PASS: 2013 Summit Location

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at sqlteam.com]

HQ recently posted a brief update on our search for a location for 2013.  It includes links to posts by four Board members and two community members. I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix and ask you a question.  But I can’t give you a real understanding without telling you some history first.

So far we’ve had the Summit in Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, Dallas, Denver and Seattle.  Each has a little different feel and distinct memories.  I enjoyed getting drinks by the pool in Orlando after the sessions ended.  I didn’t like that our location in Dallas was so far away from all the nightlife.  Denver was in downtown but we had real challenges with hotels.  I enjoyed the different locations.  I always enjoyed the announcement during the third keynote with the location of the next Summit.

There are two big events that impacted my thinking on the Summit location.  The first was our transition to the new management company in early 2007.  The event that September in Denver was put on with a six month planning cycle by a brand new headquarters staff.  It wasn’t perfect but came off much better than I had dared to hope.  It also moved us out of the cookie cutter conferences that we used to do into a model where we have a lot more control.  I think you’ll all agree that the production values of our last few Summits have been fantastic. 

That Summit also led to our changing relationship with Microsoft.  Microsoft holds two seats on the PASS Board.  All the PASS Board members face the same challenge: we all have full-time jobs and PASS comes in second place professionally (or sometimes further back).  Starting in 2008 we were assigned a liaison from Microsoft that had a much larger block of time to coordinate with us.  That changed everything between PASS and Microsoft.  Suddenly we were talking to product marketing, Microsoft PR, their event team, the Tech*Ed team, the education division, their user group team and their field sales team – locally and internationally.  We strengthened our relationship with CSS, SQLCAT and the engineering teams.  We had exposure at the executive level that we’d never had before.  And their level of participation at the Summit changed from under 100 people to 400-500 people.  I think those 400+ Microsoft employees have value at a conference on Microsoft SQL Server.  For the first time, Seattle had a real competitive advantage over other cities.

I’m one that looked very hard at staying in Seattle for a long, long time.  I think those Microsoft engineers have value to our attendees.  I think the increased support that Microsoft can provide when we’re in Seattle has value to our attendees.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  There’s a significant (and vocal!) percentage of our membership that wants the Summit outside Seattle.  Post-2007 PASS doesn’t know what it’s like to have a Summit outside of Seattle.  I think until we have a Summit in another city we won’t really know the trade-offs.

I think a model where we move every third or every other year is interesting.  But until we have another Summit outside Seattle and we can evaluate the logistics and how important it is to have depth and variety in our Microsoft participation we won’t really know.

Another benefit that comes with a move is variety or diversity.  I learn more when I’m exposed to new things and new people.  I believe that moving the Summit will give a different set of people an opportunity to attend.

Grant Fritchey writes “It seems that the board is leaning, extremely heavily, towards making it a permanent fixture in Seattle.”  I don’t believe that’s true.  I know there was discussion of that earlier but I don’t believe it’s true now.

And that brings me to my question.  Do we announce the city now or do we wait until the 2012 Summit?  I’m happy to announce Seattle vs. not-Seattle as soon as we sign the contract.  But I’d like to leave the actual city announcement until the 2011 Summit.  I like the drama and mystery of it.  I also like that it doesn’t give you a reason to skip a Summit and wait for the next one if it’s closer or back in Seattle.  The other side of the coin is that your planning is easier if you know where it is.  What do you think?