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Thomas LaRock's Articles

2010 PASS Summit Preview

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog -

It’s time for another PASS Summit preview and that can mean only one thing: movie quotes! This time we are going with ‘Back to School’ starring Rodney Dangerfield and in a supporting role a mostly sober Robert Downey, Jr. Why that movie? Because whenever I head off to a conference such as the PASS Summit I always feel like I am heading back to school, so this movie selection just seemed to make the most sense.

As Fergie says: “Let’s get it started.“

“Please, try to understand. I don’t have the background for this. I mean, the high school I went to, they asked a kid to prove the law of gravity, he threw the teacher out the window!”

At my first Summit I was overwhelmed by the content. Everything seemed to be a 500 level talk. I was over my head and I knew it. I also knew that if I wanted to get better as a database professional then I needed to start swimming and soak up all the information that I could. As the years went by the feeling that everything was at the 500 level went away. There are only a few moments during a Summit where I feel that I am way out of my element (anything on XML, for example). The Summit has content for everyone at every level making it the perfect place for you to learn something new no matter what your background may be. Yes, even database developers are welcome, along with Sharepoint and BI folk.

“Don’t you ever read? Read. Who has time? I see the movie. I’m in and out in two hours.”

Every year at PASS there is a bookstore. And every year I would look at the books and try to pick a few that I thought would be good for me to have. At the start the trouble was knowing which one was more valuable than another. Once I started learning who-was-who in the SQL Community it got a little easier to know which books I wanted. But it was also quite interesting when I started to realize that I knew the authors. And this year marks the very first PASS Summit that will have a book written by me! I have no idea if it will be on that table or not, but I do expect it to be at the Apress booth and I do know that we will have some copies at the Confio booth as well.

“The toy division has come up with a new doll idea to go along with our children’s clothing line. We call them Melon Patch Kids. Now, the competition exploits the notion that their dolls are orphans. The Melon Patch Kids are not orphans… they’re abandoned! We think it’s a winner.”

This one is dead on perfect for all the half baked ideas that Microsoft gives us from time to time. English Query anyone? But as much as we may shake our head about such things we should all take a step back and think about what failure really means. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into SQL Server, even into the stuff that may not work as well as we would like. And I truly enjoy the fact that Microsoft is filled with people that care enough to listen to our feedback at events such as the PASS Summit.

Building a product that works for everyone is not easy. Next time you see someone that works on the SQL team you should do them a favor and thank them for some aspect of the product that you enjoy. At the very least, thank them for one thing before you complain about the ten things you don’t like.

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.”

Two words: SQL Karaoke. And if that isn’t enough for you, there is a couch in the men’s room. You’re welcome.

“Actually, I’d like to join you, but I have class tonight. Oh, how ’bout tomorrow night? I have class then, too. I’ll tell you what, then. Why don’t you call me some time when you have no class?”

This quote is for all of the learning that goes on, day and night, at the PASS Summit. And here is a PASS Summit Pro Tip: sometimes the best learning happens outside of the actual sessions. It can happen in a hallway, or the speaker ready room, or on a couch outside of the registration area. The fact is that when geeks like us get together at some point we discuss geek stuff. And before you know it someone has a whiteboard and four or five people are standing around learning and discussing something they weren’t planning on talking about just five minutes ago. At my first Summit I was in every session I could. Last year I was in three sessions and came away thinking it was the best Summit ever.

Besides, I know I can watch them all on a DVD later anyway. So don’t be afraid to talk with a few friends about a particular topic or obstacle you are trying to overcome. You will be surprised at how quickly you will be able to find an answer, even without a whiteboard.

“Good teacher. He really seems to care. About what I have no idea.”

No doubt this quote applies to the one and only Buck Woody. If you have never attended one of his presentations then make this your first time. He is the Don Rickles of PASS, except not as good looking. Buck is also the most interesting DBA in the World. Don’t believe me? You can watch the video for yourself. Trust me, no matter what your skill level you can always learn something new from Buck Woody. This year Buck is presenting a session on database testing and also a post-con seminar on Sharepoint for the DBA.

“The answer is…[the answer hits him]… 4?”

So many times we hear the answer “it depends” with regards to technology and specifically with database performance. There are many variables involved and so many layers of abstractions that are only getting more complex with every passing year. If you want to keep up to date with everything then you need to be having conversations with a lot of different people. What better place to do that than the PASS Summit? If you come to the Summit with any question at all I can assure you that you can find an answer at the Summit. I used to be amazed at how much people knew about so many different things and I have come to realize that they don’t always have a deep understanding, they have simply been around long enough to have been exposed to a lot of different things. You get such exposure at places like the PASS Summit.

“When’s our first class? Uh, we got Economics tomorrow at 11 o’clock. 11 o’clock? No good. I got a massage 11 o’clock. Tell ‘em to make it 2 o’clock. No, dad. Uh, you don’t get it. They’re not gonna re-schedule the classes around your massage. All right, 11 o’clock, but I’m gonna talk to that Dean. I mean, these classes could be a REAL inconvenience.”

There is so much to do during the day (and night) that it is very hard to set your schedule. These past few years I have felt pulled in many different directions and last year I was expected to be in three places at the same time. I never look at the session schedule until the day of, I just like the idea of making a game day decision when it comes to sessions. If I tried to plan out every minute of my day at the Summit I would go crazy. At the Summit I need to just “go with the flow”. If something interesting comes my way at the last minute I want to be able to change plans quickly and without remorse.

“Hi, I’m Kurt Vonnegut. I’m looking for Thornton Melon.”

When Jason Melon opens the door to see Kurt Vonnegut he is star struck. That;s the same feeling I get whenever I go to a PASS Summit. Just check out the list of people that are coming this year. Now go to your bookshelf, grab a book about databases, look at the author’s name, and see if you find it in that list. Chances are you will. All the stars come out at the PASS Summit, it truly is like Summer Camp for database professionals. And there is no doubt in my mind that this Summit will be the best Summit ever.

“With the shape I’m in you could donate my body to science fiction.”

That is a good way to describe how I feel after being up for over 100 hours during the seven days. I typically don’t sleep very well when traveling anyway, but at the PASS Summit I don’t sleep because I am always with so many interesting people that I only get to see a few times a year at most.



PASS O.C. Update

 [cross-posted from in case you missed it - Admin]

As the PASS Summit approaches I am getting excited about our efforts to help first time Summit attendees. This year we will have two new additions to our list of Summit events. First up is the new attendee orientation session, which will take place for 30 minutes prior to the Welcome Reception. We will do our best to give all first time Summit attendees an idea on what to expect over the next few days and some tips and tricks to maximize their time. Hopefully they will get to make a few new friends while there and at the Welcome Reception as well.

The second event is the PASS O.C. itself. This is the program where we are going to have some volunteers donate their time to be a “Big Brother/Sister” to a new attendee. We have a limited number of volunteers so we will not be able to provide this service for all new attendees. But for a chosen few they will be given the opportunity to formally meet and greet other new attendees as well. The idea is simple: assign 8-10 first timers to an O.C. member, have the O.C. member initiate a dialogue with the individuals in the group as well as their group as a whole, arrange to meet with them prior to the Welcome Reception (if possible), and do their best to ensure that those 8-10 people are never, ever, ever alone during the Summit.

I want people to have the same type of Summit experience that I do: it’s like Band Camp but for professional geeks.



PASS Community Energy

I have always thought that I enjoyed Summer the most. The sunshine, trips to the beach, lobsters stuffed with bacon, and long bike rides. But as I get older (and supposedly wiser) I am coming to realize that Fall may be the most enjoyable season. Perfect temperatures, things are still green, plenty of sunshine, football starts, the kids go back to school and of course the 24 Hours of PASS Summit Preview. What’s not to love about all of that?

We’ve done three 24 Hours of PASS events in the past thirteen months. While some may point to the great content as the number one takeaway that they get from the events, I would point to something else entirely.


Every time I attend a PASS Summit I come away energized. Even if I have been awake for 80 hours or more, when the PASS Summit is over I always feel energized. I feel as if I can take on any project or problem because I know that if I run into any roadblocks then I can quickly reconnect with my peers and ask for help.

And I get the same feeling after interacting with the community during the 24 Hours of PASS. Not only do I get the great content from 24 sessions (or 28, as was the case this time), but I get the opportunity to connect with people in each of those sessions. And those connections grow over time, I get to meet people in real life at the PASS Summit or a PASS SQL Saturday, we talk more and we find ways to help each other.

For me, that is what PASS is all about, the ability to help database professional get connected with one another. And I love being able to help make that happen.
See you at the Summit.

Thomas LaRock


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