Tag Archives: PASS

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.

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!

Tableau Conference Is Bigger Than PASS Summit

I was reading http://paultebraak.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/the-wisdom-of-the-tableau-crowd/ and, no disrespect intended at all to the Tableau universe,  I was astounded to see that the Tableau Conference is bigger than the PASS Summit. Both are in Seattle (different dates), and the prices look to be similar ($1495 is the number I saw for TC, but registration is closed/sold out). Looking at the Tableau event, I like what I see:

  • 220 sessions
  • Some “real” keynoters – by which I mean not Tableau (or in our case, SQL) people and some other featured speakers
  • Paul cites 5200 attendees (I believe him, I just don’t have a supporting link)

Good for Tableau!

Does it mean anything for PASS? Is bigger better? Many would argue not. If you’ve ever been to TechEd (10k attendees) you spend a lot of time walking. It’s just big. Yet I can’t help wonder what are they doing that has grown the event to this size in 7 years or so? Are they doing things (or not doing them) that PASS should be doing? Someone should – officially – go take a look. I don’t care about number for the sake of numbers, I care about serving the people in my craft. If we’re not doing that as well as can be done, we should be trying to do better, quickly.

Apply Now for the PASS Board of Directors

One of the better graphics I’ve seen in a Connector that shows the timeline:



My thoughts:


I’m on the Nominating Committee this year so I won’t endorsing or coaching any candidates. I’ll miss that part, but I do look forward to reviewing the applications and asking a tough question or two during the interview stage!

The Growth Of SQLSaturday

A recent Connector showed the following stats for SQLSaturday for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014 and mentioned 86 events completed:



Impressive numbers to be sure, but are we adding events?   Kendal Van Dyke sent me this projection he did while on the Board of Directors:



That looks like reasonable growth and shows a healthy franchise based on where we just ended the year.

Two thoughts on the growth and the message:

  • I think we’re so immersed in it that we forget to back up and tell the whole story. How was international growth? How many events changed leaders? How many net new locations? What trends are we seeing (is attendance staying same or increasing at existing events? Does it hit a natural ‘cap’?). What lessons learned? Economic impact? New members for PASS? Chapters that hosted an event (or not)? There’s a terrific opportunity here to not just print numbers, but to look at the numbers and tell the story.
  • It is reasonable growth. I am, however, often unreasonable. 10-15% growth a year is good, but what would it take to really increase the number of communities we serve as part of a one time push? Could we add 30? 50? What would a multi-year (but not 10 year) plan look like to get us to 200 events a year? There’s plenty of room to do it.

And for all of that, apply the same thing (minus the growth spike perhaps) to Chapters. Tell the story.

A Question From The NomCom

One of the many things we’re discussing going into the 2014 PASS election is what the planned two official campaign events should be. I asked on Twitter yesterday and got some good comments, still looking for more. Last year was (I think) the first year PASS hosted live events, one in a town hall format and one on Twitter. Should we do those again, or something different?

When the campaign begins we’ll have information posted on the Election HQ site about each candidate (application, photo, links to other bits of information). If you as a voter choose to read that (good!), then we have the discussion forums where members can ask questions of the entire slate (typically most candidates reply to all questions). That’s two ways to find out more about the candidates. Is a live option a good idea? Would you rather watch a few minute video of a ‘stump speech’? Is Twitter a good place, or should we look elsewhere? Does a “live” format put those who aren’t great public speakers or good with quick responses at a disadvantage? Should we give them some of the questions in advance (perhaps from the forums?)?

Our goal is to give the candidates a chance to talk to you and to give you a chance to talk to the candidates. We get that not everyone will watch a town hall or debate or Twitter chat or whatever, but some will. What can we do that will be most effective for those that would participate in one of those formats? What will help you as a voter make a well informed decision?

Comments here, on Twitter (tag with #sqlpass #nomcom), or write a blog of your own and post the link. We’d love to hear from you.

SQL Speakers–Will You Accept The Chapter Challenge?

Most SQLSaturday’s do ok when it comes to finding speakers, the results of an incredible speaker mailing list and a lot of reasons for speakers to participate – I’d say a combination of a chance to learn in addition to presenting, the chance to spend time with other speakers, and the sheer fun of going to a new/different city. Chapters struggle. It’s a much harder sell to convince a speaker to drive/fly any distance to do an hour presentation. Online presentations are slowly growing in popularity, but even then we don’t have an effective way for chapters to reach out to speakers, at least compared to how we do it for SQLSaturday.

Someday the “speaker bureau” will fix that problem. Someday.

I was thinking about all of that as I was contemplating goals again. How could we reverse the polarity and have speakers beating down the doors of chapters? What about setting a goal of speaking to every PASS Chapter? With more than 200 chapters that is a task of years, but what a journey! Nothing to stop you (or me) from embarking on that journey, but how I wish it was one that PASS would chart and publicize. How about doing even more, how about incenting it, at a couple levels? Imagine that:

  • Anyone who completes an hour long presentation to a dozen or more different chapters in a single year gets a PASS leather jacket to commemorate? Or a substantial discount off of PASS Summit attendance? Both!
  • Anyone who completes an hour long presentation to more than 200 different chapters gets free life time admission to the PASS Summit?

I can think of a lot of fun having competitions for who can do the most presentations in a year, the most in-person, the most online, maybe the most states or countries. Earning a “state” badge for presenting to all the chapters in that state (that has a chapter!) A light hearted competition, but think of the scoreboard and the blog posts. Would that a be a change for the good? Would it change the problem of getting speakers for chapters? I think it might.

I’m going to lobby for something along those lines, but incentives aside, there’s no reason you and I can’t get started now. My goal is to speak at all the Florida groups this year. Not as ambitious as “all chapters”, but given that I’m starting in mid July it’s ambitious enough. Will you set a chapter goal and what will it be?

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.