Growth or Control – #sqlpass

I’m disturbed.

I read an announcement from the PASS organization this week that bothers me. I am less upset with the content than the manner in which it was presented, though I am not pleased with either.

Making SQL Saturday Sustainable was released this week, with a few changes to the SQL Saturday franchise. You can read the piece, but there are two fundamental changes being made for 2017 and beyond:

  • [PASS] will be reducing this to amount to $250 and targeting those cities/locations that really need the financial support to grow, rather than well-established events.
  • [PASS] is implementing a new 600-mile radius and concurrent event timing restriction to reduce competition between individual SQLSaturday events in Canada/USA.

There are comments on these notes at the bottom of the announcement.

Heavy Handed and Ham Fisted

I’m not sure why, but it seems that no matter who has been elected to the PASS Board of Directors seems to believe that they must make decisions without communicating, collaborating, or consulting the community. Decisions made year after year, on various topics (Summit location, pre-con speaker criteria, code of conduct, org name change, etc.) are announced without and sort of discussion or communication with the community they serve.

We are a community of diverse and disparate individuals. We won’t agree on many topics as a group, but we can discuss and debate them. We can have open and transparent disagreement about how to handle situations. Ultimately the board must decide (after a vote), but I’d hope and expect, really, I demand, that they solicit views before making decisions. It’s ridiculous in this age of instant communication, of no-cost publishing, of email votes, to not propose changes, gather feedback, and then make a decision.

Doing otherwise is as disrespectful as it is heavy handed.

This is not specific to this decision, but rather the way the PASS BoD has operated across a decade. I will say that I don’t think the Board makes all bad decisions. But they have made some that could have been avoided with a little more collaboration with those affected, us, the voters.

The Decisions

What about these specific decisions? Well, I have a few thoughts.

I do think these decisions are intended to slow the growth of SQL Saturdays. There is something to be said for this, in that sustaining fewer events for the long term is easier to manage and may not require replacing Karla Landrum as an evangelist. This benefits vendors, including my employer, but it’s not great for attendees. There will be fewer chances to learn, and smaller events in places that will never grow to 200+ people will likely die. Or move to a Code Camp/different model, abandoning SQL Saturday. That makes me sad. This appears to be less about growth, and mostly about controlling fewer events.

First, on the financial aspect. Let me say I know there are events that raise well over $20k (I have no idea what the record is). I also know there are events that have only raised $2-3k. The low level might even be lower. It doesn’t matter what you think about event cost, some events don’t need $500 and there is a limit to what PASS can support. I think not committing to funds for every event is good. However, what I’d like is flexibility.

Don’t set a hard limit, and note that events could get up to $500, but PASS reserves the right to not provide any financial support.

Now, the 600mi radius for events. Well, it’s not just 600mi, but also 600mi + a weekend either way. Let’s see 600mi from a few cities. Rob Volk tweeted this image:

2016-07-19 20_59_24-Rob Volk on Twitter_ _@codegumbo Nashville_Salt Lake City on consecutive weekend

This is 600mi from Nashville and Salt Lake City. That means that most of the US couldn’t have an event in a month with these two, at least not if there were a holiday weekend. Certainly some large cities are still here (major TX cities, NY area, etc), but most of CA, the West, the Midwest are all cut off.

Know what cities are within 600mi of each other? Vancouver and Portland. These two cities have held events book-ending the PASS Summit to allow speakers from overseas (or US speakers/attendees) to go to one or both events around the Summit. That’s now cut off.

There are probably others, but I will say this. The hardest part of getting an event going is the venue. There are more than a few organizers and events that have worked out deals with schools or other events. Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City? One might need to move. Those markets have had events in the same month, within 600mi of each other.

I have always thought the 400mi limitation was ridiculous. Events can happen within 400mi if they can manage to find speakers and raise funds. Rather than arbitrarily limit events by distance, why not limit by viability, or by fundraising?

I love that we’ve grown to over 100 events in a year. I think it’s great, but I also think the competition and effort put into making large events is crazy. I don’t like 10+ tracks. I don’t like 30+ speakers. I don’t like $20k spends that include fancy dinners.

The aim here is to train people, teach them something, inspire them, and expose them to options for SQL Server, including vendors. I get that vendors struggle to justify going to so many events. That’s fine. Make choices. I suspect vendors will support larger events and smaller ones will struggle.

I’ll put down thoughts, but smaller event, just be smaller. Don’t buy dinner. Don’t make shirts. Don’t try to provide a great meal for attendees.

Teach them. That’s what the event is about. Stop there and you’ll be fine. Everything else is nice to have, but in no way necessary.

And PASS, please, stop believing you need to earn your position and make hard decisions as a small group. Work with the community, with proposals, not decrees.

Thanks, Karla

I heard the news this week, and I’m still sad. Karla Landrum is leaving PASS after five years of acting as the Community Evangelist.

Thank you, Karla, for all you’ve done.

In the last five years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the SQL Saturday franchise, as well as other chapters. Most of that has to do with Karla’s work ethic and success in supporting even organizers all over the globe.

When Andy Warren and I transferred the SQL Saturday franchise to PASS, we were hoping that the organization would provide a bit more support and help in organizing events. Our expectations were wildly exceeded with tremendous growth in the number of events. In 2010, when we transferred the responsibility, there had been 26 events held. That was across the span from Oct 2007 to Mar 2010.

2016-07-13 10_14_39-Book1 - Excel

 

That tremendous growth in 2011-2015 is Karla. Even this year is on pace to exceed last year’s event total.

All of you that have attended, spoken at, or learned something from a SQL Saturday should send a thank you to Karla for your tireless advocacy and help in ensuring that many of us could get free training almost every weekend somewhere in the world.

Karla will be missed by many of us, and I just wanted to publicly thank her and let her know how much I’ve enjoyed working with her over the years.

I hope PASS can find someone that can continue her work in growing our SQL Server community.

Choosing Content 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’ve written on choosing speakers and debuting content.

Update: added a comment from another set of feedback

Tl;dr: We need to review and examine comments made on abstracts as a community and a professional organization. Ultimately the program committee has a tough job, but I think we can better prepare people to both critically review abstracts and choose great content that makes the Summit an incredible event.

As the PASS Summit selections were released in June, a few of the speakers posted their submissions and the comments they received from the program committee. I think this is great, and I’d really encourage every speaker to do this. Whether you were selected or not, this is good data to better understand how the committee works and how sessions get evaluated.

This will change year to year, as committee members change. It’s good to understand the viewpoints this year, along with the results. Debate and discussion is good here, and will help shape the views of new volunteers in the future, so I’d encourage it.

In fact, if speakers want to publish on their blogs and send links, I’ll compile a list. Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Not a big list. I don’t have anything because I didn’t submit this year.

But I’m getting distracted. What I wanted to talk about is…

How Should We Choose Content?

It’s always interested to hear various people involved in the process at events talk about this. For the most part it comes across like the strategy many business people employ. They think a little, make a guess, and hope it works well.

If anyone tells you they know what people want to see, then go look at the rooms at the event and see how well the audience matches up with the size of the room. There are plenty of mistakes that showcase themselves with too few, or too many, people in a room.

And how could they know? When the schedule is picked, no one really has much of an idea on who is actually attending. Most of the registrations will come as the event gets closer. In addition, we’re all fickle and subject to the changing requirements and demands of our jobs. We might think PowerBI is a joke (or incredibly necessary) right now, but our view could change 180 degrees by October.

There isn’t a perfect system. And I’m not saying that I think the program committee did a bad job. On the contrary, it’s a hard, thankless job, and someone will always complain about the process. My intention isn’t to do that, but rather discuss what is good feedback and what isn’t.

I hope the volunteers next year are better prepared and have some idea of how attendees and speakers view their thoughts. I also hope we publish better guidelines, both for reviewers to better choose sessions, but also for attendee comment. I’d like to know what attendees actually want to see or what they think is a good session.

Lastly, for reviewers, you need to pick sessions for the attendees. I know  many of you are attendees, but there are many, many more attendees that you need to consider. It’s easy to get trapped into picking what you like, which may not make a great conference schedule.

The reason I think this is important is that none of us necessarily has great skills as a critic, which is what reviewers do here. Many of us learned about how to examine writing in school and provide an analysis. Those skills wane, and should be both practiced and critiqued.

Comments on Comments

You can read the various posts above and look at comment, but I have a few thoughts on what items were added to the abstracts.

Note, this section is long, and I’ve mixed up comments from the various people that published items above.

Comments I Like

“Goals align w/ abstract description. Demonstration of Brent Ozar tools is a must for all SQL Administrators. Topic: Interesting for attendees and would gain an audience. Title reflects content.Interesting session for those seeking performance solutions. Objective: Level and prerequisites match goals. Material matches subject and could be presented in 75 minutes.”Excellent feedback and detailed. I like the disclosure and notes about how the abstract/goals/title relate.

“The outline seems well developed. The outline seems to clearly describe the contents of the presentation. The topic and goals should be compelling to attendees. The topic appears to be timely, new and relevant. There appears to be a reasonable amount of live demonstrations in relation to the topic being presented. The topic and goals appear to deliver an appropriate amount of material for the time allotted.” – Again, good feedback with detail that shows the reviewer thought through this and attempted to clarify what they saw.

“Whilst I get why the title might have chartaphobia in it – it still didn’t sound right. It’s not an actual word. The abstract is good, it does tell me that I may have charts but they’re “hideous and disgusting”. This didn’t sound nice and might turn some audience members away. The topic of Power BI is a good topic, the delivery just needs some work for a 100 level – explain earlier in the abstract how Power BI will make the charts better or exist at all.” – I like this feedback. It’s detailed with pointers to why the reviewer drew conclusions.

“Well written outline with clear goals and an outline that lets the attendee know exactly what will be achieved from the session. The topic is one that I think appeals to any data professional who has …” – This is good feedback. The goals match the abstract and inform the attendee. Why is the topic good? There’s more, but I left it off.

“Basic and 300 don’t coincide. Need to decide is it an advanced topic or not.” – This is a good comment that explains why this abstract needs work.

“I like the Shakespearean twist to the abstract, but I feel like it is really lacking in content to let an attendee know what they would really be coming into (outside of learning about whether to get certified or not).” – A good list of what is wrong. I agree. There isn’t quite enough to entice someone and let them know what’s coming. It’s not bad, but could be better.

Comments I Don’t Like

“…should be 200 level – the title sounds like a deep dive, not entry level.” – OK, so not entry level, but deep dive is 200? Levels are somewhat silly, but clearly we have a typo (meant 300/400) or a big mismatch in what 200 is. Maybe we need better guidelines on what 100/200/300/400/500 are?

“detailed but not compelling” – I really dislike very general comments like this. Why isn’t this compelling? Is it that you don’t like the topic? You know it already? I’ve made comments like this (for abstracts and in VCS), and this is decidedly unhelpful. As a reviewer, stop and think about what you don’t like and express that. If you can’t, you need to work on that skill.

Personally, I feel this is more suited to an SQL Saturday”What? I’ve given quite a few sessions at a SQL Saturday that I’ve delivered at PASS. Same for sessions I’ve seen. Who thinks we do better or worse sessions at one event or the other?

“Also session has no indicated real examples!” – I thought this was funny because the abstract mentions volunteering, speaking, blogging, and organizing events. What “real” examples are needed?

“Abstract is a bit rough but good enough to capture attention, describe the topic, and provides reasons why someone should attend.” – I like the detail, but what does “rough” mean? I have my impression, but I’d rather see this articulated as “difficult to read and understand the content” or “the formatting is offputting.” Note, this is why we should have some re-review and perhaps copy edit of sessions accepted. At least let the author fix things.

“Very focused topic – great for a lightning talk. Very good prerequisites and goals. The abstract is entertaining yet clear.” – Good comments, but not great. What does “good” mean? The pre-reqs should match the goals, is that what happened?

A two-fer here: These are two comments:

  • Well written abstract, but it doesn’t appear appealing with only 25% demo and no real examples
  • This seems like the right length to really kick start learning R.

OK, is length the amount of material or something else? I don’t like that word, but we have two reviewers with what seems to be opposite views. I tend to agree with the first one, there need to be examples and for this, 25% seems low. But I think we should debate when comments are vastly different and someone should perhaps think about more training or declining a repeat volunteer request.

A seven-fer:

  • Sounds like it could be a good session but the abstract seemed all over the place. Hard to follow.
  • abstract seems to ramble. grammatical anomalies. punctuation misuse.
  • Fantastic topic, and extremely well-constructed abstract!
  • Well written abstract, sold me in easily. Seems to be on level. Clear goals.
  • Nice abstract with clear goals and outlines.
  • Abstract OK. Learning goals a bit roughly defined – could be more precise in this narrow topic.
  • Good abstract. Could be an interesting session to attendees.

This means that we don’t have reviewers that are on similar pages. I am unclear how people could view this so vastly differently. The group of people that wrote these comments need to have a root cause analysis of what happened here. Or this needs to be a case study for next year’s reviewers.

Note, I’ll say that I think the abstract did get off track and a little unfocused in explaining what will be covered. A few grammar mistakes I forgive, but it also needs some tightening with fewer words and more focus on what’s covered.

“Only issue is the second sentence reads a little oddly.” – I agree with this one, but if you’re going to make this comment, expand. Why? Help someone better understand this tangled mess of a language we call English.

“Abstract targeted at Mgr/Team Lead. Unfortunately this is not the typical audience at PASS Summit.”What’s the typical audience? Do we not look to have some atypical or niche sessions. This is a place that I wish reviewers would remember that not everyone goes to every session. There will be 15 or so sessions at any given time. Niche topics are OK.

“level too low” – For a 100 jumpstart session with no pre-reqs. Again, why?

“If there is a prerequisite, the session level should be 200 (instead of 100).” – OK, if this is a guideline for speakers, fine, but reviewers don’t get to make things up. I couldn’t find anything about this on the PASS site. The rest of the comment did ask for more details, which I do like.

“Abstract is ok, with a few wording and grammar choices that could be improved/changed to make reading easier” –  I’m torn here. I think writing and grammar are important, and if the speaker makes mistakes here, they may do so in their Powerpoint and distract from the presentation. However, this process is also competitive and time sensitive, so minor issues I’d overlook and perhaps even have the speaker (or committee) correct for the event.

Old topic for BIML. Need to add some new features.” – Stop this. What you learned isn’t what others know. We have people at all levels, so don’t program for your level. At worst, there should be guidelines about how many topics at a level for each area. Without that, don’t make these comments. This person, in my opinion, is a poor reviewer and critic.

“Demo percentage seems low for such a topic but, overall, looks like a good session” – Do we have guidelines for how much demo per topic or type of session? If not, then DO NOT use this as your evaluation criteria. If we do, where is it?

“topic is interesting but not really “hot” or “latest”.” – The rest of the comment is good, but here I’m confused. What does hot or latest matter? Are we trying to be hot or latest with all sessions? If not, and I’d say not, then why the comment?

“goals not compelling” – Again, why not. What makes something compelling? Or at least describe what isn’t compelling to you, or for the audience.

“can this really be covered in 10 minutes?” – First, who are you that you question the speaker’s ability here. Especially if you don’t know if this is Joe Developer or Stacia Misner. Don’t make these comments if you haven’t seen the session. If you have, disclose that. If you think there is too much content for the time, note that, but I think this is too subjective a comment. Your (the reviewer’s) learning or teaching ability is not being evaluated here.

“Abstract: not compelling attendees. Topic: goals are very low, I don’t think this session is interesting” – I realize that reviewers might be rushed, but this is poor. Not compelling attendees? What does that mean? It’s a comment that doesn’t help, and by the way, I disagree. The second part of this also isn’t detailed. What is too low? I’d disagree. The goals list things that are specific, and certainly not what I’d call too basic. The last item shows the reviewer’s thoughts, which should be low weighted. This is about what a percentage of the attendees will want. Not all of them, some of them.

“This is more related to dba track rather than prodev. Also is survival really career development? Many would say that working 15 years as a lone dba could equate to failure in some peoples eye’s and I would struggle to want to see this session based upon info provided.” – I’m surprised this got through the review process from Lance and Mindy. I know they read a lot of comments, but this one is unprofessional and rude. The first part and the last partial sentence are fair. Those are opinions, though I think this is easily a pro-dev topic. The second sentence shows how many reviewers see the world very narrowly. I think the abstract was on balancing workload and life, which is professional development. My opinion here. However noting the someone is a failure for working the same job 15 years is ridiculous. The lone DBA is a company decision, not an individual one, but apart from the grammar errors, this one shows a person that is quite myopic on what a successful career looks like. I wouldn’t have this person back reviewing abstracts.

“Dinking the abstract rating for identifying information.” – I. Hate. This.

Honestly, I think this is a jealousy or pet peeve for a few people over, well, I’ll say it, Brent Ozar’s marketing. He does it well, better than most people and this comment/attitude is crap. Go look at all the marketing for all conferences. They mention the speaker’s names. Speakers attract attendees. If we don’t care about the speakers, why do we have this page? If you want a speaker independent review, then blank out the names, but don’t ding abstracts for this.

 

 

Final Thoughts

This is a subjective process. I am glad at least three people review the abstracts because any one person might not like the topic/speaker, have a bad day, not be interested in the topic, etc.

For the record, I’m no better and have to constantly remind myself as I choose content and edit articles that it’s not my opinion. I have to think more broadly and put myself in the position of the beginner, the intermediate person, the expert DBA that’s getting into R, the person that wants to delve deeply into a topic.

Really I want this to be discussed and debated on a few levels. What guidelines should reviewers use, and what feedback helps speakers. I would like to see a better program that helps build a better event overall. Again, we all could use skills in evaluating sessions better, so make this more public and let’s ensure those that volunteer have better guidelines on how to examine abstracts.

Lastly, I think judging based on levels is silly. We can’t agree on this, so if you think the level is too high or low, that can be adjusted. Make a comment this should be XX and let’s have speakers edit this before the schedule is released.The same thing for minor spelling or grammar, or phrasing. Let’s remember we have a lot of non-English speakers, and correct some of these items rather than just saying a native English speaker would deliver a better session.

Let’s remember, writing != speaking.

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.

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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.

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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.