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PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

At the Summit this year we announced that the 2010 Summit would be in Seattle again.  This will mark the third year in a row in Seattle.  We’ve been in Seattle twice in a row before but never three times.  After we complete the 2010 Summit in Seattle, half of our Summit’s will have been held in Seattle. 2010 is a launch year for SQL Server so I think it’s good we’re there.

We don’t have a contract in place year for 2011 yet but we need to finalize one soon.  A number of people have asked why we’ve been in Seattle so long and why don’t we come back to the East Coast.  I wanted to get some thoughts down on things that impact our decision and see if we can get some feedback.  We’re also planning to send out a survey and find out what’s important to potential attendees.  Please note: These thoughts are the opinion of one Board member and don’t reflect the official position of PASS.  Hopefully this will give you some insight into how we think about this issue and you’ll better understand how we make decisions like this.

Travel

The obvious benefit to being on the east coast is that that travel is reduced for people in the Eastern and Central time zones.  Travel for anyone on the east coast to Seattle is a long trek across the country.  On the return there are rarely afternoon or evening flights except red-eyes.  Switching to a Tuesday through Thursday schedule may have helped a little.  The downside of that is reduced attendance at pre-conference and post-conference sessions or the same flight challenges if you want to attend one of those sessions.  Moving to the east coast inconveniences a different set of people.  There’s certainly an argument to be made that we should inconvenience everyone equally on a somewhere regular schedule.

Microsoft Support

We enjoy fantastic support from Microsoft when the Summit is in Seattle.  I don’t know much about their budget process but I’m guessing if we hold the event in other cities that their budget won’t magically increase.  That means the same amount of money would have to include travel expenses.  I see that impacting the following activities:

  • Microsoft sends hundred’s of developers to the Summit.  These people spend time in the Ask the Experts area and answer questions about every aspect of SQL Server.  There just isn’t anywhere else that you can ask the people that wrote SQL Server itself how it works.  This is a very unique benefit of the Summit being in Seattle.  If we hold it elsewhere I’m guessing that hundred’s of developers becomes a dozen or so product or program managers. 
  • This year CSS and SQLCAT cooperated to put on the SQL Clinic.  This is a great place to talk to Microsoft’s top support engineers and the people Microsoft sends out to work on their most interesting customer engagements.  Bob Ward wrote a great post detailing the types of questions they handled in the SQL Clinic.  My guess is that this program wouldn’t be hugely impacted by a move to the east coast.  Many of the CSS engineers come in from Dallas and the SQLCAT people come in from all over the world.  It would most likely still happen but just with fewer people.
  • During the Summit Microsoft holds meeting with various groups in the SQL Server community including MVPs and Microsoft’s key customers.  There are people in the product team that just participate in these meetings and don’t stay for the rest of the Summit.  If we’re not in Seattle that becomes harder.  While that sounds like it only affects Microsoft it also affects PASS.  These meetings provide extra incentive for MVPs, key customers and other participants to attend the Summit.  These people are often speakers and volunteers and this gives them one more reason attend.  Anything that encourages our best volunteers and speakers to attend the Summit helps PASS.
  • In Seattle Microsoft delivered 50-70 sessions.  I don’t remember the exact count but you get the idea.  For the most part these were each delivered by an expert in that area.  Speakers didn’t present in multiple areas.  If we move away from Seattle we reduce the number of speakers.  That means less variety and less focus on a particular subject.

Logistics

It really takes a team to put on a conference the size of the PASS Summit.  We work with a number of vendors for everything from event production to registration.  Over the last few years we’ve really figured out what works at the convention center.  Internet access was good this year.  Keynote productions were great.  The food worked well.  Registration worked well.  All the logistics went smoothly.  We know what rooms are good to put sessions in and which rooms are better for meetings.  We’ve also learned where to spend money and where not too.  If any of you have put on local events I’m sure there are things you spent money on that you wouldn’t repeat.  We’ve got most of those figured out at the Seattle convention center.  We don’t waste money on things that don’t add value.

In a new city we’re not going to do this well.  We’re going to have logistical challenges.  We’re going to spend too much (or not enough) on food.  We may have issues with wireless.  We might not get all the rooms right.  In short, there are lots of things that *could* go wrong and some probably will.

Costs

Holding the Summit in another city increases the costs for PASS.  All the items listed in the previous section will probably cause extra money to be spent.  Our headquarters is located in Vancouver.  It’s just a few hours to drive down to Seattle.  If we move to another city that will increase travel costs.  It will also increase shipping costs.  Right now we’re able to purchase items to Vancouver and drive them down.  We lose that ability when we move to another city.  Our headquarters typically does a number of site visits to potential sites and then to the final chosen site.  In Seattle we need fewer of these visits due to the familiarity with the facility.  Plus they’re cheap to conduct due to the proximity.  This is all money we’ll spend that can’t be spent on community. 

Seattle

Seattle is a good city for our conference.  It has lots of “stuff” downtown within walking distance of the convention center.   There are plenty of hotels nearby so we can negotiate reasonable prices.  These are all things we’ll look for in other cities but might have difficulty finding.

Our choices

We have a number of different choices.

  1. Stay in Seattle for all our Summits.  This is the easiest, cheapest choice but may not be the best for all our members.  There are drawbacks to leaving Seattle.  Is the benefit of reduced travel enough to offset those?
  2. Rotate out of Seattle every 3-4 years.  Hold the majority of our Summits in Seattle but enough on the east coast to keep members happy.
  3. Hold a second, smaller event on the east coast in the spring.  This idea has been kicked around recently and has merit.  It also has drawbacks.  It bears all the increased costs and limited Microsoft support.  It would be smaller and have less networking opportunity.  It has the ability to reduce the size and impact of our main Summit.  Putting on a second event would increase the workload at HQ.  It does give people a choice on where they’d like to attend though.  The earliest we could do something like this would be 2011.

We’re going to send out a survey later this week with some detailed questions around this.  Please be on the look out for this and take the time to respond to it.  If you have any thoughts you’d like to share please feel free to post them.

Print | posted on Monday, January 04, 2010 1:51 PM | Filed Under [ PASS ]

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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Bill,

I would vote for #2. We discussed this at the Summit this year so you know my views fairly well. I see the benefits in staying in Seattle, but I definitely think a regular move to another location, preferably Central or East, would be of benefit to PASS as an organization and to members. I think PASS would still get the regular attendees, but will get others who can't get the boss to pay for a trip to Seattle, and PASS will keep some of those on the other years as they see the benefits of the Summit.

A side note is that the only session I attended by MS employees the presenters were from Chicago, not Seattle.

Glad to hear it is being discussed.
1/4/2010 2:01 PM | Jack Corbett
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

You hit all of my points for keeping things in Seattle perfectly. I understand that people want a change of venue, but by the same token, we don't have an armada of people to make sure that everything happens perfectly in a different city every year TechEd. Flying to Seattle stinks, there are no direct flights out of Columbus, OH and I end up losing an entire day to travel. But, by the same token, it's worth it for the value I get out of the Summit and the interaction with the community, the product team, other customers, and the MVPs.
1/4/2010 2:02 PM | Jeremiah Peschka
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

you explained my thoughts almost perfectly, I remember the Summit's in TX and Orlando. The Microsoft presence was definetly different, although its hard to say whether thats because of budget/product size or location. My vote would be for #2 even though I know how tough it would be to do a different venue, Looking at all those conference room maps trying to guess at best room sizes per speaker is alsways a fun thing!<not>
1/4/2010 2:12 PM | Allen Kinsel
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I live about as East as you can get (fly out of Boston) and I would still vote for #1. I'm losing a day of travel on either side no matter where it is, but all of the "for free" benefits of having it in Seattle make it the obvious choice for me every year. Speaking totally selfishly, being an MVP makes the Microsoft presence about much more than just happening to attend a session put on by a softie speaker.
1/4/2010 2:21 PM | Aaron Bertrand
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I could possibly attend something in Boston or NYC, but my days of travelling to the West Coast for IT events have most likely come to an end. It's just a different world economically, especially if you're a consultant.
1/4/2010 2:31 PM | Chuck Boyce
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Add my vote to #2. I agree that Seattle makes a lot of sense, but branching out to other cities, even every few years, could draw in new members and make for a larger pool of attendees in the future. Another summit in Dallas makes sense (though I admit a bias since that's my home base).
1/4/2010 2:57 PM | Tim Mitchell
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I really, really like going to Seattle, but I go there so much I feel like it's a second home. Wouldn't mind going somewhere else for a change.
1/4/2010 3:05 PM | Adam Machanic
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

#1 gets my vote, for all the reasons you discussed. I am not able to go to every PASS Summit because I live in europe and hence I would be very disappointed if the one that I *did* go to was not in Seattle because it would be,m in my opinion, inferior.

Aside from that I genuinely enjoy visintgSeattle, its a great city.

By the way, not all PASS attendees are in North America although one wouldn't guess it from reading this blog post! There are alot of people that travel from Europe and (whilst I don't want to be seen to be speaking for them) to those people I doubt it matters all that much where in the US the summit is, the difference in terms of travel time/cost is fairly small (before I get flamed - I'm sure some of them will have other reasons for perhaps wanting the summit to be somewhere other than Seattle).

-Jamie
1/4/2010 3:45 PM | Jamie Thomson
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I'd also vote #2 though being UK based - it doesn't make much difference to me but having travelled to lots of US cities, Seattle (and Pacifc Northwest generally) is definitely my (purely selfish) preference. How about Vancouver if you're based out of there? just make sure it's either snow or mountain bike season ;)

Whilst the MS support is obviously key, in my experiennce the sessions by independents are just as good if not better



1/4/2010 3:49 PM | Tim Kent
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I think it should move around. We are amazed at getting 40-50% new people when mving SQLBits around due to the location be better for them.

A fuller response is here http://sqlblogcasts.com/blogs/simons/archive/2010/01/04/Should-PASS-hold-the-conference-on-the-East-coast.aspx
1/4/2010 4:17 PM | Simon Sabin
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

What about choosing a 2nd permanent site and rotating between those 2 sites. A modified option #2. That should help with new venue issues over time and would let others who can't fly to Seattle still attend some of the summits. Selfishly I think that Seattle is a great place to have the summit.
1/5/2010 1:17 PM | Lance Harra
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Seattle is good city for sure and as long as the event is in downtown it is all good.

However, if it is moved every 3-4 years it will be good as international attendees like me will get chance to see other city. Visiting Seattle takes for me 24 hours to reach and very expensive and it will be same if it is moved to any other city in USA.

Voting for option #2.

Kind Regards
1/6/2010 12:44 AM | Pinal Dave
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

It would be interesting to ping the folks who have been hosting the Connections event, which is held in LV in the Autumn and Florida in the Spring, to see whether some of the considerations are perceived reality or actual reality.

There are great events being organized throughout the country by volunteers and chapter leaders. These resources can be leveraged by PASS as an augmentation of the current staff to make it happen elsewhere. It would be good for the community. It would be good for PASS.

I would say that there is an opportunity to evaluate some data to make a determination. Where are the bulk of PASS members located? Where are the largest concentration of MVPs? Where are the strongest, most organized PASS chapters located? etc... etc...
1/6/2010 5:34 AM | John Magnabosco
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I hate the long flights to Seattle, but I would vote for #1. The conferences there are far superb to the ones that have been held elsewhere. Keep it in Seattle, I'll get over the travel issues.
1/6/2010 12:18 PM | Scott Evans
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I kind of like it in Seattle, especially since unless it's in Denver, it's pretty much the same flight East or West for me. I do think the MS presence adds something to the event, especially because there are side events, and lots of developers to talk to.

The idea of a modified #2, with a 2nd site somewhere else, makes some sense. I don't know that I'd vote for Denver in that case, but getting to some other city in the East would be nice.
1/6/2010 3:24 PM | Steve Jones
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Bill, I like Seattle for all the reasons given and more. Seattle has moderate weather, downtown is a great safe place and is so easy to walk around to get food or do something outside the conference. That said, is there any reason why it is always in November? Summer in Seattle has so much more to offer especially the wonderfully scenic parks. For me and some people i know too end of the year sometimes results in budget cuts at work and conferences we are approved to go get cancelled. Earlier in the year is much better?
Thanks.
1/9/2010 6:19 PM | Malathi
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

I have to echo Malathi's question, why is the SUMMIT always in Nov? That's when rainy season starts ! How about in August or September?

On the other hand, I think Seattle is the best choice simply because of MS location and the help / contribution from MS, which in the end benefit all stakeholders.
1/9/2010 11:58 PM | jeff
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Personally the flight time for me are irrelevant. No matter where in the US it is, I'll be looking at 20+ hours of travel. 4 more at that point is barely noticeable.

I would urge you to consider public transport when looking at possible venues. Seattle has a good bus system, Denver as well. In both of those cities I found I could get anywhere I needed by bus with little difficulty. Bear in mind that for many coming from outside the USA, getting a rental car is expensive (especially when dealing with a poor exchange rate) and the required admin to get international drivers licences can be painful. Myself, I prefer not to drive in the USA, the road rules are sufficiently different to the ones I'm used to to cause difficulties.
1/10/2010 5:45 AM | Gail
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

To me it doesn't matter where the summit is held, as long as the quality stays the same.
1/10/2010 7:45 AM | Ignacio
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

The rates for hotels and the convention center go down dramatically in November. If we move to August of September we'd increase the costs.
1/10/2010 9:59 AM | Bill Graziano
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# PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

There's no doubt that keeping it in Seattle has some very real and important advantages. Still, I'd vote for #2 for purely selfish reasons. I'm allowed one convention a year. It's my choice and no one cares where it is. As much as I like Seattle I just want to go to other places occasionally. This year I went to Dev Connections in Vegas instead of PASS just because of the location. If it stays in Seattle permanently I'd probably hit it every two or three years but if it moved around I'd go much more often.
1/11/2010 9:43 AM | Ray
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Yes, i second what John M and Ray say to some extent - whether we move the location or not we can i guess evaluate how other groups such as Dev Connections run their conferences. Personally i have been a PASS loyalist and will probably be always - since i know the community and that is my key reason to go to a conference, but i have lost over 12 people in my user group alone to Dev Connections in the past two years. Some go to Orlando and some to Las Vegas. The location is prime reason perhaps, cost is almost same as PASS, the content of class rooms very good - and last year i believe they got the CD for free. They miss out on the labs and direct interaction with MS which is a huge plus that PASS has but again - how does Dev Connections pull off cost factor with hosting the conference in spring/summer in Vegas and in hotels like Bellagio?
1/11/2010 9:56 AM | Malathi
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

Someone mentioned having a site #2 and I like that idea. Having it in Seattle (or even Vancouver) is fine most years but mixing it up every once in a while wouldn't be bad either. The only drawback to Seattle is Seattle's airport isn't a hub for any airline so flights there are usually expensive, scarce, and/or seasonal.
1/11/2010 10:37 AM | Leo
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

My concern about rotating comes from my memories of a PASS Summit that I attended at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. Not only was the Microsoft presence smaller, but I seem to recall a lot of schedule changes that seemed to be due to the difficulties of getting into Orlando on time (flight delays, etc.). It would have been nice to be using Twitter that year!

The summits in Seattle have been so excellent that I would say they are my preference. As an occasional east coast option, I like the idea of Orlando, but only if it's outside of hurricane season and preferably not at the Gaylord Palms (without a rental car, I felt like I was trapped inside a bubble).

1/11/2010 10:58 AM | MattH
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

While I've only been to the latest PASS Summit (and therefore don't have much basis for comparison), but while some have commented that the additional travel makes attendance a harder sell, my experience has been the converse. That it was held in Seattle, with the attendant increased MS presence, made it an easier sell to my management. I can't say with certainty that I wouldn't have been able to attend were it in a different city, but it would definitely have been a tougher sell.

1/11/2010 12:59 PM | Matt Cherwin
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# re: PASS: Seattle vs. the East Coast

For all the points made the only logical choice is to make Seattle the permanent home for the PASS Summit. The only thing close would be still keeping the Summit geographically close to the PacNW and that would probably only add Portland to the candidate city list. PASS needs to stay solvent - attendees want, nay crave - Microsoft presence. It's worth the red-eye flights to get back home.
2/7/2010 10:18 PM | Tim Ford
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