Your Professional Development and the PASS Organization

There are so many ways of keeping your technical skills and knowledge up-to-date. There are books, articles, conferences, video courses and so on, but nothing beats discussion and debate with professional people in other organisations facing a similar range of technical challenges, some of which you share, and others you maybe haven't yet. PASS is unique in providing just this vital ingredient for database professionals using the Microsoft Data Stack.

If you read articles on Simple Talk, you’re already working on improving your skills and knowledge. You’re making yourself more valuable to your employers, current and future. Choosing to come to this web site shows that you’re aware of the need to improve your knowledge and understanding of the Microsoft Data Platform. It is a good approach to take advantage of what we have to offer here.

Being successful as an IT professional means keeping up with changes in the technology in general and keeping right up-to-date with your specialty. Data professionals experience quite radical changes, and they need to keep learning. It is part of the job to take courses, reading articles, do training and gain certification. However, this isn’t enough: you should do more.

Wherever you are, it is easier to learn when discussing with other Data professionals. It is especially valuable when they have different experience to you and have had the opportunities to learn different things in different workplace settings. You will gain valuable insights that you can’t get any other way. PASS gives you this opportunity.

PASS is a global non-profit organization run largely by volunteers that provides the most volume, and the most comprehensive, teaching and training on the Microsoft Data Platform available anywhere. Additionally, it can provide something extra, and unique; the PASS organization runs and supports multiple types of in-person events, adding to the amount of teaching and training it has available as well as providing opportunities for networking.

An aside

Before we get into the details of how I think this organization can assist you in your personal development, let me get a couple of admissions out of the way, so we’re completely clear on where I’m coming from. As I write this, I’m currently sitting on the Board of Directors of PASS. More specifically, I’m on the Executive Committee as the Vice President in charge of Finance and Governance. This is a completely voluntary, uncompensated, position. I help to manage the $10 million dollar budget currently maintained by PASS in support of the organization’s more than 350,000 members. I have volunteered with the PASS organization for more than ten years in various roles, big and small, public and private. PASS has absolutely changed my life in a long list of positive ways. I want to share that positive, life altering experience with others. That’s why I do what I do.

I do want to re-emphasize that last point. Because this is a volunteer organization and I’m just one of the small army of volunteers that runs it, I won’t gain anything personally if you get involved with the organization. I will get the satisfaction of knowing that I helped maintain and grow the organization that has helped me in my career so much. I will get the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing that I was able to assist someone else in their career as well. That’s why most of the volunteers do what they do, for the love of the game.

Where does the PASSion come from?

See what I did there? Every year, at the annual PASS Summit, the single largest collection of Microsoft Data Professionals anywhere, an award is given out to one of the volunteers who has, in the opinion of their peers, done the most for the organization. It’s called the PASSion Award. You get the idea. We’re just talking about a training and support organization, but many people fall in love with it. Why?

It starts where PASS starts, at your local Chapter meeting face-to-face with people like you, facing the same problems, seeking similar solutions and with the same needs.

All over the world, in the evenings, at lunch, sometimes for breakfast, groups of your peers are gathering in offices, at schools, sometimes even at pubs, to sit down and have a discussion about the Microsoft Data Platform. They may have a local person doing a presentation on performance tuning SQL Server. They might have a virtual presentation from a published author. It could be that they’re showing a video of a webinar recorded by PASS or even a presentation from the PASS Summit. I know Chapters that have set up study groups to prepare for certifications. It could be all of the above. All this training is offered for free (if the meeting is sponsored or the Chapter has money from hosting events) or for a nominal fee to offset the cost of the facility or the food being offered (if any).

These Chapters, local to you, are supported through PASS. The organization supplies a place to have a web site that is set up to help the Chapter run efficiently. PASS also offers mechanisms of advertising for the Chapter so that they can get the word out about their meetings. PASS organizes a group of volunteers called Regional Mentors who have run their own Chapters and are now helping others to run theirs. All this infrastructure and support is provided by the PASS organization for no cost to the Chapter.

The passion for the organization starts at the Chapter. Getting a group going is a lot of work. I know because I did it. I started a chapter with the help of several friends and co-workers and I helped to run it for four years. It’s still going strong, ten years later. The passion starts when you see, at a local level, looking directly at your peers who become friends and partners, people learning and expanding their skill sets, all through the work that you’ve done with their Chapter.

The passion grows even more since, at the Chapter, you begin the process of networking. Don’t think about that as looking for work. Although, that does happen. I’m regularly seeing people who are looking for work, announcing that at a meeting, or, people who have work and need a body announcing that. No, the networking I want to focus on is the expansion of your knowledge base by expanding the people that you know and interact with. You may be the local expert on PowerBI, but you’re hitting issues with some of your T-SQL queries. Talking to that person who just presented on query tuning might help you solve an issue you’ve been pounding your head against for weeks. You simply can’t know everything there is to know about the Microsoft Data Platform. That’s why we form networks. It’s why we communicate and make friends. Your local Chapter is the first opportunity that PASS offers as a mechanism to improve your professional development, but it’s not the last.

What are you doing this Saturday?

Well, it doesn’t even have to be a Saturday. PASS provides the infrastructure and support for another event that occurs around the world, SQLSaturday. This is an all-day event that takes place in your local community, usually once a year. It’s organized locally and will be either free, or, again, for the cost of a lunch. SQLSaturday has been hosted on every day of the week, so it’s not just limited to the one day. SQLSaturday consists of one or more tracks and a number of speakers, all on various aspects of the Microsoft Data Platform. Many speakers pay their own way to travel around helping out at SQLSaturdays. Others are sponsored to travel to the events by their employers or a company that supports them. Regardless, this is an all-day training event focused on all aspects of the Data Platform that features local speakers and sometimes international speakers. All available to you, like with your local Chapters, to give you a chance to learn and a chance to network.

PASS maintains the web site, infrastructure, and processes needed to host these events all over the world. PASS is constantly upgrading and modifying the program in efforts to make it more applicable and easier to access for people all over the world. Lots of money is invested in the SQLSaturday concept including flying support people to sites around the world to assist groups and individuals who are organizing a SQLSaturday for the first time.

Your goal when you attend a SQL Saturday event is to attain the knowledge that you’re sure to get on the Data Platform. That knowledge is certainly going to help your professional development. You’re also going to have the opportunity to meet and talk to lots of other people who are equally committed to improving their own professional development. If you look around at a SQLSaturday event that is being held on what is locally a day off, you’re looking at people willing to spend their own time learning, not simply skipping out of work for a day. These are extremely valuable people to know. PASS provides you the opportunity to meet them.

What if I just want a class?

Maybe you live in an area that just doesn’t have enough people to support a Chapter or host a SQLSaturday. Maybe you can’t easily make these meetings because of other commitments or you just can’t travel. PASS has you covered. In addition to the Chapters, PASS supports Virtual Chapters. These are groups that hold meetings anywhere from once a week to once a month or quarterly. They’re focused on various topics ranging from PowerBI to SSIS or even Beginners. There are specific language Virtual Chapters so that if you don’t speak English you can still get in on training. The meetings are held online at all different times and they are usually recorded so that you can go and play them back at your leisure.

PASS provides the GoToMeeting hosting for these events, communicates to its member base when and where they’re occurring and then stores all the videos so that you can watch them later. All this training supplies by PASS is, again, completely cost-free. The topics cover the entire Microsoft Data Platform. The people teaching the virtual meetings are frequently MVPs, MCMs, Microsoft employees, book authors, and various other industry experts.

Also, a few times a year, PASS hosts an event called 24 Hours of PASS. This event is 24 hours of training taking place literally over the 24 hours of a day. 24 Hours of PASS provides a mechanism to ensure that training is available, live, regardless of your time zone. These are frequently themed. Some of 24 Hours of PASS are previews for the sessions at Summit. There has been BI 24 Hours of PASS. The most recent event was all in French. The next one in November is in Portuguese. These are global spanning and internationally focused events.

For your professional development, you have the opportunity to take a class on exactly the topic you’re interested in, and, you can pick and choose when you watch this class, if you choose to skip the live event. However, with the live event online, you have the opportunity of engaging with industry leading experts to get your question answered, at no cost. This kind of learning opportunity is quite difficult to find anywhere else, especially on the scale offered by PASS.

How about a trip this fall?

In the Fall, this year, 2016, it’s at the end of October, PASS hosts the world’s largest event dedicated to all aspects of the Microsoft Data Platform, the PASS Summit. The Summit consists of three days of teaching, lectures, and even some hands-on training, in all sorts of different sessions from a regular 75 minute talk, to hands-on labs, 5-10 lightning talks, chalk-talks, birds of a feather lunches and more. On top of that there are two days of pre-conference seminars which consist of a full day of training on a particular topic put on by some of the top speakers. This event is a paid event. The Summit acts as the primary means of fund-raising for the PASS organization. The money spent at Summit is what funds all the other events and resources that PASS supplies to the whole world.

Summit is frequently referred to as a family reunion. Many people attend every year, partly to take advantage of all the training, partly to meet with the Microsoft engineers who frequently attend, but partly to get to meet the friends that they made a previous Summit. The phrase you’ll hear all the time is SQL Family. The infrastructure that PASS has built is taken advantage of by people to build close ties with other data professionals as a means of enhancing their careers and their lives. You can too.

What about the rest of the year?

So far I’ve talked about all the infrastructure and events that PASS creates and maintains in support of your goals of professional development. You can simply attend these events, take the training, build your network, and you will have greatly benefited from all that PASS offers. However, you can also take it one, or several, steps further. You can volunteer.

Remember, almost all of this organization except a few paid employees who do the day-to-day labor of maintaining the web sites, running the business, and organizing the PASS Summit (just some of what they do, I can’t sing their praises enough), are volunteers. No one is paid to run the local Chapter. SQLSaturday organizer is not a paid position. All the people helping to run the Chapters, the SQLSaturday events, heck, even major parts of Summit, are not paid. They’re volunteers. Further, many of the speakers at all of these events are volunteers as well. There are some professional speakers (I’m one), but they are the minority.

If you’re interested in enhancing your professional development, volunteering with PASS is a great way to get this done. Running a Chapter you learn about organization, funding, negotiations, and all sorts of skills that will help you in your professional life. Organizing a Virtual Chapter you’re going to make a lot of contacts in the Data Platform community. Putting together a SQLSaturday event is project management at its toughest and will absolutely enhance your skills for your job. However, you don’t even have to do all these tough assignments. There are easier ways to volunteer such as taking part in the Program Committee, the group that evaluates all the abstracts submitted for the Summit every year. You could even volunteer to teach a topic at your local Chapter, Virtual Chapter, or a SQLSaturday. Teaching is one of the best ways to enhance your own knowledge of a topic.

Are we there yet?

Hopefully you’ll get three things from this article.

First, I’m pretty excited by everything that PASS provides. I can’t help it. By choosing to get involved with PASS as a volunteer, PASS changed my life for the better. I have more and better friends and I have a better knowledge of the Data Platform and because of both of these, I have a better job. I strongly support this organization and try to ensure it’s offering as many people the opportunities that it gave me as I possibly can.

Second, PASS is a global organization with a lot to offer and more coming all the time. New programs around Data Analytics are being developed. Chapters are growing and changing. SQLSaturday events occur all over the world on every day of the week. More and different events and opportunities are coming out of PASS all the time.

Third, choosing to involve yourself with the PASS organization, at any level, is going to lead to further professional development. You may simply attend a Virtual Chapter event to learn about R. You might go to your local Chapter so you can hear a vendor talk about a product you’ve been planning to evaluate. You could attend your local SQLSaturday event, strike up a conversation with someone who asked an interesting question and find yourself looking at your new DBA after getting to know them and hiring them for your open position. You could go to Summit, learn lots of new things, and make a friend or two who are just there to listen and commiserate when you’re having trouble at work. You might even volunteer and start to see how getting directly involved with PASS will enhance your career, skills, and life in general. You never know until you try.