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The PASS Acquisition of SQL Saturday

batonA couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the SQL Saturday franchise was voluntarily transferred to PASS .  This change of ownership could be a good thing for SQL Saturday, but I do have some questions and concerns.

Let me say for starters that the SQL Saturday franchise is near and dear to me, since it was one of the early events (SQL Saturday #3 in Tampa) that helped me get my start as a technical presenter, which has led to a lot of other opportunities since.  Since then I’ve attended and spoken at several other SQL Saturday events, I am part of the team putting together an event in Dallas this summer, and I’m planning to attend at least two more out-of-town SQL Saturday events this year.  As result of my involvement, I’ve come to appreciate both the mission and the implementation of this framework.  I’m also friends with Andy Warren, Steve Jones, and Brian Knight, the founders of SQL Saturday, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Andy about these events, their value in the community, and how they could be sustained and even improved.  With all that said, it’s a fair assessment that I’m more than just a casual observer to all things related to SQL Saturday.

The Good

Because PASS is such a large organization with a larger pool of potential resources, the change of ownership could be a good thing for the future of the SQL Saturday brand.  With more volunteers to draw from, a full-time administrative staff, and of course the PASS name and rather large megaphone, the possibility exists to grow the already-successful franchise into a strong and ubiquitous series of localized events.  There is a good deal of content overlap between the functions of PASS and the SQL Saturday events, and aligning those goals into a consolidated effort has the potential to improve both entities.

The Risk

There is, however, risk in this change.  The most key issue for me is the possibility that the management and implementation model will be changed.  SQL Saturday has already established a strong record of success in its short history through a ground-up, grassroots approach.  Andy specifically built this brand to be a framework and not a management hierarchy; as such, the local user groups were given an immense amount of latitude on the details of the implementation of these events.  There were very few rules that constrained the use of the SQL Saturday brand, and as a result, I think the local group leaders and volunteers felt a strong sense of ownership over the process.  If they own it and believe in it, they’re going to pour themselves into it.  The risk lies in the potential changes that PASS could make to integrate SQL Saturday into its existing infrastructure.  I’m hopeful to find out answers to the following:

  • Will PASS try to take a stronger role in running the local events, and if so, to what extent?  Specifically, is the local user group leadership in charge, or will the events be run by PASS?
  • Will there be a long checklist of boundaries and constraints on the details of the implementation? 
  • Can we still give first-time speakers the opportunity to speak, or will there be a qualification process that excludes those who have never given a technical presentation before? 
  • How are finances (sponsorship monies and event expenditures) handled?
  • Can local groups still raise sponsorship funds locally, or are we locked into those sponsors provided and approved by PASS?
  • How will the SQL Saturday mission be integrated into the current PASS initiatives, and will it be changed to accommodate same (or vice versa)?
  • Will the name be changed?  (A lesser concern, but a name change could adversely affect the already strong name recognition)

I know that all of these questions don’t have definite answers yet – after all, the ink is barely dry on the paperwork – so I’m willing to be patient for answers until the dust settles :)

Looking Forward

I hope I don’t sound pessimistic, because I’m not; to the contrary, I’m excited about what this could do for SQL Saturday.  If I can offer any advice to the decision makers, it would be this:  Don’t try to change the event too much.  Yes, brand it as a PASS event, and offer whatever resources (personnel, cash/merchandise, promotion and marketing) that can be spared for the event.  But we can all (hopefully) agree that SQL Saturday has been highly successful, especially when you consider the brief time it has been in existence.  I also know that Andy, Brian, and Steve have put in a lot of work on these events, and they wouldn’t give it away without some assurance that the brand is in good hands.

As things shake out, I’ll be sure to share any answers I get along with my analysis of same.

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 Andy Warren on 16 February 2010

Tim, that's a great post and I share your views about the potential - up and down. Totally agree that local ownership is what makes it work. Too many rules and they just call it something else and we lose the shared lessons.

Posts like these help a lot, because it's important for HQ to see that it's not me, and just not my vision - need to make sure they see how the community sees it. Blythe from HQ will be attending SQLSat in Charlotte and we'll be starting the knowledge transfer there, and I hope to really give her a sense of why it works as much as how.

Keep watching, and if the changes go the wrong way, post!

Posted by Glenn Berry on 22 February 2010

I hope that this will make SQL Saturday even more sucessful, without restricting the freedom of local events.

Posted by karlakay22 on 26 February 2010

Hi Tim, I too have many of the same concerns. I've been on the road for several weeks now, and have been digesting all of this, especially since I have an upcoming SQL Saturday this June, as you do in May. I agree with you that our amigos wouldn't have done this had they not had confidence that it was in the best interest for all of us and our communities.  What is most important to me is that the leaders can continue to hold the reigns in organizing their own events, catering to what they know will work in their own community, without changing the rules and adding any restrictions. I look forward to seeing just what is to come. If anything, I think this will mean a great more amount of support from PASS, which is fantastic for all of us!  Cheers, Karla

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