PASS Update #50-January 2010 Board Meeting

This post is my thoughts on the Board meeting, and my views on related topics. I encourage you to read the minutes (not yet published) as the official documentation.

I flew into Dallas around noon on Wed, catching an early flight so I could get to The Joule hotel and spend a quiet few hours doing some prep for the meeting before the scheduled dinner with the Board. Cold when I arrived, maybe 45-50, enough to discourage me from much in the way of exploring beyond the Starbucks around the corner. Got a few things done, caught up on email and did some meeting preparation, and then back to the hotel to put stuff away prior to dinner. The hotel is one of those boutique type hotels, not the standard drywall and concrete, and with the one attribute I appreciate during travel, a great shower. Looking at lists prices it’s not cheap, but we ended up paying $169/night, a little higher than I’d like but in the range of acceptable for business travel.

Dinner was at the Iron Cactus immediately next door, fairly reasonably priced (my fajitas were $15) and where we had the strange experience of the waiter telling Tom LaRock to not to get the meatloaf. Good meal all in all. I spent some good time chatting with new Board members Allen Kinsel and Mark Ginnebaugh, and then Sri Sridharan from the North Dallas SQL Server User Group (NTSSUG)  joined as the end as well.

We spent a good chunk of Thursday looking at our global strategy, thinking about how we will grow and support SQLSaturday and SQLRally so that we can do some early sizing on the FY 2012 budget. Global growth brings complexity. An example is the SQLSaturday site is set up to manage money in dollars. Another is that if we move money across borders there may be tax implications on both sides. The next step is to learn some lessons by doing one or two, with our next step a SQLSaturday in Portugal, and then potentially a SQLRally in Sweden by the end of the year. We’ve also identified what we would like to have in time and resources, HQ will take that back and start looking at how to re-slice our current resource allocation to see if we want to do is possible.

We also talked about site selection for 2013. As I ‘m sure you know we’ve been in Seattle for a while and will be through 2012. Typically we sign contracts for space 2-3 years in advance, it’s the only way to be sure the space will be available within the date range we use for the Summit. Several months ago we built a list of around a dozen candidate cities. HQ has since done some research to help us understand what is available and the rough prices. At this meeting our task was to narrow the list to 3-4 cities. HQ will then send a formal RFP to those and we’ll start into the bake-off that should end with a site and a contract in March/April this year.

The list of cities is something we don’t publish in the minutes, and while we will announce when we sign the contract, we most likely will follow our previous pattern of not announcing the location until the end of the 2012 Summit. The rationale for this is that if people thinking about attending 2012 see that 2013 will be closer or in a more interesting location that they will defer attending for a year. From a pure business perspective maybe that makes sense, but I think it serves our members poorly. I see nothing wrong with letting them know 1-2 years out our plans. If they prefer to wait a year to save on travel, or to travel to a city they would like to visit, that’s good for them and ultimately good for PASS. I think it evens out year over year. More on this in a post later this week.

At 4:45 we started the journey across town to the monthly meeting of NTSSUG at the Microsoft office. Tom LaRock and I rode with Mark Sousa, Mark driving an F-150 he rented (only in Texas, right?), I was the navigator and Tom did the color commentary. We were worried about traffic and being late, but we arrived early and had a chance to mingle with the chapter members. We did a quick introduction of the Board, and then settled in to watch Sean McCown do a very nice hour class (part 1 of 6) on backup and restore strategy. That opening class has become part of their strategy to draw people in and it’s been effective. That was followed by Tom doing his presentation on wait states and queues.

After that we went to Red, Hot, and Blue for some ok barbecue, with a good handful of the chapter members joining us for discussion. It was cold out, had me wishing for home! We finished dinner about 10 pm and I called it a day when we got back to the hotel.

Friday morning we worked on our business plan and a “who we are” document, both are things I expect to see published in the next 30 days. The business plan was something that was largely done a year ago, but it didn’t quite make it out the door. Who we are, you might think, is something we should already know. 2 years ago PASS was the Summit and Chapters, today it’s the Summit, Chapters, Virtual Chapters (though to be fair we had them as SIG’s, but not very successful in my view), 24 Hours of PASS, SQLSaturday, and SQLRally (a work in progress to be fair, but still a big growth item). That’s a lot of change to absorb, and we’ve done it unevenly in places. That’s not unexpected or bad, it just means that we need to step back from growth mode and make sure we’re doing a good job and allocating appropriate time and resources to each area (which could mean adding more, or reducing).

We also need to make sure that you know what we see as our mission and where we’re spending time and money. My view is that we’re on step two of three or four on the path to being a “true” professional association. I don’t say that to dismiss our accomplishments or the work of our staff or volunteers. We’ve grown and matured, perhaps in more ways that we communicate. Yet many wish for PASS to be more. The hard part is that a full shared vision of “more” hasn’t evolved yet. At the heart of it is what we might do for members directly. Right now we have a strategy that is largely indirect – we build events, we facilitate, we connect, but we don’t a lot in the way of things that you can point to and say “my PASS membership means this and from I receive this and this and this”. I like our current strategy, I think it’s realistic, it’s functional, but it’s not sexy, and it’s still hard to explain to what I call the DBA in the back of the room, who says “why should I join?”. We can do more, I think a lot more, but the first step is to consolidate and make sure we do the things we do well. While we’re doing that we can be talking about what that next phase looks like that we might start 12-18 months from now.

On the time and money, Bill Graziano will be publishing more on that soon. We publish our budget, which has both too much and too little detail at times. We want to do more to show you how we apply resources to our various goals, and we want to make very clear what we contribute to things outside the Summit. I’ll write more in the next couple months to dig into what I get for resources for SQLRally and SQLSaturday.

We’ve been working on some revisions to the by-laws for several months and those should be published for review in the next week or so. Some of it is clean up and clarifying, making it very clear on things like term limits. We’ve removed the officer nomination committee which in the past nominated a “slate” that the Board would vote up or down, and instead
it will be direct selection by the Board. We debated extensively moving to one year terms for officers. Not a one year limit, but a one year term. This is something I really believe in, I think it allows our Directors to step into a role and apply max energy. We’ll be publishing them for comment shortly, and I may add additional comments when we do.

Friday night I was lucky enough to have Tim Mitchell and Ryan Adams join me for dinner. Tim and I go back to SQLSaturday #3 and we just didn’t get much time to talk on Thursday, so it was nice to find some time in the week to talk more. Allen Kinsel was there, along with Mark Ginnebaugh and Bill Graziano. I was a spectator for part of it, listening to Bill chat with Tim and Ryan about chapters, and not for the first time wished we all talked more and more often.

Saturday morning I was up at 5 am for the taxi ride to the airport and the morning flight to Orlando, glad to be home.

Two Profiler Tips

I’ve had occasion to watch a lot of people try Profiler, and to hear a lot more about their previous attempts to use it, and they are almost always incredibly frustrated. Why? Simply, the volume of activity combined with the hyper speed scroll just seems overwhelming. People expect tools to make sense in their default configuration and after a couple minutes of mad screen scroll tend to throw up their hands and think “I can’t handle this”. It’s a natural reaction. For those of you who (most of you perhaps) who’ve moved past that point it’s easy to forget what it’s like in the beginning. Thus, the two tips for today!

Tip number one is to reduce the volume by removing events. When you open Profiler and get ready to start, before you hit ‘go’ switch to the Event Selection tab and uncheck the events noted below. You may need them at some point, but for right now you want to get down to just the ‘completed’ events. This will reduce the volume you have to scan by more than 50%.

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Tip number two is to turn off the auto scroll behavior. Just because you’re capturing a hundred lines per second doesn’t mean you have to analyze it at that rate. Stop the auto scroll, then you can scroll leisurely and start to take in what matters, and from there you might progress to filters and other support events. As far as I know there is no way to persist the setting, you have to click it each time.

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Once you get past the initial shock Profiler is fairly easy to use, and a huge help in solving all kinds of problems. Hopefully these two tips help you get there!

A Banner Day for SQLRally

Help us promote our upcoming PASS events by including any or all of these on your blog or in your email signature. Please link them as follows:

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I’m not sure why we don’t have one for SQLSaturday – sending that email to HQ right now.

PASS Update #49–SQLRally

I get a lot of questions about how SQLRally is going, which tells me that there is a lot of interest and that we’re not communicating enough. The hard part is that in some ways there is a lot going on, and in some ways not all that much!

We started SQLRally last July and we’ve worked through identifying our format, pricing, selecting a logo, and getting graphics designed for the web site (you have looked at www.sqlrally.com at least once haven’t you?). We’ve got a marketing flyer done, registration is open, the call for speakers has closed, and our first round of voting on the schedule wrapped up earlier this week and should have been announced by now. We’ve got another three ballots to go, covering the DBA, BI, and Developer tracks. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on that process from speakers who love the idea of a ‘free market’ where they get to compete against their peers in a open way.

As we get closer to having the schedule complete it’s time for us to work more on marketing the event. Our intent has always been to do marketing a lot like we do for SQLSaturday, using social media and mailing lists to reach those that are interested, only trying to do so across a wider geographical area and building brand recognition at the same time. So how are we going to do that? Here are some of the things we’ll be doing:

  • Distributing flyers to events in the South East to help build awareness
  • Asking chapters in the region as well as .Net user groups to send email reminders to their members, to post a link to our flyer, and hopefully in the next week or so we’ll have a banner ad or two for them to use as well.
  • Ask potential speakers to work their blogs and twitter to reach their followers (and try to drive voters to their abstracts too!)
  • Mentions in the PASS Connector
  • Working our local contacts in Orlando, such as asking our staffing friends to send out a reminder to their network

The key is to make sure people know about it. It’s easy to think that a blog post or a tweet or an email is all it takes, but in practice those reach only a small percentage of the audience on any given day. We’ve got to keep repeating the message (hopefully in an interesting fashion) to make sure that those people that would jump at the chance to get two days of training for $299 know about the opportunity. Help us do that by mentioning it to people that you know; tweet, blog, update your LinkedIn profile with a note, make sure it gets mentioned at your next chapter meeting.

HQ is reviewing the logistics plan and that’s uncovered a few glitches, but that’s good, better to figure that stuff out now and not on opening day! We’ve invited the Florida chapter leaders and some key volunteers to join our planning calls, and one area we’re asking for their help in is coming up with ideas and leaders for ‘after hours’ events. We’d like to build the kind of strong social structure we have at the Summit, which takes time and iteration, but no reason to not try to do some creative stuff regardless.

If you’d like to see more the detail, I encourage you to read the minutes. We post minutes of each meeting and while it’s not exciting reading, it’s part of our effort to document how and why we do things, and to operate as transparently as we can.

New PASS Chapter in Orlando–MagicPASS

Kendal Van Dyke is launching a new PASS Chapter called MagicPASS in Orlando this week, with the first meeting on Wednesday January 19, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at Stetson University Center in Celebration. This is part of our effort to reach more people in Orlando, Jack Corbett has moved the monthly OPASS meeting a bit further north to Lake Mary, serving the north side of Orlando, and Kendal will be serving the south side in Celebration. It’s an interesting experiment and we’ll all be doing what we can to make it work.

I’ll have to miss the first meeting due to it being scheduled as the same time as the PASS Board meeting, but I’ll be attending the next three meetings and presenting a three part mini class as a lead-in to the main speaker, more info to come on that.

Notes from SQLSaturday #62

The weekend started with a later afternoon drive to Tampa, returning a couple calls and then chatting with Steve Jones for a while about many things community related. I found a parking place in Ybor City to wait for my family to arrive and knew it was really a SQLSaturday weekend when Mikey Nelson walked up – parking lot in a middle of a city I don’t live in and I see someone I know! Family finally arrived and we walked down to the Green Iguana, great burgers and some not bad live music. Pleasant and slow paced dinner, and then they dropped me off at Spaghetti Warehouse for the speaker dinner carrying a box of SQLRally flyers.

The dinner/party went really well, probably 50 or so speakers, spouses, and volunteers in attendance. Decent seating, 5 long tables with some room to move around. We started about 7:15 and the last of us departed just before 10 pm. Nice relaxing event. I walked the 6 blocks  back to the parking lot and made it to the hotel around 10:45, leaving time to relax a little before calling it a day.

Saturday morning started with a couple eggs and some milk at the hotel breakfast, then on to the KForce Building in Ybor City. Plenty of parking, maybe a bit light on signs, but a steady stream of traffic and it’s not at all a hard location to find. Registration was going smoothly when I go there at 7:30 due in large part to the “speed pass” that many used.  A speed pass is a PDF with a name badge and raffle tickets for the attendee to print at home, so they can just come in and grab a bag without having to wait for someone to find the personalized items. The event team would tear off one raffle ticket as they handed out the bags, giving them an easy way to do a fairly accurate headcount. We’re going to talk about this  more post event, it’s something that may get added to the SQLSaturday tool set.

I spent the first hour chatting with people and, looking in on a few presentations. I did a fill-in presentation at 10 am, doing the one on building a comprehensive professional development plan. It was such a late change that no one knew about it, so I managed to wind up with about 15 people that stayed even though they had been expecting an BI presentation. It went well, some good discussion, and one question I need to ask more is “how many of you want to move into management at some point"?” and the total for this group was zero. Interesting. Maybe even concerning, but something to investigate more.

Lunch was held in the building next door, a good one block walk, but entirely worth while for a lunch of yellow rice, chicken, pork, black beans, and plantains. It was really nice to sit at a table and enjoy the meal, and I have to admit it made me think again about our picnic on the grass in Orlando…I still like the picnic style lunch, but it’s a close call! Very nice lunch.

More networking time after lunch, though at some point it blurs between networking and just talking and typing a few notes here and there. The attendance seems to be over 300, still waiting on a final count as I write this part about 2:30 pm (writing and charging my phone, two for one). The afternoon went smoothly, and I left about 4:15 to spend an hour or so with my family riding the local trolley, and then back to the after party until about 8 pm.

Quietly Professional

The conventional wisdom tends to hold that you should trumpet your accomplishments to your boss, though in a way that seems both graceful and humble, a hard combination to achieve at best. There’s a lot of merit to the approach, because many managers don’t know what you do on a daily basis. At a high level they know that you’re the DBA or the developer or the whatever, but they tend to only hear about things that go wrong or go very well. All the stuff in the middle, well, they expect it to get done.

Different managers require different approaches. Some may appreciate you dropping in for a once a week recap of some of the minor stuff you’ve gotten done and a look towards the next week, others might find a short email useful. Some may find both of those approaches just plain aggravating. I tend to fall into that category myself; I want to hear right away about things going awry, things that need my attention, or something that has caught the attention of someone higher up or external, and save the rest for the annual review (you do keep track, right?).

You might not agree with a manager looking at the world in any of those ways, but you’re stuck with it. Change “manager” to “customer” and it’s a lot easier to understand that they will decide what they consider valuable, and from that you can find ways to satisfy the needs of your customer.

But why wouldn’t they care? Mostly they do, but they tend to judge by reflection. When you solve interesting problems or do a great job at serving customers (internal or external) the people you helped will talk about it, and the manager will hear about it. Think about it. Rather than valuing you based on your evaluation, they look to see how well you’re satisfying customers.

It’s tough to find the right approach, you have to watch for the cues, and realize that even the best managers send out conflicting signals at times, and they have different needs and expectations for different employees. There’s no one technique fits all here. Observe, try to get some feedback on what they want, and then watch for the cues. When in doubt, go light and have the notes for the review.

SSC Editorial: Clouds in our Future

I wrote Clouds in our Future to see if I could spark a good conversation about the mental shift required to consider SQL Azure as one of the options we should consider when decide to host data. I can’t say I succeeded well at that goal! I get that the tools aren’t ready and that’s a metered service, and I get that it’s not a miracle solution, but I sense the same kind of reluctance to consider cloud based hosting as we did virtualization a few years ago. Of course, virtualization has gotten better and we’ve got a lot more experience, and we need that same growth with Azure.

Here’s the thing to think about – at what point does it tip for you? Is it tools? Features? Body of knowledge? At what point does it shift from bleeding edge to not? Are you serving your business or employer well today by ignoring the option as not baked enough?

My note to Microsoft: Azure isn’t going to explode until you get us tools and feature parity, at least the features that make sense in the cloud.

Changes to the PASS Board

The official announcement was posted yesterday that Jeremiah Peschka and Brian Moran have decided to resign from the Board and upon having two vacancies, the Board voted to appoint Geoff Hiten and Mark Ginnebaugh. Geoff and Mark were both candidates for the Board during the 2010 election.

As I understand the process the Board is allowed to appoint anyone that they consider qualified, but the standard practice has been to pick the next runner up from the previous election, provided they are available and willing. I think that works out well, it’s someone that has been vetted and has shown an active interest in joining the Board. That said, I consider it important that the Board has some discretion and there might be times when a different selection would make sense. I was not able to join the Board call and cast my vote in favor, but I did join in the Executive Committee call that discussed the issue and indicated my support there.

I’m sorry to see Jeremiah and Brian leave, and I thank them for their participation during the past year. I’m looking forward to working with Geoff and Mark beginning later this month at the January Board meeting.