Boy, how time flies! I can hardly believe that the 2011 PASS Summit is just one week away. Maybe it snuck up on me because it’s a few weeks earlier than last year. Whatever the cause, I am really looking forward to next week. The PASS Summit is the largest SQL Server conference in the world and a fantastic networking opportunity thrown in for no additional charge. Here are a few thoughts to help you maximize the week.
As Karen Lopez (blog | @DataChick) mentioned in her presentation for the Professional Development Virtual Chapter just a couple of weeks ago, “Don’t wait until you need a new job to start networking.” You should always be working on your professional network. Some people, especially technical-minded people, get confused by the term networking. The first image that used to pop into my head was the image of some guy standing, awkwardly, off to the side of a cocktail party, trying to shmooze those around him. That’s not what I’m talking about. If you’re good at that sort of thing, and you can strike up a conversation with some stranger and learn all about them in 5 minutes, and walk away with your next business deal all but approved by the lawyers, then congratulations. But if you’re not, and most of us are not, I have two suggestions for you. First, register for Don Gabor’s 2-hour session on Tuesday at the Summit called Networking to Build Business Contacts. Don is a master at small talk, and at teaching others, and in just those two short hours will help you with important tips about breaking the ice, remembering names, and smooth transitions into and out of conversations. Then go put that great training to work right away at the Tuesday night Welcome Reception and meet some new people; which is really my second suggestion…just meet a few new people. You see, “networking” is about meeting new people and being friendly without trying to “work it” to get something out of the relationship at this point. In fact, Don will tell you that a better way to build the connection with someone is to look for some way that you can help them, not how they can help you.
There are a ton of opportunities as long as you follow this one key point: Don’t stay in your hotel! At the least, get out and go to the free events such as the Tuesday night Welcome Reception, the Wednesday night Exhibitor Reception, and the Thursday night Community Appreciation Party. All three of these are perfect opportunities to meet other professionals with a similar job or interest as you, and you never know how that may help you out in the future. Maybe you just meet someone to say HI to at breakfast the next day instead of eating alone. Or maybe you cross paths several times throughout the Summit and compare notes on different sessions you attended. And you just might make new friends that you look forward to seeing year after year at the Summit. Who knows, it might even turn out that you have some specific experience that will help out that other person a few months’ from now when they run into the same challenge that you just overcame, or vice-versa. But the point is, if you don’t get out and meet people, you’ll never have the chance for anything else to happen in the future.
One more tip for shy attendees of the Summit…if you can’t bring yourself to strike up conversation with strangers at these events, then at the least, after you sit through a good session that helps you out, go up to the speaker and introduce yourself and thank them for taking the time and effort to put together their presentation. Ideally, when you do this, tell them WHY it was beneficial to you (e.g. “Now I have a new idea of how to tackle a problem back at the office.”) I know you think the speakers are all full of confidence and are always receiving a ton of accolades and applause, but you’re wrong. Most of them will be very happy to hear first-hand that all the work they put into getting ready for their presentation is paying off for somebody.
With over 170 technical sessions at the Summit, training is what it’s all about, and the training is fantastic! Of course there are the big-name trainers like Paul Randall, Kimberly Tripp, Kalen Delaney, Itzik Ben-Gan and several others, but I am always impressed by the quality of the training put on by so many other “regular” members of the SQL Server community. It is amazing how you don’t have to be a published author or otherwise recognized as an “expert” in an area in order to make a big impact on others just by sharing your personal experience and lessons learned. I would rather hear the story of, and lessons learned from, “some guy or gal” who has actually been through an issue and came out the other side, than I would a trained professor who is speaking just from theory or an intellectual understanding of a topic.
In addition to the three full days of regular sessions, there are also two days of pre-conference intensive training available. There is an extra cost to this, but it is a fantastic opportunity. Think about it…you’re already coming to this area for training, so why not extend your stay a little bit and get some in-depth training on a particular topic or two? I did this for the first time last year. I attended one day of extra training and it was well worth the time and money. One of the best reasons for it is that I am extremely busy at home with my regular job and family, that it was hard to carve out the time to learn about the topic on my own. It worked out so well last year that I am doubling up and doing two days or “pre-cons” this year.
And then there are the DVDs. I think these are another great option. I used the online schedule builder to get ready and have an idea of which sessions I want to attend and when they are (much better than trying to figure this out at the last minute every day). But the problem that I have run into (seems this happens every year) is that nearly every session block has two different sessions that I would like to attend. And some of them have three! ACK! That won’t work! What is a guy supposed to do? Well, one option is to purchase the DVDs which are recordings of the audio and projected images from each session so you can continue to attend sessions long after the Summit is officially over. Yes, many (possibly all) of these also get posted online and attendees can access those for no extra charge, but those are not necessarily all available as quickly as the DVD recording are, and the DVDs are often more convenient than downloading, especially if you want to share the training with someone who was not able to attend in person.
Remember, I don’t make any money or get any other benefit if you buy the DVDs or from anything else that I have recommended here. These are just my own thoughts, trying to help out based on my experiences from the 8 or so Summits I have attended. There is nothing like the Summit. It is an awesome experience, fantastic training, and a whole lot of fun which is just compounded if you’ll take advantage of the first part of this article and make some new friends along the way.