A PASS Sandbox to solve real problems?

What A Week!

I had a great time at the PASS Summit of 2009. I met too many people to keep count of and I can’t list everyone here for I know I’ll forget someone. Thank you if I met you and if I didn’t… Darn it! We’ll have to meet in 2010, I will do all that is in my power to be there.

I learned a lot and in the coming days and weeks I hope to have some blog posts inspired either by conversations or lessons that I learned in the various sessions and post con I went to with Itzik.

A thought

I was in Warren Thornwaite’s session on Dimensional Modeling with the Kimball methodology. It was eye opening to this, mostly DB Engine/OLTP, Database Administrator. I have read the lifecycle book and was familiar with the Kimball approach but hearing things explained helped the understanding immensely.

One neat thing that Warren did was have an exercise involving the audience. It was a simple one to identify dimensions, grain, info, etc. for a fictitious problem. The problem was PASS Summit inspired… It was a technical conference that wanted to track speakers, sessions, performance of speakers, rooms and attendees. The stuff PASS cares about for the next session.

As we were working on the issues, I felt the light bulb burning in my head. It’s a few days later and the bulb is still burning which means It’s either a good idea or I have deluded myself and am about to be laughed at. Either way, here goes..

“PASS Dog Food”

This year at one of the key notes we saw a really neet series of map mashups provided courtesy of Jorge Segarra (Blog/Twitter) who, sadly, was not at the summit. Seeing that and playing Data Analyst/Architect in Warren’s session got the hamsters in the head spinning:

Why not play with Microsoft technologies/betas/CTPs/TAP Tools for the benefit of the PASS Community?

What I mean is: Let’s play and learn. PASS has a lot of business problems that the SQL Server tool set would help with. There are a lot of aspects of the technology we could use to help with future summits, typical day to day PASS needs and expose folks to areas and technologies they may not be in their full time roles.

For example:

  • Today every room has a room monitor handing out sheets, bullying people for sheets on our way out and perhaps counting attendees at a session(?). It would be fun to get something like the RFID tags that marathon runners have into the badges handed out. Put readers into the session rooms and keynote halls. Don’t track the individuals, give them blind IDs for privacy. Have a database and BI solution tied into Sharepoint with Power Pivot, 2008 R2 (or perhaps SQL 11 CTP tools, etc.). Actually track the attendance at sessions, allow people to use their ID to submit reviews and track all of that in a database. In realtime we could see graphs and charts of attendance by track, by topic, by speaker, by level, by time of day, etc. We could slice and dice, pivot and analyze the data to learn what is and isn’t working. PASS could use that info for the next year.. Plus it would be fun.
  • The Abstract Selection committee gets spreadsheets of speaker reviews to look through for past speakers when working on abstract selection. Spoke in a few years? Look at a few spreadsheets. It’s clunky and it’s a bit outdated. We could use these databases and reports to properly aggregate the data and see the trends. We could also help prefill information for the volunteers about speakers. We could even understand trends in who votes, who doesn’t for BoD positions. We could understand who needs to be marketed to better, and how, for future summits.
  • Chapters could use mapping/geospatial information to better understand where there people are coming from, where there are large numbers of SQL people who are known to PASS but not coming to local meetings. Perhaps there is an area for a new user group.

Really the possibilities are limitless and it’s strange but I keep thinking of BI type applications. I am sure there are plenty of other uses for the technology that PASS, as a community, interacts with. It would be fun to do some proof of concepts/white papers about how we used the technology for ourselves.

Anyway I’ll stop rambling. Am I way off? Do you think it would be fun to branch off into other areas with the tools you use on a daily basis and help a great organization like PASS at the same time? Add a comment and tell me you agree or tell me I’m nuts. I don’t sit on any boards, volunteer for PASS when I have the time and don’t have any louder voice to PASS than you do. So I don’t know if anything would come of it but I wanted to share it.

Ahh.. One more ramble. All of the Virtual Chapters could be involved. The Professional Development chapter could use some of the business problems as a way to help show how to formalize business documentation, set expectations, document approaches, etc. The BI virtual chapters could work with the BI tools to help implement the requirements, etc. It almost sounds like kids playing office. Maybe it is? But I think it would highlight the fruits of the virtual chapters, the fruits of the Microsoft technologies we all love to work with and provide a learning opportunity for anyone who wanted to help. I am not a BI developer, for example, and I would enjoy helping build out a warehouse or reports or implement Power Pivot functionality.

“PASS Cares”

I was walking upstairs to go to bed (internal clock is still partially adjusted to PST from the summit) and another thought forced me to open the laptop. Not only could we sort of work together as a community on some PASS initiatives but wouldn’t it be neat to help some charity organizations?

The MVPs showed great leadership and selflessness with tier Deep Dives book and all royalties going to charity. Why not build on that?

I think it would be neat to see a partnership where Microsoft would give/donate licenses for some of the tools we work with to registerred non-profit charity groups. PASS could help provide some hands. Again folks in the community can learn, step outside of a comfort area and an organization could benefit from having the help. Maybe Microsoft could even give us some “technical advisors” from the product teams/SQLCAT teams to jump in on an every other month conference call to discuss the progress and feedback? I don’t know, now I am really rambling…

Alright.. I’m really done now 🙂 Sleep calls. I’ll schedule this for Tuesday publication. Feel free to comment and tell me what I was missing. I’ll be keeping the “Things I learned at PASS” tag on future posts involving glimmers of knowledge gained last week.

6 thoughts on “A PASS Sandbox to solve real problems?”

  1. Personally, I think this is a great idea. Would allow people to put into practice something they know or may have just learned about and would help reinforce the learning process while providing real rewards for the PASS organization.

    Reply
  2. Great post and thanks for mention! Actually there are places where you can play with sandbox technologies, most notably http://sqlserverbeta.com which is essentially (if I understand) what you’re looking for. It’s a partnership with PASS, DELL and MaximumASP which offers free sandbox VMs loaded with latest SQL technologies for you to play with. They were actually kind enough to create a separate lab for my SQL University project as well as for the Tampa SQL User Group. To get one specifically created for your own group contact @sarahspace on Twitter and she’ll get you hooked up!

    Reply
  3. Mike,

    Nice post and good ideas. MS already has a similar idea in it’s Give Camps (formerly known as We Are Microsoft) where a person organizes volunteers to do take a weekend and do a project for a non-profit or projects for non-profits depending on the number of volunteers.

    Reply
  4. Thanks Jeff.

    I got one DM from twitter with some great points. This is a lot (both work and license fees.. Microsoft doesn’t give their software away for free). Well for the work aspect, we are a large community and this would be a fun way to actively engage many people on aspects of a project. Maybe a more active community geeking out together would lend to more volunteers helping with the running of the organization and summit (that way we don’t have to have two people doing 600 hours of volunteer time but have everyone helping with smaller chunks… Watch the pennies and the dollars will grow).

    As for the license fees. That one is tricky. I am not a marketing person and I don’t work for Microsoft. If I did, however, I would be excited at a free marketing opportunity with people who are already passionate about my product. Just think, Microsoft, of the spotlight the products could get? Folks learning new areas of your technology stack to solve a real problem. They can show it off to their company and talk about it at review time/team meetings. Maybe a company out there could benefit from Power Pivot and having someone that works for them being involved in a community support rollout means that company now has someone who knows the pros and cons and can show it in action. Maybe a relational person can finally see the huge benefits of some components in the BI Stack and/or Sharepoint integration across geographically dispersed areas (like PASS is).

    So I wouldn’t think of it as software donation but a large community POC with revenue generating potential.

    (Or just think of it as the crazy ramblings from one who loves to bite off more than he can chew)

    Reply
  5. Jorge – That is great. I am definitely familiar with the SQLServerBeta program. I was thinking of more PASS community members/volunteers using the technology to solve PASS problems. Not sure if the licensing over there would work for that but if it would that would be great.

    I was really saying it would be fun to collaborate as a large group on real problems faced by PASS, and maybe even work as a community to give back to help out some charitable causes.

    Reply
  6. Thanks Jack, good to know. I will look into that. I am not looking to start anything with this, I have enough projects starting up with the user group and a few other irons in the fire. I just wanted to share a thought and an idea and see conversation about it, perhaps even help.

    Sounds like the Give Camps are a good way to handle the second aspect and perhaps even the "PASS Dog Food" thought. Though I wonder if that is a little different because it would be trying to solve some potential PASS business problems with the Microsoft stack.

    I’ll look into Give Camps, though! Thanks 🙂

    Reply

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