Feb 132015

PASS Summit 2015Last week it was announced that the PASS Summit 2015 call for speakers will be open from February 18 to March 15. For those who are hoping to present there in October, it’s time to start getting those submissions ready!

If the past few years are any indicator, this year will see more submissions than ever before, probably over 1,000. While this will translate to tremendous variety in terms of speakers and topics, it also means some very tough decisions will have to be made by the members of the PASS Summit Program Committee, which is charged with selecting which sessions make it into the schedule. (And if you’d like to be part of the program committee this year, applications are being accepted until February 18. Apply today!)

I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the program committee for 4 years and have performed a variety of tasks including abstract proofreading for the guide, speaker qualification reviews, and abstract reviews. Having to read through and rate several hundred abstracts in just a few weeks is no small undertaking. And while the overall quality of the submissions increases each year, I’ve also seen some of the same errors time and time again. While they won’t necessarily kill your chances of having an abstract accepted, they definitely won’t do you any favors either. Based on the few years I’ve been reading abstracts, here are my tips for making sure your submission is in tip-top shape.

Complete all fields

PASS Summit session submissions involve filling in forms with multiple fields such as summary, abstract, prerequisites, and 3 goals for the presentation. Please make sure all of these are complete. In past years, the web interface has enforced this and not let you save a submission with empty fields, but some people still try to get around it by doing things like putting a few spaces or periods in a field. If you can’t take your submission seriously enough to think it through and fully complete the form, why should those on the reviewing end take it seriously either? When so many others fully complete their form, your chances of being accepted with an incomplete submission start to nosedive.

Have 3 goals

The list of goals tends to be a popular place to slack off. I can’t speak for 2015 yet, but in the past PASS has always asked for 3 goals your presentation will achieve. I’ve seen lots of cases where the same goal is copied and pasted into all 3 fields, and many other cases where whitespace or random characters are used to avoid listing actual goals. If you can’t come up with three distinct goals for your 75 minute presentation, I would start to question the strength of your topic.


Once your submission is complete, proofread it. Again. And again. You can never proofread too much. Fresh eyes help, so have others look at it too – maybe your coworkers, friends, or spouse. Even if they have no clue what you’re talking about, they can help you with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

PASS Summit attracts presenters from all over the world, and for many of them English is a second or third language. I have tremendous respect for those people, as I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable enough with another language to present in it. This is one of the reasons I’ve never been one to nitpick on proper usage of “who” vs. “whom” or the presence or lack of oxford commas. My command of the English language is far from perfect, and I don’t expect anyone else’s to be perfect either. However some mistakes are so glaring they simply can’t be ignored. I can recall a submission talking about “SLQ Server”. Slip-ups like that are exactly why proofreading is a necessity.

Explain why your topic is important

Topics you submit to PASS Summit are clearly important to you because you’ve invested considerable time into writing a presentation and submitting an abstract for it. Make sure this importance is not lost on your audience by telling them why your topic is awesome and how it will help them. “Attend my session and learn how XYZ will help you quickly relieve the pains caused by issues A and B.”

Explain abbreviations

Abbreviations can be very helpful, especially for title fields with short character limits, but you can’t assume everyone knows the abbreviation you’re using. On more than one occasion I’ve had someone come up to me at a SQL Saturday and ask what “SSMS” meant. Fortunately the fix for this is very simple. If you’re going to use an abbreviation somewhere in your submission, make sure you spell it out fully elsewhere. For example, if your title is “SSMS Tips and Tricks”, maybe start your abstract off with “Most SQL Server DBAs use SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) on a daily basis…”

Choose appropriate session levels & prerequisites

This one’s always tough. As part of a session submission you must assign it a skill level from 100 to 500. The PASS Summit 2015 information isn’t available yet, but the 2014 Definitions page defines these as:

  • 100 (Novice) Assumes some knowledge of the technical concepts/features, but not necessarily coding skills; 1 year experience.
  • 200 (Intermediate) Assumes comfort with technical concepts and basic coding skills; 1-3 years’ experience.
  • 300 (Advanced) Assumes solid knowledge of technology and strong coding skills; 4-6 years’ experience.
  • 400 (Expert) Assumes advanced understanding of technology; 6+ years’ experience.
  • 500 (Advanced Expert) Assumes deep technical knowledge of the technology; 8+ years’ experience.

I can’t tell you what skill level to assign to your session, but I can tell you that whatever you pick, the abstract and prerequisites should support it. Don’t say that your 500-level session has no prerequisites and that you are going to walk attendees through the topic from the very beginning. Similarly, don’t say that a 100-level session is for people who have been using a feature for 2-3 years.

Avoid metaphors & sarcasm

I love humor, metaphors, idioms, and sarcasm, but their downfall is that they can lead to lots of confusion. While sarcasm can be fairly obvious when speaking to someone, it doesn’t usually work very well when it’s being read. Just think about all the times you see things like “</sarc>” or “totally being sarcastic” in tweets and posts online. I’m all for making PASS Summit as fun and light-hearted as it can be, but I think a little humor will get you much farther being included in your presentation than it will in the abstract.

Keep it positive

PASS Summit is an incredibly positive experience; don’t take away from that by adding negativity to your submission. There is absolutely no need for titles such as “5 Dumb Mistakes Rookies Make” or abstracts like “Attend my session and learn how to show those stupid developers who’s boss!” We’re all there to learn from each other, and nobody is stupid. Not only can negative wordings discourage people from attending, but they can also set the tone for the entire session.

I hope this helps, and good luck with all your submissions!

Feb 042015

I am very fortunate to have been accepted as a Friend of Red Gate for a second year!

If you’re not familiar with “FoRG”, Friends of Red Gate work with the Red Gate development and product teams to provide feedback on existing products, new tools, and feature enhancements. You can also find us speaking at events and writing articles on Red Gate tools and how they have saved our bacon and allowed us to accomplish our tasks more quickly.

Red Gate is a tremendous organization. Not only do they make some amazing tools and books, but they’re also very community-oriented. They sponsor many functions such as user group meetings and SQL Saturdays, and also put on events of their own such as SQL in the City, which I loved attending and later presenting at. Red Gaters are also incredibly receptive to feedback, yet another reason why their products are just plan awesome.

Thanks so much, Red Gate! I’m looking forward to another great year of being a friend, sharing my thoughts, and learning a ton from other friends and your amazing staff!

Dec 092014

Earlier this year I did a post on a new method I stumbled up on for copying and pasting file paths. I thought it was a huge timesaver, and I use it multiple times daily. Judging from the reactions I got, I’d say plenty of others have found it useful as well.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Webucator reached out to me, asking if they could make a quick video demonstrating what I show in that post as part of their free series called SQL Server Solutions from the Web. I was very happy to let them do so; here’s their finished product:

Thanks, Webucator! If you like what you see here, be sure to check out the other videos on their YouTube channel. Webucator also offers a wide variety of SQL Server training courses if you’re looking to go even more in-depth.

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!