Tag Archives: PASS

A Few More Thoughts on Summit Session Selection & Growing Speakers

Last week ended up better than expected when PASS decided to release feedback to speakers (selected or not) who requested it. I imagine many did and the feedback on the feedback was surprisingly good – and that is good. That’s a good step and I hope it will be become standard to deliver that feedback to anyone who submits a session. The next step is to provide the same level of feedback on the speaker evaluation. Right now we don’t know what matters or doesn’t, and there is no reason for that. If people can work hard and improve their standing, that’s never going to be bad for PASS except in one way – it will make the final choice of the sessions for the schedule even harder!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read How Conference Organizers Pick Sessions by Brent Ozar, a great write up. Building a schedule worthy of a Summit size/cost event is non-trivial.

I also wonder if there hasn’t been an interesting dynamic in past years where those that (arguably) wanted/needed feedback the most were the ones not selected, and those are the people (like me, last year) who are apt to not make much of a fuss.

I hope the program review committee will include some outside voices, and that it will start soon, and that it will do transparently. We need to see the discussion and the challenges.

Changing focus to growing speakers, Chapters and SQLSaturday (and maybe 24HOP) are the farm club that feeds the Summit, and I think do so in grand fashion, but neither have anything close to the demands/process that go into the Summit selection. We (me) had hoped that SQLRally would be the piece that plugged that gap. With the abandoning of SQLRally in the US I haven’t seen much in the way of thinking about whether the problem remains or a way to fix it. I think it does, and I still think “regional” events are the key, something that is more selective than our Chapter/SQLSaturday events, but not as selective as the Summit. Or maybe exactly as selective as the Summit, but with the same idea we had for SQLRally, largely exclude any previous year Summit speaker so that “new” speakers can get a chance to grow.

I’d like to see regional events, but I don’t know that PASS (the Board) has the passion for them, so how else can we do it? Trained evaluators are one way, and we’ve seen the beginnings of that with well known people in the community offering to review abstracts. We could charter a program to train people to do abstract and presentation evaluations in a detailed way (somewhere back in the archives I have a 60 point eval sheet I suggested at one point) and as many (if not all) would be speakers, they could do one here and there as they attend events if someone has requested (and is ready for) an in-person evaluation. Maybe there is an opportunity to do some regional classes where experienced speakers attend for a day or two for instruction and then evaluation by the instructor – I’d have PASS pay the instructor and the overhead, make it free for qualified attendees. That’s something we could easily trial at the Summit. I think how great it would be to have the discussion about what we’d teach. Maybe it can be done online. Maybe there are other ways?

We’ve addressed the quantity problem of speakers, though I think we have to continue our efforts to find more people to step to the front of the room. What we need now is a deeper focus on quality. That would not just lift the Summit, but all the events that tree up to it.

I was just thinking that we hold meetings each year at the Summit for Chapter Leaders as a place to hear and share ideas, and we do the same for SQLSaturday leaders. Why don’t we have something for the speakers? Is it a different dynamic, or a so far missed opportunity? In the early days of SQLSaturday we knew that to grow we had to find that one person in each city that would take on the huge task of putting an event together, but we also saw that the entire success of the eco-system was based on speakers. That’s something I’m reminded of every time speakers sign up for SQLSaturday Orlando and fly in from some other city to attend. I wonder if that lesson hasn’t been lost a bit at the Board level, and I’d suggest that maybe it’s time to have a portfolio that focuses on growth of speakers.

I’m not arguing for doing more for the sake of doing more. There are ways here we can serve our members, directly and indirectly, just be putting some more effort into the growth and education of our speakers.

The Selection Process

According to this post from Amy Lewis (PASS Board of Directors) there were 943 abstracts submitted for the 2014 PASS Summit by 335 speakers competing for 144 slots on the schedule. An abundance of riches to be sure, but it also marks a time of expectation, exultation, disappointment, and even disenchantment as some win (get selected) and some lose (not selected). Those not selected are certainly not “losers”, but there is a sense of having failed in some way. Last year was the first year I wasn’t selected since I submitted my first abstract for the Denver event back in 2000 (I think) and I hated being “left out”. It’s not as easy to accept, or understand, if it’s your first time submitting, or if you’ve never been selected, because the feedback is minimalistic. Track full, or duplicate session, that’s all you get. There is also a tendency to wonder if sponsor reps get special treatment, or Board members, or people on some secret “A” list. Given the lack of feedback, I don’t blame anyone – everyone – for wishing there was more feedback and more transparency.

Before I get into my thoughts on the Summit selection, I’d like to talk about SQLSaturday selection. Here in Orlando we have what hardly anyone would call a process, just some guidelines. We prefer local speakers and work hard to get them, we try not to turn anyone down (which is why we typically run 8 tracks, and we love the value and diversity of speakers that fly across the country to donate their time to our community. We do what we can to help them be successful. We ask them to be servant leaders and volunteers by serving lunch to our attendees each year (while wearing a SQLSaturday chef hat or apron of course!). We’re so lucky that we don’t have to send out “rejection letters”, at least so far. If we get in a jam Kendal or Rodney or Bradley or Shawn or myself will give up a slot to make it all work out. We build our schedule trying to get that magical and mythical mix of skill level and topic and approach, choosing one of the 2 or 3 abstracts that most speakers submit, unless they stated a preference for one of them. Even with the given of putting everyone on the schedule, building a good schedule is hard! We sweat over it, and that’s with 50 or 60 abstracts. Imagine having 943. We also try to do one or two paid seminars each year. We’ve talked about building a process for that, but it’s still just guidelines, and mostly unpublished. We’re looking for a topic that will draw enough attendees to cover the costs and send the speaker home with a little cash, we want a speaker that we really think can deliver on the promise of the abstract. We don’t always take the “best” speaker or abstract. We like the idea of helping others grow and get ready for a Summit seminar some day. We will sometimes pick a speaker/topic and then ask for tweaks to the title and/or abstract that we need are needed to help us market it effectively. Entirely analog, not something where we score sessions and speakers, though sometimes I think we’d benefit from doing so, just to help us think it through a little better.

Now let’s return to the Summit selection process.

What’s the best way to build a schedule for a top-of-the-pyramid paid event? Is it the detailed and heavy scoring and weighting process we seem to have now? An all out election by the people as advocated by my friend Brian Kelley? A combination of both (we used to have “community picks”, what happened to that?)? Beyond that, should there be any other rules? The current plan limits speakers to no more than four abstracts for the main conference. Should we consider (as I have argued for a few times) a rule that requires speakers to sit out a year after being selected? A rule to limit speakers to a max of one session?

Good questions I think. Looking at it a different way, what would I want to achieve?

  • A schedule that has top tier presenters on it, both for the value of what they deliver and for the marketing value of having them participate
  • A schedule that has something for different skill levels and interests, ideally with two tracks per “major” focus area so that not only is there content, there is always a great “plan b” if the first pick room is filled to capacity, or just not a perfect fit
  • A process for building the schedule that is as clear and as consistent as I can make it, explained before the abstracts are submitted (which is also the time to specify any topics of special interest or disinterest each year)
  • A process for penalizing speakers who fail to show, or get really bad ratings, or break the speaker agreement in some way
  • A process for providing some kind of feedback about why their session was, or wasn’t, accepted
  • A process that volunteers can take and own and execute, without fear of the backlash on the day the schedule is announced
  • A process that allows for analogy input because we’ll never have a perfect formula
  • A process for dealing with grievances (from the committee, or the speakers)
  • A process that considered the speaking experience (including evaluations and recommendations) from other PASS events
  • A process that considered previous/estimated interest in the topic
  • A process that speakers understood, perceived as fair, and that gave everyone a chance at making it to the show (but not necessarily an equal chance)

You might not agree with all of those and I probably missed a few too. I think about what I’d want for a paid event, in particular one that is the only fund raiser I have, and I don’t think I could bet it all on an election. Maybe that’s wrong, but I think there is real value in a team looking at options and making hard decisions about what gets on the schedule. I do think we should return to having some of the sessions be selected by the community, it’s a great way to make sure new voices get heard, to correct minor flaws in that years process, and to engage the speakers/community in a lively and interesting way.

The problem is today that we don’t really understand the process. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it’s really good and we just don’t see it. It seems to consist of two parallel threads, where one team does a blind evaluation of the abstract and another team evaluates the speakers. Do typos matter? Does length of abstract matter? What goes into evaluating a speaker? How are conflicts resolved when two people submit abstracts in the same niche? Can someone at the manager level override the scoring and mandate someone be put on the schedule? Is there some process for removing people that are anti-PASS? Do former Board members get preferential treatment? Do current Board members?  Sponsors? Publishing details of the process and the results of the process would go a long way towards stamping out any bit of distrust in the process. Of course transparency can also provoke a lot of arguments and maybe hurt some feelings too, and that’s worthy of consideration. Would you want the whole world to see your abstract rejected as “numerous typos, bad grammar, no focus” or you being rejected as “previous bad conduct” or “consistent low eval scores”?

Speaking of transparency, this is what we used to post – why don’t we do that now?








It’s easy to forget that our process is run by volunteers. Amy Lewis is on the PASS Board and is a volunteer, and she was helped by Melissa Coates and Lance Harra as Program Managers. They may not have arrived at the perfect answer, but I don’t doubt for a moment that they labored hard to follow their process and deliver sessions that would be worthy of the Summit. Much as in my comments earlier today about members of the Board being eligible (or not) to give paid seminars, I’d like to see us have a process where a volunteer can do the work we ask and not have to take any flack about the results, at least on a high level. We can’t keep doing it the way we are without a lot of volunteers, no one wants to volunteer just to be yelled at, or to have someone imply they somehow played favorites. We don’t do a very good job of celebrating their efforts, something else we should work on.

While I’m writing, I also want to mention that when I was on the Board I don’t think we ever talked about the selection process as far as who was or wasn’t speaking. Allen Kinsel was working on tools and we had an idea it was going on, but I’m sure we never as a group were involved in any decision about selecting or not selecting anyone. I think that’s good, but I also remember feeling strangely distant from that process, and really the running of the Summit as a whole.

I don’t think the current process is bad, but I think we can do better. Here are the changes I’d like to see discussed this year for implementation next year:

  • PASS to publish a video and documentation about the entire process as part of the call for speakers launch. Let’s make sure we all understand the rules, and let’s leverage those speakers in the community that have spent a lot of effort figuring out how to write great abstracts and get great scores and deliver great presentations.
  • Commit to providing every speaker/abstract with feedback privately, with the speaker having the option to share it publicly (a step towards full transparency)
  • Limit speakers to one session (max opportunities)
  • Require x percent first time Summit speakers each year, provided there are enough candidates to hit that goal and they can document speaking experience (I like the idea of anyone new to the Summit requiring 2 references from other speakers)
  • Limit speakers to presenting every other year
  • Re-establish the community vote for some x percent of the available sessions
  • Limit speakers to submitting two abstracts. That would reduce the volume and increase the time spent on abstracts. I think just this one change could be huge in making things better)
  • Require every presentation to have been presented before it is submitted. No more presentations on spec.
  • Someone qualified and authorized to answer questions directly on the day/week the schedule is released, same day answers as much as possible
  • Annual review and suggestions provided back to the Board, with the Board voting each year whether an independent committee is needed to assess changes or not (go/no-go)

I’d like to see similar rules put in place for seminars, but that probably requires extra care on all sides. I’d like to see 100% turnover in that space each year. Because money is involved, it gets complicated.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I think we try hard to do good and mostly we do. I’m extra sensitive to the needs of the person trying to make it to the schedule for the first time. Let’s help them, even if they end up beating us at our game later on. Let’s try to see both (all sides) and do the things that both build and support trust of the way we do this. We’ll still have some that are excited and some that are disappointed each year, but we can do it in a way that encourages those that didn’t quite make it in to redouble their efforts the next year, and in a way that reminds anyone that made it in already that it’s not a lifetime appointment, we have to re-earn that seat every time. Comment on my ideas, or publish your own. Let’s share ideas and see if we can drive some good changes into the system for next year.

Above Reproach

It’s been a busy few weeks in the world of PASS, lots of good conversations that I’ve followed with interest, in particular this post by Kendal Van Dyke, then follow up posts from Bradley Ball and Andy Leonard, as well as others that were more focused on the overall selection process. Today I’d like to add my thoughts on just one part of those conversations, whether it’s appropriate for a board member to present a seminar (“Pre con”) at the PASS Summit and whether there should also be a restriction on employees of a board member presenting seminars. I’m approaching this as a general discussion, but clearly it’s based on events of this year, with PASS VP Adam Jorgensen (and Pragmatic Works President) presenting a seminar (with co-presenter and PW colleague John Welch) on Monday, then two more by other Pragmatic staffers on Tuesday (Brian Knight, Devin Knight, Bradley Ball, Robert Cain, Jason Strate). I know all  of them, most of them really well, and they are, without exception, good people. Robert is a good friend, John is one of the great minds in our business on the BI/software side, I’ve known Brad since he moved to Florida and we’re both on the SQLSaturday Orlando event team, Devin is great to work with, and I was business partners with Brian for about 10 years. I also served on the PASS Board. That makes this discussion personal, yet it is about business. The trick, if I can manage it, is to talk about issues as I see them and point out some ways we might improve the process without damaging relationships. I suppose I could just not add my voice to the conversation and take no risk, certainly it’s something I’ve thought on, but in the end I choose to have a voice in the community I’ve helped to build.

So, with that long introduction, let’s get started. Here’s what the by-laws say:




The short story is that it’s permissible for a Director to be paid for presenting a seminar with a majority vote of the Board. I’ve read the minutes and so far do not find such a vote, it could have been in the  June meeting for which minutes are not available yet. Assuming that the vote was held and passed, then the by-laws have been upheld. [Related, I was pleased to see a reference in the April 2014 minutes where the Board discussed and voted on Tim Ford participating in SQLConnections, addressing what could be seen as a conflict of interest – that’s good diligence]. If there wasn’t a recorded vote, then we have a problem. Fixable with a vote certainly, but it would cast yet more doubt on the process.

While we’re looking at the by-laws, the only other part that is worth looking at for this issue is this part about employment restrictions, something I voted for when I was on the Board, put in place to guarantee that no company can “take over” the Board or exert an unfair amount of influence. That’s not an issue, right now there are two from Pragmatic on the Board; Adam and Wendy Pastrick. Nothing here to restrict participation of employees of Board members in any way.




I couldn’t find a copy of any guidance to the Program Committee (the group of volunteers that evaluates abstracts and speakers) to see if there were more rules there, and I also couldn’t find the most recent ‘speaker agreement’ that speakers sign when submitting a session to see if there was anything there that might be pertinent. I think most of the latter is about behavior, not any exclusionary criteria for selection. Amy Lewis did post some notes here on the process, but it’s very high level.

Assuming the vote was held, then no rules have been broken. That’s a good start.

Then we get into the details. Are the rules we have ‘good enough’? For general situations involving payment to a Board member I think they are, and I’m not in favor of a by-law change. I do think though that board members have a duty to be seen as being above reproach when it comes to conflicts of interests, and the best way to resolve that is to add some guidance to the program committee (which should be shared with Board candidates) that eliminates Board members from eligibility for any paid pre/post seminar that falls under their charter. I think this protects the Board member and it makes clear to the committee what the rules of the game are, giving them both “political cover” and avoiding the very human temptation to support a fellow volunteer.  The other comment that I have on this is that Mon/Tues of the Summit are busy and valuable days for a Board member, too busy to spend out of touch presenting a seminar – especially for officers. The only downside I see to this is that someone might choose to not run for the Board because of the restriction. Certainly their choice to make, but not one that harms PASS (or them).

Going just a step further, what about main program sessions? There are no current restrictions on Board member participation and I think that’s right. We can’t ask people to run for the Board to give up the very thing that got many of them to the Board in the first place. I think with better transparency of the selection process no additional rules are needed here.

So let’s move on to the question of whether a company that has an employee on the Board should incur restrictions on the participation levels of other employees? Even if we put in place the rule above to exclude Board members from doing paid presentations, they could still be perceived as having lobbied/exerted force to get their people on the schedule. This is really, really tough. Over the years Solid Quality has been in this boat, Scalability Experts, and now Pragmatic. All were successful and hired smart, talented people. Would it hurt their business if they were entirely prohibited from paid seminars at the Summit? I think it could well impact their ability to hire and retain the best. Or, imagine the reverse, a working consultant joins the Board and now the owner of that company finds restrictions being placed on them – do they still support/employ the consultant?

What options do we have? We can rely on process with greater transparency, we can put some kind of rule in place that limits participation by company, or perhaps find yet another option.

For general sessions I think process/transparency is sufficient, but seminars are about money, in some cases a pretty good sized chunk of money, and that means we have to be extra careful. For that reason I think we need to put a hard cap in place and limit any company from having more than two paid seminars. That protects the companies that potentially employ (or are owned by) Board members because the rules apply to all. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s workable, and it’s an easy way to show and guarantee that we’re vested in making sure that participants, and PASS, are seen as being above reproach.

I have no issue with members of Pragmatic applying to do the seminars – they played by the rules. I disagree with Adam submitting one, I think being an officer calls for more care and also requires focusing on PASS business at the Summit, and I fault the Board for approving it (assuming they held the vote).  I don’t think Adam (or his team) went and applied pressure to the committee to be selected, but I do understand that influence is a subtle beast and it could have played a part in the final choices with absolutely no input/contact from Adam (or SolidQ or Scalability in years past). Minus transparency it’s hard to tell, and even with transparency I’d bet it would never be something that was crystal clear, picking sessions – even paid ones – is just very, very subjective (and that’s not bad, it just is).

The rest is up to PASS, and up to us. We can bitch about this year and do nothing, or we can find a way to have a serious conversation and either change the rules, or write down our expectations so that everyone can go into the 2015 selection process  with a clear head. Let’s not have a community where people might not submit because they fear the public perception/backlash because of where they work. This issue is a portion of the larger problem of insufficient transparency on the program committee, and PASS as a whole. Transparency isn’t quite a silver bullet, but it helps us all understand how things work and then we can have a better, more informed conversation if we think changes are needed. How do we get any change done? That’s a good question. My suggestion is that PASS commit by the end of July to a separate committee along the lines of the Election Review Committee that could launch in August and watch events this year, then decide what changes, if any, should be put in place for next year.

Speaking at the 2014 PASS Summit

Finally the email we’d all been waiting for arrived yesterday, the results of session selection for the 2014 PASS Summit. Good news for me, one session of mine was accepted, so I’ll be presenting “Turbocharge Your Career With A Learning Plan” this year. It’s a good topic and one I’m excited about. I’ve been presenting an early version of it already this year and will be doing more changes and practice before November. Below I’ve included the email so you could see the titles I submitted and the results. I didn’t expect to get two sessions (and I’m opposed to anyone getting two, so that we have max community involvement) but I’ll admit to hoping I’d also get a lightning talk.




I wasn’t selected last year, so I went back to re-read my post I’m Not Presenting At PASS Summit 2013. Here’s part of it, and note the part I bolded for this year:


The thing I know is that picking sessions is subjective. You can score them all you want, but in the end you do some juggling to get a diverse (people, topics, levels) yet balanced (people, topics,levels) schedule. It should be subjective,to a point. Use a system to get close, then a committee to fine tune.

Human nature – including me – is to ask “why didn’t I get picked”? It might be that the abstract had a typo, a title that was too cute or too blah, was too short or too long. Maybe it scored equally with someone with a track record of presenting the same topic, or with perceived better speaking experience. Maybe there are 18 people wanting to talk about indexes and we don’t need 18 index presentations. Giving personalized feedback on that in an official way is hard – there is enough work to do just evaluating them and picking the final schedule. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s more work with more complexities because now you’re telling people why they aren’t good enough, and being human, we’re probably going to disagree with the assessment!

Rather than feedback, I’d like to see PASS and the Program Committee do more to educate speakers up front. Do an updated webinar every year that reviews the process, talks about common mistakes and misconceptions, how to find and use peer reviews to increase your chance of being selected, and how to lay the ground work for being perceived as being ready for a national stage. I think that would dispel a lot of frustration. For example I had two sessions rejected as being repeats from a previous year. I didn’t know the focus was on new content (maybe I missed that) or I would have submitted something a bit different.

If you didn’t get selected, I feel your pain. Take a look at the final schedule, read the abstracts, try to be dispassionate while you consider if they had something that your submission didn’t. Reach out to a peer, or find someone that has spoken at the Summit and ask for their feedback. If you think there are changes you could make, go make them now so you’re ready for next year. If you don’t see changes and think it was just luck of the draw, start thinking about what you can do in the next year to increase your chances. Maybe you can present on the topic more often, maybe you can build a second or third presentation, maybe you can work on extending your network. There will be something you can do to increase your odds next time around.

I’ve been a proponent for years of forced rotation of speakers, something along the lines of making them sit out every third year (or something like that) to make sure we get new voices on the schedule. I sat out a year deliberately a couple years back and it was hard at first, but then it was pleasant. I had the freedom to just be an attendee, no practicing, no pressure. I remind myself that I’ll have that freedom again this year!

Both Brent Ozar and Adam Machanic have stepped up to fill the gap about “how”, Adam writing Capturing Attention: Writing Great Session Descriptions and Brent with Writing Better Conference Abstracts and Presentations. Great material, worth reading. I still wish for an “official” presentation from PASS (which isn’t to say we shouldn’t talk Brent and Adam) into doing it, I think it would be a great next step in evolving the biggest event in our community. Writing is good, reading is good, but I think this cries out for at least one video presentation.

Thanks to the Program Committee for all their effort, I know it’s a slog! Thanks also to all who submitted a presentation, selected or not.

As we move back into “Summit mode”, if you’re attending, I hope you’ll join me, Steve Jones,  and a couple hundred or more really interesting people at our fifth annual Monday Night Networking Dinner. It’s a nice low key way to start the week.

Prepping For The NomCom

Sunday I spent an hour going over various notes and thinking about what I’ve seen in the past couple PASS elections and sent NomCom Chair Bill Graziano a list of 30 items of interest to me as far as the election cycle for the NomCom and the Board of Directors. I may publish that list at some later date, for now I think it’s fair to send Bill ideas/questions ahead of our first call and then we’ll find out the scope of what’re going to do beyond the ‘pure’ role of the NomCom in vetting candidates. To be clear, those 30 points aren’t all things I think should be done or changed, many are items that I’d like to hear discussion on to see how something worked or didn’t, and all of those written before hearing what the other committee members are interested in as well as other points of view from previous NomCom candidates/members and election applicants/candidates. I think that’s all the prep I can do, but I feel better for having done it – Meeting 101.

Elected To The 2014 PASS Nominating Committee

The results were posted Friday afternoon, I placed second in the voting with 214 votes from a total of 539 voters making me one of three elected to the NomCom. Thanks to all who voted for me, I’ll do my best to do a great job for you. We should have our first meeting in the next week or so and I’ll post here what I can, subject to the NDA that covers some of the NomCom activities.

The campaign was short and mild (that’s good), but I think it still surfaced some really interesting questions, things we can work on and make the organization stronger in the year to come. That’s a win.

5300 PASS Voters for 2014 Election

I was catching up on reading the minutes of PASS Board meetings and found the following except in paragraph 2 of the April 2014 minutes, highlighting is mine – use this link to read the entirety:

Tim Ford questioned if the schedule is thought to be reasonable considering the amount of information that
has to be shared. Vicki Van Damme replied that the schedule is on track to pull the first round of eligible
voters and de-dupe it once BAC is over. The plan will include identifying and resolving any duplicates that
may exist from the current list of approximately 5300 eligible voters. The final list will be pulled on June 1st

Last year we had 1, 514 voters participate (see my earlier post), so that would be about a 28% turnout if we repeated this year, quite a ways from the scary low number of 1.5% if we used the the 100k member number that was being discussed.

5300 members cared enough to update their profile so they could vote, or did so incidentally (perhaps first time member?). I’d be interested to see the breakdown on that.

Either way, we’re back to two goals:

  • Work on getting the highest turnout we can, out of the 5300 possible voters
  • Work on getting more voting members and a better definition of a voting member (an email address and an annual profile update is the current defacto definition)

Now what can we do about those goals?

Miscellaneous Notes on the PASS NomCom and General Election

Interesting day yesterday. A spirited discussion on Twitter, a challenging post from candidate Mark Broadbent, and a couple good threads on the NomCom discussion forum. I’ve picked some of the points where I want to add a few notes of my own (I’m not speaking for PASS on any of these, and in most cases my direct knowledge of some of this is now a couple years old). Most of these are complex topics worth a deeper discussion.


Nomcom Ranking

The NomCom ranks all candidates that are qualified (meets the minimum criteria as described in the voting process). The ranking does at least four things:

  • Tries to make a very subjective process a little less subjective
  • Rankings are used if we have too many candidates (current rules call for a limit of 3 candidates per seat available, you’ll often hear me call it 3x)
  • Rankings are a way to communicate to candidates how they did in a way that is informative and as polite as possible, so they can decide if they want to continue or withdraw (the default is continue). Imagine there are 9 candidates and you placed 9th. If you’re within a point or two of the leader you will certainly continue, but what if you’re 10 points down? You might decide to withdraw, work on some things, and come back in a later election. The point here is not to force people out, merely to treat them with respect and courtesy. If someone cares enough to run but doesn’t have (and possibly doesn’t realize) the skills and experience they are missing it could wind up being a painful or embarrassing experience for them. I know of one instance where a candidate withdrew because of that and that person felt like it was the right thing to do.
  • Finally, for voters who have a hard time figuring out style from substance, they can look at the ratings as a way to see what a very serious and informed group think of the candidates in aggregate. In fact, candidates are listed on the ballot by order of ranking.

I like this system.


Voting Password Security

Brent Ozar raised the question about how credentials were transferred to Simple Voting. It’s a very good question, pains me that I never asked way back when about the security. As far as I know sqlpass.org still runs on DNN and whether credentials are stored in clear text depends on the configuration. There doesn’t seem to be any SSL in use or available, that’s not promising. Troy Hunt, care to come take a look? The question deserves an answer, and certainly the SSL issue needs to be addressed.


Voter Turnout

In the spirit of transparency and dashboarding PASS has the chart below posted at http://www.sqlpass.org/Elections/Archive.aspx (thanks to Gavin Campbell for finding it). What it doesn’t show unfortunately is the number of valid/registered voters, the closest is this link http://www.sqlpass.org/AboutPASS.aspx that references more than 100k members. 1500 votes out of 100,000 doesn’t look great. The challenge is that many of those 100k joined by attending SQLSaturday (a decision I agree with) and that list probably includes members back to the beginning of PASS. In previous years PASS has deduped the voting list, I’m not sure it deduped the member list – many of us have ended on the list with multiple email addresses. It has made an effort this year to determine eligible voters based on having updated their profile (not great at all, but better than nothing). There is the mailing list, then there is the voting list (deduped/qualified), and then of that there is some number of members that are interested and have time to vote. I’d like to see PASS post the count for the voting list each year to go this chart as well (and maybe even a regional break down).  Does PASS do enough to encourage voting? I think there is always more that can be done, but anyone interested enough to read the Connector certainly should see it happening. Is it easy to vote? Arguably it’s harder this year than last year because you have to find/remember your PASS login (last year each voter got a unique link good for one vote, no password required), but it’s nothing that will take more than a couple minutes. Is it a conspiracy? No, sadly no conspiracy here! Why don’t more people vote? Go to any Chapter meeting and you’ll see why – as much as Chapter leaders try to make the connection, Chapters (and SQLSaturday) are local, and more than that, they often feel like they don’t know enough to cast an informed vote, and I suspect – I’m guessing – for many the inside baseball of PASS just doesn’t hit the Top 10 things they care about. Should we work on it? Yes. All of it. But the number that we should measure, because we have it, is the turnout. Why did it drop last year? Can we grow it this year? As much as I want it to grow, I want it to be solid growth, people that vote because they care, because they want some kind of change, not to hit a quota of votes per Chapter or per state.




Should We Campaign For the NomCom?

First, the rules clearly allow it. Beyond that, what’s our goal? I believe we want a fair, experienced, diverse NomCom that will follow the charter given to them by the Board. We’ve got candidates, how do we discern between them? The NomCom app is trivial, and I’m not opposed to that (the app for Board candidates is quite a bit more strenuous) and we like that because we don’t want to put too many barriers in place – the NomCom is hard work. We could add more to the application, but then you’re only getting things that PASS cares about, which may not be the things you care about. How we campaign is interesting. I elected (so to speak) to put up a blog post about running, because I write about professional things I do, that gets a quick tweet (because it does it when I post), and I answered the questions posted on the discussion forum for the election. Beyond that, the discussion on Twitter was relevant and I’d have been in that even if I wasn’t a candidate, time permitting. This post – campaigning? Maybe, it’s more I want to share what I know/think, with equal chances it helps/hurts in the election. I don’t want complicated elections or campaigns, but I think a campaign is a good way to see who has game. The NomCom election is a way for people to get their feet wet. Shorter, milder, it’s a good way to learn the process, get some ideas, meet some people, and still do some good.

International Representation

I’ll admit to being less than zoomed in on this. I like that PASS is growing to be the international org it has said it was (or wanted to be), and I think that journey takes time. Would changing the allocation for the NomCom be a step in the right direction. I’m stuck at maybe. At some point it should be proportional OR we should change so that there is a PASS World  Org, then PASS North America, PASS Europe, or even PASS UK. I think that is a decision we’re not there on, at least from what I’ve seen. I’d love to see the Board talk more about the roadmap, then we could se if the NomCom allocation is a miss, or just not there according to the Roadmap

NomCom Charter

The ERC (election review component) of the NomCom this year remains to be seen. I have huge concerns about one group trying to do two tasks, when clearly the primary task is to vet and pick the slate. I’d like to see the Board publish the charter and ideally would have done so before the election. My hope is that the committee generates a lot of notes and makes suggestions, but then that is followed by Board review and/or a mini to full ERC as seems to be needed.

I Voted For the 2014 PASS NomCom

I was interested to see that the online voting system has changed this year to one powered by Simply Voting. I’m only a lit bit sad to see the old system retired – I wrote it in about 3 hours way back when, because we needed something and it was, barely, good enough to get us through the election and then as things go it stayed in that barely good enough state! I haven’t used Simply Voting before, but it looks reasonable. I used their fee calculator to see the potential costs based on paying for a single election. Not cheap! Possibly cheaper than building one depending on how many registered voters we have. I’m expecting that number to drop this year due to people not updating their profiles and thus being ineligible (and many of those are dead/dupe addresses anyway). I wonder if you pay for the number that votes, or the number that could vote?


Voters Cost
1000 $835
10, 000 $1, 826
100, 000 $11, 760


I’m not too worried about a third party system, in many ways that feels safer than PASS having the data. I’d wish for free, but $12k for a solid election seems ok to me. The system generates voting receipts, which is interesting, I guess. Do they ever get used, or just voter reassurance? Here’s mine. Yes, I did vote for myself, but I’ll keep my own two votes confidential.




I’m A Candidate For the PASS 2014 Nominating Committee

I submitted my application for the NomCom on May 21 and after the review process we’re now in “campaign week”. This will probably be the only statement for my campaign and I want to cover a few different things; why I’m running, how I’ll approach the task if elected, and why the NomCom is a key part of the overall election and why it is the way it is today..

So, let’s start with why:

  • I have the time this year. Trivial perhaps, but true. It can take a lot of time.
  • It’s a position where I can leverage my experience as a Board member
  • It’s a position where I can leverage my experience as a member of the Election Review Committee (ERC) that set the current election rules
  • This year the NomCom will act as a “mini-ERC’” to streamline the process and I’d like to be part of that discussion
  • It’s a good way to continue to participate in PASS

Nothing earth shaking there, just interest and good intentions.

Next, how will I approach the role if elected?

  • I’ll treat candidates with respect. That’s absolutely not to say that anyone else would do differently, just that I appreciate the effort that it takes to decide to run, fill out the application process, and then go through interviews and a campaign. Even the lowest ranked candidate deserves to feel like they added to PASS.
  • I believe the role of the nomcom is to confirm that candidates pass the “qualified” threshold as defined in the election process, to rank the candidates based on the written application and the oral interview, and if there are more than 9 candidates (the rules describe the limit as 3 per vacancy) to use the rankings to select the “best” candidates for the voters to choose from.
  • Other than exceptional cases I don’t believe the NomCom should go any further in deciding who is qualified – that’s your job, and is in fact how the rules are written as of today.
  • I’ll ask tough questions, especially about transparency, how they will find time for their PASS duties, governance, and more. Yes, I’ll expect them to prepare. In practice I’ll probably I get to ask two or three questions during an interview and I’ll tailor them to how the candidate is doing. I might want to probe for a weak area, or I might want to try to pull out more about a strength that they haven’t explained well.
  • I’ll listen carefully to the questions from the other NomCom members and the candidate answers, and I’ll consider things that other NomCom members see as I submit my ranking for each candidate

The second part of that is the ‘streamlining’ discussion that I think will be done this year. I think you deserve to know where I stand on that as well:

  • I think the current process works reasonably well
  • I think having elections that the members trust is critical
  • I think there are quite a few places worth revisiting; the election calendar, reviewing the application to see if we need to add/change/remove items, consideration of how much time we’re asking of candidates, and maybe more.
  • I’m not in favor of big changes to the NomCom process. Many have said that having a NomCom election feels bulky. Is it? Certainly it’s work, but it’s how we guarantee that if you as a member want change you can get it – the old system did not. There might be other ways to accomplish the same thing and I’d be willing to discuss those. I’m also not in favor of big changes to the power of the NomCom. Many think the NomCom doesn’t have enough power because they can’t remove someone that they believe isn’t qualified. I’m in favor of letting the NomCom remove someone with a unanimous vote and nothing less, a nuclear option that should be employed rarely (because if it isn’t, we need to work more on the app and the definition of qualifications). Based on recently elections I’d also like to discuss whether changing to 2x from 3x candidates might leverage the NomCom a little more without going too far.
  • I will consider any  proposed changes as part of the whole system. Is transparent, fair, does it have checks and balances, will it serve the members well? That’s what I’ll be looking for.
  • I will consider tweaks much more readily than any whole revisions. Let’s adjust if needed, not tear down and rebuild.
  • We have to talk about how we identify members who are allowed to vote so that we can prevent fraud. The Board has postponed this issue for too many years. It may not be in scope, but it must be mentioned.
  • I would like to see any substantial changes implemented in 2015, especially if they apply to the NomCom.
  • I hope we can also talk about what we can do to encourage and grow more leaders and candidates

Why is the process the way it is today? A few years ago we had election problems. We had someone from outside of PASS (and SQL) show up as a candidate, back in the days when the NomCom was all powerful. We had an election when someone very well known and very qualified (in my view, and others) wasn’t put on the slate by the NomCom. That led to the ERC and a long hard effort to build a system of checks and balances so that we had a system that protected PASS yet allowed/guaranteed the members the ability to change PASS. We talked and interviewed and argued and while we came up with might not be perfect, it has worked, and it’s not substantially different than what many organizations use. It’s understandable and consistent year over year, something I feel we lacked prior to the change.

Review the slate here and the page with my application and qualifications here.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of the process.Watch for the ballot next week in an email from PASS.