Pike’s Market to Pikes Peak: The PASS Summit is Worth the Journey

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Recently I spoke at SQL Saturday Denver. The day after the conference we went to visit Pikes Peak Mountain. You have a couple of choices of how you can get to the top of Pikes Peak Summit: hike, drive, or take the Cog railway. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you take the railway, you pay more and your time at the top is limited. Hiking up would take more time but you would get physical activity and the satisfaction that you made it to the top. We opted for the train ride up the mountain.

Regardless of what method we chose, being at the top of the Summit was worth it. The view from the top was amazing and you are surrounded by people who are there for the same shared experience.

Every year that I attend the PASS Data Community Summit, I feel the same way. Although PASS Summit is not held at 14,000 feet (although the trip up the escalators can feel like it), I look forward to the view from the skybridge towards Pike’s Market every year. And while the view of Seattle is beautiful, the view you get walking into the welcome session is just a little more awesome.

How to get to the Summit

Much like the choice of how to get to the top of Pikes Peak each person has to explore their options of getting to the PASS Summit. You could just take a week off work, buy a ticket and get a hotel (and many people do this). It is a great investment in your skill set. It is also a good investment in your skill set that you employer may want to make as well.

The Summit website has a template of a letter to help you convince your employer including details on what you will get and a place to make a reasonable budget as well. Determining how much it will cost to attend the Summit is easy, but it is hard to put an exact return on investment amount. The experience is more than just attending training sessions, it is making connections that may someday be of value to your employer (and you as well, but that may not be something to stress too much!).

I think the reason my employer has continued to support me attending the PASS Summit is because they see the fruit of the Summit when I return. If I look back to each year after I attended the conference, I can distinctly pick out what I did that year which was influenced by what I had learned. The opportunities for networking is invaluable, I have regularly reached out to connections I made at Summit when I had questions regarding something I was working on.

The Sessions

The number of knowledgeable speakers at the Summit is astounding. The sessions are taught by people who like to teach and pass on their knowledge. It is easy to get a little star-struck because your session may be taught by the people who wrote the book on one of the programming languages you use. Or perhaps by two people who have a YouTube channel you have learned a lot from.

Every year I come back with a notebook filled with notes and action items. Sometimes, I can’t wait to try things I learned about that day and must try them out at night (although this time may be better spent on some of the networking options while you are there).

Usually, there are multiple sessions that I want to attend at the same time. But it’s not a problem as the 3-day registration level gets on-demand access to recordings for a few months after the event. (and even the 1-day access can purchase access to all the sessions. More details here.)

What is incredible about being there live is that you get a lot of access to the presenters. There was one year when I was trying to decide if I should focus more on the Business Intelligence side of things instead of the DBA role. I waited after the session to talk to the speaker who had presented on a business intelligence topic and not only did the speaker talk to me but he sat down to show that I had his undivided attention. To this day that still sticks in my mind as a remarkable showing of caring.

Networking

Before I attended my first Summit a wise person said to not discount the conversations that may occur post-session or in the hallway. Sometimes you may just miss a session altogether. If you end up in a conversation with someone who is giving you great advice, then you can just watch the session later.

One of the easiest events to attend are the lunch-time sessions. For example, in year’s past there has been a Birds of a Feather luncheon where you pick your lunch table based on a topic that you are passionate about or one you want to learn more about. You are already going to eat lunch so why not network and learn something at the same time?

There are planned community events such as running (#SQLRun) at 6 a.m. (Stairs, stairs…so many stairs), playing board games, ping pong, Karaoke, or dinner at the Crab Pot. There is usually something for everyone going on each night. Attending these events and meeting new people is a great chance to make lasting friendships. For more details on what is currently planned, check out the Summit Community site). And if you don’t get involved with any of these events, you may end up having dinner with a group of people you have learned from (or taught) for many years before.

Goals

There is a feeling when you are in the middle of Summit that I can’t describe. During the Keynotes you are surrounded by other attendees who are excited to see what is announced. Between the keynotes and sessions, you can take in so much over the week!

Taking all of this information in mind, the Summit is where I set goals for the next year. For example, I have attended Summit for a number of years but this past year I finally set the goal of speaking. I know people who from their very first visit made it their goal to start speaking as soon as possible. Some have left Summit to go back to their hometown and start a user group. (and many people just go to learn and apply that new knowledge!)

If you are looking for inspiration, Summit is a great place to find it. Not only can you set goals, but Summit is the place to find people who can give you advice on things such as speaking and setting up a user group in your community. It is full of people who have been in the same position and can offer sound advice. Last year at Summit, I made the decision that this year I was going to start submitting to speak at the SQL Saturdays around the country. If I had not attended the Summit last year and been inspired, I would not be speaking at conferences this year. Next year I hope to reach one of my other goals: speaking at the Summit.

Note: If you will be at the Summit this year and are looking to start writing or speaking, there are a couple of special sessions being held in the community zone Just for you. Tony Davis, Louis Davidson and Tonie Huizer will be doing a Professional Power Hour about technical writing; and Ben Weissman will be doing a Ask Me Anything session for new speakers.

The Location

While you almost certainly will want to be completely engaged at the conference, there is almost always some downtime before or after. Seattle is a beautiful city surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

Hopefully, you will be able to take a day trip before or after the conference to do something like going out to Bainbridge Island (where Pickleball was invented). Or during the conference, you visit the Space Needle at night. And if nothing else suits your fancy, there is so much good food in Seattle, a lot of it within walking distance of the conference center

It is not hard to find a group of people to dine at one of the many restaurants surrounding the conference center or at Pike’s Place Market.

Conclusion

The PASS Data Community Summit is always a great experience and for a lot of people I know, it leads to more great experiences. For example, this year SQL Saturday Denver. felt more special as two of the members of the user group were people I met at my very first PASS Summit.

During that first Summit, I went to a board game night, I did not know anyone but ended up meeting various people including those two people. It was the last night of the conference, and they were going to Bainbridge Island the next day. They invited me to accompany them, and I am glad I accepted, the views were amazing and I am glad I accepted the invite; the views were amazing (and I learned a lot about Business Intelligence too!) It is an experience I’ll never forget and now I try to visit Bainbridge Island every time I attend Summit.

While at Summit talk to people so you can hear stories of how after attending Summit it inspired them to start speaking, blogging, teaching people at their company, or transitioning to a different career path. (Just don’t lead with that last one when trying to convince your boss to send you to the Summit!)

 

About the author

Jason Romans

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Jason Romans is a Business Intelligence engineer in Nashville, TN working with the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack. Jason started his career as a DBA and over the years moved to working in his passion of Business Intelligence and data modeling. His first computer was a Commodore 64 and he's been hooked ever since.

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