Debuting Talks at 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’ve written previously on choosing speakers.

One of the interesting items at the recent Speaker Selection Town Hall from PASS was a question about wanting sessions submitted to the Summit. The question was about whether the sessions could be given at a SQL Saturday (or other event), or if the Summit should be the first place the talk is given.

I’m torn on this.

One one hand, the Summit needs to attract people. This is a business and original content goes a long way to exciting people. I submit and speak at conferences that want this, and I’ve also given sessions at the Summit, which was the first time that I’d ever presented the content in front of an audience.

On the other hand, we want good sessions. If I had one complaint from many Microsoft sessions, it’s that there are many speakers that struggle to give a good talk because they’ve never practiced it. I appreciate they’re busy, but I would love if they had to present a couple times internally and practice.

The same thing occurs for us. The two times I’ve presented new content at the Summit (or other events), it’s very stressful. I’ve also struggled with timing and flow. Even having one talk at a local user group to 3 people will help make a better session.

This isn’t perfect. I’ve seen speakers give the same talk 5 times and not improve or adjust their pace. My preference is to give the benefit of the doubt that speakers will work to improve over time. Note, if they don’t, give them the feedback.

I also see value in having great sessions repeated. I’ll pick on a couple people here. Aaron Bertrand has given T-SQL: Bad Habits & Best Practices at many events. I think I’ve seen it twice. It’s great, and worth seeing. DBA Mythbusters from Paul Randal is great. I know Paul adjusts and grows content over time, and this is one I could see being on the schedule every year. I’ll also say that almost anything Itzik Ben-Gan presents is worth having at every conference.

I don’t know what percentage of repeat sessions should be allowed, but I wouldn’t rule this out. I also think it’s fine to pick sessions presented at other events, if they make a good event. One thing to keep in mind is that if you take advantage of every slot at the Summit, you’ll see 13 or 14 talks.

14/112 (or so)

You won’t see everything. I doubt you’ll watch everything, even if you a super motivated and buy the content on USB.

The same thing occurs at SQL Saturdays. At one of the smaller events, Sioux Falls, there were 3 tracks, but only 4 time slots, so you could see 4 of 11 talks at best.

No one sees all content.

While you might want Grant to have something new at the Summit that you haven’t seen at SQL Saturday Boston, there are lots and lots of other people that would like to see Grant present, even if it’s the same talk from SQL Saturday Boston.

If I could wave the magic wand, what I’d want PASS to do is this:

  • Have 80% new content (content not given at a previous Summit), but content that has been practiced somewhere. In fact, I’d ask that many speakers schedule a user group talk (or a SQL Saturday) prior to the Summit to work out any bugs. This might mean some crunches for user groups in the Aug-Oct range, but that’s fine.
  • That means there would be 20% content that’s being repeated. I think that’s OK, if there are great sessions worth repeating. Certainly I think some of the talks that speakers have given could be updated a bit, but many are worth giving again.
  • Of course, that’s just an idea, and one that doesn’t mean we have hard numbers. Maybe the 20% is a hard ceiling, but the percentages can vary, just discuss why. As the committee makes decisions, keep notes and comments and then drop them in a post.
  • More I’d like to have PASS continue to disclose data, discuss this more, and adjust over time.

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.

However.

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.

Continually.

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

Changing Your PASS Credentials

I got an email today from PASS, noting that credentials were changing from username to email. That’s fine. I don’t really care, but I know I got multiple emails to different accounts, so which account is associated with which email?

I clicked the “login details” link in the email and got this:

2016-05-24 12_31_06-PASS _ User Login

Not terribly helpful, but I was at least logged in. If I click my name, I see this:

2016-05-24 14_09_26-Movies & TV

Some info, including the email, which I’m not sure is linked to the email I clicked on, or is based on browser cookies. However, there’s no username here.

If I click the edit profile link, I get more info, but again, no username. No way to tie back anything I’ve done in the past to this account.

2016-05-24 14_12_28-Movies & TV

I have always used a username to log into the SQLSaturday site, so I went there. On this PASS property, I’ve got my username.

2016-05-24 14_14_46-Movies & TV

If I click the username, I go back to the PASS site, to the MySQLSaturday section, but again, no link to this username. However I realize now which email is related to which username.

Hopefully the others will go dormant soon and I won’t get multiple announcements, connectors, ballots, etc.

The point here isn’t to pick on PASS as much as it is to point out some poor software and communication preferences. Changing to email from username (or vice versa) can be a disruptive change. I’d expect the email would include some information on username and email relation, or at least username since it was sent to a specific email. That would allow me to determine where I might need to contact PASS to update things, or which username was affected for me.

I’d also expect that the username to be stored somewhere and visible on the site. Even if this isn’t valid login information, why not just show it? When we migrated SQLServerCentral from one platform to another, we kept some columns in the database that showed legacy information. This information wasn’t really used, but it did help track down a few problems we had with the migration. Having a bit of data is nice, and it doesn’t cost much (at least in most cases).

This wasn’t a smooth process, though not too broken for me. I like that PASS sent the communication, and I’m glad the old method still works. I logged in with username today. I wish there was a bit more consistency between PASS applications, and that they included a date when username will no longer work. I also hope they update their testing (or test plan) with any issues they discover this week, so the problems aren’t repeated.

Promotions and Conflicts of Interest

I noticed my co-worker, friend, and PASS board member, Grant Fritchey, posted a note on members of the PASS Board of Directors (BoD) presenting pre-cons at SQL Saturday events. It’s potentially a legal issue, and conflict of interest. I’m glad that the issue is being raised, and discussed publically. Here’s Grant’s question:

The question is simple, for a PASS branded event, should a member of the PASS board receive payment?

There’s two parts to this, because there are two events. There are events that the organization runs and takes legal and financial responsibility for, and there are events associated with PASS, but run by others who have responsibility.

My short answer is yes to local events, and no to events run by the PASS board. I’ve read through some of the comments and I have some thoughts.

PASS Run Events

First, events run by the organization, such as the Summit and BAC, are different. The BoD can vote on aspects of these events, and can override the decisions on which individuals are chosen. With that being the case, I think there is a clear conflict of interest here and for the limited time the BoD members serve, they should not be a part of these events. Whether they receive direct payment or not, I’d say no.

There was a conflict about this a few years ago, and I think it was justified. If you serve, you can’t present a pre-conference (or post) session. You have other duties, and a responsibility here.

If your business or your employer wants you to be a part of this event in a different way, resign one position or the other.

SQL Saturdays

Really this could be any event that PASS might support or lend their name to, but doesn’t have any financial (or likely, legal) responsibility. This is trickier, as certainly the ability to bestow favors on the organizers of these events in terms of choosing them for PASS run events is possible. However I’d say that this is very unlikely, and hasn’t been an abuse of power. If that changes, I’d change my opinion

I think that the BoD members are still speakers and well respected trainers, and I really have no issue with them being accepted to present a pre-con and being paid by the events. I’d like the fact disclosed, but this doesn’t seem to be a conflict of interest to me at this point.

It’s also good for the community.

Looking Back at Summit 2015

Last week was the 2015 PASS Summit in Seattle. It’s the largest SQL Server specific gathering of data professionals in the world, and it’s an exciting week. If you work with SQL Server in the US and have the opportunity to attend, I’d recommend you go. If you’re in Europe, I prefer SQL Bits, but either of these events is exciting and inspiring.

The week began for me with SQL in the City 2015 – Seattle. As I work for Redgate I was tasked with presenting the event. The day started with my helping our CEO deliver the keynote. We’d done this a few weeks earlier in London, so we’d had some practice. I think the opening went well, and I enjoyed it.

Photo Oct 26, 4 46 43 PM

Immediately after I had a session on database version control. There were lots of great questions, so many that I ran a bit long. However it was good to see some great advocates of VCS in the audience as well as people interested in the topic.

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I also ran a panel on DevOps and smoother database development. I often don’t like panels, but this is a great topic, and with a number of consultants on stage, we had some good discussions. I would like to see more of these at events, especially with people that are building software successfully. They have great stories to tell.

The Monday night networking dinner went well. It was a bit crowded at the Yard House, but Andy and I spoke with the managers Tuesday and we have some different plans for next year. However we had over 150 people stop by, which is a great crowd.

Photo Oct 27, 8 22 43 PM

It’s always a pleasure catching up with friends who I rarely see in person. Especailly the great Pinal Dave, one of the few that’s been to the ranch.

Tuesday was a quiet day for me. I went to the SQL Saturday organizer meeting, seeing some changes coming to the SQL Saturday site as well as concerns and requests from organizers. With most of the people in Seattle at a pre-conference session on Tuesday, things were quiet. I also had some rehearsals for my testing talk to go over, so I spent the afternoon in my room going over demos.

I did take a break for #sqlyoga with Daniel de Sousa. I have come to enjoy yoga, and would like to see some organizations at other events. It’s just as enjoyable as a #sqlrun. It was the two of us and lots of young people in downtown Seattle, but a great break.

Speaking of which, Wednesday morning I met up with Allen White and a few others for a morning #sqlrun along the water. This has been a bit of a tradition for many people, and we had a good group of 20 or so jogging along.

The rest of Wednesday was a few lightning talks at the Redgate booth and a couple live practice sessions of my talk in my hotel room. Not very exciting, but this was the end of a stressful month with lots of travel.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday night have evening events at the convention center. Tuesday is the opening reception, with lots of people milling around a large room with some appetizers and drinks. Wednesday is in the expo hall, with dinner and drinks and the chance for vendors to meet attendees. It was a large crowd both nights, with the chance to see lots of friends in the SQL community and meet new people.

Thursday had me watching Dr. Dewitt and Dr. Nehme’s keynote on my laptop while I did a little other work. I have to say that the live keynote was probably better, but this was an interesting topic on IoT. You can rewatch it if you missed it. Then I went to a DocumentDB session, supposed to show case studies of who’s using the technology. We heard a little of that, but not much technical detail, and the session went sideways with lots of antagonistic, almost angry, questions from the attendees. I really wish SQL Server people wouldn’t be so upset about NoSQL technologies. They work in places, so let’s discuss where things work well.

Lunch had me in the expo hall for a bit before taking our Argenis Without Borders 2.0 picture. We raised $25k for Doctors Without Borders, which is amazing. Thanks to everyone that participated.

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My session on testing T-SQL code went well. Lots of questions, lots of people. I walked in a few minutes before my start time to find 150 or so people in the room, which was amazing. I thought I’d get 15 people to talk testing, and I’m glad so many people are interested in the topic. Hopefully I inspired a few people to start testing code.

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That was really the end of the event for me. I had missed most of lunch, so I went for a short snack before the Friends of Redgate dinner. A late night hour with the Varigence Biml crowd before getting to bed. Then I was off Friday for home, capping off 18 days of travel for the month.

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This was a quiet conference for me. With pressures to deliver a good presentation for the first time, I spent more time than I expected getting prepared. However it was great to see so many friends and fellow #sqlfamily people at the event, and I enjoyed the conversations and pictures on Twitter throughout.

I missed being there Friday, hearing about everything online, but I was also worn out from the month. My apologies if you wanted to say hi and couldn’t find me. Thanks if you took a few minutes to chat with me.

The event comes back to Seattle next year, and hopefully I’ll spend more time at the event.

No Live Blogging

The PASS Summit opens today with the first keynote. This is one of the few times that I’ve declined the blogging table at PASS. The table has grown, it’s become a bit loud at times, and the pressure to take notes and push them out distracts me from listening and thinking.

As  a result, I’ll be in trying to think about what’s happening and what it might mean for our industry. Having given keynotes and developed them, I know it’s a marketing show, and a bit of entertainment. However it also can generate some excitement, and certainly the ideas shown can influence managers and executives, which can free up money for us to play with.

I’m a bit excited to see what’s coming, and what Microsoft might announce. If you’re not at the Summit, jump on the PassTV channel and watch live.

SQL in the City Comes to Seattle in 3 Days

Last week I spoke at SQL in the City 2015 in London, and it was a great event. We had a wonderful event, and I’m looking forward to Seattle. Lots of good questions and comments in my version control talk, good feedback on the keynote, which I really enjoyed. I thought our end of day panel was outstanding, and I wish we had 2 hours for that as the questions were amazing.

I’m looking forward to a duplication of SQL in the City in Seattle on Monday, just a few days away. We’re going to be at the Hyatt in downtown Seattle, and we’d love to have you come. You can register and join us, but please don’t register unless you can come.

There are also a few workshops in Seattle on Tuesday, so if you want hands on practice, come sign up for on of these.

A Week Before Networking at the PASS Summit

It’s a week before the Networking Dinner at the PASS Summit. Andy Warren and I are hosting the event next Monday, October 26th, at the Yard House in Seattle. The address is at 4th and Pike, just a few blocks from the convention center.

Register here if you can come.

There’s no cost, other than you covering your own food and drink expenses. We would like registration just to try and ensure we have enough staff at the restaurant.

This is a great chance to network with fellow data professionals. If this is your first or second time at the PASS Summit, please come and meet some people.

Congrats to Jen, Tim, Ryan, and Argenis

Last week we received the results of the PASS Board of Directors elections for 2015. Jen Stirrup and Tim Ford were re-elected to new terms. They’ve served for the past few years as members of the BOD. Ryan Adams was elected for the first time, and I supported his candidacy, so I’m glad he won.

Argenis Fernandez didn’t get elected, but I still applaud his decision to run. He was one of only four out of the thousands of PASS members that did so. However in reading Andy Warren’s notes, perhaps Argenis will end up being on the board anyway.

If that’s the case, I’m glad. I think Argenis brings a fresh, new, different view, which is needed.

In any case, I’ll publicly thank them here, and in person when I see them, as their volunteerism should be appreciated and acknowledged.

Costumes at the PASS Summit

tl,dr; We’re raising money for Doctors without Borders. Donate and a few of us will dress up at the Summit. You don’t have to attend the Summit to have some fun here.

Last year a bunch of us agreed to get silly to raise money. We ended up getting over $13,000 for Doctors without Borders and it was fun. Quite a few people had laughs along at the Summit.

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This year we’re doing it again, with Argenis Without Borders v2. Donate money and Argenis will be in a Ted suit at the Summit. I haven’t decided, but I’ll pick out something entertaining, and colorful.

It’s a great cause, and it if speaks to you, donate.