Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PASS Update #2 - February 2012 Recap

During the January board meeting we were told that attendance at the 2011 Summit exceeded expectations and as a result there was more money in the budget than originally planned for. The outcome is that some money gets put into reserves for future use and collectively we have to figure out how to responsibly spend the rest in the remaining months of the fiscal year (PASS's fiscal year is Jul 1 - Jun 30). For SQLSaturday that meant working with Karla to put together a wish list of things that didn't make it into the original FY2012 budget, then go make our case to the rest of the board (who were doing the same thing for their portfolios) to convince them we should get the funds.

At this point PASS was giving $500 in "kickstarter" funds to every SQLSaturday event to help them get the ball rolling and in return we were listed as a sponsor. When we could, Karla would be at an event to help out or we would have a Regional Mentor or Board member be there to represent PASS. However, we didn't really have the same kind of presence like most sponsors do - i.e. no table with signs and marketing materials promoting the benefits of PASS membership. I've been speaking and attending SQLSaturdays for years and the impression I'm left with almost every time is that most attendees aren't aware of other PASS events, much less what PASS is even about. What better place is there, then, to tell people about all the great reasons to be a part of PASS than at our own events?

With that in mind, we put together our list of asks - table skirts, signs, laptop stickers, lanyards, road signs, and Summit DVDs for end of day raffles - with the intent of improving PASS visibility and generating interest in chapters, virtual chapters, and other PASS events. We also found ourselves with more SQLSaturdays in the pipeline than originally budgeted for and needed some additional money to be able to continue providing our kickstarter funds. We went in asking for roughly $46,000 to cover it all and in the end approved $30,000 - enough to cover everything we wanted but in smaller quantities. I'll call it a win!

Also of note, Karla and I began holding weekly calls with PASS HQ and marketing to discuss several SQLSaturday items that had been on the backburner for a while during the transition to the new Board. Discussion topics included improving PASS visibility at SQLSaturdays, streamlining HQ processes to reduce the admin overhead associated with each SQLSaturday, changes to the license agreement to adapt it to the non-US based events that Karla's been working on, etc.. Not terribly exciting stuff, but necessary to be able to support the growing number of SQLSaturdays that are taking place everywhere.

Finally, in February we published our first SQLSaturday newsletter to members of the SQLSaturday Advisory Council containing a short editorial, Tips & Tricks for running events, a volunteer spotlight, links to blog posts about recent SQLSaturdays, and a list of upcoming events. I'm happy with how it turned out and it shows that we're trying to stay in touch with our event leaders more often than just at the Summit or when it's time for their SQLSaturday. Our plan is to publish once every other month and eventually move to a monthly schedule.

As always, I recommend reading the minutes from each month's meetings to get a better idea of what the Board discussed in more detail. We had two in February, both via teleconference, and you can read them (PDF format) here and here.

PASS Update #1 - January 2012 Recap

When I ran for the PASS Board of Directors last year I committed to providing a monthly update on PASS related activities. I wasn't elected, but in mid-January I was appointed to a one year position; long overdue, it's time to make good on that promise. This marks the first in a set of monthly recaps that I'm posting this week to bring the SQL community up to date on PASS from my viewpoint as a Board member.

January was mostly about getting up to speed as quickly as possible for me. As with starting any new job there were some unavoidable administrative tasks to be completed: setting up email, signing agreements, etc.. The more challenging task was figuring out where things stood with the SQLSaturday portfolio - I've been assigned to be the steward of it this year - without losing any momentum on current projects or letting anything fall through the cracks during the transition. Fortunately Karla Landrum (Blog | Twitter), PASS's community evangelist, kept things running smoothly while I got up to speed.

At the end of the month we held our first in-person Board meeting of the year in Seattle. These quarterly meetings last 2-3 days are where the rubber meets the road and most of the real strategic work for PASS happens. Having heard war stories from past board meetings I wasn't sure whether to expect something civil or if it would turn into some kind of cutthroat cage match; I'm happy to report that it was very much the former.

The meeting minutes are available on the PASS website and I'd encourage you to read them to get a better idea of everything we discussed during the 2 days. Among the things we covered: 2012 Summit planning, the call for proposals for SQLRally North America 2013, the prospect of holding a PASS managed BI conference, global growth (i.e. how to transition from a U.S. centric organization to one with a worldwide representation\presence), and the 2011 elections & subsequent board appointments.

Election Controversy

Focusing on elections for a moment, following two years of controversy I had hoped that 2011 would be issue free - especially after an overhaul in the process that resulted from an extensive review. Technically the elections themselves were but the subsequent appointments immediately after the elections ended caused a stir because one of the appointees had not run for one of the open positions. Key to why many people were upset was past precedent that the next highest vote getters in the election would be offered an appointment (despite no such stipulation in the bylaws) and that precedent was not followed. As in previous years the community was divided - there was a petition to change to the bylaws and PASS was labeled unprofessional (and unethical) while others felt the appointments were made with PASS's best interests in mind. Discarding some of the extreme behavioral lows that I saw, the debate was both necessary and healthy. After a lengthy discussion taking all of the community feedback into consideration the consensus was the appointment process could have been handled with better communication of intent during the election cycle but no bylaw changes were necessary.

Fast forward 8 months to today, and now looking back with the luxury of time and the benefit of perspective I agree with the decision. Having seen the work that James Rowland Jones has put into the global growth initiatives I believe that his appointment fit what PASS needed most at the time...but the PASS membership at large didn't know that. In early February Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror notoriety) posted  Listen to Your Community, But Don't Let Them Tell You What to Do. It's a great read, and I found one point in particular fitting:

"Community feedback is great, but it should never be used as a crutch, a substitute for thinking deeply about what you're building and why. Always try to identify what the underlying needs are, and come up with a sensible roadmap."

I'd like to think the Executive Board had a plan for global growth in mind when they offered James an appointment but undermined themselves by not communicating their plans earlier on in the election cycle. I'd also like to think they learned an important lesson from it and hope that we'll see a clean, non-controversial election in 2012.

Other Notes

On Wednesday night we were invited to dinner with Ted Kummert (Senior VP of the Business Platform Division at Microsoft and regular PASS keynote speaker) and I ended up sitting at the same table with him. Eventually we got on the subject of PASS keynotes and I made my best plea for more technical content and less marketing. We'll see if I was persuasive enough come keynote time at the 2012 Summit!

One of the projects I'd been hoping to take on if I got on the Board was the speaker bureau. As it turned out it was up for grabs; I volunteered to help drive it forward along with Allen Kinsel and Adam Jorgensen. With no budget set aside for it yet the best we could do was start carving out requirements and figure out how to get money to fund any development work needed to make it happen. Stay tuned for more on this later.

The Board meetings finished on Thursday and on Friday Karla (who joined us in Seattle for the day) and I visited the Microsoft campus. We got to talk with User Group Support Services about upcoming changes to their programs that PASS will benefit from. Good stuff but nothing public I can say just yet. We also talked with Jennifer Moser in the SQL marketing group (and also a PASS Board member) about an idea to leverage PASS chapters, both real and virtual, to help people earn SQL 2012 certifications. Again, nothing tangible to report on yet but if it becomes a reality we'll have another great reason for people to get involved with their local chapters.

I went home from my first meeting feeling optimistic for the year ahead. Knowing that I'm holding an appointed position is a bit of a double edged sword - it's motivation to do as much good as I can while at the same time knowing that my time - and ability to affect positive change - is limited.

February's update coming in the next post.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Time Flies When You're Having Fun (Déjà Vu Edition)

Writing - be it a technical language like T-SQL, C#, PowerShell, etc. or blogging - is like exercise. When you do it often it becomes easier while at the same time you get better at doing it. Conversely, when you let it slip you get rusty and it gets harder to get started back up again. When it comes to this blog I've fallen into the latter. As I write this I'm astonished, if not slightly embarrassed, at the realization that it's been over eight months since I've written anything here and the second time in a year I've let things lapse here. Just like last time, it wasn't intentional; I've started several posts only for them to end up lost in draft wasteland after letting myself get caught up in something else bright and shiny. With this post I'm finally getting out of my blogging funk and taking a step back towards blogging regularity.

What have I been up to?

I may have taken a break from writing but I've kept busy with plenty of  other things...

At the end of 2011 I ran for the PASS Board of Directors but wasn't elected. However, in January I was offered a one year appointment to fill the spot vacated by my friend Andy Warren's (Blog | Twitter) resignation. I accepted and was given responsibility for the SQLSaturday portfolio. I could never have imagined when I was just getting started as a speaker at SQLSaturday #1 here in Orlando that I would one day be the steward for the franchise it's become - proof that sometimes you just never know how things will work out in life! (More on what I've been up to with PASS and SQLSaturday coming in the next few posts)

So far this year I've presented at OPASS, the Houston Area SQL Users Group, Orlando Code Camp, South Florida Code Camp, the Tampa Bay SQL User Group, Houston Cloud Tech Symposium, SQLSaturday #110 (Tampa), and SQLSaturday #107 (Houston). Non-presenting travel has included the January PASS Board meeting in Seattle, the MVP Summit in Seattle in February, the May PASS Board meeting paired with SQLRally in Dallas, TechEd North America (ok, technically it was here in Orlando, but it felt like a week away from home!), and a few trips to Houston to visit Insource (my current employer). I think that averages out to roughly one trip a month, though some months it felt like more! It's amazing how much it feels like you're gone from home with even 25% travel.

Last year I had a "working vacation" at the beach where I spent the day at work and the rest of the time with my family. Two weeks after that I found myself looking for a new job, at which point I wish I had just taken a real vacation a few weeks earlier! Vowing not to repeat that mistake again, I took two weeks of real vacation, spending a week on the beach and another in Washington, D.C..

On the technical end I've finally taken steps toward getting certified in SQL Server. I never really had a good reason to be certified until I started working as a consultant (so my company could be recognized as a Microsoft partner). On that note, I took advantage of the free SQL 2012 beta exams and passed 4 of the 5 exams required for MCSE Data Platform. Unfortunately I missed passing 70-463 (heavily weighted towards SSIS, not my strong area of SQL) which keeps me from even the entry level MCSA cert. I followed up the betas by passing 70-432 to earn MCTS for SQL 2008 but narrowly missing 70-450 for MCITP. My goal is pass both 70-463 and 70-450 by the end of this year...not that I need to pass 70-450 for any particular reason, but I didn't have a good test taking experience that day and I want to pass for my own pride's sake!

I also finally took the leap headfirst into learning PowerShell. I've been telling myself for years that I needed to get on board, and now that I have I'm glad that I did because I'm a more capable DBA and troubleshooter for it (plus I got to dabble in programming, always fun). Granted, there's still a lot for me to learn - especially with v3 having just gone RTM as part of Windows 8\Server 2012- but what I've done with it so far has got me excited to do more. The upside is I've got two projects that I've been developing off and on for the last few months and will have ready to post to CodePlex soon for the rest of the SQL community to use. On that note, expect a few PowerShell related posts here in the near future.

Finally, I've continued to help develop the southwest Orlando SQL community by running MagicPASS. It's been challenging to fit into an already busy schedule, but I really enjoy the chance to hang out with other local SQL people and help them learn new things. We even had someone in the group get a new job this year because he came to the meetings and met someone else there who was looking to add a DBA to their team. If that isn't a good example of why you should go to your local user group meeting I don't know what is!

Plan For The Rest Of This Year

The last 4 months of this year are shaping up to be as busy as the first 8 have been. I've got trips lined up for SQLSaturday #164 (Cleveland), the September PASS Board meeting in San Diego, and the PASS Summit in Seattle in November. I'm especially looking forward to the Summit this year where it will be my first year attending as a Board member and not as a presenter.

September 29 is Orlando's annual SQLSaturday at Seminole State College in northeast Orlando and it's shaping up to be our best ever. Technically MagicPASS is lead this year (OPASS was lead last year), but all that really means is I signed my name to the license agreement; planning and execution is a team effort between both groups. Our call for speakers closed last week and we're busy working on the schedule, marketing, and recruiting sponsors. We've also got two great precons lines up for Friday, Sept 28 at $99 each - Stacia Misner (Blog | Twitter) talking BI in SQL 2012 and Kevin Kline (Blog | Twitter) talking Performance Tuning. We think it's going to be a great two days of learning and we're hoping you agree and will join us. Links to register for Friday's precons and Saturday's sessions are on the event front page. (And if you're a sponsor we'd love to have you too - check out our sponsorship plan!)

So all in all it's been a busy but good year for me and I'm looking forward to the remainder of it. I hope you can say the same!