And so it came to PASS…

On 18-21 November this year, in the great city of Seattle, PASS will be holding their 10th annual conference. If you work with SQL Server, you should attend if you possibly can. It’s an independently-organized summit, but with the hand of Microsoft firmly up its sweater. This means plenty of real-world technical sessions from community DBAs who are prepared to “tell it like it is” rather than just give the rose-tinted Microsoft view. It also ensures a healthy attendance of Microsoft developers (one for every ten attendees this year, apparently!) who you can grill for inside information on SQL Server. You can even get SQL Server 2008 certified while at the event, if you so wish to spoil the experience.

PASS, unfortunately, seem to be difficult to deal with and short on information. The PASS conference has a reputation for being poorly organized.  For example, there is still only very sketchy session information on the website. Several authors and speakers I’ve talked to have started comparing unfavourably the experience and expense of the PASS summit with that of emerging community events such as IndyTechFest and SQLSaturday, which are free to attend and often very well-organized. Luckily, PASS has been undergoing some fairly major changes over the past year, with a new management structure, new website, a new package to help people start their own local user groups, free PASS membership, and so on. So, things may well improve, and the PASS summit remains a compelling event, as long as you know how to get the most out of it.

Set Specific Goals for improving the performance of specific parts of your current system, using knowledge you’ll gain at the conference. And then go home and implement them.

Talk to People! I’ve met people who go to all the keynotes, diligently mark out all the sessions they want to attend and spend the week, heads down, trudging between each one. It is not enough. Talk to Microsoft SQL Server developers about specific technical issues. Talk to the tool vendors about possible alternative solutions. Most of all, talk to your fellow DBAs over lunch, in birds-of-a-feather sessions and at the bars and parties. It can help you develop a far-reaching support network.

Don’t be ashamed to Party. In my experience, when you bring together, in a relaxed environment, a group of like-minded professionals, they can produce some of the best insights into the real problems DBAs face, and how to handle them. A meeting in the bar with a few fellow DBAs can be just as productive as a conference session or keynote.

Have you had dealings with PASS as a conference attendee, volunteer or speaker? Or in setting up a local users group? What they do well? Where they need to work harder? Have you got any advice on how to get the most benefit from the conference? Please let us know. As usual, the best comment on the blog will win a $50 Amazon voucher.