Picking #PASSsummit Sessions to Attend


So you’re going to the PASS Summit in Seattle this week, and you’re overwhelmed with the number of session choices. You’re not alone – it overwhelms me too. There are some slots where I wish I could clone myself and attend several sessions at once.

Here’s how I do it.

First priority: paying back your sponsor. If your manager is picking up the tab for this conference, think about the top 2-3 sessions that will make the biggest difference for them. (You can even ask ’em outright – what are the top 2-3 questions you want me to answer when I’m at PASS?)

Put those sessions in your personal calendar so that they show up on your phone/watch/laptop/whatever, and get reminders on those. You wanna make sure you have your butt in a seat, take good notes, and be ready to go back to the office to do a lunch & learn about what you learned from those sessions. That makes you more likely to get the registration paid for next year.

Next priority: paying your career forward. Regardless of what you’re doing today, you’re probably looking at that session list and thinking, “Uh, there are a lot of techniques and technologies that are new to me.” You can’t possibly master ’em all – the data platform is too wide these days. You’re also going to hear a lot of marketing hype about why “YOU MUST ABSOLUTELY LEARN TECHNOLOGY X OR YOU’RE A DINOSAUR!!!!1!1!ELEVEN!”

You gotta keep in mind that the people saying that have an agenda: they want you to be an early adopter of their particular technology/feature/product/brand. They need users for their work to succeed. However, just because they have a marketing budget doesn’t mean you have a future career in that.

Take some time to yourself to think about what you really enjoy about your job. Love managing infrastructure? Get all excited about crafting queries? Passionate about visualization? The parts of your job that make you excited, those are the sessions to attend. No matter what database niche you can imagine, there are great-paying careers in that specialty. If you really love doing something, then you can probably get paid for doing it. Go attend sessions about it, but more importantly, meet the speaker. Ask to take them to coffee after the session, and spend half an hour getting to know them. They might be your future coworker or manager.

PASS Summit 2018

The above stuff make up your must-attends. After that, don’t even try to schedule anything – wing it. Let yourself be open to a few cool discoveries:

Attend the hallway track. If you meet someone that you want to talk to, and they’ve got time to talk to you, do it. Don’t hesitate to spend half an hour talking to someone if the right opportunity presents itself. Some of my favorite relationships were built by chance when I just happened to run into someone in a conference hallway and strike up a conversation.

Visit the vendor exhibitor hall. I don’t say that to be polite to sponsors – it really is a great use of your time. Do a speed walking pass through, looking at what tools are out there, and then go back and do a slow walk, taking your time to stop and talk to vendors. Ask for a 5-minute demo. Find out what interests you. Don’t worry, they’re not going to ask for your credit card.

Keep in mind that some vendors want to keep you there as long as possible in anticipation that you’ll become a customer. Set yourself a five-minute mental timer, and when it’s up, thank the vendor and move on, saying that you’ve got other places you have to visit too. They’ll understand – the conference is a zoo.

Expose yourself to something really crazy. No, not in the bathrooms – pick a session or two about something you would never dream of using, something that seems utterly outside of your comfort zone.

And if you’re not going this year, let’s figure out how we can get you to a conference next year. Going to one of the major conferences is positively life-changing: I can’t tell you what a difference it made for me, meeting and getting into the community. Here are the conferences I’ve got planned so far for 2019:

Let’s get together! I really love meeting y’all and sharing the crazy experience of what we do.

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