Nov 042015

I had a beyond amazing week at SQL Saturday Portland and PASS Summit, but now it’s back to reality. Time to catch up on sleep, return to the daily grind of work, and enjoy the comforts of home. Gotta sort through all those photos, start counting down the 51 weeks until the next Summit (PASS has a countdown clock up on their site!) and start thinking about which sessions to submit when the call for speakers opens in a few short months.

In past years I’ve given a play-by-play of things I did, but there’s so much that goes on that week that writing it up properly would be way too long of a post. I’ll keep it simpler this time around and stick to just a few thoughts.

An annual milestone

PASS Summit is one of my milestones of the year. It automatically triggers thinking back to the previous one and then realizing that another year has gone by and wow, I’m older. As I think about it, it’s a lot like Christmas: something I look forward to all year where I get to have a wonderful time with family. Yes, it’s #sqlfamily instead of blood relatives, but there’s also the bonus of not having to take that family photo where Grandma makes everyone stand in the exact same spot every year. (I’m not kidding, we have these going back to 1990.)

Great advice: sleep when you get home

As attendees in one session were told: “If you’re going back to your hotel at 6pm, you’re doing it wrong. Hotels are for basic hygiene and *some* sleep. Other than that, get out, do things, and meet people.” I didn’t hear that advice my first year, but I’m so glad I had already met so many people on Twitter before I arrived 4 years ago. By the time I got to Seattle, I already had plenty of contacts that knew better than to let me get a good night’s sleep!

Wifi connections

In the past, wifi at the summit hasn’t been all that dependable. With 5000+ people, most of whom are carrying multiple devices, it’s not hard to understand why. This year, however, it was rock solid. I got kicked off the network exactly once, and I’m pretty sure it was my own fault. Whatever PASS did to make things so reliable this time, thank you very much!

Non-wifi connections

Connect. Share. Learn. This has been PASS’ motto for quite a while. We do it all year long in chapter meetings, SQL Saturdays, virtual chapters, and on social media. What makes the summit special to me is that it’s so much bigger than any of those things, and no computer is necessary. You can meet people in person. Shake their hand. Give them a hug. Give them a really big hug if you haven’t seen them in a while. There’s amazing learning to be had in the sessions, but for me the real learning has always taken place outside of presentations. Getting to know people. Finding out what they enjoy doing when they’re not working. Making new friendships and strengthening existing ones. It always amazes me how much we all have in common, regardless of what we do or where we come from. I took my own advice more this year than ever before. Yes, that means I spent less time attending sessions and more time connecting with people. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

Try something new

As many ways as PASS Summit is the same every year, I try to make it different each time as well. Last year was my first time taking the #sqltrain from Portland to Seattle, an add-on that was so much fun I didn’t have to think twice about doing it again. This time around I did a few new things, including attending different types of sessions. Hardcore SQL Server internals porn is great, and while I still got my fix in that department, I also attended some professional development and business intelligence sessions. I got to see how handsome and witty Mark Vaillancourt is when presenting, and as an added bonus his movie-themed session used my favorite clip from The Wizard of Oz. (Click that link – it’s really neat!)

I also got outside of my comfort zone this year and was more of an active participant in SQL Karaoke instead of just being a member of the audience. This took some careful prodding, but I’m glad I was persuaded. (I’ll be even more glad if no evidence of this ever surfaces…)

No regrets

Of course there’s no regrets. In all honesty, the only regret I’ve ever had in terms of PASS Summit is not attending sooner. I wish this could be my 6th or 7th year instead of my 4th. But I know there’s plenty of people who haven’t been to one, let alone four. I’m extremely fortunate in that sense.

The perfect photo

I’m always searching for the single perfect photo to sum up an event or era of my life. My 2013 PASS Summit Wrap-Up used what I consider to be the perfect picture representing my high school years: a huge group of my friends getting together in my parents’ basement. I’ve always loved getting people together to have a good time. PASS Summit is way more people, and a lot of times you’ll find us in a much larger basement, but the essence is the same.

More often than not, the perfect photo isn’t a group shot. Group photos contain lots of stories, but don’t really tell a story. My favorite photo from all 5 years of college marching band is a seemingly random picture taken by my father 11 years ago this weekend. It’s of my best friend from college and I playing in the stands. It’s a cold November day, but you’d never know that by looking at the bandos. The sun perfectly captures the reddish Illini orange of our capes, as well as a few of the flaws of our uniform. My gloves are on my shoulder because pockets were difficult to get to. Her cape is reinforced with a safety pin because they were too heavy for buttons alone to support. Campus buildings can be seen off in the distance, and the football game is nowhere to be found. (The Fighting Illini weren’t all that great that year…or any year after my first, for that matter.)

A perfect photo for this or any year’s PASS Summit? I’m not sure I have one. There’s so many things going on with so many wonderful people. Also, perfect photos tend to become more apparent after-the-fact. This is a chapter of my life that’s still ongoing, with plenty more people to meet, experiences to share, and memories to make. In that sense, I hope this perfect photo hasn’t been taken yet.

Oct 222015

It’s nearly upon us! Next week, data professionals from around the world will gather in Seattle for the spectacle that is PASS Summit. A conference (and family reunion) like no other, we’ll share knowledge, war stories, fellowship, and also germs (because I’m pretty sure I’ve come home with some strain of the nerd flu each year.)

With over 200 technical sessions, there’s something for pretty much everybody. Building a personal schedule always proves to be an exercise not in finding a session you want to attend, but rather choosing which session you absolutely cannot miss because there’s 3 others you also want to see in that same time slot.

Yet amidst this bounty of knowledge being given away by leaders and experts in their fields, there are times when I opt to simply not attend a session at all. Instead of listening to a presentation, you’ll probably find me in a beanbag chair in the community zone chatting with others, out for coffee, or exploring some part of Seattle I’ve yet to find. Why? Because PASS Summit is about way more than attending sessions. It’s about community. It’s making connections and new friends, and catching up with the old ones you haven’t seen in a while. The real power of the summit is being in the same place as all these people, interacting, and getting to know them. Time is extremely valuable that week, and while sitting in presentations is a solid way to invest it, there are other ways to spend it that are just as valuable, if not moreso.

Buy the videos

Really. They’re so worth it. Like I said earlier, it’s not going to be possible to attend all the sessions you’ll want to see. And to be honest, you won’t always be in the best physical or mental shape to learn in a session. Perhaps you were at an evening activity pretty late and now you’re exhausted, or maybe you went on #sqlrun and decided that a #sqlshower* might be a good (and courteous!) alternative to making the first session of the morning. You can watch the videos whenever you like, and as an added bonus, they also support pause and rewind functionality.

Microsoft also gets it

Earlier this month it was announced that Microsoft would not be offering 50% off certification exams on site, as they have done in the past. At first I was upset, but then I continued reading and saw that they would be offering 50% off exam vouchers to conference attendees instead. This is a much better deal in my mind – you are now free to take a discounted exam back at home where you won’t have to miss out on sessions or other activities to do so. It’s one fewer distraction from making connections and learning from others, whether that’s inside or outside of a session.

To sum things up, your time at conferences is very valuable. Everything you do is paid for with time, over and above all the monetary expense you and/or your employer incurred to be there. However you spend your time, make sure you’re getting the most out of it. If you’re going to be attending PASS Summit this year, I’ll see you there, hopefully outside of a session!


* For the record, #sqlshower is NOT a group activity.

May 262015

It’s getting to be about that time of year again. Bees are buzzing, Summer’s nearly here (at least in the northern hemisphere), and PASS Summit 2015 session selections will probably be announced soon. I don’t know this for sure; I’m not part of the speaker selection process this year, but based on the dates the notification emails went out the past few years:

  • 2014: June 24
  • 2013: May 17
  • 2012: June 6
  • 2011: June 15

I’m guessing it will be in the next few weeks.

As always, questions come up when notifications are sent out. While I can’t even come close to having all the answers, there are a few questions I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts on. In previous years I didn’t feel it was appropriate to add my two cents in because I was part of the process, but this year I’m not. The following thoughts are my own opinion and nothing more.

Why didn’t I get picked?

In the past, the “reasons” sent out in speaker selection notification emails were extremely vague. They’ve gotten better recently, but before that you would see such extremely descriptive statements as: “poor quality abstract” and nothing more.  Whatever the explanation, I tend to lump reasons for not getting picked into one of two groups:

Your abstract wasn’t good. There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that some submissions are lacking in quality. I’ve seen plenty of abstracts that were incomplete when submitted, or full of factual or grammatical errors. I detailed a lot of these issues in my previous post. Even if you have great content, errors like these are hard to survive. Fortunately, the quality of your abstract is something you have complete control over. Proofread. Over and over. And when you get tired of proofreading it, have someone else look at it – maybe 2 or 3 people. PASS even offered confidential abstract evaluation this year, and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future. An abstract, much like a résumé, can never be proofread too many times or by too many people.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, please realize that most abstracts are good. Of all the abstracts I read over the past few years, maybe 10% fell into the category I just mentioned. The vast majority of rejections occur not because an abstract isn’t good, but because someone else’s abstract was better. Maybe they had a little something extra in their wording or explanation that resonated with the abstract review team. Perhaps their session included an additional topic that will make it appeal to a wider audience. Whatever the reason, it’s something that’s out of your hands. I liken it to getting dumped by someone and having them say “it’s not you, it’s me.” You can’t force someone to like your abstract (or you, for that matter.)

This is a tough group to be in; you don’t have any control over making sure your abstract is liked more than someone else’s that you can’t see. Actually – scratch that – you CAN see them. While the call for speakers is open, you can read all the abstracts that have been submitted. You’d probably be doing yourself a favor by checking submissions on similar topics and seeing if there’s any changes you’d like to make to your abstract based on what else is out there. You’ll still have zero control over whether or not the abstract reviewers like it, but at least you can say you tried everything there was to try. I think this is completely fair; the list of submissions is out there for everyone to see, and others are free to read your topics and adjust theirs accordingly as well. Unless you don’t submit your abstract until the last possible second so others can’t see it ahead of time, which seems to be occurring more and more frequently the past few years. It can be argued that many who do this are clearly gaming the system, but it’s their right to do so. They are still abiding by the rules (the deadline), and if they want to sneak submissions in right under the wire, there’s nothing that says they can’t. While I think it’s unfortunate that things have gotten to be like this, it’s still fair in my mind.

Why don’t I have comments?

While working as an abstract reviewer in previous years, the instructions were to give as many comments as possible. Comments are a wonderful thing. In theory, they can help everyone improve their submissions for the next time around, except when they can’t. If an abstract has obvious errors, those are easy to comment on. If I think you could have worded something a little better, I’m more than happy to comment on that as well. If I have any constructive criticism at all, you’ll see it in a comment.

But what if I read your abstract and I think it’s perfect? It’s well-written, easy to understand, and the topic is so compelling that I’m looking forward to attending your session. I write all these things down as comments. It turns out all the other abstract reviewers feel the same way and write similar comments. But then that abstract doesn’t end up getting selected, perhaps because someone else’s was better. Now you have a rejection with a side of comments saying how awesome your abstract was, and that doesn’t help you out at all.

From what I’ve heard, some reviewers will leave no comments if they liked an abstract and found nothing wrong with it. But that doesn’t help you improve, which is why we’re submitting sessions to begin with, right? I’ve always tried really hard to find something to comment on in every abstract I review. No abstract is perfect – there’s always room for improvement.

How can I improve for next year?

This one’s simple. Don’t give up! Keep trying. Submit for local user groups and SQL Saturdays while you continue to hone your skills. Many speakers try for years before they get an abstract accepted for PASS Summit. I tried unsuccessfully 3 or 4 times before I was accepted. The only way to ensure you’ll never speak at Summit is to give up and stop submitting abstracts.

What if I have more questions?

This one’s easy too. Don’t ask me – ask the people who really know what’s going on! It just so happens that PASS is hosting a Town Hall meeting tomorrow, 27 May, at 8:00 PM (UTC) and the topic is the PASS Summit selection process. You can register to attend by clicking here and be sure to bring your questions. I will definitely be there and am looking forward to it. Hope to see you there!

Dec 052014

Two weeks ago I decided to kick off the holiday season by asking people to write about what they were thankful for. I was very fortunate to get three great responses, which I am happy to share in no particular order (which just so happens to be the order I received them in).

Chris Yates (@YatesSQL) says that after attending PASS Summit 2014 he had the epiphany that the people make all the difference in our community, and encourages us all to take a moment and thank someone who has helped us along the way. I couldn’t agree more, Chris. We all have at least one person (probably many more!) who has mentored us in some way – we should let them know how grateful we are!

Mickey Stuewe (@SQLMickey) starts off by saying “I’m thankful for a lot and not appreciative of enough.” Not only is she thankful for her nutritionist, her husband, and the SQL Community, but also for how fortunate she has been. Mickey mentions that she’s heard many sobering stories of how some of us got to where we are today the hard way, and I know I have as well. She also writes that she is going to thank some specific people privately, and encourages the rest of us to do the same. That actually sounds like a really good idea – I just may do that myself!

Cathrine Wilhelmsen (@cathrinew) is thankful for her family, friends, coworkers, and her SQL family. She’s also thankful that she’s in a position to be able to help others, has good health, an excellent job, and many other things. She sums it up perfectly by saying “I’m thankful I have so many things to be thankful for.” Cathrine does an excellent job of pointing out that a lot of our blessings are things we probably take for granted a little more than we should.

And then there’s my post, which you’re free to read either by scrolling down or clicking here. I’m grateful for a lot of things, but one thing I forgot to mention is that I’m thankful for Chris, Mickey, and Cathrine taking the time out of their busy schedules to participate in this post. Thanks a bunch! And I hope all my readers enjoy the rest of the holiday season.

Nov 262014

I’m also grateful for my grandma’s homemade gravy

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about what I was thankful for in response to Jason Strate’s post asking about it. Now, 4 years later, I am hosting a redux, and your contributions are very welcome!

In looking back on the past year, I feel like I have an incredible amount of blessings in my life. While there are far too many to count, here are some that really stand out:

Michelle: Everyone deserves to have someone in their life who loves and supports them no matter what. To be able to marry that person is the icing on the cake. Michelle encourages me to follow my dreams, no matter how crazy they are. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime, or in life.

My Health: When people (such as my grandmother) make comments like “at least you have your health” I used to snicker on the inside. Now, at my ripe old age, I’m starting to understand what that really means. Not only is being ill miserable, but it can get incredibly expensive, especially here in the U.S. I’m very glad that I and my family still have our health.

My Job and My Team: Sure I’ve griped in the past, but it’s still called “work” for a reason, no matter how pleasant it can be. All in all I have a wonderful work environment that’s full of amazing, intelligent people. On top of that, my employer sees the value in training and conferences, and supports the fact that I enjoy presenting and sharing my knowledge with others. I really feel like I’ve hit the job jackpot.

The SQL Community: The old saying goes that if you want to get better at something, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I like to make the addendum that those people who are smarter you should also be willing to share their knowledge. At this point, I’m describing the SQL community, and I’ve benefited tremendously in terms of knowledge, contacts, and friendships over the past few years. I’m afraid to think what my career would be like right now if not for all you wonderful people.

This Blog: I’m grateful for the fact that I can write and that others out there are willing to read it and provide feedback. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing 4 1/2 years and 149 posts ago (this one is my 150th!) but a huge thanks to all of you who have been along for the ride!

My Home: We have a nice house in a decent location, and on top of that we also have indoor plumbing and sewers. Lots of people in the World don’t have this. Sometimes the little things make a huge difference (especially when a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom doesn’t involve shoes or a flashlight.) What’s not to be grateful for here?

My Parents: I’m extremely fortunate to have grown up in a home with both of my parents, who gave up absolutely every iota of their pre-kid lives to make sure my brother and I never went without anything. They encouraged us, taught us, and gave us a kick in the pants (or two!) when necessary. I’d like to think we’ve both made them proud.

So that’s what I’m thankful for this year. If you’d like to contribute to my blog party, post something by Sunday 30 November and link back to the original post. (If you could post a link in the comments section that would be even better!) I’ll write a summary of all them and get them posted next week.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers who celebrate it!