As the 24 Hours of PASS team prepared to announce the upcoming 24 Hours of PASS: Celebrating SQL Server 2008 R2 virtual event, we stole a few minutes with PASS Board member and 24 Hours of PASS organizer Thomas LaRock (aka SQLRockstar) to reminisce about last year’s “24 Hours with SQLRockstar” and go inside this spring’s event. Set to begin at noon GMT on May 19, the series of 24 free back-to-back webcasts by top industry experts has a special R2 focus. To make sure you can attend as many sessions as possible, you’ll want to pace yourself, LaRock advises.
Q: After being so involved in the inaugural 24 Hours of PASS last September with your “24 Hours with SQLRockstar” live Ustream video/chat activities, it’s great to see you heading up the planning for this event. What interests you most about 24 Hours of PASS as a program format?
A: Well, I’m a big fan of the television show 24, which is able to tell a story in a unique format. Our event is also unique, with nobody else offering an event that spans 24 consecutive hours. PASS is a global community, and this virtual event with speakers and Chapter hosts from around the world helps showcase that aspect.
Q: Attendees will notice a mix of R2 and non-R2 content for the event. What is PASS’s goal with the lineup?
A: That’s easy: PASS is about educating and connecting with the SQL Server community. It is part of our core mission. We have a wonderful mix of sessions across four tracks—DBA, Development, BI, and Professional Development—and each track offers some great SQL Server 2008 R2 content. However, not every session is dedicated to a new R2 feature, which will appeal to the people who still need to get up to speed on features in SQL Server 2008 and 2005. So the mix of sessions lets PASS promote SQL Server to the widest possible audience.
Q: If I’m not moving to R2 anytime soon, why should I attend the R2-focused sessions?
A: I’ll turn that around and ask you, “Why wouldn’t you want to attend the R2 sessions?” If your only reason is that “we aren’t moving to R2 anytime soon,” then I’ll follow up with “how do you know unless you attend the sessions and find out about the new features?” If you never take the time to learn about what’s new in R2, chances are you will be slow to adopt. If you do take the time to learn, chances are you will find more than a handful of things that you would like to have, giving you a reason to get onto R2 sooner than you thought possible.
Q: Donald Farmer, Mr. BI himself, is giving a session on PowerPivot–one of the most anticipated and talked-about R2 features. Do we have “seats” in the Live Meeting room for everyone who might want to attend this or other popular sessions?
A: We’ve got a lot of great speakers at this event, and Donald Farmer is certainly one of them. Live Meeting can hold 1,250 “seats,” and we’re aiming to fill each one of them for every session.
Q: This 24 Hours of PASS is starting at a different time than last year; why is that?
A: We felt it was the right thing to do. The format is still new to everyone at this point. Because we started at midnight GMT last time, we thought we should try starting 12 hours later, at noon GMT. After the event, we will go back and evaluate to see where we can improve. If we can pinpoint the best possible starting time, we’ll shoot for that in the future. But we’re still collecting data at this point. On paper, this start time appears to be ideal. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, but I expect a boost in our overall attendance numbers.
Q: The first 24 Hours of PASS was considered a big success in terms of registrations, attendance, and overall feedback. What are your targets for this event?
A: Rick Heiges and his team did a fantastic job with the first 24 Hours of PASS. And although we have big hopes for the R2-focused event, my goals for it are quite simple: to promote SQL Server by allowing people to connect, share, and learn.
Q: Are you going to reprise your “24 Hours with SQLRockstar” role, or did you find an up-all-night substitute? Do you know of anyone else committing to other side activities yet?
A: Well, with the different start time, it’s going to be difficult for me to attend all 24 sessions; it would mean I would need to take two vacation days from work this time around. I am still planning on doing a live broadcast, but I may sneak away for a nap during the night in order to make it to work the next day. I’m totally open to a replacement who’ll attend and blog or chat about all 24 sessions, and I look forward to hearing about all of the fun, interactive things our community members will think up to support and extend the event.
Q: There are a lot of events this spring as part of the Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Community Tour. What unique features does 24 Hours of PASS: Celebrating SQL Server 2008 R2 bring to the community?
A: The most unique feature is the format, which allows for a lot of interaction between people who are physically located around the world. Although there are a few other online events, none of them allow for this level of interaction for 24 consecutive hours, and none of them are backed by an association dedicated to helping SQL Server and BI pros connect, learn, and share. To me, that is what will always set PASS apart from everyone else—our tremendous community.
Q: Especially for those who didn't attend last year, how do they participate?
A: First, check out all the sessions and speakers on the 24 Hours of PASS site, then register on Live Meeting for the presentations you’re interested in. We have a link to a time zone converter to help you determine what time each session is happening in your area. And the sessions you sign up for will automatically be added to your Outlook calendar at the correct time for your time zone. We’ll be talking about the event on Twitter (use the #24hop hashtag), Facebook, and LinkedIn, and we invite everyone to join in with their comments and questions. Before joining the sessions you signed up for, make sure you’ve reviewed the Live Meeting prerequisites and tested your audio, then log in early to make sure you have a “seat.” All attendees will be on mute, but you can ask questions through Live Meeting, and each session’s moderator will field questions for the presenter.
Q: As such an active attendee last year, do you have any tips for getting the most out of 24 Hours of PASS?
A: The best advice I can give is to set aside enough time to watch as many sessions as possible and set aside a few minutes to rest every now and then. The level of content is amazing, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I’ll take a break in a few minutes”—and then two hours will pass you by. The energy level from other attendees will help keep you going, but you want to stay sharp when listening to the sessions, so don’t let fatigue be a factor.
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The PASS Summit location survey results came in a few weeks ago, and since then we've been analyzing the data, getting in costs from venues across the US, and reviewing with the PASS Board of Directors. You can find the results here.
At first glance, the results seem fairly clear: 81% of the 1,573 respondents want a PASS Summit on the East Coast at least every four years. When we look at responses from only 2008 and 2009 Summit attendees (our most successful ones by far), the number who want a future Summit outside of Seattle drops to 69%.
When we dig deeper though, other findings emerge. There is a disparity between wanting to have Summit on the East Coast and the desire to have access to plentiful, top-notch Microsoft resources at every PASS Summit. For all three questions pertaining to the importance of Microsoft resources, 69%- 84% of respondents maintain that having access to many, and varied, Microsoft resources is important to their Summit experience.
From these findings, we took two immediate actions:
- PASS HQ undertook a full-scale research and budgeting exercise for venues and hotels through the convention bureaus in the following East Coast cities: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, and Washington, D.C.
- The PASS Board of Directors conducted thorough discussions on the feasibility of a strong Microsoft showing in terms of presenters, experts, executives, and overall sponsorship support for a Summit outside of the Seattle area.
It took a while to gather and digest all the information, but here's what we discovered:
- We would not be able to achieve anywhere near the same level of support from Microsoft as we do when Summit is held in Seattle. We would lose out on at least 50% and likely 75% of Microsoft presenters, developers, and SQLCAT and CSS staff – all things a majority of survey respondents listed as important or very important.
- Based on Microsoft's release cycle history (major release cycles run approximately every 3 years, with minor ones often coming in between), 2011 or 2012 will likely be a launch year. It would be disappointing for the community to lose out on the advantages of being in Seattle during a potential release year.
- Seattle is a very cost-effective location for a conference the size and scope of Summit. We were surprised to find that most East Coast locations we considered would cost substantially more and would likely raise registration prices and negatively impact the budget available to many other PASS activities, including Chapter resources and online events. We should also point out that survey respondents listed the cost of moving Summit to the East Coast as the least important of four PASS priorities (others included: Chapter resources, events such as 24 Hours of PASS, and the PASS website).
So where does this leave us? The Board has decided to hold PASS Summit 2011 and PASS Summit 2012 in Seattle for the reasons listed above. It was difficult weighing all the different considerations for the benefit of the SQL Server community, and we really appreciate the input we received. We feel that continuing to host PASS Summit in Seattle – in order to access Microsoft resources and support and keep costs down for the organization and for the attendees – is the best decision for the community as a whole.
We are listening to all of you who desire more PASS presence on the East Coast, and are currently looking into holding a smaller conference there in the near future. We’ll share more information as it becomes available.
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We're hearing what some of you are saying about PASS being slow to release the Summit location survey results and we are taking your concerns seriously. I hope this post helps provide some insight into our actions. We can, and will, improve the frequency and openness of our communications on issues of importance to our members in the future.
We know the process has seemed extraordinarily long to those not involved in the conversations. In hindsight, we should have released the survey info earlier instead of waiting until we had figured out our plan and conducted the research, which was prompted by the results.
We have always had plans to disclose the survey results to the community, but had decided to wait until we had weighed in on the results, did research, and met to discuss as a Board last week. Our next step is to issue the results and our decision for future Summit locations in this Wednesday's Connector newsletter - our usual and regular form of communication with our members.
Thanks for your patience and please stay tuned on Wednesday for the survey results and decisions!
- Rushabh Mehta, PASS President
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When the German PASS Chapter was launched in 2004, the founding members decided to self-finance the organization by running a yearly deep-dive, volunteer-driven technical event. With only 37 members at the time, the plan seemed very ambitious. But since then, the German Chapter has grown to more than 1,900 members in over 12 cities running more than 100 regional meetings a year. And our annual PASS Camp continues to grow as well.
What are the keys to success for our regional event, and how can your chapter run its own effective regional conference? Here are 5 essential elements.
- Line up the right speakers on the right topics: Content is the most important element of a successful event. For our 5th annual PASS Camp in Mettmann/Duesseldorf last week, we offered 23 hours of technical training across two BI tracks and one DBA track. And our event featured the following top speakers: Oliver Engels (CEO of oh22data AG), Markus Fischer (Microsoft), Charley Hanania (Quality Software Solutions), Sascha Lorenz (PSG GmbH), and PASS President Rushabh Mehta (Solid Quality Mentors). To find the right mix of session topics and speakers, poll your members to find out what they work with every day as well as what they are interested in learning more about. Remember: Most of the time, attendees’ bosses need to approve their registration, so make sure each presentation has a strong and immediate value proposition. But also try to be different than other typical training events—maybe by asking speakers to do hands-on sessions, for example.
- Use your marketing channels: For a paid event, the size of your community determines the size of your event. You can typically expect to get 2% of your community to register for an event, so you’ll need to reach out to a lot of people to fill your seats. In addition to contacting your members through email marketing, make sure you post your event on the PASS Events page and take advantage of the PASS social networking sites on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Ask volunteers and speakers to blog about the event ahead of time. Also consider asking your local Microsoft field office, and other vendors your chapter might have relationships with, to help market your event.
- Select dates that make it easy to attend: Timing is one of the most important elements of having a successful conference. Often, selecting the right dates for your event is a process of elimination. First, make sure you avoid public holidays. For a paid event, also avoid Fridays and weekends. Don’t schedule an event at the same time as other related industry events, such as SQL Server conferences and major tradeshows. And consider providing more value by starting early and finishing late in the day.
- Pick an attractive location: Select a location that people would like to visit on their own or with family. And find comfortable space that is large enough to accommodate your group and that offers free, reliable Wi-Fi access. PASS Camp 2010 was an English/German mixed event, with attendees coming mainly from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and nearby English-speaking countries. We made sure our event site was easy to reach by car (with inexpensive parking available), train, plane, and public transportation.
- Make it personal: Provide enough time and opportunities for attendees to network with each other. Consider contests or games that encourage attendees to talk to each other, or ask people to sit at a table where they don’t know anybody. Training is great, but gaining a new friend you can call when you have a question is invaluable.
Good luck with your next event, and let us know what has worked well for your group.
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At the Summit this year we announced that the 2010 Summit would be in Seattle again. This will mark the third year in a row in Seattle. We’ve been in Seattle twice in a row before but never three times. After we complete the 2010 Summit in Seattle, half of our Summit’s will have been held in Seattle. 2010 is a launch year for SQL Server so I think it’s good we’re there.
We don’t have a contract in place year for 2011 yet but we need to finalize one soon. A number of people have asked why we’ve been in Seattle so long and why don’t we come back to the East Coast. I wanted to get some thoughts down on things that impact our decision and see if we can get some feedback. We’re also planning to send out a survey and find out what’s important to potential attendees. Please note: These thoughts are the opinion of one Board member and don’t reflect the official position of PASS. Hopefully this will give you some insight into how we think about this issue and you’ll better understand how we make decisions like this.
The obvious benefit to being on the east coast is that that travel is reduced for people in the Eastern and Central time zones. Travel for anyone on the east coast to Seattle is a long trek across the country. On the return there are rarely afternoon or evening flights except red-eyes. Switching to a Tuesday through Thursday schedule may have helped a little. The downside of that is reduced attendance at pre-conference and post-conference sessions or the same flight challenges if you want to attend one of those sessions. Moving to the east coast inconveniences a different set of people. There’s certainly an argument to be made that we should inconvenience everyone equally on a somewhere regular schedule.
We enjoy fantastic support from Microsoft when the Summit is in Seattle. I don’t know much about their budget process but I’m guessing if we hold the event in other cities that their budget won’t magically increase. That means the same amount of money would have to include travel expenses. I see that impacting the following activities:
- Microsoft sends hundred’s of developers to the Summit. These people spend time in the Ask the Experts area and answer questions about every aspect of SQL Server. There just isn’t anywhere else that you can ask the people that wrote SQL Server itself how it works. This is a very unique benefit of the Summit being in Seattle. If we hold it elsewhere I’m guessing that hundred’s of developers becomes a dozen or so product or program managers.
- This year CSS and SQLCAT cooperated to put on the SQL Clinic. This is a great place to talk to Microsoft’s top support engineers and the people Microsoft sends out to work on their most interesting customer engagements. Bob Ward wrote a great post detailing the types of questions they handled in the SQL Clinic. My guess is that this program wouldn’t be hugely impacted by a move to the east coast. Many of the CSS engineers come in from Dallas and the SQLCAT people come in from all over the world. It would most likely still happen but just with fewer people.
- During the Summit Microsoft holds meeting with various groups in the SQL Server community including MVPs and Microsoft’s key customers. There are people in the product team that just participate in these meetings and don’t stay for the rest of the Summit. If we’re not in Seattle that becomes harder. While that sounds like it only affects Microsoft it also affects PASS. These meetings provide extra incentive for MVPs, key customers and other participants to attend the Summit. These people are often speakers and volunteers and this gives them one more reason attend. Anything that encourages our best volunteers and speakers to attend the Summit helps PASS.
- In Seattle Microsoft delivered 50-70 sessions. I don’t remember the exact count but you get the idea. For the most part these were each delivered by an expert in that area. Speakers didn’t present in multiple areas. If we move away from Seattle we reduce the number of speakers. That means less variety and less focus on a particular subject.
It really takes a team to put on a conference the size of the PASS Summit. We work with a number of vendors for everything from event production to registration. Over the last few years we’ve really figured out what works at the convention center. Internet access was good this year. Keynote productions were great. The food worked well. Registration worked well. All the logistics went smoothly. We know what rooms are good to put sessions in and which rooms are better for meetings. We’ve also learned where to spend money and where not too. If any of you have put on local events I’m sure there are things you spent money on that you wouldn’t repeat. We’ve got most of those figured out at the Seattle convention center. We don’t waste money on things that don’t add value.
In a new city we’re not going to do this well. We’re going to have logistical challenges. We’re going to spend too much (or not enough) on food. We may have issues with wireless. We might not get all the rooms right. In short, there are lots of things that *could* go wrong and some probably will.
Holding the Summit in another city increases the costs for PASS. All the items listed in the previous section will probably cause extra money to be spent. Our headquarters is located in Vancouver. It’s just a few hours to drive down to Seattle. If we move to another city that will increase travel costs. It will also increase shipping costs. Right now we’re able to purchase items to Vancouver and drive them down. We lose that ability when we move to another city. Our headquarters typically does a number of site visits to potential sites and then to the final chosen site. In Seattle we need fewer of these visits due to the familiarity with the facility. Plus they’re cheap to conduct due to the proximity. This is all money we’ll spend that can’t be spent on community.
Seattle is a good city for our conference. It has lots of “stuff” downtown within walking distance of the convention center. There are plenty of hotels nearby so we can negotiate reasonable prices. These are all things we’ll look for in other cities but might have difficulty finding.
We have a number of different choices.
- Stay in Seattle for all our Summits. This is the easiest, cheapest choice but may not be the best for all our members. There are drawbacks to leaving Seattle. Is the benefit of reduced travel enough to offset those?
- Rotate out of Seattle every 3-4 years. Hold the majority of our Summits in Seattle but enough on the east coast to keep members happy.
- Hold a second, smaller event on the east coast in the spring. This idea has been kicked around recently and has merit. It also has drawbacks. It bears all the increased costs and limited Microsoft support. It would be smaller and have less networking opportunity. It has the ability to reduce the size and impact of our main Summit. Putting on a second event would increase the workload at HQ. It does give people a choice on where they’d like to attend though. The earliest we could do something like this would be 2011.
We’re going to send out a survey soon with some detailed questions around this. Please be on the look out for this and take the time to respond to it. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share please feel free to post them.
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Volunteers are the lifeline of PASS. And as 2009 draws to a close, we want to express our heartfelt thanks to the thousands of people who prove the power of giving every day by volunteering their time and talents to PASS—from the local chapter level to regional and virtual events to the Board of Directors.
Volunteers run PASS, and the simplest actions make a difference. Every effort builds on another to create a valuable chapter meeting, an insightful SQL Server Standard article, a successful SQL Saturday, a phenomenal 24 Hours of PASS, and an unparalleled PASS Summit. And every task has its own gift for the giver: a new business contact or friend, greater confidence in speaking, a new outlet for sharing your knowledge and skills, tips for better meetings, more management experience, or fresh ideas you can apply to other areas of your work or personal life.
So all PASS wants this holiday season is you! How can you get involved—or more involved—in volunteering with PASS? First, check out the PASS Volunteers page for an overview of volunteer opportunities and the PASS Chapters page to find your local chapter or virtual chapters you may be interested in volunteering with. Then read the following blogs for inspiration and descriptions of various ways you can help support and grow the SQL Server community through PASS:
Thanks, again, to the many passionate volunteers who power PASS. There would be no association without you.
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It’s December already? 2009 seems to have gone by altogether too fast. As I had some time to reflect about the year, it’s been a mixed 12 months for me. I’ve accomplished most of my goals, missed a few, and endured the still slow economy. Yet, somehow there’s that nagging feeling that I could have done more – ever feel like that?
I like goals rather than resolutions. Only one difference between them. There isn’t much accountability for resolutions! It’s easy to set goals; the hard part is setting goals that require you to work hard and stay focused but are also doable. Set too many or set them too high, and you can end the year feeling like a loser. Set them too low, and you might end up feeling like you could have done more.
No easy answer for that problem, but this year I’m going to try to set goals 3 times a year. I think four months is long enough to accomplish something meaningful, and if a project needs to stretch over the year, I’ll just break it up into three phases. Hopefully with a lot of work that will have me thinking I did a much better job at the end of 2010!
So what goals should we set? This is where a couple hours in a quiet place will do you a lot of good as you think about this list as a starting point:
- Work – it pays the bills, maybe you want to shoot for a promotion, a pay raise, doing a pet project that will add value to the company, maybe finding a new job. Are you still challenged? Maybe the challenges just require you to look for them?
- Family – it’s why we work, so maybe you aim to spend more time with them, pre-pay their tuition, take a much dreamed of ‘real’ vacation.
- Personal & Professional Development – I see this as separate from work, it’s where you invest in YOU. Typically we see this as work related; learning a new skill/version/language, but it could also be taking a certification exam, loading up SQL 2008 R2, taking a class on managing or networking. But…it should also be about things that grow you – maybe you want to learn a new hobby, or get better at an existing one, or put more time into volunteering for something.
Got some goals? Right them down and put them some place you see every day. Try hard to achieve them, but just like with projects at work, sometimes you’re going to have to re-scope or cancel a goal. Writing it down is important; it can’t be a list in your head!
Hope you have a happy holiday season.
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Re-Launch of SQL Server Standard Magazine
Today we’re pleased to feature the first issue of the newly re-launched SQL Server Standard magazine. Those of you who have been PASS members for a while will remember that the Standard served as our flagship magazine for many years until we had to halt production due to rising print costs. It’s taken a while to get going again, but we’re now offering it again in a much streamlined PDF format – for free to our members!
I wrote in greater detail about the history and vision for the Standard in my blog, but the short story is that it should be a place for our members to showcase their skills and provide value to our members.
People often ask me how they can help PASS, so here’s a great example of how you can help:
- Download it, read it, and send us comments (forums for the issues are coming soon, for now you can send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org). Was it a good article? Is there an article you’d like to see written?
- Forward the PDF to every SQL user you know with a short into, tell them why it’s worth a few minutes of their time
- Consider writing an article for us. You have to have some experience under your belt, but if you’re interested contact Grant Fritchey (email@example.com) to get the full scoop. If we accept your idea and you get it done, you’ll net a cool $500 – you’ll earn every penny of it!
Going forward we’ll call out new issues right here in the Connector. We’ll also evolve our formula as we learn more, with a hard focus on sustainability. If we get things going and we can do more, we will.
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I’m starting to get ready for the Summit, making sure I can find my jacket (I don’t use it much in Florida!) and have plenty of business cards. And as much as I enjoy the technical stuff, it’s really the people part that makes it something to look forward to - literally hundreds of friends and acquaintances built over 10 years in the SQL business. Being a DBA often means working solo, so it’s nice to be among those that share the challenges and passions. Say hello if you see me!
On the topic of friends and networking, join me at our 2 hour networking seminar on Monday with author Don Gabor. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and you get an autographed book too.
We’ll be on break during the Summit, and return with the next issue of the Connector on Nov 16th. See you then!
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By Rushabh Mehta
Last night, I got an IM from Bill Graziano asking me to come up with a good list of sessions at PASS Summit for the BI newbie, similar to the list he published in Sessions for New DBAs at PASS. So I looked through all the PASS Summit 2009 sessions for BI to see which ones would benefit someone who is new to BI and wants to get acquainted with a technology that they haven’t worked with before.
I found a number of great sessions from some outstanding speakers that would help the BI beginner and those who want to know what to expect with the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 next year (check out my article in TDAN for an overview of R2’s managed self-service BI features). Many of these sessions give you a deep understanding of BI tools and best practices while grounding you in the basics.
First, here’s a list of 12 sessions from the BI Platform Architecture, Development and Administration (BIA) track that I would strongly recommend for anyone new to BI who wants to learn about the Microsoft BI Platform.
What All Microsoft BI Developers Need to Know About MDX so that They Can Create Required Business Calculations
Tim Peterson (Solid Quality Mentors) & Nathan Peterson (SDG Computing, Inc.)
If you are new to BI, I would also encourage you to attend the pre-conference seminar Building a Microsoft Data Warehousing Platform by SQL Server MVP and BI expert and author Brian Knight. (For a preview of what Brian is covering in his seminar, check out his PASS Summit Q&A “Delivering Value with Agile Data Warehouse Development” and his 24 Hours of PASS Session Recording.
In addition, don’t miss Erik Veerman’s Friday post-con seminar Jump-start to Data Warehouse Data Modeling and Architecture. You can get a preview of Erik’s seminar by watching his 24 Hours of PASS Session Recording.
And if you’re interested in learning about delivering BI to end users, make sure these 6 sessions are on your agenda:
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