Selecting Speakers for the Summit

This is a series of posts on the PASS Summit and SQL Saturdays. I’m outlining some thoughts here, sometimes for the first time, but on topics that I think make better events. These are opinions and thoughts, not mandates or demands.

I attended, well, listened to, the PASS Speaker Selection Q&A this week. In the spirit of being constructive, I want to thank the board members and committee members for attending. I thought the event was well run and informative. I appreciate the disclosure.

Tldr: I think the volunteers did a good job, with minor room for improvement. Disclose more numbers and guidelines, and involve the community more.

Hearing about the process is always good as this affects the community that attends the event. Both speakers and attendees. I’ve been involved before, and should do so again, to see how things might be different. I appreciate the amount of work involved, and would like to thank Allen White, Lance Harra and Mindy Curnutt for their work. I know many others are involved, and thanks for your time as well.

  • 840 abstracts.
  • 255 speakers (3+/speaker)
  • 112 session slots (+10 pre-cons, 4 lightning talks)
  • 5000+ comments from reviewers.

That last number is quite interesting. That’s an average of 5.9 comments per submissions, much higher than when I was involved. What’s more, Lance and Mindy reviewed all comments, ensuring none were inappropriate to return to speakers. While I abhor censorship, this is something that needs to be done. Some (very few) volunteers will poorly communicate their thoughts, or have a bad day. Reviewing and redacting (or asking for rewording) makes sense.

There also was a note that Lancy/Mindy tracked the timing of comments to ensure volunteers spent time actually thinking about the sessions/speakers and not racing through with a quick CTRL+C, CTRL+V. That is impressive.

I asked a question on first time speakers. Not to beat up the committee, but because I think the health of the community depends on regularly getting new speakers, both first timers at the Summit and new pre-con presenters. Note that I don’t want someone to give their first talk or their first pre-con at the Summit. They need to practice elsewhere, but we need a rotation of new speakers.

Allen mentioned that he looked for 20-25% new speakers, though that guideline isn’t published or listed. I know that the number depends on the submissions, but having guidelines and then giving reasons for deviating is what I’d expect. Give numbers and then react. Adjust and explain why. That’s what many of us do with data and our jobs.

For the record, I think 25% is high. Maybe 20%, especially as we have more and more speakers. I would like to see a goal of at least 10% each year. If you do more, fine, but explain a bit. Not a lot. A bit.

Allen has a nice post with some numbers and the process explanation. Thanks, Allen.


More Data

I want to see more numbers. That’s our job. If PASS doesn’t have time, recruit a few volunteers. I’d bet there are a few people in the community that would love to play with data. Let us see the pre-cons broken out. Topics, resutls of surveys. There’s even this cool tool that lets you build some visualizations with data.

Or better yet, put out a feed, or if that’s too hard, some numbers in an Excel sheet. A flat file. Let people do some analysis and learn. You might learn something as well.

Honestly, while I think comments deserve some privacy protection, I’m not sure ratings do. I’d like to see those released. The committee is always going to upset people, and there will always be complaints. However, the more information you provide, the more we can comment, yes, also complain, but also you might learn something about how the community thinks about your choices.

After all, you’re supposed to consider the community.

I’m not asking you to only listen to the community. After all, the Summit is a business, and it’s fair to say that the 12th PowerBI session rated a 4.2 got bumped to get in a 3rd Extended Events talk rated 3.5.

Disclose more and analyze more. React and adapt. If you don’t want complaints, resign. That’s part of the job.

Enough on that.

Community Vote

I do think that it’s impossible to build a perfect schedule. Looking at last year’s numbers is inherently flawed. After all, how highly were the AlwaysEncrypted sessions rated last year? Or the first time speakers? It’s a guideline, and I’d like you to publish those numbers to show what you’re considering, but I also think the community deserves a vote.

I asked the question and Allen responded that not a lot of people voted and there were issues. I dislike terms like “issues” without specifics.

However, I’m not asking for sessions to bypass the program committee. I think there is good work done here. What I’m saying is that of the 112 sessions, when you get 100, put the last 10 or 12 up for a vote. Take the sessions rated 100-124 and drop them in a survey. Let community people, those that wish to, vote. After all, of your entire membership, how many vote for the Board? Probably a similar number to what you’d get here.

You take popularity votes from last year’s numbers already. Take a few more.
If it’s a lot of work, explain that. Maybe we can help you slim things down.

Break the Bubble

Mostly what I see from organizations, and what I’ve done, is that groups start to take on responsibility, feel the weight of that responsibility, and work in a bubble. Over time, they become more disconnected from the people they make decisions over.

This is a hard process, and a lot of work. I know you try and mostly succeed. You may be overthinking this, and over-controlling it. Let go a little, take more feedback, and look to improve the process.


That’s what we do in this business, or at least, what we should do.

InsideSQL–The Deep Dive

There’s a new conference in London next week, the InsideSQL conference on June 14th. It’s at the CodeNode venue, near Liverpool Stree and the Moorgate stations.

And I want to go.

I can’t. I’m a bit traveled out, my family is a bit tired of travel overall, and I need a few weeks off. However I’m sad I’ll miss this, a deep dive into lots of topics with some great speakers that write at SQLServerCentral. You can go listen to

  • Gail Shaw
  • Gianluca Sartori
  • Hugo Kornelis
  • and more.

We’ve even got Alex Yates from Redgate Software talking about the complex ins and outs of deployment, which we’ve been trying to make easier for years.

It’s a small event, but it looks like a good one. If you can convince the boss to give you a day off and get to London, you can use the code “Redgate” for a discount on admission. I think the discount is £70 off, so that’s a cheap day of training from some experts.

Go, and let me know how much you enjoyed the event.

A Better Conference




Hope to see you at the conference.
Hope to see you at the conference.



I participate in a lot of events during the year. I had the SQL in the City event from Red Gate recently, with more of those coming to the US later this year. In 2013 I’ve also been a part of SQL Intersection, the online-only spring IT Connections event, various SQL Saturdays, and attended the MVP Summit from Microsoft. In the past I’ve also spoken or attendedTechEd, the PASS Summit, and various one, two, and three day events that didn’t necessarily focus on one specific technology. In that time, I haven’t seen a lot of difference between the various conferences organization and flow. some little things have been tried, and some I liked, but overall most events consist of:

  • a series of “tracks”, which are really rooms in a building.
  • a 60-90 minute presentation of varying quality from a speaker, built months in advance, with little input from the audience.
  • shuttling from one session to another quickly

There are other parts of the events, parties at night, sometimes networking, keynotes, lunch panels, etc, but for the most part organizers pick a location, choose to have x number of rooms, and choose speakers to present in those spaces, largely on the basis of their own biases or desire to learn about a specific topic. Even when attendees vote for content, they only affect a small portion of the agenda.

Could we do better? I don’t know. I saw this post on a better conference and it got me thinking. Perhaps there are other ways we could build conferences. Would it make sense to link sessions together, and build on knowledge across the day? What about getting a panel of speakers to respond to real scenarios and questions from the audience, possibly submitted a few days or hours before? That would raise the bar for speakers, and it might be more entertaining. I’m not sure the quality would be better, especially if demos are hastily thrown together.

However the post has an interesting point. Conferences and many sessions ought to be more about engagement and inspiration and less about training you to use a particular piece of technology. Perhaps we would like to find ways to interact more, discuss and debate ideas and approaches rather than broadcast information. Would you like more interactive content? Or do you prefer to sit back and listen to what the speaker thinks is important?

Back to Vegas

Back to Vegas for SQL Server Connections in 2012

I enjoy Las Vegas and am glad to be heading back to present at the Spring SQL Server Connections conference in March. If you wear a number of hats at your job, and deal with a variety of platforms in the Microsoft technology stack, this is a great event to attend. There are nine conferences taking place at the same time, in the same place, and you get the chance to see sessions from Mark Minasi on Windows, Scott Hillier on Sharepoint, Miguel Castro on Visual Studio, and more along with your SQL Server sessions.

I know you can’t attend every session, and you can’t see all the content that week, but the sessions are recorded and attendees can get DVDs of the content. I love that, and it means I can pop in and out of sessions, checking out the content and topics, and mark those in a program that I want to watch later. It also means that I can focus on the important parts of the conference: meeting people.

When I’m looking to learn, I try to make time to talk to the people that can teach me something or answer a question I have. I can always email someone later, but the chance to have a meaningful conversation is worth the time spent at events.

I like going to Las Vegas, but not for the reasons that many people go. I don’t gamble, having bet exactly $0 on my last two trips. I don’t stay out too late, or attend the shows. I go because the weather is great, it’s close to home, and I get the chance to network and bond with people in this amazing SQL Server community.

Ask your boss for some training money, and come join me this March in Las Vegas.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

A SQL Conference in the Sun

SQL Server Connections is in Orlando this Spring

The SQL Server Connections spring conference is coming up in a few weeks in Orlando, FL. This is a part of the DevConnections multi-technology conference and this event is the chance to get some great SQL knowledge and inspiration from experts in a fantastic location. Once again SQLServerCentral is sponsoring a track at the conference; Brad McGehee and myself will be down there, looking forward to meeting a few of you.

I think that conferences are a great way to take a break from work, recharge, and get some excitement back in your job. The speakers at these events teach me about SQL Server, and inspire me to come back and try some new feature or technique in my own environment. I might get the solution to a problem, and usually find that the work is just a little more fun when I return. To me, that’s an ROI that’s hard to argue against .

DevConnections puts on a great conference event, recognizing that while people want to come learn, they also want to do it in a nice location. This event is in Orlando, with great weather, at a place you can bring your family for a mini-vacation before or after the event. There’s no shortage of things to do in Florida, and it’s a relatively inexpensive place to visit. The conference hotel even offers complimentary transportation to many popular attractions. Who knows, we might even end up sitting by the pool and talking high availability or Resource Governor in the late afternoons. That’s more interesting to me than discussing things in a conference hallway.

So many people are hybrid IT workers, using more than one technology, and this conference reflects that. The last time I went to a DevConnections event,  I attended mostly SQL Server sessions, but did manage to see an ASP.NET session and a couple Sharepoint presentations. Becoming more rounded in my IT knowledge has paid off for me in the past, and the DevConnection events give you the chance to grow skills in a variety of areas.

Hopefully I’ll meet a few of you at SQL Server Connections this spring and share a few drinks while we talk about SQL Server.  I should be easy to find in the Hawaiian shirt and cowboy hat.

Steve Jones

Save $200 with the “DevCon1” code when you register.

The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

A Couple Interesting Talks

At the PASS Summit a few weeks ago, the keynote talks and the WIT luncheon were streamed live to the world. I watched most of the talks from my house, and some of them were very interesting.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the first two days, which were full of too much marketing for me. There are some cool demos, but I’ll let you decide if it’s worth checking out. However the third keynote, from Dr. David Dewitt, was amazing. Just as it was last year, it was mind blowing, and I’m not completely sure I understood it, but it’s worth watching.

David Dewitt Keynote

The Women In Technology luncheon that I thought was interesting as well. I know that not everyone wants to take this on as a cause, but if you think that we should help promote technology to women, check it out.

WIT Luncheon

The SQL Rally – Who Would I Vote For?

I was looking over the pre-conference sessions submitted for the SQL Rally event taking place next May in Orlando. I think it’s great that the community gets the chance to vote on the submissions and help decide what will be offered.

Note that you don’t have to attend the event to vote, so go vote now. Vote honestly, and think about what you’d be interested in seeing, and paying for.

But go vote!

I’ve seen some posts from Joe Webb, Andy Leonard, Grant Fritchey and Brian Kelley as well as others on their submissions. I went to vote, and thought there were some great sessions. So who would I vote for? Let’s break them down:

BI Track

A Day of SSIS with Andy Leonard: Andy is a friend and I’ve seen him speak. He’s got that down home, Southern style and he’s easy to listen to. Andy is one of my go-to people for SSIS questions and this session likely will give you the framework for building great SSIS packages along with tools to help to ensure you know what will be happening in your ETL process. I think this would give me the outline of how to better design SSIS packages.

Business Intelligence Workshop with Patrick LeBlanc, Devin Knight, Mike Davis and Adam Jorgensen. Patrick is a good friend as well and the rest of the Pragmatic Works crew are talented consultants that I’ve recommended work to. Learn to build a data warehouse from start to finish. Ambitious, but I can certainly see this happening. After all, founder Brian Knight used to build a SQL Server cluster in an hour, something that was equally impressive.

Advanced Reporting Services – How to achieve almost anything by Simon Sabin. I think Simon is one of the people that I would highly recommend for almost any SQL Server work in the UK. He’s a great speaker, and easy to understand. This session looks like a great outline for how to design your reporting infrastructure so that it is flexible and you can build those reports quicker than ever.

The winner?

You can’t go wrong with any of these sessions. They all cover slightly different topics, but you have great topics and they’ll all be great. I expect that the community’s majority on the topic (SSIS, SSRS, DW) is what will get picked. I’d choose SSIS, but only because I think Andy would teach me a ton in one day that would help me get an SSIS job if I needed one.

DBA Track

Multi-SQL Server Management with PowerShell with Aaron Nelson. Aaron is one of the people that I think has done wonders with Powershell. Allen White, Sean McCown, and Aaron are the people I’d go to with Powershell questions. If I were managing servers, I’d do to this session. Powershell is built for scripting, and multiple servers require scripting to manage effectively and efficently. Aaron tells you to bring a laptop and I expect tons of code to be shown and examined.

SQL PowerShell for the DBA with Maximo R. Trinidad. I don’t know Maximo, but this looks like a nice intro to Powershell. If you’ve never touched the product, this is likely the session you’ll want to spend some time in to get up to speed quickly.

Top-to-Bottom SQL Server Security with Brian Kelley. Brian has been someone I’ve known for a decade and he’s a top notch, SQL Server expert. Much of his work has been with security, and he is definitely the person I’d call about any security issues. This looks like a great session, one that will teach you about many of the security things that most of us never think of. I’ve seen some sessions from the SANS Institute and the security people just look at the world differently. This should be a valuable session for anyone that has a high security or highly regulated environment.

Query Performance Tuning, Start to Finish with Grant Fritchey. I’ve known Grant for many years, and we talked about his session before it was submitted. Grant’s a great speaker, and you’ll enjoy listening. However Grant’s also written two great books on performance tuning and execution plans. He’s bringing that experience here and packing a ton into a day of learning.

The winner? I think these are all worthy sessions, but I’d have to say that if I were voting with my wallet, I’d pick Grant’s session. I’d learn something in any of them, but gaining more knowledge on query tuning would be of more interest to me. Brian’s security one would be a close second, and if I actually had to manage multiple servers, I’d probably think about Aaron’s Powershell one.

Developer Track

What every .NET developer MUST know about SQL Server

with Klaus Aschenbrenner. I haven’t seen Klaus speak, but this title caught my eye immediately. I think this is exactly the type of session that every developer that isn’t highly experienced with SQL Server should attend. I don’t know how it will go across since I haven’t seen it, but I love the topic.

Database Design Workshop by Louis Davidson. I’ve seen Louis speak quite a few times and I think he’s one of the people that really understands and cares about good database design. He has done this session, or a similar one a few times, including at the PASS Summit. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Maximize Your SQL Server 2008 Coding Skills with Plamen Ratchev. I met Plamen a few years ago and was impressed with him. I even borrowed part of one of his presentations (with permission) to incorporate into one I was doing. Plamen knows a lot about T-SQL and if you write T-SQL code, then this is likely the one to vote for. It doesn’t take any more time to do it right, IF you know how to do it right. Learn how to do it right.

The Winner? I’d have to say that Plamen’s session on T-SQL, including the new enhancements would be the one I pick.


I submitted one here, so keep that in mind.

Finding Your Dream Job with Steve Jones and Chris Shaw. Yep, this is mine. It’s based on the Modern Resume presentation I’ve done many times and Chris’ work with interviewing and finding a good job. I listened to Chris’ 24 Hours of PASS presentation and was impressed. And we decided to do one together. We’re looking to teach you how to find the job that fits you, and then get it by improving your skills and making yourself more attractive to employers.

So I Got Promoted, Now What? with Joe Webb. Joe is a great speaker and this session will help you figure out how to move out of being just a technical guy to being a manager or lead. Make no mistake, managing people is not easy and it requires new skills. This is a great place to learn how to adapt.

Leadership and Team Management Skills for the Database Professional with Kevin Kline. Kevin has been a leader for years. He is one of the people that stands out in the SQL Server field. We need more leadership and managerial skills and if you are looking for the SQL equivalent of “Win Friends and Influence People,” this is it.

The winner? I can’t pick one here. If you want to find a better job, then my session will help, although the leadership skills from Joe and Kevin can help with that as well. If you are interested in being a team lead, manager, or some other supervisory role, pick Joe or Kevin.

They’re All Good

Rarely have I found any bad pre-conference sessions offered, and in this case I think you have some tough decisions to make. But Vote for something, and pick those sessions that you think will help you most with your career.

The SQL Rally Pre Conference Seminars

There’s a change in how pre-conference seminars are being picked for the SQL Rally event next year in Orlando, FL. You, as the people that may attend, are getting the chance to vote on which sessions you’d like to see.
Vote Here
You get to pick from seminars in various categories, voting once for each session. The descriptions of the sessions are here:
BI Sessions:
DBA Sessions:
Developer Sessions:
Misc Sessions:

I have a session submitted for the Misc area, which is Finding Your Dream Job, a combination of my Modern Resume work and Chris Shaw’s various presentations on getting a new job. We decided that a half day would be a good way for us to give you practical advice on ways to get a better job, or just a job.

Whether you vote for us or not, I think this is a great way to get community feedback. I’ve been suspect that PASS has any idea what people want to see, relying on previous year’s limited data. This at least allows the community to have a say in what gets picked.

I would prefer that voting results were tabulated immediately so we could see what the response is. Based on my experiences, I’m slightly concerned that the community will be over-ridden if PASS thinks something will sell better.

Also, consider attending the SQL Rally in Orlando next May, especially if you find that the price of the Summit is too high. At an estimated $300 to attend, even with a hotel and some travel, you could get a tremendous amount of SQL training and networking for around $1000. And to me, this is way more valuable than sitting in a classroom for 5 days. Think about it, this could be a great investment in your career.

Grabbing SWAG

It’s getting close to the time for the SQLServerCentral party events this fall, and time to start gathering up SWAG to give to people. In the past, I’ve hosted a SQLServerCentral party at the PASS Summit, and it’s always been a good time. Our first year, 8 years ago, we gave away shirts to people that had registered using our referral code, and it was a madhouse.

Since then, I’ve had more organized events, giving away a polo shirt and a book to each person along with random prizes at the party. This year, I decided to make a change for a few reasons.

First, my budget is down. The contract with PASS this year has me getting lower referrals for people that are repeat attendees. That and fewer people registering for now, mean that I’m going to lose money this year. That’s OK, since it’s a marketing event, but I have to watch the budget closer.

So, I decided to try something new. I went with T-shirts this year, using a big SQLServerCentral logo on the front, ala Superman style. I looked around, and decided to go with DFC Screen Printing, who had a great site and worked with me through email to ensure the artwork was OK. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but I’m hoping the heavyweight Jerzee’s t-shirts look good.

We still have a book, though it’s a Stumper’s book this year, and not a “Best Of”. Costs all around are higher, so we had to make a decision. We still might do a “Best of” this year, but it won’t be the giveaway for PASS.

I’ll still have other prizes available, and will be gathering up some DVDs, books, and other stuff during October. I won’t be at the party, but Brad will have things under control and it should be a great time.