• Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Copyright Notice

    Copyright © Nancy Hidy Wilson, 2010-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Hidy Wilson and nancyhidywilson.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SQLRally 2012 Dallas – Recap

PASS and NTSSUG (North Texas SQL Server User Group) hosted this year’s SQLRally. As the chapter leader for HASSUG (Houston Area SQL Server User Group), I was also part of the host team and volunteered on the program committee and served as a room monitor during the conference. Putting on a conference of this size with mostly volunteers (there is some paid staff from PASS HQ, but the majority of the work is by volunteers) is no small feat and the NTSSUG team did a great job of organizing.  

Sessions Attended

Based on the sessions offered at SQLRally, I set my focus on learning about SQL Server 2012 features, investigating areas outside my current area of expertise (enterprise deployments), and considering my future career development.

  • Bob Ward – What’s New for SQL Server 2012 Supportability
  • Craig Purnell – Upgrade Roadmap: Let’s Delve into SQL Server 2012
  • Kathi Kellenberger – SQL Server 2012 T-SQL
  • Denny Cherry – Using SQL Server 2012’s Always On
  • Suresh Kandoth – SQL Server 2012: Memory Manager Rebooted
  • Tim Mitchell – Introduction to Data Quality Services
  • Robert Davis – TempDB: Performance and Manageability
  • Erin Welker – So, You Want to Start a Career in BI
  • Andy Warren – Building Your Professional Development Plan

All of the sessions were top quality and I will definitely use what I learned in both my day-to-day work and overall career development.

Networking

SQLRally had lots of opportunities for networking, both informal and formal. The scheduled opportunities included:

  • Wednesday night’s “Meet the SQL Professionals”
  • Thursday night’s “SQLKaraoke”
  • Friday morning’s “SQLRally at Starbucks”

During lunch and between sessions provided ample opportunity for informal networking. And, I took time off during one session timeslot to continue networking and be available at the PASS Community Corner to promote local user groups (continuing the networking after attendees get home) and the virtual chapters. As several people have confessed (among them Andy Warren, Brian Moran, and Tim Mitchell), the networking aspect is actually probably the most important activity when attending a conference. This is how #SQLFamily is built.

Things Done Well

  • Guidebook – This mobile app is a great way to keep attendees up-to-date with speaker/session changes. Other than seeing that a printed agenda was in our attendee bag, I never looked at it and used Guidebook exclusively for checking where I needed to be next!
  • SQL Clinic – This was a “must-have” with the event in Dallas so near to the SQL CSS team’s home and didn’t disappoint with members of SQLCAT also in attendance.
  • Networking opportunities – already mentioned. Good job by the planners!
  • Bus – looping between convention center and SQLKaraoke site was a win!

Things to Improve

  • Guidebook (yes, it is on both the “done well” and the “to improve” list!)
    • Include room numbers along with the Session Title and Session Number in the main entry, if possible. You had to click the session to find the room number; simple once you knew to do this, but many people didn’t realize it.
    • Include all activities in the “schedule”:
      • Welcome Session 
      • Closing Session
      • WIT Luncheon
      • Include all “extracurricular” activities – from SQLKaraoke to Starbucks Networking.
  • Beverage choices during breaks – coffee or nothing – how about some water and sodas?
  • Ensure bottled water in the sessions rooms for each speaker.
  • Signage to A4 ballroom from the majority of session rooms could have been better. It was confusing to most attendees that one session room (A4) was far away from the majority of the session rooms and on a different floor level. 
  • Station volunteers at the top of the escalators and along the hallways, not just at the rooms to help attendees find their way. 
  • Where to find the speakers’ slide decks? I had several people ask me during the conference, but I had not personally looked for them yet and couldn’t answer. Now, I have looked and I can’t find them either!
  • Overall Event Evaluation form – I hear they will be done electronically after the event, but I would have liked to have it available to comment on as I experienced the conference real-time.

Event Format

Instead of 2 pre-con days, consider having only 1 pre-con day or splitting into a pre-con day and post-con day. Consider having the post-con session on Saturday. The success of SQLSaturday has already shown that many of us are willing to give up some of our personal time to improve our skills.  As part of the purpose of SQLRally (at least in my mind) is to provide a “taste” of Summit and at a lower price point, I don’t see many people justifying being out of the office 4 days (or 5 if Monday is a travel day); that would be practically the same as Summit (unless they are local).  By combining the SQLRally 2-day main event with a post-conference Saturday all-day seminar, maybe more people could convince their employers to pay for SQLRally and the post-con since in theory it isn’t all on “company time”.  Attendees can make the case that they and their employer have a joint investment in their training.

Personally, there was a pre-con on Tuesday that I probably could have justified, but not one on Wednesday which fit my development needs. Since I was coming from out-of-town, this just didn’t work for me logistically or financially. Consequently, I didn’t attend any pre-con. If I could have attended that all-day session on consecutive days with the main SQLRally days, then I would have done that – even if one of the days was a Saturday. However, I recognize that this format (especially using a Saturday) may not work for others and may not work with venue rental. I know PASS has tried the pre-con\post-con format in the past with Summit, but is back to two days of pre-cons for whatever reasons. I think the host team for the next SQLRally, however, should seriously reconsider this concept for maximum attendance.

Conclusion

Overall the event provided great technical content and networking opportunities to the SQL Server community. While many people who attended SQLRally have previously attended a PASS Summit, I talked to just as many people who have not attended a Summit, but now have it on their list of things to do! I think the event also did a good job of reinforcing the value of local user groups, and even encouraged some folks to consider starting a user group or hosting a SQLSaturday in their area.  This was only the second SQLRally event in the United States, so it will be interesting to see how this event evolves for 2013 filling the gap between Summit and SQLSaturdays.

Have Your Say – SQLRally Pre-con Sessions up for Vote!

SQLRally is a PASS-sponsored 2-day training event scheduled May 10-11, 2012, in Dallas, Texas, and hosted by the North Texas SQL Server User Group with support from all the South Central Region PASS Chapters.  For additional in-depth learning opportunities, there will be 2 days of pre-conference sessions (aka pre-cons) offered on May 8 and May 9.  

6 pre-conference sessions have already been selected and the remaining 2 sessions will be decided by community vote. Voting will close on February 9, 2012, at 5pm Central time – so what are you waiting for – go vote now and plan to attend SQLRally Dallas 2012!

Register for the main 2-day event before March 15, 2012, for only $349!

More Reflections on PASS Summit 2011

So, I did some more reflecting after my last post and I’ve come up with some more reasons why PASS Summit 2011, in particular, was so great.  Reason #4: Recognition of volunteers. I mentioned previously that volunteers are truly the life-blood of PASS. And if volunteering doesn’t totally suck the life out of you, then you may survive to be named the PASSion Award winner. This year’s recipient was Lori Edwards (twitter). Lori ran the Program Committee this year, so, yes, you have her to blame praise for the content at this year’s Summit. Next to being on the Board of Directors, running Program Committee is probably the most time-consuming task a volunteer could undertake. There were some 70 volunteers on Program Committee this year to review, select, schedule, and review again the hundreds of sessions submitted by hundreds of speakers in 6 different tracks this year. But someone is ultimately responsible for overseeing the coordination of all those volunteers and that was Lori. Thanks, Lori!

This year PASS also recognized additional “outstanding” volunteers: Jack Corbett (blog | twitter) and Tim Radney (blog | twitter).  Jack was recognized for his leadership and work with PASS SQLRally 2011 in Orlando, the PASS Nomination Committee, the 2010 PASS Program Committee, and leading SQLSaturday #49 and OPASS (Orlando PASS Chapter). Tim was recognized for his leadership as a Regional Mentor to PASS Chapters, for leading the Columbus, Georgia, SQL Server User Group to a 50% attendance increase, for organizing SQLSaturday #89 and for speaking at other SQLSaturday events.

Reason #5: Fresh blood First-timers! Beginning with the PASS Summit 2010 conference, “first timer” and “alumni” ribbons were handed out to attendees. If you’ve never been to a PASS Summit, then you’ve missed experiencing “ribbon envy”.  Attendees are provided ribbons to attach to their badges based on their various levels of involvement in the PASS community (that word again!). Board of Directors, Program Committee, MVP, Chapter Leader, Virtual Chapter Leader, etc. etc. etc. all designations get ribbons (each with its own color designation).  If you attend a pre-con then you get a different colored ribbon for each day of pre-cons; and it seemed to go on and on this year with some creative attendees and vendors devising their own ribbons (Dr. Data, etc.).

But, I digress, back to the first-timers. This year, PASS expanded the First-Timer experience and provided Big Brothers and Big Sisters (alumni) to help steer the First-Timers fully into the community of PASS Summit. First Timers were put in touch with their Big Brothers/Sisters ahead of Summit so that they could ask questions about what to expect. In addition to the traditional orientation session, the newcomers had a special networking session with Don Gabor (website) prior to the Welcome Reception. Then, they were introduced into the Welcome Reception with flashing lights, loud music, and dry ice…with apologies and kudos at the same time to Thomas LaRock (blog | twitter), they were SQLRockstars! And they kept coming and coming and coming until between 800-1000 “first timers” filled the reception area wall-to-wall along with “alumni” attendees! According to Tom’s recap blog there were glitches and he wants to continue to improve the first timer experience, but from where I stood it was truly awesome for this “old timer”.

I hope that even just a few of this year’s “first timers” caught the volunteer bug that I caught back when I was a “first timer” in 1999. PASS needs you and PASS wants you to volunteer to serve! Seriously, like any organization, PASS needs a continual infusion of fresh ideas. If you are interested in volunteering with PASS, go here to learn more.

Reflections on PASS Summit 2011

The annual PASS Summit was held in Seattle the week of Oct 10th. Originally, this event was called the PASS Community Summit. To rephrase a popular saying, “they can take Community out of the official event name, but they can’t take Community out of the event”. In other words, the state of the SQL Server community is so strong that to include the word “community” in the event title is somewhat redundant at this point.

This year’s Summit had another record attendance with approximately 3500 registrations for the 3-day conference and another 1500 registrants combined over two days of pre-conference sessions. Why? Reason #1, in my opinion, is that it is due to 13+ years of tremendous volunteer effort.  Many people may not realize that while PASS does have a “management company” to handle logistics, the majority of the work in providing PASS events is done by volunteers. Everything from Board of Directors to Program Committee to Quiz Bowl is done by volunteers. As volunteers get more involved, the deeper their roots are developed within the community; and the stronger the community grows.  When you volunteer your time to the community, you get so much back in return. (Although you may not get much rest!)

So, what else influences the success of the PASS Summit?  My second and third reasons (I can’t decide which is which) are the content (combination of sessions & speakers) and the support of the Microsoft SQL Server Product Group – from the CSS team members who sit in the SQL Clinic all day to the SQLCAT team members presenting case studies to SQL Server Dev team members presenting details of the portion of the product for which they are responsible.

The value derived from Summit is sometimes difficult to nail down immediately, as sometimes it may be months after the event when you realize that something you learned at Summit just enabled you to solve a pressing issue.  On the other hand, sometimes you learn something that you can immediately use. Along those lines, however, one of the most important aspects of Summit is the networking and making contacts and sharing of expertise, so that you develop colleagues within the community to turn to as resources.  Wow, there is that word again – community.

I’ve attended every PASS Summit US-based event since the very first one held in Chicago in 1999. The PASS organization has come a long way since then – incorporating local user groups as PASS chapters providing them with a brand, creating virtual chapters which provide online training, supporting SQLSaturday for local training, and starting SQL Rally and 24 Hours of PASS for additional training opportunities throughout the year. For all of those activities to be successful, it comes back to content. If the content wasn’t there and people were not finding value in the educational opportunities provided by PASS, then Summit would cease to exist not continue to set record attendance in a down economy.

It is something of a paradox that I’m totally worn out at the end of Summit week, but at the same time come back to work re-energized after spending so much time learning as much as I can about the current features and future features of the SQL Server product and database world in general. Thanks PASS (that means all you volunteers out there) for making this happen every year!

Oh, and as a final thought – I vote for Dr. David DeWitt to be the keynote speaker forever! I confess to skipping keynotes back in the early years, but wouldn’t dream of missing a DeWitt keynote! Who’s with me?

See you in Seattle at PASS Summit 2012!

SQL Rally 2012 – Date Announced

During the PASS Summit Keynote on Friday, October 14, the official date for SQL Rally 2012 in Dallas, TX, was announced as May 10-11, 2012. If you don’t have the time and the funds to make it to the main PASS Summit in a year, then SQL Rally might be just what you are looking for.  You’ll find the same high quality speakers at SQL Rally as at the Summit, but SQL Rally is shorter (2 days instead of 3) and therefore less expensive alternative for obtaining technical SQL Server training and the all-important networking with colleagues from across the country.

If you live within driving distance of the D-FW metroplex, I encourage you to put this event on your training plan for 2012. And, who knows, maybe the AL Champion (and potential World Series champion) Texas Rangers will be in town and you can take in a baseball game, too.

SQL Rally 2011

Vrroom! Vrroom! Although I am in Indianapolis for the NCAA Women’s Final Four on April 3-5, one of the biggest sporting events in the nation occurs here every Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  IMS is celebrating the centennial of the “Indy 500” race this year. Coincidentally, in mid-May, PASS is hosting its inaugural SQLRally which has a sporty road race theme to it.  SQLRally is designed to “fill the gap” between the free SQLSaturday events, which now occur globally year-round, and the annual PASS Summit week long training\networking event.  

The inaugural SQLRally is being held in Orlando, Florida, May 11-13, and includes one day of optional “pre-con” sessions and two full conference days. The event schedule and speakers (as chosen by the SQL Server community) are currently posted AND there is still time to  save $100 by registering before April 12 (to get 2 days training for the low rate of $299!).

On the agenda, you’ll find many of the same quality speakers you’ve heard (or heard of) at previous PASS Summits, 24 Hours of PASS, and other SQL Server presentation venues. Just like the PASS Summit, you’ll find presentations in the following categories:

  • Enterprise Database Administration & Deployment
  • Database & Application Development
  • BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
  • Professional Development

Whether you are able to attend or not, you can follow the hashtag #sqlrally on Twitter to connect with others discussing this event.

So if you are looking for a mid-year training event to attend or don’t have the budget for the PASS Summit, give serious consideration to attending SQLRally! And, if you need help with some justification, PASS has put that together for you here.

PASS Summit 2013 Location – My 2 cents

PASS HQ originally posted a blog entitled “The Decision: PASS Summit 2013″ making it sound like a decision had been made per the title, but in reality they are still seeking community input into the final decision and have now updated their blog entry to: http://www.sqlpass.org/Community/PASSBlog/entryid/273/The-Debate-PASS-Summit-2013.aspx.  So here comes my two cents into the debate!

I’m lucky. I live in Houston, thus I can fly to most any other major city in the continental U.S. in under 5 hours flight time, non-stop, and relatively inexpensively.  So, travel to PASS, regardless of where it is held, is really a non-issue for me.  I know from talking to many international colleagues that it is also immaterial to most of them – travel to the United States is travel to the United States regardless of the city location.  However, I acknowledge that many of my US colleagues live far from major airports and thus have to take multiple connections to get the Seattle. But, where do you move it to that this isn’t an issue for someone? 

Did I mention I live in Houston? Well, every May, since 1969, we are the home to one of the largest conferences in the world – OTC (Offshore Technology Conference). So here comes my analogy… Houston is seen as the home of offshore drilling due to the number of companies in the industry headquartered here; Seattle (okay, Redmond) is the home of Microsoft.  There is offshore drilling occurring around the world (North Sea, Brazil, Beaufort Sea, etc.) not just the Gulf of Mexico and plenty of the companies involved are based around the world. There is usage of Microsoft SQL Server around the world! OTC is sponsoring some “off-shoot” conferences this year including OTC Brasil to be held in Rio de Janiero in October. PASS is sponsoring an “off-shoot” conference this year – SQLRally is being held in Orlando in May. I haven’t heard anything about a PASS Europe event in 2011, but those have been held in the past.

So for me, I personally like having the PASS Summit in Microsoft’s backyard; some years I’ve spent more time talking to the development team members present in the “Ask the Experts” area than in actual conference sessions. I know there is concern about the level of support from Microsoft for these types of extras (including CSS and SQLCAT) if the conference is held away from the Redmond area.  Sure, Microsoft will always have speakers and their presence in the vendor area, but how many of the lower level developers that actually write the code will get to hear the input from the community first-hand? As far as I know this is the big con for moving away from Seattle and the big pro for keeping it in Seattle. 

However, having just completed a SQLSaturday event in Houston, I know that site location is ultimately determined by availability and price!

So while my preference is to keep PASS Summit in Seattle and move SQLRally around, the bottom line for me is that the PASS main event can be held anywhere and I will come!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 415 other followers