Sunday, October 20, 2013

PASS Summit 2013

PASS Summit 2013 was in Charlotte, NC this year for the first time and after a few years in a row in Seattle, WA. Was great to get away from Seattle and I have been flying in and out of Charlotte all year, so it was nice to spend some time inside the downtown (Uptown) area itself. After spending a whole week in Charlotte, I really love the city and hope that I will be able to spend more time in the city again. Now for my summary of the week at PASS Summit 2013!

I got into Charlotte at around 1am on Monday, October 14th after the 6 hour drive from Jacksonville, FL after 3 days of PDW training at Pragmatic Works HQ (more on this in a later blog post) and some off-roading fun with co-workers. I was not signed up for any pre-cons on Monday or Tuesday so I had all day Monday off to enjoy the sights and tastes of Charlotte! Started the day on Monday with a guided Segway tour of Uptown Charlotte. I have never been on a Segway before, so there was a brief intro to how to use it and surprisingly it only takes a few minutes to pick up how it works. The tour was awesome and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is thinking about. From there I got my registration materials for PASS Summit 2013, which I got to use the Speaker registration area for the first time! The one recommendation I have being a first time presenter at PASS Summit is to still give the speaker shirts to even those that only do a Lightning Talk session. I understand that they are only 10 minute sessions, but this is how speakers get their first chance to present to a large conference and it shows that you are still part of the speaker core for the event.

After registration and saying hello to all of the #SQLFamily that were already at the Charlotte Convention Center we made our way to The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery for lunch and some beer! Was great to find a place in the US that makes an authentic Düsseldorf style Altbier. I lived in Düsseldorf, Germany for a year right out of college and Altbier was one of very first beers I ever liked to drink (didn't like American beer at the time) so I was really happy to have it again after 15+ years. They also had a lot of German food, which was very good as well. The next stop on our Charlotte craft beer tour was supposed to be Birdsong Brewery, but the were not open on Monday, so we then wandered over to NoDa Brewery which was right across the street and they weren't open for another 30 minutes or so. We decided to walk the extra half mile or so to Heist Brewery, which probably one of the larger craft brewery facilities with lots of dining/bar space. Beers at Heist were very good and the Beer Cheese with Pretzel sticks was excellent.

By the time we got back into Uptown it was time for the annual Networking Dinner that Andy Warren and Steve Jones organize at the Buffalo Wild Wings attached to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and right across the street from the Charlotte Convention Center. Was a huge crowd of people at the event this year, was great to see so many new and familiar faces again. After the Networking Dinner wound down I walked over to the Carolina Ale House, which became the unofficial home for many before/during/after events during PASS Summit 2013.

Tuesday was a day full of meetings with PASS for me, being a local Chapter Leader and SQLSaturday organizer, PASS always sets up this day at Summit for us to get a chance to talk with them and the other leaders/organizers. Meetings were good and I think that many new ideas were expressed. I have to say that I think the format of the meeting at last year's Summit went a bit better, especially the SQLSaturday Roundtable where I heard about some great ideas for helping the event run more smoothly, which did implement for SQLSaturday #190 a few weeks ago and it did make a difference. Tuesday evening was the PASS Summit Volunteer Party at a local bowling alley in the EpiCentre. Another great event that PASS puts on for those of us that help organize and speak at the event each year. This is the 2nd year that I have been able to attend this event and it is always a great time to wind down and enjoy some fun with everyone that helps make this event what it is every year. Later that evening was also the first night of #SQLKaraoke at Fox and Hound (conveniently only a block from my hotel, Dunhill Hotel). I stay way too late at the karaoke event, but it was just way too much fun.

Wednesday is the first actual day of the Summit, and since I was out way too late for #SQLKaraoke I didn't wake up early enough for the keynote (plus I knew it would be recorded and online) and I wanted to make sure I was well rested since I had my first presentation at Summit later that afternoon. Wednesday is SQLSaturday shirt day at Summit, so I made sure to put on my Kansas City #191 speaker shirt before going to the convention center. I stopped by the Community Zone to see how things were going with the setup there and also visit some of the community leaders there. I also stopped by the Pragmatic Works booth to see how it was setup and meet some of the people from our sales offices that I had not yet met. The lunch on Wednesday is always the Chapter lunch, where each chapter has table(s) in the lunch area and they encourage everyone to sit at the appropriate tables for where they live. The Denver group had 4 tables this year and we had at least 3 of them filled during the lunch and there were some new people that we hope to see at future meetings! Always love that PASS does this at the Summit each year and we have found a few new members each year from that, so it is more than worth it. The afternoon went by very fast as I spent some time preparing in the speaker room before my presentation slot late in the afternoon. The setup for the presentation didn't go as smoothly as I would have hoped. They put the Lightning Talks in a smaller room again (this is a not so good tradition at Summit as Lightning Talks are becoming more popular) and while there is a 6 port video switcher in the room, only 2 or 3 are setup. For the Lightning Talks it would be nice if all of the ports were made available and we could all get our laptops setup and tested, instead we each had to rush up there when it was our time and get connected. There were some very good presentations during the Wednesday slot I was in, including Rob Volk and Ed Watson's "DBAs in Toyland" presentation. The scariest thing about this presentation that I learned from Ed Watson afterwards is that all of the nightmare scenarios they covered all really happened! I think that mine went ok, my resolution did not get setup like I wanted in the VM, so some things were getting cut off on the screen. I was able to get through all of the material and I think that at least a handful of people got my Doctor Who jokes/references. After finishing my presentation I needed to get back to the hotel to change for the Exhibitor Reception at the Pragmatic Works booth, since we have done a free book signing now for the last 2 years which is very popular and we need everyone there just for crowd control. We were also passing out wristbands for our #SQLKaraoke event at Prohibition/Sip later that evening as well. The reception went well, had some issues with the line for the book signing, but we were able to give out all of the books we had in about an hour. I left the reception early to get to our event (which was conveniently across the street from my hotel) and see how the prep was going. Surprisingly there were already quite a few people there even though it was clear on the wristbands that it didn't start for another hour. The location quickly filled up and there were a lot that got up a did karaoke in front of the live band or just traditional karaoke. Another very successful event with over 600 people attending!

Thursday was the one day that I knew I would be able to attend some sessions, as I only had to work in the Pragmatic Works booth from 9am-noon, the rest of the day was free. The booth duty was very easy since most of the attendees were in the keynote at that time. After lunch I did attend a SQLCAT session on PDW, which I have to say was quite disappointing since there really wasn't a lot of PDW specific content as the title/description indicated. For the next session I went to see the 2nd Lightning Talks sessions to show my support for the other speakers doing what I had done the previous day. These talks were all good as well, but the standouts were Niko Neugebauer and Richard Douglas. Richard did a session on explaining T-SQL to a Star Wars geek, which was very funny. Niko had the assistance of Scott Stauffer for a very funny and informative session on NodeXL. Also, the Denver area had a 2nd presenter in the Lightning Talks with Jeff Renz doing a quick overview of his favorite topic, DataVault! The last session of the day is one that I have gone to at many conferences over the years and love it every time, the "BI Power Hour". This is a session as they point out that has absolutely no content that you will be able to use in your normal work, but does show some ways to use the Microsoft BI tools that you have probably not seen before. We finally got a very valid explanation (at least in Matthew Roche's view) of why the products all have Power at the beginning at are collectively called Power BI. As always there was a lot of SWAG that they threw out into the crowd, and since most of us in the front row got into the room 30+ minutes before the session started, we were each given one of these SQL Server 2012 USB 8GB flash drives/phone chargers (called 8GB Powerstick).



Pretty cool device, but definitely the largest USB flash drive I have ever seen. Thursday evening at PASS Summit is the Community Appreciation Party which all attendees are invited to and this year it was held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is right next to the convention center. Since that event didn't start until later in the evening I decided to get some dinner with friends at a sushi restaurant, fantastic food and even better company and discussions. This is by far the best thing about going to PASS Summit is all of the side networking that goes on during the week. After dinner I headed back to my hotel to change clothes and drop off my bag. Since it was so late and the event was going to end soon I used my hotel's free limo service to drop me off, saving at least a half hour. The event was good, was closed to the public, so only the attendees of the conference were let in and we had the chance to see the whole place. Nice setup in there with the cars, but not being a NASCAR fan (love Formula 1 and IndyCar) I didn't really get much out of it. A group of us decided to try and find another #SQLKaraoke location and there was a place near the Carolina Panther's stadium called, Hartigan's. Very interesting place (those that attended or know about this place will know what I'm talking about) by far the funnest place I've been to for #SQLKaraoke. Had to leave early though since I was scheduled to be in the Community Zone from 7am - 8am on Friday.

Friday started way too early, especially after a late night at #SQLKaraoke, with getting to the Community Zone before 7am. Not sure why we needed to be there that early since the only attendees coming in that early were looking for coffee and breakfast. It was fun to talk to other community leaders though and get/share ideas on running our groups. Worked out well to be sitting down in that area though, since I got pulled into a PDW Roadmap meeting that I was not directly notified of ahead of time, but got pulled in to represent Pragmatic Works. Very interesting information, but nothing that I can talk about here since it was a NDA protected session. After that, I grabbed some early lunch with co-workers and then headed back to the exhibit hall for more Pragmatic Works booth coverage. Got to do a lot more demos during this time since many attendees were trying to get through all of the exhibitors before the floor closed at 2pm. Once the hall closed it was time to break down, amazing how fast most of those big booths can get torn down! I had to leave for a few minutes to get my rental car to use for my speaking at SQLSaturday #237 (more on this in a separate post) and getting to my client site in Columbia, SC on Sunday.

That ends what happened as part of PASS Summit 2013 for me, but my time in the Charlotte area did not end until Sunday! Overall, PASS Summit 2013 went by way too fast (as it always does), but it was great as always to spend time with #SQLFamily and get some more learning on to keep up with all of the changes are always happening with Microsoft SQL Server. My biggest to-dos that I still have left is to watch both keynotes that I missed via streaming media, if I pick up anything from that I'll make sure to put together a separate post on that as well. There are also many other sessions that I missed, but I knew that our chapter would be getting access to the recording for all sessions, so I wasn't too worried about that and will catch up on those as soon I get access to the recordings. Attendance at the event seemed very good and the convention center did work very well. The main complaint that I would have about the convention center itself is that the exhibit hall was kind of out of the way, being on the lowest level with the meal hall, but nothing else down there. Some exhibitors that I talked to were saying that it was hurting them, since there was not as much traffic as there would normally be when that hall is in the main traffic flow of the convention center. I'm sure that I will think of other things in the days ahead as I'm able to process things more, if necessary I'll add updates to this post or create new ones.