As an Attendee, What’s Important to You In a New Data Community?

With PASS shutting down, it’s time to think about what the community builds in its place.

There are a lot of efforts going towards building replacements for PASS, including Microsoft’s own efforts. Because these efforts are often led by active community volunteers, they’re very well in touch with what event organizers, sponsors, and speakers want in their community.

But I’d like to ask you, dear reader – when you attend (not volunteer or speak at) an event, whether it’s in person or online, whether it’s a one-time annual event or a monthly user group meeting:

  • What’s your idea of a great data community?
  • What are things that you want to see included?
  • What are features or attributes that are important to you?
  • How do you want to interact with other folks in the community?

I’ll ask clarifying questions in the comments just to help hone your point of view, but I’m not going to give any answers here. I’d rather just pose this and let y’all talk through it with each other, and then let organizers read through this for insights.

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51 Comments. Leave new

  • Michael J Swart
    December 28, 2020 8:40 am

    One thing that is important to me is independence. You know those marketing sessions that Microsoft puts on? I don’t value those. When I look at reinvent (by aws) I see how *every* session is a marketing session. Even the customer case studies are heavily vetted by aws.
    I really value speakers being able to say: “You know this feature? It kinda sucks”
    That independence leads to more trustworthy content.

    I’m not opposed to Microsoft hosting or supporting different events, but I really value independent points of view

    • Agreed. It’s important to be able to express that a feature or concept is useful or not and if it can be improved upon without pressure from the sponsor. I’ve seen other industries controlled by the product owners in order to prevent negative statements, even if it were constructive criticism.
      It’s also possible that aggressive advertising could creep in. As it stands, SQLSaturday events mandate speakers produce a slide with the sponsors to thank them for the event and that’s fair. But it’s possible they could dictate more sponsorship efforts per session as well, and that’s worrisome as it would mean less time for presentations that often already feel rushed.

      • Gary – good points. I want to dive a little into that last sentence.

        When a session feels rushed, is that due to the amount of time allocated to the session, or the amount of material that the presenter tries to cover in a session?

        As an attendee, what’s important to you in terms of time and material? What does a good session look like to you, and how can we make sure you get more of those?

    • Michael – great points. I’m going to ask a few followup questions.

      What’s the difference between a marketing session and a technical session?

      How do we senior attendees differentiate between them when we’re choosing a conference, and when choosing sessions at a conference?

      How do less-experienced junior attendees differentiate between them?

      What can conference organizers do to help us accomplish these tasks more reliably?

      • Michael J Swart
        December 29, 2020 7:19 am

        Well, I think the most important part is that the program committee remain independent. i.e. comprised of members whose employer is not presenting.
        I don’t believe I’ll ever attend another Reinvent, but if there was a local event put on independently, I’d consider it. I guess the question I’d look for is “Who’s putting this thing on?”
        I’m not opposed to sponsor sessions, but I did appreciate that they were marked sponsor sessions.

        I don’t know if I could come up with a criteria I could use that could help organizers identify marketing sessions from decent technical ones. But I know it when I see it. Like every session at reinvent was a marketing session. But any session by Pam Lahoud, Joe Sack or Bob Ward was not.

        I guess my comment was to stress how I value independence. Microsoft’s being generous offering support to the community. I guess I’m just looking to see whether there are any strings attached.

  • I am primarily after technical content. I never attended PASS for a sense of community, but because it was a place to find out about things that I had an interest in. I really do not enjoy parties, games, etc and would gladly trade them for more technical content.

    I will also concur with Michael Swart’s comment about independent thought and commentary. I would like to know ahead of time before investing in some aspect of sql that it is not really worth the effort.

    • John – sure, makes sense in a data community that you’d want technical sessions. When you say technical content, what’s an example or two of a session that you’ve valued highly for its technical content?

      • PASS 2019’s “Understanding Execution Plans” by Erin Stellato. Or Ora Hallengren’s “Query Store In-Depth” presentation.

  • One of the things that bugged me when I attended PASS for the first and only time back in 2018 was how much good content there was presented at the same time and only once. It basically forced you to choose and pushed you to buy the recordings if you desired to see both courses. I’d love for a larger event to have multiple iterations of the same classes in various time slots. I know you can’t have enough time slots for everyone to see every presentation, but I would think you could do something well in advance to get attendee interest in a top and present the top presentations multiple times.

    • Chad – gotcha, interesting. So if you had to choose between these 3 events, which would you choose:

      * A 3-day event with only 1 track, no simultaneous sessions, and 20 sessions altogether
      * A 3-day event with 50 sessions, repeated 3 times each at different days/times
      * A 3-day event with 150 different unique sessions

  • I agree with Michael Swart – independence is absolutely vital. If we want Microsoft or other marketing, we can get it in abundance elsewhere.

    I attended the Summit when David Dewitt first presented. LOVED it. It’s possible for Microsoft to sell it’s incredible work on SQL Server without a sales pitch. Dewitt delivered that – a tech heavy deep dive into something interesting that was also making SQL Server a better product. More in that direction please.

    I think SQL has to be in the name somewhere. Sorry, but “data” is so broad that it’s meaningless. Java? Mongo? Python? What the heck is DataSaturday or Data… whatever about? When I joined PASS and went to Summit and SQLSaturdays I wanted to learn more about SQL Server and everything built on top of it. Remove that from the focus and the tent becomes so huge it disintegrates.

    Two things are important to me:
    1: Here is the shiny new thing: what you need to know about it, how it works today, what’s great and what sucks about it.

    2: Real world experience using old/existing features: watch me as I step through this example that’s useful to know about for x, y, z reasons. See how this works – see this gotcha right here, and that bogus result over there? See here how I got around them/got the best out of this functionality and you should too.

    There are tons of blogs on these things already, of course. So a better way to gather and sort them would be nice. I already get weekly newsletters that do this, but could be better.

    In a remote world with fewer in-person events, I think networking should look different. It may work best by getting attendees of the same session together as teams to work through challenges pitted against one another for fun and collaboration. Team members may network well that way, and it could be a great way to learn and have some fun as well. However, I never used PASS for networking, and like other commenters here, will not miss that.

    • ASH – ooo, lots of good stuff in here. I want to dive into this part:

      “Here is the shiny new thing: what you need to know about it, how it works today, what’s great and what sucks about it.”

      Let’s say SQL Server 2021 is about to be launched in February, and you’re at a conference session today covering that shiny new thing. There’s someone presenting about it.

      You walk out of that session and you say, “That was amazing! That’s exactly the kind of session I wanted!” A few questions about that successful session:

      * Who was the presenter’s employer?
      * How did the presenter learn about the shiny new thing – by building it, working with it using Books Online style examples, or by putting it under production load?
      * Would you call this successful session a marketing session, or a technical session?
      * Would the presenter’s employer be okay with them calling out what sucks about the feature?

      • If the shiny new thing hasn’t even launched yet, for me it’s too early to have amazing sessions on it. Early adopters grab the preview releases and try out all the new features in order to teach others, and I’ve attended those sessions but haven’t found them particularly worthwhile, let alone amazing…

        *Who was the presenter’s employer? Likely BigCo who had a project team super eager to take advantage of the new features, and so adopted sooner than most. Maybe members of that team are ready to present 6 to 8 months after launch??

        *How did the presenter learn it? By putting it under production load. I feel like most of the really early sessions on Always On Availability Groups were terrible. It took real world experience (and lots of MS updates) to get amazing sessions on that, for example. But all of that happened before our clients wanted it.

        *Technical or marketing? Technical . . . for me the difference is not so much the topic, but the coverage of it. If it’s in-depth, warts and all, with detailed demos presented by someone with ample field experience then bliss. Like someone else in these comments said – I know it when I see it.

        * Yes, the presenter and their employer are already pushing MS for improvements and fixes to whatever sucks. Covering work-arounds and “what if’s” may be essential to the session and give others the confidence to run home and adopt it as well. If the presenter’s employer was used as an MS case study, I’m sure there are agreements there, but if the presenter is forced to gloss over any negative reality, that would outweigh any benefits gleaned from the positive aspects of it.

        I’d like to try to improve what I said re: DataSaturdays, DataXXX etc. My team gets asked all the time if we support Oracle, MySQL, etc.. Just like you don’t teach Postgres, we’ve worked with other RDMS’s but our answer is “no”. We try to stick to what we’re best at. Perhaps the community idea is to break away from being limited to SQL Server, but I agree with some other commenters here that narrowing the scope may be far better than trying to be all things to all people. The one and two-day SQLSaturdays I attended in Boston were always terrific.

      • Allen Shepard
        January 5, 2021 6:19 am

        * Who was the presenter’s employer?
        A hospital or university – more than 50 employees. IBM had RedBooks documenting average people using the technology. They are great because they are more like my shop. Banks, NSA, and military are way too structured though they drive a large part of the market.

        * How did the presenter learn about the shiny new thing – by building it, working with it using Books Online style examples, or by putting it under production load?

        Using new and current technology under production load. Switching *all* the servers to VM sounded great until the first reboot.

        * Would you call this successful session a marketing session, or a technical session?
        First look session. There will be marketing sessions for the shinny new thing – even if it is not that new “The same code by any other name can be sold as a new release”

        * Would the presenter’s employer be okay with them calling out what sucks about the feature?
        Yes. If not they are setting me up for failure and a bad experience. Be honest. I come seeking truth and knowledge. Going back to the office and making changes could end in failure and be a career limiting move. I have a full time job already and do not need more problems.

  • Chad Estes, I agree. That is a problem with many conventions. It really is hard to create the schedule guessing how many will attend and what room is needed. Also the “main attraction” speakers get the choice 10 am to 4 pm slots. Newbies are used as filler – no dis respect. That is just how it works out.

    I am looking for content – justification. Gold nuggets are both “undocumented” stuff like pages are read in 64K blocks but DBCC shrinkfile uses 128K blocks. Makes a big difference in the math.
    Kronos Works puts geographic area, technical level, products and sector (public, private, government, gambling, health care, etc) Then they mix us up at breakfast and lunch so we meet different people. Mid west government folks meet technical people of all levels. Or east coast Healthcare meets people using different products.
    Ask for what we want to see – AG replication. Storage solutions. Different blades, SQL running on Linux – not just what people want to sell
    Please provide a book with each class to take notes. Yes it is paper but also very helpful.
    Social gatherings. This allows people to talk.
    Bar codes to help track people and transfer contact information to vendors upon request.
    Never book a speaker back to back. Allow time to answer questions in the hall way.
    Add a message board. I can go a whole for day con and not meet a friend who was also there.
    Printed schedule and map. Event apps with a timer and reminders is nice, but its hard to see the whole schedule.
    Key note speakers. Keep them. Have them for n-1 days.
    Program book. Allows for notes and advertising space. My fee only pays for part of the convention.
    All day coffee, tea, afternoon ice cream or dessert. Granola bars & soda cans that can be carried. Ok soda can is a too much.
    Secure WiFi would be nice but is a convenience.
    Most important part is learning what I did not know and taking that home. TSQL, Internals, geopolitics, business directions, personal development. Since most of us are nerds – social development.

    There is more but this is PC-pass not DragonCon, WizardCon, BaltiCon, OtaCon or a WorldCon (anime & science fiction conventions [where nerds flock and gather in the wild] )

    • Allen – ooo, lots of good stuff in here. Followup question – what do you think is a fair price to pay for a conference like that?

      • Allen Shepard
        January 4, 2021 6:48 am

        Brent sir, I do not have a good answer. Why? Corporate support & company credit card drive “business conventions”

        To answer your question. Purely user based convention with hotel room discounts would be $150 (three day) to $300 (five day). With 5,000 paid registrations that is $740K to $1.4Mil – very doable budget with mostly volunteer group arriving two days before and staying one day after.
        A 50% discount for adult spose / child to participate in all but the lecture halls. Provide a social gathering, daily kids room and walk around *escorted* privileges. Badges checked at each lecture hall door.

        Conventions like PeopleSoft, Kronos (time&attendence) M.S. Dynamics, RSA (great con) and others are corporate and vendor sponsored. They farm out program, badge, registration, security, clean up, signage, WiFi, AV recording, projector & mike, etc. Hence they need a larger budget for the same or smaller effect.
        They can also charge more. Why? It ain’t my money – it is the corporate card. IMO, a cheap price means a cheap experience. Charging more is artificially supported or propped up because “more expensive is better” Sadly this reduces attendance and [IMO] shifts attendance from worker bees to managers.

        Conventions like SQLSaturday’s, FantaSci, Scouting are all user based living off donated space, volunteers, love and hope. They still cost a few thousand to put on. Why? Rent AV equipment, no long term space contracts, insurance & provide food.

        Conventions like DragonCon, NekoCon, KatsuCon are all user based *but* share AV equipment, artist talent, volunteers and can share contracted space. If group A folds for one year, group L can exercise the contract. No hard feelings till group A rights itself. Often times it is many of the same people sitting on the board. I feel long term contracts killed PASS.

        Safety: We hundreds of strangers with real looking weapons walking around crowds – sometimes with police there, most often not, because
        1) They are told not to be “that guy” or “that girl”
        2) We eject people & vendors who misbehave *and* share the information with others.
        3) Set a goal to be helpful and kind. Do not leave people to wonder what is right & good – spell that out and problems drop.
        4) Be helpful and kind. (sad I have to say that) Corporate P.O.s are slow, people get lost, medical issues arise, ex wife show up with new husband, room parties with alcohol crop up. Things are lost.

        What is your reaction ? What do you think ?

  • I’d like to see a community dedicated to helping newbies get started as well as development of less basic material. I think the longer you are in the community the more likely it is that you are engaged in mentoring or or learning opportunities for those behind you in their professional journey.

    It should be independent and not for profit (501c3/c6). It would be nice to have a code of conduct for members, governing not just our expectations on how we treat each other but also expectations for stewards of data. An endorsement (or censure) from this body would carry weight.

    I’d like it to be inviting to those that are curious about the subject matter. I do miss the in person events as a lone DBA I need a little bit of that in person check-in to catch up with folks that I’ve started to build relationships with.

    • Josh – yeah, it’s absolutely true – there are way more people at the 100-200 level than there are at the 300-400 level.

      Great point about the independent and not for profit, too.

  • Thinking about Chad Estes point about missing desired sessions due to schedule overlap and having to buy recordings . . . and modern streaming . . . it may be terrific to have sessions live streamed such that the presenter can interact with their in-person audience and online attendees. The videos would be included in the price of the conference, and ideally the streaming session chat could continue long afterwards so attendees and later viewers, plus the presenter if desired, could keep the conversation going and update or expand upon it.

    Another idea would be to have more numerous but tighter conferences that are more focused.
    Perhaps one each for DBAs, dev’s, personal/career development etc. I think two-thirds of conference attendees going forward will be streaming attendees. Adapting to that and making it work well for all involved, no matter how they participate, will be gold. Right now we have all-remote or all-in-person with recordings. Time for the hybrid approach that works well no matter how you attend a session.

    • ASH – the tough part about doing live broadcasts of in-person conferences is that it’s spectacularly expensive. You need multiple cameras and live feed setups for each room (in order to deal with redundancy – paying customers won’t tolerate outages during paid-for live events), and that means camera operators in each session room. In most convention centers, that also means union labor is required.

      We looked at doing it for my in-person training classes and my jaw just hit the floor – it was something like $30K-$40K per room with cameras, per day. At a typical SQL Saturday, that could easily be half a million dollars.

      • Ooof. Ah yes . . . the thousand dollar pot of conference room coffee . . .

        Whelp, maybe new technology will soon make this more viable. No matter what, I can’t see this working anytime soon without conference videos integral to the product rather than an optional after-thought.

        • Allen Shepard
          January 5, 2021 6:09 am

          Ouch !!!

          SQL Saturday that could not borrow the equipment would be sunk. Union labor is not cheap but worth it at your level. SQL Saturday might be ok using armatures until there are enough of us to do it semi-professionally

  • I have found that at general conferences, UI/API is heavily covered, and DB feels like an after thought. Then at data conferences, DBA and BI are heavily covered, where bare bones SQL Dev seems to be glossed over.

    • Des – gotcha. So what’s important to you as a data community attendee? Are you asking for a single conference that covers everything to a deep depth, or multiple different conferences with different topics?

      • Brent – I am from a very specialist-type shop, where Dev does dev, Deployment team does deployments, and DBA keeps the lights on, etc. I like smaller conferences, like SQL Saturday. For me, it would be nice to have a dev conf, a DBA conf, etc. Then again, if there is major travel involved, it makes sense for them to be together for the mixed role folks.

        • Des – gotcha. I think ten years ago, it would have been a pipe dream for any one US or EU metro area to have lots of small conferences per year, all covering different subject matter areas. I think a few years from now, it’s possible, though – as the economy and the vaccine situation gets better, I can imagine a resurgence of local events, with lots of specialties.

          In other more spread-out areas, it’s tougher, but in the US and EU, I can totally see that happening.

  • What’s the PASS Summit and how much does It cost? Could you list the countries of the attendees, please?

    If you really want a big helping community..
    The most important for me: that should be available for everybody.

  • James O'Doherty
    December 29, 2020 2:35 am

    Hi Brent
    For me independence, focus on SQL Server and data platform, access to 400 and 500 level talks from great speakers, local user groups similar to SQL Saturdays delivering great content are really important. But the central mission should be about learning, helping and promiscuous sharing of knowledge that’s freely accessible to everyone. Annual conferences are great but they are very expensive to organize and it will be some time before those happen again – if it does it should be narrowly focused on data platforms and maybe more local – you can’t meet anyone at a conference with 5000 people but you can when it’s 500 people.

    There should also be more focus for SQL Dev – on the boundary between application development and database development. This is often where the seeds of performance and scalability issues are sown until they grow into major headaches for the DBA and Dev teams.

    • James – promiscuous sharing, hahaha, I love it.

      So just to say it again but in different words to make sure I understand it: you would prefer a lot of free regional conferences at smaller sizes, held more frequently.

      About the SQL Dev focus – do you envision that happening at the same smaller regional conferences that also focus on database administration and performance tuning? Would that additional focus area cause less sessions on traditional DBA topics? Or would you prefer different regional conferences for the SQL dev side?

  • What’s your idea of a great data community?

    Inclusive,independant of vendor but supportive of good vendors, all levels of tech enthusiasts welcome (less emphasis on ‘celebs’ versus ‘others’), appreciation and respect for volunteer work, helping people find jobs, grow skills in that regard , genuine friendships and less politics (if that’s even possible).

    What are things that you want to see included?

    1 Availablity of conferences and training at nominal/affordable costs
    2 Good balance of state of the art versus old tech that’s still sticking around, basics that need refreshing
    3 Badges/ways to tell the world what our contributions were
    4 Opportunites for volunteering that are not limited to just speaking or organizing events

    What are features or attributes that are important to you?
    Inclusivity and nominal access to conferences (if/when they pick up) are definitely on top of the list.

    How do you want to interact with other folks in the community?
    I believe the best human interaction happens in person and that’s hard to substitute. I want that to be available when the time is right. I do believe we have to keep up wiht other kinds of interaction – via virtual conferences (I had quite a bit of great interaction at the virtual summit and groupby, although hate to say it was mostly with folks I already knew).

    • Mala – as is true of everything you write, this comment is well thought out and valuable. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

      One followup question partially for me, and partially for the other folks who might read this: in 2018 or 2019, before this COVID19 mess, in any given year, roughly how many community events did you attend? How did you make the choices of which events you chose to attend, and which ones you skipped? You place a pretty high priority on community events, and I think this feedback would be valuable.

  • Mala Mahadevan
    December 29, 2020 5:45 am

    Brent , it depends a lot on employer support. When I enjoyed maximum that – mine has been 3 events a year – PASS Summit, MSFT Ignite and a large sql saturday (relatively, I’ve never been to ATL or Silicon valley but I consider Cleveland and DC large enough). But not all employers are supportive of the time needed or $$ needed to make this my minimum has been PASS Summit and local sql saturdays I can drive to.(smaller events). The PASS Summit was doable for 21 years in a row because of the comp code. There were employers who picked up the tab on travel and hotel and those who didnt, but i could pay for that or room share with friends and make it gone. That event also yielded the most of networking. That’s partly why it is such a loss to people like me.

    • Yeah, the comp code makes it a little bit tricky. I wonder, if Summit attendees were categorized by these attributes:

      * Amount they paid out of pocket to go
      * Level of satisfaction with the event

      I wonder if those would be correlated.

  • Malathi Mahadevan
    December 29, 2020 6:03 am

    Its a very personal thing, somewhat. Many consider even using the comp code unethical. I personally don’t since I worked my tail off and considered it an earned reward. But some don’t think of it that way and that’s upto them. Many also manipulated the system and did it just for that so there is that as well. But I digress. Costs related to the summit have been sliced and diced and evaluated in many ways. Many people think it costs the same overall to go to BITS, for example. Or a big event on east coast, like Ignite. To me, that wasn’t how it worked out. If i had to pay for the hotel it could be postponed until the summit so it wasn’t an immediate cost and that helped (also reduced hotel prices since i didnt have any frequent visitor stuff with hotels). I also knew enough people to room share if I wanted to do that. I knew enough vendors to give me free meals too so i rarely if not never paid for food. As a long standing community member, all these things helped and they may not be the same for everyone.

    • Yeah, exactly. I do think it’s tricky when we (long term volunteers who get into everything for free) lay out what we think is important for attendees, especially when we value things that a pure attendee may not. I do still think all your comments are valuable and helpful – I just wanted to put it out there that the criteria may be different for folks who have to pay out of pocket.

      When everything is free, we want ponies. 😉

  • What’s your idea of a great data community?
    I liked the format of the local SQL Saturday. I’d bounce from track to track attending sessions outside my core skills to learn tips & tricks or techniques that I hadn’t mastered. i.e. powershell or SSIS package templates.
    What are things that you want to see included?
    Powershell, I’m slowly replacing vb/vba scripts with powershell. I want to learn more advanced techniques and it helps to ask questions rather than scrape code off of a web site & email/post questions.
    What are features or attributes that are important to you?
    I like the demos/sessions on what is rolling out next. PowerBI has grown a lot over the past 5 years.
    How do you want to interact with other folks in the community?
    The local SQL Sat was good as over the last 10 years as I would cross paths with people from old employments who had moved on as well.
    Even if I’d miss a SQL Sat, I would still check the web page after the event for slide presentations and zip files. Occasionally would check larger events (Boston or Dallas) for their after event postings.

    The local user group used to have monthly meetings at the local MS Office, but it was during work hours, so I never attended. But I’m retiring shortly with a couple of SQL retirement projects in mind, so hopefully they’ll restart after the pandemic clears up & I can attend then as I continue to “wet” my SQL & BI skills.

  • The best are the hands on sessions. Less theory and more dos. I would benefit from those to see concepts in actions.
    Also, another is highlight the future the SQL server

  • Looking only at conferences, rather than a year-round global community.

    Inclusiveness is vital, whether it is in-person or virtual. This covers the full spectrum of attendees, presenters, and topics. All backed up with a solid, clear, policy.

    From a content perspective what I want to see is a range of topics. Ideally this would cover at least the Microsoft stack which is relational (SQL. MySQL, Postgres), non-relational (Cosmos, Hadoop, Spark), and Power Platform as that is what I am working with day to day. All of that has to run on infrastructure so cloud infra is also very important as is the process for delivering it (DevOps culture, processes, and tooling). Going multi-vendor to include AWS, GCP, or specific technology providers such as Snowflake, mongo etc. would also be great as that gives me scope to look at other areas.

    I guess what I would like to see is something akin to a smaller ignite, with the range of content, but much deeper tech content from people who live and breathe it so that I can learn about how it works in the real world.


  • I don’t now if this makes sense or has been said already, but for a smaller event (in the future, past-pandemic) it might make sense to have the presenters stream from their own “studios” (or living rooms as it were) with a live in-person audience. Pros would be that the audience would have a semi-live experience with talent from all over the world including a live Q & A session at the end, there would be networking/mingling possibilities for the attendees, and recordings could be made available for later.

    Personally, I’m terrible at mingling in person and in my experience (some years ago), the event wasn’t all that inviting for full stack developers, which I was at the time. The numerous jabs got a bit annoying. The sessions were either over my head or too short. It would have been nice to have a suite of “newb sessions” were one would not feel too intimidated to ask basic questions. Needless to say, I really like the ready availability of online learning material (both free and paid for).

  • What’s your idea of a great data community?

    I have only attended training courses in London for the SQL Server exams (SQL Server 2012 MCSA and MCSE). I don’t have experience of a data community although it’s an excellent idea. I would like to see an annual UK event.

    What are things that you want to see included? / What are features or attributes that are important to you?

    IMO the ideal is a mix of a scientific conference and a trade show. There should be in-person sessions with a knowledgeable speaker explaining a topic to a group of people for an hour or two at a time, with questions at the end. An hour is too short for a session, you should allow 60-90 mins per session, 20 mins questions time and a gap between session. A mix of topics and levels is important for newbies, intermediate and advanced levels. You don’t need (and there should not be) too many streams running at once, otherwise people feel they miss out. It’s reasonable to charge for the conference, if my employer is paying as part of CPD they would expect this. Prior to the conference there should be a “benefits” one-pager to justify attendance, and there should be printed conference notes to share with the business after. The ideal length is 2-3 days with maybe one or two optional extras. If a conference is only one day the travel is a higher overhead, and if it’s a week it’s harder to get business sign-off.

    How do you want to interact with other folks in the community?

    – Questions during/after sessions and during coffee / snacks / lunch
    – Panels / Birds of a feather round tables
    – Social events (it’s reasonable to charge more for these)
    – Vendor sessions and technical demonstrations – it’s reasonable for vendors to attend with their products
    – A “pitch” session – you could have a mix of entrepreneurs and techies, and people are allowed a strict 5 minutes to present an idea
    – Obviously some people won’t want to use all these chances for interaction, which is fine

  • What’s your idea of a great data community?
    A great data community to me has the following attributes in no particular order. Active, inclusive, transparent, independant, technical, and convenient. I believe PASS was 70-80% of the way there with some major breakdowns in transparency and marketing.

    What are things that you want to see included?
    I want to see more 300-500 level sessions but that doesn’t mean remove the 100-200 level ones. There are tons of resources for 100-200 level that we don’t have for the more technical. That’s probably a direct correlation of the amount of effort it takes to create the more in depth sessions.

    How do you want to interact with other folks in the community?
    In-person events are better for networking than online events but I believe the online events are great for technical material. I’m not sure exactly how it would work but I do believe that the training and sessions should be online and the community should focus on organizing content, networking, mentoring, etc that are very hard to do with an online, wide audience, format.

    • Allen Shepard
      January 5, 2021 6:04 am


      I agree with you. Convenient – for west coast folks. Some conventions do an East and West version.

      Some 300 to 500 level courses would be great. Not just “Anatomy of a data page” but Physiology – fragmentation, reducing the select set, I/O competition. People rebuild indexes but I see very little on rebuilding tables to reduce fragmentation and forward page count.

      For me it is just easier to ask questions in person. Zoom, GoTo, Teams seem to be a bottle neck of one question. The speaker does not get enough feed back. Am I confusing them, answering questions or the light just went off but two other people are shaking their heads. Plus there is time to over hear problems or solutions.

      I prefer in class training. Some content goes stale and reading about a solution that worked in SQL 2008 might get written off. I will have to find a BOL page written for 2008 that is still the solution for 2019.

  • Nicki Kowalchuk
    January 6, 2021 3:06 pm

    I love the format of the SQL Saturdays. I’ve attended the one in Madison for 8 years. It seems that as time has gone on and the technology stack has grown and encompasses more, there have been lots of 300-400 level sessions on any given topic, but not many intro ones. It’s hard to get started in a technology from scratch, I’d love to see various levels of sessions in each of the data areas (DBA, data development, data viz, analytics, data science, etc).

    I also agree that “data Saturdays” are a bit confusing – exactly what is it going to be? I work with SQL Server – it wouldn’t hurt me to learn more about Oracle/MySQL/Postgres, etc – but I’m not going to attend a conference to find out that most of it doesn’t apply to me at all. Maybe different iterations of them? SQL Server Saturday, Data Analytics Saturday, MySQL Saturday, etc might be of more benefit to the community than trying to cram it all into one day.

    And as others have stated, I also typically dislike the marketing sessions – I really wish they were labeled as such. ie, Come listen to xyz Microsoft employee tell you about the new features in PowerBI. Because there is a huge difference hearing it from the tech evangelists vs people who have used the technologies in the trenches and can tell you both the pros and cons of them.

  • Gordon Feeney
    January 11, 2021 3:11 am

    I must admit that last year, and much of this year as well I guess, I have missed physically attending events. I did virtual sqlbits last year and it really wasn’t as good as would have been the case had I attended in person. My last live event was PASS in Seattle in 2018. Someone else mentioned not liking parties ad other social aspects of live events and I’m kind of on board with that, but even a generally anti-social curmudgeon like me still likes the occassional chat, technical or otherwise, and the general buzz of a live event. Although I would agree with some who have mentioned how hard it can be to make a choice when you have overlapping sessions, both of which you want to see.

    With regard to marketing, well it’s a bit like watching commercial TV. You put up with the ads in order to enjoy the rest of the content. And let’s not forget that marketing is important, sometimes crucial, in allowing companies to help sponsor events large and small.


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