What Should PASS be? #sqlpass

Andy Warren recently threw out a challenge for bloggers to “fix” things with the Professional Association for SQL Server in 3 years.   There have been some great responses so far (and I’m sorry if I’ve missed yours):

All of these posts have great ideas, and have influenced my thinking on my subject; I’ve had conversations with most of these authors about some of the finer points of the direction that PASS should take over the last year at Summit, SQL Saturdays, email, etc; the ideas that I’m going to post below are probably not too dissimilar than their thoughts (although we probably differ on some on the implementations of those ideas).

Heading off in a general direction…

Although Andy W. specifically asked for a 3-year plan, I think part of the problem with PASS is that the long-term vision is unclear.  There’s a big debate about whether or not PASS is a community organization, a business serving that community, or something else that’s not been well-defined.  Additionally, PASS struggles with its domain of influence; the organization is viewed as being U.S.-centric by most members outside of the states, and inside the states, the continued reliance on Microsoft’s presence in Seattle makes the organization seem distant to local users.  What should PASS be?

In a conversation with Andy W. a few months ago, I proposed that PASS should borrow from some of the great evangelistic traditions of Western civilization (I was originally thinking of a non-religious version of the five fold ministry of the early Christian church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers), and Andy threw out the word “guild”.  I like that concept; PASS should be a guild, providing training both in terms of learning about the tools (SQL Server and associated products) and growth in the guild (moving from a student to a master).  Guilds are both a community of learners, and a powerful force of influence; where the Summit goes, Microsoft should follow (instead of the other way around).  I think this thought echoes Grant’s call:

Get the word out that if you want training this is the place to be. If you want to be a trainer, this is the place to start, if you are a trainer, this is where you grow you brand.

Of course, that’s a long-term definitional goal ; in the short term, I see three areas for improvement.

Things to do in the next three years…

1. Have an election process that’s deemed fair and reliable by the majority of the membership. 

I applaud PASS for taking steps in this regard.  I obviously spent a great deal of time discussing this over the last 10 months, and I’ve arrived at a very different place than either Andy Leonard or Mike Walsh (I believe in a strong Nominating Committee with an opaque application process; Andy has called to abandon it altogether, and Mike believes in a simple pass-or-fail review of credentials).  While our viewpoints on the actual implementation may differ, I think we can all agree that PASS will continue to lack credibility if the method by which organizational power is attained is not supported by the constituency.    PASS needs to get the election process stabilized and supported before the next election.

2. Adopt the User Groups as an extension of the organization, rather than just partners in community.

The PASS Chapter model is essentially a good one; there is no better way (in my opinion) to reach SQL Server professionals interested in building their careers than through the User Groups.  Unfortunately, as Mike (and others) have pointed out, the loose affiliation between PASS and the chapters have left many chapter leaders questioning what does PASS really do for the chapters?  That needs to change.

Chapters should be the local arms of PASS; attendees to a chapter meeting should leave every meeting thinking that they are getting a monthly shot (albeit a smaller dosage) of the same knowledge that they get from a PASS SQLSaturday, a PASS SQLRally, and a PASS Summit.  Chapters should feel interconnected; as a chapter leader in Atlanta, I should know what topic TJay Belt is discussing in Utah, or what Roy Ernest is covering in Curaco.   I should feel confident (as should they) that I have access to the same resources for educating my members (including trained, professional speakers as well as online materials) as any other chapter.

Chapters should also be given the tools necessary to recruit new members to the guild, both those members of the community with lots of experience with SQL Server (and little-to-none with PASS) as well as those members of the community who are still figuring out what a clustered index is.  I realize that this is a huge task to take on in 3 years, but the initial groundwork must be laid; chapters need to feel that they are part of a larger organization, and they should be embraced as siblings (not distant cousins).

As a sidebar, I should note that while PASS chapters should not replace the online initiatives that PASS has recently invested in (the blogosphere and social networks), they should be the primary focus.   From my own personal perspective, I’ve recently discovered that as I’ve become less “plugged in” (changes in my personal life as well as new corporate firewall policies have prevented my social networking),  it’s been harder to stay invested in PASS and the SQL community.  For example, I missed the recent call for volunteers for Program Committee members; I’ve also missed quite a few calls for bloggers (like T-SQL Tuesday).  There needs to be better connectedness between “meatspace” (a term I borrowed from Brent Ozar) and the online community.

3.  Invest in the IT structure at HQ.

We’re an organization of information technology professionals, and as far as I know, we have a staff of 2 IT guys (a developer and an admin).  If PASS is going to be the essential tool for the SQL Server Professional, then the organization needs to build an IT infrastructure that can support community connectedness, the sharing of essential information, networking between members, and training resources to move passive members to active masters of their craft.  I am not sure what that would take, but I think the speaker bureau (as well as a speaker training program) is a good start.  PASS doesn’t need to be a SQLServerpedia or a SQL Server Central, but it does need to provide its membership with an awareness of what good SQL Server resources are, and how they should be used in the educational path of the member.

Summing Up…

As I said before, I’m envisioning PASS as a guild for SQL Server professionals; guilds have members with varying skill levels (from apprentice to master craftsman), and the goal of the guild is to train its members not only in the tools they use, but also in the ways of the guild.  We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we have some basic steps we need to master, and soon.

February 23, 2011 · stuart · 2 Comments
Posted in: PASS, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web

2 Responses

  1. Mark Souza - March 3, 2011

    I just want to make sure we are all clear with the opinion and position of Microsoft on this topic. Microsoft loves the PASS organization and our community all up. We truly value the contributions they make and the passion they bring. I personnally invest heavily in the community and PASS in particular as my small way of saying thank you to all of you. When it comes to PASS , the summit, VC, etc we are here to support you in any way we can. I made it clear that if you move the summit, I will be there no matter where it is and bring the same energy, passion and excitement I always bring (those of you who know me, know what I am talking about). I am writing this just to clarify that it is NOT Microsoft that is stopping the summit from moving. We are and always will be there for you no matter where you are. Thanks to folks like Grant and team for bringing the passion!

  2. stuart - March 3, 2011

    Mark, thanks for the clarification; I didn’t mean to diminish the contributions of Microsoft (and their employees) in any way. What I intended was to encourage PASS to grow to such a point that the organization becomes not just valued to Microsoft, but INVALUABLE. I think most of us understand that there’s a limited amount of resources that Microsoft can invest in PASS and the Summit; if the Summit is close to a Microsoft hub, more of those resources can be invested in a greater presence (due to a reduction in travel costs). However, if PASS continues to grow, then it is my hope that the return on investment for Microsoft is so great that the cost is offset, no matter where the Summit is held.

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