So now that we’re 7 days removed from the end of the SQL PASS summit, I’ve finally managed to arrange my thoughts and put together some notes about an incredible week in Seattle. This was only my 2nd summit, and the two experiences were vastly different (for my review of the 2005 summit, read “Don’t Be This Guy”).
Just a few highlights I jotted down:
- The keynotes were painfully long. The 2-hour opening event would have been tolerable if it was the only one, but each morning started with a lengthy series of addresses (and at least one sales pitch from Dell, which has already been appropriately addressed elsewhere). More thought should be put into the length and content of these opening events, and the 2nd and 3rd days should be shortened considerably – keep those under an hour.
- The Birds of a Feather lunch was a great idea! Since I haven’t been to the summit in 3 years, I don’t know whether this is a new concept, but it seemed to go over well.
- Ditto that for the chapter leaders’ luncheon. We got the opportunity to meet 3 people from the Dallas area who were members of our mailing list but do not attend chapter meetings, and another 3 who had no knowledge of the local group at all. I suspect there are other similar stories, so I count this as a win for the Dallas group and PASS as a whole.
- At first I thought the rental of the GameWorks facility by Microsoft was a bad idea. After all, if people are playing video games they’re not going to be networking. But after attending and giving it some thought, this venue probably brought out at least a few people who wouldn’t have otherwise spent any time with peers. In hindsight, I like this.
- It’s been mentioned elsewhere, but it’s such a good idea that I’ll repeat it here: We need a way to quickly identify first-time summit attendees. A ribbon on their name badge would probably work best, perhaps coupled with a networking event specifically for newcomers or those attending the summit alone. Properly welcoming newcomers is a good way to encourage them to return again and again.
- We should have either large printed schedules hung throughout the facility, or big monitors (like those showing the Twitter feeds) strategically placed showing the schedule. The latter would allow for last-minute updates and room changes.
- Twitter. PASS organizers did a good job of embracing this phenom by showing the #sqlpass hashtag feed on several monitors, including the large ones in the arena before the opening ceremony. If you’re attending the summit and aren’t using Twitter, get plugged in even if only for the duration of the conference.
- The forums on the SQL PASS website for finding roommates and ridesharing were great ideas as well. I think Jorge Segarra was the thinker-upper for this – kudos!
- The PASS board of directors made themselves available for an open Q&A session on Wednesday, which was poorly attended. There was lots of chatter about things that were wrong with PASS, but not a lot of representation at that meeting. Where was everyone? Hats off to the PASS board for opening themselves up for open questioning. Two suggestions I have for this event (assuming we’ll get the same opportunity next year) is that the session should be better publicized, and it should be schedule when few if any other sessions are occurring – as it turned out, this time slot collided with one of Kimberly Tripp’s sessions, and many people chose the latter over the Q&A.
- Logistics – need more seating in the common areas. This may be a limitation of the convention center, but I suspect that couches and small tables/chairs could be rented for the event.
- Geography. There was a lot of discussion around the possibility of moving the summit to different locations, at least every other year. I like the idea, though I understand that we’d lose a lot of the Microsofties by relocating the event to Dallas or Denver or Chicago. I think moving it to other cities helps to broaden the appeal, bringing along even more first timers. We capture those new attendees by embracing them (see the 5th bullet above) and they convert into yearly attendees. PASS grows, and the community is better through that growth. Win-win.
- SQL Karaoke. It’s a great social event and the newest summit craze. PASS should consider embracing this and have a karaoke night. (I’m only half kidding… if done well it could be a nice addition to the after-hours events)
So back to me and my experience. As I shared in the aforementioned blog a few weeks ago, I had a mediocre experience four years ago at the summit because I was essentially a wallflower. Yes, I attended the sessions and dropped in on the parties, but didn’t get engaged with other attendees and ended up going back to the hotel early a couple of times. I’m happy to report that last week’s experience was a 180 degree turnaround. Building on the lessons I’ve learned since, I spent all of my non-sleep time with other people, talking shop, discussing careers, and cutting loose a bit. I lost count of the number of people I met for the first time, and I caught up with many others whom I rarely see or haven’t talked to in a while. I still need to work on meeting more people at big events – I tend to get caught up in conversations and hang with people for a while, when I should be circulating more. I’ll put that on the list for next year.
If you didn’t attend the summit this year, I hope you’ll consider it for next year! The costs are reasonable when amortized over the year, and you can cut your lodging and transportation in half by sharing. The PASS board and volunteers did a great job with this event, and I for one am looking forward to next year’s summit. Hope I’ll see you there!