After an exciting week at the PASS Summit, I’m back home with my family. This was my first ever PASS Summit and instead of writing about what was good or what was bad, I’ve decided to write about what I did and did not do and what I think I did right and what I can improve for my next Summit. I’m also talking about my observations in general and some tips for those planning to attend next year. I hope that this serves as an inspiration to other attendees and non-attendees a like, I really did enjoy my time and gained a lot of insight while there.
The Break of Dawn!
I’m up early regularly and I think it is great to get an early start on the day so I’ll just put one thing out there. Getting up, exercising and having a good breakfast was a key to keeping my energy up all day. There is a lot of walking at the Summit, whether it be inside the convention center or to it so be prepared. Of course there is always the option of drinking enough coffee to wake up a zombie 🙂
There that was my healthy living, healthy eating pitch now on to the fun stuff.
The Socializing & Networking!
From a technical perspective, the PASS Summit has a lot to offer and there is no denying that. One thing that we often miss in the chaos of things that is known as “the life of an information worker” is the human aspect of these conferences. Networking and socializing is a big deal and I think that many of us do not understand the power that is has. I’m a little bit crippled when it comes to social interaction and many that know me may read this and think “ummm… that’s not the Ayman we know!” Well let me put it this way, the majority of the social events involve alcohol and this is something that I do not consume and I am not comfortable being around it so it makes it challenging when people constantly say “let’s go out to dinner” or “are you coming to the party?” or other such phrases. However, I never let that stop me from socializing and connecting with others. There are two other meal times in the day where alcohol is not consumed; breakfast and lunch (unless you’re an alcoholic)! My point behind mentioning this is, find other times to interact or find people that share the same ideas as yourself and socialize with them when others are busy socializing in other ways. I had dinner every night with people that don’t drink, and I had breakfast and lunch and hung out at the community zone with a ton of other people that I missed during the evening. When there is a will, there is a way!
Also, in terms of socializing it is also a great networking opportunity. I’m very extroverted and I often find myself running late to sessions because I like to complete conversations with my colleagues. To some extent I’m OK with that though because you can get a lot more out of an ad-hoc conversation than you can from a presentation sometimes. In fact this very thing was mentioned at the last session I attended by Kevin Kline, who earlier on the same day, gave me 15 minutes of his time for golden advice. So don’t belittle the power of conversations and networking.
On the flip side, there were some conversations that I did not enjoy so much and I would have preferred not to be a part of. On a few occasions I would be having a conversation with someone and we would talk about what sessions we went to and what we thought. I’m ok with feedback about sessions and what a person got out of it or what they did not like, and I strongly encourage everyone to fill out evaluations as much as they can. What I did not appreciate was the gossip portion of it. There are many respected hard working presenters and contributors to our PASS “society” and it is really unprofessional to have conversations like that. I’m not saying I love and get along with everyone at our PASS events, or other conferences and training events, but there needs to be a minimum level of professional behavior and respect as the mature adults we are. Leave your high school self at home please. I know there are a lot of arrogant speakers, and my pet peeve is arrogance, but it’s not right for you to smile at someone’s face and then stab them in the back. Just don’t attend his/her session if you don’t like the way they are, no harm no foul.
Also in this category, although I’m not actively looking for a job, PASS events have been great opportunities in the past for me to find a job. Heck, that’s how I got the job I have now. I have also meet people that are looking for new career opportunities and I hope to be able to help them get to that next step in their careers.
Now that we got that out of the way let me talk about my experience with the sessions. One of my mistakes, and it pains me to admit it, was focusing on the “cool” talks. Honestly, there are so many sessions I attended and I walked out thinking “Why did I waste my time on this?” The session was not bad, but the speaker was talking about something I will probably never use in my current work environment. It’s not bad to learn new things, no I’m not saying that and don’t you go putting words in my mouth :). I’m saying that we all have day jobs, and we all need to make sure that we are getting enough knowledge and training to do our jobs better and not just learn about the cool new things for the sake of learning about the cool new things.
I applied this concept more on the last day of the PASS Summit and I went and attended sessions that related more to the work I do, even if they were subjects I was pretty well versed in. I’ll give you one example, Jes Borland’s session on indexes. I knew most of what she was talking about, however I learned a TON of things about indexes as well as about delivering content on indexes. Now if I decide to give a talk about Indexing I have a great way to explain SARGability and Statistics and at the same time filled in some gaps in my knowledge that I did not know existed.
One thing I want to mention is that some sessions are super busy. I dropped my bag off at a session and came back and found that someone had taken the bag off the chair and put it under his seat so I could not get my notepad out to write. Of course, I could have disturbed the entire class by telling the person to get up so I can get my bag, but that’s not my style. My point in mentioning this is that you should always be prepared by coming early and not relying on your bag to hold your seat for you. Maybe when they event bags that can talk back and say “hey hey, hands off buddy I’ve got pepper spray” then you can pull a trick like mine. I sat the entire session trying to remember everything and thinking about how many things I really wanted to write down. So make sure you have an “entry strategy” when you are going to attend a session.
On the other hand, make sure you also have an “exit strategy.” I made some new friends from Brazil and we wanted to attend a very high-level session that we thought was going to be great. Turns out the material was mind numbing and very unrelated to what we do and different than what we expected. As I was looking around to find the four people that looked like they understood what was going on, I heard my friends talking in Portuguese. Fortunately, I can understand body language quite well so I told them that I too want to leave. We all laughed about that, but the joke was on us because the person sitting at the last seat in our aisle had started to doze off. Sometimes you may want to sample the beginning of a session before committing yourself to being stuck sitting for 60 minutes not benefiting from the talk. Oh, and that’s the 60 minutes where the WiFi and cell phone signal didn’t work too well… perfect storm!
Finally, I capped off my Summit attending a non-technical (professional development) session by Kevin Kline. It was the last session of the entire Summit and I’m glad I attended. It was a great way for me to get an inspiration as to what I need to do next to drive my career forward and be the best IT professional I can be. I strongly recommend everyone to try to catch one or two professional development sessions, the speakers are great and you can learn about yourself and others. After all, we do work with computers but we work with people more. If you remember anything from this article, I hope it is this last paragraph.
There are tons of “SQL” Celebrities that attend the PASS Summit. I say that with pride because I think that our community contributes a lot more back to society than many of the well known celebrities out there. Yes I’m telling you someone like Argenis Fernandez does a lot more for society than the Justin Biebers and OJ Simpsons of the world. Warner Chaves and Murilo Miranda are SQL Celebrities too; now they won’t burn my house for not mentioning them in my blog post. See I remembered you guys this time 🙂
One of my mistakes in this category picking some sessions because a “big name” was giving the session. Just because someone is famous in the SQL space or has an MCM doesn’t necessarily mean that the sessions will be appealing or useful for you. In fact, there are many people that give fantastic sessions and are not well known. Also, there are many people that have a style of teaching that I just don’t find compatible with my style of learning. Not saying they cannot present technical information well, I’m saying that I prefer other presentation styles.
Don’t be afraid to walk up to some of these people of whom you respect their work and want their advice or some career help. Of course be respectful of their time as some of them are running to sessions or are having conversations with other eager attendees. Oh and one other thing, don’t just tell them “I like your work” tell them about something that they wrote or spoke about that inspired or helped you. Make sure you thank them because they spend their extra time making your job easier with all the free information that you have learned from them. Many of these people are self motivated and love to help others, that does not mean they don’t appreciate the gratitude and I’m sure it helps motivate them even more.
The Vendors & Volunteers!
A huge shout out goes to the Vendors and Volunteers that made this event possible. The vendors aren’t just ATMs for swag, I’m sorry to disappoint you! They are one of the reasons we can have great events like this because they invest a lot of time and money into the Summit. I hope that you went to meet them and see what products they have to offer. I spent some time with some of the vendors and got some insight about some of the business they do. They like to see smiling faces and not just out stretched arms grasping at the valuable, lootable swag they have.
As for the volunteers, they do a lot of hard work to make sure people find rooms, rooms are set up, and other things I don’t even know about. I made sure to smile and say good morning to them and the convention staff as much as possible. Nothing helps keep a person on their feet all day like friendly smiles and greetings. Well food helps too! Also, there is a lot to learn from the volunteers. Many of them are active in their local chapters and some are speakers. So make sure you strike up a conversation and get to know what’s going around the rest of the PASS chapters.
Maybe I didn’t need an exclamation mark for that. It was tough leaving a huge crowd of old and new friends. Some of the folks I met I knew for a long time from the internet based social media (Twitter), email, blogs, or attending online training. It was great to meet them in person and get to know them a little more. I was lucky to catch a flight with two of my favorite SQL dudes (Chris Bell and Slava Murygin) back to Baltimore. I tried to Tweet out to everyone that I saw and those that I missed while I was there as a place to leave off on and pick up from the at the next Summit!
Keep up with your local chapter and any virtual chapters that you find interesting through out the year. I hope everyone had a great Summit and for those that missed it, I hope to see you the next time I go which I hope will be next year. Oh and I missed out on going up the Space Needle so I probably need to do that the next time. My bad on that one!