Why I will vote to move the PASS Summit in 2013

[cross-posted from Allen Kinsel's blog at allenkinsel.com]

Oh no, not again!

Seems not a day goes by that I dont have a discussion somewhere with someone about the Summit Location in 2013 or 2014, or even occasionally about the location this year and next.

If you need background, a couple of my PASS BOD Cohorts have already weighed in on the various ways they are thinking about this decision Here, Here, or Here, additionally Grant Fritchey and Andy Leonard both weighed in as well.  Much additional conversation seems to happen regularly on twitter as well…

Ive been a member of the PASS Board for exactly 35 days and so far I’ve really only been shocked by one thing.  Its almost beyond baffling to me that the #1 issue the SQL community wants the Board (and PASS by proxy) to solve is the location of the 2013 Summit.  Honestly, I can think of at least 10 things that are more important for PASS to be focusing energy on than where the Summit is going to be located.  But, alas that clearly illustrates that it is a VERY important issue to many community members

I want to be perfectly clear

The location of the 2013 Summit has not been decided yet

The decision is expected to be made in the March BOD meeting.

This post wont go into all the 1000′s of ways a person could look at this issue, and trust me there’s more than 1000.  Instead I’m going to tip my hand, and skip all the mumbo jumbo because I believe everyone on the Board already knows how I feel about this issue.  So the only possible people who dont know are the 2 of you reading this.

I will vote to move the Summit out of Seattle in 2013

Now that the beans have been spilled (no big shocker there I hope) id like to at least outline how I’ve come to this decision so hopefully you can agree or disagree with me but, at least respect that the reasons are my own, and that I believe they represent whats best for the organization as a whole.

First a tiny caveat – yes I’m putting the fine print first, its important — If by some freakish accident there is no conference space available (within a reasonable $$ limit) in the finalist cities then I may be forced to do something different.  — that fine print is merely the DBA in me practicing for every possible outcome in a disaster.  Even though I dont plan for it, I cant ignore it might happen.

  • A large portion of the community feels so strongly about this that many feel almost disenfranchised by the very group that they have been an integral part of.
  • PASS’s #1 Mission is to serve the community, how better than to occasionally have THE SQL Server Event of the year in a location thats more accessible to different parts of the country
  • Microsoft has pledged their Support for the conference no matter its location
  • To the average “newish” DBA the difference between having 150 MS people at the Summit and 400 is nearly nonexistent
  • We’ve moved The Summit before, this isn’t unprecedented, PASSHQ is easily able to do this, the procedures should already exist.
  • My portfolio (Summit Program) would likely be the most effected by this change.  Maybe marketing would have a large impact as well but, as far as BOD work, Program would likely take the brunt of a move.
  • If the majority of the Microsoft presence is traveling, they wont have their homes to sneak off to at 5:00. so they would presumably be more likely to continue to interact after Summit session hours
  • Selfish Reason — Moving the summit would force Microsoft to lock in their speaker lineup earlier which would make my job coordinating that easier

Now for the limits of my support

  • I think the Summit should be in Seattle more often than not, say 2 out of every 3 years or 3 out of every 4.  Based almost entirely on SQL release cycles
  • Until it proves detrimental to the organization — I am a risk taker by nature, as evidenced by living on an island in the path of hurricanes (site of the worst US natural disaster ever) but, everyone has their limits

Id like to take a second and ask you Mr. or Mrs. SQL Community Member reading this to do me a personal favor.  Find one of those “other” really important things you wish PASS was better at, something we should be focusing on, and leave a comment here or send me a message in email or twitter about it and sling out some ideas, or better yet solutions!!  Approach that with the same level of enthusiasm as the Summit location and we should be able to get some real movement on other things that are important to the community.  If I get any responses to those “other things” Ill build them all into a a future blog post and make sure they get some attention.

I wrote the above mainly so the community that elected me to lead would know that I’ve spent a long time listening and trying to come up with a decision on this.  Now with this decision behind me, I can move on to worrying about other PASS (Community) business without the community wondering if I’ve been paying attention.

PASS Update #52 (ERC)

[cross-posted from Andy Warren's blog at sqlandy.com]

We’re doing weekly calls for the ERC (election review committee) and we seem to be making some progress. This past week we came up with a good outline of what we hope to see as the process for selecting the nomcom (look for a post from Bill Graziano for details), and you can from that guess that we plan to retain the nomcom as part of our recommendations back to the Board.

My focus has been thinking about what matters when evaluating candidates, because to a degree we’re trying to predict success. I’ve got about a 50% average on picking employees, so I’m not sure that I can do much better with picking Board members. But skill or not, there’s merit to making it clear which attributes we value, and giving the nomcom very clear guidance on how the attributes are scored and weighted. What I hope we’ll wind up with is a process that:

  • Allows potential candidates to easily self-assess if they meet the minimum qualifications (and yes, the hard part is describing those)
  • Allows us to score candidates in a close to objective manner in most areas. For example, if we include education we might award 1 point for High School, 2 points for two year degree, and perhaps cap it at 3 for a 4 year degree or more. For things like leadership it might be 1 point for each 12 months in a management/leadership position, with a max of x points, and it must have been within the last x years.
  • Allows our nomcom to add a portion of the overall score based on their impressions during an interview. Not everyone shines under stress, not every nomcom member will see everyone the same way. Maybe this is 20% of the score, but it’s not 80%.
  • Takes the scores and then puts the top 3*slots on the slate

That’s not a huge change from last year, but I think it’s really going to add a lot of depth and structure to the “process”. What we want is for the Board (and by extension, the members) to tell the Nomcom the attributes it values and how they want them evaluated. It’s got to be more than “pick the ones you think best”. Even with these changes it’s really important that we get a diverse Nomcom that’s vested in the health of PASS overall, and I think we have good ideas for you on that.

There are two places where I’m pushing for change. The first is that we need a safety valve, a way to bypass the Board and the nomcom to a degree, to make sure that if the members want change, they have a way to do it. My proposal is that of the candidates who passed the minimum qualifications but did not make it to the final slate we’ll have a vote by the members (I don’t know how else to do it) to the slate. It’s essentially a write-in, with the pre-requisite that you have to meet the minimums and do the work to fill out the application, which makes sure that we get candidates that are interested and viable.

The other one is removing the requirement that sitting Board members go through the nomination process for re-election. It takes time, and if they were qualified before, reasonably they still are. It’s both their time and the time of the nomcom, and it’s tough to imagine a time when the nomcom would not put a sitting board member on the slate. Then they get to run on their record and the members decide. Is this right? I argue with myself on it! I’ve been through it this past year and didn’t mind paying my dues, but was it worthwhile? I don’t think it was, but I’m sensitive – perhaps overly so – to the perception that we’re trying to make it harder to change by making it easier to maintain the status quo, if that makes any sense.

We’ve got a lot more ideas than that, and a lot of discussion, none of that is set yet. Doing it by phone is slow and mildly painful. Good discussion, great differing points of view, but no problems working together. I just wish we’d been able to work it out to spend a weekend working on this in one room. The hard part is that some ideas need time to grow, so doing it all in a weekend would have been unlikely.

As we talk about our ideas for recommendations I’m trying to look at the entire stack. It’s not enough to just fix one thing or tweak one thing, we have to try – as best we can – to look at the entire stack and ask if it’s rational. I want it to be clear and simple, if not easy, for someone to look at the requirements and decide to become a candidate, and I want them to be able to clearly understand how we evaluate and rank them. In the end we may not satisfy everyone about why we value x more than y, but we’ll have it up on the board,and we can revisit each year and tweak as we learn lessons. In fairness we’ve tried to do that the past two years, but never with the big picture view we’re trying to do this year.

I’ve probably left you with more questions than less, but wanted to let you know we’re working on it and I think that we’re making progress. Post questions if you have them and I’ll do my best to answer!

PASS Summit Location

[cross-posted from Geoff Hiten's blog at sqlteam.com]

Both Tom LaRock and Andy Warren recently posted blogs on PASS Summit 2013 locations. As was announced at the 2010 Summit, we have a contract that keeps the Summit in Seattle for 2011 and 2012. 2013 is the next "unhomed" Summit.

One of the largest areas of contention during the recent PASS Board of Directors elections was the location of the Summit. I am surprised the keynote sessions didn't erupt into a Lite-beer-esque "More Locations" vs. "Seattle is Great" chant this year.

We had a similar issue in the Atlanta user group a few years back. We started moving the location around and taking straw polls on where we should meet. Not surprisingly, every location was the favorite, at least for the crowd AT that location. We also had issues with people finding the venue when we moved it. Finally, there were some venues that were just impossible to deal with from a business perspective. One particular place kept sending bills to the wrong sponsors based on old paperwork.

My Key Take-Aways:

  • Moving venues is a risk, sometimes in ways you cannot see at first.
  • Moving venues adds some new attendees and loses some attendees.
  • Constantly moving venues gradually lowers attendance.
  • Having a regular home for an event is important.
  • Visiting away from home is important too.

What I would like to see is the Summit stay in Seattle most of the time. Ideally, the CTP through RTM years for a major SQL Server version release should stay in Seattle. Those are the years where the Microsoft presence will be most valuable.  During the "quiet year" when Microsoft is heads-down focusing on the next release the Summit could be somewhere else. It is during that time that I see community contributors such as MVPs having the most valuable presentations. Microsoft may build SQL Server, but we have to earn a living using it.

Unfortunately, we do not have insight into Microsoft's future release schedule other than its published roadmaps. Certainly not enough to plan an event 2-3 years out. Maybe we get partnerships that deep? Maybe Microsoft doesn't have things firmed up that far out?

Meanwhile, we do the best we can in listening to the community and making decisions on where to have the Summit in the future. Tell me what is important to YOU regarding Summit location. This is definitely going to be an imperfect solution, but together we can make it less imperfect.

The Debate: PASS Summit 2013

The PASS Board is currently debating the five remaining venue options for the 2013 PASS Community Summit. PASS Headquarters has done extensive research and provided detailed proposals for these potential host cities which the Board will review before making its decision, scheduled for March.

From the looks of things -- and not surprisingly -- this decision is an extremely important issue to the community-at-large. The PASS Twitter channels (including #sqlpass and #sqlrally) are abuzz with varying opinions. Prominent community members have also weighed in with their thoughts through various blogs. 

I am collecting those thoughts in this post with the aim of keeping a record of the discussion on PASS Blog for public reference. Your input is valuable, so please voice your thoughts. You can contact Directors individually, leave them a note on Twitter, or simply post a comment on any of the blog posts listed below (including this one). I will aim to update this post weekly, so please check back regularly.

Thoughts from PASS Directors
Thoughts from the community-at-large

If you wrote an opinion piece but do not see it listed here, please contact me directly so I can add it to the list.

The PASS Summit is the world's premier SQL Server-focused conference, but it can only remain that with the blessing and support of the community to which it aims to appeal. Thank you in advance to all who choose to participate in the discussion -- your passion is critical to the continued success of the organization.

[last updated Monday, Feb. 21] 

SQLSaturday Round-Up (Jan. 27-Feb. 2)

(This is Round 10 of PASS's weekly round-up of SQLSaturday recaps. PASS community bloggers love their SQLSaturdays, and they love to tell everyone about their experiences, so who are we not to share that love?)

PASS SQLSaturdays are appearing like clockwork - there's one for every weekend through to Apr. 9 (except there's still no event on Mar. 12 - anyone want to grab that spot before time runs out? No pressure!).

Last weekend it was Houston's turn to bring together SQL devotees for a day's worth of free training and networking. Not surprisingly, those folks in Texas did not disappoint - SQLSaturday #57 was a rocking success!

Houston didn't have any problems!

(We'd like to add that we're very proud of ourselves for not using the phrase, "Houston, we have a problem!" anywhere in that introduction.)

For those of you on Twitter, follow @sqlpass and make sure to check out the #sqlsat and #sqlsaturday hashtags to stay up to date. Besides attendance at free learning events, there are many speaking and sponsorship opportunities available.

LAST WEEK IN SQLSATURDAY...

Nancy Hidy helped organize SQLSaturday #57, Houston

Eric Humphrey presented at SQLSaturday #57, Houston

+ Jen McCown presented at SQLSaturday #57, Houston

+ John Sterrett presented at SQLSaturday #57, Houston

The mysterious SQL Avenger attended SQLSaturday #57, Houston

+ Sri Sridharan attended SQLSaturday #57, Houston

COMING UP IN SQLSATURDAY...

Like we said, there are still lots of SQLSaturdays to look forward to in February. On Feb. 5, there's a SQLSaturday in Cleveland, on Feb. 12 it's being held in Colorado Springs, on Feb. 19 you can attend the event in Phoenix, and on Feb. 26 it stops near PASS management HQ in Vancouver, Canada.

IN OTHER NEWS...

The PASS Board's January in-face meeting concluded in Dallas on Jan. 21. SQLSaturday was on the agenda - PASS Director Andy Warren ruminates about the meeting on his blog.

And finally, we'd like to remind everyone just how excited we are about what SQLSaturday has in store for the rest of 2011. There are fantastic events all over North America to look forward to - you should check the schedule and make sure you register in a city near you. After all, it's free!

Want to attend a SQLSaturday? Check out the SQLSaturday website or "Upcoming In-Person Events" on the PASS Home page for upcoming dates near you.

Want to put on your own SQLSaturday? Click here to get started.

PASS Update #51-Summit Site Selection

[cross-posted from Andy Warren's blog at sqlandy.com]

In November/December HQ requested that the Board to send in suggestions for possible sites for the 2013 PASS Summit. I sent in a few, and at the recent Board meeting we then reviewed the preliminary research by HQ to narrow it to a list of serious candidate cities. I was so excited at the start of this that we were beginning to consider a new site that I didn’t think it through, we don’t have a good set of criteria for selecting the site. The rest of this post is about what I think should go into that decision and where I stand on some of the issues.

Let’s start by looking at some of the criteria I think we should use in the decision:

  • Ease, cost, and time of travel
  • Cost of meeting space and nearby hotel rooms (and making sure there are enough rooms)
  • Availability of after hours options, ideally with walking distance, or at least via low cost public transit
  • Things for family to do in the area and family friendly (safe, secure, fun)
  • Weather
  • Risk of natural disasters
  • Layout of meeting space (we prefer that everything be clustered so that walking time between room is minimized)
  • Microsoft presence
  • Additional expense/risk required for HQ to manage an event at a new location
  • Visiting various areas of the US to give our members who can’t afford the time and/or travel a chance to head our best event

None of these is simple. Is it always the cheapest location? Do we rule out anywhere on the Eastern seaboard (and New Orleans, etc) because there might be a hurricane? And that might not be all the criteria, just the ones that I think are at least worth getting into the discussion. In our Board discussion we covered some of these, but the problem is that even with the Board we weight these things differently. For some, any type of risk is unapproachable. For others any reduced Microsoft presence is a deal breaker. It is, to put it mildly, complicated. I think we erred in not having this conversation first, and fighting our way to better guidance that might have given us a different set of candidate cities, and then we would be re-applying that to the list as we narrow it down. It’s not quite too late for that, but we won’t meet again in person until May and that means it will just be a phone discussion, never as deep and never as satisfying, because we expect to decide in March. I’ll also say it’s not always as simple as a scorecard, though it’s worth the effort to score the options. Intangibles are hard to score.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about whether we should move the Summit. Some are on the East coast and won’t go because of the time/cost. Others don’t care about time/cost. Some like having it the same place, comfortable as old pair of shoes. Others don’t like that. Some people don’t care about after hours, or family, or ….whatever.

How do I, as a Board member, decide what to do? I’ve heard some on the Board suggest that it’s only a noisy few who want it moved, that we don’t hear from the many that are happy with the current location. Do I listen to the the squeaky wheel? Launch a poll? If I do that, who are the “right” people to respond? The ones that want change? Those that don’t? As an elected representative I try hard to understand the various views, but I can’t decide based on polls. I’ve got to decide based on what I think is fair and good for the members as well as a sound business decision for PASS. I think it’s possible to balance those.

Within the Board, and among those I talk to, most see it through a filter. Part of what I hope to get you to think about as you read this post is that we don’t all value the same things in the same amount. Just because you don’t mind the cost, the time, the weather, or whatever, others do. I may not agree with someone who cares about those things, but I can’t disregard it either.

It’s not a simple decision. Lots of reasons to do this, or do that. To change, or to not change. No way to know what is the right answer from a business perspective until after the event, and maybe not even then.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and then some more. My position is still that I support moving in 2013, preferably to the East coast but something in the Central time zone is also possible. I also support going back to Seattle in 2014, winding up with a strategy much like we had in earlier years, rotating from Seattle to one or two other cities. Maybe it should be the same one or two cities (easier, less risk), or maybe we should make it different ones, a good discussion to have in itself. I’m confident that we can move the event, maintain the quality, and grow attendance, in large part because of our HQ staff – I know they will get it done.

As it stands I hope we’ll move in 2013, but that is by no means a done deal. As I said earlier, I’m trying to decide based on what is far and good for our members and that is a sound business decision for PASS.

Finally, we listen to the people that care enough to engage. We may not decide the way you want, but we listen. Make your case for moving, or for a particular city. Blog it, or email any or all of us on the Board. Make a logical argument, tell us how you weight various factors, and before you hit send, ask yourself – are you considering what’s good for the one, or for the many?

 

 

PASS Update #50-January 2010 Board Meeting

[cross-posted from Andy Warren's blog at sqlandy.com]

This post is my thoughts on the Board meeting, and my views on related topics. I encourage you to read the minutes (not yet published) as the official documentation.

I flew into Dallas around noon on Wed, catching an early flight so I could get to The Joule hotel and spend a quiet few hours doing some prep for the meeting before the scheduled dinner with the Board. Cold when I arrived, maybe 45-50, enough to discourage me from much in the way of exploring beyond the Starbucks around the corner. Got a few things done, caught up on email and did some meeting preparation, and then back to the hotel to put stuff away prior to dinner. The hotel is one of those boutique type hotels, not the standard drywall and concrete, and with the one attribute I appreciate during travel, a great shower. Looking at lists prices it’s not cheap, but we ended up paying $169/night, a little higher than I’d like but in the range of acceptable for business travel.

Dinner was at the Iron Cactus immediately next door, fairly reasonably priced (my fajitas were $15) and where we had the strange experience of the waiter telling Tom LaRock to not to get the meatloaf. Good meal all in all. I spent some good time chatting with new Board members Allen Kinsel and Mark Ginnebaugh, and then Sri Sridharan from the North Dallas SQL Server User Group (NTSSUG)  joined as the end as well.

We spent a good chunk of Thursday looking at our global strategy, thinking about how we will grow and support SQLSaturday and SQLRally so that we can do some early sizing on the FY 2012 budget. Global growth brings complexity. An example is the SQLSaturday site is set up to manage money in dollars. Another is that if we move money across borders there may be tax implications on both sides. The next step is to learn some lessons by doing one or two, with our next step a SQLSaturday in Portugal, and then potentially a SQLRally in Sweden by the end of the year. We’ve also identified what we would like to have in time and resources, HQ will take that back and start looking at how to re-slice our current resource allocation to see if we want to do is possible.

We also talked about site selection for 2013. As I ‘m sure you know we’ve been in Seattle for a while and will be through 2012. Typically we sign contracts for space 2-3 years in advance, it’s the only way to be sure the space will be available within the date range we use for the Summit. Several months ago we built a list of around a dozen candidate cities. HQ has since done some research to help us understand what is available and the rough prices. At this meeting our task was to narrow the list to 3-4 cities. HQ will then send a formal RFP to those and we’ll start into the bake-off that should end with a site and a contract in March/April this year.

The list of cities is something we don’t publish in the minutes, and while we will announce when we sign the contract, we most likely will follow our previous pattern of not announcing the location until the end of the 2012 Summit. The rationale for this is that if people thinking about attending 2012 see that 2013 will be closer or in a more interesting location that they will defer attending for a year. From a pure business perspective maybe that makes sense, but I think it serves our members poorly. I see nothing wrong with letting them know 1-2 years out our plans. If they prefer to wait a year to save on travel, or to travel to a city they would like to visit, that’s good for them and ultimately good for PASS. I think it evens out year over year. More on this in a post later this week.

At 4:45 we started the journey across town to the monthly meeting of NTSSUG at the Microsoft office. Tom LaRock and I rode with Mark Sousa, Mark driving an F-150 he rented (only in Texas, right?), I was the navigator and Tom did the color commentary. We were worried about traffic and being late, but we arrived early and had a chance to mingle with the chapter members. We did a quick introduction of the Board, and then settled in to watch Sean McCown do a very nice hour class (part 1 of 6) on backup and restore strategy. That opening class has become part of their strategy to draw people in and it’s been effective. That was followed by Tom doing his presentation on wait states and queues.

After that we went to Red, Hot, and Blue for some ok barbecue, with a good handful of the chapter members joining us for discussion. It was cold out, had me wishing for home! We finished dinner about 10 pm and I called it a day when we got back to the hotel.

Friday morning we worked on our business plan and a “who we are” document, both are things I expect to see published in the next 30 days. The business plan was something that was largely done a year ago, but it didn’t quite make it out the door. Who we are, you might think, is something we should already know. 2 years ago PASS was the Summit and Chapters, today it’s the Summit, Chapters, Virtual Chapters (though to be fair we had them as SIG’s, but not very successful in my view), 24 Hours of PASS, SQLSaturday, and SQLRally (a work in progress to be fair, but still a big growth item). That’s a lot of change to absorb, and we’ve done it unevenly in places. That’s not unexpected or bad, it just means that we need to step back from growth mode and make sure we’re doing a good job and allocating appropriate time and resources to each area (which could mean adding more, or reducing).

We also need to make sure that you know what we see as our mission and where we’re spending time and money. My view is that we’re on step two of three or four on the path to being a “true” professional association. I don’t say that to dismiss our accomplishments or the work of our staff or volunteers. We’ve grown and matured, perhaps in more ways that we communicate. Yet many wish for PASS to be more. The hard part is that a full shared vision of “more” hasn’t evolved yet. At the heart of it is what we might do for members directly. Right now we have a strategy that is largely indirect – we build events, we facilitate, we connect, but we don’t a lot in the way of things that you can point to and say “my PASS membership means this and from I receive this and this and this”. I like our current strategy, I think it’s realistic, it’s functional, but it’s not sexy, and it’s still hard to explain to what I call the DBA in the back of the room, who says “why should I join?”. We can do more, I think a lot more, but the first step is to consolidate and make sure we do the things we do well. While we’re doing that we can be talking about what that next phase looks like that we might start 12-18 months from now.

On the time and money, Bill Graziano will be publishing more on that soon. We publish our budget, which has both too much and too little detail at times. We want to do more to show you how we apply resources to our various goals, and we want to make very clear what we contribute to things outside the Summit. I’ll write more in the next couple months to dig into what I get for resources for SQLRally and SQLSaturday.

We’ve been working on some revisions to the by-laws for several months and those should be published for review in the next week or so. Some of it is clean up and clarifying, making it very clear on things like term limits. We’ve removed the officer nomination committee which in the past nominated a “slate” that the Board would vote up or down, and instead it will be direct selection by the Board. We debated extensively moving to one year terms for officers. Not a one year limit, but a one year term. This is something I really believe in, I think it allows our Directors to step into a role and apply max energy. We’ll be publishing them for comment shortly, and I may add additional comments when we do.

Friday night I was lucky enough to have Tim Mitchell and Ryan Adams join me for dinner. Tim and I go back to SQLSaturday #3 and we just didn’t get much time to talk on Thursday, so it was nice to find some time in the week to talk more. Allen Kinsel was there, along with Mark Ginnebaugh and Bill Graziano. I was a spectator for part of it, listening to Bill chat with Tim and Ryan about chapters, and not for the first time wished we all talked more and more often.

Saturday morning I was up at 5 am for the taxi ride to the airport and the morning flight to Orlando, glad to be home.

 

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