600 Miles, Limits, Fears, and Possibilities for SQLSaturday

Last week PASS published some new guidance for SQLSaturday that sets a 600 mile rule to keep events from being held too close together and another that reduces the funding from PASS for most events. I appreciate the stated goals, find myself a bit frustrated at the lack of impact analysis that should have accompanied the change, wonder if total funding is being reduced or just reallocated, and, as often I do, question why PASS seems to publish changes like this without prior public discussion.

As I read and have since re-read the post, the thing that stuck with me most is that we are indirectly setting a cap on the number of events we can have and we seem to be doing so based on the perception that the market can only support X amount per weekend or per year. Is that good thing? Have we reached the limit of what we can do?

We have always worried about limits. Way back when SQLSaturday was starting we heard from almost every prospective organizer one of what I call the four fears (concerns). Interestingly few organizers had more than one concern, but that one – it was important. A deal breaker. What we tried to do was to find a combination of coaching and strategy to address each one, to help them reach that point of “I think I can do this now”. Here’s that list:

  • Finding time/the amount of work.  Having the web site, tools, and some documentation all helped to do this. We tend to take them for granted now, but together they might account for 5% of the effort, but it was a critical 5%.
  • Finding a venue. We stressed free over paid, especially over the first one. We shared examples of venues found and encouraged out of the box thinking and using the local network. Stressing free was key – taking on a big financial commitment isn’t something a team should do on their first event.
  • Finding speakers. We didn’t understand at the beginning the eco-system that would evolve. We had a glimmer of it when Geoff Hiten and TIm Mitchell came to Jacksonville to see what was going on. We made it easy to contact the speakers we knew about, we broadcasted event launches, tried to attend a lot of them, and somehow that worked. Just having a list mattered. Remember back in 2007 & 2008 we weren’t nearly as connected to each other as we are now.
  • Finding sponsors/funding. In many ways this is a repeat of the finding speakers answer. We built a list, had a semi-standard way of dealing with sponsors, and tried to teach that you should spend based on receipts and not on grand plans. Still, it was a concern. Back when we had 10 events a year we thought this might not be sustainable. So we hedged. We added the optional lunch fee to cover the single biggest cost (assuming a free venue). Optional fit the mantra of guidelines and options over rules, and it gave our venue partners an out – they could say this is a free event.

Kudos to PASS for budgeting to pay for a coach/evangelist and sponsoring each event. I think we take those a little bit for granted as we run our 2nd, 3rd…10th!…events, but it’s invaluable to know that there is someone you call when you don’t know how to do something, or even what to do, and having some guaranteed money is a nice thing to have, at least the first time out.

We’ve worked on mitigating those fears, but they are still there, though perhaps not in the same proportion. If you’re not in the US you might well still struggle to find speakers. Finding a venue is the ultimate local challenge – we can’t just give you the answer. The work, well, it’s still there – it takes sweat to make it all happen. Sponsors & money are still a worry for some. There is always something to worry about and to manage. In language we speak, there’s always a bottleneck.

But getting back to the topic of limits, I think that as we’ve grown we’ve added a fear to the list: competition. If you’re running an event and there are other events on the same day, whether they are 100 miles away or 1000 miles away, you’re competing for speakers and sponsors. It’s a valid concern. As we increase the number of events, regardless of the distance or what day they happen, we’re competing for dollars and speakers. I can understand it would be frustrating to get fewer speakers or fewer sponsor bucks than the previous year due to ‘competition’. Frustration aside though, let me ask – how much real impact would it have on our ability to deliver free training to our local members?

We average 50 speakers for SQLSaturday Orlando. If we dropped to 25 we could have each speaker (I suspect happily) do two sessions each. If it dropped to 12 we would probably run fewer tracks and put them in our biggest rooms. If we received zero dollars from out of  town sponsors  we could still provide coffee and donuts, lunch, and a speaker shirt for those that wanted one. If we received zero dollars from any sponsor we would probably not provide coffee/donuts, we’d pull together our pocket change to pay for lunch for speakers and that would be that. We’re committed to making it happen. What would the impact on our attendees? I think they would miss the sponsors, miss the donuts and the coffee, and otherwise enjoy getting what we promise and deliver – a great day of free training.

That said, it’s not unfair to look for a way to mitigate the concerns. The 600 mile rule is one way. An alternative I prefer is a 100 mile guideline, where if two cities within 100 miles of each other want to host on the same weekend they have to agree. If they don’t, we’ll let PASS broker a compromise or make the final call. We’ve done pretty well with favoring guidelines over rules, I hope we continue that.

Free training. That’s why we’re in this, to train our peers and grow our craft. It’s nice to have money to spend on near-essentials and nice-to-haves, it’s nice to have 20, 30, even 50 speakers, and it’s great to aspire to increase attendance – but none of that should be more than important than accomplishing that fundamental goal. I hate to see fear or imposed limits reduce our ability to train anyone that wants to learn about what we do. That’s not criticism. I stand in awe of what we’ve accomplished together.

Thinking about growth and the impact of growth is a good conversation, one I’ve tried to start here, because it’s not just PASS and not just us, each influences the other. PASS tries hard to respond to concerns and I think they try equally hard to respond to challenges. What if we start thinking about what it take to reach the top 100 cities in the US each year? Or to reach 2x as many people in 2017? Or to reach 20 new countries? Not numbers for the sake of numbers, but to reach people that need and want training and the chance to build connections that will last a career, if not a lifetime. I’m optimistic about the possibilities.

Karla Set the Standard

Last week Karla Landrum announced that she will be leaving her position as Community Evangelist later this year after five years. That means change for PASS and for us and for Karla, but just the nature and scale of that pending change illustrates how much Karla has done in the those five years.

Karla was the first evangelist that worked for PASS that had roots in the community. She had built and run a Chapter, built and run SQLSaturday Pensacola, and built a very good network within the SQL community before her first official day at PASS. It’s not hard to imagine that it’s easier and more effective to evangelize if you’ve walked the walk and enjoyed the journey. No one can listen to Karla talk about SQLSaturday without realizing it’s her true passion – the essence of evangelizing.

How do you measure the impact of an evangelist? New events? Total events per year? New countries reached? By any measure Karla succeeded beyond what anyone ever thought was possible. SQLSaturday in Turkey! 500+ events! Plus her work on Chapters, Regional Mentors, the Summit Community Zone, and and a lot more.

Karla has done a lot of things well, but I think what she did that mattered most was building trust with event leaders. Prospective event leads have a lot of concerns and it’s a big deal to know that the person telling you that you can do it is the same person you will be calling when you have questions or need help. For experienced event leads it meant that if you had a concern or frustration it was heard and you got a response. There was no handoff – Karla supported what she evangelized.

I find no cause for sadness as I think about her decision. Karla has made a difference in ways large and small, noticed and not noticed, and in the end making a difference is what matters most. I respect and admire her decision that it was time to make a change. Not an easy decision I’m sure, but one that is right for her and for us.

Karla, thank you for doing so much so well – you set the standard.

P.S. We still have time left, can’t we get Wyoming?

 

GIT Learning Resources

I’ve spent most of my career using VSS and TFS, mainly because that’s what was being used. Better any source control than none. Now I’m working with a tam that uses Git, so I’m learning enough to check-in changes and merge and clean and the other basics. I’ve gathered a few resources, you’ll probably use more than one and which ones depend on how you learn best.

 

 

Retrieving the SQL Server License Key

Strangely enough its been a long time since I installed SQL in production. It’s almost always done by someone on the server team and that’s fine with me, clicking the wizard (or running the install script) isn’t the interesting part. Today though, I needed to add a named instance (also rare) and didn’t have the license key. Silly to be blocked for such a small thing. A quick search led me to this bit of Powershell that retrieved the key after a couple of edits. This script looks like it might avoid the edits, but I didn’t try it (it was second on the search results).

I wonder about the merit of requiring the key to be entered when there is already an existing instance on the server. Probably not worth the effort for such an edge case. Going further though, is there still value in having a license key? I’m not arguing the licensing aspect, just how we do it. I’ve never seen anyone check the license keys. You do an inventory and a true-up and that’s it.

PASS Nominating Committee Update

Today PASS released a bunch of stuff for the upcoming election including the attributes of an “ideal candidate”. We put in quite a bit of time on that description, in part because people often ask “am I ready” and in part because it is the next step in doing a better job of qualifying candidates (and someday, in providing training to help those candidates prepare).

I hope you’ll understand that this “ideal” is a dream and a goal, but not a requirement. We’re never going to have perfect candidates, nor do I think we necessarily described the attributes that a perfect candidate might have, or even think a candidate that is less than our ideal may not serve exceedingly well. We just tried to write something that would help someone prepare to serve successfully and by success I mean both serving the members well and being able to look back on it as positive experience.

We simplified the application, not to reduce the time required (though it probably does take a little less), but to ask questions that mattered, either to the NomCom or the voters. Some are to guarantee a pre-requisite is met, but many are there to be “question generators” during the oral interviews and public interactions during the campaign. The application is one good way to compare candidates side by side. Is it perfect? Nope, but I think better than it was. Think about it as we vet candidates this year, what else can we reasonably ask them to provide that helps you make your decision?

We also left in, at least for this year, the somewhat ambiguous language around what Chapters can do to stump for (or not) candidates. That ambiguity is in my mind a mistake from the last time I served on the NomCom. I advocated for the change but not for the communication and discussion needed to make it work without confusion. We were reluctant to do too much change this year (and so repeat that mistake), but it’s an area that still needs much thought. It’s not simple, at least to me.

 

I think we’ve done good work, thoughtful work, but once again we’re doing that work behind a wall. The Board will review and approve our changes, but that’s far from having a public discussion before those changes are submitted. I have been and remain uncomfortable with the NomCom reviewing and revising rules, potentially each year. That’s not to attack anyone involved or question their ethics, I just don’t think its good governance to not have public discussion of changes. More than that, I fear, for lack of a better word, that future NomCom’s will not appreciate the subtleties or goals of some of the rules and will do wholesale rewrites. We need a system that allows change, that responds to issues, but doesn’t allow big changes without significant member input.

If you’re reading this I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read through the link at the top, then think about who you know that is ready, or close to ready, to run for the Board, and contact them. A bit of encouragement can go a long way.

 

Names From the Past

Can you guess what all of these people have in common?

  • Shawn Weisfeld
  • Joe Healy
  • Barry Ralston
  • Trey Johnson
  • Jon Winer
  • Wes Dumey
  • Donnie Reynolds
  • Kevin Jacobs
  • Joseph Memmo
  • Brian Knight
  • Michael Antonovich
  • Declan Link
  • Patrick Thompson
  • Jeff Garbus
  • Jim Blizzard
  • Ken Tucker
  • Jessica Moss
  • Bayer White
  • Joe Celko
  • Judy Pipia
  • Jean-Claud Armand
  • Michael Wells
  • Brandon Kelly
  • Pam Shawn
  • Chris Rock
  • David Eichner
  • Jose Fuentes
  • Kendal Van Dyke
  • Scott Farriss

Probably a few things, but for this post the correct answer is “they all submitted sessions for SQLSaturday #1”. Many (most) are still around, still technical, still participating in various ways. Hoping we can get a few (or more) to return to Orlando this fall for our 10th SQLSaturday.

 

SQLSaturday Orlando 2016 Call for Speakers Closes July 17, 2016

We’ve advanced the closing date for the SQLSaturday Orlando call for speakers to July 17. That’s to give us time to set the schedule and have it announced around August 1, just a little more than 60 days before the event. We’ll get an email with that information out to the Orlando speaker list later today.

We’ve had some great sessions submitted so far, still have plenty of room for more. Hope you’ll consider joining us in Orlando this year.

 

The PASS Speaker Agreement

I hope when you’ve read all of this post that you’ll think that I’ve added to the discussion and not fueled the fire.

The various posts and discussions and the time writing this (multiple drafts) have definitely caused me to re-examine my own views. I’ve found that some were simplistic (might still be!) and others just hadn’t been dusted off in a while because others things were needing more immediate attention. I’m betting the same is true for the Board. I also found some of the public discussion so far frustrating, in part because it feels like we’re stuck in 2007 where the only way to get PASS to move was to pound on them publicly. It feels like there should be a more elegant way – a topic for another day.

Tomorrow PASS is having a Town Hall to discuss the speaker contract. I agree that the contract needs to reviewed and revised, both legally and in terms of what we consider ok or not. Not withstanding the most recent changes to it, it has served as the rules of the road for a long time. As much as I’m in favor of reviewing, growing, evolving, and other words that equate to change, I hope everyone will look at the impact of proposed changes on the entire PASS ecosystem. It’s not just speakers who are affected, it’s sponsors, volunteers, attendees, and the full time staff. I hope we have the first of several good conversations tomorrow that start the process so that it can be considered, reviewed, and discussed over several weeks (or months even) so that we’re ready to apply the changes to the 2017 selection process. I also hope that whatever changes we make that we plan to review them again during and after the 2017 implementation to see what worked and what didn’t. I think it would be unrealistic to expect it all to work perfectly the first time.

I don’t know the scope of the meeting tomorrow, but I hope it covers these topics:

  • To what extent free, free with registration, paid, and whatever other categories of products/scripts/services can be mentioned in a presentation OR a pre-conference class
  • Whether speakers should be paid

I believe the PASS Board has tried to build an environment where attendees have access to sponsors and vice versa while keeping as much as possible any commercial element from being included in the educational portion of the program (other that Microsoft!). I’ve long agreed with that approach. Does it work perfectly? It does not. Drawing a hard line is simple and easy to enforce, and it avoids more of the conversations that result from why person x/session x was or was not picked. But I also agree that describing it in such a way that my friend Brent can’t talk about his free scripts isn’t serving the members well. Going further, I think about my friend Steve Jones doing a presentation on source control of databases. He can make it generic and non-product centric, which is interesting, but not nearly as useful as when he shows solving the problem using a full stack of specific (and paid) software. The lines are blurry, maybe always have been. I want sessions that are educational, that doesn’t preclude showing how a not-free product can solve them, but it’s somewhat hard to allow that and not allow a craftily crafted presentation that is more sales pitch than education. I think we can figure out how to make the system more nuanced and more valuable, but it will take some care.

I’ve never been a fan of paying speakers for the Summit. I’ve always liked the idea that all the effort that went into preparing and presenting an hour presentation to my peers helped raise funds that could be used to do good throughout our community. That’s why I was so unhappy with PASS in the 2006-2008 timeframe – funds were raised and not being used to do enough good. It’s better now. Not as good as I want, but tolerable. Beyond that, it’s been more than enough for me to be able to put a line in my resume about being selected to speak. Speakers get free admission to the Summit, something that has both real value to the speaker and a real cost to PASS. It costs PASS less than retail of course, but it’s far from zero cost. Still, traveling to the Summit is not a cheap endeavor. I doubt any speaker (including me, if and when I’m selected again) would turn down a stipend that would defray that cost. Is giving speakers a stipend fair? I’m hard pressed to argue it’s not, I just like the idea of doing my part to make things go. Idealistic? Simplistic? Perhaps. I also wonder what the impact is overall. Do we get better speakers and presentations? What does it do to the budget? I look forward to hearing many views on this topic.

PASS isn’t without fault in all of this. Changing the policy without public discussion first was a mistake. Responding slowly was a mistake. I’d even argue with the benefit of hindsight that it’s been slow to deal with the issues that have blown up this year that have been gathering steam for years, something that this Board inherited and perhaps didn’t fully appreciate. Whether you consider them mistakes or not, the result is that the issues are up for discussion tomorrow in an official and public forum. It might surprise you, but I think that the current Board is the most transparent and most responsive we’ve had so far and trying to improve further. I think change will come. It may not happen all at once, because the Board will be conservative (and that’s appropriate in most cases), but I think we’ll see a lot of change going into 2017.

MS Exams Increasing In Price

Just glanced through the MCP newsletter and see that the price of the exams (or at least the one I looked at) is increasing from $150 to $165. It’s hard not to question whether the exam is worth $165 (or even $150) – it just doesn’t have a lot of value in the market (which isn’t to say there is no value in taking an exam or two). I’d guess the fee is mostly paid by employers and the increase won’t add up to enough to cause them to complain.