My boss suggested one day in 2007 to find some training for SQL Server along with the cost. Where would I best spend the company's money to get the optimal return or value? How might we combine a relaxing, fun trip with SQL Server learning?
I have been a long time reader of SQLServerCentral.com and have seen advertisement for the PASS Summit, but never thought much about it. MS Tech Ed seemed to be Microsoft employees showing off new or upcoming features in a version we were not using yet. The local training in SQL Server was for beginners and I had just passed the MCDBA examines so I started looking for something more advanced.
SQLServerCentral.com (SSC) advertised a code for a discount on registration plus an invite to a Casino Night with a free shirt and other giveaways. So, I submitted a request for this trip with the SSC information along with a schedule of sessions.
My boss said we could go to the Summit in Denver, so we scheduled a trip together. At that point in time, I did not know "names" in the SQL Server community or experts with SQL Server other than the writers of articles in trade publications. We signed up for 1 pre-conference session about performance tuning which was related to our work. The rest of the sessions we selected day to day, some good and some we thought we could do a better job.
Today, there is a huge supply of available information about the Professional Association of SQL Server's (PASS - SQLPass.org) annual Summit this year in Charlotte, NC. No one can do everything, but you can exhaust yourself trying and missing out on the value.
Here are some tips I have experienced over the years of attending, volunteering and speaking.
Why do I attend?
First, I have been blessed to speak for the third year. These speaking opportunities make me study the material more than just using it in the real world. That is one thing I really enjoy about the Summit. There are speakers that are using SQL Server in the real-world and not book talk. New features are cool, but I need something practical to bring back to the job so my boss will send me again and again and again. I make it a point to learn 3 new things that I can use at work. The first one I try to implement in the first month after returning from the Summit. The other 2 make take between 2 to 3 additional months. There is usually access to regular sessions online after the Summit, so I can go back over the material.
What am I excited about?
There is nothing like meeting up with SQL Server professionals and having conversations about life. There is absolutely no reason why you should be in the hotel room during this conference other than sleeping and cleaning up. Each night, there are one or more ways to network with other SQL Server professionals.
Andy Warren and Steve Jones usually have a networking event at a restaurant on Monday. This is cool way to sit at a table and talk about your job and SQL Server. Tuesday has the Welcome reception followed by a Quiz Bowl where you can watch and hear SQL Server "experts" answer questions like what column in what DMV will give you this. I am amazed at how some of these people know the answer. There are also talks from board members about the days to come.
Wednesday starts the day with a Run/Walk and in the evening there is the Exhibitor Reception plus Karaoke events from different sponsors. Thursday some people wear kilts and Microsoft puts on a Appreciation party at a local hot spot (this year it is at the NASCAR Hall of Fame).
In between all of this, you might be invited to a Sponsor event, so do not forgot to go to the Exhibitor Hall.
How do I prepare for the Conference?
Well, since I have spoken at the last 2 Summits and have 2 sessions this year, my goal is to find 1 or 2 parts of SQL Server that I need to know as an expert. So, I start looking at past sessions to find something that would be good to expand my knowledge. Next, I volunteer for some part of PASS. This year I have transitioned from Chair of the Data Architecture Virtual Chapter to Mentor of Virtual Chapters, plus I was on the team to review some sessions.
Finally, I have to plan the trip around family time and make sure all those bases are covered way before I leave for the trip. This year I am staying through Saturday to attend SQLSaturday BI Edition in Charlotte and have one session in the morning to present, but not getting to PASS until Monday evening.
Why should you attend this conference?
First, I have to say that I have never met as many enthusiastic technology people as there are at a PASS Summit. These people are just like you and me that want to be SQL Server professionals. The networking opportunities are second to none. Even during lunch, you can learn something new with the people you sit with for a break. If you need to learn more about Performance Tuning, Business Intelligence, Big Data or Database Recovery, attend a pre-conference session on Monday and/or Tuesday for a day of more intense learning. Wednesday thru Friday make sure to attend 2 or 3 sessions about a familiar or not so familiar subject. Go to a lighting talk or bring a problem to the SQL Server Clinic for some help from an expert from Microsoft. I could go on and on.
What are some favorite memories from past Summits?
The favorite memories are meeting the people that wrote a blog or article I read. They may be writing about indexing or VLFs in the log file and this is something you do not want to miss. Some of these people are Gail Shaw (indexes), Thomas LaRock (tuning), Paul Randall (recovery), Devin Knight (BI), Peter Meyers (BI) and many more. Grant Fritchey (speaking) help show me how to be an effect presenter just by watching him, and there have been some that help me learn what not to do. The PASS community also has meetings with other Virtual Chapter, Local User Group and SQLSaturday leaders which have be a joy to communicate with. These contacts are brought home with me and are used to better my skills.