SQLSaturday & PASS – More Details

Yesterday I posted the news that SQLSaturday is now owned by PASS, today I’d like to share a bit of the history behind SQLSaturday and why we thought it made sense for it to transition to PASS. I’ve promised my friend Andy Leonard an “exclusive” interview on some of the details and with luck you’ll see that in the next week or so.

We (Brian, Steve, and I) started talking about doing a community event here in Orlando in early 2007. I’d been to a few Code Camps as attendee and presenter and saw a lot of value in them, but if you were a SQL person there wasn’t enough content to make it compelling. Why not do a SQL event?

That led to SQLSaturday #1 in October 2007 which by any measure was a success, just over 200 attendees at the event. Pam Shaw and Wes Dumey liked the idea enough to host #2 in Tampa the following year, then Brian Knight did one in Jacksonville and we had some momentum. Since then we’ve had 30 something events with more in the pipeline. What seemed questionable back in early 2007 now seems obvious – there is plenty of demand for all day free events that focus just on SQL Server.

From the beginning we thought this was something that PASS should be doing, and in a sense they were trying to via the “PASS Camp” branding. The problem was that aside from the name, there wasn’t much else – no tools, no real knowledge share, no financial help, no coaching. We took some flak back in the beginning for not making it a PASS branded event, but we needed the freedom to innovate and spend, and we didn’t have time to wait on a committee to vote. We were never interested in making a profit and announced from the beginning our intention to build it and then give it to PASS if we could make it work. So we built it, and revised it, and built some more, learning a lot of little lessons along the way and trying to capture them as best we could.

Along the way I learned a few lessons, and maybe the most interesting was that these events provided a valuable place to find and grow those ready to take the next step – sharing their knowledge. If you were a SQL professional back in 2007 you didn’t have many venues as options if you wanted to do a presentation, most them paid events like the PASS Summit, Connections, and VS Live, and the free events available mainly targeted developers. Today if you’re wanting to start giving back and building your reputation there is usually at least one SQLSaturday a month and while it might require travel, our policy of trying to put as many new and unique speakers on the schedule as possible almost guarantees a chance to speak. Growing the speaker pool is a game changer to me – like ripples in a pond the effects go far beyond a single event.

After the November election I talked to Rushabh about whether PASS might be interested in taking over SQLSaturday. It wasn’t the first conversation about it, but it was the one that that did it, and since then PASS has been looking at the time required to support it, writing a proposal to the Board about it, and then a vote by the Board to finalize it just this past week (I abstained from the vote).

The terms of the handover are pretty simple, we’re giving it all to PASS – domain, web site, source code, and all the knowledge we can find. The only direct cost to PASS will be for some software components and email software, no more than $1500 and maybe less if they can get it donated from the vendors. We’re not getting anything in return – no money, no free tickets to the Summit, nothing. I mention that because I’m on the Board of Directors and want to make sure that we have transparency on this issue in particular and no appearance of an insider deal.

I’ve already had questions about what will change. In the short term nothing, and Rushabh has pledged to continue the level of support to events that we’ve provided and to look for ways to enhance it. I’ll continue to actively participate in helping get new events set up over the next couple months as we finish the transition, and I’ll be a vocal proponent for trying to grow more events and to do more for the events and event leaders. Ultimately what makes SQLSaturday work are the local leaders that do all the work and I’m confident that they will hold PASS accountable!

It’s been more fun than I can tell you to start with a dream, put the sweat equity into it, and see it grow. I’ve been the most visible person on the project during the last 2.5 years, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of Brian and Steve as this took literally hundreds of hours away from our business. I also couldn’t have done it without the efforts of a lot of people who put huge amounts of time into each of their events. By no means a complete list, but here are some of the people that helped SQLSaturday grow:

  • Shawn Weisfeld, Ken Tucker, and Jessica Sterner from ONETUG for sharing lessons learned from the Orlando Code Camp
  • Joe Healy from Microsoft for a lot of help in networking and the key idea of numbering the events
  • Pam Shaw and Wes Dumey for doing the SQLSaturday #2 when we had a barely working web site and not much knowledge to share, and for sharing back all of the pain points we needed to fix
  • Red Gate and Confio for being huge supporters of the events as sponsors
  • All the event leaders, especially those that came in early like John Baldwin, Greg Larsen,  and Stuart Ainsworth. Until you run one of these events it’s hard to understand how much work, time, and pressure is involved – with or without any outside assistance!

I’ll still be writing about SQLSaturday events and participating in as many as I can make it to (my next one is Charlotte in early March), and I’ll try to share some of the info about the transfer as we get that done.

11 thoughts on “SQLSaturday & PASS – More Details

  1. Andy,

    You three amigos never fail to amaze me with your devotion to community. I still don’t know If I like you guys handing it over. It is a huge boon for PASS as an organization for sure. “but we needed the freedom to innovate and spend, and we didn’t have time to wait on a committee to vote” sums it up for me. Something that was agile is now tied into a larger organization that has a lot of experience in the Summit but not much else. I hope it continues to be the huge success in the future as it has been before the handover.

    Again Andy, Brian, and Steve I can’t thank you guys enough for all you do.

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  2. Wes, thanks for saying thanks! Totally understand your view on that, and it’s a risk we thought about. Two years ago I don’t think it would have worked, but PASS HQ has grown a lot, and probably fair to say that PASS has grown some too. Plus, I’m there to help things along (keep an eye on my baby!). I’m hoping for zero pain, but if there is pain I think it leads to a better PASS because it just has to learn how community works at the local group level.

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  3. Wes, thanks for saying thanks! Totally understand your view on that, and it’s a risk we thought about. Two years ago I don’t think it would have worked, but PASS HQ has grown a lot, and probably fair to say that PASS has grown some too. Plus, I’m there to help things along (keep an eye on my baby!). I’m hoping for zero pain, but if there is pain I think it leads to a better PASS because it just has to learn how community works at the local group level.

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  4. Simon,

    That’s not an easy question to answer! I think there is plenty of room in the SQL community for events and sites that aren’t PASS owned. Your own SQLBits, SQLLunch, etc. I want to see PASS participating in any event it can as a sponsor/supporter, but I think it’s good to have some independent things going on, for diversity, and because an entrepreneurial approach will almost always win over a staff managed one.

    SQLSaturday just felt different to me. It was strongly aligned with chapters. Not that you have to have a PASS chapter to make a SQLSaturday work, but it made a lot of sense to build on a situation where you had a local leader that was networked and had a mailing list as a starting point.

    Also, I probably should have included that giving it to PASS isn’t entirely selfless. If the number of events continued to grow as we hoped supporting it was going to be a challenge. ONe option was to hire someone to manage it full time to make sure our support level didn’t go down. It wasn’t that it necessarily needed a full time person, but would have been very hard to get someone good and committed on a part time basis. Not out of the question, but not our first choice as we were not taking any money from sponsors or events to fund the effort, nor were we using the list for marketing (unless we were set up as a sponsor by the event leader).

    Not sure that’s a good and complete answer, but I’ll be glad to answer more questions if you have them. I guess in return I’d ask: is it bad for PASS to have something besides the Summit?

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  5. Time is something that is the killer and also trying to achieve ecconomies of scale. Logic would say that PASS should be able to go back to MS to get funding for someone to support the events, after all they reach a combined audience far in excess of the main summit.

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  6. Interesting comments from Wes and Simon and issues I had not considered.

    That being said, I think it makes sense for PASS to have this, instead of competing with its own Data Camps, especially with the network and infrastructure already in place for SQLSaturday. I think that would have wasted PASS resources that could have been used in other areas.

    Just having been involved with the planning for one SQLSaturday helped me realize the effort it must take to mentor new organizers so I definitely understand the desire to have an organization that can support it and its growth.

    I’m sure that the dedicated SQLSaturday organizers and volunteers will make sure that PASS offers the needed support to keep SQLSaturday growing.

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  7. Interesting comments from Wes and Simon and issues I had not considered.

    That being said, I think it makes sense for PASS to have this, instead of competing with its own Data Camps, especially with the network and infrastructure already in place for SQLSaturday. I think that would have wasted PASS resources that could have been used in other areas.

    Just having been involved with the planning for one SQLSaturday helped me realize the effort it must take to mentor new organizers so I definitely understand the desire to have an organization that can support it and its growth.

    I’m sure that the dedicated SQLSaturday organizers and volunteers will make sure that PASS offers the needed support to keep SQLSaturday growing.

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  8. Simon, I agree with all of your reply. MS has helped out with PASS events in the past, and I’m hoping that this helps – it’s something PASS can show MS ‘look what we’re doing’ and maybe that in turn strengthens the relationship. After all, no other MS product has a group as strong as PASS – INETA comes closest, but no annual conferences, and the Code Camps are all free form.

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