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I’ll never forget my first time, but here’s the weird part: I did it alone.

Looking in at the PASS Summit in Denver

In 2007, I went to my first PASS Summit conference in Denver.  I’d never been to a professional conference before, and my boss, Don Duncan, was the one who actually suggested it to me.  He said it all matter-of-factly: “Are there any conferences for what you do?  Do you wanna go?”  Uh, okay, sure.

I had no idea what to expect when I checked into my hotel.  I showed up for registration the first day, and I was utterly blown away by the sheer number of people who apparently had the same job I had.  You mean there’s really thousands of database people?  Seriously?  Where had all these people been all my life?!?  My local user group didn’t really exist, and there wasn’t a friendly online community that I could find – but keep in mind that this was long before the days of Twitter and social networking.

I tried talking to other attendees to find out what they did and where they worked, and…

Nobody Would Talk to Me

Everybody thought I was some kind of salesman or recruiter or alien.  The attendees just bugged out, made excuses, checked their phones, and shuffled away.  Nobody wanted to actually TALK to each other – they just wanted to go from session to session and absorb the information on the screen.  I couldn’t get anybody to go out for dinner or drinks with me, so I sat alone and drank champagne flights.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked the conference, and I blogged about what I learned on day one, day two, and day three.  It was worth every penny.  It just wasn’t social.

Let’s Help PASS Help N00bs

The PASS Summit First Timers program pairs up first-time attendees with experienced alumni.  If you’re reading this, and you’ve been to the Summit before, and you’re going again this year, we need your help so that first-timers don’t have the same experience I had.  Kendra did this last year, and I was so jealous – it sounded like something I’d really like, and I bet you will too.

You and I will:

  • Meet & greet our assigned n00bs via email before the event
  • Answer their questions to help ‘em get their travel and hotels straight
  • Attend the first-timer events with them on Tuesday from 2:30pm til 8pm, leading your group around
  • Make lifelong friends who really appreciate your time

Join me by signing up right now via email.

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  1. Brent,

    Do you think part of the problem was dress and/or how you talked to the people there? I mean, maybe you were a little over dressed, which is why you came off as a sales guy. Did you try talking to the presenters themselves? As a presenter, I know I love engaging my audience afterwards.

    I’ve only been to one SQL community event (SQL Sat Philly). I spoke there, and I knew lots of people there from twitter, so I didn’t really have the true n00b experience, but as a speaker I had dinner plans before I got there.

    Or do you think that people are less social at PASS because its so big, just like people are less social in NYC, London and Toyoko because there are just too many people?

    • Overdressed, right. Clearly you haven’t seen me at conferences:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/m-i-k-e/5562749327/in/photosof-brento/

      Although, looking at that photo, I think I see the problem. I get a little excited. ;-)

      I did try to talk to the presenters (I had a wow-it’s-Linchi-Shea moment) but they just get overwhelmed with questions after each session, and I had to go on to my next session. There’s not enough networking time and too many good sessions.

      I think you might be on to something with the conference size, though. It’s certainly intimidating being in a group that large, but… well, for example, I was at the BlogHer conference hotel last week (total coincidence) and it was awesome how they reached out to each other in the lobbies, elevators, bars, you name it. Social media has really broken down those walls. The bloggers were even starting conversations with me!

  2. Hi Brent,

    Nice post to explain your first time at Summit. This year will be my first time too and I am a bit worried about it, because I’m from Brazil and the event it is not in my native language and also because I don’t know many guys from USA or UK or whatever place they come.

    As you guys have already been at Summit, what kind of involvement you are going to have? How us first timers will be contacted? Do you know something about it?

    BTW… congrats again for this post, it is very encouraging.

    • Marcos – welcome to the Summit! You don’t have anything to worry about – you’re already in great shape just by asking that question. Anything that you need, we’ll take care of you.

      The official call for first-timers hasn’t gone out yet (that I know of). Watch your PASS emails for a sign-up, and then sign up right away. You’ll be paired up with a mentor like me who will help explain things.

      What kinds of things are you looking to learn at the Summit?

      • Brent,

        My first interest is learn about all kind of stuff in Business Intelligence world and the second is about storage, SAN, etc..

        These are kind of things that I want to improve it.

  3. OMG! I do not know when I can attend one summit over there in US..and meet great people like you guys…I wish I could!!!

  4. It is not at all ‘entirely social’. And yes, sometimes you still can’t ‘get’ anyone to go out for drinks or dinner, simply because they are not interested or already going out with someone else.But the one thing i learnt is that you have to keep trying, and you never know when it will work. As you try you make more friends and keep coming back that is all. I tried mentoring the first timers last time (This is my conference #10).I found that some of them wanted celebrities/MVPs not just a repeat conference attendee or ug lead like me.Most of them never showed up, some sent emails apologizing. In addition to that ther was a mix up of rooms and our room where we were scheduled to meet was occupied. In short, not doing it again, just plan to enjoy the conference.

  5. I remember my first PASS summit (I think it was in Seattle the year before this one in Denver) for one thing, mainly – some dude, non-speaker, in the hallway took me and a co-dba from my office aside, and used his laptop and his company’s test environment to show us a failover cluster, which we’d never seen before. It was exceptional.

  6. My first Summit I went, watched sessions, and went home at the end of the event.

    While there I didn’t interact with anyone. I knew nobody afterwards, had no contacts and left with a feeling of not fitting in.

    First timers stuff is a good way to prevent that from happening to other folks (especially those who don’t have other outlets for meeting people via twitter or some such)

  7. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it this year (family vacation or PASS…hmmmm family still wins) but I’m thinking about attending for the first time next year. Had a blast last weekend at SQLSaturday in KC. So I look forward to availing myself of such a program, perhaps next year…

  8. Normally I have that kind of experience at events, Brent. I’m horribly shy, I tend not to speak up, I tend to stay by myself.

    But my first Summit (2010) was the antithesis of all that, and I owe much of it to you and the other community folks that had supported by blogging and online activities.

    When I came, it was the first year for the newbie program. There were kinks to work out. The biggest one, for my group, was that our alumni didn’t even show up. Maybe the guy was there, maybe he wasn’t, but our group was left without.

    But for me, that didn’t matter. Thanks to my prior engagement online and at SQL Cruise, I had people coming up to me. “You’re that SQL Cruise guy!” It was an incredibly awkward feeling because that type of stuff doesn’t happen to me normally.

    So as much as I think the first timers’ program can be a good thing, I think prior engagement is better. At the very least, you can (hopefully) network a group of people that you can experience the Summit with before you get there. That way, if you find yourself in a situation like mine if your alumni doesn’t show, you aren’t completely left out there on your own.

  9. I think the first timers program has to be done a bit differently than last time. My attendees didn’t show up and looks like Matt’s alumni-guide didn’t show up either. And I met one alumni whose attendees joined another group and he seemed really upset on that count. I know for a fact that the rooms were mixed up, many were taken and the crowd was simply too big to find anyone. I also felt we were hand holding too many people – too many links/blog posts on how to get to the conference/hotel from the airport, and how to talk to the guy next to you at breakfast and so on. A lot of the former type of info is readily available, and the latter atleast to me comes with experience and knowing people. I am opting out of mentoring this time but always make it a point to guide anyone who seems like they are lost or looking for help.

    • Mala – yeah, I think there’s always growing pains as new programs come out. I learned a few lessons from Kendra’s advice, so I’m excited to take a shot at it this year. I’m going to work at doing much more pre-Summit communication with my first-timers, including an email list and Twitter hash tag.

      • Would like to be on your team even as a repeat attendee :)) If that is possible let me know (am guessing not :) Good luck. Yes I liked Kendra’s posts from last year a lot too.

  10. I couldn’t imagine that I talk with Brent directly and get a signature on my book from Paul, Kimberly, Kalen and a lot of MVPs.
    I never thought about it was possible.
    But, it happened in 2011.

    I really want to visit this year also.
    But, it only depends company budget.:)

    - Simon

  11. As a member of the First Timer’s Committee, I thank you all for your responses, and Brent for this post! We’re thrilled to have you joining us. We know there were many kinks with last year’s event, and plan to make things run more smoothly this year.

    This year, all first timers will be assigned to an alumni volunteer, and they will have an option to opt out if they wish. We want this to be a valuable experience for both first timers and alumni involved. Yes, we want communication via email, google hangouts, whatever the different leaders choose to do, but we don’t want anyone spending large amounts of time. We really just want alumni to help first timers to connect with other people there and answer any questions they have.

    Brent, it’s hard to believe you could possibly be talking about the same PASS Summit I went to last year. I don’t know if it’s because people are already more connected thanks to twitter, facebook, linkedin, and SQL Saturdays, or not, but I found everyone to be very open and inviting. I don’t think anyone I met/saw was unapproachable. There were plenty of evening activities that were “anybody’s welcome”. Using the twitter hashtag (#sqlpass) is a great way to know where people are, and what they’re doing. If they’re tweeting it out, it’s an open invite to show up and join in the fun. It was a great time.

    • Sarah – I know, right? I think social media might have helped a lot, because people are now used to meeting up with people they’ve seen on Twitter, Facebook, former friends from SQLSaturday, etc. It’s so much better now – but we still have a long way to go. Most of the DBAs I talk to don’t use social media, and they’re intimidated by going to the conference.

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