Tag Archives: PASS

Why I Support PASS & Why I Criticize PASS

A friend recently asked me about my involvement with PASS, and that lead to the two questions in the title. Why do I support PASS? Why do I criticize PASS? And there is one more that goes with it, do I balance criticism with praise? Interesting stuff.

First, for those who don’t know me, a little background. I’ve been part of PASS since 2000. I’ve been to the Summit every year since 2002. With Steve Jones and Brian Knight as part of SQLServerCentral we did a lot in those early years to promote PASS, we partnered with PASS to print The SQL Server Standard (though you could argue that was business) and we provided the hosting for chapters for quite a few years too (free, not business). I was a member of oPASS here in Orlando when it launched, and I led the re-launch later on. With Brian & Steve we started SQLSaturday and gifted it to PASS once it was up and running and we had done 30+ events (and no, that wasn’t business). I’ve served on the Board and am serving this year on the NomCom. I designed the SQLRally concept which was eventually killed here in the US, but still gets used internationally. All of which is only useful as far as that I feel like I know something about PASS and have been willing to invest in it to make things better, with only the former really being a requirement to praise or complain.

But why? Back in 1998 when I moved to my first IT job I started working with SQL 6.5. It wasn’t long after that I stumbled across PASS and loved the idea, it’s what every career book says to look for – the organization that has something to do with your profession. I think professions need organizations. They can spread ideas, grow ideas, help people connect.  PASS has done that and continues to do so. Not always as fast or as well as I’d like, but certainly good enough to be worth participating in. I look at other parts of IT, especially in the Microsoft space, and while there are clearly other “communities”, none that feels as inclusive and as organized, and none that seems to try to do nearly as much. The SQL community is  more than PASS of course, it’s hundreds of bloggers, SQLServerCentral and MSSQLTips, and a lot, lot more, but PASS, because of it’s mission to do good, can do things that aren’t done for profit and therefore might not get done at all. I think more can be done. A lot more. It can be done so that our profession is better, the people in do better and live better, and then, as a very nice side affect, the world is a bit better place. That’s why. On a personal and tactical level, I’m better for my involvement with PASS, and I think others can benefit too. Maybe I didn’t articulate that too well? The why feels obvious.

So why criticize PASS? That’s not so obvious. PASS is lead by volunteers and I know from experience it’s a fair amount of work. It’s volunteering on a different scale. It’s also an environment where decisions are made by a committee that sometimes acts like a hierarchy. It’s a business and a community, trying to balance profit and value, because without money no good gets done. The volunteers come from backgrounds that tend to frown on risks and failure, which often makes it hard to do medium size things without a guarantee of success. PASS has an important relationship with Microsoft that can be incredibly hard to manage because Microsoft tends to think of PASS as just another marketing outley , and we have a management company that is event focused and incented to do some things (at the Boards direction) more than others. You end up with a group of smart and dedicated people that have, since 1999, kept the organization going and growing – that’s no small thing.

For the past ten years I’ve known most if not all of the members of the Board. Good people, all ones you’d sit and have coffee or dinner with comfortably. Some more effective than others, due to life experience or life commitments or resources (or lack of). They bring various ideas and strengths to the role and that’s good, as diversity always is. Criticizing PASS means criticizing people, the elected ones and the ones that do is their full time job at HQ. Is it fair to criticize a volunteer? Or a volunteer organization? I guess I can’t understand how we cannot criticize, though criticize is a harsh word. Ideally it’s a question, or a concern, or an idea, but sometimes it is a true disagreement or outright criticism, so let’s stick with the harshest description as not to sugar coat it. If you care about the organization and the people it serves, sometimes you’re going to wish a decision was made or not made and I believe you have an obligation to say something. Of course, how and where and when matter, but even when done very well  criticism is…..not fun. Yet I believe it’s necessary for the organization to stay healthy that the leaders remain accountable to the members and if the members “don’t get it”, they make a solid attempt at closing the gap. Few of us – including me – take criticism well. It’s extra hard to take when you’re giving up family time to do the work to start with, then you have to give up more to explain/argue with a member that thinks you’re wrong. I get that. I’m just not very sympathetic. If you wish to lead, then lead. Take the bad with the good. Learn to listen more deeply, to care without being damaged, to realize that, just like our elected ones here in the US, that it’s incredibly easy to be captured by the system and lose sight of what the people you serve think.

Due to various life experiences I’m a little bit qualified to comment on things related to PASS. I’m not always right, but I usually have some pretty good reasons for why I think what I think. I share ideas and concerns privately, but candidly, I’ve had very limited success with that approach. I write publicly not to eviscerate, but to evoke discussion and thought, not just within the Board, but with you, someone else who cares and who may one day choose to lead. It’s also a fact that the Board tends to feel more pressure from publicly posted comments than they private email. I wish it was different. I wish that thoughtful emails could be exchanged, but that tends to work only when you’re in agreement. I just finished up an email thread with PASS that spanned four months and I’m surprised that it was resolved without having to make it public. My experience may not be the same as yours, because, as I’ve been told more than once, I’m perceived by the Board as being one of a handful of people that are never going to be happy/always see the dark side. Not pleasant to hear, perhaps a little bit true, and a reminder that speaking up is harder than not. Turn the criticism thing around. As a member, why should I take any crap at all for raising what I see is an issue or concern? Isn’t that interesting? I suspect it’s why few have much to say.

Now to praise. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t often praise PASS. Occasionally they delight me and I try to say so (the last 24HOP I participated in did so), but mostly it’s keeping the lights on and, candidly, I expect them to do that. That’s not entirely fair, and doesn’t mirror my own strategy when I manage, but for PASS it’s a way to challenge them – no hugs for status quo, show me more! I’ll also argue that PASS, now and historically, has done a really bad job of explaining what they have done and why it matters. A great example is the recent budget. It’s a lot of work and it matters, they release the budget, but where is the story? What was the win? What had to be sacrificed? Even when good to great work is done, we rarely hear about it, and we’re all too busy to try to figure it out. My own answer here feels like it needs work. Something to think on.

I thought the initial questions that led to the post were fair and interesting, and they came at a time when I’m debating whether to write something critical of PASS, perhaps the most critical I’ve written, and I struggle with it. Will writing something help? Am I right? And, selfishly, do I use up karma with people I respect to no good end? Reading all of that, I’m sorely tempted to delete it all. Does it matter? Should I criticize less and praise more? Who cares beyond the few of you that read this? I write that not to whine, but to illustrate that just like most people, on any given day I’d prefer jazz over conflict. So, with all that said, I look forward to your thoughts.

Thoughts On the NomCom Process

We’ve just wrapped up the interviews and I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on what I’ve seen from using the process that we have today:

  • The time requirement for the NomCom members seems reasonable
  • We still have a lot of work on explaining the “why” of the tasks so that we get year over year consistency of execution. HQ has/will continue to pay a key role in that.
  • I think the process does a fair job of helping the NomCom assess candidates. I rate it fair because I wish for better (and we’ll look more), but it’s always analog.
  • I’d like to see the process revised to include a mock app review and a mock candidate interview. Particularly the latter, we found as we went that we’d hear someone ask a question and go “that’s a good question!”, and sometimes we’d hear a good question badly framed. One mock would smooth a lot of that out, especially with an interesting “candidate”.
  • The current application plus an hour interview is enough to assess them. Not sure longer/more would be worth doing.

There was one part that surprised me, and that was how hard it was for me – who knows better! – to remember that I’m not hiring candidates, I’m screening them (you the voter get to do the hiring). What’s the difference? Screening means we pass on qualified candidates, even if in some cases we heard an answer we disagreed with it on direction or style or substance. The difference is subtle, but it’s there. The process we have mitigates that problem nicely by scoring candidates across different categories, not just a thumbs up/down. I’ll add that if we have a weak point its that we don’t have a lot of good data points on who will work out to be a good Board member. We should work on that, not just for vetting, but for growing future candidates.

Thinking about the rest of it, I am concerned about the drop in total candidates this year. Why so much lower? One theory I’ve heard is that with one current/three former Board members on the NomCom potential candidates were intimidated. I hope that isn’t the case. Not enough marketing? If you have thoughts on any part of that I’d love to hear from you offline/confidentially.

The NomCom isn’t quite done. We still have to recommend the slate, and then revisit the entire process to see if more changes are needed.

I’ll close by thanking the candidates for this year for stepping up and taking the challenge. Win or lose, your participation means a lot to the organization and its members.

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.