PASS Summit 2013 Roundup — The Adventures of a First Timer

Wow, what a ride.  For the past year, attending various SQL Saturday and other events, I’ve heard the whisperings of PASS Summit in sessions and hallways.  This past week, it finally arrived and at last I had the opportunity to attend my first PASS Summit.

The whispers couldn’t possibly prepare me for what a truly amazing and motivational experience it was!  Summit was a non-stop week of connecting, learning, and sharing combined with a lot of fun and #sqlfamily that can only be rivaled by future summits (since all of my fellow first timers which I spoke to are now also completely hooked on the event)

I registered for PASS Summit 2013 all the way back in December of 2012.  It’s a bit of a gamble that something won’t come up when you register nearly a year in advance, but by registering that early, you can get some pretty deep discounts on Early Bird registration.  Plus, since you’re now invested, you can build anticipation and look forward to the event for almost an entire year!  Early Bird Registration for 2014 goes until December 6th this year, so I’ll probably do the same again.

Monday– Prep!  I took the day off from work to get things done before heading out of town for the week.  I’d heard from multiple people that you don’t sleep during Summit, so I planned to head to bed early so I’d start the week well rested.  I finished packing and went to bed a little after 1 am.  Whoops, so much for that.

Tuesday – I got up bright and early to begin my drive from Duluth, GA to Charlotte.  My goal was to arrive in Charlotte just early enough to get parked and checked in in time for the First Timer’s “Get to Know Your Community” meeting.  I planned to hit a couple of notable geocaches along the way, making for a longer but leisurely drive.

Ultimately, I took a bit too long on the drive up and I missed the First Timers “Get to Know Your Community” session, but I made it just in time for the First Timers Orientation session.  The orientation session was great and I was very happy to see so many well-known vets (sporting their stylish propeller beanies) in the crowd supporting us first timers.

The First Timers Orientation was followed by the overall conference Welcome Reception and Quiz bowl, which was also a great experience.  These two events back to back really gave me an idea of just how many people had come to the conference.  From the stats, it sounds like there were around 1000-1500 first timers and over 5000 registrants.  WOW!

Following the welcome reception was night one of #sqlkaraoke.  During this trip, I’d learn just how much #sqlfamily enjoys #sqlkaraoke…SQL Karaoke took place at the Fox & Hound and thanks to Denny Cherry, SIOS, and SQL Sentry, drinks were free if happened to register in advance for a wristband.  Despite the fairly small and crowded venue, an amazing time was had by all and I eventually made it back to my room around 1 am.
Wednesday – The first full day of the conference and my first PASS Summit keynote experience.  Last year, I watched the keynote remotely on PASSTV and read the flurry of Twitter activity.  It was neat getting to see it in person.  The ballroom was very large and very well done with numerous displays setup.  It sounds like the keynotes were far better received as well.
Following the keynote, a mad rush of people headed for the various sessions which would continue throughout the rest of the day.  I attended a number of sessions (every one was great).  Two that I particular enjoyed were Nicholas Cain’s (B | T) “Hirable and Desirable” and Melissa Coates’s (B | T) “So you Want to Be a Rockstar Report Developer
As a conclusion to the great day of sessions, the official event was the Exhibitor Reception, in which a ton of great SWAG was given out by the awesome vendors, followed by nothing else other than more SQL Karaoke!  Another night which I didn’t get to bed until after 2 am…they really weren’t kidding about the lack of sleep!
Thursday – Thursday marked full conference day number two.  I tried my best to get up for the keynote, but the lack of sleep was already catching up to me.  The primary speaker for the keynote was Dr. DeWitt who gave a very in depth presentation on the inner workings of Hekaton.  I knew this would be widely available afterwards, so I took the opportunity to catch up on my sleep deficit a little bit.
After catching up on rest a bit, I made my way over for a few more sessions and another great lunch.  At lunch, I’d try to sit with a bunch of people I didn’t know in an effort to meet new people.  One great thing about an event like this with #sqlfamily is that everybody is always happy to greet a new face.
Again, all of the sessions I attended were fantastic and two that stood out were Doug Lane’s (B | T) “From Minutes to Milliseconds: High-Performance SSRS Tuning” and the “BI Power Hour.”  The BI Power Hour was put on by a number of senior program managers at Microsoft and hands down was the highlight session of the entire summit.  If you go to summit and can only attend one session, attend this one.  Recording it won’t do it justice.
Afterwards, it was time to drop things off at the room and head over to the NASCAR Museum for the Community Appreciation party.  The NASCAR Museum was an interesting choice of a venue for the party.  It was very conveniently located, but was probably a bit small for the size crowd we had.  They opened the doors which connect the museum to the convention center and a large number of people spilled over into that area for RC car racing which helped disperse the crowd somewhat.  One thing I really would have liked to have seen at the event would be some sort of live music.  Other than some music playing on speakers in the RC car area, there wasn’t much to be had.
The Community Appreciation Party ended about 10 pm, which by now you know is far too early for a night of PASS Summit to end.  A small group of us headed over to local bar Hartigan’s for night number three of SQL Karaoke.  A great time was had and shortly after 2 am, it was off to bed to rest up for Friday.
Friday – Another early morning, though I was starting to get used to being sleep deprived.  Being the last day of the conference, Friday had fewer official plans than previous days — no keynotes and no after session activities.  Just sessions and the Birds of a Feather lunch.
I forced myself to get up early so I’d be able to make it over for the first session of the day.  I was torn between attending Brent Ozar’s session and a professional development session on working from home presented by a panel of great big name speakers.  Ultimately I opted for Lessons from Working at Home partially due to Brent’s session being overcrowded and partially because ultimately it was more relevant.  We had a great session with a lot of good insight and I was happy with my choice.
I made a bit of a mistake during the Birds of a Feather lunch — I misread the map they handed us, which didn’t list a bunch of “general” tables, so ultimately I sat there since it matched with the map rather than the table I had intended to sit at “BI / SSRS.”  I made the best of it and we still had a good lunch.  Lesson learned for next time, pay more attention to the individual table signs than the map, and if there is no sign, that is not it.
PASS Summit wrapped up with final sessions on Friday evening.  At this point, many people had already started leaving for various flights and saying their goodbyes so there was a definite thick sadness in the air.  The exhibit hall was packing up and getting ready to ship out.
I planned to stay for SQL Saturday and drive back afterwards, so I was in it ’til the very end.  My last session for the day was Jen McCown’s (B | T) and Sean McCown’s (B | T) “Mouth Wide Shut” session which focused on being the interviewer in an interview.  They stole the day with a fun and light-hearted presentation laced with good information and witty banter.  The humor was great for tempering the sadness of the end of Summit in the air.  At the end of the session, Summit was over, just like that.
Following the session there was one happy and appropriate surprise left.  The City of Charlotte was having their annual BBQ festival just a few blocks away.  They had roads blocked off and vendors setup with various types of BBQ and other food.  Two stages were setup where bands played live blues music.  I headed down to the free event, picked up some delicious BBQ for dinner and enjoyed the atmosphere for a few hours before finally heading back to the room to pack up and get a little bit of rest for SQL Saturday, which I’ll follow up with another post.
Conclusion – PASS Summit 2013 was an absolutely amazing experience.  Hands down it was the most fun and rewarding professional conference that I have taken part in.  The #sqlfamily community really is a close-knit group focused on helping each other and learning new things.  I learned a couple of things about the conference that I plan to carry forward for next year:
  • Registering early during the Early Bird phase worked well and I saved a ton of money by doing so.
  • Paying more to stay in a hotel close to the convention center was also worthwhile — it was handy being able to drop by to the room throughout the day to load/unload swag and whatnot or just recharge for a few minutes.  A quick transit to the convention center in the morning didn’t hurt either.  Staying close and constantly seeing other Summit people in the lobby also helped maintain the sense of connectedness.
  • Having a rough plan of desired sessions to attend as well as backups for when they’re full is absolutely essential.  Additionally, making note of any “can’t miss” sessions is also helpful, since the plan will be derailed at some point.  You can’t, and shouldn’t, do all the sessions.
  • If anything, I placed too heavy of an emphasis on sessions.  I skipped one timeslot each day (usually after lunch).  I probably should have skipped more in favor of community and networking.
  • Last note on sessions — all the information is recorded and translates well into recordings, but fun and energy don’t necessarily.  So, attend the fun sessions in person, regardless of content.  Things like Lightning Talks, Sharks with Freakin’ Lasers on their Heads, Brent Ozar, The BI Power Hour, etc.
  • On a similar note, have a rough plan of the official after hours events, and take care of knowing how to get wristbands in advance!
My biggest takeaway for next year is that I need to get better at networking.  I introduced myself to and met a lot of people, but I could’ve done more.  I’m planning to be in town early next year to kick things off with Andy Warren’s annual networking dinner which will get things off to a good start.  Additionally, I need to interact more on Twitter, which will help with the first point.  Fortunately, I have a whole year to work on it.
I’m already looking at the calendar and dates for next year.  I won’t be a first timer any longer, but it will be my first time in Seattle, so in some ways I will be a first timer all over again!  Here’s to seeing everyone in Seattle next year for PASS Summit 2014 which will no doubt be another amazing time.