What the #SQLPASS Summit Means to You


Every year, the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) holds a big conference for SQL Server professionals – DBAs, developers, BI people, etc.  Depending on how you look at it, it’s either their North American conference or their global conference – people come from all over the world to attend.

This year’s PASS Summit takes place in Seattle, just like it did last year, and the year before that, and how it will for the next couple of years.  You might detect a slight undercurrent of disappointment there, and I’ve blogged about how the PASS Board isn’t listening to its members.  We won’t revisit that topic again.

Keynote Demos with Ted Kummert
Keynote Demos with Ted Kummert

What Happens at the Summit

PASS Board of Directors members and Microsoft executives give speeches called keynotes at the beginning of each day.  Most of the attendees gather in one big room for these keynotes, and since we’ve got a lot of eyeballs, PASS and Microsoft use this time to unveil whatever they’re proudest of at the moment.  It’s a mix of cheerleading, sales pitches, and technical demos, and you can guess which ones are the most popular with the audience.  If you follow blogs closely, most of the keynotes aren’t really news, but when there’s news, it’s good stuff.  Last year they unveiled the CTP of SQL Server 2008 R2, the new Datacenter Edition, and the SharePoint 2010 PowerPivot gallery.

After the morning keynote, attendees split up and run off to smaller sessions.  The Summit’s staggering array of content choices is intimidating for all of us – the amount of presentations available can make it tough to choose wisely.  Fortunately, you can buy DVDs that include video of all the sessions.  Unfortunately, they’re hundreds of dollars in addition to your registration fee, so as a result, I’ve never bought a set.

The more I go to PASS, the less free time I actually have to sit in sessions.  Take my Tuesday for example – after the keynote, I race off to my own presentation, Virtualization and SAN Basics for DBAs.  After that I’m grabbing lunch with Microsoft folks, then doing a book signing at 1PM.  I’ve got a short break, then it’s off to the Lightning Talks room where I’m giving a five-minute session called SANs Simplified.  At 4:30 Buck Woody and I are doing a session called You’re Not Attractive But Your Presentations Can Be, and then it’s off to find some food before the parties start.

SQL folks at the Zig Zag
SQL folks at the Zig Zag

There are four separate parties on Tuesday night alone, and it’s my chance to catch up with all my virtual coworkers.  The Summit is a very different experience for people on Twitter because we all know each other already before we even shake hands.  Folks on Twitter know where the parties are (because we broadcast it on Twitter) and know what everybody’s up to.  You’d think we wouldn’t have anything to talk about because we’re constantly in touch anyway, but we end up just chatting away for hours.  These personal times are when you build bonds with people for life – these kinds of discussions are how I got involved with my book project.

Tuesday night, I can’t stay up too late – at 6:45AM the next morning, I’m hosting the Virtualization Virtual Chapter’s Breakfast sponsored by VMware.  Wednesday night might involve a little extra partying, though – it’s #SQLKilt day, and a bunch of us are going to wear kilts to the conference.  If you don’t feel like a good strong beer after a day of wearing a kilt, there’s something wrong with you.

PASS Exhibit Hall
PASS Exhibit Hall

Somewhere in all that, I have to stop by the exhibit hall to talk to all my vendor buddies.  The exhibit hall has dozens of companies offering all kinds of products, and it’s my chance to see the latest versions of everything.  I learn something nearly every time I catch up with vendors because the tool market’s always changing.

It’s a complete whirlwind, and it’s over before you can take a breath.

Why I Go To The Summit

It sounds like a lot of fun, and it is – any conference can be – but there’s real work going on here too.  I’m building relationships with vendors and learning what they can offer my clients.  I’m building relationships with other SQL Server professionals who watch my training, see what I know, and might pay to attend one of my classes later – or SQLCruise.  I’m also putting my name out there (in a subtle way) in case anybody needs consulting help.  I’m not one of those guys who goes shoving business cards at strangers, but I’m not a wallflower either.

I have to get a return on my investment, because attending the Summit isn’t cheap. Between travel, hotels, and the Summit registration fees, it can easily cost over $3000.  For those of us who are self-employed, it costs even more, because we can’t bill clients while we’re at conferences.

The best part is that in today’s hyper-connected world, even though you’re at home, you can get some of the benefits just by keeping track of what’s happening at the Summit.

How To Follow What’s Happening

You can register for free to watch the keynotes live over the web for the first time – a tremendous improvement.  While you watch the official feed, you can get my interpretation by swinging over to BrentOzar.com while you’re watching.  For the last few years, I’ve liveblogged the keynotes the same way Engadget liveblogs Steve Jobs keynotes, only with less photos.  I take notes minute by minute, throw a few photos in there, and save the blog every couple of minutes so people can refresh the page and see the updates.

Twitter notes about the keynote aren’t as easy to follow.  It tends to be pretty noisy during the Summit, and people don’t always use the #sqlpass hash tag in their tweets.  If you’d like to try it anyway, check out the #sqlpass Twitter search, but keep in mind you’re only seeing a subset of the real PASS tweets.

Want to see what’s going on via photos?  Check out the #sqlpass search results on Flickr.  You don’t have to be a member in order to view photos, although you have to log in to post comments.  That search result link is sorted with most recent first, so you can refresh it to see new photos.  Pat Wright and I both have Eye-Fi cards in our cameras, so our pictures will get automatically uploaded to Flickr as we take ’em.

If you want the absolute easiest way to follow the Summit, subscribe to my email alerts.  Whenever I post to this blog, you’ll get an email with the full contents of the post – not a summary, but the whole post, ad-free.

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