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PASS Summit 2009 – Keynotes

I’m not going to look back at the keynotes since I blogged about them. If you are interested, you can read about them:

Instead I’m going to focus on some constructive criticism. I like seeing a great speaker, and I’d like to see 3, 4, or 5 great ones at the PASS Summit in the future. So a few comments.

Be Interesting

Let me say this, other than Kevin Kline’s tribute and Dr. Dewitt’s talk, I had to go back and look at notes to remember what happened. All of the keynotes should be interesting to technical DBAs and developers. It doesn’t have to be a technical presentation, but then make it interesting in a business sense, or use thought provoking topic. Don’t market to us or give us a high level technical view.

PASS Remarks

I think it’s good to have some summaries of what PASS is doing as opening remarks. However I’d like to see them kept short and quick. I would also hope they were relevant to the event. Don’t spend a lot of time promoting the “rah-rah” PASS has these stats, and don’t read the slides.

Use the live Twitter feed, which I thought was cool to see in Wayne’s keynote, but use it to comment on what’s happening. Respond live to something that came up.

Overall I liked the events, and the presentations for exceptional volunteers. However smooth out the processes and get those people up front and ready to come on. So what if they know a day before and tell 12 friends. It’s still a surprise to most people. The tribute to Kevin Kline was wonderful, and anyone that thinks Wayne shouldn’t have cried is out of touch. Kevin deserved recognition for a decade of efforts and I think I might have teared up if I was presenting it.

The other thing I’d say is that you should pick the best speakers from the PASS board. Don’t just stick with a set agenda of the executive committee. The best people in those slots aren’t necessarily the best speakers. The three we had this year do a great job of being loose, but that might not be the case in the future.

Microsoft Keynotes

We had 3 this year. Three executives and one technical fellow. Two good, one bad, in my opinion.

We are SQL Server professionals. In two decades of doing this, the vast, vast majority of the probably thousands of people I have talked to think this way:

We believe in Microsoft products.

Sure, we complain and point out issues. But that’s because they’re issues, not because we want to switch to Oracle, Java, or something else. We’re already sold, we’re using your products, and we want to continue to use them. You don’t need to sell us.

So stop the marketing. Both MS keynotes were too focused on why MS products are great, what we see in new versions, etc. It’s boring, and it’s a waste of a chance to speak to people that already love your products. Give those presentations to mixed audiences, and instead pick something exciting to us. Something that doesn’t just talk new products, but speaks to the audience.

I’ve seen Bill Gates speak a number of times. Quite often he’s made fun of himself, but he’s looked forward. Not at the latest product releases. OK, he’s done that at times, but he’s also made me think. Steve Ballmer talks marketing, but he at least has more energy.

Pick interesting speakers, maybe more technical fellows or Microsoft Research people that will make us think. Pick a business speaker, perhaps like the keynotes from the first Business Intelligence conference, Michael Treacy or Dr. Robert Kaplan.

Make us think.

And pick interesting customer references. Find someone exciting. I talked to the customers later, and they had interesting things to say, but they weren’t interesting on stage. Get people engaged.

Lastly, make them short. The keynotes ran too long this year. Heck, take 5 minutes between them and throw out some MS t-shirts. 

Dell Keynote

I’ve watched this twice now. In Denver two years ago and this year in Seattle. I have no idea who presented two years ago, but the guy that did it in 2009 was horrible. No offense to him, and he seems like a smart guy, but a few items that Dell should address.

1. Whoever wrote the presentation, and whoever approved the topic, remove them from the loop. They have no business being involved next year.

2. Know your audience – A high level, this-is-DR presentation is a waste of time for the vast majority of the attendees. A better topic would have been some real life disaster issues and how you would/could prevent them. Or even some of the cool stuff Dell has done in engineering larger servers.

3. Be fascinating - We are much more likely to talk about the Dell keynote positively if it catches our attention. Look to the Dr. DeWitt keynote for an idea of what's interesting. People loved that one. It doesn't have to be theoretical. Tell us how Dell.com handles transactions. Show us something large scale that you do. Pique our interest.

The marketing folks can't help themselves. They somehow try to tie Dell to the keynote and think we'll buy your products. Just stop that. Most of us don't have a choice in what we buy, so stop it. Impress us and we'll mention that to the decision makers.


It was great to have the blogger table this year and last year. I look forward to doing it next year if I'm invited and I think the exchange of tweets in real time adds to the event. One thing I'd recommend here so that people can read through accounts is have a way for us to send our posts to the PASS HQ. Most of us tweet them, but if you had a page we could submit thoughts on each keynote, or each day, that would be great. Or even low-tech with a series of email addresses (day1@sqlpass.org, tomcaseykn@sqlpass.org, etc.) and then have someone post them on the Summit event page, it would be a great way to promote us, and the PASS Summit at the same time.

I'd also like to see some fairly consolidated locations for pictures and videos that people shoot for the Summit. The #sqlpass hash tag seemed to work well, but it would be great to have someone clean up and produce some great timeline of the event a week or so later. Even the videos shown in the morning would be great promotions for the event.

I enjoyed the PASS Summit 2009, and am already looking forward to 2010.

Tomorrow I look back at some of the pictures and video I've seen of the event.

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


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