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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is a Data Philosopher at Enterprise Data & Analytics, an SSIS Trainer, Consultant, developer of the Data Integration Lifecycle Management (DILM) Suite, a Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml) developer and BimlHero; SQL Server database and data warehouse developer, community mentor, engineer, and farmer. He is a co-author of SQL Server Integration Services Design Patterns, and the Stairway to Integration Services. Keep up with Andy, join his mailing list!

Pre-Conference Sessions at the PASS Summit


I have some thoughts on the selection of pre-conference and post-conference session presenters at the PASS Summit.

PASS pre-conference and post-conference sessions are $395. Trainers and speakers in the various SQL Server fields (relational engine, business intelligence, etc.) are selected to deliver these day-long seminars before and (now) after each PASS Summit. I have attended a few and the quality and amount of the training easily justifies the $395 price tag.

Full Disclosure

I've submitted pre-conference PASS sessions the past couple years and I submitted one this year. Why? The answer is two-fold:

I submit lots of presentations to SQL Server and developer community events. I enjoy presenting for lots of reasons and consider it an honor. I get to meet and hang out with really smart people, I always learn a lot, I score new shirts; which are all good things.

PASS pre-conference and post-conference sessions are different: The presenters earn money for the presentation. To my knowledge, this is unique in the PASS business model - I don't believe other presenters are compensated beyond free admission to the event.

So my motives for submitting a day-long pre-conference are:

  • The honor of presenting and hanging with people much more intelligent than me; and
  • The opportunity to earn some money while on the trip.

Since I will be covering my own expenses for the 2010 PASS Summit, earnings potential has gained some importance in my mind.

What's Up?

Because of the financial component, these sessions are selected with different criteria. There's even a special list of criteria you have to meet before your submission will be considered. It's been revised since last year - which was the first year I saw it. You can find the information here. It reads:

Interested in submitting an abstract for a Pre/Post-Conference seminar?

To be considered for a Pre/Post-Conference seminar, a speaker must meet at least four of the following criteria:

  1. You have been, or are currently, a MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer).
  2. You have been, or are currently a SQL Server trainer (non-MCT), and have taught multi-day SQL Server training sessions for a national training or consulting company.
  3. You have taught at least one college-level, credit-based class at an accredited college or university.
  4. You have presented at least 8 formal SQL Server-related presentations (1 hour or more) during the last two years.
  5. You have previously a taught a pre-con for PASS, TechEd, PDC, DevTeach/SQLTeach, or SQL Connections in the past two years.
  6. You are a Microsoft MVP or RD.
  7. You are (or have been) a Microsoft employee specializing in SQL Server.
  8. You have been a SQL Server DBA for at least five years.
  9. You have attained one or more Microsoft SQL Server certification: MCDBA, MCTS, MCITP, or MCM

My first reaction to this list is: Why don't you just come out and say

   "10. And your name must appear on the list below..."?

What's Wrong?

If you're going to select the same people 75% of the time, why pretend there's a selection process? Save everyone some time. Spend a day calling the people you want to present and make sure they're available and want to do PASS Summit pre-conference and post-conference sessions.

Wait. Keep Reading.

Selections for the PASS Summit already have a model in place that does exactly what I'm suggesting. Spotlight presentations - which are 90 minutes instead of 75 minutes and receive more visibility in the programs and advertising - are by invitation only.

The rules are pretty simple and explained up front. You get invited to do a spotlight session if you're friends with members of the PASS Board. Ok, I'm kidding (relax!). You get invited to present a spotlight session because the PASS Selection Committee saw something in a previous presentation or presenter and they want to give that person or topic more time. I was invited to present a spotlight presentation last year, and the email stated I was afforded this opportunity because a session presented at the PASS Summit 2008 received high evaluation scores.

Do I have a problem with that? Heck no.

Going in I know this is how the spotlight sessions work. I didn't submit spotlight sessions previously because I wasn't invited to do so, and the rules were the rules. No problemo.

What's The Beef?

The rules for pre-conference and post-conference sessions are... different. I don't think PASS has made up its mind about how to treat them. It's almost as if they want to sell it like a best-of- selection process and yet maintain some sense of invitation-only.

I understand why. Imagine 100 people in a room at $395 per person. That's $39,500 folks. You get a room here and a room there like that, and pretty soon it starts to add up to serious cash. I get it.

My point? PASS should set and stick to a policy for pre-conference and post-conference session selections. The current process appears de facto by invitation only. If it is, stop the prerequisites game and just invite the people PASS wants.


:{> Andy

Published Sunday, May 30, 2010 2:04 PM by andyleonard

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unclebiguns said:

Interesting.  I knew Spotlights were by invitation and assumed that is how pre/post-cons worked as well.  I assume that there are more people invited to submit a spotlight than are chosen, so I would think that there is a selection process there as well.

I think you are right that a change to the process would be good, but I'm not sure that eliminating prerequisites and going the pure invite route is the way to go either.  Perhaps highly rated spotlight speakers might get an invite for a pre/post-con as I would bet most of those would meet 4 of the 9 prerequisites already

May 30, 2010 4:13 PM

Alex K said:

Hi Andy,

I am also not completely comfortable with the following: "You have been a SQL Server DBA for at least five years".

I am not sure if Adam Machanic "has been a SQL Server DBA for at least five years", but it is probably not his possible experience as a DBA which makes him an expert in CLR.

Similarly, I am not completely sure that Paul Nielsen and Louis Davidson are experts in database design because of their experience as DBAs.

I would rephrase it as this: "You have worked with SQL Server as your main tool for at least five years".

May 30, 2010 7:14 PM

Adam Machanic said:

Hi Alex,

It's only four out of the nine conditions that must be met... I meet six of them, without the DBA requirement (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9). I assume the same is true of most people who teach the pre/postcons. So while I agree with you in spirit, I don't think it's a big deal :-)

Andy, I'm not sure the game is quite as fixed as you seem to believe. Sure, they're going to book Kalen et al, because they need to make money. But if someone who meets the criteria and is not "on the list" submits a fantastic session I would hope they would at least consider it. Although it's a big gamble, given the monetary figures you noted, so a lot of caution is certainly required.

I'll be submitting again this year; hope I get to do it!

May 30, 2010 11:28 PM

Rob Farley said:

I meet some - 1,4,6,9, plus 8 if you count Dev/BI time, plus 5 if you count SQLBits too, and 2 for the teaching I've done separate to being an MCT. But I'm not on a pre-approved list and totally understand if I'm skipped because of the number of people who might prefer a regular on the US tour of conferences. I know I'm very much a "gamble", so we'll see how it all goes.

Plus, my pre-/post-con submission is somewhat "unorthodox"...

May 31, 2010 6:25 AM

Kalen Delaney said:

And sometimes the people that are thought to be obvious precon speakers can't make it for various reasons, so there is a need to find someone else. Thus the list ...

May 31, 2010 2:50 PM

andyleonard said:

My friend Kathi Kellenberger disagrees and has posted her thoughts at

Her insight is especially cogent as she has worked on the PASS Selection Committee a lot in the past.

Thanks for your thoughts Kathi!

:{> Andy

May 31, 2010 9:02 PM

Kevin Kline said:

It's by no means a sure thing, Andy.  I just put in my submissions for a pre/post conference session.  The tone of the folks on the other end at PASS HQ was, and I'm just guessing, pleasantly surprised.

I almost interpret the crazy-hard requirements in the opposite direction, that is, not as a "we all know who this -really- means" sort of de facto invitation situation.  Instead, it looks to me more like "we've got lots of great speakers, MVPs, etc who can do one or even several sessions well, but might not realize HOW MUCH WORK it really takes to put together a full day of training".  I see it as a means toward protecting not only the audiences who might attend from mediocre (or lower) quality training but also good speakers from overcommitting themselves.

Oh and FWIW, I'm sure it's not important for the purposes of your example but don't forget that the PASS conference has fixed costs of over $200/day per attendee.  Don't get me wrong, pre/post cons are a fantastic revenue stream for any big conference.  However, it's not the mint printing press that it might initially appear.

Just a few thoughts to add to the mix. =^)


May 31, 2010 11:59 PM

Bill Graziano said:

I think you're seeing a couple of things driving this.  First, we do know many of the people that can deliver great pre-con sessions.  But we don't know them all.  We need a way to find the new people.  This is one way of doing that.  It also gives us a way for people to express interest in doing this.  I think we'll learn from who wants to deliver pre-con sessions.

Second, we're trying to be more transparent and objective around the submission and selection process.  It isn't perfect but it's gradually getting better.

I don't see the same tension between "best of" and invitation only.  When I was selecting pre-cons I was focusing on picking sessions that people wanted to attend.  

June 1, 2010 10:43 AM

andyleonard said:

My friend Steve Jones has weighed in on this as well:

:{> Andy

June 1, 2010 11:47 AM

Steve Jones said:

I'm a little torn on your comments. I see your point, and I agree that there ought to be set criteria. I think this list you saw was an attempt at setting these up. A few years ago there were few choices for pre/post cons and I was surprised to hear a friend that was speaking disclose a five figure salary for eight hours.

My guess is in the past it has been the "old DBAs club" and they are trying to formalize this as they get more submissions. I meet 4 requirements, so I'd be OK.

These pre-cons, however, are there to generate revenue and so the picks ought to be the ones that are most likely to attract the membership.

A few more thoughts:

June 1, 2010 12:33 PM

andyleonard said:

My friend (and PASS Board member) Andy Warren has posted about this:

:{> Andy

June 1, 2010 12:49 PM

Adam Machanic said:

I wrote this on Steve's blog and I'll repeat it here since he said the same thing:


There is [no such thing as] "five figures for an eight-hour workday." Prepping to deliver in-depth content takes me an average of 12-15 hours PER HOUR of content. So that's five figures for, potentially, up to 128 hours of work. Which is an average hourly contract rate, nothing more.


This is not a big payday or a scam or a club or anything else. This is about finding people who can actually commit to over 100 hours of work ahead of time to deliver a quality session. The simple truth is that most people can't do that, and most people don't understand just how much work goes into it.

June 1, 2010 1:33 PM

Rob Farley said:

I absolutely agree on the comments about preparation time.

The other day I did a 24 Hours Of Pass session at short notice. I think I decided on my content about 15 minutes into the talk! But this really isn't typical.

The material I presented may have seemed 'off-the-cuff', but there had been a large number of hours spent preparing for this talk (albeit squeezed into less than a day) and others like it. I work very hard to be able to give the impression that talk preparation comes easy.

I just deleted a couple of paragraphs that seemed like a big whinge around the cost of preparation time and conference time. Really, it's all a matter of perspective. If I can persuade myself that the benefit of giving presentations at groups, conferences, etc is worth the costs, then I don't feel so bad about it. I would much rather be a presenter at any given conference, rather than being 'just' an attendee.

I really don't envy the jobs of people making the selection. It's hard enough to pick what sessions to go to as a conference attendee. I'm not a fan of the voting system, as it often gives a poor mix of topics, and favours the 'obvious names'. I would far rather a committee make the final decision, even if there is voting to help the process.

Ok, so I'm going to put a whinge in anyway... I'm not going to begrudge anyone earning decent money for giving a pre-con. If someone is worthy of getting selected for one, then they've put in a lot of yards over their career, and are probably earning decent money regardless. I'm just going to look enviously at all those who don't have to pay a ridiculous amount just to be in the right city. Travelling to PASS will cost me far more than the non-discounted amount of attending. But like I said, it's all a matter of perspective, and I just need to persuade myself that it's an investment. I'd love to get the chance to do a pre-/post-con and offset my expenses, but when I'm up against both Andys, Adam, Kevin, and all the rest, I know I have 'two chances'.

June 1, 2010 8:00 PM

Rob Farley said:

No pre-/post-con for me. Hopefully I'll get to do a regular session.

June 23, 2010 1:38 AM

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