Why I’m Not Speaking at PASS Summit and You Shouldn’t Either

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If you saw any of my angry tweets last night, it’s not just because the Saints weren’t good. I’ve been writing a lot about PASS and C&C the for-profit event management firm that runs virtually all of PASS’ operation. I personally think C&C imposes a financial burden on the Microsoft Data Platform community that will ultimately kill PASS. I want to run for the board of directors (once you agree to run for the board you have to agree not to speak or write poorly of PASS, but it doesn’t say anything about C&C) to try to return PASS to being a community oriented organization. PASS has been a great organization and the connections I have made have been a great foundation for the career success that myself and many others have achieved. The reason I agreed to speak at PASS Summit this year was to help enable the organization’s survival, despite my lasting frustrations with C&C.

PASS had a couple of options for doing PASS Summit virtually, and they’ve failed at every turn. The best option would have been to do a super low-cost virtual summit, using Microsoft Teams, and tried to keep the pricing at level the average DBA could pay out of pocket. This big reduction in revenue is bad for C&C’s business, but frankly given that there likely won’t be a big conference until 2022, C&C should be operating on an austerity budget, since PASS’ main income source has been severely constrained.

The Burden on Speakers

I’ve lost count of how many webinars I’ve done this year—it’s been a lot. 98% have been live—in some cases with some really dicey demos, like I did at Eight KB.  Doing a webinar or a user group meeting is a decent amount of effort, but no more than doing in-person session. However, PASS Summit has asked speakers to record their sessions—recording a session takes me at a minimum 2-3x the amount of time to execute than to simply deliver a session. Setting up cameras, lighting, and doing small amounts of editing all add up to considerable amounts of time. Additionally, you have to render the video and then upload it to the site. I say this with experience, because I just recorded three sessions for SQLBits.

You might ask why I was willing to record sessions for Bits, but not PASS Summit. That’s a good question—SQLBits is truly a community run event, for the community, by the community. Sure it can be rough around the edges, but it’s a great event, and in general the conference is great to work with. Additionally, SQLBits always pays for speaker’s hotel rooms, it’s nominal in the cost of an international trip, but it’s something that makes you feel wanted as a speaker and I remember it. PASS Summit, unless you have a preconference session (precon) doesn’t offer any renumeration at all to speakers, nor have they ever. All that being said, after recording my Bits sessions, I said “I’m never doing that for free again”. In addition after doing the work for your session, you have to show up and do Q&A for your session.

Why You Shouldn’t Speak at PASS Summit (and TimeZones are hard)

PASS has asked speakers to record their sessions just six weeks before the conference. These recordings will only ever be seen by paid attendees of the conference, and possibly PASS Pro members. Speakers received a highly confusing email informing them of this late last night, which included the time and date of their sessions. It wasn’t clear if “live sessions” still needed to be recorded—which is even more confusing to speakers. Speakers weren’t consulted about the need to record their sessions when the revised speaker agreement went out. This burden has been imposed at the last minute. I haven’t gotten any official communications since July when I received my speaker code. It’s not fair to impose this on speaker’s this late in the process, especially when you aren’t compensating them for their time.  Also, this is insignificant, but we were supposed to get the slide template in July, and it’s still not in my inbox. I’ve have no communications from PASS about Summit since July.

Precons are all starting in the speaker’s native time zone, which will limit the audience for many precon speakers—European speakers are starting at early a 3 AM EST, which means basically no one in North America (PASS’ main market). Most regular conference sessions are 8-5 PM EST—which probably is a decent compromise, but still greatly limits the west coast in the morning and other regions of the world like Asia. There are some evening and overnight sessions but those are extremely limited compared to EST business hour sessions. All schedules for a worldwide event are going to be a compromise, but I feel like some creativity could have been used to better support a virtual audience. For example, Ignite has replays of all its sessions available for broader time zone coverage.  As far as I know, no speakers were consulted during the making of this schedule.  

Doesn’t This Hurt the Community?

A successful PASS Summit is a good thing for the community. However, with the poor management of C&C, the marketing for the event has been poor, and with most other events either going to free or freemium models, PASS continues to charge a premium for the event. The platform that PASS is using hasn’t been demoed to speakers or attendees, to show how it would have value over a free conference like EightKB or Ignite.

I’m not going to speak at PASS Summit. I’m going to record my session, and put it on YouTube, so everyone can watch the session. And I’ll do a live Q&A to talk about it—it’s a really cool session about a project I’ve worked on to aggregate query store data across multiple databases. I challenge other speakers to follow me—the conference is so bad and so expensive, because C&C is trying to prop itself up on the back of the community. C&C needs to go away before we can move forward. I was frustrated before, but this Summit fiasco has really pushed me over the top.

28 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Speaking at PASS Summit and You Shouldn’t Either

  1. Deji Akomolafe

    Now that you put it like that, I don’t think that anyone can reasonably object to your decision.

    I’d like to ask, though, where is PASS itself (as an organization) in all of this? I assume that there’s a distinction between PASS and C&C, so it’d be very helpful to know how PASS views all of this, and the other issues that have surfaced in recent months.

    1. Karen Lopez

      The PASS Board has been all in for saving C&C’s business, not serving the actual members. I’ve been talking about this for years. I’ve spoken to board members, I’ve told them how real professional associations work. I’ve even shared studies, governance articles, and other professional association resources.

      They put their contractor on the board. They call the contractor staff “employees”. The board votes, writes, and Tweets in the interest of their contractor, not their members.

      I don’t think the Board does this maliciously; I think they don’t have experience in association governance and they get all their data on how it should work from their contractor. They are in a mess and they don’t even know it. They are likely in a legal mess as well, with both Revenue Canada and the IRS. I’ve showed them this information, but they tell me that C&C has assured them that it’s all up and up. I am sad that the community is being harmed because very few of us are standing up to fix it.

  2. Not today.

    C&C is Trump. The board is the US Senate. Most of the SQL Server community is rural Alabama. You’re Fauci. Best of luck with that.

  3. sqlzelda

    I’ll be honest. I’m really struggling with so many aspects of *this* (being C&C, PASS, Summit, etc). I’m not ready to do a recorded sessions. I hope I have the right hardware, but this is definitely out of my comfort zone.

    This summer has caused me to really consider having any of my work behind a perceived a paywall. Assuming I have the time, energy, and talent to make a specific presentation for PASS… I care about my topics so much I want everyone to embrace them.

    I view presentations as a way to get brand awareness to encourage source control, continuous integration, and DevOps in general.

    I can’t speak to PASS profits and subscription models, but I’d rather have every DBA hear about automated deployments than have myself personally make money. However, I recognize I have to marketable to get the visibility that is required to get other to hear my message.

    I like the idea about YouTube and sharing the information. It’s something I’ve been contemplating in general. However, as an “up and comer” I’m not sure how to build the brand awareness that I’m trying to share without a major conference promoting me.

    1. Tim

      The conference can get you in front of potentially dozens, hundreds, or a few thousand people. A good Youtube video about a specific topic people are searching for can have a far greater reach. Compliment that with a blog post that links to the Youtube demo, and you’ve got greater success. Getting paid for creating content is wonderful, being asked to generate top quality content for free that is sold and you’re forbidden to reuse that material for a specified timeframe is ludicrous.

  4. Tim

    I have loved attending the PASS Summit for the benefit of seeing so many friends in the community. I’ve viewed it as more of a family reunion than a technical conference because I haven’t really attended many sessions the last several times I’ve attended. The past few times I’ve attended, I didn’t submit to speak. I didn’t really see the value in speaking there. Speakers don’t get help with hotel, flights, etc. A shirt maybe. Precon speakers, sure, there are some good perks there with potential income, but general speakers, they are paying hotel, flights, and any incidentals to be the product being sold. The stress and anxiety of speaking can make for a rough week of hanging out with your friends and trying to learn a few new things yourself. Many other conferences get it right. They take care of their speakers by offering assistance with travel, covering hotel cost, providing meals, and more. They understand that the sessions are what is being sold, and the speakers shouldn’t be going in debt to be at your conference.

    When I saw the responses to the email about speakers being forced to record their sessions, um, sorry. How many speakers have actually recorded, edited, and processed recordings before. At a minimum PASS should be scheduling webinars and doing the recording and processing for the speakers. Putting that on the speaker with zero compensation for the time, I agree with you Joey, I would have to bow out as well. A one hour session can easily take 40 hours of prep time, recording, editing, and processing depending on how OCD you are about your videos and demos.

    FYI, you’ve got my vote for the BOD is there is a future election.

    1. Karen Lopez

      I agree. I mean, I did attend some sessions, but it was all about community for me. I stopped attending summit after I saw so much bad community stuff happening and C&C saying it was okay to have harassers speak at the event. And then all the feedback from C&C not supporting chapters, either. It was time to move on.

      I miss the community part, which is why I focused on only good SQL Saturdays that appreciated speakers and attendees.

  5. Aaron King

    I’ve only been to Summit once. I won a raffle. It was a great time to hangout with SQL people. I tried to attend a full load of sessions but the logistics meant that I couldn’t. I prefer SQL Saturday for sessions. I prefer live demos and knowing no one is behind a curtain faking things.

    I don’t get how a community organization, keeps a relationship to a private company like this. No other bids. Monopolies end up resulting in bad products.

    I’ll support the speakers any way I can. I support the SQL people not some company. I work for a company and have clients. That is enough companies to support for me.

  6. Cathrine Wilhelmsen

    I only have so many f*cks to give and I have already wasted too many of them trying to help a company that refuses to even acknowledge the feedback they get. I gave up long ago and I very much admire that you keep going.

    I didn’t submit to speak at PASS Summit this year, so I can’t comment on this year’s process or conference. But “The Burden on Speakers” – YES.

    I don’t think people realize just how much work it is to record a session compared to presenting a session live. When presenting live, everything around you has been taken care of. You’re at a venue. They have the equipment: hardware, audio, video, lights, internet. They have the staff. You can see and interact with your audience and read the room. If you make a mistake live, you can walk through it, you can joke with the audience, you can get help from others, you can explain why it went wrong and keep going. Your job is to deliver the best training content, and when you’re presenting in-person you can focus on that job.

    When recording a session, you are taking on ALL the jobs. Not only do you need to deliver the best training content, but you need to make sure you have the right software, hardware, audio, video, lights, internet. I don’t have a full streaming studio in my house, and frankly, I can’t afford to invest in the equipment needed for that. I haven’t spent much time learning how to use video recording and editing software that’s not part of my day-to-day job. If I’m to record a session, I have to learn all of these things, set up and manage all of these things, and then deliver the best training content without any kind of feedback from the audience. If my content doesn’t resonate with them, I have no way of adjusting mid-session, because I can’t see their reactions or hear their questions. I have to make sure my content is as close to perfect as I can get it, and that usually requires many takes and lots of editing. That is hours and hours and hours of work that I have to spend on tasks not related to the content – on top of the hours and hours and hours I already spend creating the actual content.

    All this extra work is the reason I withdrew as a speaker from SQLBits this year, after they asked speakers to record their sessions. I’m struggling in the middle of this pandemic, as many others, and I just can’t take on that much work on top of everything else. I would either have worked until I hit a wall, or I would have handed off a recording I wasn’t happy with. Neither of those were options for me, so I withdrew completely.

    But after I withdrew, I registered as a paying attendee for SQLBits. Why? Because I *want* to support SQLBits. I have participated in SQLBits for several years as a volunteer, speaker, and precon speaker, and they have always helped me in return. As a volunteer, you get free entry on the day you’re volunteering. As a speaker, you get at least one night in a hotel covered. As a precon speaker, you share the profits. There’s a massive themed party every year making it fun and memorable for everyone. And most importantly, once SQLBits has wrapped up, all the content is made available for free for everyone who are not privileged enough to be able to participate in-person. They can’t cover all expenses, but they give *something* back to volunteers and speakers while helping the entire community. And that *something* is important. That *something* is what makes me want to support SQLBits through a difficult time so they can keep going when things get better. It’s by the community, for the community, helping the entire community.

    PASS, however…? Volunteers have to pay the full conference price. Lightning Talk speakers have to pay the full conference price. Speakers do not get any expenses covered. Precon co-presenters have to pay to speak in their own precon (!) And even this year when speakers don’t have to pay for travel and hotels, they have to pay with time instead, and for what? To have their content behind a paywall that will only benefit a very small percentage of the community? Why on earth would I do that, for absolutely no compensation, when I could spend the same time and make the same amount of nothing but publish my content on YouTube to potentially help thousands of people instead?

    I think the idea of volunteering to speak at PASS Summit is to “support the community”, and that may have been accurate years ago, but I don’t buy that anymore. I used to believe it, but times change and I guess I grew old and grumpy. It doesn’t help *my* community over here in Norway, that’s for sure. It doesn’t help my local user group – we don’t get any financial support from PASS, their tools are subpar compared to others, and we get absolutely no help in marketing our user group meetings to our local audience unless they have already joined our user group through PASS. The same goes for our SQLSaturday. We may not have had our first SQLSaturday years ago if it weren’t for PASS, I will say that. But now? What we need is good event tools and help with marketing, and we don’t get either from PASS. And as for larger, local PASS events in my region that would really help us connect, share, and learn? Well… (They were all discontinued.)

    I won’t be speaking at PASS Summit this year, and I won’t be attending either. Instead, I will volunteer my time at other events that reach and help a larger and more global audience, and I will put my money to better use by directly supporting my local user group and my local SQLSaturday.

    They’ve had years to listen and improve. They haven’t. I really have no more f*cks to give. I’m choosing to spend my f*cks wisely on the actual community instead ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Karen Lopez

      Thanks for sharing all this. I agree. I know many of you still love Bits. I hate that they also decided to invite speakers with a history of harassment. But the events themselves were fun, informative, and general something I used to look forward to.

  7. Glenn Berry

    I completely agree that there is a huge difference between presenting live on stage to a physical audience that you can see and get feedback from and doing a remote presentation. There is no doubt about that. Remote presentations are much harder because you can’t read the audience and make adjustments to your presentation if needed.

    But, once you are going to do a remote presentation, recording it doesn’t have to be that hard…

    If you are a speaker presenting a new topic for the first time, most of your basic preparation and work is exactly the same, whether it is live or remote, recorded or not. You still have to do your research, prepare your slides, prepare your demos, and try to make sure you you have the right amount of content to fill your time (with some leeway in either direction).

    Once you have done all of this work (which you will have to do no matter what the format), then, you probably should run through your presentation and demos at least once as a rehearsal. This lets you check the flow and timing of your presentation, and confirm that your demos work.

    So, after a rehearsal or two, and some probable tweaking of your deck and demos, you should have a “final” version of your presentation that is ready to go. Once you have that, just rehearse it one more time and record it. Just relax and record it…

    If you make any mistakes, just pause for a few seconds, back up, and restart from before where you messed up. You can edit out anything you want. At the same time, don’t get anal about your editing. There is no need to spend many, many hours doing a “perfect” editing job. This isn’t a Pluralsight course that you are recording.

    If you are going to be doing any remote presenting (or even any remote meetings), you should have a decent microphone. If you want to be on camera (which I don’t really like to do), then you should try to have a decent web cam or dedicated camera (something besides the built-in ones in your laptop) and decent lighting. But that’s it, as a bare minimum.

    You don’t need to have a lot of expensive AV equipment to remote present (or to record your session). Having nice, expensive gear can make some things easier and let you have a higher quality recording, but it isn’t necessary for a remote conference recording.

    There are several benefits to recording your session in advance.

    1. You know there won’t be any technical problems. No loss of internet, no demo fails, etc.
    2. You know your timing will be correct. No running under or over.
    3. No danger of a persistent audience questioner derailing your presentation
    4. You won’t be tweaking your deck and demos the night before the presentation
    5. Your presentation will probably be improved by the recording process
    6. No wasted time and pre-presentation jitters before your presentation starts
    7. You can focus on answering questions and interacting while your recorded presentation runs

    1. mrdenny

      From what I understand of the recording process, it’s not upload a video in Camtasia that you’ve edited. It’s recorded using the presentation software. So I’m assuming that there’s no editing feature. So I’m assuming that if you make a mistake, or in my case have choppers go by, or someone racing down the street (I live on the mail street to a Marine base) that you have to start over. I don’t know this for sure, as PASS hasn’t shown the software to anyone yet (bets on weather we get it a week before the conference to record our sessions?). All the other web based recording platforms that I’ve seen before like this have no editing capabilities, so there is no stop, take a minute and start from there. It’s start over or include your flub in the final recording.

      1. Glenn Berry

        That is true that we don’t know what PASS expects us to do as far as a recording goes. Worst case scenario is what you describe. If that is the case, how is that so different from doing a live remote session?

        If a helicopter flies over during a live remote session, people will hear that, and there is nothing you can do about it.

        BTW, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton many moons ago, and I definitely remember Oceanside.

    2. amtwo

      With remote live presentations, I may still adjust pace or content based on feedback & questions. The fresher your content & abstract (and PASS essentially demands that your existing content get spiffed up into a new-ish session for Summit), the more likely it won’t land exactly as you planned.

      Even with the perfect abstract & well-rehearsed session, if the content is falling flat, a live presentation allows you to make some minor pivots–spend more time on one slide, skip another, etc. There’s zero chance to pay attention to incoming questions or attendees leaving so that you can make those on-the-fly adjustments.

      The best speakers are good at Improv so that they can make those tweaks to respond to feedback. Even *tiny*, subconscious changes that you make in response to live feedback can have a dramatic difference on how well your content is received. Pre-recorded sessions just require more prep to compensate for not being able to improv on the fly, in order to make sure that your content is well-received.

  8. Karen Lopez

    While I agree in your premise here, I think your experience may be getting ahead of you. I want to point that that a decent mic, a decent webcam and some lighting can be hundreds of dollars at a time when many people are dealing with economic issues, especially in the USA. Even for those in good IT jobs.

    I mentor people new to doing presentations and recording for hackathons. I know the learning curve is HUGE if you’ve never done it before. I’ve done hundreds of hours of recorded sessions. Even a decent job of it can take *days* of work when you’ve never used Camtasia or some other recording software. Even if you don’t do a lot of editing. You and I have experience and the industry rule of thumb is 1 day per hour of content. So someone on a learning curve for all this now is likely 2-3 days. For zero compensation. And the work will likely end up being sold via their pro option, so that C&C can remain afloat.

    Plus, the template isn’t even out. So no one can even start working on their recordings.

      1. Karen Lopez

        C&C has dozens of staff who could be actually running this event professionally. What are they doing that they are so bad at actually helping speakers making the content good enough to pay for? They used to have a dozen or more people measuring the font sizes on PowerPoints and scouring them for the mere mention of the speaker’s name or company name, yet now they just decided that speakers are on their own to do a professional recording of their sessions.

      2. Anonymous Speaker

        “They used to have a dozen or more people measuring the font sizes on PowerPoints” and still SQLSaturday’s PP Slides suck, and it sucked in the old version. The website suck, and the support suck as well. I’m signing off. Prefer to remain anonymous at this point.

  9. Glenn Berry

    I specifically didn’t mention PASS or C&C by design. There is so much history and angst going on there that I don’t really want to get into at all. I agree that there is no excuse why PASS/C&C has not issued the slide template by now, and that they have handled this issue quite poorly.

    It looks like many remote conferences are going to require (or at least ask for) session recordings in advance. If people want to present at those conferences, they will have to find a way to handle that.

    My main point is that experienced people are exaggerating how much extra work is required to record what was going to be a live remote session. If you want to spend many hours editing your presentation, that is your choice. If you have an old, very slow machine, you can let it render overnight if necessary.

    My secondary point was that if you were planning on doing a live, remote session, you would be using whatever microphone, camera, and lighting that you already have. If that is just what is built in to your laptop or something a little better, the fact that you are recording it doesn’t really change anything.

    If your mic, camera, lighting, or room acoustics are bad, then your live, remote session would have the same AV issues as a recorded session would.

    At least with a recording, you can hear and see what you sound and look like in advance. Then you at least have a chance to do something about it. This could be as simple as opening some curtains or repositioning a lamp. For audio, moving some pillows, blankets, etc. into the room, to absorb echoes can really help.

    1. Alex Yates

      Glen. No.

      When recording videos, it’s the learning curve that kills you.

      I just spent 5 days(!) editing 2 videos for bits. One solo and one joint session. That’s at a time when I’m down to a 3 day week for various personal reasons. It basically stole half a month from me.

      I made mistakes, had to learn how to fix them, made more mistakes, wasn’t happy submitting something I wasn’t happy with. Each iteration took hours to render and I could only really see if it was fixed after I’d rendered. (During which time I was afraid to use my laptop for anything else because I didn’t want to risk the render!)

      And the frustrating thing is that was almost all the technical recording stuff. (Who knew that camtasia only records webcams at 5fps? I still don’t understand why the audio and video seemed to get out of sync within a couple of minutes?)

      I’ve not dared watch back while listening to the actual content (rather than concentrating on the edit). A lot of it is new and I’m terrified that it’s not that great, but the thought of having to go through all that again and rerecord/edit is just too much.

      People who say prerecording is no extra effort don’t remember what it’s like to not be experienced and practiced at recording and editing videos.

      But like others, I’m willing to go through that pain… for SQL Bits. There’s no way I would do it for C&C without compensation.

    2. Karen Lopez

      Glenn, no one here is exaggerating. That word is loaded with malicious intent.

      Maybe *you* were able to pick it up in just a few minutes. I can assure you that smart tech people who have never done this before do take days to learn how to do it.

      And audiences *do* have higher expectations for recorded presentations and demos.

      I’m sure you believe you are right about it being easy. And I don’t doubt that you did not have a steep learning curve. But that’s an exception.


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