I have seen a lot of other people giving advice about what to do on your first trip to the SQL PASS Conference and I want to give you my two cents worth as well. Many people will be pushing the social aspects of the conference and that is excellent advice which I too will emphasize, but in my mind there is one main thing you need to do:
Make it worth it.
Someone has shelled out a pretty large sum of money to get you there, and they want to see some return on investment in order for you or your coworkers to do it again. There are far too many choices out there for training, and PASS is a great bet to really learn a breadth of information in a short amount of time. Add to that a pre-con or two and you can get some deep insight to in the short period of time. One thing that I love about it is that there are so many sessions that even after 10 years I can get some extremely deep information from super geniuses Conor Cunningham and Bob Ward (and not of the Wile E Coyote variety!) as well as some very deep information from a host of others, all on topics that I am already quite good at and still learn a very valuable thing or two (and sometimes even more). Then I can pick up get beginner and intermediate topics on stuff that I am just interested in.
If you have problems you need solved, write them down and bring them with you. Bring your laptop with demonstrations of your problem. I know I love to help out people with design problems if they have enough information to make it easy to see what they are trying to do. The SQLCat team (http://sqlcat.com/) usually has a great presence and will talk to you about problems, and there are labs to try out features that you might not usually have access to. Add to that the lounge with a bunch of current and future MVPs hanging out willing to give you some time talking about SQL Server related topics. Just don’t come to most technical sessions and expect to ask a question that takes 10 minutes of explaining and get your solution while everyone else waits…
So take it somewhat seriously and learn something to take back to your company and show that the investment was worth it. And try not to quit and change jobs the week after the Summit, if you can. Nothing kills a training budget like people getting the feeling that they are paying their employees to go to a job fair for a week.
Now, as long as you can make the investment pay off for whomever has paid for you to come to the Summit (even if it is you!), now have fun. There are tons of opportunities to have fun at the Summit. On the opening night we have a Quiz Bowl game where we quiz some of the smartest (goofiest) people in the SQL community on various insane topics. There is a PASS Party one night, a dinner you can sign up to attend on Monday and if you keep your ears open, plenty of other happenings around the Summit. Right around the conference center there is a theater, numerous restaurants, an excellent arcade, so there are plenty of places around to hang out with your new PASS friends you might make. And if you take one of the shuttles to your hotel with other people, you will probably meet a few people heading to the conference right after you get off of the plane (if you don’t bump into someone on the plane!) One of the best things about attending a large conference like this is that you can meet a lot of people you probably read/watch on the Internet and find out that they are just people (albeit people who spend a good amount of free time punishing various keyboard devices a little extra).
I said I would mention it, and social networking is a very useful tool, especially at conferences. My suggestion is to (at least a few weeks prior to the Summit,) sign up for twitter, get a twitter client and follow @sqlpass at a minimum (feel free to follow @drsql too!) Also use your twitter client (or if you refuse, a browser) to periodically watch a search of sqlpass: http://twitter.com/#!/search/sqlpass. All of the twitter types will be telling everything that is going on, so if you go to a session and don’t like it, you can find out another that is good. If you want to find a group of people out one night to hang with, there is always something going on. A handy tool I have started using on my Windows Phone 7 is an app called Spout (there is an iPhone and Android version too) that lets you watch a twitter stream, twitter search, facebook account, google reader, and several others in cool looking rotating display. I used it at Devlink last week and it was cool watching what everyone was saying about stuff based on a twitter search of “devlink”. And the best part of using twitter? The friends you make at the conference go home with you and become close friends over time, sometimes even those you never even physically meet.
In the end, you can either go to the conference, attend some sessions and go home, or…end up with a head full of knowledge, some real new friends, a host of virtual friends, and a community that you can lean on when you have needs (of course, they will lean back too.) And if you really like this conference stuff, there are lots of user groups and one day little PASS conferences all over the
country world these days called SQL Saturday that you can go to and see some of the same people and lots of new faces. Who knows, you might even find yourself compelled to speak at next year’s event!