Notes on Designing an After Hours Event for the PASS Summit

This year we’re trying out two ideas on Thursday night, a networking dinner (of a sort) and game night. I wanted to share some ideas on how and why we put these together.

  • We’ve long tried to encourage more after hours events with limited success. Of course not all events get listed and many people just meetup with a group informally, but it’s useful and nice to look at the list and have options. More options would be good.
  • At the risk of generalizing and stereotyping there are more events favoring extroverts than introverts. We’ve built our events based on what we want to do – we realize they won’t fit everyone (though we try!)
  • Don’t sweat competing events. There are 4000 attendees looking for something to do! (Note: I think it’s important to schedule after “official” PASS events end)
  • Logistics is the hardest part. Reserving a table for four is easy, a table for 12 means planning ahead or hoping for the best, getting space for 80 is hard. Most places want a deposit or guaranteed spend for large groups, a commitment that can run thousands of dollars. It’s tempting to just “show up” but there is no guarantee everyone will seated and even then service may be poor.
  • Sometimes logistics is an unknown. For our Thursday dinner we’re asking people to come with 2 or 3 topics that interest them, from micro to macro. We’ll have them write that on a large card and then our facilitators will work to match them up with others that share their interests and then we have to help them pick a restaurant, take a quick photo, and get them out the door. We have an outline, but will it work as expected? Be prepared to adjust!
  • Related to that, a short story. Years ago for SQLServerCentral we had a party and every name badge had a small number in the corner. Our idea was to drive networking by asking attendees to work the room to find the person with a number that matched theirs. Not a bad idea, but we added “the first two people to match win a prize”. Total chaos. Some literally jumped over a table to get to their match. Sometimes it is what it is.
  • Eventbrite works well for understanding interest/volume, II recommend it or similar over the “just meet here” type events. Definitely turn on the wait list just in case.
  • Events listed on the After Hours page require the organizers to sign an agreement stating the PASS Anti-Harassment Policy will be in effect. Easy enough. We excluded Cards Against Humanity, but I don’t know that the AHP requires that, more us being cautious and taking a first step on this.
  • We asked for meeting space at the Convention Center for game night because the space is there and it’s an easy/safe location for attendees to find. Available isn’t the same as free though, the room for Game Night was $450. We didn’t want food, but we did want beverage service. A bartender for 4 hours is $500 minimum spend. We went back and forth and decided to charge a $10 cover to drive towards the minimum spend.
  • It remains to be seen if Thursday night will be the informal community night next year or it will return to the night of the big sponsor. Makes it hard to plan for next year.




PASS Summit 2016: Dinner, Dinner, Game

Part of making a week long trip to a big event like the PASS Summit successful is finding something to do in the evening that recharges you. PASS has a number of events listed for After Hours this year. Steve Jones and I are organizing three of them:

These aren’t high pressure events. It’s not speed networking. We’ll greet you at the door and introduce you to some people, after that it’s up to you whether to enjoy one conversation at a table or work the room. We hope to see you at one of them (or all!).

Making the Most of PASS Summit and Similar Events

Events like the PASS Summit aren’t just about education. They are a chance to meet new people, get some distance from the day to day problems of work (and life perhaps), and even have some fun. Done well attendees end the week tired and recharged.

How to do that varies by person, by personality type, experience level, skill at traveling, how many people they know and reconnect with, and even how many times they have been to the event before. What works for me may not work for you. Think about what you want to accomplish and then think about how to get there. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about goals:

  • How many sessions do I want to attend? (It’s ok to skip some, whether its to continue a conversation or go for a walk – listening/learning is tiring!)
  • What is my focus as I pick sessions to attend? Is it stuff I use but want to learn better/deeper, or is it something brand new? Often its both, but worth looking at your plan overall to make sure you achieve your goals. It’s perfectly ok to attend a session that may not seem relevant to work right now.
  • What do I want to bring back to the office? Consider jotting down 3 points about every session you attend plus anything you want to follow up on – a list you can just copy/paste to colleagues.
  • Are there specific people I want to meet or reconnect with? How are you going to meet them?
  • Are there specific vendors/products I want to visit? We tend to use what we know, it’s easily worth a couple hours in the sponsor area just seeing what’s new. Don’t fall into the trap of only looking at stuff you might use right now – plan for the next challenge by knowing what the options are.
  • What do I want/like to do in the evenings/how do I recharge? For some it’s parties, for some its a quiet dinner with old/new friends, for some its the serenity of the hotel room and takeout. Put some thought into this, because it’s probably the biggest part of what your answer will be when someone asks you how your trip was.

Take a few minutes to think about your goals and how you will achieve them. Try to implement it, but be flexible – sometimes you have to adjust day by day based on what is working or looks more interesting. A plan is useful, but only as a guide to having a week that ends with you returning home tired, content, and recharged.


An Update on My 2012 Mac Air

Typically I want to get 3 years out of a laptop to amortize spending on a premium grade machine. I’m at 4 years on this one and while there is better hardware available now, so far it hasn’t been enough better to drive me to buy something new. I maxed it out when I bought it; I7, 8GB ram, 256GB SSD and I’m glad I did.

The machine itself has done ok. I’ve replaced the power cord twice. Once due to the wire breaking, once due to losing it. Expensive to fix, in the $80 range each time. I’m glad to see machines moving to USB-C for charging.

I replaced the battery around the end of the 3rd year (after market), and it’s just been replaced again with a “real” one. Maybe the OEM stuff is better, hard to tell.

It’s been dropped a couple times and one USB port is a little dinged, but still works. Most recently it was mishandled and the backlight failed. I was able to login by shining a flashlight at an angle so I could see the screen, then once logged it I could use an external monitor. The repair was $280 via the Apple Store, sent out and back in 3 days, fixing the screen, backlight, logic card, battery, and some missing screws. Very good service and cheaper than the local fixit place I went to for a second estimate.

I’m not sure what will drive my next purchase. I like working via a USB dock and it’s hard to drive multiple big displays (27″) without lag, so maybe that requires better hardware and/or a better dock. Resolution isn’t a huge factor when using the laptop standalone, I can get by with whatever – certainly it will be as good as what I have now. USB-C charging is high on the wish list. I’ll probably go up to a 512GB SSD or larger just to have some wiggle room. 8GB ram has been fine. I might get more if available, but it’s not a must have. I’ll look harder at the extended warranty this time.

Four years on one machine. Not bad.

SSC Editorial: Does Log Data Belong in a Table or a File?

I think the topic of whether log data belongs in a table or a file would be a great one for a debate format. I think its one of my better editorial efforts because most people will already have an opinion on which is correct/better and will be curious to see if the writing and the comments support their view.


SSC Editorial: A Visit to Microsoft

A Visit to Microsoft was posted back in August and I just re-read it. Here’s a quote that might interest you:

As a working DBA I heard two things that seemed very positive (not counting the new features and improvements of course). One was that Microsoft sees the ability to offer both cloud and physical options as a differentiator ,­ not even a glimmer that the physical (boxed) product was being deprecated, down played or ignored. The other was R. It’s been added to SQL Server as a value add, much like SSIS or SSRS, and that reinforces the view that SQL Server is the hub for all of things data. Rather than seeing the product splinter, it feels more like it’s coalescing.


Networking Dinner at the 2016 PASS Summit

Steve Jones & I are organizing our 7th annual networking dinner on Monday night, October 24th in Seattle. We’re changing the formula just a little this year in an effort to work better with the hosting restaurant – it’s hard to absorb 200 people showing up all at the same time. We’ve set up four different Eventbrite events for arrival times of 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30. Pick the one that works best with your schedule.

We’re not going to make you wait if you arrive early or make you leave when the next seating starts! We’ll do our best to get you seated when you arrive and if we exceed capacity we’ll try to send groups to near by restaurants.

Come with friends or let us introduce you to some new people. It’s a fun, relaxing, low pressure way to start a great week.

Notes about Postponing SQLSaturday Orlando Due to the Hurricane

We’ve been monitoring the weather all week, thinking that today was the day we had to decide. We didn’t want to be hyper-cautious and reschedule too early because of the impact on speakers and sponsors traveling to Orlando, nor did we want to want too long and risk them being stranded in Orlando or wasting an airline ticket or being at risk. We had pre-cons scheduled for Thursday & Friday, so we had to assess the risk for the speakers and attendees for those earlier than the rest. Waiting is hard. We sent out a “we’re monitoring the storm” message this morning (Wed), though in hindsight I think we should have done that yesterday. This morning at 1030 the venue for the pre-cons announced they would be closing for the storm, so we started notifying that group. About 30 minutes later the college announced that it would close through the weekend, so that wrapped up the waiting!

We notified speakers and sponsors first, wanting to give them as much notice as possible to adjust their travel plans. We wanted to delay a public message just long enough to coordinate and announce the new date in the same message, but that didn’t work and we moved to publish “official” news about the postponement. We generated a quick todo list that covered emailing all the various lists, calling our food vendors (lunch, cupcakes, and popcorn), and trying to cancel/reschedule travel plans for our pre-con speakers. We worked through that list without much trouble, the only issue was had was the popcorn was already made. We’ve got popcorn for the storm!

Next was figuring out a new date. We looked at the college calendar, the SQLSaturday event calendar, and our own calendar to come up with a couple dates later this year. We were trying to avoid going into 2017 because it would end up being very close the SQLSaturday Tampa date. With that list of possible dates done, we contacted the college to get them looking to see if any would work and if all the needed rooms were available. That process took about 3 hours start to finish, not bad. Now we have to get all the dates updated, announce the change, and then contact each speaker/sponsor to see if they can still attend on the new date. We’ll start that tomorrow and hope to finish it by Tuesday or Wednesday next week.  Then we get to sort out the details – shirts for speakers, attendees that cancel and need lunch refunds, etc, etc. Tedious, but we’ll get it done.

Mildly painful for us, more so for speakers and sponsors. One year in ten we’ve had to postpone, that’s not bad.

More on Strengthfinders

This past week I attended a one hour facilitated group session that was a continuation of the Strengthfinders assessment.  One part was looking at where our strengths were in regard to four team zones (3 of mine fall into strategic thinking) and the rest was looking at the potential weaknesses that correspond with a strength. Intuitively that seems sound and something I’ve always tried to be mindful about. For example, being a Learner was one of my top 5 strengths and the potential weaknesses include trying to learn things that have no direct bearing on the job (yes, that’s me at times!) and learns a lot but produces little (I’d like to think I’m reasonably effective at getting things done).

We had a group discussion with optional participation, a fine bit of facilitating – it lets everyone interact as they prefer. It just reinforced me for differently we see the world. For example Achievers are driven to get stuff done – whatever stuff they can find if they don’t really really focus. Empaths absorb emotion – a colleague that is down brings them down, and vice versa. There is nothing with those, or a Learner like me, they are just different. Its a useful context for discussion. The one downside I see is that with so many categories it’s hard to just think about someone and identify their strength compared to a tag like “introvert”. I’m curious to see if the next session goes into that more.

They say your strengths change at times, I don’t know. Maybe? Or is just the ones that you’re using right now? Really interesting to figure that out.

I don’t know that we’re born with our strengths, but they certainly form at an early age. My Mom tells a story about me at age 4 or 5 or 6. She finally got me a toy truck I’d wanted and then I took it apart – I wanted to see how it worked.  I don’t know that I’ve changed much since then, I like to know how things work!

As a team builder this is simple, useful, and fairly non-intrusive from the perspective of a usually introverted and definitely private person. It probably depends some on the facilitator. One of the other attendees shared that they knew of a time that hired based on the assessment (I don’t know if that was to achieve balance or to get particular strengths). Considering them seems logical, but I don’t know that I trust it enough to make hiring decisions based on it. I think it would be a very interesting interview question to discuss how they mitigate the potential vulnerabilities that come with their strengths – I’d care less about the answer and more whether they acknowledged the potential vulnerabilities at all.