I wanted to write a post about the things I think PASS does well and are foundational to the future with or without the PASS organization. Before I address that I want to speak to an ethical matter related to the new PASS Pro service offering. Every year for PASS Summit, speakers sign an agreement (which if you sign, print it out—they don’t email you a copy, nor can you access prior year’s agreements in the speaker portal) that includes giving PASS the right to the recording of your session. This has always been there, so that PASS could sell online or USB access to session recordings. A few years ago, PASS started selling this access to people who didn’t attend the PASS Summit, which I was fine with—the context of that is still the conference.
With the PASS Pro offering, PASS took all of the sessions that community and Microsoft speakers did in Summit 2019 and bundled it as part of a paywalled offering. Speakers were not asked for their permission to reuse this content as part of a for-profit subscription model, nor were they compensated. Which in both cases is probably legal? However, I strongly question the ethics of this—when a community event morphs into a paid service, most speakers (myself included) want a cut of take, which is only fair as it’s a lot of work to speak at a conference. PASS will say that “all of this money is going back to the community”, which is frankly bullshit. First, the platform they are hosting PASS Pro on is not free, and then there is whatever C&C is charging PASS for this project, which is likely significant. As I’ve mentioned before, the community typically sees about 5% of PASS’ revenue, and the revenue numbers for PASS Pro make that an absolute pittance, while potentially alienating community members. This makes me think hard about speaking at future PASS events.
Stop Bitching, What Did You Really Want to Write About?
The SQL Server community has been part of my life for last 12 plus years—its why I have my current job, have most of my professional network, and why I’ve spoken all over the world. PASS motto is “Connect, Share, Learn” and I think it is a good one and should be the goal of any community organizations. Let’s talk about the things that make up that community:
- SQL Saturday Events
- Virtual Chapters
- User Groups
Having a centralized community organization like PASS has some benefits. The biggest benefit is the ability to have PASS Summit, which is a mostly independent community organized conference that allows us to have a deep dive on Microsoft Data Platform (sorry to use a marketing phrase, but it’s a good description of what the topics covered are) over a week’s time. If you haven’t attended a vendor conference like Microsoft Ignite, it’s a very different experience compared to PASS Summit. The sessions are more marketing driven, and while you have excellent access to Microsoft engineering staff, you aren’t going to have precons on deep dives into topics like high availability and query optimization, and you won’t see nearly as many community speakers offering real-world perspective.
Having a big conference is a good thing, and it’s something PASS has done fairly well and would be a major loss if PASS were to fail. Running a big conference is expensive and hard, and would likely only happen with vendor support, or over the period of several years of growth from a smaller conference to eventually become a big conference. This is a US-centric view, as SQLBits and Data Platform Summit in India have been running pretty large scale conferences for several years.
SQL Saturday Events
SQL Saturdays are awesome—they provide a great starting point for a new speaker. There’s even less pressure than a user group, because your attendees are typically divided between a few tracks. I also have a fondness in my heart for them, as they are where I grew my career and gained organization skills by running a successful event for several years. However, they don’t need PASS to be a success. PASS in recent years has deemphasized SQL Saturday because of a flawed notion that they were cannibalizing Summit attendance (this may be true on the margins, to which I would say, make Summit better). While having a centralized infrastructure for these events is nice, the website is an absolute trainwreck, and should probably be refactored. Numerous SQL Saturdays in Europe have become independent events, without issue—sites like Sessionize make it really easy to run an event. I foresee a little bit of a lull, but these events can run well without a centralized org—just look at Code Camp.
Even moreso than SQL Saturdays I do not see the loss of a centralized org having any impact on user group meetings. In recent years, the only service PASS has offered user groups is web hosting (and some funding tied to Summit discount codes, a program which has gotten more limited over time). User Groups, by their nature are fairly independent entities. I look forward to speaking at any UG post covid—having free pizza and meeting a bunch of data pros is always a good time.
As you may have noted in reading my blog, I tend to be cynical about
PASS C&C. However, in researching for this post, I noted that (as of Monday) PASS Virtual Chapters have provided 173 hours of free training in 2020. Gathering data is a bit arduous, so I didn’t capture previous year’s data, but I was really impressed at the amount of training in one place. There are other virtual events (especially this year) but having a central place and organization is real benefit to an organization and the SQL community.
What Does All of This Mean?
This means PASS’ core competencies are running Summit, and Virtual Chapters. (wow, I feel like that was the most MBA thing I’ve ever written). Any organization going forward needs to have those structures in place. Summit provides a revenue source, that can allow everything else to proceed. It also means trying to provide a paid online training and certification service lies outside of its competencies and shouldn’t continue.
However, the challenge PASS faces (and is ultimately tied to its survival) is that Summit is not going to have the same level of revenue for at least the next two years, and expenses haven’t dropped significantly. In recent years I’ve heard a common refrain from board members—PASS Summit was “too big for a small event management company, and not big enough for a large event company”. Since PASS Summit is going to be smaller at least in the medium term, perhaps now is the time for change to save the organization.
I’d welcome comments on anything I missed or your thoughts on what your most meaningful community experiences have been.