Every year when the PASS Summit community speakers are announced, there is an uproar over the sessions chosen. It seems like some individuals think they are entitled to present every year, and some individuals who were chosen would rather that the committee had selected a different one of their sessions. But, across the board, “rejected” speakers want to know what they could have done differently.
This year was possibly the worst ever. The biggest controversy was that three of the full day pre-con sessions went to employees of one company, the president of which is on the Executive Committee. (Full disclosure: At the time of this writing I worked for that company and was chosen for a three hour session).
I actually served on the Program Committee helping to select the Summit program in 2005 and 2006 and was the program manager in 2007 and 2008. (I think I got those years right; it’s been a while!) I’m now back on the committee in the “special projects” role as I was in 2009. If you look back at the PASSion Awards over the years, you will see that the program managers often get that award. I joke that it is a reward to the person whom PASS has abused the most that year.
The day of this year’s announcement of the program, I proudly posted on Facebook that I had been chosen as a speaker. Shortly afterwards, I began seeing discussions there about complaints raised on Twitter. I expected that; it always happens, but this year it seemed especially bitter and hateful. Since I am rarely on Twitter, and it is so time sensitive, I never actually saw the posts that were being discussed. I did, however, read several subsequent blog posts in the days that followed with some great constructive criticism for the organization.
What is really unfortunate is that the initial outbursts made me, as a selected speaker, feel almost embarrassed to have been selected. Maybe I don’t deserve a spot. Maybe my spot should have gone to someone who is a better speaker than I am. I wasn’t on the abstract review team this year, but I know how much work those folks do reviewing 900+ abstracts, trying to come up with a balanced program that the attendees will be excited about. Back when I was a member of the selection committee and the manager, I felt like we were being attacked every single year, especially by the MVPs, after the program was announced.
I don’t have any advice on how to improve the process, and many others have offered some suggestions (Adam Machanic, Andy Leonard, Brent Ozar, Brian Kelley, Tim and Lori Edwards, Jen and Sean McCown, and probably more, sorry if I missed your blog). PASS has also been very responsive on providing information about the process as well. The real reason I decided to write this post is something I thought about recently. Maybe the SQL Server community is just becoming too successful.
Back in 2004, at my second PASS Summit, I attended a couple of sessions that would change my life forever. One was given by Chuck Heinzelman (@sqlboywonder) on volunteering for PASS and the other by Wayne Snyder (@sqlwayne) entitled “How to Make a Name for Yourself.” Before heading home that week, I filled out the form to become a volunteer, and decided, in addition to the writing that I had planned to do, I would also begin giving presentations. The timing was perfect. I was just a couple of weeks away from completing my Masters in CIS, and needed a new “side project.”
The thing about the SQL Server community is that we are always encouraging each other to share our knowledge, by speaking, writing and answering questions. We are actively increasing the potential speaker pool every year as we encourage new speakers at the user group and SQL Saturday levels. I think this is good, I love the energy and passion of speakers just starting out. I want to be part of a community that includes everyone and that is, well, loving.
Take a look at the MVP Trivia section on this page, published for the MVP Global Summit last November. There were more SQL Server MVPs than any other expertise at the time the page was published. I figure that Microsoft’s investments in SQL Server, BI and big data over the past few years have something to do with this, but I have to believe that the camaraderie (thanks, spellcheck!) in the community is playing a big part here. There are just so many great people stepping up and getting involved because of the encouragement in the community that it is really making a difference. We have also made a deliberate effort to make people new to PASS Summit feel welcome, which leads to many of them getting involved. I believe that this is a good problem to have.
After all this controversy, finger pointing and hurt feelings, I wondered just who PASS really is. Is PASS the Board of Directors? Is PASS the company we hire to manage the day to day tasks, Christianson & Company? No, I believe that PASS is us, the members who care about it, the people who learn, the people who teach.
So, I’ll be at Summit, presenting my session, singing at the Karaoke events in the evenings, and talking with as many other attendees as possible. I can’t wait; it’s the best week of the year for me.