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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

More Thoughts on the PASS Election 2010


I had an opportunity to meet with members of both the PASS Board of Directors and Nominations Committee this past weekend at SQL Saturday #51. You'll never believe what we talked about...


The PASS Board Elections 2010

Yep, you guessed it. We talked about the election process. What follows is what I gleaned from those conversations, followed by opinion and conjecture on my part. 

The NomCom

The Nominations Committee (NomCom) was asked to do a difficult job: Vet the applicants for the Board of Directors 2010 elections. At the interview phase NomCom members were given this ranking sheet:

The results, aggregated across NomCom members by candidate:

The overall ranking and NomCom votes for each candidate were (from this page):


Interviewee Name Average Score Median Score

NomCom Vote
[Y | N | Absent/Abstain]

Douglas McDowell 53.6 55.0 7 | 0 | 0
Andy Warren 51.1 52.0 7 | 0 | 0
Mark Ginnebaugh 47.4 50.0 7 | 0 | 0
Allen Kinsel 46.7 47.0 7 | 0 | 0
Geoff Hiten 39.3 39.5 5 | 1 | 1
Steve Jones 36.8 36.0 1 | 5 | 1
Jack Corbett 32.8 31.5 0 | 6 | 1








The Board

The PASS Board of Directors then voted 7-5-2 to accept the slate as returned from the NomCom (from this page):

The Board came together on Monday to discuss the slate with the Committee before voting to approve it (7 yes, 5 no, 2 abstentions).


Things I Noticed Because My Head Works This Way

All kinds of people run for the PASS Board and I think that's awesome.

One Unfair Categorization

They can be unfairly categorized in several ways. One way in which I choose to unfairly categorize them is:

  • Those with CxO experience - to whom I refer as CEOs
  • Those without CxO experience - to whom I refer as Community People

So I added a column to unfairly categorize the interviewees thus:

Interviewee Name Average Score Median Score

NomCom Vote
[Y | N | Absent/Abstain]

Andy's Unfair CEO/Community People Categorization

Douglas McDowell 53.6 55.0 7 | 0 | 0 CEO
Andy Warren 51.1 52.0 7 | 0 | 0 CEO
Mark Ginnebaugh 47.4 50.0 7 | 0 | 0 CEO
Allen Kinsel 46.7 47.0 7 | 0 | 0 Community
Geoff Hiten 39.3 39.5 5 | 1 | 1 Community
Steve Jones 36.8 36.0 1 | 5 | 1 Community
Jack Corbett 32.8 31.5 0 | 6 | 1 Community








I can hear you thinking "What are you trying to say Andy?" I'm so glad you asked! First, relax. We haven't reached the conjecture part yet. I'm trying to say a pattern emerges if you look at the ranking from top to bottom, and that pattern is people with CxO-level experience scored better.

What does this mean? I discuss that later in this post.

Do the People Matter?

From my conversations this weekend, I can tell you members of the PASS Board and NomCom are defensive about their decision. They stood on principle. They've made improvements to their process. They were way more transparent than they've ever been.

In fact, I'll take a moment here to chide us - the SQL Server Community at large - for largely ignoring the hundreds of hours of work the PASS Board and Headquarters invested in created the PASS Board Elections Portal. There was (and is) a ton of information on the site, and it's good information. Kudos to the PASS Board and HQ for publishing this information. I asked PASS HQ for information of page views and they responded:

Official 2010 PASS Elections Procedure – Overview – 246 downloads
2010 PASS Nomination Application – 210 downloads
2010 PASS Elections Ranking template (Interviews) – 224 downloads
2010 PASS Elections Ranking template (Nominations) – 63 downloads

From this it's easy to tell a relative handful of us even visited the site. One can argue this is the first year for the site and, in years to come, the numbers will improve. That's plausible. But overall, these are pretty dismal numbers for the amount of work PASS put in. Bad us.

The NomCom submitted a recommendation that the PASS Board ratified (7-5-2). Of the seven candidates who entered interviews, five remain. The two eliminated were Jack Corbett (Blog | Twitter) and Steve Jones (Blog | Twitter). Why all the hoopla over Steve Jones?


The Opinion and Conjecture Part

Did the NomCom do Their Job?

Yep. They did what they were told to do.

That said, I disagree with what the NomCom was told to do. I think the NomCom was told "Go out and find us a spouse for the next 50 years" and what the Community expected was for the NomCom to set up a few blind dates (that's not original, but for the life of me I can't recall who said something like that to me). If you're bashing the NomCom, I'd ask you to stop.

You could argue that they did their job with the same zeal as the people who shrink-wrap CDs and DVDs. But understand they were told to protect us from another marketing executive. This isn't a complaint about the NomCom - it's constructive criticism. I believe members of the NomCom know the difference.

Did the Board do Their Job?

I see the Board's job as promoting the long-term interests of the PASS Community. I think members of the Board would agree with me on that. I think the seven people who voted for this slate as it stands feel that they were doing just that. But I disagree, for reasons that will become clearer as this post progresses. I think the five who voted against this slate as it stands have a much clearer vision of the impact and importance of Community.

Process vs. Execution

Many of you know I've been managing developer teams for a while now. It was a transition for me and I've recorded some of the lessons learned here on this blog. One of the things I've learned is that there are a couple basic categories for failure: process and execution. A failure of process means I've missed something in my thinking about how things really work. A failure of execution means I know how things should work but I didn't do it that way for some reason. I hope that makes sense. Another way to look at it is:

  • "I don't know the right thing to do." - This is a process failure.
  • "I didn't do the right thing I know to do." - This is an execution failure.

When my strongest defense is "I followed my process" you do not know where I failed. All you know is that I know I failed. "We followed our process" then becomes a logical-sounding defense, when it's merely an excuse. Allow me to demonstrate:

I left Farmville Virginia at 4:00 AM EDT Friday morning heading to SQL Saturday #51 in Nashville Tennessee. I thought about where I was going the night before, printed some basic instructions, pre-programmed a few addresses into my Garmin, and then drove roughly 550 miles in about 9 hours... this was my process. If I'd ended up in New York City instead of Nashville I could offer the excuse that I followed a process, but you would see right through that excuse, wouldn't you? You'd say things like "That's weak Andy". If you had a vested interest in meeting me in Nashville and I called emailed you from New York City to tell you I wasn't in Nashville and that I was, in fact, even further from Nashville than I was at the beginning of following my process, you would be understandably put out.

And you wouldn't care so much that I followed my process. My point: We don't elect processes for the PASS Board. Hiding behind the Process Excuse is not a step towards the healing that needs to happen.

It Shouldn't Be About One Person

Since the beginning of the PASS Board 2010 Nominee Application process, four people have been eliminated from the slate. I could make strong arguments for voting for any of them. But I don't get that opportunity. I also don't get the opportunity to vote for them. Worse still, I've been denied that last opportunity.

The person this centers on is Steve Jones. Why? Well, Steve sends an email every weekday morning to over a million SQL Server database professionals. He's been sending that email for years. Contrast Steve's "touch" with PASS membership and a quick check of the math reveals Steve daily reaches a community that is two orders of magnitude (exotic math here, apologies) larger than PASS' membership. Add to that fact that approximately 2,500 PASS members attend the PASS Summit each year, and (I'll be generous) roughly 1,000 participate in voting for members of the PASS Board. 1,000,000 is actually three orders of magnitude bigger than what most would consider PASS' active members.

All the PASS Board and NomCom needs to do is convince the other 999,000 people in Steve's reach that, while he may be qualified to send them (opt-in) email every weekday about SQL Server, he isn't qualified for a seat at the table of the largest SQL Server association on the planet. Good luck with that.

Perhaps this shouldn't be about one person. Perhaps it should be about Steve and Jack. Or Markus, Jack, Denny, and Steve. Or all nine. Or just about Andy, Allen, Douglas, Mark, and Geoff. We'll get there, I'm sure. But right now it is about one person: Steve Jones. And it's about Steve for good reason - he's Steve (insert emphatic adjective here) Jones! This isn't hard to figure out. And it reminds me of a lesson from Donald Trump. Donald was bankrupt and yet he needed a large sum of money to make the insurance payment on his yacht. He went to the bank and, to everyone's surprise, obtained a loan for $250,000. Reporters were stunned and asked him how he talked the bank into the loan. Donald's response (paraphrased) was "If you owe the bank a million dollars you're in trouble. If you owe the bank a billion dollars, the bank's in trouble." That's the impact of three orders of magnitude in action.

Fair or not, this is about the PASS Board rejecting Steve Jones' candidacy for the PASS Board of Directors in 2010.

Embarrassing Steve

In my conversations this weekend members of the NomCom and the PASS Board expressed noble concerns about embarrassing Steve by revealing too much information about why they made the decisions they made. Two points about this sentiment:

  1. It's misplaced.
  2. It's too late.

Why misplaced? Part of the reason this is about Steve (see above) is because Steve is wildly popular. The Board and NomCom really risk embarrassing themselves - and not Steve - by revealing why they do not feel he's a good candidate for the slate. If you examine the categories used to judge Steve and the other candidate applicants during the interview process, you see PASS' vision for ideal candidates. If you look at the NomCom's aggregate ratings for Steve, you see his low scores are volunteering inside PASS (2.00), volunteering outside PASS (2.17), and fit (2.17). The emphasis on Volunteering is a process error that should have been corrected during execution. The word "volunteering" should be replaced with the word "impact" and one metric used to determine Impact to the SQL Server PASS Community should be volunteered hours. Another metric to consider is compensated hours that impact the PASS Community. Some people actually work in Community positions. The fact that those people are "just doing their jobs" should not reduce recognition for community impact, in my opinion. Especially not for a seat at the table of an organization that has seated Directors from sponsoring corporations.

I know Steve. I believe he would be disruptive. I think he would challenge the status quo and defend the SQL Server Community with every ounce of his being. I believe he would start his two years of service on the Board more stubborn and obstinate than he would end it. Like every Board of Director member that's taken time to share their experience, Steve would evolve. For some, that's a problem. They cannot tolerate the disruptive-ness. I believe Steve was deemed "unFit" for the Board for this reason.

For me, those are the very reasons I want him on the Board. I want change. If it has to be disruptive to come to PASS, so be it. I want more transparency. More than that, I want the Board's default response to anything new to be "Let's get this published." A Board member asked me this weekend "Andy, how will we be able to tell we're transparent enough?" My response: "When someone complains that you're putting out too much information, that's how."

Why too late? PASS needs a time machine to fix this. The damage is done. I know - for a fact - the Board has recently reversed and overridden decisions they deemed incorrect. Even decisions where the preconceived process was in place and followed to the letter. Yet in this instance they have made a stand on this and, by all appearances, are willing to die on this hill. Even if the Board reversed this decision, I seriously doubt Steve would wish to run under these conditions. Making a change now would just tick off more people. It's too late now.



The PASS Board has communicated "we don't want you" to a number of potential future candidates. I'm one of them - there are others. And we're all asking the same question: "If Steve Jones isn't qualified, am I?" It's difficult to watch and listen to this conversation. Believe it or not, it's difficult to participate in it because the disappointment is palpable. Steve would have been a great candidate and Board member. Everyone seems to get that except the Board.

For a while, PASS positioned itself as The SQL Server Community. There was real effort to market PASS as more than just a conference; sincere work was put into reaching into local and regional communities. This pretty much undoes a lot of that. Steve is a SQL Server Community Champion. He doesn't need a title or a seat at any table to warrant that recognition. We - the SQL Server Community - get it. The PASS Board indicates (by this vote and subsequent defending decisions) that it does not. And by not recognizing this blindingly obvious fact, PASS is marginalized into a corner of the SQL Server Community en masse. This episode has illuminated a differentiator between a "them" and an "us". That's sad.

I believe the PASS Board shot itself in the foot - with a high-powered sniper rifle.

What's Next?

The community is grieving. We're going through the steps of the grief cycle like they're a SQL Server deployment checklist. We're moving through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Can the PASS Board help? I believe the window for PASS Board remedies is either rapidly closing or has passed. I could be surprisingly mistaken, but I firmly believe anything that could actually fix this will not be accepted by this Board.

The problem with that statement is that our ability to influence the makeup of this Board is precisely the issue.

As a community, we've been told we're wrong about who should be on the Board (by the Board) and we have no recourse other than to choose to elect people from the subset the Board thinks should be on the Board. Right up there with Henry Ford's "you can have any color you want as long as it's black"; the PASS Board has communicated "You, the electorate, can vote for anyone you want - so long as we approve them first."


While it will take some time, the SQL Server Community and PASS itself will recover. We'll all make our way through the grief cycle. We'll move on. It'll get better. But some corners have been turned, some bridges destroyed. Steve will likely never sit on the PASS Board. Neither will I. Neither will others more qualified than me.

I anticipate even more community-grown events and opportunities to learn more about SQL Server coming from the crowd. I look for more SQLCruise-type events, and more initiatives like SQL Saturday (which was started in the crowd by Andy Warren, Steve Jones, and Brian Knight - and then given to PASS), and maybe even more national and international conferences like SQL Connections, SQLBits, and the PASS Summit 2010. I think we'll see more crowd-sourcing and tribal evolution.

I like PASS and I believe PASS will continue to grow as an organization - and I will remain engaged and continue to decry decisions that I believe negatively impact PASS and its growth.


Published Monday, August 23, 2010 4:30 PM by andyleonard

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Grant Fritchey said:


Sing it brother!

Well done. Oh, and thanks for taking this on.

August 23, 2010 3:49 PM

Roy Ernest said:

Wow.. This is an awesome post. A must read for everyone interested in BoD of Pass. Thanks for the detailed post.

August 23, 2010 4:27 PM

Karen Lopez said:

Great post, Andy.

From an outsider's point of view, there seems to be a good deal of transparency going on here, so I'm curious as to what more you'd like to see about the nomination procedure.

I do agree that the process is not exactly what I would have expected.

August 23, 2010 4:34 PM

Cameron Mergel said:

Great post as always.  Yes, a must read.

August 23, 2010 4:46 PM

Gethyn Ellis said:

Andy, great post. I thought when all this came out, if Steve is not qualified to sit on the board then nobody really is. At that time, I was unaware that other high profile members of the community such as Brad Mcghee Adam Mechanic Tim Ford  had been rejected in previous years. PASS as an organisation, even PASS as a business is going to suffer greatly if it constantly let's the best 'community talent' sit on the bench or even drop them from the team. Process failure or people failure a technology based organisation needs to move with the times and change its process as business needs demand it. I think they have missed a great opportunity to move forward and at the same alienated its members to some degree.

August 23, 2010 5:20 PM

Chuck__Boyce said:

Thank you, Andy.  You speak for many of us.  Your efforts will help us steer past this in a constructive way to the benefit of the SQL Server community.

August 23, 2010 5:51 PM

SQLRockstar said:

Nice post Andy, thanks again for our discussion this past weekend.

Gethyn, I understand that some high profile names have been turned down in the past, but I would remind you and everyone else that there are a lot of good names on the current board as well.

To say that we aren't qualified to sit on the board simply because one other person failed to make a slate in one particular year is not fair to myself or the other members. Well, OK, maybe it is fair to say I am not qualified, but I serve with some very good people including Andy Warren. Surely you didn't mean to include him with your comment.

One thing I haven't heard anybody inquire about is the size of the board. Does anyone know how many people currently sit on the board? And what the maximum number of seats are that can exist at one time? Why not ask something simple like: "hey, can we expand the board by one seat and elect a community choice?"

I'd like to have more people dig through some of the details of our association and offer up some constructive solutions at times like this. Andy has certainly done that, and so has everyone else that has voiced their opinion. I thank you all for taking the time to leave your comments and thoughts both here and elsewhere.

August 23, 2010 6:39 PM

Arie Jones said:

Andy, great post.

First off, I as a Computational Physicist and my daughter as 4th grade daugther whom is studying 7th grade math will officially sign off on your math. I applaud you mathematical rigor:)

I too think that they should use the term 'reach'. That's what a lot of companies like mine use to measure a person's impact on the community. How many people do you go out there and potentially influence? It's not that hard...the math is even easier than the math you've shown here. Heck I fill out the math every quarter that they send out some kind of MVP nom to me....they ask specifically "Tell us about what community things you do and approx how many ppl were involved".

Now what I think got ppl even more ginned up is when certain unmentioned BoD members post comments akin to (and I will paraphrase) "Don't worry. It happens every year. Just ignore it and it will go away." . Yep, those are some inspirational words.

I guess we'll find out whom placed what votes eventually then wait to start our anti-incumbent campaigns. It's sad that sometimes it has to come to that but I believe that we are at that point. We as a community have to take a hard look at candidates that are up for reelection and throw those out that just don't get it.

Thanks for the long post Andy.

August 23, 2010 6:46 PM

Steve Hindmarsh said:

Great post Andy.   I think one of the main characteristics of a great DBA is honesty - if you make a mistake, admit it, don't try and cover it up...   I think it's time for PASS to handle a difficult situation in the most 'honest' way now, admit they have puzzled\angered\alienated a significant proportion of their memberhip.... Put Steve Jones back into the process - let the membership have a proper debate as to his suitability, then let the members vote decide.    

August 23, 2010 7:10 PM

Scott Gleason said:

When this first came up a few days ago, my first thought was to stay out of it.. it would get political becasue I share the same idea's WHY you think he was'nt elected.

After reading you'r post, I've realized your right.  I don't care what the cost is, Steve Jones would be right for the people.. for us.

If the board was out to protect the organization, it failed.

If the board was out to do what's in the best inrest of the people, it failed.

August 23, 2010 9:24 PM

Jorge Segarra said:

Great post as always Andy. As you said if Steve's not qualified then what does qualification really mean in terms of the organization? I'm still trying to wrap my head around 5 votes for No as well as the low score for volunteering outside of PASS. K. Brian Kelley's breakdown of the numbers is another good look at this strange score breakdown:

August 23, 2010 9:36 PM

Michael said:

Andy, thanks for the great article and talking to the people and getting the information out there. I couldn't have said it better myself.

I'm a relatively new PASS member, so I am too new to vote this year, but I have been impacted by Steve for a couple years at least. I don't know why I hadn't joined until recently, but I am sure it was because of a lack of information about it. Steve's rejection to be on the ballot makes me regret that I recently joined PASS, for if he isn't qualified to be on the board then I don't know that PASS is the right organization for me.

Will what we say make any difference, probably not, but at least we can say that we expressed our opinion.

I think the board is too involved in the candidate selection process and end up trying to protect the kingdom they have built rather than let the members re-shape it how they want it.

August 24, 2010 12:50 AM

Gethyn Ellis said:

@SQLRockstar (Thomas), I think I need to clarify my point, as I could have and should have chosen my word more carefully. I didn't mean that the current board, yourself included or those who made the slate are not qualified, or not good board members or won't be good board members. I was trying to suggest that the fact such high profile, and possibly, in my opinion anyway, suitably qualified candidates were sifted out before any vote took place could influence other people's decisions in the future to stand...They could be of the opinion "If Steve, Jack  et al did not make it  because they are not qualified then there is no way I am, so I won't put my name forward"  and this  could be detrimental to PASS as an organisation long term.

August 24, 2010 4:29 AM

Ralph Wilson said:

I have to agree with everything in this post . . . except, possibly, one point, which I will mention in just a bit.

Based upon the design of the process, it may well have been a foregone conclusion that Steve would be eliminated from the running.  I believe that was by design and, very probably, for many of the same reasons you have outlined.  One point I find interesting is that, as you stated, "At the interview phase NomCom members were given this ranking sheet:" . . . what is the origin of that ranking sheet and what, if any, instructions (verbal or written) were given to enlighten the Nominating Committee with regard to _how_ to determine the ranking value?  IMHO, there are some questionable points in that ranking sheet and many points are worded vaguely enough to allow predetermined results to be implemented.

As to the one point where I disagree . . . "You, the electorate, can vote for anyone you want - so long as we approve them first."

Suppose we, the electorate, don't accept that as a Commandment written in stone, so to speak?  Suppose we _write_in_ a name?  Now, as a fairly recent member of PASS, I don't know all the "ins and Outs" of the By Laws, etc., but I can't help but wonder what would happen if those who are disturbed by the absence of Steve's name on the ballot were to simply write it in. ;-)

August 24, 2010 9:07 AM

Eric Wisdahl said:

Thanks for the great post Andy!  I really at this point begin to question the community effectiveness of PASS.  It's a great conference.  I'm doing my best to once again attend this year.  But I don't know that I trust them any longer to hold the interest of the community.  They are a business and will have a business outlook on all of their actions.  This isn't a bad thing.  It just isn't a community.  To be honest, I now question if Andy, Steve and Brian gifting them the SQL Saturday brand was a good thing...

August 24, 2010 9:36 AM

Stephen Dyckes said:

Thanks for such a well thought out post on a very volatile subject!

I am at a complete loss as to how Steve Jones could/should/would receive such an overall low score. I have been a form of a DBA for 9+ years, and somewhat self taught (as we all are!), my companies have not had the resources for any formal training. I have relied upon the SQL community for this training, in which I found SQL Server Central and Steve Jones a long ago. With out all the work by Steve and his associates, I would not have had as much exposure to quality knowledge as I have had. His selfless dedication to the SQL Community happened to pay off in such a way to become his profession, and it is unfortunate that his many years of "Community Service" was not given a higher regard. My hope is this situation will now lead to improvements on the election process in the years to come.

Thanks again for the post Andy. And a big thank you to Steve Jones for all the hard work through the years.

August 24, 2010 10:56 AM

Adam Machanic said:

Eric: Some of us have been questioning that for years :-) ... in my opinion PASS should stop attempting to ride the line between business and community--and not doing especially well on either count--and instead focus on the business end. This would, I believe, make it a much more successful and empowered organization and would allow it, in turn, to help other organizations better positioned to actually act as communities. Alas, this point of view isn't popular with the PASS board. Oh well.

August 24, 2010 12:28 PM

RickHeiges said:

Andy - very passionate post.  Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

August 24, 2010 1:30 PM

JeffYao said:

I must echo the same feeling as most of people who posted here, if Steve Johns is not qualified, it will be too ridiculous to believe. I originally thought with Steve joining the PASS board, I will see some nice improvement in PASS as an organization to be "by SQL Server Professional, of SQL Server professional and for SQL Server professional". Alas, PASS board, you disappointed me and your decision is an insultation to people's wisdom / expectation.

August 24, 2010 10:24 PM

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