Aug 12 2013

You should NOT attend the PASS Summit

logo_headerIf you asked me, prior to today, if I would type or say those words, I would have laughed right at you.

But then, I saw this question on Ask SQL Server Central. It’s from a college student, not yet twenty-one, who was considering paying his (assuming it’s a guy since their handle is ‘Eagle Scout’) own way to the Summit and wondered if it would be worth it. It pains me to say that I suggested that he not do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the PASS Summit is probably the single greatest resource you have to advance your career. Where else can you go to get that broad a choice in training? Where else can you go to get that many of the leaders of our industry, specializing in all aspects of SQL Server and the Microsoft stack, sharing their knowledge? Where else can you expect to have extended networking opportunities with those same leaders and all our peers? Easy answer right? Nowhere. It’s a unique place and a unique opportunity. So I’m nuts for telling this guy not to go, right? I don’t think so.

This case is unique. We’re talking about someone who is not yet employed in this industry, still in school, paying their own way out to this event. Not just paying for the event, but for the travel, the lodging, the food… It’s not a small expenditure. In fact, it carries a pretty hefty price tag. Someone in his situation, I couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend it.

What about the rest of you? I’ve heard people say that it costs too much, that it’s not worth it, that you can get the same information for free online, that there are better teachers elsewhere. So you don’t really need to spend the money either, right?

Right. Don’t go. Don’t spend that money. Seriously…

That way, those of us who recognize the unique value this conference offers will have a major leg-up on the rest of you in the job market. Not that there aren’t jobs enough for everyone. But the better jobs, the exciting and interesting jobs, those are going to go to people who are investing in their future by learning more, networking more and striving to achieve more. In short, the PASS Summit attendees who show up and take part. I can’t tell you how many people I know that are currently working at what they consider to be their dream job that point to the PASS Summit as the single biggest factor in landing that job. I do.

Stay home. Read a few blog posts. Don’t bother networking through events like SQL Saturday or your local user group. Certainly don’t travel to Charlotte and sit through sessions by industry leaders in order to ask them engaging and pertinent questions that will immediately help you improve on your company’s bottom line by improving the speed, safety or accessibility of its data. Save that money. Save that time. After all, you’re already in your dream job. Right?

18 Comments

  • By KoprowskiT, August 12, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    It’s really hard, but very, very good advice:
    * First: learn more
    * Second: be sociable
    * Third: think about Summit in next two, three years

    THNX

  • By James Fogel, August 12, 2013 @ 11:25 am

    I’d rather travel to something like this on my own dime just as I’d rather pay out of pocket to gain additional training and such. My career is owned by me and not any employer. I don’t want their strings that go with paying for this or that. These are investments we make in ourselves.

  • By Sean Molloy, August 12, 2013 @ 11:35 am

    Take advantage of the yearly SQL Saturdays near you. You usually end up paying $10 for the lunch. In my opinion its equivalent to one day at a conference.

  • By K. Brian Kelley, August 12, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    I’m snake-bit with respect to the Summit attendance. This year I’ve got a ministry training conflict, and that training is only held once a year. So… yeah. I’m still going to make SQL Saturday Charleston and hopefully the SQL in the City – Charlotte events. The ministry training doesn’t conflict with those two SQL community events.

    As a SQL Server pro, my advice has always been (to other pros working with SQL Server), if you can get to the Summit, you should. After having attended a TechEd, I’d recommend a Summit over it. If you’re not a pro, like this student, then the question should be raised if he/she is going to be able to get enough for the money. Likely, no. But pros working with SQL Server should be able to get their money’s worth.

    If it’s outside of your price range, definitely look at the free SQL Saturdays, Code Camps, UG meetings, and webinars. There’s a ton of training that gets thrown down. However, do try to attend things in person, because that’s where you can do some networking.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 12, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    No argument with any of the comments. Although, James, I agree you own your career, but that’s not to say that you can’t work with an employer to help you with that training, especially if you can show how it helps them. I think both are possible.

  • By James Fogel, August 12, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    I don’t outright reject employer assistance with training. Far from it. What I do reject are the strings that typically come attached. If a company invests tens of thousands training an employee I would expect them to demand some sort of contractual agreement for a certain number of years. However, my experience has been that companies find that if they pay for a $500 course then they own you then, too. No thanks. And a company would be a fool to pay to send one or more employees to PASS. I say that because it is a big networking thing so imagine sending some of your best people and they come back and turn in their notices because they met new contacts at the summit and in turn got better job offers! I’m being half serious on that one.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 12, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

    PASS is about networking. Absolutely. But networking is not primarily about new jobs. In fact, it’s primarily about your existing job. You don’t just have me. You have my network. That makes me much more valuable to a smart employer. Do jobs sometimes come out off it? Yeah. I got my current one that way, but I went to five PASS events before I left the old employer, and believe me, they got as much out of my going to the Summit as I did. In fact, I made sure of it. As you say, I own my career. I knew that the PASS Summit would help. So I made darn sure it helped my employer too. It’s part of owning my career. I own it at my current employer as much as at any future employer. I have to make it work for everyone. In fact, maybe that’s another good blog post, how to make your visit to the PASS Summit work for you current employer.

    Thanks for the idea.

  • By James Fogel, August 12, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

    I hear ya. And I do look forward to reading that post in the future. I’m not articulating it well but we are of the same mindset about a mutual benefit. I spent too many years at a place that used to help with training but attached too many strings and then went on to laying off so many people and leaving the rest of us doing their jobs with zero training. It is hard to shake that after so long. Still, I’m about value when it comes to my employer. Ten years on I want them to think of me and know that they get their moneys worth and then some. I moved on to a company that is so much better about all of this. It is like a different planet.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 12, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    Glad to hear it. I’ve heard horror stories. In this segment, I’ve largely been lucky.

  • By Pat Wright, August 12, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

    I agree and disagree. :)

    I agree that he should start small, user groups, sql saturdays local events, code camps all of these things should be the starting point and learn to socialize at these events. But if he has the money and want’s to pay his own way i would not suggest he not do this. Even if he may not end up as a SQL server expert in the future. This community the PASS community and everyone involved with it is so much more of a community than many of the other technologies i’ve come across. This group is so much more open than other technical groups and can really teach you how to socialize and what you can and should expect from others. I have no doubt he would find value in the summit. Would it outweigh the cost? That’s a question each attendee has to ask themselves. For some it’s always worth it for others it’s a gamble. As always it depends. :)

    thanks for the post!

    pat

  • By Steve Hall, August 13, 2013 @ 3:45 am

    Your advice was correct – it’s an inordinate expense for someone who is only just starting in the field. Try the smaller (and cheaper) venues first and decide if it is the path you want to take.
    I started with webinars and blog sites, then attended the SQLBits in Liverpool. After that I decided it would help my career a great deal if I attended SQLPass, so paid for it myself. Not a small feat when you have the international flights to pay too.
    However, it worked out better than I had expected. Another company was looking for an experienced DBA. What they finally took on was an inexperienced DBA with a lot of interest in SQL Server. Attending SQLPass raised my profile above the other applications and gave me a chance to show what I was (and hopefully will be) capable of.
    On a strict cost-based analysis it will be quite a while before the change in role recovers the cost of the flight, hotels, summit and suchlike that it took to actually get this new post. What it has also done though is send my career along a different path and who knows what the long-term changes could be.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 13, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    Hey Pat!

    And if you follow the link, that’s exactly where other people disagreed with me.

    I don’t think you’re wrong. It’s just not the advice I could, myself, give a 20 year old. It just seemed like way too much money to commit when you’re not yet fully on the path to becoming a data pro.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 13, 2013 @ 6:36 am

    Hi Steve,

    That’s really interesting. So you posted your attendance at the PASS Summit to your CV (that’s a resume for the committed Yanks among us)? I don’t think I would have thought of doing that. But you’re right. That would raise you up in my estimations if I were looking to hire.

    Well done! And thanks for the contribution.

  • By Rebecca, August 14, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    I agree with what you’re saying for the most part. Long story short, there’s pretty much no chance my employer will pay for me to go to PASS and I absolutely can’t afford it myself. It really bites but that is just how it is, unfortunately. So I’ll probably be stuck forever where I’m at. It’s better than nothing.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 14, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    Hi Rebecca,

    SQL in the City, SQL Saturday, SQL Relay (if you’re in the UK), all free events that tour around. They’re not a direct substitute for the Summit, but moving in the right direction.

    Best of luck.

  • By Justine Dougherty, August 20, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    I am just reading this now…and I thank you for your frankness in saying – I am learning on my own – I have sat in on the 24hrPass-webs and I did join 2 groups – while I do sometimes feel like I don’t even know enough to sit there – I do know that it will all click. I agree 100% with James – about the strings – and I too am paying for all the “stuff” on my own – I do think it is an AWESOME investment – but I definitely know that if you allow some employers to “assist” they consider that “perk” enough to give you a new gig – the way it is sometimes. SO I had been saving to go to this PASS for the last several months – esp the database/data stuff and I get that I probably don’t have enough chops to sit in the same room with most of you – but the idea of being around beings that like what I like…priceless and that are doing it….beyond priceless- so while I agree I am still going to at least get to go to some it (I live in SC – so it is close) just to be around others that once were just like me….a newbie :). Excellent article and excellent advice.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 20, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    Hi Justine,

    Not sure where you get the idea that you can’t sit in the same room with us (I promise to bathe every day of the summit). All levels of people are welcome. I’m sure not trying to scare off new people by this advice. Anything but. I’m just nervous about telling someone who hasn’t even started a career that they should drop X thousand dollars to go to PASS Summit. Once you start your career, even if it was just last week, yeah, the Summit will help you in amazing ways. To quote an old movie, “Come into the light, all are welcome, all are welcome.”

    And if you’re going to be there and you don’t have a pre-con (extra cash) make sure on Monday that you come see me at SQL in the City. It’s a free event hosted by Red Gate Software and will be there in Charlotte. Go here to check it out: http://sqlinthecity.red-gate.com/charlotte-2013/

    If you’re there, at SitC or Summit, make a point of tracking me down and saying hello. Talking to people is one of the main points of being around these events.

  • By James Fogel, August 20, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    Hi Justine,

    We are all new at some point and then it passes. Putting yourself out there and learning/trying/doing are what makes us good at what we do, no matter what it is we do. You sound like you have a lot of drive and as to not being good enough, I’ve been in to databases since 1998 and I’m still embarrassed at times about things I know little to nothing about. I’d even venture to say that you and I are not the only two people in the world that feel this way at times.

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