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Why I will vote to move the PASS Summit in 2013

Oh no, not again!

Seems not a day goes by that I dont have a discussion somewhere with someone about the Summit Location in 2013 or 2014, or even occasionally about the location this year and next.

If you need background, a couple of my PASS BOD Cohorts have already weighed in on the various ways they are thinking about this decision Here, Here, or Here, additionally Grant Fritchey and Andy Leonard both weighed in as well.  Much additional conversation seems to happen regularly on twitter as well…

Ive been a member of the PASS Board for exactly 35 days and so far I’ve really only been shocked by one thing.  Its almost beyond baffling to me that the #1 issue the SQL community wants the Board (and PASS by proxy) to solve is the location of the 2013 Summit.  Honestly, I can think of at least 10 things that are more important for PASS to be focusing energy on than where the Summit is going to be located.  But, alas that clearly illustrates that it is a VERY important issue to many community members

I want to be perfectly clear

The location of the 2013 Summit has not been decided yet

The decision is expected to be made in the March BOD meeting.

This post wont go into all the 1000’s of ways a person could look at this issue, and trust me there’s more than 1000.  Instead I’m going to tip my hand, and skip all the mumbo jumbo because I believe everyone on the Board already knows how I feel about this issue.  So the only possible people who dont know are the 2 of you reading this.

I will vote to move the Summit out of Seattle in 2013

Now that the beans have been spilled (no big shocker there I hope) id like to at least outline how I’ve come to this decision so hopefully you can agree or disagree with me but, at least respect that the reasons are my own, and that I believe they represent whats best for the organization as a whole.

First a tiny caveat – yes I’m putting the fine print first, its important — If by some freakish accident there is no conference space available (within a reasonable $$ limit) in the finalist cities then I may be forced to do something different.  — that fine print is merely the DBA in me practicing for every possible outcome in a disaster.  Even though I dont plan for it, I cant ignore it might happen.

  • A large portion of the community feels so strongly about this that many feel almost disenfranchised by the very group that they have been an integral part of.
  • PASS’s #1 Mission is to serve the community, how better than to occasionally have THE SQL Server Event of the year in a location thats more accessible to different parts of the country
  • Microsoft has pledged their Support for the conference no matter its location
  • To the average “newish” DBA the difference between having 150 MS people at the Summit and 400 is nearly nonexistent
  • We’ve moved The Summit before, this isn’t unprecedented, PASSHQ is easily able to do this, the procedures should already exist.
  • My portfolio (Summit Program) would likely be the most effected by this change.  Maybe marketing would have a large impact as well but, as far as BOD work, Program would likely take the brunt of a move.
  • If the majority of the Microsoft presence is traveling, they wont have their homes to sneak off to at 5:00. so they would presumably be more likely to continue to interact after Summit session hours
  • Selfish Reason — Moving the summit would force Microsoft to lock in their speaker lineup earlier which would make my job coordinating that easier

Now for the limits of my support

  • I think the Summit should be in Seattle more often than not, say 2 out of every 3 years or 3 out of every 4.  Based almost entirely on SQL release cycles
  • Until it proves detrimental to the organization — I am a risk taker by nature, as evidenced by living on an island in the path of hurricanes (site of the worst US natural disaster ever) but, everyone has their limits

Id like to take a second and ask you Mr. or Mrs. SQL Community Member reading this to do me a personal favor.  Find one of those “other” really important things you wish PASS was better at, something we should be focusing on, and leave a comment here or send me a message in email or twitter about it and sling out some ideas, or better yet solutions!!  Approach that with the same level of enthusiasm as the Summit location and we should be able to get some real movement on other things that are important to the community.  If I get any responses to those “other things” Ill build them all into a a future blog post and make sure they get some attention.

I wrote the above mainly so the community that elected me to lead would know that I’ve spent a long time listening and trying to come up with a decision on this.  Now with this decision behind me, I can move on to worrying about other PASS (Community) business without the community wondering if I’ve been paying attention.

Reflections of a Board Meeting

Ive officially been on the Job as a Director for PASS less than a month and already I’ve had the chance to participate in 2 in person Board meetings.  1 at the summit (non-voting) and 1 this past week in Dallas.  Ill be the first to admit, I didnt really know what to expect going in but, I had some ideas.

Going in to the 2 day meeting last week I figured there would be some good conversations, a bit of brainstorming, a fair amount of arguing, and at least  touch of indecision.  What I found was roughly what I expected in that regard.

The Specifics of the actual meeting were by in large important but boring for the casual observer, so I wont be spending countless bytes that you wont want to read rehashing everything.  After the meeting minutes are published (2 weeks im told) I may revisit this post with thoughts but until then I figure I can wait a few months to rock the boat on details that werent overly “interesting” to the community at large.

Things I learned at last weeks Board Meeting

  • When you have an Ipad in the meeting room, expect plenty of offhanded comments
  • We’re doing a whole bunch of really good things in a piss poor less than optimal way
  • The SQLRockstar who brought bacon to breakfast on the BOD wont eat it as he’s a Bacon Snob
  • That a person can be a Bacon snob
  • The ability to give a backhanded compliment is an art form best demonstrated during meetings
  • Takeout Mexican food consumed in a hotel lobby will get strange looks
  • Coups have been attempted (successfully??) in some user groups
  • Getting 11 people to agree to a place for dinner is sometimes harder than getting them to agree about PASS Direction

What I was surprised the most by wasnt the funny quips, or the amount of good discussions, nor was it the ability of the board to identify problems.  Nope, I was totally expecting to find that the board really does “get it”, and for the most part on whole I think they(we) do.  What I was surprised the most by was the fact the hotel we were meeting at was channeling its inner Bush Garden:

Couch & Mens Room Meet again

no SQLKaraoke to be found but, Serious business instead

Please PASS the Awesomesauce

Recently, the 3 of you that read this stream of (un)consciousness may have noticed a lot of posts about PASS and the Board of Directors elections.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the news last Friday that I had indeed been elected to a 2 year term on the PASS board. 

I’d like to start by thanking everyone who voted, even if you chose not to vote for me.  We need more community involvement in all things PASS, and voting is a very important part of that! 

This election was not without its fair share of controversy and while overall it was a difficult process for the community to go through, I think a lot of good can result from it.  I hope that everyone who had an opinion about the “process” stays involved.  Staying involved & interested is the easiest way the community can shape the future of the organization. 

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to serve the SQL Server Community in a larger role than in the past.  As always, if you’ve got ideas feel free to send em to me.  I cant make any promises except that I will read and respond but, Im a fan of stealing borrowing others ideas for PASS and making them happen.

Other recent PASS info

Weve had a literal whirlwind of activity in the program committee leadership in the last month+  So, I thought I’d list some of the stuff thats been happening

Some highlights
  • We gathered a large group of volunteers to proofread abstracts before publishing in the program guide
  • Also, we hammered out all the details for 3 new session types for the Summit : Chalk talk sessions, Best of sessions, and lightning sessions
  • Published a Session preferencing tool to help us build a good schedule (awesome data gathered here!!)
  • We built the summit schedule – this is always fun, if you have any complaints, its on me
  • We gathered a team of volunteers  to review session powerpoints so I wont be doing them alone on the last day (YAY!) in doing this we updated the review guidelines to be more relevant/current
  • I had hoped we would nail down the Microsoft speakers & sessions a little better (earlier) this year but, it seems like we’ve been getting more changes & cancellations than Id have liked.
  • We worked on Coordinated with VC’s & pre/postconference speakers to try and setup livemeeting previews of their  sessions —  Marketing & free community education  –thats like Bacon wrapped Bacon Win-Win!
  • Lots of discussions with our Summit software vendor about availability of ppt updates, demos, etc during the summit.  Updates soon


Upcoming releases
  • The Summit Schedule builder *should* go live on Monday the 27th  Also,  realize this is an expected date but things occasionally happen so dont scream too much if its a lil late (or someone will let me know their displeasure with my tipping of the due dates)
  • Community experts summit session lists – we’ve asked some experts for their opinions about which sessions to attend, I cant wait to see what these lists look like!


Other Interesting Discussions happening
  • Whether we’re going to record/stream a session room at the Summit and what we’d do with those recordings
  • Whether we should switch back to 2 days of Preconference sessions or stick with 1 day pre and 1 day post
  •  Whether we should be providing desktops in the session rooms for speakers (most don’t seem to use them)
  •  PASSion award & expanding PASS’s recognition of outstanding volunteers at all levels

The long evolution of the PASS Program Committee

It all had to begin somewhere

I joined the Program Committee in late 2006; I spent the first 2 years working on the DBA track teams selecting abstracts.  I have spent a good deal of time working on the technology (vendors) of the Summit (the software we use to manage speakers, room assignments, itinerary planner, etc.).  After going through several demo’s and actually attempting to use two different software packages, I started pushing for PASS to build our own software.  We are paying a (small) fortune for what we use now, the only reason I can figure is that its much more robust than what we need for PASS.  Last year I worked with PASSHQ to put together a project plan for PASS to build a new technology platform to manage the Summit.  This year David with PASS HQ has started delivering on parts of the software.  Once this is in place and we’re not changing software every year/other year, we should be able to focus more on the process, and less on the new software. 

Prior to last year, Pre/post conference sessions (AKA precons) and Spotlight sessions were 100% invite only, and the guidelines for who was allowed to present these sessions was never published outside of the committee.  Beginning with last year, we worked to publish guidelines for who was eligible to present precon sessions.  In publishing the requirements list for who could present an all day precon session we opened up the call for precons to include anyone who met the requirements.   At the same time we opened up spotlight invitations to competition, where we invited more speakers than we had slots for in hopes of raising the caliber of these sessions.  We also began using an easy to understand formula for who gets invited to present spotlight sessions. 

In this same time frame we reached out to many experts and asked for help developing a speaker resource page.  Prior to this there was no real information on PASS’s website documenting what it takes to write good abstracts, or get selected as a speaker.  We have pulled together quite a few resources to help develop speakers, including webcasts and sample abstracts, etc. 

Growing bigger better speakers

I have blogged quite a bit about growing the pool of speakers and we have made some very good steps in the right direction in this space.  There were two fundamental changes I worked into the program committee.  The first was adding a “speaker bureau” option to the speakers contract.  This will allow PASS (where the speakers agreed) to hand off speaker info and abstracts to the local chapters that the speakers are near, which will hopefully facilitate some interaction between the chapter leaders and some local aspiring speakers they may not know about.  There is still work to do to build and enrich the process around this sharing of information back out to the chapters but the first (most important) step has been taken.  I also worked it into the summit speaker contracts that we would release aggregate scores to the other speakers presenting so they could know where they stood compared to their peers.  This was decided as a good first step in open conversations generated by the discussion in this post

Lots of  internal Changes

This year a few things changed internally within the program committee, I separated the BI tracks review teams to match the fact that we now have 2 BI tracks, I also added an extra person to the DBA track team because, well, their workload increases every year and they could use some additional help.  I created a true team of 3 to review precons and spotlights instead of the mgmt group doing that work. But, by far for me the largest change was getting Lori Edwards involved in the leadership of the program committee.  Initially the idea was for her to get a team of task based volunteers who could work on some of the extra technology that the Program committee needed in order to work more effectively.  The first thing I handed her was to take the monstrosity of an excel spreadsheet I had containing every speakers session evaluation since 2005 (when I first got a copy) and make it into a proper database, and get some reporting from it.  After some discussions, we decided to build this as a system to hold ALL speaker evals for PASS or SQL Saturday, or actually ANY SQL presentation, the idea is when its finished if you have a speaker at any SQL event you can accept online evaluations and the speakers will get better feedback in one place. In addition, the organizers of PASS events will have better information as well. This task is still in process, but the first deliverable was a standard report of speakers and their evaluation scores and this was available for this years Program committee.  Somewhere along the way, Lori became more and more involved with all of the bits and pieces of what it takes to run the program committee.  Her involvement in these things has enabled me to reach out and not just do the same old thing for the Summit this year.

More evolution

This year I continued to push to evolve the program committee in several ways.  One of the changes most visible to PASS membership was the Community Choice Sessions.  Like all great ideas I’m not exactly sure where this idea was born, but I worked with people across the PASS organization to get this done.  I wrote about the process a couple of times as it was coming into being.  After involving over 1100 members, I would say this was a great success for PASS, myself and the Program group.

We are planning on taking the evaluation system that Lori and her team are working on and put it into use for the first time at this years Summit.  In doing so we have planned to offer a new type of session that I’ve written about before.  This will be what we’re tentatively calling “best of sessions” where we take the session with the highest evaluation on Tuesday and ask that speaker to present the same session on Wednesday, repeating the same process for those who speak on Wednesday, asking them to present the same session again on Thursday.  This should allow the BEST content at the summit to be seen by the most attendees.

It hasn’t been all fun and games

This evolution and opening of the program process hasn’t been all BACON and index seeks, there has been more than one change on this list that have caused many questions, and in some cases very involved discussions.  We haven’t always gotten everything right, but heck I’m happy that I can say I think we got it mostly right.  There is always room for improvement and more to do to continue to evolve these processes,

If you believe in these changes and you like how I communicate them, consider voting for me.  I’m running for the PASS Board of Directors, and I need your help to make a difference.  Click here to read about why I’m running.

PASS Program Update #3

Its been a while since I wrote an update about whats been happening in the PASS Program Committee.  I just havent had time to write about it with all of the work thats going on in addition to my regular day job.  Hopefully Ill have time now to do a better job at this!

The annual content survey was sent out and the results are in, I’d like to go on record now and say, Im not a BI user/admin/developer.  We took the BI questions from last year’s survey (which were obviously from 2008).  Unfortunately, while going through them and updating the questions I didnt reach out to a BI person and get a gut check for the BI questions.  So we wound up with some out of date info in that section.  I swear we like BI @ PASS, I just goofed, there’s not some secret conspiracy, and YES to the 1 of you who asked, I do read all of the comments .  The good news, for those that asked, the survey results will be released as soon as we can get them collated and readable (any day now)  **UPDATE** The survey responses are here there are definitely some very interesting tidbits to be mined from this.

We are making progress in working on several projects, from redoing the speaker resources, to developing a new system to house the speaker evaluation data.  As with all things volunteer driven, these tasks are taking time but thats not unexpected.It has to be better than this

The biggest project Ive been spending my time on is the call for speakers.  The call for speakers (and resulting abstract review site) is always a huge undertaking.  This year it seems to be even more magnified since we’re undertaking a new vendor (the same 1 that does tech-ed).  There have been quite a few bumps in the road along the way (I wont bore you to tears with all the details) A steady diet of 1-2 conference calls a week and about 50-100 emails a week and we’re closing in on a useable product in the call for speakers site.  The abstract review site, well that will be the subject of a whole other blog post in the future!  Ill just say that right now Im hoping to find some spare pixie dust or at least a few extra rolls of duct tape and bailing wire prior to the close of the call for abstracts

There have been many discussions about changing some of the SOP in the program committee, I have blogged about some of those previously so I wont rehash those here again.  Ill just add a few more ideas Ive been kicking around.

1 of the largest things that will effect the average attendee at the Summit is that we’re exploring ways to allow 2 new session types this year.

1) Community selection – The current thought is to allow the community to choose from (pre filtered) submitted abstracts to choose a session per track (or some similar method/amt)

2) Best of the Summit– The current thought is to take the top session(s) from the first 2 days of the summit and repeat them on day #3

Both of these ideas have execution issues to overcome but, I think they should be doable for the 2010 summit.

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