Wanna go to #SQLPass? Send this to your manager.


Dear Mr. or Mrs. Manager,

Someone’s sending you this because they want to go to the PASS Summit conference.

I’m Brent, a guy who’s active in the community and I’ve been to a couple of Summits, and they want me to explain why it’s worth the money.

What’s the PASS Summit and How Much Does It Cost?

It’s a weeklong conference run by the Professional Association for SQL Server. It costs around $2,500 plus airfare.

Your employee usually won’t have to pay for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. PASS provides breakfast and lunch during the day, and vendors like Quest host dinner events each night. Since your employee is savvy enough to find my blog entry, they’ll know where the parties are, because I post ’em on my blog in an effort to save them money and get them out of their hotel rooms at night.

Will They Be Reachable if Something Breaks?

Your employee will be surrounded by thousands of SQL Server professionals. You might HOPE that something breaks this week, because they’ll get the best SQL Server support possible at any time of the year! They’ll be able to turn to their left and right and get amazing advice.

How Does The Company Benefit?

Make a list of the toughest SQL Server problems your company is facing – whether it’s how to design a solution, how to make a query faster, how to implement a new architecture, you name it. Think in terms of things you’d love to hire expensive consultants to do, but you don’t have the money.

Make your employee document each of the problems in writing, and put each problem on a separate page. If applicable, show schema designs, diagrams, or queries. Print out several copies of each problem.

Your employee can take these issues to some of the brightest minds in the SQL Server industry like:

Microsoft has an area in the exhibit hall dedicated just to customer issues. Anyone can come in, sit down, and start talking with Microsoft developers, support engineers and architects about the issues they’re having or things they’d like to implement. Bringing documentation of these problems helps make it easier to get detailed answers: the DBA can scribble down thoughts about the problem while the discussion is going on, and they’ll be more likely to remember every aspect of the issue.

Brilliant SQL Server minds come to the PASS Summit to give presentations. Tjay Belt said it best when he said, “I could walk into any SQL Server person’s office in the world, point at books on their bookshelf, and say that I’ve talked to the authors in person at the PASS Summit.” Some of them consult for hundreds of dollars per hour, and your employee can get face time with them for free at the PASS Summit.

Vendors like Quest Software have a big presence at the show, and it’s not just sales and marketing. Vendors send their best technical minds to network with customers, other vendors and with Microsoft. I personally look forward to the PASS Summit because I get to spend some face time with my own coworkers that I don’t get to see too often! While it’s not the right place to bring support questions, it’s a great time to ask architecture or implementation questions.

If you really want to take it to the next level, have your employee set up a lab environment on their laptop with SQL Server and a copy of the databases they need to work with. I’ve seen users pop open their laptop, hand it to a SQL Server expert and say, “Here’s what my database looks like, and I need to find a way to do _______. Have you seen something like this before?”

Who Goes to the PASS Summit?

It’s for SQL Server professionals: developers, database administrators and business intelligence people. PASS tries to balance the content across those disciplines.

At a DBA-focused breakfast panel at PASS 2008, I asked for a show of hands to see how many instances each DBA managed:

  • 0-10 instances – about 10% of the attendees
  • 10-50 instances – about 40% of the attendees
  • 50-100 instances – about 40% of the attendees
  • Over 100 instances – about 10% of the attendees

Can They Just Watch Videos Online?

First, the company won’t benefit as much because your employee won’t be able to ask questions to help with your specific environment. Maybe you’ll get lucky and someone else will have asked the same question during the session – but probably not. The speakers have to leave the stage quickly after each session so that the next speaker can set up, so the speakers tend to walk out into the hallway and spend 15-20 minutes answering questions from attendees. Those questions aren’t videotaped.

Second, your employee won’t build personal relationships with the experts that can help solve their problems. At each summit, I meet dozens of people that ask me for help later through the year. I’m more likely to drop what I’m doing and help them if I know them personally, whereas if it’s someone I’ve never seen before, I probably won’t spend as much time digging into their questions. The experts get more questions than they can handle. Sending your employee there in person gets them to the front of the queue all year long.

Is There a Way to Go for Free?

Yes: their registration fee is waived if they present a session, although they still have to pay for hotel and airfare.

Only about 1 out of 4 presentation submissions are accepted (and yes, I was turned down.) There’s a ton of top-notch talent competing for slots. If you want your employee to make the cut, they need to build up their presentation skills first by presenting at their local PASS chapter and at regional SQL Server events.

Each presentation will take them a day or two to build. If you want to help them get a speaking slot, you can help by dedicating one day per month to building a presentation.

Building these presentations forces them to get better at their job because they have to document something in a way to educate others. You want your employees to be better at documentation and cross-training, right? This sounds like a two-for-one deal: they get better at documentation, and they save you money toward their PASS costs.

There’s another way to get registration fees waived, and it’s a sure bet instead of a risk: become a PASS chapter leader. The downside is that it requires significantly more time, because it takes 4-5 hours a week to lead a PASS chapter. They have to entice speakers for the monthly meetings, promote the group, talk to other chapter leads, and so on. It takes more commitment out of their workday time, but if you want them to attend for free, that’s a sure way to save money.

Why Don’t They Pay Their Own Way?

Some attendees do. As their manager, though, there’s something you need to think about before you let an employee go on their own dime.

Your employee will be networking with other SQL Server professionals – folks who are working for other companies who picked up the tab. During the summit, everyone talks to each other about their jobs, their companies and their bosses. A lot of these SQL Server people will be trying to hire more help, and they’ll be talking about their benefits.  Benefits like the ability to go to the PASS Summit for training.

I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ – you might want to write this into the 2009 budget as a part of their benefits and training package.

Update 5/2009: More Reasons from Steve Jones

Steve Jones of SQLServerCentral adds more reasons why you should go to #SQLPass.

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