Oct 11 2016

Pre-Summit PASS Board Update

Globally BusyBusy, busy, busy.

A lot of the work around PASS currently is getting ready for Summit. I’m prepping my part in the keynotes. I’m involved in lots of community discussions including SQLSaturday, Chapters and Regional Mentors. We’re setting up the Community Zone for all sorts of activities throughout the week. We’re also going to have one of our few in-person board meetings at Summit. Putting on the single largest gathering of data professionals around the Microsoft Data Platform is actually labor-intensive. The majority of the work is done by the amazing individuals at Christianson & Company, but the board is involved in the necessary decisions and, being the guy who handles finance, I’m in on a lot of those decisions.

Personally, I think we’re putting together, say it with me, THE BEST SUMMIT EVER. I won’t be upset if you withhold judgement until things are actually delivered, but I’m sure I’m right.

I’ve been pushing forward on getting momentum in the Global Growth committee. Tons of help from Wendy Pastrick and Tim Ford has helped me establish what we’re going to be doing. I’ve posted the general goals before, but I’ll reiterate them quickly. We want to maintain the momentum we’ve established in LATAM and reinvigorate momentum in EMEA over the next 9 months or so. In addition to talking to individuals all over the world on this topic as I travel around for work, I’ve also organized and held several meetings with the Regional Mentors for their feedback. All this is an effort to understand what problems people are seeing locally, regardless of what country they are living in. I’ve collected enough information that I think I can write up some SMART goals and deliver them to the board and you in the next week or so.

I’m committed to seeing a global focus in this organization. I know the organization is also committed to having a global focus. We already are doing so much globally. We’re just going to get better and expand the areas where we can help.

A big part of this job entails meetings. Many meetings. There is just so much to discuss. And spreadsheets. Blech. However, that’s what I signed on for when I agreed to move to the Exec.

Don’t ever make the mistake of believing that joining the board won’t involve labor. It will. However, it’s extremely rewarding labor and I know that taking part has improved me as an individual. I’m very honored to be able to help out.

Oh, and make sure you vote in the PASS election. The polls close today. Tim Ford has a very good assessment of what makes a good Director for the board, as well as another call for you to get your votes in. It’s worth a read whether you’ve already voted or not.

Sep 29 2016

Volunteering With PASS

I was just asked how many times I’ve been to the PASS Summit. This year will be my 12th consecutive one. That made me start thinking. At my very first Summit, I met a couple of volunteers for PASS (Allen Kinsel was one of them, I’ll blame him forever). They were having so much fun that I decided to volunteer. I’ve been volunteering now for eleven years. I couldn’t stop. Here’s what I’ve done over the years at PASS:

Book Review Committee (my first PASS “job”)
Editorial Committee (I wrote stuff)
Editor of the SQL Standard (I had other people write stuff)
First-timer Mentor (I wasn’t very good at this one)
First-timer Event… Chair? (I got up in front of the room, this one might not count)
Founder of SQL Kilt Day (and we all know, this one is the most important)
Ambassador (they help tell you where your room is at Summit, did this several times, it’s fun)
Chapter Leader (hell, Chapter Founder along with some good friends)
SQLSaturday organizer (woof)
Program Committee (single hardest job I’ve done with PASS)
Director (in charge of the Chapters portfolio)
Executive Vice President (currently serving and loving it, even though it’s not easy)

6u1g6SQGu5sjaPjLRnsq02s070Holy crap. That’s been a busy eleven years. I may have missed one or two positions along the way.

Why am I posting this? Because my engagement, one time, at the PASS Summit, led me to do all these things with this wonderful organization. Quite literally, PASS changed my life for the better. I’ll bet it can for you too. If you’re not attending Summit this year, I encourage you to reconsider. It’s not too late to register. Even if you don’t go to the event, please consider volunteering. If you go to Summit, be sure you engage with as many people as you can. You never know what will happen.

Sep 27 2016

Networking and the PASS Summit

PASS Summit 2016 is fast approaching. If you’re going, time to start making plans. If you’re not going, sell your boss on the idea and get registered. It’s only the largest Microsoft Data Platform event on the planet. There are over 200 sessions given by some of the most knowledgeable people you’ll ever get the chance to learn from. The schedule is posted, just look it over. However, I want to drill down on another aspect of the event that it’s way too easy to miss out on, networking.

Lots of people miss this aspect of events like the PASS Summit. I know I used to. I went to all kinds of IT events over the years, but all I ever did was attend the sessions. I didn’t spend any time at all attempting to meet people. Frankly, if you’re an introvert, as I am, that can be hard (and yes, I really am, I’ve been tested). Even if you work up the nerve to walk up to your favorite author/blogger/speaker and say “Man, I love your stuff” or “I have a question,” you still haven’t actually made contact, you haven’t started to network. In order to start networking, you have to start making a connection to people, and that means engaging.

Why build your network?

That’s easy. Because you’re only as good as your network. I don’t care how smart you are as an individual, you can’t know everything. You’re going to have gaps in your knowledge. Your network is there, in part, to help fill those gaps. You want to make a direct connection to people so that they remember who you are, what you do and what you know. After talking for a while, you’ll get a sense of what people can do. If you get stuck on a networking issue, you might send your new friend an email because they were talking about all the networking stuff they do. Your network expands your skill set. Your network expands your knowledge base. Your network expands your worth.

The amazing thing about the PASS Summit is the unique opportunity it presents for networking. Umpty-thousand of your peers all in one place, geared up & ready to connect, share & learn (heard that somewhere, it sounded good). Add to that the horde of Microsoft engineers that are going to be there (and yeah, you want to network with the Microsoft people too). You won’t get as unique an opportunity any where else.

Your Networking Assignment

You have and assignment. We. We have an assignment.

We’re not going back to our hotel at the end of the last session. If we’re a first-timer, attend the events that are set aside just for us. We’re going to go to the social events. We’re going to chat with people. Pull right up to a table where people are shoveling food into their face and say “Hey! My name is <insert your name here>. I’m a <insert your job description here>. What do you do?” Substitute your name and job description in the appropriate places. Next, ask this person if there is a session or a speaker they’re excited about. Finally, ask them if they’re going to the keynote. The reason we’re asking all these questions is because people actually love to talk about themselves. It’s a great ice breaker. If you find that you hit it off, arrange to meet at a session or lunch. If not, no big deal.

We’re going to do this at least three times over the week. I promise you, when we leave Summit at the end of the week, we’ll have at least one, real, contact. That’s how we get our network going, direct engagement.

It’s not too late to register. Get it done. Just plan on spending some time talking to people. If no one else, please, track me down and say hello.

Sep 07 2016

Kilt Day! PASS Summit 2016, Thursday

Thursday at the PASS Summit is Kilt Day.

This means you should wear a kilt. Whether you do it in support of Women in Technology, or you just like to swan about in a kilt, this is the day to sport your kilt. Whether you have a fully traditional tartan, you believe in utility, comfort, or you’re prepared for the zombiepocalypse, there’s a kilt for you. All are welcome. All are encouraged.

Aug 25 2016

PASS Board Update

Time for another update.

The minutes for the June in-person meeting have been approved and are now ready for your information. We accomplished a lot in the two days and you can read what we did there. I’m pleased about two things. First, while it took until the July meeting to get the vote in, we have defined how the PASS board will deal with PASS-branded and PASS-sponsored events when it comes to payment to members of the Board. Thank you so very much for your feedback to my blog post on this topic. That feedback helped us to come to the conclusion that, for PASS-branded events (these are events that PASS doesn’t run, like a SQLSaturday, but that are operating under the PASS brand) a board member can receive payment, say for a pre-con, from the event, but that these payments must be announced (the fact of the payment, not the amount) to the board and read into the minutes. That’s it. Nice and simple. We’ll provide nice, open, clarity on when this is occurring, while making sure that becoming a board member doesn’t mean you give up the ability to run a pre-con at a SQLSaturday or similar event. It seems like a small thing, but it’s important that we do things right for the community and for the members of the board. I feel like this was a model of how to deal with issues before the board. We were open and up front about what we were discussing. We got input from you. We made a clear decision that will support the community well in the future.  Win.

Next, we voted to extend the Global Growth Committee for another year and I got my wish to lead the Committee. PASS is a global organization and while a large  majority of our current membership is from the US, we have had tremendous growth globally over the past several years and anticipate significant growth to continue from outside the US. For example, we are adding a LATAM seat to this year’s elections with the incredible growth that we’ve seen in the region over the past few years.  PASS’ plan is to expand on our success there and continue to grow in Latin America.

While we have already established ourselves in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), we know that our community continues to need our support here as well.  We are looking at ways to bring more people into the PASS community and we’re also going to start thinking about how best to expand into other regions as well. We’re working on figuring out ways to get more feedback and ideas on how we can best serve each of the unique regions, territories and countries and their unique needs. I think you can see, the key word there is unique. I completely recognize that what works for one country/region/language will not work for the next. We’re going to be flexible about how we do things and what we do so we can reach you better, regardless of where you live. Lots more to come on this one, but, please, never hesitate to give me feedback. I’m personally invested in this topic and need your help.

That’s it for the details of this update. I’ve helped finish my first $10 million budget and am now working with the auditors. Finally, I’m starting to get nervous/pumped for my part in the keynote this year. You’ll have to stay tuned for more on that as well.

That’s what I have for the moment. Let me know how we’re doing.

Aug 22 2016

Run For the PASS Board

When the word comes around for elections to the PASS Board, are you one of those people who, even in passing, considers running? If you are, my advice is to well, do it.

By the way, here’s that word.

In order to make this a stronger, even more vibrant organization that continues to provide support to its members, we need more good leadership. A healthy set of choices, meaning lots of people, is necessary. That means we need you to run. There is no commitment required immediately. We’ve just started the process. What I’m asking you to do now, is start thinking about running, and thinking about it in a positive fashion. Track down a board member, or former board member, and find out what they think of the experience. You can ask them what they didn’t like, sure. More importantly, ask them what they got out of the experience. I’ve talked to a lot of former board members (and did so before I ran). Each can tell you a horror story. However, every single one of them also talked about the positive aspects of their time on the board.

Personally, my first year, while a learning experience (and we all know what they’re like), was unremittingly positive. I’m excited about what I got done while I was on the board. I’m excited about what I may get done. I’m VERY excited about my new role. My positive experience comes from two places. First, I’ve been able to make a useful impact on the organization that has done so much for me personally, paying forward some of what I’ve received. Next, I’ve been working on the skills needed to take part in running a very large organization, which is hugely personally beneficial. I won’t tell you that everything has been easy. It hasn’t. This is work, and extra work, on top of your job, family, career, etc. However, it has been, and continues to be, a rewarding experience.

I’m asking you, as Grant, please, run for the PASS Board.

May 23 2016

PASS Board 2016: Update #3

I didn’t post an update last month, but I did do something more important: I elicited your feedback on a question the Board needs to act on.

Here’s what I’ve been up to.

First, based on your feedback (thanks) and conversations that I’ve had with members of the Board, I’m putting together recommendations for how we deal with payment and PASS-branded (but not PASS run, that’s already covered in the By-Laws) events. I’ll be presenting that in June at the in-person Board meeting. Speaking of the Board meeting, I’ve also been soliciting topics (although really, my priceless partner at PASS HQ, Vicki, is doing all the real work). We’re also preparing the budget for FY 2017 (again, the real work is being led by an equally priceless Sandy at HQ). Beyond a series of meetings with each of the portfolio owners, that hasn’t been too much work for me… yet. It’s coming up and will involve quite a lot of time to have everything ready for the June meeting.

…And spreadsheets (BLECH!).

I attended the Business Analytics Conference. While I was there, instead of going to sessions (and there were a couple on R that I really wanted to attend), I sat in on Focus Group meetings with various sets of attendees in order to understand how PASS can best serve the BA community. These meetings are an excellent way to gather a ton of information from people; good feedback on how we’re doing. I’m advocating for doing them at the Summit this year too. While I was there I got to have my first in-person meeting with the rest of the Executive Committee. We talk on the phone, through Skype, and over email very regularly, but nothing beats face-to-face.

Something special I got to do, thanks again to other peoples work (in this case Annette Allen (b|t), one of the PASS Regional Mentors over in the UK) was sit down with the user group, chapter, and community leaders during SQLBits (I was over there to present a session). We talked about a whole bunch of things, but focused around how PASS, as an organization, can better serve, especially locally, like in the UK and Europe. It was a really constructive meeting and quite positive. I can share a few things from it. Based on those conversations, I’ve already set up a Slack channel that Ryan can experiment with to help improve communication between the chapters and PASS as well as the chapters with each other. I think you may also see some other changes in communication in and around chapters in the near future. We’re also going to look into ways to get more swag to Chapters (but not shipping from Canada, as international shipping is costly and efficient for PASS or organizers).

That’s about it. My involvement with the Board continues to be educational and rewarding. I won’t lie. It’s a time commitment. It is however, one I’m very happy to have the opportunity to make. If you’re considering running for the board, talk to me. I’ll tell you all the good things it brings.

May 02 2016

How to Convince the Boss to Send You to PASS Summit

August two years ago I originally posted, Make the PASS Summit Work for Your Employer. After conversations at several SQL Saturdays over the last couple of months, I decided to refresh and update that original content and post it again.

I keep hearing how the job market has changed. That companies just don’t want to pay for training any more. However, I don’t recall any of my employers in the past ever actively wanting, desiring, begging me, please, oh, please, can’t you go out to a little training? In fact, for the most part, I pretty much always had to beg the boss to send me out to training. I had to sell it. I don’t think that’s a new development. Let’s review the selling points to help you convince the boss.

My Knowledge Base

That’s the easy one. Tell the boss, “I’ll learn more.” Maybe this one is obvious, but you should talk to your boss about the addition of more skills to your skill set, an improvement of your overall knowledge and, by extension, your worth to the company. There is a ton of excellent learning opportunities at the Summit covering the entire length, breadth and depth of Microsoft’s Data Platform and it’s attendant products. These sessions are lead by some of the most knowledgeable and skilled people in the industry. Further, they’re practically slavering at the bit to have you ask your difficult question so that they can exercise their skills and expand their knowledge by helping you. You can learn more, faster, at the PASS Summit than almost anywhere. That’s going too help your employer because you will be a better employee.

Our Current Problem

Just about every year in the 6-8 weeks leading up to the PASS Summit, I would start collecting questions. What particular pain points are we experiencing with Microsoft Data Platform products that are so severe I should grab 10 minutes with a Microsoft engineer to talk about? Oh, didn’t I mention that fact? Yeah, the guys who built the product are frequently at the Summit. You can take your immediate problems straight to these people. Further, there’s likely to be an MVP or MCM standing near by who might be able to help out too. Or, you can try the Customer Advisory Team (CAT) who always have a number of representatives there. In short, you can get pretty close to premier support without wasting a premier support ticket. All the vendors of all the tools you’re using are also there, frequently with some, or all, their development staff. Need some help with that software you purchased, go and get it.

Our Future Direction

Your company needs to make decisions about their technology future. You’ve seen the marketing hype. Now, what do the people who are working with the newest stuff every day have to say? Can you get more information by attending sessions that are not put on by Microsoft on emerging technologies? Yes, frequently. That’s not to say that a Microsoft session by the people who built the product won’t be useful too. The PASS Summit is the place to see this. Microsoft doesn’t just develop things and then toss them over the fence to see what works (mostly). Instead, they have companies and individuals working with them all the time to develop new directions for the product. Those people and organizations are frequently at the Summit, displaying new stuff on the vendor floor or giving presentations about the new directions they’re taking the technology. You can get a better understanding if your company’s plans are going to work well going into the future. Even if the plan is best summed up as “We’ll sit on SQL Server 2000 until it rots around our ears.” Others are doing it too. Find out how it’s working out for them. Or, why they finally decided to upgrade, maybe even moving to Azure.

Our Team Skill Set

Most companies are not going to want to send all of the database development team, DBA team, or development team away for a week. Instead, they’ll send one or two people from each team (maybe less). So your team loses out, right? Wrong. Two things. First, coordinate. If you have more than one person from your company at the event, make sure that you cover as many sessions as you possible can. Don’t overlap. When I was working on a team heading to the Summit we would divide up sessions to make sure things got covered that the company needed or that we needed as individuals. While I may want to see speaker X do her session on indexing again, my co-worker has yet to see it, so I’ll send them. And make sure you have a couple of sessions picked for a time period because the session you’re in could be a bad choice. If a session isn’t for you, for any reason, just walk out. Before you go, if you’re the only one going, head around to the teams and see if they have a request for a session that you can attend. This is a chance to enhance your image within the organization and make your boss look good by offering to help others. Send them links to the event schedule so that they can pick and choose. Finally, teach. You just spent a week getting data dumped into your brain. Teach it to your team. We made a pact that anyone who went off to a week of training had to present 2-3 sessions to the team from that event. You can even purchase the event DVD and show sessions to your team in meetings.

NOTE: This is not to say, steal these slide decks to become your internal training resource, unattributed to the original presenter. That is a bad thing.

My Retention

Who do you want to work for? The employer that says, “Heck no you can’t go to the PASS Summit. You’ll meet people and figure out that our company stinks and you’ll try to get a new job, or you’ll learn more and be more valuable and we’re not about to raise your pay.” Or, the employer who says, “Yeah, sure you can go this year. Let’s document what you’re going to learn and how it’ll help the company.” OK, it’s not going to be that easy. You may have to agree not to leave the company for a year or something afterwards. Be cautious about exactly what kind of strings get attached, but also be aware of the fact that the company is investing in you and would probably expect to get something for that investment. Just be sure it’s fair to both you and them.

I get it that some employers are smaller and just can’t foot the bill for this. See if they’ll meet you part way. You pay for the trip and lodging and they pay for the Summit, or vice versa. It can also be about timing. You’ve got a major software release that’s going to prevent you from going. I almost missed a Summit myself because of this. It’s just not always possible, but a good employer will find a way to make it possible, occasionally. If there is literally no support, of any kind, ever, you’re either working for a not-for-profit or, maybe, the wrong company.

I’ll Be On Call

Be on call. Carry the laptop with you. Keep your phone charged (ABC = Always Be Charging). Don’t enjoy the evening festivities too much (and yes, there are parties at the PASS Summit). Be a responsible employee. I’ve had to walk out of great sessions because of calls from the office. I missed half a day because of a failed deployment. But I was online and available, not falling off the face of the planet just because I was at the Summit. Make the commitment to be available as needed by your employer. Demonstrate that commitment by being available. However, as with all things, there has to be a happy middle, assuming a non-destructive total emergency, they should leave you alone for little stuff so that you can attend sessions and network. That’s why they sent you in the first place.

My Notes

Take lots and lots and lots of notes. You can type them into OneNote or EverNote or whatever. Or you can scribble them into your tablet or onto notepads. Anything that works. But write stuff down. Write lots of stuff down. Write down what you’re thinking about the information as well as details said by the speaker that may not be visible on slides or in code. Write down what you talked about with that lady from that vendor on the back of their card. Take notes while talking to the Microsoft engineer or CAT member. Then, turn the notes over to your employer. They act as an additional knowledge base about the event. It’s one more resource that you’re bringing back to your team, showing the enhanced value that you’re providing.

Our Swag

Bring home a t-shirt or two for those people who couldn’t go. If there’s a particularly cool piece of swag, give it to the boss or have it as a raffle at the team training event for the best question. Share the stuff you get as well as the information you get. A friend of mine and I once collected 56 t-shirts and a stack of other swag (and had a heck of a time getting it all back on the plane) which we then spent almost two weeks handing out in the office to our team, development teams, managers and systems people, etc. It made us look good and cost us nothing but a little time on the vendor floor. It’s silly, but it works. If nothing else, it shows the boss that you’re thinking about your team and the company while you’re away.

My/Our Network

Network. That means not being “that person.” That person is the one who comes to the event, shows up for all the sessions, doesn’t ask questions or talk to a single person all day, then leaves and goes to their hotel room (and then usually goes home saying “Wow, that was a waste of my time”). There are large numbers of opportunities to network. Waiting in line to register, turn and talk to someone. Ask questions of the presenter during their session AND follow-up afterwards (although, let them get unplugged and out of the way of the next speaker). Go to the vendor floor where you should talk to the vendors as well as others. Attend the First-Timers event. Go to the Birds of a Feather lunch. Wear a kilt on Day 2 of the Summit (SQL Kilt Day, you’re reading the words of the founder of the event). Attend the Women in Technology Luncheon. Track down all the places where people are getting together and talking. Go to them. Get together. Talk.

I’m an introvert (people laugh when I say it, but it’s true). I recharge with alone time, not at parties. I get being an introvert. But the PASS Summit is not recharge time. If you’re not almost literally crawling out of the venue on Friday afternoon, you’re doing it wrong. The flight home should be the most relaxing plane flight you’ve ever had because you’ll pass out before take-off and wake up when the wheels touch down.

Take the time and trouble to begin to build your network. And remember, a network is not a series of authors or MCMs or MVPs that you can call. It’s a collection of people, some may be presenters/authors/etc., but the best are probably doing the same job you do but for a different organization. Talk to everyone. Build that network.

How does your network help the company? Remember that you don’t know everything. You can’t. However, you can know the people who do know things that you do not. That effectively expands your knowledge set. That makes you more valuable for your organization.

Conclusion

As you can see, going to the event could be a ton of work. In fact, if you’re focused on maximizing the returns for your organization, it will be. You’re going to be working just as hard at this event as you do in the office. It’s all about showing the organization that they will receive benefits by sending you. They will profit from the expenditure. Never lose sight of the fact that it has to be a partnership with the business. You need to benefit as much as they do from the experience. The fact is though, if you follow all my suggestions, you will benefit, and you will deliver worth to your org.

Apr 20 2016

Payment and the Board

If you read the March PASS Board meeting minutes, you saw that there was a discussion around board members and payments related to SQLSaturday precons. The question is simple, for a PASS branded event, should a member of the PASS board receive payment?

There are a couple of relevant facts. In the by-laws it says:

“…provided that nothing herein contained shall be construed to preclude any Director from serving PASS in an educational or speaking capacity and receiving compensation upon approval by a majority vote from the Board of Directors.”

That’s very clear. If a member of the Board wishes to receive payment from PASS to put on a precon, they have to get approval of the Board.

Next fact, PASS branded events, such as SQLSaturday, are not, because of legal and financial reasons, PASS run events. They are separate entities. This means they are, in terms of the law, not covered under the by-laws. They must remain separate legal entities from the events where PASS takes direct responsibility, such as Summit and the Business Analytics Conference.

The question then, is receiving money at a PASS-branded event a conflict of interest? Is it a negative perception? Is it not an issue at all? Further, does any of this apply to PASS-sponsored events?

I have my opinion, but I’m going to withhold it here. What do you think?

Mar 24 2016

PASS Board 2016: Update #2

Time flies. I didn’t notice that I hadn’t posted an update in February.

There’s been a lot going on since I last posted! I’ve attended the executive committee meetings. I’ve also hosted my first board meetings and I took part in my first Town Hall. I’ve been working with PASS HQ to set the agenda for upcoming meetings and we’re starting the budgeting process for FY2017. I’ve got a couple of blog posts I’ve put together on the Board Elections (for my blog) and on the goals and plans for the EVP (on the PASS blog) that are going through an editing process. I should be able to share those with you soon.

Today, I’m going to discuss a couple of things that I’ve been mulling over. They’re things that I think ought to help drive our organization forward, but I’d like to hear back from others. First up (and remember, this is just me thinking about things by writing them down; this isn’t a commitment, promise, goal, or solemn oath), I’m trying to come up with a good list of why people should become involved with PASS. I know my involvement has led to amazing things. I know lots of others who can say the same. However, I also know a lot of people who aren’t involved at all, or are involved but don’t see benefits because of it. I want to see people actively seeking out PASS: Chapters, events, knowledge. Connect, Share, Learn. I think we have a positive and unique story here.

Connect

  • We support Chapters around the world through the website, regional emails promoting local meetings, and the management tools.
  • We support the infrastructure that makes SQLSaturday events possible.
  • PASS Summit!
  • Business Analytics Conference!
  • Women in Technology.
  • Promotion of all these aims to connect people.

Share

  • Chapters again — offering people the opportunity to organize and run a local Chapter, but also a venue for sharing your knowledge.
  • SQLSaturday again, if you don’t start presenting at the local Chapter, you probably start here.
  • Summit and Business Analytics Conference.
  • Virtual Chapters.
  • 24 Hours of PASS (Incarnation X).

Learn

  • All of the above.
  • Recordings of much of the above.
  • A very productive relationship with Microsoft.

This is a unique and rich community that we have built. Frankly, I want more. I’m greedy. I don’t just want to add to this list, or improve on the stuff already on it, but make people actively want to get involved. Help me out here. Let’s get others to become as passionate about this stuff as we are!