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The Professional Association for SQL Server recently sent its members a survey asking where they should hold their next summit – in Seattle again, or rotate it around the country.  Initially we heard that the results wouldn’t be posted for a variety of reasons, but the PASS Board of Directors heard the community loud and clear.  PASS President Rushabh Mehta announced the survey results today.

Here’s a quote from the announcement:

“At first glance, the results seem fairly clear: 81% of the 1,573 respondents want a PASS Summit on the East Coast at least every four years.”

I was expecting a strong vote to move the Summit around, but 81% – that’s amazing.  Four out of every five people agreed.  It’s hard to achieve that kind of agreement in any kind of meeting at all!  The article continues to say:

“When we look at responses from only 2008 and 2009 Summit attendees (our most successful ones by far), the number who want a future Summit outside of Seattle drops to 69%.”

Let’s think about that for a second – if we want to increase PASS Summit attendance, that means getting new people to attend.  Forget the opinions of the people who’ve already been – what about the folks who haven’t been yet?  That’s the opinions we need to hear if we want to raise attendance.  Rushabh doesn’t quote that number, but it must be higher than 81% because the average went down 12% when these people were excluded.  Wow.

Seattle. Get Used To It.

Seattle. Get Used To It.

So PASS started investigating what it would take to move the Summit, and they said:

“We would not be able to achieve anywhere near the same level of support from Microsoft as we do when Summit is held in Seattle. We would lose out on at least 50% and likely 75% of Microsoft presenters, developers, and SQLCAT and CSS staff – all things a majority of survey respondents listed as important or very important.”

This is interesting, because this is where we need the raw data to answer a deeper question.  My question is, “Of people who haven’t attended the Summit before, how important is access to Microsoft staff?”  If we asked them to rank the following in order of importance, I’d be curious what they chose:

  • Access to Microsoft staff
  • Access to Microsoft MVPs
  • Access to your peers, SQL Server community members
  • Low hotel and food costs (under $150/day as opposed to over $200/day)
  • Summit location nearby (within 4 hours driving distance)

When I was a DBA, I didn’t attend the PASS Summit to talk to Microsoft folks, although that was a nice fringe benefit.  I wanted to spend more time with people who had the same job, challenges, and duties that I had.  I wanted to get tips on how to do my job better, and that’s something I didn’t get from Microsoft.

But back to the press release, which notes:

“Based on Microsoft’s release cycle history (major release cycles run approximately every 3 years, with minor ones often coming in between), 2011 or 2012 will likely be a launch year. It would be disappointing for the community to lose out on the advantages of being in Seattle during a potential release year.”

Uh, hold on a second here.  If major release cycles run every 3 years, and minor ones come in between, then the odds of having a release on any given year is 2/3!  Every year is a potential release year.  As far as I’m concerned, if Microsoft wants to promote a release, they can come to the community.  This is exactly their strategy in Europe – they’re coordinating with community leaders to host regional events all over Europe for the launch of SQL Server 2008 R2.  Why does the community have to come begging to Microsoft’s doorstep?  They’re the ones making money off us.

The final word is that we’ll be in Seattle for the foreseeable future:

“The Board has decided to hold PASS Summit 2011 and PASS Summit 2012 in Seattle for the reasons listed above.”

Well, the good news is that they laid out their rationale in public for all to see.  That’s awesome, and I cheer their movement toward transparency.  I don’t agree with their decision, but I’m glad they didn’t try to hide the poll results from us.  The users clearly don’t agree with the leadership, but we elected ‘em.  I’m also excited to see that this little ruckus has caused at least one person, Jack Corbett, to consider running for election this year.  If you don’t like the way things go, this might be a great year to run.  Having 81% of the members on your side on a given issue makes for a great campaign platform, that’s for sure.  “My name is ___, and I’m committed to bringing the PASS Summit to the East Coast, unlike the current Board who wants to keep it in Seattle through 2012.”  Presto, you’re in.

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  1. Brent, Great article and I can say as a new member of the community and a user that will be attending my first Summit in 2010, I would love for the summit to change locations. I am lucky, for now, and have my company paying for me to attend. My company is based on the east coast, even though I am on the west coast, but they do not really care where it is. If it will make me better at my job they will send me. Moving it around will give others, who may not be as lucky as I am, the ability to attend if it is closer to them. As for your poll, I think you should post a poll, and I can tell you my answers put MS employees third on the list. first would be my peers, I think peers are the most beneficial learning tool. People that have experiences much like my own and we can share ideas. Second is MVP’s, People who are very knowledgeable about the product but are also very involved with the community. I know that MVP’s, like you, are going to be willing to talk to me about things.
    All that being said, I can’t wait for 2010 Summit and I am looking forward to Seattle, but other locations would be nice in the future.

  2. Nail, meet Head…

    I say let the laws of supply and demand run their course. If Microsoft wants to keep their customers they will send people to ends of the earth to make sure they keep those customers. If they don’t, I’m willing to bet Oracle will.

    Also many other conventions move around to various venues, at least that way if someone hates Seattle as a city, they might be more interested in going to Orlando, even if the content of the convention is the same, because of the perceived value to them.

    This whole situation is making me less interested in supporting the organization. As a relative newcomer to PASS and having never attended a Summit, I’m turned off by the “come talk to Microsoft employees” stance. I’d rather them say come and talk to (or sing Karaoke with?) cool guys like Brent Ozar and others in the community who deal with real world issues day to day.

    • Colin & Aaron – thanks! I agree – there’s a huge value in having the community members pitch in and support each other. If you want to talk to Microsoft employees, why not go to the official Microsoft conference, TechEd? Microsoft understands the importance of moving a conference around – their OWN conference, TechEd, moves from city to city. That sends a signal right there.

  3. I fully agree with you, Brent. My biggest question is, why were East Coast cities the only ones considered? What’s wrong with cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Denver?

    • Ed – I agree about the Midwest. I’d rather see the conference in the central US or near population centers where more people can drive in instead of fly.

  4. Brent, good post, and I agree with Ed that the east coast shouldn’t be the only areas to consider. Denver, Atlanta, Dallas (my personal favorite), Albuquerque – all are more centrally located, all are airport hubs for at least one major carrier, and are usually cheaper than Seattle in terms of travel and accommodation costs.

    Yes, Seattle is the center of the MS universe, but there are other cities with a strong Microsoft presence that we could draw from. And like you, I enjoy having a strong MS representation at the Summit, but I believe it’s worth the risk to move it out of Seattle, at least every other year, to allow a greater number of people the opportunity to attend.

  5. As someone who has been attending the PASS Summit since San Francisco in 2000, I agree with you that access to Microsoft personnel isn’t my top reason to attend, rather access to my peers and top-notch presentations. While I enjoy the Emerald City and the reasonably short flight from So. California, I would love a little variety in location again (Orlando, Yes! Denver, No!). However, we should be fair to the PASS Board, as they did lay out a second major factor in electing to continue to hold the summit in Seattle: cost. Though they didn’t go into specifics, they stated that “we were surprised to find that most East Coast locations we considered would cost substantially more and would likely raise registration prices and negatively impact the budget available to many other PASS activities”. That said, perhaps they have mentioned specific locations that would not have cost substantially more (or indicated the relative increase in cost for others) and given the members a chance to voice their opinion.

  6. Excellent points, well delivered.

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  8. It’s important that everyone making comments let PASS know your thoughts as well. Go to Rushabh’s post and comment there, I hope that he and PASS HQ is monitoring it, even though there have been no PASS responses to comments.

  9. Just to add a non US perspective if I may.

    Given that I will be/would be travelling from the UK to the United States for the PASS Summit, the location really does not make that much of difference to me given that I will be travelling half way around the globe to attend anyway.

    For me the summit is all about the opportunity to meet, learn from and share DBA war stories with the broadest range of SQL Server community professionals possible. So long as the location can nurture this, I’ll go pretty much anywhere……well almost.

  10. I totally agree with the reasons for coming to PASS – it’s more to mingle with others and less about speaking with MS guys.
    Considering the fact that PASS speakers are mostly independent speakers from the community (i hope i’m correct here – didn’t do a scientific research…) as opposed to MS Teched, i don’t see any problem moving it to east cost at least every other year.

    Brent, it would be great to see you in PASS board one day, i really think you can make a difference.

    • Meir – thanks, but I don’t have the patience to put up with what the Board members have to put up with. I really admire their patience and tolerance. I can handle those kinds of meetings for a certain amount of time, but there comes a point where I just say, “Alright, lemme tell you how it’s gonna be.” Hahaha.

      I don’t mind doing meetings like that at work, but I definitely don’t want to do them in my spare time!

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