PASS_2015_200x200Now in my third year, I recently attended PASS Summit in Seattle, Washington.  This was my second visit to Seattle for PASS Summit, with my first Summit experience in Charlotte, NC.  Having experience my “first time in Seattle for Summit” last year, I had a pretty good idea of where things were and what things would be going on and when and for the most part, things followed the previous year’s pattern very closely.

I arrived in Seattle a few days early so I could work some sightseeing in.  While it’s generally not a good idea to try to have a rental car during the conference, in the days leading up to the conference when you want to see a lot of places, it’s the way to go.  I rented a car from the airport and made my way down to Portland for a couple of nights.

I spent my first two days of vacation, Saturday and Sunday doing some geocaching and exploring the Portland area.  The weather was overcast but nice the first day and lots of rain the second day.  I’d really wanted to see Mt. Hood, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate at all.

Mt. Rainier while driving down to Portland after arriving in Seattle

Mt. Rainier while driving down to Portland after arriving in Seattle

The Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. Light rain and heavy fog made for zero view.

The Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. Light rain and heavy fog made for zero view.

I had one important stop to make before leaving Portland to head back to the Seattle area for a little more sightseeing.  A stop anybody in the area should make before leaving.  Voodoo Donuts.

No stop to Portland can be complete without Voodoo Donuts. Stopping by at night instead of morning made for much easier lines.

No stop to Portland can be complete without Voodoo Donuts. Stopping by at night instead of morning made for much easier lines.

You can never go wrong with the classic Voodoo Doll.

You can never go wrong with the classic Voodoo Doll.

After leaving Portland, I had a little vacation time left, though the weather still wasn’t great.  I decided to head up to the Snoqualmie area for a little hiking and sightseeing and managed to swing by the amazing Snoqualmie Falls as well as hike a really cool old railroad trestle.

Snoqualmie Falls from the bottom in heavy fog.

Snoqualmie Falls from the bottom in heavy fog.

Hiking an old railroad trestle in Snoqualmie

Hiking an old railroad trestle in Snoqualmie

 

Tuesday – Conference Welcome Reception

With vacation over, I headed back to the airport to return the rental car where I hopped on the light rail back to Seattle to get checked in to the conference.  Last year, I stayed in the Sheraton, which is right next to the Washington State Convention Center.  This year, I decided to give the Grand Hyatt, also right next to the convention center, a try.  While the Sheraton was nice, I found the Hyatt to be a much nicer hotel.  The distance to the convention center was comparable, but the walk was slightly more covered in the rain.  I found the room (which really ended up being more of a suite) to be leaps and bounds better than the Sheraton.  And not that the room matters all that much when you only spend around 6 hours in your hotel a day, but if two places are the same price, why not choose the better room?  More importantly than anything else, the WiFi in the Hyatt was rock solid for me, whereas I frequently had to fail over to the hotspot in my phone when I stayed at the Sheraton.

Registration for Summit was pretty comparable to how it had been in previous years.  They move it to a different location in the conference center this year, but that was the only real difference.  One major change regarding the registration packet each attendee received was the swag.  Typically, each registrant receives a name badge (critical to getting in and out of all things related to the conference) as well as a backpack, water bottle, and some minor swag.  The quality of the backpacks has varied over the years, in a decreasing manner.  This year, they appeared to reach rock bottom as there was no backpack given to registrants — simply a high end canvas tote bag instead.  On top of that, they decided not to give out water bottles this year (which typically were very nice bottles with the PASS Summit logo).  While I didn’t really miss the backpack (I’ve yet to actually use one after the conference), I felt the lack of water bottles were a loss.  I’m curious why they decided to cut these this year.

After registration, the traditional Welcome Reception began.  The Welcome Reception this year was exactly the same as last year — a couple of hours of mingling in the keynote room with various catered snack foods to eat while mingling.  Much like last year, there was no Quiz Bowl or other entertainment at the Welcome Reception.

Tuesday evening welcome reception at PASS Summit 2015.

Tuesday evening welcome reception at PASS Summit 2015.

Following the Welcome Reception was the first SQL Karaoke session of the conference — the SIOS SQL Karaoke event presented by Denny Cherry.  As always, this was a fantastic event, despite the issue 30 minutes prior to the start of the event of the venue needing to be changed.  A great time was had by all and I ended up leaving about midnight to head back to the hotel to get a little rest before the Wednesday morning keynote.

Denny Cherry kicking off SIOS SQL Karaoke Tuesday night at Amber.

Denny Cherry kicking off SIOS SQL Karaoke Tuesday night at Amber.

 

Wednesday – Conference Day 1

Wednesday morning kicked off bright and early with the traditional PASS breakfast (hot food, including bacon!) then the day 1 keynote.  Thomas LaRock opened things up with a quick talk welcoming everyone to the event and then the keynote was underway.  A number of big names from the Microsoft Data Platform presented including Joseph Sirosh,  Shawn Bice, and Rohan Jumar.  The big news this year was the upcoming release of SQL Server 2016, with CTP3 releasing during the keynote.  Being a BI professional that spends a lot of time with SSRS, this keynote was an interesting one as Business Intelligence upgrades are one of the key features of SQL Server 2016.  It was great fun seeing a number of real-time dashboard demos presented during the keynote and the Microsoft Spotlight Session immediately following the opening keynote covered the new Business Intelligence features of SQL 2016 in depth.

Day 1 keynote highlighting some of the new additions to SQL Server 2016.

Day 1 keynote highlighting some of the new additions to SQL Server 2016.

During the keynote, I noticed that the WiFi in the Conference Center actually worked very well — a major change from last year, where it was very frustrating.  This was a great help to being able to tweet during the keynote as well as to allow participation in Chris Webb’s experiment to track the audience sentiment during the keynote.

Following the keynote, I headed to a number of great sessions throughout the day.  I tried to follow the formula I’d developed in previous years of prioritizing community sessions over Microsoft sessions and fun and interesting speakers over content, except when the content was a strong match to something I was currently working on.  All in all, it went very well and I enjoyed all of the sessions I attended.  Looking forward to viewing the session recordings for the ones I missed.

After the day’s sessions had concluded, the Exhibitor Welcome Reception commenced in the exhibitor area.  This followed the same pattern as last year as being similar to Tuesday’s welcome reception (but with more swag) and, per usual, had the worst food (smallest selection and number of places to get food) of all of the events.

Wednesday night tends to be the busiest night for the after hours events, with a number of events happening simultaneously.  The default event (if you have nowhere else to go, is always a good time) was the SQL Karaoke event by Pragmatic Works at the Hard Rock.  I stopped in for a bit before ultimately dropping by another competing event and then finally heading back to the hotel after midnight to head to bed.

 

Thursday – Conference Day 2

Thursday opened very similarly to Wednesday with a breakfast and keynote.  I skipped breakfast and grabbed a snack along the way so I could get a little extra sleep…by this time, the long days were starting to catch up to me.  I managed to make it to the Day 2 Keynote just in time for it to begin.  Adam Jorgensen took the stage to kick things off with the annual PASS business of talking about the health of the organization, the next summit (October 25 – 28, 2016 in Seattle), and finally the PASSion award.  Once the PASS business was concluded, Dr. Rimma Nehme and Dr. David DeWitt took the stage to present a talk on their theoretical work with the Internet of Things (IoT).  It was an interesting talk, but wasn’t really my thing, having not worked in that field previously.  Nehme and DeWitt concluded the Day 2 Keynote by announcing that they had both decided to move on to other things and that this keynote would be their last.  So, we’ll see what PASS cooks up for next year!

Goodbye from Dr. Nehme and Dr. DeWitt concluding their final PASS keynote.

Goodbye from Dr. Nehme and Dr. DeWitt concluding their final PASS keynote.

Once again, following the keynote, the day was a flurry of excellent sessions and activity.  I did a good job choosing my sessions and only encountered one issue with a session room that filled up before I arrived, forcing me to move on to my plan B.  As per usual, I attended the Women in Technology luncheon, which I ultimately arrived a bit late to due to a session running over.  While the luncheon was good, something about it didn’t feel as engaging as previous ones.

The Community Zone, however, was great fun throughout the day, thanks to the Argenis Without Borders 2.0 fundraiser.

The cast of characters in the Community Zone.

The cast of characters in the Community Zone.

Following the usual PASS Summit template, the day of sessions concluded with the annual Community Appreciation Party at the EMP museum.  As per usual, this consisted of free admission to the museum to check out the exhibits, appetizers and drinks, and of course, SQL Karaoke with a live band.  I’d checked out the museum pretty thoroughly last year, however, there was a new exhibit this year (Indie Games) and it looked like they’d reworked some of the Sci-Fi exhibit so it felt fresh.  That being said, last year a number of competing public events had been posted on the SQL PASS After Hours page and I considered going to one of those this year instead, but that page didn’t have nearly the activity that it did last year and no competing events were published.  It worked out ok, however, the SQL Karaoke was great and it allowed for an earlier evening which gave me a chance to head back to the room early to get caught up on a few things and get some rest before Friday morning.

 

Friday – Conference Day 3

Friday morning.  The final day of the conference.  This is the day where everybody is starting to drag.  As such, there are no keynotes and a lot of people skip breakfast.  Myself included.  I did, however, make it to the first session of the day, for which I had a very good reason — the BI Power Hour.

The BI Power Hour (of Power) has begun!

The BI Power Hour (of Power) has begun!

The BI Power Hour is hands down the best session of Summit.  It’s always fun and hilarious and promises not to teach you anything.  We had a full house for this one and it didn’t disappoint.  New additions to the lineup, Chris Webb, Mark Vaillancourt and Buck Woody really added to the enjoyment of the BI Power Hour.  Everybody in the cramped and packed room was rolling and laughing throughout the entire session, especially when Buck Woody started his YMCA bit.

Buck Woody presented a portion of the BI Power Hour which involved a number of people...from some sort of village.

Buck Woody presented a portion of the BI Power Hour which involved a number of people…from some sort of village.

Following the BI Power Hour, I continued to again enjoy a number of great sessions throughout the day.  I told myself that this year I’d make it to the Birds of a Feather Luncheon, however, the way the schedule gaps worked out, I decided to go down to Pike’s Place Market for a while since it was most active during the day and I’d had yet to visit during this trip.  I had a great time doing some sightseeing and then returned to finish out the day’s sessions with some Speaker Idol.

Summit definitely takes on a bit of a sadness once the last session concludes.  Everybody knows its over and its time to leave and the week is over.  Since I wasn’t flying out until the morning, I decided to do a little more sightseeing and headed over to the Space Needle to finally head to the top to check it out.  The weather was actually pretty decent (not sunny, but at least not raining) and I’d read that one of the best times to go was just after sunset so you could see day and night in the same visit.  I paid the fee ($22, yikes!) and headed to the top and had a great time.

With everybody else up there taking selfies, figured I had to take one too to prove I was there, so, here I am.

With everybody else up there taking selfies, figured I had to take one too to prove I was there, so, here I am.

Night finally setting in made for a great view of the skyline.

Night finally setting in made for a great view of the skyline.

With my sightseeing concluded, I headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for my 4am wake-up time.  With that, another Summit was in the books and it was time to head home.  As with my previous two Summit experiences, it was a great but exhausting time.  I look forward to the next time I have the chance to attend.  For now, it’s time to eagerly await the release of the session recordings.