PASS Update #25 (Summit Location and More)

By now you’ve probably seen the official announcement from PASS about the Summit being located in Seattle for both 2011 and 2012, along with preliminary plans to host an event of some type on the East coast in the spring of 2011. There’s been a lot of good discussion on it, much of which you can find by reading this post by Jack Corbett, and checking the #sqlpass tag on Twitter. Now to add my few cents worth.

As far as the survey, I think we got it wrong by not working harder at having unbiased questions, and we got it wrong by not understanding that it’s damned difficult to justify a decision that appears to be opposite of what the survey says. We were slow to put out the summary data, and I still hope we’ll release the raw data. We also didn’t make the effort to do some follow up polling to clarify the ranking of what was most important – location or MS participation at a super high volume?

The decision to stay in Seattle really came down to a single point – Microsoft presence. Not cost, not venue, not whether the Summit would work in other cities, none of that was (in my opinion) even close to a deciding factor.  Microsoft doesn’t “make” us hold the event in Seattle. Their public stance is pretty fair, we budget x dollars for the event, if you hold in Seattle we can send more people than if you hold it elsewhere, the difference being travel costs.

From the PASS perspective that increased level of participation gives us:

  • A marketing bullet point, a way to be seen as better/different than other conferences
  • Increased attendance (MS people that is) which makes the conference “look” more successful
  • Value to our attendees who have a chance to meet people on the SQL team outside of the usual presenters

I balance that against wanting to reach people in other areas that we just won’t reach if we stay in Seattle. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about not much different in price to fly to one place or the other, but as an East coast guy I can tell you that it’s time – the time difference ends up adding a day each way to my trip, and that’s two days of work, or two days of billable hours for some. So, the question is, does the desire to reach different areas out weight the benefits I listed above?

I think it does. We can still trumpet our great speaker lineup (including many from MS). Our attendance may drop due to fewer MS employees. Can we offset that with gains? I don’t know, but I can live with having perhaps 300 fewer attendees if it comes to that (and note, those aren’t full price attendees). The value to our attendees is important, and while I hate to diminish that, I know that we’ll still get the top 50 or top 100 MS people at the event, and then the next year or year after we’d get the whole crew again.

I don’t mean to diminish the value that having developers from the SQL team participate in our event brings. It’s not just what we might learn from them, it’s what they learn from us. Our problems, our wishes, our passion. I think it’s one of the most important things we can do is provide a way for them to interact with us. I just don’t think it has to be every year.

I voted against having it in Seattle in 2011 and 2012. I think a once in three year rotation would be fair, giving us the ability to host one in the middle of the country (Chicago, Dallas, Denver). I voted that way because I thought it was best for the community and that it would not cause any serious damage to PASS or the PASS Summit.

I think the decision to remain in Seattle reflects the disparity many of us have seen in PASS from the beginning. PASS is more a business than a community. We should make good business decisions, protect the organization so that it lives on, but past that, too often we fail to make decisions that might be in the interest of the community more than in the business.

I’m pleased to see more people speaking out, even if they don’t agree with me. We need that outside influence, especially when it’s focused on trying to do good and find compromises that work. But, speaking as an insider, and as perhaps a tired Board member, I’ll also say that if you want real change, you’re going to have to field some Board candidates that share your views of what PASS should be.

I’ll post again soon about the upcoming elections and some thoughts about my term so far, in hopes of persuading the best and brightest of you to come serve your community for two years in a very visible way.

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