All posts by Andy Warren

Notes on the August 19, 2014 Pinellas SQL Group Meeting

  • Busy week, should have blogged about it before the event
  • Did a remote presentation on securing credit card data
  • First time using Lync for remote, not hard to use, but not good to try 10 minutes before hand either (my fault)
  • Camera in the room was nice, had a sense of the place at least
  • Ran long, thought I had trimmed enough to be inside an hour
  • Voice quality was ok to so-so over wi-fi, but it worked
  • First time speaking to the group, appreciate the invitation, hope to make it down in person next year

Reviewing the PASS 2015 Budget

I just spent a few minutes reviewing the 2015 PASS budget, things that I noticed:

  • Anticipating a change in revenue of 1.1 million. That seems…optimistic
  • IT spend is now $550k, up $150k over 2014. Probably good, but what are we doing with that? Ah, the budget doesn’t say
  • Chapter spend is reduced $50k, from $141k to $92k. I’d really like to know why
  • Special Projects (which is a catch-all) changed from $64k  to $496k….why?
  • SQLRally Global decreased $42k to $24k for 2015. That doesn’t seem like much, but maybe its not needed
  • BAC numbers for 2015 are basically even. I’d expect growth. Is BAC stalled?
  • Budget shows a deficit of $112k. Not bad on $9 million, but still
  • Management and overhead is $815k. Maybe that’s ok. Wish it was split out
  • SQLSaturday sponsorship decreased to $31,500. Why? Aren’t we growing more events?

It’s not exciting reading, but worth a look, especially if you plan to run for the Board sometime, or care about where the current Board is focusing.

SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 37

I’m continuing to experiment with the messaging. Without A/B testing (and maybe even with, given the small list size) it’s hard to know what works, or doesn’t. If nothing else we’ll poll on it post event. I have some guidelines:

  • Message every Tuesday. If they read them all good, but even if they don’t, it builds rhythm and makes it feel consistent (or so I’d like to think)
  • Make them fairly consistent. Look at the subject list below, I’m making it easy to see which messages are about SQLSaturday Orlando (and to filter them, if needed)
  • Make the subject line useful. I don’t want to send “update #7” or “59 days out”, I want something that informs them and gives them a reason to open it. Steve thinks maybe the subject lines are too long – don’t know? Thoughts?
  • Include the seminar information and the event information in every email
  • Include oPASS/MagicPASS logos in every email
  • Include all paid sponsors in every email
  • Check that it renders ok in Outlook and Gmail

Here are the subject lines we’ve used so far this year with 5 weeks to go (which means 5 more ‘standard’ messages, plus some extras):

  • SQLSaturday 318 Orlando – Full Day Training
  • Registration for SQLSaturday Orlando Is Open – Please Register Today!
  • SQLSaturday Add-On: Spend a Day Learning Monitoring Strategies for SQL Server for only $120
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – The Presentation Schedule Has Been Published! (54 Reasons To Register)
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Presentation Schedule Now Available!
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Sign Up For Our Dimensional Modeling Seminar on September 26th
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Meet The Speakers, Lunch, And The After Party
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Why The Boss Will Say Yes To Paid Training, How To Get Your Own SQLSaturday Polo, and Asking Your Colleagues to Attend With You

And here is last year:

  • 7th Annual SQLSaturday Orlando – Register today!
  • SQLSaturday #232 Orlando – Final Agenda is now LIVE!
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – SpeedPASS and other details
  • SpeedPASS Error
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Sept 11-14th
  • SQLSaturday Orlando – Sept 11th – 14th

Note that that doesn’t include any email sent to the oPASS or MagicPASS list. I think our list this year is somewhat bigger than last year, it’s the distinct list across all SQLSaturday Orlando events. About 2000 on the list this year. The combination of a bigger list and more email I think accounts for the increased sign up so far. The subject line/message is NOT as important as those two things. Note to event marketeers, you can see the messages from previous years AND all other events. Fun to browse for ideas.

We’re at 308 registered. Here’s the chart and notes:

  • Kendal has added a forecast line. We’re either over/under the line and still on track, or about to nose over to our previous year count. We shall see!
  • Leigh Freijo plugged the event at the Pinellas meeting last night – good (and thanks!)
  • I also mentioned our “special event” coming up on October 15th




Just to add a little sauce to things, here is the most recent message (copied as three images, sorry!). Feedback always appreciated.





Being a Volunteer Leader Is Hard

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks, maybe longer. It’s based on the three years I served on the PASS Board, and observations of others who served before during, and after that time. I’m trying to look at behaviors and patterns, not people and personalities, though surely the latter plays a part in how effective a leader and the entire Board can be each year. My definition of success may not match yours, or theirs.

Starting at the beginning, most people run for the Board either to pay it back/forward or to advance their career, or both. Both are fine reasons to run and serving on the Board is a good way to do both. Generalizing, I would say most candidates for the Board have never served on a Board before, or worked in a non-hierarchal environment. Perhaps half of them, or more, have never owned their own business or managed anything beyond a small team. Until recently few had experience “managing” volunteers. Then then get thrown into an environment as junior peers on a team of equals supported by a full time staff that has their own way and reasons for doing things. They sit at a table with 12 really smart peers and realize that there at least 12 ways to look at an issue. It’s a confusing time, trying to figure out the portfolio, the staff, the rules and unwritten policies and the why and why not. I think this may be done a little better than back when I joined in 2009, but probably not much.

If you watch a first time leader, they almost always become over cautious and over involved (and a bunch more things). It’s natural and not wrong. Over time they either figure it out, or fail, while the team tries to survive. I’ll argue it’s easier in the business world with a hierarchy, but it’s still a tremendous learning curve. Plus, in business the worst that can happen is you fired. Not good to be sure, but survivable, and rare. When you join PASS, there’s this idea that seems to get transmitted to new members of “don’t f**k this up”. That’s not bad either. The org has started, prospered, struggled, prospered, no one wants it to die, and certainly not because of a decision you made.

Then there is the non disclosure agreement, which most people find daunting, because they want to play by the rules (as they should), and for PASS, there’s also the idea that ‘only officers can speak’ for PASS. Somehow those two things combine to seriously inhibit public discourse, and then you add to it the complaints and negativity about decisions or lack of decisions. It’s easy to feel trapped, or more than that, to think something along the lines of “I’m a volunteer, I don’t need this ….”. Marketing wants to approve every message and schedule it. HQ doesn’t want you in debates on Twitter or blogs because it might cause more attention to a negative issue. Many new leaders aren’t used to speaking as leaders, aren’t comfortable writing about their ideas, their work, and their decisions. Many leaders – not even the new ones – appreciate the value of sharing what they are working on, they think either “why would anyone care” or more commonly, “I can get something done or write about it”. It’s never “or”, but it’s an easy way to justify not doing it.

Criticism sucks. I don’t like being criticized, probably you don’t either. I try to be fair about criticize when I do it (and I may or may not succeed at that), but many don’t try – they seem something wrong, they complain. That’s one reason that back in 2009 the unwritten rule was that we’d debate a vote, but the voting would just show the #yeas/nays, not who voted, so that no one could be singled out for criticism. We got that changed and I think it’s been good, but it’s certainly been hard on some.

Just like taking any new job, it’s hard to really understand the culture and the work until you arrive. You have to adapt to the culture to get things done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also change the culture as you go. Whether you choose to do so depends on your world view. I tend to be an agent/proponent of change, though never for the sake of change, but every team needs those that look at the road ahead to make sure the ship doesn’t change course too fast.

No one gets it all right, including me. I was thinking about the recent episode about the 24HOP and it reminded me of years ago a discussion about whether PASS “black listed” speakers. I asked, and we didn’t, and that’s what I shared. Looking back, I should have asked “why don’t we?” because surely there are reasons to decide someone needs a year or two on the bench. Rare, but they exist. I protected the organization (by telling the truth as I found it), but I didn’t help the organization grow when it could have. Why/how did I miss that? Some lessons take time.

Most people want to get along with the team. Taking a contrarian or adversarial position is no fun. Do it often enough and you lose your ability to be heard on anything, yet teams need a contrarian voice. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t ask people to switch sides and argue the other point, or appoint someone as the contrarian of the week. Most people aren’t used to sustained conflict and so they go dark, because anything different is painful. It’s human.

I know it’s been a ramble, but here’s the summary. Being a volunteer lead is hard, I get that. But it doesn’t mean you won’t be held accountable. It’s easy to get caught up in discussions of junk and not get anything meaningful done.  Keeping the lights on is job one, but it’s not the only job. Serving the members is what matters. I often tell people that PASS has the one thing that all non-profits/social businesses dream of – a superb fund raiser. Given liquidity, there’s a lot of good that can be done in the world. Are you making the most of it? Or coasting?

The End of The Professional Association Of SQL Server? It Should Be More Than Just An Acronym

I read with a bit of despair this post by Denise McInerney this morning. Going forward, it’s just “PASS”. Somehow we’ve transitioned to being a data organization, which I think means big data, Power Query, Sharepoint, Excel, and everything else.  I always thought the SQL Server community was plenty big enough without needing to expand into other areas, and we’ve always been great about including cross over topics at our events – it’s never been only SQL Server, just primarily SQL Server.

Maybe it’s the smart move and I’m the guy who doesn’t like change (that doesn’t seem like me, but maybe)? Maybe it’s just a name change and nothing more? Or maybe it’s that point that many companies hit where they think they have to change or die (or grow or die).  To me, the BA conference was the start down this slope. It should have been the BI Conference and it should be focused on MS BI, still with allowing some cross over topics. Maybe there is a place in the world for a data organization and I might want to participate in it too, but I go to the Summit and I’m a member of PASS because of the focus.

Maybe it’s just a name change. It will be interesting to look back in two years and see.

Joint oPASS/MagicPASS Meeting Scheduled for October 15, 2014- Featuring Mark Souza In Person!

Big news for us in Orlando! On October 15th Mark Souza, General Manager – Data Platform Group at Microsoft, is going to speak to a joint oPASS/MagicPASS chapter meeting. Just having a joint meeting is a big deal, but having Mark as the speaker – hard to believe! The topic? We’ll share more on that in the next week or so, but I’ll tweak your interest by sharing this; NDA required to attend, no photos/recording! First crack at tickets will go to attendees of the August meetings of MagicPASS and oPASS, followed by those registered for SQLSaturday Orlando.

For those that have been following my marketing posts, this is the surprise I’ve been saving as part of the SQLSaturday Orlando marketing plan. Never know, could be one more remaining!

SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 36

Just checked in on my LinkedIn campaign. This is the one that uses job titles. Not a ton of impressions, but I can live with that at this level of targeting. Going to send this off to the team, we might run this longer given the low weekly spend.

Tomorrow we’ll send out another update to the speakers. Karla put together a nice survey with questions ranging from “are you confirmed” to “are you going to the speaker party” and a bunch more stuff that will help a little on marketing – is this their first time speaking, first time in Orlando, etc. We’ll combine with a request/plead to blog about attending. Most of the speakers will blog/tweet about it at some point, but earlier helps – we can link to it and retweet it. Interesting that our interests are aligned – more attendees is good for as an event, and good for the speakers too.

Tuesday will be our weekly email to the entire list and it’s mostly done. Information heavy this week and more graphics/color too. I’ll post a copy after it goes out. Writing the message is fun, but it is work. Something to keep in mind for marketing, the best/hard to find case would be one person “marketing” and the other focused on the messages/twitter.

My secret plan to boost attendance by decreasing the job rate is still there, but the logistics are a little crazy. We’ve got a “special event” planned for October 15th and I had hoped to delay registration for that one until close to SQLSaturday, but – I need to see the reg count on it to make some decisions, so I can’t wait until 2 weeks out. I had limited options for dates and I still think I can do some good with it. The secret part? Soon all will be revealed!

With not much time left, I’m thinking about where I’m at and I just haven’t made much headway on adding to our existing list. LinkedIn has been minimal. We’re trying to reach people via other channels, but that is indirect list building.



Notes From the August 14, 2014 ONETUG Meeting

  • ONETUG team graciously gave me time at the beginning of the meeting to talk about the upcoming SQLSaturday Orlando
  • Asked them to attend – I think people like to be asked, and we really do want them to attend!
  • Mentioned our paid seminars
  • Asked them to mention the event to colleagues
  • Handed out flyers
  • Teased them that our lunch was better (it is!) than Code Camp, and Brian from ONETUG hit me back with their lunch is free (it is!)
  • Watched 2 different 15 minute presentations, both were interesting, and I like the format, but 15 minutes goes by fast and any AV issue can be a killer. Hope we try it at oPASS/MagicPASS

SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 34

Tuesday we sent our metronomic email of the week. No huge call to action this week. My schedule called for a BI focus and I struggled to write it, so I changed to something I could write! We added in the reminder about oPASS/MagicPASS meetings, trying to reinforce the SQLSaturday <—> Chapter connection. Remember that they won’t read every email we send. As long as the message contains the basics, then we’re waiting/hoping for them to open at least one. More than anything I want every message to have a subject line that conveys a lot of reasons to open the message.




Next we have an update on our new LinkedIN campaign. Took a few days for the ad to be approved and it doesn’t seem to be generating a lot of impressions, but I’m ok with that – it’s targeted at SQL titles, so we may be spending more effectively. We’ll let this run into next week.




Other notes:

  • I’m working on our mystery speaker plan. Slow going due to logistics planning.
  • We’re close to break even on seminars and still tracking ahead of previous years. Next week I think we’ll return to “ask the boss” as the theme
  • We’re discussing selling SQLSaturday Orlando polo’s online for pickup at the event. It would be about a break even effort, but I think worth it to get our brand distributed more widely. Basically no risk if we do it this way, they’ll get added to the speaker shirt order
  • I don’t have an updated graph handy, but we’re at 282 registered, so we’re still tracking ahead of all previous years and if we can hold the trend Kendal is forecasting 456 registered and 350 on site. My goal was 500 way back on April 29th and I’m still focused on that. Excel forecast..bah!