PASS Summit 2012: Encourage, Energize & Empower Part 2

Part 2: Energize & Empower

Blogger’s note: From a strictly aesthetic perspective, this should be a three part series. Odd numbers always look better, and surely three parts matches the meter of the motto better. However, let’s be realistic – how long must I expect people to read my nattering on about the PASS Summit?

I was there, I have the proof!

I spend a fair amount of my free time around herd animals. Surely she means horses, you say. Well, horses are part of it. It’s always interesting for me to watch the behavior of the group – which members bond together, which bicker (good naturedly or otherwise), and how the real leaders within support those who need it.

Humans aren’t so very different. We like to pretend we’re all individuals, but our lives are so much better when we find a good herd for support, energy, and power to improve our circumstances. Who makes you laugh? Who teaches you something new? Most importantly, who welcomes you?

For me and thousands of others, the answer has been the SQL Server community. The largest “family reunion” for the year is the PASS Summit, so grant me a little time and blog space to brag about this family.

Attending the technical presentations at Summit is really only half of the experience. The other half is the all-important yet oft-misunderstood networking. I can reassure you that the “networking” at Summit bears no resemblance to a gathering of smug suit-wearing salespeople who endlessly drop corporate buzzwords and golf scores. The SQL Community has a much better sense of humor than that, and the attendees are a broad mix across data professions, experience, and location. I heard several languages other than English spoken by PASS attendees, and saw plenty of First Timer ribbons.

The PASS Summit offers a number of organized ways for people to get to know each other.

  • Day 1 – PASS Chapter Luncheon: This allows attendees from each region to meet other professionals from their general geographic area. I got to meet folks from several areas of Wisconsin at my PASS Chapter table and did my best to get them excited about attending one of our Wisconsin PASS Chapters such as MADPASS or FOXPASS. I also got to chat in person with someone who grew up in the same teeny town I did, Andrew Neuman – maybe the foundry in Waupaca puts love for SQL Server in the water!
  • Day 2 – Women In Technology (WIT) Luncheon: I felt honored to attend the 10th anniversary of this event. I loved it back in 2010, and it didn’t disappoint this year either. Both women and men attend this luncheon now, and the truly brave and supportive men even wear kilts in honor of the WIT’s. Men struggling with skirts for a day may not seem like a big deal, but it’s another nod both to the supportive nature and the unique sense of humor in the SQL community. The luncheon includes a Q&A with a panel of the truly great women in technology, and I so enjoyed learning from their experience. I also applaud those brave enough to approach the microphones and ask a question – it takes guts to walk up in front of a room full of 700 people and reveal a bit about yourself through the query. Getting more women back into technology is a smart goal for companies and user groups alike, and I’m determined to find ways to do my part locally.
  • Day 3 – Birds of a Feather Luncheon: Want to sit with others who geek out about SSIS, SSRS, SSAS, or just the joys and the pain of being a DBA? Day 3’s lunch is the place to do that. I was fortunate enough to sit at Bill Fellows’ table and learn more about the many reasons the SSIS 2012 project deployment model is so much better than what came before. Once the ice was broken, we had some really solid conversation at our table, and it was good to chat with a fellow PASS chapter leader Jeremy Marx. I left the table energized for the last few sessions of the Summit.

There are informal gatherings as well, often organized through Twitter. The SQL community lives on Twitter, and you’ll learn even as a lurker. Twitter at PASS Summit is the way people find dinner companions, send their thanks to presenters, and even find running buddies. Jes Borland’s #sqlrun provided dozens of attendees with a fun way to start the day and shake off some of the stresses of travel. Even though it was dark and cold and early, I was glad I ran all three mornings with my fellow data geeks, and it gave me a different appreciation of Seattle itself.

All of this goodness doesn’t happen by accident. It takes guts and hard work to build a community. Presenters and organizers spend hundreds of hours preparing for Summit. Volunteers stuff swag, pack packets, and direct the lost to their next session or meal. And no matter how excited and proud we attendees are to be there, it takes buckets of energy to reach out to build new connections. Defeating the “What do I say/I must be the only one here who doesn’t know about X/I’m so tired/OMG there’s NO WAY they’d want to talk to little me!” inner monologue is an uphill battle. However, I was rewarded every time I kicked myself forward. There were welcoming smiles, friendly teasing, and folks to commiserate with when my brain was getting painfully full.

If you want some of this magic for yourself, let me be the first to welcome you in. As Kevin Kline said at the WIT luncheon, “Come in and sit next to me, for I have known goodness.” There are oodles of ways to get involved in the PASS community throughout the year, and it’s unquestionably worth it. I had some of the proudest moments in my professional life during Wednesday’s keynote when I got to stand with those who presented at a chapter meeting and those who helped organize a SQL Saturday. Getting recognized as a PASS Outstanding Volunteer was thrilling for me, but also evidence that not nearly enough folks are getting nominated. Please help fix that by nominating an outstanding volunteer you know, and give the family a boost by volunteering yourself. I’ve been repaid ten times over for every moment I’ve spent working with this community.

Well, I think that’s entirely enough nattering, but before I go…

It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the size and scope of the Summit and the SQL community in general. It’s like running downhill in a crowd. Sometimes you are muttering obscenities under your breath because you are sure you are going to fall, but you do your best to draw power from the herd’s momentum instead. After Summit 2012, I am renewed with purpose and determined to keep up.

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