This is beginning one of my favorite times of the year – the PASS Community Summit starts this week and so does the college basketball season! My Baylor Lady Bears have a pre-season ranking of #2 in the country and after an Elite 8 run last year, the Baylor men’s basketball team is expected to do well again this year. But, for me, the #1 ranked conference for SQL Server is the PASS Community Summit. In terms of coverage of the various disciplines within the product line for the DBA (or data professional), the developer, and BI professional, you can’t beat the breadth and depth of sessions available.
Having attended every Community Summit since the inaugural meeting in Chicago in 1999, I’ve developed some wonderful friendships over the years that I always look forward to renewing each year at the Summit. The networking aspect of attending a conference of this nature is perhaps more important than the specific knowledge gained from attending sessions. I’ve utilized many of the contacts I’ve made with PASS speakers, volunteers, and general attendees over the years when I’ve hit a puzzling problem. And, similarly I’ve helped out people who met me and remembered my area of expertise when they were “stuck”. This is the COMMUNITY part of the Summit in action!
However, I know that not everyone can travel to attend “the” main event. This is where the local community comes in. In the interest of full disclosure – I have been the Chapter Leader for the Houston Area SQL Server User Group for several years; I have also been a volunteer and speaker with PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server – www.sqlpass.org) since that first Community Summit in 1999. And before that….well, that is ancient history now!
While there are a plethora of networked, online user groups, my preference is for the local face-to-face group. Within the local community, you establish relationships over pizza waiting for the presenter to set-up. Within the local community, you discover kindred spirits who also lose sleep wondering how often they should rebuild or reorg indexes…and which is better anyway. Within the local community, you develop yourself in ways you may not have time for “at work” – listen to a topic outside your normal area of focus; give a short technical presentation on an area of interest; develop and deliver a full-length conference-style presentation. Within the local community, you may have a casual conversation with a colleague that can lead to a breakthrough on a project you are currently working on now – or in the future. The list goes on.
So, are you involved in your local user group? If not, I encourage you to check it out. PASS maintains a list of regional chapters (http://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters.aspx). There are hundreds all over the world. If there is not one in your area – why not start one? PASS will even help you to get started. Similarly, INETA (www.ineta.org) – the umbrella organization for Microsoft .NET User Groups is also a good resource for finding groups in your locale.
If you are currently attending your local user group – I encourage you to step forward and get more involved. Volunteer for small or large tasks – whatever fits your comfort zone and availability. Volunteer to present – pick a topic you are passionate about. Maybe start with a small “tips” session of 10-15 minutes and build from there. Be clear when volunteering your topic as to the expected length, so that your speaker coordinator knows whether you will be filling the entire time or additional speakers will be needed.