In my blog post last March (http://www.sqlpass.org/Community/PASSBlog/tabid/1476/entryid/789/Portfolio-Update-PASS-Programs.aspx) I mentioned that my first PASS Summit was in 2003 in Seattle. I've been to every PASS Summit since then, and I can honestly tell you it's changed my life dramatically for the better.
First, I learned more in those three days (then four, then five, as I added Pre-Conference sessions to my schedule) than in any class I'd ever taken on SQL Server. Because the sessions were so varied in content, I could attend a session on some aspect of SQL Server, get some good background on the topic, then had the resources to go and learn more about that. That kind of opportunity doesn't happen in a three day class. This knowledge helped my company tremendously, because I was able to apply methods I'd never considered to make my environment more stable and help it perform better than ever before.
Second, I started to meet people. At that first Summit PASS offered a "SIG Challenge" where volunteers were divided into teams, and assigned a project to be completed by noon the last day of the Summit. We weren't allowed to work on the project during session times, but all other times, from 6:30am to 11pm we were at the task. We didn't win, and we lost track of James, but Johan, Morten and I remain good friends, and I had the opportunity last May to visit Johan at his home in Belgium.
Over the years I got to know more people, and when I was selected to speak at the Summit in 2006, and each year since then through last year's Summit, that opportunity grew. I not only got to spend more time with the other speakers, but got to know many attendees as they came to me with questions. It's this connection with people that makes the PASS Summit so valuable. As the lone DBA at most of the companies I'd worked for, I frequently had to invent solutions to problems that occurred. As I got to know more people in the community, I built a list of people on whom I could rely to help me solve those tricky problems. I brought the "team" of the PASS community to my company, providing far better solutions than I could have come up with on my own.
When I was ready to move on from the job I had when I started attending the Summit, it was through friends I'd made in the community that I got my next opportunity. When it was time to move on from there, and start my own practice, I did so with the knowledge I gained from the Summit. As that business grew, I hired people I got to know through the Summit and the SQL Server community. I'm now at SQL Sentry, a group of people I got to know due to my involvement at the PASS Summit.
The important thing to note is that this event is the best opportunity you could have to learn the latest on the Microsoft Data Platform technology, and the best opportunity to meet the people that can help you solve your problems.
Be sure to check out the content at the PASS Summit 2016 site.