SQLRally Pre-Con Selection Process – Draft for Comment

SQLRally Winner

Hopefully you’ve heard by now that PASS is launching a new event format called SQLRally in May 2011 in Orlando. It will be a two day conference, preceded by one day of seminars. Because it’s a new format, we can – if we choose – build a new process for how we pick these seminars. I wrote the draft below after reading some notes about the Summit process and some conversations with Jack Corbett and Kendal Van Dyke, trying to make it more open, more democratic, but still recognizing the fiscal realities of picking seminars. We will be paying these speakers, and in turn attendees will be paying to attend these seminars. That means we may have to exclude some topics that lack broad enough appeal, and that is ultimately a value judgment.

My hope is that we can do this and announce the five seminar speakers at the Summit at the same time we open registration. The reason for that is to generate some buzz around the event, to give potential attendees something to show the boss while we work on the really hard part, selecting the speakers for the conference. That means we’ve got a short timeline if we want to make that goal.

As I write this I’m struck that it’s hard to figure out where to start. Who gets to write this draft? Who approves it? As we’ve modeled SQLRally it’s a partnership between PASS HQ, the Board of Directors, and the local chapter, so I think ultimately it’s fair to have them make the final decision. But we don’t want to make that decision without a discussion with the community, so that brings us to this post today.

I hope you’ll comment on this process, and try to see it not just from one view point. Eventually we’ll settle on something, we’ll try it, and then we’ll revisit it afterwards to make changes for the next time. I don’t expect we’ll get it all right the first time, but it won’t be for lack of trying!

And now, the draft….




Pre-Conference Seminar Proposal

Note: This is a draft. We encourage those interested in submitting a proposal to begin work based on this draft, understanding that there may be changes as we go through the discussion process.


PASS is accepting applications to for three full day (7 hours each) seminars and two half day (3.5 hours each) to be delivered on May 10, 2011 at the Marriott World Center in Orlando. Applications will be reviewed by the selection committee and winners notified not later than October 29, 2010, with the official announcement of accepted seminars being made at the 2010 PASS Summit.


Our biggest goal is to select a set of seminars that will be interesting to a broad set of main conference attendees and that will be perceived as worthy of the additional expense. The second goal is to grow the next generation of seminar speakers for the Summit (Note: being selected for a SQLRally seminar does not imply or guarantee acceptance as a seminar speaker at the Summit).


Presenters must meet the following requirements to be considered:

  • Have not been selected to present a pre/post seminar at the 2010 PASS Summit
  • Be available to present the seminar on May 11, 2011
  • Be available to attend the entire conference on May 12-13, 2011 and deliver a one hour presentation (subject to session acceptance)
  • Meet at least one of the following:
    • Be a current SQL Server MVP
    • Have been selected as a primary or alternate speaker at the 2009 or 2010 PASS Summit or similar sized event
    • Have taught a full day course on SQL Server previously
  • Submit a complete application prior to the deadline by midnight on Sep 30, 2010 (Pacific time)
  • Agree to the confidentiality provisions of this document (not complete)


Presenters will be paid $2000 for presenting a full day seminar, or $1000 for a half day seminar, and will be granted complimentary admission (non-transferrable) to the main conference. Presenters are responsible for their own expenses.

Abstract Review Process

The selection committee will be comprised of one representative from PASS HQ, one representative from the PASS Board of Directors, one representative from the SQLRally partner Chapter, plus three community members. Each abstract will be review to make sure it meets the qualifications listed above, those that do not will be declined and the submitter notified. Eligible abstracts will be scored using the criteria in Appendix A. The top three abstracts in each category will be selected to proceed to the community voting round.

Note: We have not decided on how to choose the three community members. One method would be to randomly select a chapter leader, a previous pre-con speaker, and a community member from a pool of applicants. Too bulky?

Selection Process

PASS HQ will announce the candidate abstracts/presenters by October 7th and open community voting for a period of 2 weeks. The abstract with the most votes in each category will be selected as the winner. Ties will be decided by the Selection Committee.

Winners will be notified by email and required to confirm their final acceptance within 7 days. In the event that any winner cannot be contacted, the Selection Committee may void the selection and pick the abstract from that category with the next highest number of votes.

Abstract Submission

Abstracts must be prepared using the provided form and submitted to PASS HQ not later than midnight on Sep 30, 2010 (Pacific time). Candidates may only submit one abstract for consideration. Candidates who submit multiple abstracts will be disqualified. Candidates are encourage to put as much detail in to the application as possible, it both aids the Selection Committee and provides a strong basis for building the advertising material that will be used to market it if accepted.


It is our intention to stick as closely as possible to this document for the selection process, but this document does not cover every eventuality. In the event that the Event Team decides to deviate from the process outlined above, they will explain at the time the winners are announced why the change was necessary.

Appendix A – Seminar Scoring

NOTE: Huge gap here, looking for help!

1. Speaking qualifications

2. Community name recognition

3. Overall quality of application

4. Broad Community Interest in Topic?

5. Community Participation



Appendix B – Seminar Application Form

Part 1 – Presenter Data

1. Full Name

2. Mailing Address

3. Email Address

4. Primary Phone

5. LinkedIn URL

6. Twitter Handle

7. Blog URL

8. Biography (300 words max)

9. Is MVP

10. Is MS Employee

11. Basis for qualification

    1. Current MVP
    2. Past Summit presenter
    3. Teaching experience

12. Details of presenting experience (list event/topic/paid or free)

13. Links to video demonstrating presentation skills (minimum 1 required)

14. Details of community participation not listed in item #12 above

15. References

Part 2 – Abstract

1. Title

2. Length

a. Full Day

b. Half Day

3. Summary (300 words)

4. Suggested pre-requisite knowledge, if any

5. Skill Level

a. Beg

b. Intermediate

c. Expert

6. Category

a. BI

b. DBA

c. Developer

d. Misc

7. List 5 skills that attendees will take home

8. Seminar outline

a. Broken down into one hour modules

b. List high level discussion points

c. List planned demos

Positioning SQLRally in the PASS Event Universe

Prior to creating SQLRally the world of PASS consisted of the PASS Summit which is our annual mega-event, the European Summit, SQLSaturday, chapter meetings, and the occasional launch event. With all that going on, did we need another brand? What market void does it fill? And how is it different from our other events? I think those are interesting questions on their own, but if you happen to be interested in business they are even more so – you’ll face the same kind of decisions at some point.

Let’s start with the branding question. We debated having an ‘east coast’ Summit, a Summit Lite, and even a SuperSQLSaturday. There might come a time when we need to conduct more than one true Summit in a year, but for now we really want to keep it as the top of the pyramid, have it remain the event to attend if you’re a SQLServer professional. We worried that a ‘lite’ version would dilute our most powerful brand, so we crossed that off as well. Leveraging our SQLSaturday brand was certainly interesting and we even called it SuperSQLSaturday a bit entirely to help us focus on the mission statement, but ultimately the brand didn’t work; this was going to be a ‘for pay’ event and we it’s very important that we preserve SQLSaturday as free.

The market void was obvious and loudly heard by the Board, we needed to take better care of our East coast members and until we can move the Summit, we needed an interim solution. Reactionary? Maybe, but sometimes it’s good to react to customer wishes, and we didn’t make the decision based solely on that. We needed an event format we could take to other countries that don’t yet have the critical mass for a Summit of their own. We also needed to build a progression for speakers – what I call a farm club.

We knew we needed a new brand and logo, but what we really needed was the vision, the understanding of what this event would look like, how it would be different, how it would be the same, and more. A lot of what we talked through in the process of building that vision was understanding the differentiators. Look at some of these, and then we’ll come back to the vision again:

  Summit SQLRally SQLSaturday
Attendance +3000 Max 600 Avg of 250
Price $995 – $1995 $299 Free
Duration 3 Days 2 Days 1 Day
Sessions/Tracks 160+ 40-48 12-50
Keynote Yes No Sometimes
Exhibit Hall Yes No No
Organizers HQ HQ/Local Chapter Local leaders
Meals Seated buffett Boxed lunch Pizza/Box Lunch

Hopefully as you look at that you’ll see that SQLRally is positioned in the middle, maybe just a bit closer to SQLSaturday than the Summit depending on where you focus. There are other differences, for example we won’t be recording sessions at SQLRally. SQLRally will be slower paced than the Summit, less formal.

Over the long term we expect that location will always matter, traveling a short distance will always be attractive in terms of time and money. But location isn’t everything. We’re also betting that SQLSaturday will drive people to attend SQLRally, especially if they have to fund it themselves, or if the boss still isn’t sure about the value of flying them to the Summit. We also think that people will have a great time at the SQLRally and part of that will be absorbing the sense of ‘if you think this is fun, wait until you go to the Summit!’.

To me, SQLRally fills an obvious gap in a lot of ways. It’s also important to see that this is a big part of what PASS does for the community; it finds ways to bring together smart and passionate people and then tries to stay out of the way while good things happen. Of course there are a lot of details still to go, and we’ll try to share a lot of them with you between now and May 2011.

Upcoming PASS Performance Virtual Chapter Presentation

I’ll be doing an introductory level presentation on statistics for the Performance VC on September 7th, details and the LiveMeeting URL at http://performance.sqlpass.org/). For those of you who have been tuning for a while you’re not likely to learn a lot of new stuff, really focused on those new to the concepts and showing them where stats plugs in. Still, hope you’ll attend and ask a few questions, it’s practice for doing the same presentation at the Summit. I’ve done this one a good half dozen times already, still experimenting, still learning what is most important, what is worth showing.

PASS Update #42

Our most recent board meeting was in Nashville on Aug 19, 20. We had originally discussed meeting in Seattle/Redmond/Vancouver, but by the time we scheduled the August meeting a few of us had already committed to attending the SQLSaturday in Nashville, so it just made sense to have it there. I think that worked out well, and hope that we’ll try to do this more often. It’s a chance for Board members to mix more with the community, and for those of us that attend these events often, it’s nice to have one trip instead of two.

The minutes will be published in the next few days, so I’m just going to share notes on stuff I found of particular interest and/or had added to the agenda.

The first area was marketing for the SQLRally (coming to Orlando in May 2011). Right now we essentially have a 12 month marketing cycle for the Summit, and the concern has been that marketing the SQLRally takes away from the Summit. It’s a fair concern in many ways, but if we’re going to run multiple events per year (in whatever format), then we have to figure out how to do overlapping messages in an effective way – effective in making sure everyone gets news on both, but we don’t just send them twice as much email. Much of the marketing for the SQLRally will be grass roots and hopefully less intrusive. The net was the Board supports doing what we need to do to make our first SQLRally successful.

Next was transparency and I’m going to paste my raw notes at the end of this post, and you’ll notice I don’t have all the answers. Still, I felt like it was a good discussion and good support for taking the next step of moving much of our internal monthly reporting to posts on the PASS blog. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I’m thrilled at the progress we’ve made, the conversations about transparency are now about how to do it and not about whether to do it.

On Friday we spent a lot of time brain storming where we want to be in five years. I’ve had people over the years tell me a five year plan is just dreaming – and they are right. That’s exactly the point. When you look at what you want to do in a year, or during your elected term, those define things in a way that make you look at what you know you can do, you want to finish things, you know you have finite resources. A five year plan is a chance to ignore constraints and focus on vision. We ended up talking about two areas; global development and Summit improvements.

For global development, we have more questions than answers, and that’s a result of having a Board that is largely North American. If we want to do more in —insert country of choice here—, what can we do to help, and what should the governance model? I’m condensing a long and interesting conversation to about a line, but the net was right now, without understanding all the details, we think that each country or region probably needs to be their own entity, setting their own agenda, managing their own funds. The other part is we have to figure out how to make all that work together. Should we give country X as seat on our main board? Should PASS global get a seat on country/region boards? How do we make sure we work together yet still allow self direction?

The other part was how to make the Summit better. One big part of that talk was that bigger doesn’t necessarily equate to better. Anyone that has been to TechEd and walked half a mile to get to the next session knows that at some point the technical value remains, but the social/networking value seems to drop. We talked a lot about networking, we really see it as one of the big ways we can make a difference, and we listed a lot of ideas we’re going to investigate more. Some of that is tactical, but the real value was trying to understand what a really big 5 year win would be. If it’s not something concrete like doubling attendance, what is the goal? No final answers on that either.

That kind of work is hard, maybe the hardest. You don’t get to finish the topic with a firm sense of ‘did something’, there is no deliverable to show off, but it’s the way that a shared vision evolves, everyone tugging and pushing on a problem until a shared understanding results, even if the result in realizing there are a lot more questions to ask.

Finally, as you might expect, the recent election slate announcement was often a topic of conversation. I mention that not to restart that debate, just to tell you that we did discuss it, often in heated fashion. Mostly healthy debate, but it did add strain, and at least for me, was both tiring and a source of frustration. It was a hard conversation at best.


Transparency Notes
-We’ve made progress on our minutes, but if you just read the minutes, that shares very little of the work that is ongoing and the thought behind the decisions.
-Goal is to not to be 100% transparent, but rather in general to be translucent, fully transparent in some areas, opaque in some, and in between on most
–Builds trust in the community, they have to believe we are working in their interest, very few secrets
–Shows we trust them enough to share thoughts, take the risk that they may not agree
–It showcases what we do, all of us. How can we be an organization about community if we can’t share what we do?
–It showcases us, it’s really the way that we ‘get credit’ for the work we do
–It’s a chance to get feedback outside the core group, reducing the risk of group-think, and shows that we are interested in getting opinions
–Risk that we publish something that is "secret". We learn to manage that by tagging things as NDA, and understanding that we have few real secrets – salaries, launch dates for partner products come to mind as real secrets.
–Risk that info/opinions is incorrect or heavily biased, and contrary to "official" views of PASS
–Risk that community will sharply disagree with a decision, or even a few vocal members, and that could escalate
–Not all our volunteers are comfortable sharing, writing, making the decision about what is ok to share
-_BOD has to believe in this for it to work
-We have to make decisions that are right for PASS, but also sensitive to perception. It IS politics

–How to move forward
–PASS blog is primary method for sharing our activities
–Ever Board member writes a monthly update (or more frequently) for posting to the PASS blog. Any NDA items will be forwarded to the Board separately. I propose eliminating the PDF monthly report and only maintaining the blog report. We time these to release at staggered points. Absolutely ok to cross post to their own blog. Clarify what can be published as a board member vs a ‘plain old member’.
–We also require that HQ staff (maybe a subset?) post on their activities monthly
–We build a short document that explains our info policy to volunteers, something in the range of 1-2 pages. They also post to their own blog at any time, also send to us and we’ll post if we thinka appropriate.
–We need to teach our volunteers to write (including BOD) and to understand that even if they don’t think it’s interesting, just showing that volunteers are working benefits both them and the organization. We will have some that cannot write, so we need some ghost writers to make sure that their work is captured
–We need a process for dealing with ‘bad’ posts/conversations. This means we have to teach how to avoid being defensive, how to end a conversation, how to find the good in even the worst exchange. also making sure that BOD monitors.
–Open discussion at Summit as last year, also encourage all board members to hold a discussion at any SQLSat or chapter meeting if attending (have to ask leaders for a slot/space)
–Make sure our event l
eaders are publishing summaries, lessons learned, and get that on the PASS blog too.
–Tag posts as "official", "BOD", "cross post" —-but who can post? Do we link/discuss negative items?
–volunteer profiles, could probably do one bi-weekly?

How do we measure success?
–Survey of trust/openness
–# of comments on posts?
–Name recognition/task recognition
–# of blog posts
–Score each volunteer on #posts???

SSC Editorial – What Superhero Would You Be?

This was written for something fun on a Friday, but it’s still interesting for coffee talk anytime – what superhero would you be if you could? Saw a few votes for Batman, a couple for the Flash, and a few more unusual ones – read the comments on the original post, good stuff!

I think as much as I might wish for super powers, I also know that the ‘great responsibility’ thing would be hard, maybe too hard. Being fast or strong won’t let you solve the hardest problems, the ones that are about people and their dreams and perceptions.

Furniture Grade PVC – What Will You Make?

Ran across this in my weekly browsing, Formufit sells furniture grade PVC. I think I’m not quite clear on the difference between that and regular PVC pipe yet, but what I do see in their catalog is a lot of nice pieces you won’t find at Lowes – a cap for mounting a caster to for example. I’m adding this to my things to do for fun list. Might also be interesting for team building, give a team a $100 and a goal, or just $100 worth of parts and some glue, see what they can come up with. Nice part about PVC is it’s just so easy to work with.

Default to Yes

There are a lot of times when the decision matters less than who makes it. A common if simplified example is a code review; whoever ‘wins’ the review gets to feel some ownership, and all too often the win is style rather than substance. I see it in managers a lot, they want to do it their way even when it just doesn’t affect any important outcome.

Out of those and more I’ve evolved a philosophy based on that. If we each have an approach that will work, but you are the one doing the work, I’m going to let you do it your way. It’s part pragmatic because you know how to do it the way you propose, and it’s part cynical, if it fails it’s something you were totally vested in. In practice it shows people you trust them.

Here’s a more recent example. Joe Webb asked if they could create a custom logo for SQLSaturday #51. I’m a huge advocate of good branding, and for SQLSaturday the logo is definitely part of it, so my first impulse was to say no – just stick with consistency and use the normal logo.  But I thought about it a bit more because I truly hate to say no. Why not try it once? Let them try it and see what we think. So what we wound up with is the official logo on the site, and the unofficial but approved logo that they used on their shirts. We haven’t reached a final decision on the future yet, does it make sense to open this up for all events? Does it make sense to make the rule that they can’t? Don’t know yet, and will be a good conversation at the Summit this year.

Try watching the decisions at work that really are a toss up and managers handle them. Try it yourself when you get a chance. It’s not always easy to let go, but it’s rarely failed me, and even when it did, I felt good knowing I let them own the process.

Book Review: The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Engimatic Agency

I picked up The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Engimatic Agency $13 @ Amazon) from the library, had been hoping to find In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. Interesting read in some places, a little slow in others, but it seems to be good overview of the history of the agency. The author takes the Secret Service to task a couple times for being behind the times in terms of their ability to evolve to met new threats. I think some of that fair and hard to argue with, but probably not as simple as that either.

I found a couple things interesting. One was some discussion of how Americans want their President to behave, basically they expect to see the big dog out and about and within hand shake distance at times even though it represents some level of risk. Another is imagine a job where you have to accept that a certain number of people would kill you if given the chance. Do you block it out? Seems hard to do so when you travel with that kind of security contingent.

But maybe the most interesting is to consider how do you keep an agency and team of protectors…searching for right word here, not motivated/committed, how about satisfied? How do you attract and retain people for a job with just about zero recognition, the very mission is to stay in the background, a job when the very people you guard often resent your presence and often make things hard for you because of political concerns? It’s hard enough at a plain old business, and that doesn’t have anywhere near the level of stress.a

Audio Proofreading & Writing Quality

Funny how if take time for longer conversations, ones that ramble, you often learn interesting things that you just wouldn’t learn any other way. My friend Don was in town for SQLSaturday #40 a few weeks back and we were talking about blogging. An interesting conversation because Don is a professional writer (professional = get’s paid for doing it), and so for him, the idea of casual writing is tough, he’s various conscious that if doesn’t write well (thought, spelling, grammar) even on a blog, that might translate to people assuming that his books are not well crafted either.

As we talked Don always reviews his work methodically, then has someone else do it, and then it goes to a real editor for review and further work. I asked how he manages his own reviews, since for me there is nothing harder than proof reading my own work. The answer was speech to text, he said he often caught things by listening that he didn’t think he would have found reading. Not just spelling or grammar, but the overall flow of the writing as well.

Interesting. I’ve ignored the voice features of Windows for, well, forever. As much as I’d love to be able to say in my best Picard voice “computer: playback current draft using voice of James Earl Jones”, it’s never been worth – to me – the pain of dealing with it. Time to revisit.

Don uses Final Draft ($249), a product that seems to focus on screen writing but serves his needs. I didn’t give it a try, figured I’d focus on things I already owned.

Final Draft

I started by searching the Windows help and that took me to Narrator (Programs | Accessories | Ease of Access) and running it (see next two images). Clunky. Voice is not great but understandable, had a hard time getting it to read text in an Office 2010 doc, worked a lot better when I pasted to Notepad. There are other voices in something called a SAPI5 format, here’s a link if you want to try some http://www.bytecool.com/voices.htm. I suspect a different voice doesn’t fix the clunky reading.





Next I looked in Office 2010 for a speech to text option, and finally found how step by step instructions. The short story is that you have to add the command to the toolbar (or ribbon) first, then you just click but speech button to start/stop play. Same voice, same API I’m guessing, worked smoother (but maybe that was just me).





Maybe a better product than Windows/Office would make it more interesting. I found Natural Reader with a quick search and they let you do a playback test of text you provide right on the web site. They have a free version, one for $49, one for $99. The $99 version lets you export to MP3, so I could see it might be interesting to drop it on a portable player or phone and do the review while commuting (though then you need a way to make notes about problems).

I’m not a convert yet, at least not for blog posts!