In February PASS President Grant Fritchey posted PASS Priorities FY 19 followed by An Open Letter to SQLSaturday Organizers, and then held an online town hall for SQLSaturday organizers in March to address some of the questions generated by the two posts. For all the messaging, the story remains a bit unclear, at least to me. Let me start by summarizing what I took from it all:
- PASS has a budget issue, of unclear scope/duration
- PASS wants to stop investing in SQLSaturday tools once a small number of open requests are done
- I’m making a further jump from that to guess that generating more revenue and to support the goals in the FY19 priorities requires more time from IT and that means not spending as much time on SQLSaturday tools
The budget deficit is confusing to me, why and where does it exist? Is it an artifact of the budgeting process (PASS budgets based on revenue projections for the next Summit, if those are off, the budget has to be amended). Is it, as Grant covered some in the town hall, just a reflection of increased costs for the Summit itself? Is it because HQ costs have ballooned over the past few years? What about the comment on the post from PASS that indicates it has to do with where Microsoft targeted their sponsorship funds? Are we fixing it by budget cuts, trying to increase revenue, or both? Where are the cuts being made and what is the impact? Lots of questions, I hope the PASS Board will devote some time to answering those and/or more relevant questions so that we can see and comment on the strategy now.
On to the issue of IT time for SQLSaturday. The first obvious idea that was ruled out in the post was to open up the development effort to volunteers. Grant addressed that in the town hall by saying he just could not allocate the resources to getting that effort moving. I can appreciate that on two levels. One is that sometimes you need to have a ruthless focus when you’re in trouble, the other is that opening up the development is a non-trivial effort. I can live with not right now. What I’d like to see is a discussion of when. More interestingly though, I think the post surfaced a concern from the Board perspective; when if ever will the SQLSaturday tools be done?
Think about it from a C level perspective. Out of the IT resource pie, what percentage of effort should be allocated to SQLSaturday this year? Next year? The year after that? Answering that requires looking at the value of the investment here vs there, weighing what will drive revenue directly (online education perhaps) vs indirectly (Summit registrations via SQLSaturday). Is there a point where the SQLSaturday tools are good enough and we can just do bug fixes, service packs, and a once a year build to stay current on whatever is latest and greatest for Visual Studio and the .net framework? I’m not ready to declare the work done (not that its up to me), but I’m also not sure how much more we need to do? That’s an important question to answer before we spend time complaining about the lack of dev hours or spending time to open up the source.
Thinking about that led me to this – if development stops on SQLSaturday, it feels like the franchise starts to grow stale. Is that true though? Why does it feel that way to me? I think part of it is that PASS has been paring back resources for SQLSaturday, part of it is that I’ve heard that some portion of the Board thinks SQLSaturday doesn’t drive enough revenue or even steals attendance from the Summit and is using the budget/resource issue to stop investing in it (I know, that’s cynical). But if you let go of that, think about what we do around the world at these events each year, think about what we want to do in the next ten years to educate and connect our peers, are tooling improvements important? Most important? What other ways could PASS contribute in some form that would help keep that sense of staleness away? I think that is worth some thought.
Staleness, or not, matters. Chapters went years and years with no investment and little love and I think that contributed to a sense of “what does PASS do for me” that wasn’t good for the org or the chapters. SQLSaturday has not had that issue as much because of the tooling improvements and even new paint here and there. I think it’s important for PASS to stay solvent, but also important to understand that measuring the value of chapters (user groups now?) and events based solely on revenue generated is to lose sight of what the organization is about. I think it’s equally important for us as leaders, organizers, and volunteers to be part of the conversation about how and where the resources we have get used. How do we join the conversation, rather than just reading about decisions already made? I don’t know?
I give Grant credit for starting his term by talking about his vision and addressing concerns from the members, something I hope he’ll continue to do, and that he will encourage the rest of the Board to communicate more as well, starting with a deeper dive on the budget issues and revenue generation plans.
Disagree? See another perspective? Comments are always welcome, but if you have a different take or better ideas, take the time to write and publish them. It might make a difference.