Splitting up the Mission of PASS

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Following up on Should There Be A Successor to PASS? I have a couple more thoughts. One of the many complaints about PASS over the years was about perceived value. Most everyone saw the value of the Summit but after that it was not a simple conversation to convince someone in the audience about the value of PASS in a way that really mattered to that person. I’ve seen some make the case better than others, but it wasn’t easy. At the same time, in many ways the only thing that mattered to PASS was whether groups or events drove registration to the Summit. I think the two of those ideas speak a bit to the dissonance felt by many about an organization that was in name at least an organization for professionals. My intent isn’t to beat on PASS, but to recognize that if we were to magically rehydrate it today, we’d have all the same old problems and pains. If we want to do better, we have to think about those pain points and I think that in turn leads us to think about what problem(s) we want to solve.

For example, take user groups. If you were building designing a brand new non profit to help user groups, what would be the mission? Is it to serve all those local communities? Or is it to serve the group leader and key volunteers? PASS mattered a lot to group leaders because:

  • Instant network and identity, access to some getting started resources
  • Free solution for hosting the group, gathering a mailing list, and to some degree making it findable
  • A incentive in the form of a free registration to the Summit

But besides connecting Joe or Jane Attendee to PASS which might yield some future benefit, attendees at a user group saw the user group as the thing that was delivering value. I don’t see anything wrong with that, at all, but it depends on what you think that non profit in the distance is supposed to be doing. I think it serves local communities indirectly.

You could say that SQLSaturday is very similar, with perhaps a better set of tools. It provides an event framework, some very light guard rails, and even some seed money and uses that to inspire and empower that one local volunteer that will make the magic happen. At the end of a SQLSaturday it’s only right that the cheers and thanks go to the organizers and speakers and other volunteers. It’s not that what PASS provided had no value, but trying to get credit for it or monetize that credit in the form of getting paid Summit registrations while not evil was a distraction from the main mission of doing good locally.

A true professional association might well combine all those things, as PASS attempted, but the problem is giving each segment enough time and focus. It’s not impossible, it’s just hard. Instead, what if we built them as separate orgs, each responsible for defining a mission and a way to measure success and raising funds to enable that mission? Here’s my idea list (with generic names for now):

  • SQLGroups. Exists to grow sql user groups and user group attendance. How we do that, well, that’s the story to write isn’t it? This is maybe 200 group leaders and a few hundred volunteers, how would it serve them?
  • SQLSaturday. Pretty much just like it was, with perhaps one or two fewer rules! Maybe we make the framework more generic so that we could host other events or on differerent days, maybe it’s open source, or maybe it’s something that should serve a wider community than just SQL. Code Camps? What do we do if someone wants to do something along the lines of Rally or Bits? Does that fit here?
  • SQLFamily. Why not? I’d appreciate a place where I could get news about personal events, lightly curated
  • SQLAssociation. Building on the very raw beginnings of PASS Pro, this could be the list you join to get once a month news about SQL, links to other resources (free and paid), a market place for tools and training, maybe a way to track education credits for classes. I think this is perhaps the true replacement for PASS, with a fraction of the mission (and budget)
  • SQLSpeakers. Why not a site/org that is just for speakers, experience or starting out? What could that provide?
  • SQLBloggers. Much like speakers, what could this do? We could at least resurrect the blogger of the year contest.

As soon as you start thinking about those, it can be exciting and confusing. Why not put groups and SQLSaturday together? Idk, maybe that is the right thing to do! Not everything needs to be free, or not for profit, or community owned. The stuff about may not be the right list, it’s certainly not a complete list. It’s a variation of my five hats theory, which is about finding and taking care of various parts of your audience.

You probably noticed that the Summit isn’t on my list. Huge events are a lot of work and a lot of risk and I think better left to for profit enterprises. Maybe we’d pick an “official” event each year, or find a trusted partner. If a Summit replacement springs up we can hope that it will also try to do some good in the form of providing some grants to whatever org(s) we charter, if any. Nothing about that should preclude us from encouraging and building regional events at a lower price point.

What good will we do and how do we pay for it? If we can answer those, then we can figure out an org and governance model, if one is needed at all.

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