Addressing Concerns About the SQLSaturday Driving Radius



The PASS community showed their commitment by engaging in an active debate on a recent blog – Making SQLSaturday Sustainable. As a passionate and dedicated community, these discussions and debates are critical to our success and challenge the Board to look at the business decisions that need to be made. As we look back from the discussions from last week, we recognize that there were things we should have done differently. We have heard your feedback – which we are thankful for - and continued dialogue this week and are sharing with you the changes we are making based on the conversation.

We should have communicated earlier on the challenges many SQLSaturday organizers and sponsors were expressing to us. Some of these challenges were made public via social media, others were done quietly and directly to Board members and our Community team.

As the new criteria was evaluated, we failed to share our findings with the organizers of SQLSaturday and in particular those that could be affected by the changes. We’d like to explain why the radius was increased to 600 miles.

Currently, there is a 400-mile driving radius restriction that has been in place for the past four years. This means that no two events within 400 miles of each other should be hosted on the same day. This parameter was implemented in FY2012 to help keep two locations from competing for the same resources - speakers and sponsors.

By the end of FY2016, SQLSaturdays had doubled in size from FY2012. Since January of this year, feedback has been shared from sponsors (both local and GAP partners) on the number of overlapping events in a region, as well as organizers reporting they are struggling with sponsorship. We recognized that to prevent further sponsor exhaustion, and ensure the financial sustainability of SQLSaturday, we needed to look at finding an alternative that could provide support for both organizers and sponsors.

It is important to recognize that these changes are intended to protect the smaller events. They are designed to guide planning, not to limit events. As with the 400-mile driving radius currently in place, if an event requests a date that is already committed to by a neighboring city, we approach both organizers to ensure support. We will continue to be flexible with individual organizers to support and ensure their events are a success, as we have always been.

Hearing your feedback on the guideline, we will be piloting the 600-mile driving radius distance for events in North America beginning January 1, 2017. We will not include the back-to-back weekend restriction during this pilot, and ask for ongoing feedback from organizers, our sponsors, and attendees. We’ll share our findings with you once they are compiled and our recommendations for improving SQLSaturday events. Our commitment to you is to ensure the sustainability of all SQLSaturday events.

To get a better idea of just what this change would look like, below is an example of how it would still be possible to have 5 SQLSaturdays on the same date, all over 600 miles apart. With at least 20 non-holiday weekends in the calendar year, the growth of SQLSaturdays could continue here in the US; but if these events are to sustain, it’s going to mean organizers looking to see how they can manage their budgets more effectively at the local level to help across the entire community. Steve Jones brings up some very good suggestions in his post this past week, Slimmer SQL Saturdays, on ways of cutting costs, and more of these “best practices” blogs will be showcased in an upcoming series in the PASS Connector newsletter.

In an effort to ensure better communications, we are creating a dedicated distribution list for all SQLSaturday organizers to foster discussions (such as the introduction of the new radius) with you, so that we receive your feedback before final decisions are made. We realize this is long overdue – and we hope you will engage with us as we work together toward making our community (and surrounding events) successful.

While we begin to analyze some of the other suggestions around the larger events, these initial changes will be monitored closely to see if they need revisiting. We will continue the dialogue in the days and months ahead to ensure support and sustainability for our SQLSaturday events around the world. We want you to be a part of the conversation. Please reach out to us directly, reply to this blog, or send feedback to feedback@sqlpass.org.

Argenis Fernandez
Director, SQLSaturday

Karla Landrum
Community Evangelist

The Future of the BA Community



Everything we do at PASS is focused on helping members—and the broader data community—connect with each other, share experiences, and improve their skills. We are dedicated to providing networking opportunities, knowledge sharing, and peer-based learning across all our Local and Virtual Chapters and communities. In 2012, we embarked on an initiative to reach out to the growing number of business and data analytics professionals tasked with extracting meaning and value from their organizations’ data.

Over the past 4.5 years we have learned a lot about the needs of those who work in Business Analytics (BA). We have presented thought leadership and technical training at four annual Business Analytics Conferences, helping thousands of data professionals use technologies such as Excel, Power BI, SQL, and other analytics platforms to gain insight into their business. And our community continues to grow, with more than 25,000 PASS members from around the world identifying a professional interest in BA and 27% year-over-year (May 2015 - May 2016) growth in the BA Virtual Chapter.

At the same time, the data professionals who manage the systems that store data are being challenged to support analytics needs in new and different ways. From running R in SQL Server to providing users with self-service access to data through Power BI, to unlocking the possibilities of advanced analytics through the Cortana Intelligence Suite, the technical interests and educational needs of DBAs and Developers in IT, and data analysts in the business, are increasingly overlapping.

As more companies across all industries are embracing data to inform their decision making, the growth opportunities for PASS members abound.

I’d like to share with you the evolution of the strategic direction of our BA initiative. The heart of the plan moving forward is community growth, with a focus on expanding outreach to increase visibility, by strengthening local groups, and broadening the scope of our analytics community globally.

A major component of PASS’ BA initiative has been the BA Conference. At BA Conference 2016 we again attracted the right business analytics audience and provided them with relevant content. BAC 2016 received an overwhelmingly positive response from attendees; 91% were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied and most said they would recommend BAC to a colleague. However, despite very positive attendee feedback for the BA Conference the past two years, the event has not grown in attendance.

The PASS Board spent time reflecting on all we have learned the past four years and has decided to take a more comprehensive, multi-prong approach to BA community engagement in FY17. We will emphasize local events and user groups, expanded virtual engagement and Marathon series, and thought leadership, instead of investing the majority of time and resources into a single large conference. PASS knows that the best way to grow community is to be in the community, working alongside our members and volunteers. If you are interested in hosting a local event or for more information, contact Teresa Cheung (teresa.cheung@sqlpass.org).

We believe a more localized effort with a variety of offerings will drive more effective engagement and growth for our PASS community. As the community evolves, the PASS Board will continue to assess and adjust. While we will not be hosting a BA Conference in the spring of 2017, we are open to holding another large BA event at a later date.

Business Analytics is a natural extension for PASS. We are committed to helping data professionals connect, share, and learn, whether they work in IT or in the business. We are very excited about the opportunities ahead and look forward to the continued growth and success in the area of Business Analytics.

Denise McInerney
Vice President, Marketing

Making SQLSaturday Sustainable

SQLSaturdays are an important part of PASS’ global community growth and how our community connects, shares, and learns.

PASS took over the license for SQLSaturday in 2010 when there was only a handful of events.  Since then it has grown dramatically, with more than 120 events held in the 12 months ending June 2016. To continue to see this growth and provide you with the best possible training and networking experiences, we need to ensure the financial health and stability of SQLSaturday. This will mean a couple of changes to the existing SQLSaturday model that will take effect on January 1, 2017.

These changes will affect the way some of our community members plan and execute events.  We believe that these changes will help to balance the growth of our SQLSaturday portfolio, while ensuring sustainability for local organizers. These changes are intended to:

  • ·         improve the attendee experience
  • ·         improve the sponsor experience
  • ·         increase PASS’ ROI
  • ·         present a consistent and strong event model.

The first change we are going to make is to the amount of funding support we provide organizers. Currently any organizer, whatever the size of their SQLSaturday event, receives $500. Starting January 1, 2017, we will be reducing this to amount to $250 and targeting those cities/locations that really need the financial support to grow, rather than well-established events that are better capable of attracting sponsors and financial support. When assessing those events that require financial support, PASS will be meeting with event organizers and complete a review of past performance.

Which brings me to the second change: implementing a new 600-mile radius and concurrent event timing restriction to reduce competition between individual SQLSaturday events in Canada/USA.  The event timing restriction means that events within the 600-mile radius cannot occur on the same weekend or one weekend prior or after.  This will help to deliver a more consistent and satisfying experience for sponsors, which will reduce sponsor exhaustion and assist with increasing overall ROI.  The existing 400-mile radius restriction for all other regions will remain. 

We believe that by making these changes we can ensure the future growth and financial success of SQLSaturday. I welcome feedback — please comment below or share your thoughts to feedback@sqlpass.org.

Argenis Fernandez
Director, SQLSaturday

A Look Back - Five Incredible Years

Five years ago this month an amazing opportunity came my way, to actually work for a community that was near and dear to my heart. On July 1, 2011 I started with PASS in the newly created role of PASS Community Evangelist. A position within PASS to help educate our global community on who PASS was and to work towards the goal of growing PASS globally through Chapters and SQLSaturday events.

In the beginning, as you can tell from my post at the time, the role encompassed all of the community related avenues within PASS, to include VCs and the Regional Mentor program. With the exceptional growth in all of these areas over the years, each started to warrant its own dedicated HQ counterpart with just my time as needed for any historical aspect. Then 2 ½ years ago it became clear that the PASS SQLSaturday events were growing at a pace that had to have someone solely dedicated to overseeing this portfolio full time. The SQLSaturdays have gone from about 35 in a year (with only one outside of the US) to now this past fiscal year of 120 events in over 30 countries.

It’s been an exciting journey, and I’m very grateful to have been a part of the PASS HQ team in working with the Board to help grow PASS. I’ll always cherish all the connections made throughout these years. As they say though, “all good things must come to an end”, thus I’ve made the tough decision to retire from this role. I am looking forward to returning to my technical roots, and while I’ve not made definitive plans on my next adventure, I can only hope it will be as challenging and rewarding as these past five years have been.

With that said, I’ll be departing from PASS at the end of October following PASS Summit. If you’ll be there, please stop by the Community Zone (or should we call it “Karla’s Going Away Party Zone” this year!?!) and slap a big ole’ #datahug on me! 

Contributions to the Speaker Contract

I would like to thank every member of our community that took the time to share with us their thoughts and feedback on the Speaker Contract. Over a period of three weeks, you provided valuable feedback on two previous versions. We have now finalized both the Summit Speaker Contract and Summit Pre-Conference Contract.

This is when the PASS Community is at its best, contributing to the continued success of the organization, its community, our events, and our speakers. We will continue to review and improve the contract for 2017 and will welcome your feedback at that time.

Thanks again for your help, folks.

Adam Jorgensen
PASS President


Insights into the PASS Summit Speaker Selection Process

Selecting the program for the PASS Summit is a complicated and lengthy process, one that requires a Program Committee of over 100 volunteers to work together to review abstracts, speakers, and session tracks. Starting immediately following the previous year’s Summit, this very committed and passionate group of individuals spends countless hours evaluating the previous year’s program before laying the groundwork for the following year.

This year, we have a Program Committee that includes three managers: Lance Harra, Senior Program Manager; and Angela Henry and Mindy Curnutt, Program Managers. The Program Committee included 28 volunteers representing our global regions (LATAM, EMEA, and APAC), with the balance coming from the United States. Over half the Program Committee members have experience selecting sessions for PASS Summit or other conferences.

The Program team has completed the process of selecting the sessions for the community slots for PASS Summit 2016. This year we received 840 abstracts from 255 speakers, for a possible 112 community sessions, 10 pre-conference sessions, and four lightning talks. As part of the sessions selected, 20% are first-time speakers at PASS Summit and 80% have spoken at least once in the past. The remaining sessions will include Microsoft sessions, vendor sessions, and 10 sessions that we will be selecting as part of the recently completed community survey.

The actual review process takes between eight and 10 weeks, following the close of the Call for Speakers. The initial process, led by Mindy, removes speaker names from session titles and abstracts. Review of abstracts is done without the reviewer knowing who made the submission. While the review of abstracts is underway, another group of volunteers rated the speakers, led by Ben DeBow.

The speaker review team uses the Speaker Profile provided and evaluates each speaker based on their history of speaking at events, and, as much as the data is available, on the evaluation scores of those previous events. The reviews are scored, and the speaker's overall score is then associated with the speaker's ID number. The abstracts are reviewed at least four times, so that no abstract either benefits or suffers from having been first or last on all readings by each team. The ratings are then averaged together and each abstract is then assigned its score.

Once this process is complete, the Speaker ID (not the name) for each session is given to the track team leads, and the teams are given the number of sessions in their track to be selected for Summit, and from that, the track team provides recommendations. Using the combined scores and the track team recommendations, the Program Managers and I selected the sessions for this year's Summit. We rely heavily on the recommendations from the abstract review team to make these decisions.

The Program Managers and I work to ensure that the overall program works together to deliver a balance of first-time speakers, established speakers, industry leaders, and thought leadership from Microsoft.  Creating a robust and competitive program ensures that PASS will continue to be the largest community conference that supports technical data professionals who leverage the Microsoft Data Platform.

Thanks for all of your support, and thank you to all of the volunteers on the Program committee, as well as my Program colleagues at PASS HQ, for all of your hard work to put this event together!

Allen White
Director, PASS Programs

Improving the Speaker Contract


Two weeks ago I invited each member of our community to share their thoughts on the Summit Speaker Contract with us. We received valuable feedback and comments on the process and the Speaker Contract. 

I want you to know that we listened to your feedback. We have now produced a revised version of the contract and wanted to make it available for review before the 2016 PASS Summit Speakers are announced later this month.

While we received feedback encompassing the entire contract, we have focused our efforts in the immediate on clauses 14, 15, and 16, which are the sections of the contract that have been modified. Please read the Speaker Contract now. Please provide your feedback by 9 AM PDT next Monday, 13 June, to ensure that any comments and concerns are addressed and incorporated into the final version. You can email feedback@sqlpass.org or leave your comments at the end of this post.

I thank you for your patience and also your continued involvement in this important element of Summit planning.

Adam Jorgensen
President, PASS

Keeping Discussions Professional


One of the strengths of the community of professionals that work with the Microsoft data platform is exactly that: it’s a community. People want to contribute, to help one another be better at their jobs and grow their careers. That’s why we contribute so many volunteer hours to putting on events, speaking and writing. We invest in the community because we believe in it. And because we invest in it we feel a sense of ownership over what happens in it.

As the largest organization for these data professionals, PASS is one of the places where decisions that impact the community are made. The sense of ownership people have in this community extends to PASS. It is one of the main reasons why people have passionate debates on topics like speaker contracts, policy changes and elections: they care deeply about the outcome. Debates and exchanges of ideas are good, they make our organization better. The feedback we are getting now on changes to the speaker contract will help us improve that document. As PASS President Adam Jorgensen said in his blog, we recognize that we didn’t quite get it right. We welcome your input so we can fix it.

But there can be a shadow to all the passionate debate and that shadow is revealed when the tone of the discussion stops being professional, when it ceases to be civil.  PASS as an organization has no room for insults, name-calling or misogyny. Personal attacks of any kind, be they based on gender, race, political affiliation, religious beliefs or anything else, are not welcome in PASS and should not be welcome in the community as a whole.

Let’s all channel our passion for this community in a constructive way and keep our discussions professional and respectful.

Send us your feedback on the speaker contract, or any other any other PASS topic, to feedback@sqlpass.org. Together let’s continue to make our organization better and fulfill PASS’ mission to help our members connect, share and learn.

Denise McInerney
Vice President, Marketing

Getting the Speaker Contract Right


As President of PASS, I would like to address the recent communications surrounding the PASS Summit speaker contract. While the contract is written for selected speakers, the intent is to ensure that every person attending Summit, whether a speaker, vendor/partner, or attendee, has the best possible experience at our event and is able to connect, share, and learn.

Every person that attends a PASS event is critical in ensuring that we deliver an excellent event and fulfill our educational delivery goals. This means we have to get the balance between our community and our partners right. The creation of paragraph 16 in this year’s speaker contract was designed to address and help balance this concern. However, in this instance, the Board is aware that we got it wrong.

In changing the speaker contract, our intent was to ensure that attendees receive an exclusive focus on quality training. I think we can all agree that sessions should not be marketing-driven. We want PASS Summit to continue delivering quality education and networking opportunities.

We have a unique presence in the industry, delivering events that are practical and training-focused. That is what the community wants. But to keep offering the conference, we need to also ensure that the conference and PASS as an organization remain financially stable.

We recognize that we didn’t quite get it right and many of you have had very strong opinions on this. The Board and I have all been monitoring our social media channels, listening to your feedback and comments. This blog is the beginning of our response to your concerns.

We are all trying to do what is best for our global PASS Community, which is why we are not going to rush a response to this issue. Instead, I am encouraging further open and professional dialogue to help us reach the goal of an effective speaker contract. We want to consider all of your feedback and comments before formulating any contract revisions. Please provide your feedback in the comments below, or email feedback@sqlpass.org.

I look forward to your hearing from you.

Adam Jorgensen
PASS President

Business Analytics Community Portfolio Update


Since PASS was founded in 1999, we have developed a dedicated global #sqlfamily. We are focused on becoming the leading professional association for all data professionals. With both the technical and non-technical data professional relying on business analytics (BA) more significantly in their roles, this is the perfect time for PASS to support and develop that segment of our global membership.

The numbers are certainly encouraging. We currently have over 25,000 global members who identified a professional interest in BA. This is an excellent position to be in, given we only started to diversify our membership and training focus to include BA five years ago. That is why we will implement a number of strategies this year to continue that momentum.

We also saw about 27% YoY growth in our BA Virtual Chapter, adding 1100 members between May 2015 and May 2016 to a total of 3987 members. Recognizing this growth, we will work closely with our Chapter leaders to better understand the BA community, their training needs, and preferred learning modes.

Following detailed discussions with the community, we announced at the Business Analytics Conference this year that we will be rolling out intensive Business Analytics Days. These will be regional events focused on training and professional development, designed to provide more in-depth information than is possible in the standard conference format. The aim is to develop programming that meets the needs of our BA professionals, including seminars, hands-on labs, and half- and full-day sessions.

We will also undertake a number of other initiatives to continue supporting our BA community. Our next BA Marathon will be hosted in July. The BA Marathons work similarly to the 24 Hours of PASS events, where BA specialists present back-to-back virtual webinars on a variety of BA topics. We will also look to develop a series of a podcasts with leading analytics experts, intended to explore a variety of industry-related topics.

These are some of my portfolio responsibilities as we work towards building and supporting the global BA community. If you would like to provide any feedback, or help us to support these efforts as a volunteer, please reach out or comment on this post below.

Jen Stirrup
Director, PASS Business Analytics Community