Feb 02 2011

PASS Summit Location

Andy Warren has posted another one of his excellent summaries of what’s going on at the PASS Board. Andy, thanks for what you do. Those of us who care about what goes on at PASS really appreciate your posts.

The discussion under consideration this time is the location of the PASS Summit. As you may be aware, it’s been held in Seattle for several years now and will be there for at least two more years going forward. It seems that the board is leaning, extremely heavily, towards making it a permanent fixture in Seattle.

I can see why they might do this. First, and biggest, it’s next door to Microsoft. That means the Summit gets tons and tons of Microsoft Employees in attendance, which is a huge draw and a very nice benefit. Second, it’s right near the management company’s headquarters, making it less expensive to get the huge staff needed to make a conference this size work. Third, the staff and volunteers are very familiar with the venue (assuming it stays the venue) so it makes planning and execution much easier. It really does make sense. The strongest of these arguments is, of course, the Microsoft presence.

But…

Yeah, there is a but.

There are a lot of people, just in the US, who live in time zones other than the Pacific. In fact, way over half the US population is located in the Central and Eastern time zones. Let’s also add in Europe for consideration. All these places require extra travel time to get over to the Pacific. That’s added expense to individuals or companies, and remember, we’re talking about more than half the population of the US and all of Europe. That’s for the attendees and the speakers (who are attendees too, make no doubt about it) as well as the vendors and their staff, an extra 3-6 hours of travel, which usually means, an entire day on either side of the summit, just spent travelling. Plus an extra day or two in the hotel. Plus extra money spent on food. Let’s also add that this is frequently non-productive or less-productive times for the companies. And don’t forget the stresses and possible costs to the families left at home when all these people are travelling. All that cost is going to add up, and a heavy percentage of 1/2 of the US and all of Europe, might just decide they don’t want to pay all those added costs. Not every year. One year, maybe two, maybe in a release year, who knows, but not every year.

I guess the question is, are more people going to not show up because of cost than the number of people who won’t show up because the SQL CAT (great people, I’ve met several, helpful, smart, useful, I really appreciate them) won’t be there? The board seems to believe that they will lose more people because of a reduced Microsoft presence than they will lose because of cost.

I’m just not so sure. Based on how the economy has been lately, cost must be a huge factor for many, most, companies deciding how many people to send out for training and networking. Is a company less likely to send their people because some developers won’t be available for questions or because they have to pay more to send people?

I’m just not with the board on this. I think the cost is going to hurt attendance more than the added MS presence will help it. Remember, more than half the presenters are not MS employees, they’re MVP’s and others. And, remember, MS will still send a pretty healthy number of employees, just fewer than they would if the event is in Seattle. After all, they want to get in front of you and encourage you to buy and use their products. That’s a big reason why they support the event at all.

I’ve found that asking questions in blog posts usually leads to few, if any, answers, but I’m still going to ask, just to try to understand how far off base my beliefs are, if they are.

Which is more important to you and your company, reduced costs, or more Microsoft people?

25 Comments

  • By SQLGlenn, February 2, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    I attended my first Pass Summit when it was in Denver in 2008(?). There didn’t seem to be a large MS presence, I think a large MS presence would be good. Would like to go again, but my company is usually ramping up for the start of the skiing season when the Summit is held. Plus funds are always a major concern.

  • By Peter, February 2, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Cost is by far a bigger concern than a heavy MS presence for our company. As you noted, MS people will be there, though maybe not as many as in Seattle. I find that our community has so much knowledge and talent that they can carry many of the sessions. In fact, a lot of the better sessions tend not to be MS-related.

    If they want to make it a permanent fixture in Seattle, that’s their right, but I don’t agree with it. That decision definitely means the likelihood of me attending is reduced. Travel, Room, and Food end up costing almost as much, if not more, than the conference itself.

    Kind of sad that the board is leaning towards making it permanently in Seattle. I may understand their reasoning, but I don’t really agree with it.

  • By Claire, February 2, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    To me, the biggest detractor to holding PASS in Seattle isn’t the cost–it’s losing the brains and talent who won’t go because of the cost, distance and/or time required. Yes, the MS community is a powerful and deep resource, but we already know that. PASS should be a chance for those in the SQL community to meet and discover new minds and ideas, and if holding it in Seattle detracts from that, then the location should be seriously reconsidered.

  • By David Smithey, February 2, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    I went to the Summit for the first time last year.
    I now work for a different company who is willing to pay for me to attend the Summit.

    All of my previous employers would NOT send me simply due to the cost involved! PERIOD

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 2, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. Based on those responding so far, I’m not that crazy (note, I didn’t say that I wasn’t, in fact, crazy, because we all know that’s true).

  • By Tony D, February 2, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

    Personally, I tend to be slightly wary of changing a conference venue from one that seems to work very well. I’ve nothing against the principle of the conference moving around occasionally, but the most important thing to me is the overall quality of the event and the 5 PASS events I’ve attended in Seattle have been consistently high-quality (and the 2010 one was arguably the best ever).

    The one PASS summit I did not enjoy was in Denver. The attendance was low, as was the buzz, and it’s the one I benefited from least out of all I’ve attended. How much this was down to low MS attendance, and any knock-on effect from that, is arguable. Nothing against Denver either – it could just be pure coincidence; an “off” year (for me or the event!). However, I also find that other conferences that move venue quite regularly (like Tech Ed) tend to be much more variable in quality.

    On a side note, for one who treks over from Europe for the summit so is fairly atypical, the Denver event certainly did not seem significantly cheaper in any respect (travel, hotel, cost of event, or time).

  • By Viking, February 2, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

    Cost would play important factor for me and my shop.

  • By Matt Velic, February 3, 2011 @ 7:50 am

    From the standpoint of the Foundation, it’s cost. They don’t care about a Microsoft presence or not.

    From my standpoint, it’s still cost. Although I’m the only DBA type person at the Foundation, training isn’t guaranteed, so while the Summit itself isn’t going to get any cheaper, it would be nice to lower the other costs considered, such as travel, food and hotels.

  • By WIDBA, February 3, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    As a first time attendee in 2010, it was great to have the huge MS group there, the SQLCAT guys were awesome (shout out to Jimmy May for the help). I would think an alternate East Coast city would be fine. So the event could alternate back and forth, easing the East Coast/European travel a bit every other year. Logistically, bouncing around would be very difficult to different cities. Being from the Midwest, its all the same, but having a quality beer selection is a must for whichever city they choose.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 3, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    Thanks guys. Interesting comments.

    And yes, the SQLCAT people are flipping excellent! Some of my favorite presentations are from them. I’m really happy when they’re involved.

  • By Henry Lee, February 3, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    I would love to attend the PASS Summit, but with the time and cost to get out to Seattle it just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

    I’m all for investing in my education and I do as much reading, webinar viewing, dev work, etc as I can fit in a day. I went to SQL Saturday in NYC recently and attended Grant’s session – nice job! I just can’t make it to Seattle for a week.

    I think a neat idea would be alternating years between East Coast and West Coast. That way a significant percentage of folks only incur minimal travel costs every other year.

  • By Fatherjack, February 6, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    Grant, as someone from Europe I would say that I would like to attend PASS to see the sessions (MS or non-MS) and meet the people that I speak with over Twitter and email. Seeing Microsoft there is not too much of a draw. We have a strong Microsoft presence at SQLBits (www.sqlbits.com), some of the staff are even from the US so moving PASS to a different location wont stop them being there – OK there may be fewer of them but even so that’s Microsoft reacting to the location in the same way that other companies have to. If they do that then you can be 100% certain that other companies dont send their employess to Seattle for the same reason.

    A conference is so much more than the sponsor(s) – OK Microsoft are slightly different from other sponsors as they make the product that we are all using. To my mind you need to try and enable as many people as possible to attend the conference so that as many people as possible benefit from the experience, if this means picking a location that suits the majority of attendees or as SQLBits in the UK does, move the location around. The UK is much smaller than the US but we have travel issues all the same; air travel isnt so common place and petrol (gas) is $8.50 a gallon (rough conversion).

    All your points for not being Seattle and alternating venues make sense to me. The community then share the problems out rather than some through luck/chance getting it easy when its in Seattle while others have to travel for 2 days extra etc. I think its much more fair and likely to interest more people and, at the end of the day this is what the conference is for – to reach as many SQL users and include them and help them.

    As someone that doesn’t use bleeding edge technology some of the Microsoft sessions are irrelevant to me as I simply wont have the product to use on a day to day basis – 96 cores and RAM GB in 00’s is something I can achieve only by lining all my servers in a row and adding it all together. This means that to the “every-day-dba” it could also be well off topic. Other sessions – tuning, best practice, fundamentals etc and the chance to meet and talk with other DBAs is much more beneficial and relevant. Sure the Microsoft “rocket surgery” is fascinating but in the same way that I watch NASA footage. Its good interesting stuff but it doesn’t help me when I need to change the plugs on my car or split logs for winter.

  • By Mala, February 7, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    It is cost+time, not cost, versus MS presence. I am a long time PASS attendee, 8 years now. I will go no matter where they have it and whether or not my company pays simply because it has been a worthy investment for me career wise and networking wise. But I know how lot of people feel bcoz i run a UG and hear from them, all the time. Most people have to work and take laptops along. PASS pays a significant $ for wireless at the conf.center, and that ain’t for facebook or blogging only. It is for most of us to stay in touch with work, and a 3 hour lag doesnt help at all with that. The hotel – even if they had it at Boston or Chicago that might add up to the same- hotel is cheaper at Seattle than Boston, for example, even without the conf.discount. The MS presence is more of an ethical issue than an actual issue. Those who have gone know it matters for those who have not, it seems like why can’t Ms take pains to go and meet their cream of customers, wherever they are? It comes across lack of interest on MS to provide value to them. We know their issues, for so many people to take time off, travel etc etc but the average non attendee does not. In short all the reasons why they should have it someplace else atleast once in a while, and perhaps like Andy Warren said move back to Seattle again.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 7, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    Henry, Jack, Mala, thanks for the feedback. It does sound like the added time & flight cost does affect some people.

  • By Aaron Nelson, February 10, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

    Grant,
    I ran the numbers and your way off base my friend. 27% off base in fact. You see just a hair under half of all Americans live in the Eastern Time Zone by itself. When you add Eastern and Central together you come up with 77% of the population. Only 6% live in Mountain and only 16% live in the Pacific TZ.

    No boss sending me to a conference ever said “go to this one instead of that one because there will be more Microsoft people there”. Not one. Ever. 3 out of 4. That’s a lot of people to not try and Connect, Share, and Learn with.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 10, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    Ha! I was basing it on a count of population centers. I didn’t know I’d be that far off. But that certainly reinforces the view.

  • By Peter, February 10, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

    Just curious – off of what do you base the percentages? I don’t doubt that the 77% in Central/Eastern figure is about right, just wondering. It definitely explains the high number of SQL Saturdays in/around the Eastern states. Also explains a little about the SQL Rally location.

    And yeah, my bosses don’t tend to care much about MS Presence. “How much?” “No, really, how much?” “Is this a good value?” Never had one ask “How many MS People will attend? That’s what makes this worth attending.”

    Good discussion around the topic, though. I realize that Seattle makes sense a lot of the time, but it would be nice to throw the rest of us a bone every now and then, especially in “off” years when nothing huge is going on w/ SQL Server.

  • By Aaron Nelson, February 11, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    Peter,
    2009 Census Estimate: http://www.census.gov/popest/national/national.html

  • By Aaron Nelson, February 12, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

    I built a map of the cities that haven’t held a SQL Saturday a while back. It needs updated but this should give you an idea when you look from Chicago down to St Louis through Boston down to Norfolk. Just remember the cities that have already held a SQL Saturday aren’t on the map (I used the same population data btw.)

    http://sqlvariant.com/wordpress/index.php/2010/09/where-is-the-next-sql-saturday-coming-from-map/

  • By Scott Gleason, February 19, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    For me it’s Cost and Time. I welcome a trial run of hosting the Summit in the Central time zone.

    :-) Scott

  • By Paul K, March 12, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    I totally agree with you. Being from the UK, the summit always being in Seattle prohibits me from being allowed to attend due to the much larger cost incurred. Microsoft would still send employees, even if not quite so many. This has no effect on my desire or ability to go.

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