So I was lucky enough to get my first experience of PASS Summit this year and took some time beforehand to read some blogs and reference material to get an idea on what to do and how to get the best out of my visit. Having been to other conferences – technical and non-technical – I had a reasonable idea on the routine and what to expect in general.
Here is a list of a few things that I have learned/remembered as the week has gone by.
Wear comfortable shoes. This actually needs to be broadened to Take several pairs of comfortable shoes. You will be spending many many hours, for several days one after another. Having comfortable feet that can literally support you for the duration will make the week in general a whole lot better. Not only at the conference but getting to and from you could well be walking. In the evenings you will be walking around town and standing talking in various bars and clubs. Looking back, on some days I was on my feet for over 20 hours.
Make friends. This is a given for the long term benefits it brings but there is also an immediate reward in being at a conference with a friend or two. Some events are bigger and more popular than others and some have the type of session that every single attendee will want to be in. This is great for those that get in but if you are in the bathroom or queuing for coffee and you miss out it sucks. Having a friend that can get in to a room and reserve you a seat is a great advantage to make sure you get the content that you want to see and still have the coffee that you need.
Don’t go to every session you want to see This might sound counter intuitive and it relies on the sessions being recorded in some way to guarantee you don’t totally miss out. Both PASS Summit and SQL Bits sessions are recorded (summit is audio, SQLBits is video) and this means that if you get into a good conversation with someone over a coffee you don’t have to break it up to go to a session. Obviously there is a trade-off here and you need to decide on the tipping point for yourself but a conversation at a place like this could make a big difference to the next contract or employer you have or it might simply be great catching up with some friends you don’t see so often.
Go to at least one session you don’t want to Again, this will seem to be contrary to normal logic but there is no reason why you shouldn’t learn about a part of SQL Server that isn’t part of your daily routine. Not only will you learn something new but you will also pick up on the feelings and attitudes of the people in the session. So, if you are a DBA, head off to a BI session and so on. You’ll hear BI speakers speaking to a BI audience and get to understand their point of view and reasoning for making the decisions they do. You will also appreciate the way that your decisions and instructions affect the way they have to work. This will help you a lot when you are on a project, working with multiple teams and make you all more productive.
Socialise While you are at the conference venue, speak to people. Ask questions, be interested in whoever you are speaking to. You get chances to talk to new friends at breakfast, dinner and every break between sessions. The only people that might not talk to you would be speakers that are about to go and give a session, in most cases speakers like peace and quiet before going on stage. Other than that the people around you are just waiting for someone to talk to them so make the first move. There is a whole lot going on outside of the conference hours and you should make an effort to join in with some of this too. At karaoke evenings or just out for a quiet drink with a few of the people you meet at the conference. Either way, don’t be a recluse and hide in your room or be alone out in the town.
Don’t talk to people Once again this sounds wrong but stay with me. I have spoken to a number of speakers since Summit 2013 finished and they have all mentioned the time it has taken them to move about the conference venue due to people stopping them for a chat or to ask a question. 45 minutes to walk from a session room to the speaker room in one case. Wow. While none of the speakers were upset about this sort of delay I think delegates should take the situation into account and possibly defer their question to an email or to a time when the person they want is clearly less in demand. Give them a chance to enjoy the conference in the same way that you are, they may actually want to go to a session or just have a rest after giving their session – talking for 75 minutes is hard work, taking an extra 45 minutes right after is unbelievable. I certainly hope that they get good feedback on their sessions and perhaps if you spoke to a speaker outside a session you can give them a mention in the ‘any other comments’ part of the feedback, just to convey your gratitude for them giving up their time and expertise for free.
Say thank you I just mentioned giving the speakers a clear, visible ‘thank you’ in the feedback but there are plenty of people that help make any conference the success it is that would really appreciate hearing that their efforts are valued. People on the registration desk, volunteers giving schedule guidance and directions, people on the community zone are all volunteers giving their time to help you have the best experience possible. Send an email to PASS and convey your thoughts about the work that was done. Maybe you want to be a volunteer next time so you could enquire how you get into that position at the same time.
This isn’t an exclusive list and you may agree or disagree with the points I have made, please add anything you think is good advice in the comments.
I’d like to finish by saying a huge thank you to all the people involved in planning, facilitating and executing the PASS Summit 2013, it was an excellent event and I know many others think it was a totally worthwhile event to attend.