PASS Summit 2014 Roundup — Second Summit, First in Seattle

Last year, I attended my first PASS Summit in Charlotte, NC and I was hooked immediately.

This year, Summit returned to its usual home in Seattle, WA, and despite the 2,200 miles from Atlanta, GA to Seattle, WA, I knew I had to go!  I’ve only visited Seattle once previously — and that was for a very brief visit after a grueling hike of the West Coast Trail in Vancouver, CA so I welcomed the opportunity to spend some actual time in the Pacific Northwest to see the sites.  Regardless of the venue, PASS Summit is a very difficult proposition to pass up.

Once again, this year, I took advantage of the early registration for Summit, where the cost to register is almost half of what the final cost can be…yikes.  Early registration is open once again this year, and goes until January 11th, 2015.  I’ll probably take advantage of this as well again this year, once it gets a little closer.

Saturday — I arrived in the late afternoon to gray skies, but no rain.  Temperature-wise, it was actually a little warmer than it was in Atlanta when I left (which was a surprise!)  I picked up my rental car, which I had until the conference hit full swing on Tuesday, to head out and do some sightseeing.

I went to the Snoqualmie Tunnel for a little hiking and geocaching and then it was down to Portland, OR to spend the night.

A little pre-conference hiking and geocaching — the Snoqualie Tunnel just outside of Seattle, WA.

Sunday — I awoke bright and early in Portland, OR, for another day of sightseeing and geocaching in the area.  It rained all day.  Welcome to the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest!  I then headed up to the Seattle area to spend the night.

The plaque just outside of Portland, OR, dedicated to the start of geocaching.

Monday — Another day of sightseeing and geocaching around the area.  I’d planned on attending the Networking Dinner Monday evening, but completely underestimated how long it takes to get around the Seattle area and wasn’t able to make it back to the other side of the bay in time (I’d wandered over toward Bremerton, WA and the only way across from there is by ferry).

It worked out ok as there ended up being some issues with the venue.  Next year!

The Seattle skyline, complete with Space Needle and EMP Museum.

Tuesday — My final day of sightseeing in the area before the conference kicked into full gear with the Welcome Reception.  The last major item on my to-see list was Geocaching HQ, the corporate headquarters of the company that runs geocaching.com.  Sounds pretty nerdy, but they have a whole experience setup in their lobby for visitors of which travel from all over the world to visit.

As a data professional, it’s kinda fun visiting a business which relies solely because of their database.  And besides, they were next door to Tableau.

Geocaching Headquarters, my last “vacation” stop on Tuesday prior to registration.

Registration was a breeze as usual with the event, and attendees were each given a nice backpack complete with a very nice Summit 2014 water bottle.  Following registration was the Welcome Reception.  Originally, I’d heard that Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, would be giving a welcome address, but that didn’t pan out.  The traditional quiz bowl wasn’t held either.  At least the food and company was good.

Registration at PASS Summit 2014.
Tuesday evening welcome reception at PASS Summit 2014.

And of course, how better to kick off the first day of Summit than with some traditional and always loved SQL Karaoke?  Denny Cherry and SIOS sponsored the first night of karaoke at Cowgirls, Inc. which was a great time as always.  Last year, I stayed out pretty late this first night of karaoke, which made me exhausted for the first full day keynote.  This year, I tried to be a bit more disciplined and was in bed by midnight.

Wednesday — The conference kicked into full gear with a keynotes given by T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, Joseph Sirosh, and James Phillips.  Keynotes were the typical fare you can expect from Microsoft executives and of course were very focused on “the cloud,” Azure-specifically, as well as Power BI.

Final count was just over a staggering 5,900 registrations for the event.

To me, the most interesting portion of the keynote was given by Joseph Sirosh, in which he gave an example of a store using Microsoft Kinect sensors to collect data about where customers spent time in the store.  They then took that data and plotted it with Power Map in heatmap form over a map of the displays in the store.  Using this data, they could determine which displays in the store were the most effective and where to put future displays.

Using Kinect sensors and Power Map to determine where in a store customers spend their time.

Following the keynote, the sessions began.  And really, there were too many great ones to single any one, but I attended sessions by Rod Colledge, Buck Woody, Brent Ozar, Luke Jian, Mark Vaillancourt, Tim Radney, Steven Wake, and Craig Purnell.

This year, I went ahead and pre-ordered the session recordings.  Too many great sessions and too many conflicts.  It’s nice to not have to worry about it so much.

Finally, after a long day of keynotes and sessions, the end of the day activities began.  Wednesday night was capped off with the Exhibitor Reception, which I only attended briefly due to a conflict with another group meeting and then the Pragmatic Works SQL Karaoke event at the Hard Rock.

Pragmatic Works SQL Karaoke at the Hard Rock in Seattle, WA.

Thursday — Thursday morning, I was really starting to feel the exhaustion.  Between the whrilwind pre-conference, the long day of sessions Wednesday, and the time change and timezone change, I was whipped.  But, I forced myself out of bed to head over to the SIOS PASS the Bacon breakfast event.

Following a great breakfast and great panel (chock full of fellow Atlantans), it was time for the second keynote of PASS Summit 2014.  Day 2 was a bit more subdued than day 1, with the keynote opening with some PASS Business regarding the health of the organization and then Microsoft Researcher Dr. Rimma Nehme giving her “Cloud 101” presentation.  I’ve heard many people now call this one of the best “intro to cloud” presentations anyone has ever given.  Pretty impressive!

Rimma’s “Pizza-as-a-Service” analogy for the various types of cloud services stole the show for being both fun and spot on.
Drs. Rimma Nehme and David DeWitt at the close of the day 2 keynote.

Following the keynote there was a brief photo opportunity as the folks who dressed up for the Doctors Without Borders fundraiser as well as the folks in kilts got together for their moment in the sun on the stage.

Can’t even explain.  Summit can be weird sometimes.

Following the keynote fun, I spent some more time exploring the exhibitor area before heading off to sessions for the day.

Exhibitors…exhibiting.  The two snowboards in the top left were one of the giveaways.  Jealous.

Again, so many great sessions.  One in particular that I want to call out though is Mark Broadbent and Buck Woody’s presentation “Being Buck Woody.”  This was considered a “Community Session” so it wasn’t part of the normal track, so I don’t think it was recorded, but in my opinion it was the best session of the entire summit.  Buck brought his good humor to the event and really made it a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.  Mark told his story of the various changes in his career which provided a very motivation and insightful conversation for us all.  This session definitely had me thinking the most!

Being Buck Woody.  My vote for best sessions of Summit 2014, hands down.

Thursday is the busiest day of Summit.  That continued with the WIT Luncheon as a break in between sessions.  The luncheon was done in a Q&A format this year with a single interviewee (rather than a panel as has been done in previous years) and seemed to go well.  The crowd attending the luncheon was huge and it was a sellout this year.

WIT Luncheon at PASS Summit 2014.

Following the luncheon, I attended a number of additional sessions, including the BI Power Hour.  The BI Power Hour, a usual conference favorite, also presented this year.  And while they did a great job, I didn’t feel like it came near the level of last year’s presentation.  Less humor, less swag, and seemingly less energy.  Not sure what this means for the BI Power Hour, but it was still a good time.  The best jokes were a recap from previous year’s topics.

Slide shown as a previous topic in the BI Power Hour.

To conclude the day on Thursday, the annual Community Appreciation Party was held at the EMP Museum.  This conflicted with another event I really wanted to attend, but since I’d never been to the EMP Museum, I decided that was the right choice.  It ended up being a very fun time, I’m glad I got to experience the EMP Museum.  We’ll see how much fun it is to revisit in future years.

SQL Karaoke at the Community Appreciation Party at the EMP Museum in Seattle, WA.

Friday — Friday is the last day of the conference and is always a bit sad.  The day has no keynote address and instead jumps right into sessions.  I attended a number of great sessions, but also decided to take a little time off during the afternoon to go sightseeing a bit downtown.  My brain needed a bit of a break!  I toured the Pike Street Market and had a nice time seeing all the activity.

Pike Street Market in Seattle, WA.

Following my little break, I zipped back to the convention center for the tail end of the Birds of a Feather luncheon as well as the prize giveaways in the exhibitor hall.  A number of great prizes were given out, but sadly I didn’t win one.  Next year!

Following the giveaways, I attended a few more sessions, including the PASS Board Q&A Session as well as the PASS BA Conference QA Session.  I had a few things I was curious about, and had never attended one so I decided to give it a shot.  Attendance for both was about as I expected — very light, but the questions were good and the board answered them very professionally.  Three that I was most interested in:

  • Summit Location — They book 4-6 years in advance.  It’s in Seattle for the foreseeable future (officially the next 2) for a number of reasons, but a lot of it is familiarity with the venue and sponsors/vendors.
  • PASS Name Change — PASS is changing its name from the Professional Association of SQL Server to just PASS.  They are considering it a re branding and the intention is to bring in more data professionals as the landscape changes
  • The BA Conference — I was curious how this fits into things.  There is a clear distinction between BI and BA.  BI remains part of the PASS Summit, whereas the BA is targeted more toward Excel end-users (users of other technologies such as Tableau and Cliqview are welcome but not actively hunted).  They made it clear that the intended audience for the BA conference tends to not want anything to do with SQL Server/Developers and the intended speakers don’t want  to speak to a SQL Server/Developer audience.  Pretty interesting, considering the organization its being born out of.  Jen Stirrup’s London BA Edition SQL Saturday is a small scale version of the intended direction of this event.

Friday concludes with a bit of a whimper as far as the conference is concerned.  Following sessions, it just ends with no further parties or get-togethers.  They actually start packing things up to be out very quickly.  Many people have started heading home at this point, so its definitely a bit sad to be around.

Packing up at the conclusion of Summit on Friday afternoon.
The Community Inspiration graffiti board.  An awesome idea!

I spent a little additional time on Friday night, before heading back to pack, to explore the Seattle waterfront at night.  A great area, I’ll definitely need to come back and revisit it at some point!

Seattle waterfront, Friday night.

Saturday — While many people choose to fly out at the end of the day on Friday, I wanted that time to myself to wind down and pack, so I chose to fly out Saturday morning.  I arrived at the airport in the morning and due to the time zone change and layovers, I arrived in Atlanta at night.  A full day of travel, but that was to be expected.

I definitely learned a lot this year, both in terms of technical skills and professional development skills.  I learned a number of things for next year, should I be able to attend.  Next year, I hope to improve my networking a bit and attend more of the side parties in lieu of the official parties.

Additionally, this  year I prioritized session choice based on educational value instead of entertainment value.  I think I have more fun when I prioritize entertainment value (known good, funny speakers).  You learn a ton both ways, and can always watch the more relevant but drier presentations at home with the session recordings and a fast-forward button.

Until we meet again, Seattle and PASS Summit!  It’s been a blast!