SQL PASS Summit 2017: Why I'm Excited, and Tips on Attending

I’ll be attending and presenting at the SQL PASS Summit in Seattle Washington this year from Oct 31-Nov 3. In this week’s 19 minute episode, I share why I’m excited about going and why I’ve purchased a seat for a pre-conference session. I also give my tips on how to get the most value out of a big conference like the PASS Summit.

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Transcript of this episode

Robots helped create this transcript.

Welcome to ‘Dear SQL DBA’, a podcast and YouTube show for SQL Server Database Administrators and developers. I’m Kendra little from LittleKendra.com.

In today’s episode I’m talking about the SQL PASS Summit this year in 2017, why I’m really excited to attend, and also some tips on getting the most out of attending the PASS Summit (if you are lucky enough to attend also).

I will be speaking at the Summit this year!

I have a regular session. It’s going to be 70 minutes, and it’s called, “Why did my clever index change backfire?”

The session is going to be a ton of fun, because I get to show different cases where you design an index change that in theory is going to make performance better, but in actuality something goes terribly wrong. Either performance gets lower, or something bad happens. I’ll talk about all those pitfalls and how to avoid them: because indexes are really powerful tools so that you can use to massively increase your performance, you’ve just got to know what to look out for! Because there are so many ways to screw things up… as I continually find more and more in my life as time goes on.

But I’m not just excited about attending because I’m speaking. That’s only part of it.

I am really excited about attending a pre-conference session

If you get to go to the PASS Summit, I very much encourage you to try to find a way to attend at least one pre-conference session. There’s actually two days of pre cons.

They cost extra money from the Summit itself, but they are a huge value and they really add to your whole experience, because you get to go in-depth and spend a whole day thinking about a topic with a great speaker. You’ve the chance to meet other people who are attending the session; talk to them during lunch; figure out" are they trying to solve the same problems you are? It’s also a great way to start off the Summit by focusing on something in depth, and can often give you ideas about other sessions you want to see during the Summit, give you a start on working on some problems.

It’s a great value and a really great way to start the conference.

I first heard about the PASS Summit years ago from database administrators I was working with at a dot com

I didn’t yet have a DBA job. I wanted to be a DBA, but I hadn’t landed an official DBA job! I just got to work with SQL Server a little bit, but of course I would hang out with the DBAs. I thought they were awesome! They’re really fun people and just fascinating – and I’m still friends with many of those folks to this day. They really ARE fun people. They got to go to the PASS Summit (a lot of their team did), and it was in Denver the year I’m thinking of.

I was like, “so what’s this all about?” They said it’s this event where you can learn about new features in SQL Server; how to do things better in SQL Server. And there’s SQL Server developers and database administrators from around the world. There’s people from Microsoft, there’s community speakers, and they said that if you were interested in learning about SQL Server, it’s just non-stop learning and SQL Server nerdery, throughout the duration of the conference.

What I’d do differently if I was attending for the first time again

I finally got to attend a few years later. I was very excited the first time I attended, but I was super shy. I didn’t know how to talk to strangers at all, and I attended sessions and I learned a ton but I didn’t make it to a pre-con.

I think if I had actually figured out what pre-con I wanted to attend, and had been able to make a case for why it would help me – I think I probably could have gotten it approved. I just didn’t know how helpful it would be. I didn’t know to ask for it.

I went to lots of sessions, and I made tons of notes but I didn’t really make any connections with new people. I’m super glad I went, but my one regret – if I had to go back and do it again – I would get out of my shell more.

There’s a bunch of ways you can do this, even if you tend to be a little bit shy like me. When it comes to face-to-face interactions, if I don’t know someone yet I am often at a loss for words. I’m not sure how to break the glass.

Breaking out of your shell: first timer events

Well, there are events for first-timers! They change them up on different years, but usually there are some events specifically for folks who are attending the Summit for the first time, where you can go and learn about the Summit: learn about different opportunities.

For example, there’s a lunch one day that’s called the “Birds of a Feather” lunch, where in the cafeteria there are different tables, and you can sit at a table for people who are interested in maybe Reporting Services, or Power BI, or whatever you’re interested in. You can meet people who work with the same tools you do, and chat with them.

The first timers events will help familiarize you with all these different opportunities so that you can figure out, “On this day I actually do want to eat lunch in the cafeteria. Maybe on another day I want to go try out a Seattle place that serves great Vietnamese pho, but on certain days maybe I do want to have lunch (at the convention center).” So hit up the first-timers event.

A secret: even if you aren’t a first-timer… maybe this is your second time attending but you never attended the first-timer event.. I think you’re probably fine going, right? I wouldn’t worry too much if it’s not your official first time status. It’s all about helping you get the most out of the event.

There are also lots of evening networking events

Last year somebody put together for the first time a game night event! I didn’t get to go because it was the same night that my local user group was having a get-together at the conference. We actually got together and talked about what different people had liked so far, what we were planning on seeing –it’s really fun to get in touch sometimes with your local user group people there, too– but look for things that are open, that you might be interested in joining.

Maybe it’s a game night, maybe it’s a party, look for the ones that might be useful for you.

Get set up on Twitter before the event, even if you don’t tweet.

Lots of people at the Summit like to tweet and they’ll use a hashtag– I don’t know exactly what the official hashtag is going to be this year, it may be #summit17, it may be something else– get set up on Twitter a couple weeks before the event and see what folks are using as the hashtag, because that hashtag will be really useful to be able to read on your phone.

“Oh there’s a giveaway down in the vendor area!” maybe that you’re interested in. Or “oh the book signing is going on,” or “there’s something cool in the Community Zone,” You can use that to find out about things even if you don’t plan to actively tweet.

One lesson that it took me a little while to learn (and that I still have to work on a little bit) is that…

You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t want to stay out late

I am one of those folks who loves going out to dinner with folks, I love networking events in the early evening, but I’ve always been kind of an old person at heart. I don’t like to stay out till 2:00 a.m. If I stay out till 2:00 a.m. I won’t want to get up and learn at 8:00 in the morning. I’ll want to sleep till noon.

If you’re the kind of person who needs your eight hours (or eight and a half hours) of sleep, don’t feel bad about it! Some people like to go out, they like to drink, they like to socialize. For those of us who really enjoy sound sleep and need it to stay sane, we gotta take care of ourselves. Don’t feel like you have to actually do all the nightlife, you really can get tons of interaction out of the daytime events.

That being said, leave your work behind

Before you attend the conference make a plan for other folks to handle things, and try to let them do it! It can be tempting to VPN back in during the day and work on stuff and take care of it, because you’re better at it.

Maybe you are better at it, but a couple of things:

You aren’t really paying attention to the session when you’re VPN’d into work. You are not! Your brain should be paying attention to the environment you’re working on. You’re only half listening, and you’re really not focusing. You’re not learning.

Also, if you can’t let go of the keyboard at work, what happens if you win the lottery someday? I mean, they need to be able to be self-sufficient, even if they aren’t as fast as you, even if you’re better at certain things. You need to disconnect and let the people at the office take care of the office.

So prep for that, and do the documentation you need ahead of time. Make sure you have a backup. But be prepared to be someone else’s backup when they’re away too!

Really your job at the Summit is to learn and to think about strategies for solving problems at work. Leave behind the actual LIVE work, but…

Bring along the top three problems that you want to research, strategize, or solve at the Summit

What are the things that you really need to get better at? Write them down, and keep track of them during the Summit because you want to make sure that you’re learning things around those big areas that are relevant.

Maybe they’re big picture items, maybe they’re really specific, but pick three things that you really want to work on that help the problems back at the office and work on those. Don’t work on break-fix things or individual tickets or individual changes while you’re at the Summit. You’re just wasting time and money by doing that.

You also want to buy the recordings

Now, I realize that again this can cost extra money. I believe these usually are an extra cost, but the recordings usually are not very expensive at the Summit. (I don’t know exactly what the published price is this year.)

The recordings are typically just for the regular sessions. In other words you’re not going to get all the pre conferences with the recordings, but by buying the recordings for the regular sessions, this means that if you see a really great session, you have the ability to watch it again later. Hugely valuable.

Also, if you see a really great session and maybe you get into an interesting conversation with the people you’re sitting near, or maybe you go up to the front of the room and you ask the speaker a question after the session, and you get into either a conversation with them or other people who were in line – if you’ve bought the session recordings, you now have the ability to use the “Hallway Track” at the Summit.

You can continue that conversation in the Community Zone even if another session you want to attend is going on. You know, “OK, I can catch that later on the recordings, because I can learn from this interaction live here that I can’t have later.” You can also use things like – Microsoft often has a clinic area where you can go and ask your questions of really smart people who work for Microsoft, and learn from them.

Maybe you need to do some of that work during a time that makes you miss a session, or maybe you get into a great conversation in the vendor expo hall, and you learn how to really do something cool with a monitoring tool you already have. Buying the session recordings mean that you can do all these things without constantly scrambling to get into a session, and then you’re late and all the seats are full and all of that. You can chill out a little bit knowing that you can watch things later.

Another tip I have if you’re going and you’re lucky enough to have other co-workers who go with you as well: that can be great, but…

Divide and conquer

Split up and say, “okay, if we’re interested in the same topics, we’ll split up.” Oftentimes we have this problem where there’s so much good content at the Summit they have so many tracks that there can be really good things all on at the same time. It’s hard to be in two places at once! Now you you want to buy the recordings but it’s also great to be able to ask questions and be in the room. So split up when you’re there with a coworker, and say, “OK, you go to this one, and I’ll go to this other session. We’ll each make notes and we’ll compare notes afterwards.”

There’s another reason to split up though. What I have found is if I am at an event like the PASS Summit with close co-workers, I am a lot less likely to talk to other attendees. Because it’s just human nature to have this real tendency to– you know each other, you’re sitting together you’re chatting together, and you just don’t reach out to people as naturally. You’re much less likely to say to the person sitting next to you, “hey where are you from? What kind of work do you do?”

Because you’re there with your coworker. You and your coworker can network back at the office though! It’s better for you to meet other people and to find out, “Hey, what is your experience working with columnstore indexes? Have you tried it in production yet? How is it working for you?” Right? Because you can get that experience from your co-workers at other times. It’s these community members who also have experience that you want to get it from. So splitting up, dividing and conquering, and making that effort to talk to new people is absolutely worth it.

I’m a huge believer in making notes

I like to write things down with pen and paper and then transcribe them. Maybe you like to type. Either way, that’s fine but making notes while you’re at the conference each day is really valuable. I like to share those notes with coworkers. Every time I went to the PASS Summit, I would take notes on what I learned, and especially ideas that came up with if we might be able to apply that in X area. And then when I got back to the office, I would share those notes with my teammates and say, “hey if you want to read these, here’s the location they’re in. If you want to talk about any of these ideas then check them out as well.”

Now you do need to be careful: it’s not always cool to just take the slide deck and share those with everybody. Pay attention to the rules of the conference.

Sharing your notes is usually fine but sharing other people’s copyrighted materials is different. I’m really talking about notes that you’re making and ideas that you’re having about implementing things in your workplace. Sharing what you’ve learned is usually fine, sharing other people’s copyrighted materials not so much.

Take business cards with you

DBAs and developers, we are not always the kind of people who like to have business cards. You can be creative– maybe you want to get stickers made.

I love Sticker Mule, it’s a company that you can buy custom stickers from. Maybe you want to make a sticker instead of a business card that has your email address on it and your job title or whatever you want. You could do that, get creative. You can make really rudimentary business cards if you want to.

If you want to just photocopy something and cut it into squares, what you really want is the ability to trade contact info with people you meet at the conference, so that maybe later you want to say, “hey I would love to get in touch with you, and if I have questions about writing a PowerShell script that’s similar to what you’re talking about, would it be okay if I emailed you or tweet to you?”

You just want to have something to trade to keep in touch with the people you meet later, so some sort of business card or sticker is great to be able to have at the PASS Summit. there’s so many folks that having that exchange can really help you later on to remember people who you’d like to get in touch with.

I have a coupon code if you are registering for the Summit!

If you’re finally getting there and you’re able to go, my coupon code is BL150GK.

That will save you a hundred and fifty bucks on registration. Go to pass.org/Summit and learn all about Summit 2017. If you’re lucky enough to get to attend this year, I hope to see you there! there’s gonna be a lot of people it’s gonna be great so hopefully we cross paths and if you don’t get to make it this year then maybe we will see one another at another conference someday down the line.

Thanks for joining me for this episode of Dear SQL DBA. I’m Kendra Little and I’ll see you again next week.