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SQL PASS Summit 2009 – Parting Thoughts

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!

Tim Mitchell

Tim Mitchell is a business intelligence consultant, author, trainer, and Microsoft Data Platform MVP with over thirteen years of data management experience. He is the founder and principal of Tyleris Data Solutions.

Tim has spoken at international and local events including the SQL PASS Summit, SQLBits, SQL Connections, along with dozens of tech fests, code camps, and SQL Saturday events. He is coauthor of the book SSIS Design Patterns, and is a contributing author on MVP Deep Dives 2.

You can visit his website and blog at TimMitchell.net or follow him on Twitter at @Tim_Mitchell.


Posted by Bill Graziano on 13 November 2009


It was great to meet you this year.  Looking forward to seeing you next year.

We'll definitely have a Q&A next year.  I would expect we'll have it at every Summit.  We'll also do a better job promoting  it.  This one was scheduled at the last minute.  We'll start earlier next year.  

Any scheduling problems with this one are my fault.  I picked the time (but didn't realize Kim was speaking).  We tried to have it run during a scheduled session but also go longer than the session so people would have a chance to come by after.  Scheduling this is hard.  There are just so many great things going on.  When should we have scheduled it?


Posted by Jack Corbett on 13 November 2009


A couple of mentions I've seen elsewhere were at lunchlike the WIT lunch or first part of a keynote one day.  Another idea might be the welcome reception. Kind of like the Quiz Bowl except you'd have questions sent up by the audience (email/twitter/pad and paper would potentially work without needing people running around with mics).  

Definitely worth thinking about.

Posted by Steve Jones on 13 November 2009

good thoughts, and I'd tend to agree. Not sure about the karaoke as I think the smaller environment, more tight community works well. Open it to 500 people and less will sing. Maybe get a list of places it's available or set up some smaller venues?

For the BoD, what about during a lunch?

Posted by Patrick LeBlanc on 13 November 2009

I have to agree with Tim on many of his points, but overall probably the best PASS Conference that I have attended.  This was my third.  

As far as when to have the QA, I suggest having it either as a Lunch time event or evening event on the last day.  

Posted by sqlemail@yahoo.com on 14 November 2009

My suggestion (if I can add my 2 cents)

1. Put a small suggestion box in front of every room where presentation happens. Hand-over small sticky note sytle papers to each attendee, so that they can put their suggestion/question to the speaker in-case they DO NOT get a chance to ask question or would like to share any info.

If that is not possible then provide URL simple enough so that people can send the info. electronically.  Use WebMonkey web-site, its FREE & works to the best.

2. If events like these can be Webcasted (with charge for sure) we would see more participation from users across globe. Not sure why this is not thought about. I do agree in-person events are valuable, but at times we need to be practical.

3. Many a time I see event agenda published very late which does not give enough time to attendees to put their inputs & see if that's what they are looking for in the event. I still believe rating-system if implemented that can bring a value add, which give the speaker re-define the content of the presentation & change it as per attendees need.  If you send the rating info. to attendeed as part of registration package, that tells you where your CROWD will be, then accordingly you can setup the stage & rest of the logistics.

4. Ask the user to rate the event as well as the speaker, that will give more information into what needs to be fixed. BTW, DO NOT take critics personal, its a way to educate yourself in where your lack the value.

5. One major flaw I have always seen is, if an attendee gives a suggestion, summarize the COMMON ones & speak about it in the NEXT conference for 15-20 minutes demonstrating HOW you improved it & recognize that attendee by awarding them (may be a FREE pass to the NEXT Event), that will encourage people to think more & come-up with creative ideas.

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