Notes on the 2021 PASS Summit

I attended the three main days this year and wrote notes as I went. As I sat down to type them up I started by going back to look at my notes from year since both were virtual. Re-reading those and a few other posts I wrote around that time, these things came to mind:

  • It’s been less than a year since PASS folded, but seems like much longer
  • The biggest difference between 2020 and 2021 was cost (not counting the change of ownership!) as the event this year was free
  • Back in June 2020 as the PASS Board was trying to make a decision about cancelling the Summit or going virtual and how to stretch the money, how many of them were thinking that they would need to stretch to 2022 (or later) to get back to a normal revenue stream?

On to this year:

  • Redgate ran the event for the first time and it was a decent effort, easily the equal of the virtual Summit last year as far as content and experience
  • As I mentioned above it was free. Free is good! I’ll be interested to see what next year brings. Will it be paid in-person and free online?
  • No option to stay logged in, a minor annoyance
  • Lots of filtering options, but not quite the view I wanted somehow. I like being able to see the whole schedule even if I have to scroll in whatever direction.
  • As far as I could tell few or no sessions were actually delivered live. The live ones were just not available until the start time. I get the risk of poor connectivity ruining a session, but still…a little blah.
  • Options to speed up play was just 2x. Something like 1.1 or 1.2 would have been nice. If I’m going to watch a video, I want to be able to move along when it’s stuff I know, don’t care about, or just seems to be taking more time than I want it to
  • No waiting room for live sessions. It seemed like you could only get in 1-2 minutes prior to start. Aggravating to have to refresh, and a miss as far as using that as networking/chat time with the people queued to enter.
  • No transcripts. Ah, for synchronized transcripts! Also, the captioning was just ok. Can’t it be tuned for technical talks? The strangest miss I saw was “memory grants” being shown as “mammary glands”.
  • Sponsor sessions weren’t called out. Why not tag this and leave it up to the attendee?
  • Q&A live sessions were scheduled on Wed when it wasn’t clear you should have watched the recorded presentation first. The upside though was that while it was time boxed, I hear that it wasn’t enforced so a speaker could take more questions if they wanted to.
  • Not all sessions had decks or attachments loaded at the time of the presentation
  • No opening night ceremony, the one thing I missed compared to the 2020 event
  • All the content was available by the end of the event. That’s sooo much better than for live events where it’s a month or more for video to get processed.
  • The community zone was never well attended in the the times I dropped in. The most I saw was around 50 people and usually much less. The SQLSaturday room seemed to be the most popular, but I’m guessing that was because it was often the only room with people in it.
  • The spatial chat software was decent. I struggle to remember what they used last year, but this seemed better. Takes a couple minutes to figure out. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth a look.
  • As far as presentations the thing I noticed the most was the varying degrees of sound quality, both across sessions and within sessions. I think you notice this kind of thing far more when going from video to video directly. It was never so bad as to be unusable or really even annoying (as long as you’re not expecting professionally produced video, which I’d say is not the goal of this event at this time).
  • Another thing I noticed was the varying backdrops when the presenter was viewable. Some were too plain, some were too busy. No right answer here!
  • Nice list of evaluations to complete based on sessions you entered and they move to “done” as you do them (though I didn’t do them all). One suggestion would be to put them on one page so I can score more quickly and think about relative scoring too.

The Great

  • Free! Seriously, it makes it accessible to a LOT of people that couldn’t pay the $600 fee last year
  • Content available for six months, all in one easy to find place.
  • The event happened. It sure seemed in doubt back in the dark days of January when PASS folded
  • It all worked

The Not So Good

  • Networking remains an after thought. It needs far more than bolting on a chat application and thinking “networking done”.
  • Didn’t really feel like an “event”. No emcee, no common thread. If you’ve been to the in-person event you can project that Summit frame of mind on to it, to a degree I guess.

Best Session Awards (as picked by me!)

  • What Are You Worth by Doug Lane. This was a combination of a great talk about a complex topic combined with picking the right way to present it. Doug skipped the slides and looked into the camera and talked to you. If you’re running a user group, you should ask Doug to present this.
  • “Black Arts” Index Maintenance – LOBs – Defragmented by Default by Jeff Moden. Jeff has his own style and focus and you can see all of that in this session. If you’re using LOB’s, this is worth watching.
  • Become a Contributor to Microsoft Docs by William Assaf. Perhaps the smoothest session I watched. Lots and lots of good information, questions anticipated and answered, and not least, engaged me enough to make a note at some point to submit a PR on a doc just to see it all work. There’s some really interesting stuff here as far architecture, process, marketing, and more. Take a chance on this one, I think you’ll find it worthwhile.
  • Day 3 Keynote — 5 Ways the Cloud Impacts Your Career by Brent Ozar. Brent delivered a thoughtful talk and found some good analogies to support his points, all without slides and no marketing. I also think it set a decent bar for what the Day 3 keynote should be going forward.

Next Year

  • Supposed to be a hybrid with the physical event in Seattle. Dates and cost not yet announced and hoping it’s announced soon to give people time to work on the budget request.
  • I’m curious how having a virtual option (free or reduced cost) impacts how hard it is to get businesses to approve sending people in person.
  • Assuming things are the same or better, I’m planning to attend in-person.

One thought on “Notes on the 2021 PASS Summit

  1. I was hoping you’d do a write-up of how you thought the event went! I always look forward to your thoughts on this kinda stuff.

    I’m so torn on the live-video-vs-recorded thing. Live is so much more exciting, but when there are hundreds of speakers from all over the world, using all kinds of Internet connections, unpredictable lighting, noises from neighbors, etc, it’s just so risky. I’ve seen so many terrible live streams.

    I think there’s hope in a hybrid event, though: if a vendor is managing the camera/audio/video feeds, and it’s going through a robust Internet pipe at a conference location, then there’s a lot better chance of getting usable live streams. Plus it introduces the fun of seeing a live audience ask questions, and see the presenter react.

    The networking just isn’t working with online events, full stop, but…I don’t think it should. I think for online events, the networking should take place outside of the conference platform. Networking should be about planting seeds to get people into an environment where they can continue to network, permanently – whether that’s Slack, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever. I know picking a platform involves compromise, but we would all agree that a conference platform that disappears after the conference ends definitely isn’t the right platform.

    Sadly, I don’t think it’s gonna get fixed, either – the motivation to fix it will disappear in 2022 as Bits and Summit go back to in-person events. We’ll all get focused on prepping for that, and we’ll let the online networking stuff slide because we’ll be so excited to get back and hug each other again, hahaha.

    Thanks for the kind words about my session! I actually wanted to do onscreen text when I was going through lists, like the 5 ways or maintainer/builder/architect, but I ran out of time. (Sigh)

    Like

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