Alright, so maybe the title was inflammatory. Let me explain what I mean. This is a thought that has been brewing for a bit. Reading Andy Leonard’s recent post about SQL People and then his post from August (somehow I missed it when it came out even though I regularly read his blog) brought the feelings back and I wrote this up.
What Is The SQL Community?
It is a group of people from different walks of life. Different communities. All with different specializations, all with different interests, desires and passions but united. United by an interest for SQL Server and an interest in keeping in touch with other people aligned by that interest.
Who Leads the SQL Community?
No one person or group. You have Steve Jones and SQL Server Central and its amazing success in bringing great content (blogs and articles), newsletters and helpful forums to people. You have Paul Randal and Jonathan Kehayias spending tons of their own time answering questions and helping people, encouraging others to do so in the process. I think of Brent Ozar and his blog posts full of great info, controversial thoughts and questions with tons of comment feedback. I also think of the people like Brent encouraging others to give back and blog, speak, share. I think of Jorge Segarra with his SQL Universityproject that is lumping a lot of SQL Server professionals into targeted blog posts with one goal in mind – to share knowledge and encourage new people to learn. I think of the various MVPs who don’t do what they do in giving back because they wanted to become or stay MVPs but instead just like sharing. I can rattle off at least 50 names of bloggers I read, have read or know about helping others in the SQL community. I look to the growing number of SQL Server User Groups. I have great interactions with a lot of SQL professionals I still haven’t met in person (Brian Kelley, for example) yet but already feel a bond with. I look back to the tweets where folks have offered positive thoughts, prayers or concern for each other. I think of the 35 “Congratulations!” tweets I just received when I tweeted that I passed Microsoft exam 70-432 and obtained my first MCITP certification. I look at the tweets pouring in congratulating Aaron Nelson on the anniversary of his idea – the #sqlhelp hashtag. That is the SQL Community – made up of a lot of different towns and neighborhoods within those towns.
I don’t think any of these groups or individuals “lead” the SQL community. I don’t think you can. Which brings me to one group I didn’t mention above –
So Where Does SQL PASS Fit In?
I’ve asked this before a few times and I’ve mentioned that I feel like PASS is struggling to have an identity and mission/direction. I didn’t include them above only because I knew I’d talk about them here. Yes, PASS is definitely a part of the SQL community. I don’t think they lead it, though (no one does). Sometimes, I get the impression that PASS is tilting at trying to be the SQL Community. I also get the feeling sometimes that the organization of PASS doesn’t know what it wants to be in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy my interactions with PASS but when I stop, and think about what I enjoy about things that have something to do with PASS, I think of (in order):
The Summit – This is great. It is the highlight of my SQL Server self persona year. But when I explore this further I ask why?
Well I enjoy helping out with a few volunteer initiatives like the Birds of a Feather lunch that I’ve helped for the first two years of its life and hope/plan on continuing to help with as long as asked. The sessions are great and the chance to interact with the folks from Microsoft who write SQL is awesome. The Women In Technology luncheon was a good time of listening to a perspective I hadn’t really heard and I learned a lot. That isn’t it though. The main reason? It’s like kids summer camp (I Blogged about that from the Summit this year)- You see all of your friends that you haven’t seen in person in a year. I get to meet folks I’ve been helped by, have helped or interacted with on twitter. I get to meet people I’ve prayed for and ask them how they are doing. I get to have more meaningful conversations over sushi with new or old friends from the SQL community. I get to discuss technical challenges with others who are in my shoes and at my experience level (or, usually and thankfully, well above that level).
Virtual Chapters/Online Training events like #24HOP – These are neat. Good way to learn and an excuse to have some interaction with on twitter which happens organically each time an event happens.
User Groups – As a Chapter Leader of a PASS affiliated User Group, I can’t say enough about local user groups. They are an awesome way to interact and grow with local peers. Relationships are forged and problems are solved with those local resources who care enough about career growth to head out to them.
SQL Saturdays – These are mini conferences. Free for the community and full of PASS Summit quality sessions given by a lot of talented and knowledgeable professionals (well for the most part!) on their own dime and time. Cool!
Misc – There are little things. A BoD member invited me to take an MS exam on Microsoft’s dime in exchange for some honest feedback about the content of it. I get newsletters and surveys sometimes. At the Summit feedback times were organized for some people to provide feedback to Microsoft. PASS Tried to aggregate a bunch of blog posts and articles on their site, they may still be trying to do it but I just don’t check that out much.
I want to pick each one apart here…
Conference/Summit– To me this is where PASS and its volunteers, headquarters staff, etc. excel in. They put on a great time. They listen to feedback on trying to convince Microsoft to make Keynotes more geek friendly, they do great events designed to foster communication and introductions (The Birds of a Feather lunch, Chapter Leaders Lunch, Ask The Experts/Bloggers Area, Welcome Reception, Orientation Committee started by a newer board member (Tom LaRock) this year, etc.). They make a fun event. Sure people whine about this or that and when you get so many people together there will be complaints but they do a great job here. There are other such events though. Having not been to a SQLBits, SQL Connections, TechEd, etc. I can’t speak to them and if they foster the same “get to know people AND learn” atmosphere or not.
A lot of people still don’t go. When I ask at my User Group who is going or has gone to a Summit (even after extolling benefits), I just see 2 or 3 hands out of the 20-50 there. They raise their hand about SQL Saturdays, code camps or online events, though.
Online Events – These are cool. These are available in a few places with things like SQL Lunch, vendor sponsored events (I really think of Quest here with a lot of free training with great content here), MCM Training videos from SQL Skills experts, etc. PASS does a lot of them and they use twitter and e-mail reasonably well to get the word out.
User Groups – My User Group is a PASS affiliated chapter. So? I get a free Live Meeting account and a few other things but not much more benefit. If I were to take a step back and give an honest assessment of where I’d be without PASS at my User Group? I’d be in exactly the same place I am at. The group is a success because of the great sponsor (Alexander Technology Group – a local recruiter who really understands the value of User Groups and who knows that the best candidates are those at the meetings trying to improve their skill set) and help I have with the group. I haven’t once used the Live Meeting account and haven’t received any benefit from PASS. They could stop sponsoring chapters today and no one would even hear the noise at my User Group. In fact, I think I do more for PASS by reminding members about events, selling the Summit, etc. to them. (Not complaining because I sincerely believe that is a huge benefit to them, otherwise I wouldn’t sell it)
SQL Saturdays – PASS received this as an already successful concept from Steve, Andy and Brian. I’ve been to some before and after PASS involvement. I was there when the key was passed to PASS from Steve Jones in Charlotte. Is it any different? No. It is still local folks doing a ton of work, reaching out to sponsors themselves and working on the event. In fact, now that I am helping organize a SQL Saturday for Boston in April (Shameless Plug) the only differences I see are PASS can hold our money for us in a bank account that we can request three distributions and we will be getting some help from someone on staff (Thanks, Nancy!) and some IT support (Thanks Wesley!). Otherwise it is still the same event it just has a PASS logo on it now. I wonder, if in the long run, it will become less agile and less locally and community driven being run from a large organization with a board that moves at its speed.
Misc– The MS Exam thing was fun and a good use for what I thought PASS’ original charter was supposed to be (a way for SQL professionals to organize, learn and provide feedback as one organization to Microsoft. Not sure where I got that but from the time I first heard about them 7 or so years ago, that is what I thought of them). The blog syndication/cataloging and articles, though? I don’t know. To me it seems like one more place to have to check. SQL Server Central, SQLServerPedia, SQLBlog.Com, SQL Team, etc. already do this and do it well.
So What Am I Saying?
I don’t know how to form the thought for what I’ve been thinking since even before the nomination gate struck earlier in 2010 but it goes something like this:
PASS does conferences well, they do online events well and maybe they’ll do a good job with regional events (we’ll soon see with SQL Rally and how they do with the SQL Saturday franchise) but what else? What does PASS want to be? Where are they spending time and money to little impact (User Groups? Setting up blog/article sites?) I sometimes get the feeling that the organization has an institutional thought that it is trying to be the SQL Community and I think they need to instead focus on contributing to the community. Finally, what is and what should be their mission statement? Are their founding partners getting what they wanted to get out of PASS?
I don’t know the answers to all of these but I feel that if the answers aren’t figured out and some soul searching isn’t done by PASS, it really will just become only what it does well – Two conferences a year, some online training and maybe some regional events. I don’t even know if that is so bad.
What do you think? Am I off? How so? What else does PASS do? Is there a Community Leader?
p.s. – Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping out where I can with PASS. I really enjoy working with the people at PASSHQ and enjoy working with members of the BoD.