What Should PASS be? #sqlpass
Andy Warren recently threw out a challenge for bloggers to â€śfixâ€ť things with the Professional Association for SQL Server in 3 years. There have been some great responses so far (and Iâ€™m sorry if Iâ€™ve missed yours):
All of these posts have great ideas, and have influenced my thinking on my subject; Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 directionâ€¦
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. Thereâ€™s a big debate about whether or not PASS is a community organization, a business serving that community, or something else thatâ€™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 Microsoftâ€™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 â€śguildâ€ť. 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 Grantâ€™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, thatâ€™s a long-term definitional goal ; in the short term, I see three areas for improvement.
Things to do in the next three yearsâ€¦
1. Have an election process thatâ€™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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™ve recently discovered that as Iâ€™ve become less â€śplugged inâ€ť (changes in my personal life as well as new corporate firewall policies have prevented my social networking), itâ€™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; Iâ€™ve also missed quite a few calls for bloggers (like T-SQL Tuesday). There needs to be better connectedness between â€śmeatspaceâ€ť (a term I borrowed from Brent Ozar) and the online community.
3. Invest in the IT structure at HQ.
Weâ€™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 doesnâ€™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.
As I said before, Iâ€™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. Weâ€™ve got a long way to go, but I think we have some basic steps we need to master, and soon.