Should We Hold #SQLPASS in Seattle?


A survey just went out to SQLPASS members and it focuses some attention on where to hold the PASS Summit each year.  In November 2010, it’ll be held in Seattle for the third year in a row, and some folks think it should stay in Seattle permanently.

I just don’t agree.

Microsoft Doesn’t Have a Lock on Good Speakers

The PASS leadership has put tremendous emphasis on how important it is to get hundreds of Microsoft speakers at the Summit, and frankly, I’ve been less than impressed with some of the Microsoft sessions I’ve watched.

Instead of giving Microsoft tons of slots, make Microsoft compete for limited slots just like the rest of us.  Even better, make Microsoft compete alongside us.  If they’ve got dozens of awesome sessions led by awesome presenters, then great – they should get lots of slots.  If Buck Woody wants an entire track, he should get it.  But not everybody from MS is Buck Woody.

Microsoft Doesn’t Have a Lock on Good Help

PASS points out that Microsoft can bring lots of employees to Seattle to help with SQL Server questions.  That’s a great thing.  If we move the event outside of Seattle, we won’t have as many Microsofties to interact with.

But is Microsoft really the only people we can ask for help?  Aren’t there people in the community who can also help answer questions?  Heck, when I’ve got a support question, I tend to post it on Twitter or ServerFault first, and those channels are dominated by the community, not Microsoft.

If you seriously have a tough support question and you want Microsoft’s help, here’s a thought: open a case with Microsoft.  Don’t wait until the PASS Summit to get your question answered.

Besides, why are we so focused on Microsoft’s costs per attendee?

Make It Cheaper for Attendees

Move the event around every year – Seattle one year, Midwest one year, East Coast the next year, then back to Seattle.  This gives people around the US a chance to attend the event for lower costs.  Midwest cities might include Chicago, St. Louis, and Houston, all of which have plenty of SQL Server people within driving distance.

After all, PASS is a volunteer organization.  If you want a conference run by Microsoft, go to TechEd.  (And that’s not a slam against TechEd – I’m just pointing out that there’s two separate conferences here.)

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18 Comments. Leave new

  • Brent – good points all. I think the Microsoft thing may have more to do with access to those folks, not necessarily locking in speakers from MS. I wonder if a “Microsoft track” should be created, at the same time slots each day and then hold us to just those? Then the community would have more time, and if someone didn’t want to hear Microsoft speak they could schedule other things during that time. I also would like to see a “101” track. I have lots of folks I want to send but they don’t go becase the tracks are too advanced. I would be willing to do one of these each morning throughout the week, to cover the basics.

  • I would add that the Microsoft people sitting in the “ask the experts” area can be intimidating and downright hostile. You have a bunch of guys sitting around a table wearing identical blue shirts, all chatting with one another and typing away on laptops, and on many occasions when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation with one of them I’ve either gotten a dirty look for interrupting or have been simply ignored. The only people I was able to talk to in the ATE area this year were MS people who already knew me. It’s really not a big deal if that system changes a bit.

    • I agree 100% about the hostility of walking solo into a pit of tigers. 😀 Not that MS people are tigers – it just seems that way from the outside if you’re a newbie. I think it’d be better as a panel discussion session, and when something gets too technical, let the questioner move to a sidebar group to talk directly to MS. The panel wouldn’t have to be all Microsofties, either.

  • I just want it to stay in Seattle because that’s where Kimberly and I live. All other conferences are away for us – please let us have one at home for a change!!! 🙂

    But you do raise excellent points. Remote conferences aren’t attended well by Microsoft, which seems to be a really strange use of budgets (even when I controlled the travel budget for my SQL Server group, I used to have to fight to be able to go to Connections to evangelize SQL Server – huh?).

    • The point about budgets makes me wonder – I’d love to survey attendees and ask how much value they got out of speaking to MS staff in the “ask the experts” area. Did they utilize it? How much was it worth to them? Maybe we should have an all-vendors “ask the experts” area instead, or just a community troubleshooting & Q&A track.

  • I have to agree, Brent. Well said. Another benefit of moving the Summit round is that it would give the local Pass chapters more opportunities for involvement when the Summit takes place near them.

  • Brent,

    I agree that the PASS conference location should rotate annually.

    I’m in Florida and there are plenty of venues big enough to host it here.
    Orlando or Tampa would be my preference.

    It’s a community event so let’s move it around each year to make it easier for different parts of the country to attend.

  • While Seattle is a great city hold a conference, moving the event around the country has its merits too. The Teradata Partners Conference has a habit of rotating conference locations every two years; this year being the most recent exception as the 2009 conference was in DC and 2010 is in San Diego. Like SQL PASS, the Teradata conference is put on by the user group and always has a strong representation by Teradata employees every year. Some of the more recent locales have included Las Vegas (too many distractions), Orlando (overused by everyone), DC, Seattle, and San Diego. Given the conference is held in the fall every year it tends to bypass the Midwest.

    As for the balance of presentations at Partners there seems to be a fair balance of customer and community based presentations along with Teradata employee presentations. There is a short list of Teradata employees that do a great job with there presentations because of their deep understanding of the product. The use of PowerPoint would make anyone who follows Presentation Zen or Slide:ology cringe and because of that many of the less polished speakers are apt to read from their deck. The more polished speakers recognize that their deck is the takeaway and you can disregard the flipping of the deck on the screen and just focus on the speaker.

  • Travel-wise I personally don’t care where in the US it is. Makes very little difference for me.

    For me what would make a good city is:
    Relatively cheap hotel options
    Good public transport
    Lots of bookshops

  • I’m going to have to chime in alongside those who agree that a rotating schedule of locations is the ideal way for the greatest variety of SQL professionals from ALL over the country to attend. The cost of the conference + travel + hotel + meals puts the event way outside of some of the limited training budgets of most small-to-mid size employers. If for instance, it were to be held in Orlando, you could literally get hundreds of attendees to not have to ask for travel and perhaps even hotel expenses. Yes, I know those from Seattle would; thus the reason for the rotation.

  • Christian Hasker
    January 12, 2010 1:15 pm

    I think it should move around. We hear from a lot of customers each year who would love to attend but simply can’t get their companies to foot the bill for the cost of admission + travel + accommodation. We’ve been fortunate at Quest to be in a position where each year we’re able to help a few make it to the event.

    It seems that a smaller show like PASS could benefit a lot from moving around the country, focusing on trying to get people to the show locally who have not been able to attend. Maybe there could be a discounted rate for local attendees who can prove it’s their first show or another incentive. Or maybe vendors including MS could pay into a scholarship fund to provide first timers the opportunity to attend.

    I understand why an event like Oracle Open World is always in San Francisco; it’s Oracle’s hometown and over the years it’s grown and grown, and there’s a certain a certain rhythm that has been established. Microsoft’s similar show is TechEd, and that moves around each year, so there’s no MS precedent for its always being in Seattle.

  • Thanks, Brent – you put my thoughts into a nice concise post. I have often wondered why the onus on Microsoft as well. I hardly ever even attend their sessions and completely agree that we could have a panel of experts in any city we choose.

  • Thanks Brent!

    Great post and great thoughts. PASS is about the community of folks helping each other out. Microsoft adds to it but if we really couldn’t get that many MS folks to man an ATE booth I think we could even do “Ask the Volunteer from a User Group” sections and still get some help to folks.. Or “Ask the MVP”…

    • I really like the “Ask the MVP” booth – that makes a ton of sense. Have both MVPs and MS staff and show MS’s integration with the community. That sounds good.

  • I completely agree with the Microsoft connection being over valued in this case. I’ve been to the last 5 SQL PASS conferences (two of which in Seattle, the others in Orlando, Dallas, and Denver) and from my experience, all that the Seattle MSFT connection provided was more brown/blue shirts. It is certainly obvious that more MSFTies attend when in Seattle, but I haven’t heard that the increase in attendance necessarily provides a ton of value.

    I love Seattle as a conference destination, but that is more due to the city than the proximity to Redmond. There are plenty of other appealing locations that would be a lot easier for attendee’s to travel to.

  • Glad I’m not the only one who felt the survey was trying to “sell” Seattle as the only real location since there could be lots of MS folks attending. I found it a bit ironic that it seemed to say that MS won’t be sending many people unless they don’t have to pay travel. How do you sell the value of a conference if the conference’s main sponsor seems to think it isn’t valuable enough to invest in lots and lots of travel?

    And as someone who has traveled to downtown twice in the last few weeks, I think you are sniffing bacon to say that it is relatively inexpensive. Isn’t it odd that my Manhattan hotel room was cheaper than my Chicago one? $48 a night just in hotel taxes?

    I did Gila’s comment that it doesn’t really matter where it is as long as there is great public transit and affordable hotels. With the wildly unpredictable air fare system these days, it can be grossly more expensive for a one hour flight than a 5 hour won. Closeness is only a small factor in travel costs.

    • Interesting about the Chicago hotel rates. How much did you spend, if you don’t mind me asking? I haven’t been able to stay in Seattle for a conference for under around $170/night plus taxes. Manhattan is a lot more affordable than people think, though, especially if you count how much you save on taxis if you stay downtown.

      I agree about the public transit. Chicago’s is fantastic – you can take public transit from either airport (O’Hare or Midway) and be downtown in an hour for something like $3.

      • I had to pay $239 for La Quinta (the W was more than $330) one time and the next time I paid $179. I always take the train (I hate taking long taxi rides). It’s faster to take the train than a taxi during rush hours, too.

        In NYC I hoof it or take the subway. I rarely take taxis there, either, because they take longer than the train. Granted I stayed at the Pod Hotel in NYC, but it was only $139 a night. And the taxes were much lower.

        I really hate conferences that are located out in the burbs where there is limited restaurant access and taxis or rental cars are required. Attended a conf once that was supposed to be in Philly, when actually it was a 1.5 hour cab ride west of Philly. There were ~500 people at the event and only two restaurants within walking access/distance. One was an Indian place that turned out to be fabulous. But the wait in line for the other place was hours long.


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