November 9, 2018 – We had another great turn out for the annual PASS Board of Directors Q&A session which took place in the PASS Summit Community Zone. Former PASS Board member Douglas McDowell moderated the session and all current Board members were on stage to answer questions from the audience. We got great questions around Microsoft Ignite, vendor presence at PASS Summit, event attendance, diversity, and more.

I wanted to share a recap of the top questions and answers covered during the session, for anyone who was unable to attend.

To kick things off, we started with a question submitted via the Q&A drop box in the Community Zone. The submitter asked why “Microsoft had jilted us” by scheduling against us in 2019 and announcing product news at Microsoft Ignite rather than PASS Summit.

Both Microsoft Board members – Debbie Lyons and Joe Sack – took turns answering, sharing that the central events team at Microsoft, who are responsible for planning Ignite, don’t always know who all the necessary stakeholders are before scheduling. This was an accident, nothing more, and the Microsoft relationship with PASS is strong as ever. They will be doing everything they can to mitigate the impact of the schedule overlap and work to make both events a success next year. 

They also discussed the depth the Microsoft architects went into on hyperscale during the PASS Summit Keynote, and how this was something they’ve never done before – and likely won’t again. Microsoft announcements come down to a matter of timing and there were a lot of pent up announcements leading up to Ignite. Debbie shared that next year, they would go ahead and make announcements in both places.

Wendy answered the next question regarding reductions made to breakfast. Breakfast isn’t what’s drawing people to the event, and it ranked last in order of “importance to your PASS Summit experience” on the post-event survey. It was an opportunity to save almost half a million dollars, while still delivering a high level of quality in the overall experience. Wendy also spoke to the deficit budget we had been running over the last four years, and how this deficit had allowed us to grow our organization and make investments in our infrastructure, but now we need to focus on balancing our budget. By reducing the breakfast offered, it aligned to what the data was telling us and our budget goals.

The next audience question was around “feeling like more of a product this year” because of increased vendor presence, including the sponsored v.20 Celebration. My answer to this was, yes, we had sponsors – they provided free beer. The sponsors weren’t soliciting attendees in any way or taking away from the event. Because of their investment, we were able to celebrate the community and put on a really cool event. We are a not-for-profit and we owe much of our ability to fund the organization to our sponsors. They come to add value to your experience, and in return, they have the opportunity to share their solutions that can help you in your job. Any opportunity we have to add value to attendees and sponsors through their involvement, while maintaining our community focus, we want to evaluate.  

There was a question regarding attendance being low. Tim advised how we were on par with last year for registrations, which saw 5,500 total. We also had a larger Exhibit Hall this year – with more exhibitors than we’ve ever had before.

Allen White took the mic to answer a question regarding “having to choose between sessions” and what we’re doing about that. Allen explained that we have 215 sessions on offer at PASS Summit, with 214 different speakers. That’s a serious challenge to schedule. All of the program team, managers, and volunteers do an amazing job of pulling the pieces together, but after the schedule has been set, reviewed, and finalized by PASS HQ, the Program Management Team, and the PASS Board, that’s when scheduling changes and conflicts occur. Speakers can’t be in two places at once, and we have to rearrange the schedule to accommodate that. The best thing attendees can do is take advantage of the session streaming or purchase the sessions on USB, so you can watch the ones you missed when you get home. 

Tim mentioned that the sign of a poor conference is one where you can’t find any sessions you want to attend in a given time slot, and the fact that there are so many great sessions speaks to the quality of our content. We’ve worked really hard to build out a program for everyone and I think we delivered on that this year.

Eugene Meidinger (one of the PASS Summit program managers) also joined the discussion to share how we’ve been using data to make better decisions for the program. By using tools like Power Pivot and Power BI, the programs team has been able to change the way we look at scheduling and make sure that content is more evenly spread across tracks and session levels. We will be leveraging data and algorithms even more to help us identify when and how we should be updating the program.

We were asked about PASS Summit being on the road in the past and what our thoughts were about where it’s currently located. John Martin pointed out that being in Seattle means that we have the added benefit of being close to Microsoft headquarters. This is something we could adjust for in another location, but it does make the logistics for Microsoft easier. We’ve also attempted hosting international conferences on six different occasions, all of which cost us money. Right now, our focus is on balancing our budget. Moving PASS Summit is something we can look at again in the future, but for next year, we’re in Seattle.

The next question related to PASS SQLSaturday and what we’re working on to make it easier to manage groups and market to people in your local area. Chris Yates mentioned that he gets this question a lot and that SQLSaturdays are important to us all; it’s where many of us started out in PASS. One of the areas we have been putting our efforts into is the FAQ section for SQLSaturdays, making them more robust and giving organizers a place where they can share their “war stories”. This mechanism has really helped improve communication between organizers, making it easier for them to support one another.

There was a question about programs for students that would like to attend PASS Summit. There are a lot of financial restrictions outside of registration cost – hotel, flights, food etc. – that students need to consider in order to attend an event like PASS Summit. Wendy advised that the best option for students who want to access educational content is to attend SQLSaturday events in their local areas and take advantage of the free online training we have available through Virtual Groups, 24HOP, and PASS Marathon.    

We got a question about how our priorities benefit Local Group leaders, and why we don’t provide leaders with a list of speakers and sponsors. Our first two pillars are targeted educational content and accessibility, which support Local Groups by providing access to educational materials they can use to guide discussions and topics at meetings. Leaders can easily find the most popular topics, along with related recordings and presentations they can repurpose for group meetings. 

This leads us into our next pillar, engagement. By focusing on increased engagement, we are creating a larger audience of community members who are aware of what PASS has to offer. This includes attending Local Group meetings, becoming leaders, and volunteering for speaking opportunities.

Regarding providing lists of speakers and sponsors to group leaders, with privacy legislation being what it is today, there are a lot of considerations in setting up something like that. It would require a substantial investment of time and resources to support it in a way that benefits all parties, while adhering to privacy legislation. As we focus on balancing the budget, this is not feasible at this time.

Our next question related to the focus Microsoft has on diversity and what our plans are in this area. John Martin spoke to this topic, highlighting the success of initiatives like the Women in Technology Luncheon and the LGTBQ community-led event that took place again this year. These are steps in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. If we’re going to become the inclusive community we want to be, we need your feedback to do it.

Lastly, we were asked (in Portuguese!) about Regional Mentors and replacing those who have been in the role a long time. Chris Yates stepped up to the plate for this one (thanks to Diego for translating) and mentioned that this is something that is on our radar and we are aware that this program needs a revamp. Once we have reviewed all of the feedback we’ve received and processed it, we will come forward with a proposed update to share with the community.

Thank you again to everyone who took part in this session. We love hearing from you and as mentioned during the Keynotes, you can give us your feedback at any time, through sessions like the Board Q&A, through the attendee and member surveys, or by contacting any one of us on the Board directly. Let’s continue working together to make PASS Summit better each year.