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Louis Davidson

PASS Summit Attendance “Advice”

Wow, it is fall again, and in a large percentage of the minds of SQL Community members, that means that the PASS Summit is here again. I have been to all of the Summits save the first one, and honestly it has become one of the highlights of my nerd year. I have learned a tremendous amount about SQL, made a lot of real friends, and gained a taste for travelling over the years, something I never did before I started making the yearly journey to the summit. This year, I decided not to put in to speak, so instead of working on a presentation, I wrote this blog mixing my two favorite subjects.

On the other side of my life, I have, pretty much over the same time frame, become somewhat enamored (okay, addicted) to Disney World. I have a very serious planning method for a Disney vacation, because it is a very different world where I spend thousands of dollars to be educated and entertained. It is very important to the enjoyment of a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth that you know what you are going to do and be sure you are prepared ahead of time. As I was considering the challenge of blogging about the summit this year, I realized the Summit is also a place where I spend thousands of dollars to be educated and entertained. While the similarities are fairly superficial, much of the high level advice is the same.

So I figured I would put together a brief (at least for me, that is) set of tips about how to plan for PASS whether this is your first or fourteenth trip to PASS.

1. Start planning early

A hallmark of a great Disney Vacation is that planning is at least 20% of the fun. For PASS, this is no different. Picking a set of sessions you want to attend will start to give you an idea of how the conference will be for you. It will also help you discover a bunch of stuff to look into before the conference even starts. Discovering additional sessions like pre-conferences may extend your conference time as well. Finally, planning your sessions will remind you of what videos to watch after you get home (see next tip.)

As you do your planning, take some time to do a search for the speaker's names. You may discover even more training and social interaction from most of the speakers that will help you get in the "in" crowd before you even arrive. Hint: twitter is a great tool to have at the Summit. Once you follow a few people who are seasoned attendees, you will discover a cornucopia of information about the whole experience.

Which leads me to the next planning point. Once you have the planning done that your boss will appreciate (and a hotel room, as the good ones fill up fast), next up is your social calendar. If you are a social sort of person, you could keep yourself busy from sun up to sun down. For starters, there will be at least three PASS social events: the opening reception, the vendor event, and a party. Then there are a host of after-hours parties some of which PASS has a list of, but this is just the start. Finding out what is available will really help you make the most out of the week.

2. Be prepared to chuck the plan

While planning the trip is (for nerds like me) a large percentage of the fun, few of your plans will be binding. One of my first years, I had chosen a set of sessions, but wandered by this big room where someone named Kimberly something (Tripp, I think it was :), was talking about indexes. I learned a bucketful that day that I may never have known. Little did I know at the time she was a SQL celebrity :)

If you don't just keep to yourself at lunch, you may find yourself invited to a private party you didn't even know about, or perhaps hear about a speaker that you just have to go hear. Of course, if you are more like me, you may just be tired and want to get under the covers early so you can make it to the keynote early in the AM. It is your conference, make sure you get what you want out of it.

3. Pack like you will be bringing stuff home with you

If you are one of the many unlucky attendees who will travel by air, you know that bringing home stuff can be a pain. On a recent Disney vacation, we didn't think we would buy anything substantial...but then we found "it" and bought "it". (and several other its, and we bought them too!) When it came time to go home, our stuff just wouldn't fit in our suitcase even though we thought we had planned to have enough space for purchases. So we bought another suitcase, making our purchases doubly expensive (though we did get an interesting piece of luggage!)

For PASS, even if you don't purchase a thing (and there is lots of shopping in the area surrounding the conference center; for example, I just learned today that Timbuk2 has a store in the same block as the convention center. Another interesting tourist location is Pike Place Market, which is just down the street. Beyond purchasing stuff, there is swag to be had everywhere. Usually there is something from PASS at registration. Add to that anything from toys, water bottles, shirts, and books are regularly given out by vendors. I don't think there has been a year when I didn't come home with at least one new book.

Sometimes it can be something a lot more interesting than just swag. Two years ago, on the last day of the show, the Microsoft Store was deep discounting computers and if I had had luggage space, I could have had a great tabletop computer for 1/2 price. Still reeling from that one a little bit.

My advice here is to think about packing a soft bag that you can fill with clothes to make space in your carryon/checked bag to bring back extra stuff. Of course, it depends on the airline what you can do, so check ahead. I pretty much always fly Southwest so adding a second bag for the return flight doesn’t cost extra. Your mileage may vary.

4. Get your dieting done before you get there

Immediately starting at the Welcome Reception, the food at PASS is generally quite acceptable. The regular meal food at the conference is generally served buffet style. Usually pretty good steak, chicken, vegetables, desert, salad, bread, etc for lunch. Then there are generally a lot of heavy appetizers for grazing to be done at all of the receptions.

In addition to the PASS sponsored and after hours parties, there are some great restaurants in the Seattle area, even just in the immediate walking area. I have had amazing steaks, seafood, and other great meals during the conference. If you are hungry and don't want a long hike, the Daily Grill that is in the Sheraton next door to the conference center serves a very nice meal if you find yourself with nothing scheduled for the night.

5. Leave your turtle shell at home

My first trip to PASS I was basically a turtle. The only time I spoke to anyone else was when I was giving my presentation. Otherwise, I kept to myself, not talking to anyone. The same was true of my first Disney World trip. In both I have learned over the years to interact with people. At Disney, the cast members (staff) who work there are extraordinarily friendly. They will help you out, give you directions or information, or just talk to you about their job. Even interacting with other guests when stuck in a line somewhere has netted me interesting information, and helped to pass the time.

In the same way the many volunteers that work with PASS are even more friendly than anyone at Disney. Why? Because that is what they do. We all volunteer our time with PASS not because we have been compelled to, but because we love SQL Server, and we have a community of people who largely work together.

I don't know how many people I have talked to who believed that the speakers and authors (and MVPs) who were at the conference would be unapproachable. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can't vouch for every speaker, author, and MVP who will be in attendance, but I really don't know any of them that are unapproachable. In fact, I know so many current MVPs who just started out by just talking to people at the conference, getting ideas about what to do.

6. Dress appropriately

Almost everyone will wear a tie most days… Wait, what? No, nothing like that. One of the main ways that a Disney Vacation is like a PASS Conference is the tons of walking. The Conference Center is not at all small and there are a bunch of sessions going on simultaneously. At the receptions and parties, there will be very little seating available, so standing for hours is also possible. So be prepared to walk and stand more than normal (especially if you are like me and telecommute.)

The hardest part of packing clothes is that the weather in Seattle can be somewhat unpredictable. It can be chilly (50 degrees) and rainy, or it can be warmer and sunny. Carrying around an umbrella gets old, or wearing a coat gets cumbersome, but wearing wet clothes is someone more annoying. There is usually a coat check you can use to store your coat for the day before you head back to your hotel.

7. Consider if you want to be get involved

Ok, so this one is really quite a bit different than a vacation. While there are communities that surround the Disney experience, the fact is, the number of SQL Server devotees is far smaller than the number of Disney fans (sad but true.) The fact is, there are hundreds of ways you can get involved with the SQL Server community and make an impact on people's careers (and in almost every case, one of the prime careers that will be impacted will be your own… positively if you don't go too crazy and start spending your entire work day on non-work activities.)

The range of ways to get involved is truly amazing. There are simple ways to get involved like as a member/leader/speaker for a local user group, virtual user group, SQL Saturday, or (and don't tell PASS I said this) one of many other non-PASS affiliated groups/events out there. Even if this volunteering business isn't your bag, you could answer questions in forums (MSDN's forums, just to name one of many), #sqlhelp hashtag on Twitter or start a small blog and share whatever you know. Don't be shy, no matter your level there are people smarter and less smarter than you, and if you have wrong ideas, you will likely be corrected but rarely treated as if you were made of charcoal. Some of my best learning came from being corrected in the forums, back when we called them NNTP newsgroups.

Just bear in mind that while your career can be impacted in very positive manners (your community involvement becomes a powerful addendum to your formal resume), it will always behoove you to be professional. For example, if you see that one of my blogs is in error, the proper wording is: "I think you have an error here: Technically, the blah blah isn't blah until..". On the other hand, "Louis: You are an idiot. A three year old knows that blah blah is not blah until…!" See the difference? Exactly, it is important to use contractions like isn't instead of is not to save space on the Internet. Employers love that attitude.


Ok, so that is my rather simple advice to you if you are heading out to the PASS Summit along with me. Disagree? Other ideas? Leave a comment or find me at the Summit and we can talk about it.

Published Tuesday, October 7, 2014 9:58 PM by drsql

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Chris Wood said:


Having been to 9 previous Summits the planning, checking the plan, throwing out the plan is very true. Previous Summits have used rooms on at least 3 floors so being nimble in comfortable shoes is also a must. To me the Summit is becoming too popular making this an even more challenging adventure every year.

As you also mentioned meeting people just about everywhere in every area of the convention centre is a great way to learn too.


October 8, 2014 12:56 PM

Lisa said:

Smokers may want to know that smoking in buildings or even near doorways in Seattle is prohibited.  There is an outdoor smoking area, but I don't think it is covered, so if you are a smoker you may want to bring an umbrella. Or- take this as an opportunity to quit!

October 15, 2014 11:46 AM

drsql said:

Chris: If you have horrible feet like I do (and a little extra pressure on them to boot!) it is a really tiring affair. I watch people heading out for a night of who knows what with amazement as about 12 hours of PASSing it and I could pretty much fall asleep on a park bench in the rain.

Lisa: Agreed!

October 16, 2014 10:25 AM

Louis Davidson said:

This is going to be one of my toughest non-technical posts ever. And the reason it will be difficult

October 25, 2014 3:18 PM

Louis Davidson said:

(Or “How I Sort of Attended PASS This Year After All and It Wasn’t as Horrible as it Might Have Been”)

November 9, 2014 8:54 PM

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