Feb 22 2011

What Should PASS Be?

pass_logoAndy Warren posted a question the other day (well, issued a challenge actually), “What Should PASS Be?” I’ll let you go and read that & wait here… Done? Cool. Moving on.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my associations with PASS over the years. I’ve been a first-time attendee, a volunteer and a presenter at the PASS Summit. I’ve volunteered with the PASS organization with the Special Interest Groups, the Editorial Committee, and as Editor of the SQL Standard. I’ve taken part in 24 Hours of PASS as a presenter, host and attendee. I have helped to put on SQL Saturday events, attended them and presented at them (and we have another one coming up on April 2nd in the Boston area, please register here.). I was one of the founding officers of the PASS Chapter in Rhode Island, Southern New England SQL Server Users Group, and I’m the current president. In short, I’ve been taking part in everything PASS has to offer. What’s more, I think that by getting involved in PASS, volunteering, speaking, trying to raise my head above the crowd, it helped me make MVP and I know it helped me get my excellent new job with Red Gate Software. I know that I’ve developed friendships that I treasure because of my association with PASS. In short, this organization has been very, very good to me.

And yet…

I’ve been able to make PASS work for me, and work well. But I think I’m the exception. I recently left a team of 10 DBAs and I’m not convinced that they would say that PASS has done much for them. Yes, some of them attended the Summit and learned a lot there, but couldn’t they have attended the same lectures at Tech-Ed or Connections? Some of them have received good information from our user group, but without the PASS association, our user group could do what it’s done so far (and for what it’s worth, I don’t count my user group as being all that successful and put the fault down to its president). None of them have networked through PASS the way I have, none of them attend 24 Hours of PASS or the local SQL Saturdays. With the exception of the Summit & the User Group (and me) none of these people had any association with PASS. Talking to other people online, I don’t think this is the exception. I think it’s the rule.

So, the question is, what should PASS be? Since I’ve been involved with PASS, it has tried to compete against the magazine and publishing web sites, and failed. It has tried to compete with Linked-In and failed. It has attempted to set up vibrant discussion groups in competition with the umpteen other discussion groups out there and had a single success (Women In Technology is a model for other groups to emulate, in & out of technology) but largely failed. There have been discussions about certifications, more extended training, speakers bureau’s, and other good ideas, none of which got off the ground. At the same time there have been a couple of successes, WIT as already mentioned, 24 Hours of PASS, SQL Saturday, monthly SIG webinars, and the ongoing success of the Summit.

My last boss, who was mad as a hatter, but a great guy to work for, used to argue that you can work on your weaknesses or you can work on your strengths, but you can’t ever work on both. Further, he’d say, you’ll generally only be able to mitigate your weaknesses. Mad though he was, I found his advice extremely helpful. I think it might work well for PASS. They’ve been trying to work on their perceived or actual weak points for years. Time to switch. Start working on the strengths. Even though it’s largely volunteer run, there’s more training coming out of the PASS organization than anywhere else. Focus there. Work the strengths of the organization.

SQL Rally is coming up. It always felt a bit like a red-headed step child to the Summit. Eliminate that attitude. Pull out all the stops. Make SQL Rally a success. Start expanding the reach on the webinars. Focus on the quality and the quantity of the training opportunities already at work within the organization. Clean up the horrific SQL Saturday web site so that it gets easier to put these things on. Encourage more smaller SQL Saturday events so that the reach grows (putting on large ones requires huge commitment from the volunteers and cash from vendors, which is not going to be there forever). Build and finish the speaker bureau.  Focus on training, training and more training, even if you have to start charging for it or paying the speakers (and yeah, that might be a good idea). Advertise… everywhere. Get the word out that if you want training this is the place to be. If you want to be a trainer, this is the place to start, if you are a trainer, this is where you grow you brand. Have free sessions, but charge for access to the recordings and give a share of the proceeds to the presenters. This is where the strength of the organization lies, and we should focus on building that strength for the next few years. Then, three years in, you can start worrying about weaknesses, real or perceived, and focus on networking opportunities or certifications or something else.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. As I said, I feel like I’ve received more from PASS than I put into it, although I have tried hard to give back to the community. I’m appreciative of what I’ve received. I know I’ve been considered one of the noisy whiners by many on the board, so I don’t mind taking this opportunity to tell them that they’ve done good work and that it’s appreciated, even by the noisy whiners. Challenge answered Andy.

15 Comments

  • By Wendy, February 22, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    Grant Fritchey for the Board!

    You’ve got my vote :)

    Really, Grant – thanks for a great viewpoint here. You hit a lot of things dead on. I’m surprised, but thrilled, that WIT is one of the few ‘wins’ for the organization. I guess when you’re that close to something, you don’t often see the bigger picture. Thanks for pointing it out :)

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 22, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    Thanks Wendy, but, no Board for me.

    You and Denise and all the other women I’m not thinking of at the moment, have done an absolutely outstanding job. I was always aware of it, but it was recently reinforced for me at a different event where they had a WIT committee that wasn’t successfully meeting the needs of the women involved.

    You guys rock and should absolutely receive the kudos for it.

  • By John Halunen, February 22, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

    I agree with your points Grant. I’ve been to 4 (of the last 5) PASS summits now. The first 3 were good learning opportunities (and I did), but I didn’t network or do all the other stuff. Since reading Brent’s column on growing yourself, and watching Kendra blossom, I’ve started actively managing my growth, and PASS is a great focus. My 8-10 teammates for the first 4 years I worked here were similar to your ex-coworkers. I think now with Kendra Little’s example and Brents push several of us (me, Argenis Fernandez, Crystal Manson, etc.) are working on ways to use PASS better. Argenis is presenting at Vancouver. Crystal and I have submitted for Olympia. So much of this is/has to be self-motivated, and the most an org can do is provide the avenue and the example. And you, Wendy and the rest of PASS are providing that, in spades.

  • By Bill Graziano, February 22, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    Grant,

    Great points all! I’ve become a huge fan of working on strengths over the last few years. I’ve seen a number of organizations and people transformed by taking that approach. I also think we really need to work on execution of those things that we’re focusing on. SQLSaturday does need more resources and SQLRally does need more marketing.

    I don’t consider you a whiner. You tell us when we do something you don’t like and you thank us when we do something you do like. I really can’t ask for anything more.

    And thanks for all your work volunteering for the organization. It’s certainly appreciated.

    -Bill

  • By Andy Warren, February 22, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

    Grant, thanks for taking the challenge! Can you tell me why you think of SQLRally as the not loved enough event? Not complaining, would like to hear more on that.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 23, 2011 @ 7:20 am

    It’s hard to put in words, but I’ll try. When the summit is only three months away, there’s a sense of the gathering storm. You can feel people’s focus shifting. Certainly the PASS organization shifts it’s focus. You can tell. That same feeling is not occurring with Rally. Further, except for a few individuals, you included, it’s not getting much more noise from the organization than a particularly popular SQL Saturday. At least that I’m aware of. I think 24HOP has received as much attention, but that’s a freebie, not something we’re expecting people to pay money for. Like I say, a feeling. I don’t have hard data to support it.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 23, 2011 @ 7:22 am

    John, I agree. Like anything, you get more out of it if you put more into it. But the question for me is, how to convince others to want to put more into it? I think the answer is to make it training central. But what the heck do I know. I run a constantly almost failed user group.

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 23, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    Hey Bill, thanks for dropping by. I said it in the post, but it doesn’t hurt to follow up, thanks for all your work. You guys bust butt. You screw up occasionally (Tina, Tina?) but your hard work is appreciated.

  • By Andy Warren, February 24, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    Grant, we’ve struggled to get the marketing right so as not to cause confusion, hard to market SQLRally and Summit at same time, and we’ve been conscious that the time to push hard is when the schedule is set (expected for Monday). We also set out to try to use grass roots to do as much marketing as possible, and that’s evolving. It’s a bit different than marketing a very local SQLSaturday, at least so far.

    Let’s see how it feels in four weeks:-)

  • By Andy Warren, February 24, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

    Grant, why do you consider the SQLSat site horrific? That’s mostly my sweat so I’ll try not to be too defensive!

  • By Grant Fritchey, February 24, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

    Oh man, you’re going to hurt me next time you see me, aren’t you?
    The SQL Saturday site was great, last year, when it was brand new and clearly a work in progress. A year later, for it to be basically the same… same problems, same difficulties, that’s just not good. I expected more. Changes, problems suggested last year that were fixed this year. It’s the lack of changes over time that are the main issue. Granted, I stink at web work, with this blog as evidence, but let’s face it, the program needs to support idiots like me. It’s just too difficult to make changes, to modify stuff, to make things look good. It reflects on the people putting the show on. I’ll have to work with my other volunteers & come up with a list of specifics, but we’ve all hit issues.

  • By John Halunen, February 25, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    Andy,
    One thing I ran in to recently, there is no provision for dual presenters, and no way to edit the presentation once submitted that I could see.
    John

  • By Andy Warren, February 25, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    John, dual presenters is a gap. Not a big one, but it’s there, one of the corners we cut in the beginning. I’ll add to my list, though there are other things that will get ranked higher.

    Editing presentations is a tougher nut, only because we don’t have the concept of logins for SQLSAt at this point. If we can leverage the PASS login that is already set up then the rest is easy. Right now edits just get done by the event leader or other volunteer.

  • By Andy Warren, February 25, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    Grant, we’ve definitely struggled to find dev resources. I’ve got a bit of money approved, and working on a separate deal to get some time traded out. It’s a few hours just to get all the pieces set up, so I’m wanting something that gives us the ability to continue to make changes over a couple years at steady pace. I had hoped our internal IT staff woudl be able to handle it, but too many demands. In the next couple weeks you should start to see some email helping us capture/confirm requests, then we have to figure out what is really important (compareed to kinda, sorta) and how much of that we can fund.

    As I’ve watched a lot of events use it its interesting that some get frustrated because they want more power, some want less power. It’s hard to build a vertical that does both on a small budget, but we have and will keep trying to satisfy as much as we can.

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