PASS Connector Editorial for May 20 - by Andy Warren

As of our most recent update PASS has more than 45,000 members, a number that reflects real growth over the last year and an indication that PASS is moving in the right direction.  We’re doing a lot of things better than ever; more Chapters, more Chapter communication, more local events, more Summit attendees, more translucency, more volunteers. That’s not to say we’re done, just that we’ve made positive progress and the challenge is to maintain and accelerate our growth and change.
Setting goals, often ambitious goals, is a good thing because goals focus your energy. One of our major goals for PASS is to reach 100,000 members by June 30, 2010 (or sooner!). That’s an aggressive goal, trying to more than double our membership in just a year. Trying to reach that goal will make us all focus on doing things better and faster, and making sure that we provide lots of good reasons for people like us to join and participate in PASS.
We’re working hard at finding ways to do that, but you also get to play a part in reaching that goal. You’re reading this today because you find value in PASS and in growing your skills as a SQL Server professional. I’m willing to bet that you work with or know others that work with SQL Server, so I’m going to ask that you share your interest in PASS with them. Whether you chat about it over lunch, forward your issue of the Connector, or take them with you to a local Chapter meeting, just make sure they know about PASS. No arm twisting, no sales pitch – just tell them about PASS and share your interest and passion.
Do you have a comment or question about this editorial, or PASS in general? Post it to the PASS blog, or just drop me a note at andy.warren@sqlpass.org.

Read the rest of entry »

PASS Update #10

It's been a slower pace since the last update. Grant and I are working on the publication process for content on sqlpass.org, and Tim Mitchell is still queued waiting to deploy some code that will let us provide a filtered feed of all the bloggers in the blog directory. Probably the biggest thing that I've done is attend the board meeting last week in Seattle and I want to share some of that with you, and we'll get the minutes published as soon as we can.

I flew out on Tues about 8 am via Alaska Airlines, they have a direct flight to Seattle from Orlando, though it's a long 6.5 hours. Waited at the airport for Pat Wright to arrive so we could ride together up to our hotel in Bellevue. We arrived about 1:30, checked in, then split up to walk and explore a bit. We were downtown Bellevue this time (for proximity to MS) and it was a nice location, plenty of stuff nearby that didn't require a car/taxi. About 3:30 I met up with Blythe, Kate, and Craig from PASS HQ and sat with them at Red Robin while they had a very late lunch, then back to the hotel to work a little in the lobby and just sit and talk some. Everyone that had arrived met up for dinner at 7 pm for fajitas and etc, talked work a little but it was mostly relaxing.

Wed our biggest item of discussion was the budget for FY 2010 which begins Jul 1. This quickly became complicated for a couple reasons. One is that given an uncertain economic climate, what projection should we make for the Summit? We had a really great year last year and overall things seem to be progressing nicely, but would it be responsible to project an increase in an economic downturn? Same as last year? Down slightly? While that might seem like a guess (and it is go an extent), it's a critical guess as the Summit represents the bulk of our FY 2010 funding. That puts us in the position of having to build a budget around what we expect to generate, then we have to adjust our budget once we know the final number. As a fiscal conservative I'd much rather be in the happy position of having more money to use for good things than having to cut appropriations because we didn't hit our revenue projection. Lot's of discussion and we didn't quite finish, but we did end up with a road map of how we'll arrive at the final budget and that works.

It's also fair to say from my perspective that the Wed meeting seemed like it would never end. I try hard to remember that meetings are not pretty things, they can only be organized so much and with a dozen people in the room, any topic will generate 10 minutes of discussion. Yes we had an agenda and a sort of moderator, but in the case of the budget I think we can learn a lesson - just having an agenda is not enough. What we really needed was more work in advance to make it more of a decision making process, something like this:

  • At least 7 days prior to the meeting email board members good, better, best case budgets based on various revenue projections. Potentially the discussion around revenue expectations would have to be done via email prior to that, but I think having three variations would work just as well. In each case the revenue would be adjusted on a pure percentage basis across line items.
  • At the meeting provide a summary of the 3 budget options and how the forecast for each was derived, and try to reduce the conversation to a vote on the forecast first, and then a quick review of proposed spend by department. In practice I think we need goals outlined at the same time as the budget to see if spend aligns and supports the goals for the board member, but I can also see that it might be more effective to have the VP of Finance and team do that review and take the board through the uncertain areas.

It's not that the budget isn't important or worth my time, but it's only worth so much of my time, and only so long as I'm getting/providing value. It's also important to decide if any part of the meeting is one that needs the long discussion in order to figure out a course or make it easier to accept a hard decision, or if should be more of a decision. Both are fair approaches, but would be very important not to appear to be removing the attendees from the discussion without their approval, so that does require a quick discussion in advance.

Discussed a few other things (a blur!) and ended the day sometime after 7 pm, meeting up for dinner at 8. It was labeled a working dinner, but the restaurant was just a little noisy and everyone was tired, so it more dinner and small talk than work.

On Thursday we went back to the budget for the first few minutes as some details had been finalized, and then we talked about changes to our by-laws. Many of these are to clean up our existing by-laws where they don't handle exceptions very well, but we're also in the middle of revamping our definitions of members. As you may recall PASS used to have two categories of members; paid and free, and the paid members could vote. Now that we've changed our membership to all being free, we need to adjust how we determine who can vote. I'm going to way on the by-laws to be published to discuss that (next 30-60 days), but I will say that the Board is trying very hard to encourage and allow members to vote.

The by-laws discussion was another place where it's important to think through how to present it at the meeting. We would end up reviewing a document that contained only the revised paragraphs, but no markup showing the original text or reasons about why each change was being made. Made it hard to review and because by-laws are a legal document, language matters and so does context! We got through it, but it took longer than it feel like was needed.

Thursday night we scattered for various discussions, I had a long dinner/meeting with Wayne, Lynda, Rick H, and Tom. Tom left about 6:45 to watch Star Trek (and I was tempted), but the discussion was good and continued past 9 pm. Lynda heads up the program committee which among other things builds the speaker schedule for the Summit, and it was interesting to hear about the work and challenges involved in that - and it reminded me that we still need to do more to help the board members share details of those efforts with the members.

Friday morning I met Tom Larock for breakfast, and then Bill Graziano, Sonia, and Blythe joined us for a discussion about chapters and marketing, and that moved into a discussion about networking and people, making sure that our marketing message is more than just the technical value, it's also the people value. We've got a few ideas we're working on and we'll see.

Left for the airport about 10:45 with Tom and Bill, they dropped me off and then I ran into Kevin Kline going through security, so we took advantage of the wait time to have lunch and talk some. Then back on the plane for the not quite as long 5.5 hour ride home, getting to Orlando about 10 pm.

People often ask if the meetings are worth the time and expense. I still say yes, because even though they aren't always as productive as I'd like, they are the only time we really collaborate. In my experience collaboration takes time and patience, not something that goes well on a 15 minute phone call. I wish it took less time, the trips to Seattle use up the better part of 2 days for me, and combined with the time zone change it definitely throws me off my game a little.

So that's it for the past couple weeks, in the next update I'll discuss my goals for the next three months.

Read the rest of entry »

PASS Update #9

Time has flown by since my last update, busy time at work and struggling to get that done and find a few hours for PASS too. Here's a short version of what I've been working on lately:

  • Added the Top 10 List page and have some starter lists from Jessica Moss, Grant Fritchey, and Jack Corbett. Can I talk any of you into adding your own list? Interesting way to help people get started on a topic.
  • Added the online communities page as a starting point for trying to show that PASS is only a portion of the online community, and that we celebrate the other communities that contribute so much.
  • We've got the SQL history page almost done, our MS contact Roni K went and took some pictures of the trophy case with all the various SQL boxes so we'd have some artwork for it, and we've got links to some other nice resources too.
  • PASS Blog directory has been updated a few times. Note, one glaring weak spot is we're not checking blogs listed in PASSPort yet.
  • Tim Mitchell has completed the code to let us review and filter all the posts made to all the feeds in the Blog Directory, now we're trying to get it tested and deployed - not a small thing, since our move to DNN last year we don't quite have a testing environment ready. Worst case we'll host externally for a while until that gets resolved.
  • Final drafts of our SQL MVP and certification pages are under review. My fault for them taking longer than they should have, Chuck and John had them in on time and I didn't have a copy editor lined up. Hoping we finish these up sometime this week.
  • We've changed our process a little so that the Connector editorial is also posted to the PASS blog, allowing anyone with comments to easily participate, and I'm also cross posting to my blog. Going forward we'll continue that, and also ask for permission to repost (or at least link) to blog posts by board members/active volunteers that fit into the PASS blog. The intent there is that the PASS blog is about PASS and it's a less formal way to provide news to members.
  • I've checked in several times with big kahuna Wayne Snyder about my progess, and it's always useful to remember - especially in distributed environments - that spending 10-15 minutes just chatting with the boss is pretty valuable on both sides. Wayne expects people to do things and ask for help if needed, but it's always going to be a struggle to keep up with everyone, so pushing information to him is pretty useful
  • We just had our April board meeting via conference call, and the major topic of discussion was budgeting. Budgets (the act of figuring one out and living with it) are always hard, and in our case we'll be meeting in May to set a budget based on income we'll earn in Nov. That's always a guess of sorts, so right now we're adjusting our FY 2009 budget to try to down to a balanced budget. In practice we're within about 2% or so of balanced, and that's not a huge variance. It's quite a discussion to have, debating whether to cut core expenses (which you'll need next FY) or just trim anything close to a nice to have. I was pleased to see all participated in the discussion and while we didn't all exactly agree, no one was against trying to get as close as possible to balanced. Nothing to worry about here, this is typical stuff for any business, and we're actively managing it.
  • You've probably seen the news that MS canceled their 2009 BI conference, and PASS Summit 2009 is one of their recommendations for those that had planned to attend. It happened at a weird time for us, near the end of the call for speakers, so we ended up extending the call for speakers without a good message about why (to give those speakers time to cross over). We'll try to get a more thorough message out sometime this week or next, just had to do the best we could!
  • For my work I'm trying to better utilize our full time staff, especially Sanj (who does the Connector and more for me!) and Blythe (helps with Chapters and SIGs) and the trick is figuring out what to give them and what to ask for help for from volunteers. I've been trying to call in once a week to check on them and get them to give me feedback on my ideas, and I think that helps all around
  • Tom Larock has done some nice posts lately about his PASS involvement, and I hope that continues. More info, more translucency - all good stuff for us in the long run.
  • I'll post more on this separately soon, but I'm working on a Connector editorial about the upcoming elections. Before I write that, I'd appreciate any and all input from those that participated (or chose not) in last years election.
  • We'll be meeting in Seattle in May for an in person board meeting, and I'm looking forward to the meeting (if not the trip). Our main focus will the FY 2010 budget, but we've also gotten to know each other better and how things work, I'm hoping we can really start to work together as a group. Next post I'll have a draft of my Q2 goals up for discussion.

There's probably more than that. I had a couple slow weeks with only a few hours, one week where I worked Sun on "real" work so I could Mon on PASS stuff, and that ended up taking most of Tuesday too. I'm trying to move back out of tactical work now that I have a little better idea of how things work, but there's still plenty of work to do.

As always, if you have a question or comment, post it or email it to andy.warren@sqlpass.org and I'll try to get you an answer.

Read the rest of entry »

PASS Connector Editorial for May 6 - by Andy Warren

As you read this I’ll be attending my second in person board meeting for PASS, and with luck I’ll be enjoying it! As I write this on May 1st I’m looking forward to the meeting because while I certainly haven’t learned it all, I’m at that 90 day mark where you start to have a pretty good idea of who does what, what needs to be done, and can begin making deeper contributions. As always we have a lot of stuff to discuss, ranging from plans for the next quarter to setting the budget for FY 2010 which begins July 1st. I’ve already submitted a preliminary budget for next year, but it will be interesting to see how that gets folded into the final budget. I’ll try to share more details about the entire meeting in a blog post and/or here in the Connector.

Changing topics, a question surfaced on Twitter about transferring registrations for the Summit. Great question, because many companies have things come up as well as staffing changes that might prevent the original registrant from attending. The good news is that you can change registration at no cost! We also have a pretty fair cancellation policy and I encourage you to visit the Summit web site for the details.

And finally, I’d like some feedback about what your thoughts and expectations are with regards to networking at the event. Would you attend a one or two hour class on networking if we could find a way to do that? Would you find some simple coaching guides in your event bag useful? Or are there some specific people you would really like to meet at the event? Post a comment on our blog, or just email me at andy.warren@sqlpass.org.

Read the rest of entry »