It’s closer and closer we get to the official start of PASS Summit 2012, and our celebratory countdown continues! Today, we have more advice for you on what you need to get out of PASS Summit from SQL Server community members Rob Farley and John Sansom. 

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FEATURED MVP ROB FARLEY

Rob_Farley Rob Farley runs LobsterPot Solutions, a Gold Partner SQL Server and Business Intelligence consultancy in Adelaide, Australia. He presents regularly at PASS chapters and conferences such as TechEd Australia, SQL PASS, and SQLBits (UK), and heads up the Adelaide SQL Server User Group. He is an MCT and has been a SQL Server MVP since 2006. Rob has helped create several of the MCP exams, wrote two chapters for the book SQL Server MVP Deep Dives (Manning, 2009) and one for SQL Server MVP Deep Dives 2, Volume 2 (Manning, 2011). He is currently a Director of SQLPASS.

I’m probably not the typical PASS attendee, but the thing that I’m looking forward to the most from this year’s PASS Summit is people realising where the real benefit of the PASS Summit lies.

I should point out – I’ve only been to two PASS Summits. My first was as recent as 2010. I gave two presentations plus a lightning talk that year, only to take the next step and deliver a precon in 2011 (oh, and I sang during a keynote). I was on the board as an advisor during last year’s Summit, and this year I will be attending my first PASS Summit as a full director.

So, you see, I’ve never been a real first-timer at PASS. My experience of getting into the SQL Server community came through local channels.

I went to TechEd Australia as a regular delegate in 1999 – that’s when I was a proper first-timer. A colleague and I flew up to Brisbane for the event, where we worked out which sessions we’d each go to, based on what we wanted to learn from the event. There was a lot of information, and I made a lot of notes. I see a lot of people doing the same at conferences today – people who haven’t realised yet.

In 2000, I moved back to the UK for a couple of years, and didn’t go to many local events. I didn’t even consider myself a SQL guy back then, but the company I worked for was involved in some of the other local communities – back then it was things like Commerce Server and Content Management Server. I didn’t attend the meetings that were going on, and I definitely didn’t see it as valuable. I would’ve jumped at the chance of going to the larger conferences, though and I did attend an event that Bill Gates was speaking at in early 2002 (I think). It wasn’t anything like the PASS Summit though.

A few years later I found myself living in Adelaide, attending an event at the Hilton Hotel (the one in Adelaide, not the local pub in Hilton), where someone invited me to the .Net user group. I asked the guy I reported to about going along, and found I could use company time for it. Like all drugs, the first hits are often free.

Fairly soon I realised that the benefit of the local community wasn’t in the presentations that were being given, but in the network of people that were there. The presentations didn’t actually thrill me that much, and it wasn’t long before I offered to give presentations myself, ones that even got noticed by people at Microsoft. This was both in the .Net world and the SQL world – and I was also starting to appreciate that I had a lot more to offer the SQL community than the .Net one.

When I was just attending events for the content, I really wasn’t benefitting much from the whole experience. I could probably skip the talk, look at its title, do some research through the blogosphere, and learn just as much, at my own pace, with lots of varying perspectives – even seeing demos of things on YouTube and the like. Well, maybe I couldn’t do that so much back nearly ten years ago, but certainly these days. (Of course, there’s the time aspect – if you go to an event, you’re actually setting time aside to learn. That’s great. But for me, it’s not quite enough.)

But when I shifted my focus, I started getting so much more out of them. In doing this, I saw three differences.

1. By being more interested in the people that are at events more than the technical aspects of the presentations, you start to hear what’s actually important about the technology, rather than basic technical details.

2. By becoming a presenter, you value presentations differently, and even learn more from them. You start to consider factors such as what made the presenter choose a particular demo over another, and how you would present that point yourself. And you don’t see the other presenters as being so aloof.

3. By understanding that the technical details of a talk are all things you can pick up later through your own research, your energy at an event can go into building relationships. You meet the presenters, get to know them, and they become part of your network.

In 2005, I attended my second major event – another TechEd Australia. I was mainly just a delegate, but I had also been told by the guy who ran the SQL Server user group to catch up with a few particular people there (a few weeks later he asked me to take over the group, but that’s a different story). The conversations I had at 2005 were therefore very different to the ones from 1999.

By 2006 I had become an MCT, and proctored Hands-On Labs at TechEd Australia, which I also did in 2007 and 2008. I presented sessions in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and felt like part of the establishment at the event. I was definitely getting a lot more out of it that I had done in the past.

2006 had also seen me get the MVP award. This meant I could go to the MVP Summit, which I did in both 2007 and 2008. There I was just a delegate, but in hindsight, I found that the focus of the events was on building relationships – both with other MVPs and with Microsoft staff. It was at these events that I met many people in the global SQL community for the first time.

In 2009 and 2010 I travelled to the UK for two SQLBits conferences, where I gave precon seminars and regular presentations. I had met some of the MVPs at the MVP Summits I’d been to, but got the chance to meet many other people as well.

You see, in today’s world, you can find out technical information very easily. What you can’t do so easily is form the kinds of relationships that give you allies in solving problems that aren’t so straight forward.

So what I want “first-timers” to realise (regardless of how many PASS Summits they’ve been to) is this:

The thing you need to do at these things is to get to know the people behind the profiles. Find out what interests them outside the data world (and potentially within it), and you’ll come away with so much more than if you wanted to learn about the technology.

And the thing that I personally enjoy about events like the Summit is seeing people wake up to this tip and making it all happen.

FEATURED SQL SERVER DBA  JOHN SANSOM

John_Sansom John Sansom (@SQLBrit) is a Technology Lead with the database team at Expedia, Inc. providing consulting services and support for one of the world’s largest SQL Server environments. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor Award (MCC) John can be found regularly blogging about Being a DBA and Professional Development over at http://www.johnsansom.com

Jadba is a diligent, hard working chap with a passion for technology. A typical DBA, he's all about ensuring the availability and performance of the environments in his care. He enjoys working with a variety of data technology but his favoured weapon of choice is SQL Server. A studious and ambitious fellow, he taps into the vibrant SQL community to learn and grow as best he can. Regularly reading the latest blogs and white papers, attending webinars and even the odd local User Group event. Jadba has invested in his own professional development to become quite the proficient DBA.

Like many Data Professionals it's always been an ambition of his to attend the most prestigious of all SQL Server community events, the PASS Summit. For the opportunity to learn from the very best, to finally meet with international community peers of many a year in person and to feel like a true member of the #sqlfamily. To attend the Summit seems a distant dream to Jadba, so far out of reach both physically and financially.

At least that was the case, until recently. Frustrated and no longer content to accept missing out on the sidelines, it was time to take action into his own hands. You see earlier in the year he made a commitment to himself that this time there were to be no excuses, no matter what. He was going to attend the PASS Summit 2012!

I am of course talking from my own personal experience and not just another DBA (Jadba). Having worked as a data professional here in London for over ten years, to travel to the PASS Summit has long been an ambition of mine. The desire to attend has been on my radar for so long now but there's always been an obstacle to contend, be it financial or logistical, that's kept me from my goal. If I'm being honest, perhaps I've been too easily swayed and should have acted sooner. No matter, armed with some sage advice I made a public commitment to finally get to PASS. Don't make the same mistake that I did by procrastinating. I encourage you to act without hesitation, to take control and make the investment in your own career.

Don't settle for being simply just another DBA. You can read heaps more about Professional Development for the DBA over on my blog. Make the investment in yourself and I'll see you at the Summit.