How Two PASS Chapters Join Forces to Run One SQLSaturday In Orlando

We’re lucky enough to have two PASS chapters here in Orlando, oPASS and MagicPASS. Both in Orlando, but about 40 miles apart, Orlando being the metro sprawl area that it is. Back when we nervously made the decision to launch MagicPASS we also talked through the implications for SQLSaturday and came up with a common sense plan – the groups would rotate the “lead” position each year, but both groups would be on the event team each year. So far it’s always been whoever the Chapter leader was, but it doesn’t have to be. The chapter could appoint someone else, though it would need to be someone that the entire event team was confident could take on the role effectively. It a simple system and has worked well. This year is the first time we’ve changed it (sort of), swapping the schedule around so that oPASS would lead two years in a row, a decision made when we knew Kendal (MagicPASS) was changing jobs and wasn’t sure about the workload or potential restrictions on participation at the new job. The rest of the core team varies from year to year a little bit, but it’s always the ones that are willing to put in a lot of extra time to make something good happen. Looking back I think we’ve done ok at growing and encouraging people to that level, but I wish we could do a little more, or do it a little better. It’s not just about volunteers for this year, it’s making sure we have a pipeline to support the event for years to come. That minor quibble aside, the people side of this just works. That’s not unexpected given the people involved, but it’s nice to be able to say it nonetheless.

Each year we each make known what area we’d like to focus on (marketing, sponsors, etc) and try to signal how much time/energy we have. We then figure out a way to get everyone doing something they want to do, or at least don’t hate! The time/energy thing is harder. Everyone wants to do their part and more, but it’s usually the ones that are swamped the most that are worst at signaling they might struggle for time. That’s not meant as criticism, it’s a core part of working with volunteers. We all start with time blocked and good intentions, but in practice life often conspires to use up that blocked time and energy in unexpected ways. We do a bi-weekly or weekly call which keeps things moving and reminds us all that we commitments. If we see something lagging we will nudge some and if that doesn’t help we take it offline to work on cross leveling the load. I can’t say we’re great at that, it’s always a little awkward calling a peer and a friend for that discussion. Care is called for and exercised, and I think the result is that whoever was behind is quietly relieved to get the help. Again, I’m not criticizing our team here. I’ve certainly had years where I was the one not keeping up. The most important thing we can tell a volunteer is this – if you fall behind or need help, ask early and keep asking. Getting the task done is what matters, not that it might tweak our pride a little to say that we can’t do as much as we promised.

The last part of this is the money. Whoever leads the event gets the funds and pays the bills based on the decisions we’ve made as a group (which speaker gift, that kind of thing). Once the event is done if we’ve exceeded our goal we’ll reimburse for minor incidental expenses (mileage, a group meal maybe, and sometimes a hotel room), something that might add up to a few hundred bucks a year. The important part is that the “profit” is divided evenly between the two groups as the final step. Each group can use that as they wish to support Chapter operations through the year. It’s a way to make sure the chapter leader isn’t paying for food at the meetings out of pocket and to acquire some nice to haves like a projector or screen. We try to build a fund raising goal for SQLSaturday with that in mind. We want to run a reasonable event, take care of our sponsors and attendees and speakers, and put a little bit into the coffers of each group. I’m not sure what the number was last year, but I’d say we try to put about $2k into each Chapter at the end of the event. We also use those extra funds to cover up front costs and to cover us in case we lose money on a pre-con (we guarantee the speakers travel costs and we have to pay for the meeting room). If you winced at hearing the word profit, or just disagree with the idea that a free event might make a profit, I’ll remind you that the two of the big goals of the event format are to raise funds and to grow the membership, both in support of the Chapter that is hosting the event. It’s no different than having a pancake breakfast or a carnival to support a local cause. Training our members is job one and the money goal comes after, but most years we do both and I think we do both in a way that is open and fair.

I’m not saying we do it all perfectly, or that we get it all right, but it’s a system that has worked out well for us. All common sense in my view, but it’s nice – even important – to work it out, especially if you have multiple chapters in the same city.

A Speaking Sabbatical

Lately I’ve been thinking about taking a break from doing presentations. Not sure what triggered it – maybe just a sense of wanting some more time for other things.

I’ve been doing presentations on a regular basis since 2006. Before that it was once a year at PASS and maybe something at work. Along the way I’ve taught one day and all week classes. Teaching is fun and useful – those of you who do so know what I mean. It still requires effort though. Effort to write the presentation, which usually means digging into something deeper first. Then practice, revising based on feedback, getting comfortable, and then – for me at least – picking a new topic for the year and repeating the cycle. It adds up. Certainly not as many as some (Kevin Boles!), but a lot.

The effort then is a combination of how often you pick a new topic and how often you present it. It’s certainly possible to reduce one or both. The biggest driver for me on picking a new topic once a year is thinking about the local groups. It’s nice to have something new to show them. Frequency has been driven by trying to do more with the Florida groups (such as my trip yesterday to Clearwater) and the many events we have in Florida. A few years back I decided to scale back to one event a quarter and that worked out to be a good rhythm – when I had the discipline to stick to it. I hate to miss events!

So part of this is about time, part is about effort, but part also is about enthusiasm. A sense that I’m not growing, or growing in the right direction. Whether that’s true, or I’m just tired, or both, it’s hard to tell. In any case taking a break is the start of figuring that out.

It won’t be a vacation though. I’m on the NomCom (meeting every two weeks for a while) and I’m on the SQLSaturday Orlando committee (meeting every two weeks for now. I’ve got a couple of blog posts PASS that I’ve had in draft for months – need to get hose finished, and I’ve got a lot of work to do on the Student to IT Pro seminar plan for this year too.

SQLSaturday Orlando will be October 8th year. That’s close to six months from today which seems like a reason amount of time for a sabbatical. I bet it goes by all too quickly.



Notes From the April 19, 2016 Pinellas SQL Meeting

I drove to Clearwater (and back) yesterday to attend and present to the Pinellas SQL group. Misc notes from the trip:

  • Started my trip at 2pm because Tampa traffic is very heavy after 4. Crossing the bridge (it’s a long bridge) there was an accident on the other side, traffic stopped. For once I was on the right side of the road.
  • Meetings are held at the Juvenile Welfare Board office. That doesn’t sound good, but it’s a modern space and a great meeting room. Very large displays  mounted around the room, plenty of seats, even a tiny kitchen area. Very nice.
  • Jason Carter leads the group now and did a nice job of going through the meeting deck talking about PASS and upcoming events. Special note; he had a slide showing speaker & topic for the next meeting. That’s powerful, but it depends on having the speaker lined up!
  • Presentation went ok. I think this was the best audience I’ve had for questions, good ones!
  • Dinner was pizza courtesy of a local staffing company that came through when a sponsor was needed. Oh, and salad, and cookies.
  • After party is at a sports bar that is several (4?) miles down the road. Further than I’d recommend (because attendance drops off the further you go) but almost everyone goes by it on their way back home, so it works out. Was able to help someone solve a problem while I was there and offer a suggestion on a different problem.
  • Trip home wasn’t bad. No traffic until just outside of Orlando, so I was home just after 11:30.

Insurance For Events

Posting here mostly because I’ll need this link again sooner or later! We’re hosting our more or less annual joint meeting of OPASS & MagicPass this  month and the facility we use requires an insurance certificate. We use It was $105 for the one day certificate. Takes five minutes or less to fill out the online form and pay with a credit card. $105 feels a bit high for 40 people in a college classroom, but for now the low friction option they have wins out over saving a few bucks. Note that unless you have a corp of some sort set up, you have to put someones name on the application. That’s all good unless something goes wrong, then you’re in the liability chain.

Related to the topic, I’ve suggested several times that PASS could provide blanket coverage, it’s never gone anywhere – the loudest reason was it would be a US only solution. Cost? When I quoted it way back when it was $12,000 a year to cover all the US chapters for all their meetings. Worth doing? Depends on where you stand on risk management and budget priorities.

SSC Editorial: Would You Move for a Job?

I won’t say never, but it’s unlikely I’d move for a job – my roots are here in Orlando and I like it that way, but things change, and certainly there are other points of view on the risk/reward calculation. I was struck by the comment that this is a “first world problem” which is fair to a point – getting a job trumps just about everything else. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a topic worth consideration and discussion. Lots of interesting points of view in the comments, especially those from people who have elected to live in areas with fewer opportunities.

See what you think:


Ben Miller Speaking to oPASS & MagicPASS on April 19, 2016

Register to attend this joint chapter meeting at

OPASS and MagicPASS are proud to present a special joint meeting with Ben Miller

TSQL is a necessity when interacting with SQL Server so knowing can be half the battle. Performance is always good as the database starts to grow, but building in resilience when you begin is a greater advantage than refactoring. I will go over 5 key things to know when you write TSQL, use DataTypes and/or variables in comparisons and you will also learn about the procedure cache and how to avoid pitfalls there. This is a beginners session but the concepts in this session are a great foundation to begin with. If you are looking for a solid foundation to build on and need the basics to start, this session is definitely for you.

Ben has been a member of the SQL Server Community for over 17 years now.  He is currently Consulting full-time and loving it.  He is a SQL Server MVP and MCM: SQL 2008 and has spent time in the field using SQL Server since 1997. He has worked at various companies throughout the US as well as at Microsoft for 7 years. He is passionate about SQL Server and automation and integration and uses SMO and PowerShell regularly.


SSC Editorial: Is Powershell Intimidating?

Is Powershell intimidating? It’s an interesting question, though perhaps unfair – TSQL can be intimidating when you first start out too. I think we forget that sometimes, that learning something new can be scary, painful (and fun, and exhilarating).

And of course today MS announced Bash is coming to Windows. Choices are good. Choices are confusing!

If SQL Server Runs on Linux What’s Left for April Fools Day and A Journey Journey

It’s still a bit hard to believe that SQL Server will soon run on Linux. If you think back to the early days of SQL 7, 2000, even 2005, who would have bet any money on it ever happening?  It was a topic worthy of an April 1 post back then. Now we’ll have a Linux track at the PASS Summit (and perhaps a virtual chapter called PASS-L, though we already have a passel of virtual chapters)! It does make me wonder if SQL Server on Linux will render Linux “un-cool” so that someone will invent some new platform that doesn’t (yet) support SQL Server. Thinking on that some, Microsoft should just commit to making SQL Server run on every OS and perhaps stop the arms race of competing OS’s.

But, if I were going to write an April 1 post about SQL Server, is the well dry? I think any of these might work:

  • Microsoft sells SQL Server to Dell (who sells it to someone else). Now that its not tied to Windows the SQL dev team could cash in (or out?) – maybe even a spin off IPO!
  • Give us the option to turn off the transaction log, making developers everywhere happier (and dooming most businesses to lose their data eventually)
  • A turbo trace flag that MS only gives to the biggest clients enabling near warp speed. Will the FBI require MS to hand off the trace flag?

April Fools, or just wild predictions? Think hard about the first bullet point above!

I know you’re looking for the gotcha, but I didn’t have any great idea this year so I’ll share a mildly humorous story instead. My almost 12 year old daughter likes music from the 80’s. I’m not sure how that happened, but it means occasionally we can listen to a song we both like and that’s a good thing. It started when I heard her playing a non-Journey version of Don’t Stop Believin’ and suggested she try the original. She liked that, so we searched to what else we could find; Dallas String Quartet – pretty good! One more search brought us to the end of our Journey journey when I found the Red Hot Chilli Pipers (no, not peppers). I’m in awe of the name, but the screeching bagpipes brought an end to that particular bit of bonding with my child (though it remains fun to play it loudly when I pick her up at school).