened? If not, what happened?

It's accountability, and transparency. It lets us know if we made a good decision electing board members, it lets us know where and how to give feedback. Without it, I, and many others, feel that PASS is not serving the community, and possibly not even acting ethically.

Are the board members enjoying the prestige and benefits of being on the board without actually doing anything? I'd like to think not, but I have no idea. I almost never see them update us, or disclose, what they've done.

It's My Fault

To some extent, I think it's my fault. Not just me, though. It's also the rest of the community that has not demanded accountability. We as a group have not questioned enough the way that PASS has been run.

I'll take a large share of the blame as I've been hesitant to write about some of the issues with PASS. I do business with them with the opening night party, and I know most of the board, past and present. They're friends, colleagues, and I haven't wanted to publicly denounce their efforts.

Especially when I haven't volunteered or run for the board myself. However Andy Warren was right in his comment on my blog: "...there's nothing wrong with you or anyone else making suggestions, commenting, or criticizing PASS. You don't have to be run for office to be eligible to care! Not everyone has the time, passion, skills to run, but PASS is ultimately about people. We can use all the feedback we can get, especially constructive criticism."

So here's my feedback for PASS:

Publish what you do, and why you do it. Every board member, and at least the head of the management company needs to regularly publish what they do. And why.  Be accountable, take responsibility for your actions, or inactions. Be transparent.

And for the community:

Get involved, you don't have to commit to run the Standard, as Grant has, but do something. Give feedback to PASS. Comment on what they're doing. Let them know what you like, what you don't, and what you want. Post publicly when you don't like something, and more importantly, post about the things you DO like. Volunteer if you can, run for the board if you want to, but at least give your opinion to the community a couple times a year.

I believe in PASS, and I hope I've convinced a few of you to do the same. I've also written an editorial today asking what you might want from PASS. Feel free to give your opinion there as well.

Comments

Posted by Silverfox on 22 October 2009

Never been to PASS and probably wont ever, but I do keep an eye on it, as it is supposed to be a part of the sql server community as a whole. I agree completely with your opinions, without transparency there is no trust, without trust there is no understanding of what is going on, and therefore no interest in what is going on or how it can be changed to the betterment of the community.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 22 October 2009

Excellent comments Steve. I have to agree. PASS is an amazing collection of people and I'm very proud to be involved with them. Unfortunately it does seem to be wandering in the wilderness a bit and I'm not sure why. I don't understand how someone like Tim Ford could not be qualified for the board. As a matter of fact, if Tim's not qualified then I'm glad I didn't run this year becuase I wouldn't have been qualified either. Something went awry and it needs to be made clear what it was.

Posted by Andy Warren on 22 October 2009

Good post. In general I support transparency/translucency, and I think we've made progess in the last years. Not enough, but some. It takes time to change culture, and it takes time to get comfortable with transparency, and the pain that often comes with it. I'm not defending the lack of, just reminding you that there has been progress and the task now is to continue and even accelerate it.

I don't think we did an especially good job on the elections either, and I'll post something about it next week now that the election is complete. We can do better next year, but to me, there was one superb thing that happened - the community engaged. Finally we've got spirted debate, people challenging the status quo, and I assure you the Board does hear it.

I meant what I said in my reply to your earlier post, talking about PASS and what you (or anyone) believe it should be is ok and even necessary. Our challenge, collectively, is to critize when appropriate, praise when merited, make suggestions when someone has them, and strive for continuous improvement.

Lots more to say, but I'll save that for the blog!

Posted by Mark Horninger on 22 October 2009

So who won?

Posted by dma on 22 October 2009

test

Posted by John Jakubowski on 22 October 2009

I am all for transparency and accountability and think you have raised some valid and important comments. While I don't know any of the particulars about who/why was deemed qualified I am happy with the end results. The elected candidates have all demonstrated their knowledge of the product and passion for the organization. I wholly expect they will work to address your concerns and those of all engaged members. I am glad folks are becoming more involved and pushing PASS to continue improving. I agree with Andy that there has been significant progress from years past. I felt there were sufficient resources and opportunities to understand the candidates ideas and availability for questioning. Hopefully the candidates openess during the election will translate to their actions on the board. Thanks for posting this and for putting out the call to action for folks to get involved and let their voice be heard, PASS will be the better for it.

Posted by Steve Jones on 22 October 2009

The winners were Brian Moran (former board member), Thomas LaRock (current board member), and Jeremiah Peschka.

I think a big problem with the elections was the sending of a "survey" as a way to register to vote. I can't for a minute understand why it wasn't called a "registration to vote"

Posted by Wesley Brown on 22 October 2009

When Andy ran for the board we had a few talks about why he was doing it. It took all of 30 seconds to decide that I was voting for Andy and pushing everyone I knew to do the same. He has the same "complaints" I do and has worked hard to fix them. He has been very good about posting up what is going on and what he is doing.

Thank you Andy!

Posted by Anonymous on 22 October 2009

There has been quite a discussion today on the direction of PASS (the Professional Association for SQL

Posted by Dave Schutz on 22 October 2009

I'm agreeing with what Steve said. Why only 4 candidates for 3 positions. Let all who apply be part of the voting slate. I really appreciate what the board and other volunteers do for us but the board belongs to the members of PASS and we should get to choose from all the candidates. I was surprised that only 500 people voted. That is part of the problem. Why aren't more people interested in electing the next board? This should be a big red flag for PASS, many people must feel something is wrong with the election if they don't want to vote.

Posted by Peter Schott on 22 October 2009

Or it could be that a lot of the members are feeling disconnected or not informed enough to vote. I know that I'll abstain from voting rather than cast an improperly researched vote.  (I didn't abstain this time, but I knew enough to cast a vote.)

I don't necessarily mind seeing only 4 candidates for 3 positions. We have similar concepts in our regional/national elections, though how we narrow this down is probably different.  I'm also pretty sure that there will be some changes coming next year.  The debate this time around has been pretty spirited.

Posted by Anonymous on 23 October 2009

Pingback from  My Weekly Bookmarks for October 23rd | Brent Ozar - SQL Server DBA

Posted by Kevin Kline on 25 October 2009

It's posts like this that, honest to God, make me want to put a bullet through my skull.  And I am absolutely not exaggerating.  

Since everybody and his brother seems to feel the need to armchair quarter back this whole process from beginning to end, I'm going to take the time (hey, I don't have anything else to do, right?) and explain, point by fricken' point, the downlow on this.

Point 1. "But I also don't think [the Nominating Committee is] doing a good job."  

Response - No, we did a great job according to what we were asked to do under the rules that we had to follow.  You don't like the job we did?  Change the rules.  The was the entire point of my post at kevinekline.com/.../what-direction-do-you-choose.  Your criticisms are like a rugby fan yelling at an NFL game because of forward passes.  Uh, dude, they're actually playing the game right.  I'll take criticism all day long if we broke those rules.  But we didn't and we did the best we could.

Point 2. "You cannot use history as an excuse for a lack of progress right now."

Response - No, but under PASS' governance structure, no committee chair can get up and say "Hey, these rules suck. I'm gonna do things MY way, biaches!  MY way is SO MUCH better than yours."  I'm sure you can figure out why...  What if the chair's way is way weird or way stupid or way selfish?  You simply have to protect against that.  For that matter, the NomCom was not even attempting to make "progress", if by that you mean changing the way that PASS does things.  And in those areas were things WERE done differently, such as the survey for voting, those new changes were the work of Andy Warren and Thomas LaRock.  Frankly, I don't recall why Andy chose to call it a survey and not a registration.

Point 3. "How and why were these 4 of the 11 (or 12, can't remember) picked? What scores were used?"

Response - Again, I explained how transparency wasn't a major goal of the NomCom in the past in my blog post.  We were given different priorities and did our best to meet those goals.  It can and should be a goal in the future, but we can't retrofit our old process for transparency after the fact.  Why?  Much of what the candidates spoke about needs to be private.  When asked to describe their vision of Microsoft's role in PASS, there's not a candidate on the slate that'd like to go on the record as trashing Microsoft.  But they should be free to express that privately within the board.  And more importantly, the board needs an uncensored view of what the candidates think about that and many other important points.  They have to be able to speak candidly without fear of their views getting out.  

In addition, some candidates may have views that are contrary to the aims and goals of PASS, but they're still great candidates.  By airing the views of such a person, it's possible for people to (falsely) expect that those views and opinions will be implemented soon after the person takes a seat on the board.  What soon winds up happening is a fracturing of the community with new factions created to support this candidates' goals.  While that's completely cool for a national government, it doesn't fly with corporate boards of directors. Toyota doesn't ever want a board member who thinks they should stop worrying so much about cars.  Same thing goes for PASS.

Point 4. "Not to harp on Tim Ford"

Response - Tim is an awesome guy and I fully expect to see him on the slate next year, in which time I also expect to see him elected.  I'm not going to speak any ill of him, frankly, because he's great and he'll be back.  But even he acknowledge in his own blog post that his interview was a train wreck - not a little hiccup here or there - a.train.wreck.

Point 5. "And why aren't we, the members of PASS qualified to decide? Does the board of pass and the Nominating Committee think that we can't decide who's a good candidate?"

Response - Do you know who won the Time public poll of the 20th Century Person of the Year?  Was it Jonas Salk, who saved literally millions of lives with his polio vaccine while, at the same, giving it away for free and not extracting one bit of profit from it?  (Ask Pfizer if they'd do that today!)  Was it Albert Einstein, potentially the greatest scientific mind since Sir Isaac Newton?  Or perhaps it was Alexander Fleming, who discovered the first antibiotic, thereby also saving untold multitudes of human lives?  Or maybe FDR, for helping to lead the USA through the Great Depression and WWII.  No - it was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey.  And while Ataturk is no slouch, the Person of the Century?  Really?!

Yes, and he won by about 2 million more votes than the next competitor on the list for the simple fact that public, electronic voting systems can be hacked.  PASS didn't want that to happen to our candidates since, with just over 500 votes cast in our biggest year, it only takes a teeny tiny bit of hacking to totally change the outcome.  So the NomCom is REQUIRED to ensure that anyone who comes to before the membership in open elections should be a fully vetted candidate capable of going all the way to president, not one who is iffy, but will then vetted by the community.

Point 6. "We can't judge someone's ability to articulate themselves in a paper or interview?"

Response - Sure, you as a concerned and interested member of the community CAN be a great judge.  However, the system must be able to withstand a concerted attempt by self-interested parties to rig the system.  Noodle on that for a while and let's hear your suggestions to make it bulletproof.  I agree we should do this in the future, but to say that PASS sucks now because it didn't do it feels a lot like telling your great grandma of 1918 that she sucked for not voting.  (For our non-US readers, women didn't have the right to vote in federal elections until 1920.)

Point 7. "This is a popularity contest"

Response - Yes, it is.  But it doesn't happen in a vacuum and it's not simply a "Napoleon Dynamite" election where people tack up a few posters and call a big assembly after which everyone votes.  So, while all of your suggestions are great, no one ever wants to do the work to make it happen.  Gripe all you want that PASS' current system is  crapola, but until someone does the work to change things, it's simply not going to happen.

Point 7. "We are SQL professionals, and while we might get mired in details, can any of us think of a reason to not announce the results as 12:01PST on Tuesday?"

Response - Yeah, here's one for ya.  PASS has a tradition that everyone is told in person whether they were elected or not.  Why?  Because our very best volunteers are typically the ones who throw their hat in the ring as a board candidate.  And they lose hope when they lose an election.  So, a major reason for the in-person talk after the election is urge them to keep going, to find a way to keep active, and to not lose hope.  I wonder if Tom Larock would be on the board today if someone hadn't personally begged him to keep in the game?  So, yeah, you can computerize the whole thing - if you like to ignore the fact that PASS depends on human beings who are often subject to dismay in the face of a major loss.  

Yes, American presidential candidates don't mind seeing the votes tallied publicly on the board, because they have huge support organizations to emotionally bolster them, in addition to their day job as a senator or governor, which'll bring them right back to the elections the next go'round.  But if you treat a major PASS volunteer that way, you'll simply lose one of your best volunteers now and forevermore, should they not be one of the lucky ones who got elected.  Add that factor in to the proposal of running two or three candidates per open slot, and it'll only take two elections to exhaust your entire pool of top-rung volunteers.  They simply won't come back for another round of potential humiliation.

Point 8. "It's [about] accountability, and transparency."

Response - Finally, a comment that seems NOT to say "PASS board members and nominating committee, you're stupid and you suck muchly".  I agree.  During my tenure as president together with then EVP Joe Webb, we worked daily to make PASS' financials as transparent as possible.  (We also standardized and documented all of our operational and committee processes, but I don't know what's become of that work.)  It was monumentally difficult work that required 40 hour work weeks on top of our 50 hour work weeks that paid the bills.  That hard stuff is pretty much done.  It's now time for succeeding boards to make the rest of PASS' activities and operations transparent.  Your input will help define that.

Point 9. "To some extent, I think it's my fault."

Response - Ok, this point shocked me.  Maybe I don't have to put a bullet through my skull after all.  But I'd like to encourage you to change the sentiment just one or two more notches.  When you say "It's also the rest of the community that has not demanded accountability."  This feels a lot like the parishioner who -demands- to review the parish budget but who never tithes or volunteers at the church.  I'd like to encourage you to consider this counterpoint - the rest of community also has not stepped up to make all these good things you demand to happen.  PASS needs your ideas, your constructive criticism, and your encouragement.  But it also needs YOU - your energy, your vitality, your work.  Lot's of people will armchair quarterback every single thing PASS does, but in many situations, that only serves to demoralize the people who are trying their best to get the work in question done. But how many critics will actually step up to make a change happen?

The whole point of my blog post was - "OK, you don't like how the elections went down.  But that's done and past.  Now, let's start talking about what SHOULD be implemented."

So, let's see those ideas about the future.  But don't stop there!  Look for ways to help implement the consensus of those discussions - either by channeling those ideas and findings to your bestest buddy on the board, volunteering on or chairing a PASS committee, or even running for the board.

I like how Andy said it in one of your comments "...talking about PASS and what you (or anyone) believe it should be is ok and even necessary. Our challenge, collectively, is to critize [sic] when appropriate, praise when merited, make suggestions when someone has them, and strive for continuous improvement."  It's the STRIVE part that no one seems to want to do...

-Kev

Posted by Jeff Moden on 31 July 2010

Heh... I guess you're really going to get a chance to find out where the rubber meets the road this year (2010/2011).  Good luck on your nomination for the board.

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