#SQLPASS–Data Professionals?

So, in my last post, I described the financial pressures of community building; two companies benefit from building a community organization.  I’ve tried to stay away from assumptions, but I am assuming that their influence must factor into the Board of Directors’ decision making process (Microsoft has a seat on the board; C&C is dependent on the decisions that the BoD makes).  The metrics that matter most to Microsoft are the breadth of people interested in their product line, not the depth of knowledge attained by those people.

Influence isn’t a bad thing per se, but in my mind, it does explain why good people continue to make bad decisions, regardless of who gets elected to the board.   What do I mean by a bad decision?  In general, the Professional Association for SQL Server BoD remains a non-committal and opaque organization.  Board members have personally promised me that “they would look into something”, and yet the follow-thru never materialized; the opacity of the decision making process is documented by other other bloggers in posts like the following:

http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/steve_jones/2010/06/30/pass_2C00_-don_1920_t-waste-my-time/

https://ozar.me/2014/09/bigger-passvotes-problem-password-shared/

http://sqlblog.com/blogs/andy_leonard/archive/2014/06/27/pass-and-summit-2014-session-selections.aspx

SIDEBAR: I will say that the Board continues to work on the transparency problem; Jen Stirrup and Tom LaRock have both stepped forward to explain decisions made.  However, such explanations are usually given after a controversy has occurred.

For a specific example, I want to focus on the branding decision (the decision to remove SQL Server from marketing material for the Professional Association of SQL Server and to be know simply as PASS); the decision to move the organization away from its lingua franca of SQL Server to a new common language of “all things (Microsoft) data” is not in and of itself a bad thing.  Recent marketing trends from Microsoft indicate that the traditional role of the DBA is continuing to evolve; as individuals, we need to evolve as well.

However, as database professionals (or data professionals), we should be inclined to make decisions based on data.  As Jen Stirrup herself says:

I think it’s important to have a data-based, fact based look at the business analytics sphere generally. What does the industry say about where the industry is going? What does the data say? We can then look at how PASS fits in with this direction.

Jen’s post goes on to state some great statistics about the nature of the industry as a whole, but then uses some less concrete measures (growth of the BA/BI Virtual Chapters) to identify support within the organization.  I generally agree with her conclusions, but I’m concerned about several unanswered questions, most of them stemming from two numbers:

  • Association marketing materials claim we have reached over 100,000 professionals, and
  • 11,305 members were eligible to vote (a poor measure of involvement, but does indicate recent interaction).

I look at those two numbers and wonder why that gap is there; just for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that 90% of “members” have not updated their profile.  Why?  What could the Association have done to reach those members?  Who are those members?   What are their interests?  What’s a better metric for gauging active membership?

Of course, once I start asking questions, I begin to ask more questions: How many members don’t fit into Microsoft’s vision of cloud-based computing?   How many members use multiple technologies from the Microsoft data analysis stack? What skills should they be taught?  What skills do they have?  What features do they want?  The short answer: we don’t know.

As far as I know, there has been no large scale data collection effort by the Board of Directors to help guide their decisions; in the absence of data, good managers make a decision based on experience, but then strive to collect data to help with future decisions.  Continuing to rely on experience and marketing materials without investing in understanding member concern, desires, and input is simply put, a bad decision.

Shifting an organization that shared a common love for a particular technology to an organization that is more generally interested in data is a huge undertaking; overlooking the role that the community should have in determining the path of that transition is an oversight.   I don’t think the Professional Association for SQL Server is going to revert back to a technology-specific focus; that would be inconsistent with the changing nature of our profession.  However, the Board needs to continue to understand who the membership is, and how the organization can help a huge number of SQL Server professionals transition to “data professionals”.   Building a bigger umbrella may help the organization grow; investing in existing community members will help the organization succeed.

October 21, 2014 · stuart · 7 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web

7 Responses

  1. Karla Landrum - October 21, 2014

    I never voted for the PASS Board until I started working for PASS. I had way too many other “investments” of my time, so unable to really educate myself on who was standing for what, so I left it to those who were doing that to make the right choices for the org. I suspect that a certain percentage feel that same way.

  2. stuart - October 21, 2014

    Karla, voting continues to be a sore spot, but being active in the organization is more than just voting; the problem is that we just don’t who is or isn’t active, let alone why they choose to be. That’s a missed opportunity for growth.

  3. Jen Stirrup - October 21, 2014

    Hello there,
    Thank you for your post.

    Firstly – I do not, and cannot, represent PASS through my commentary. Hence I write on my own blog, and thank you for taking the time to read it.

    There are lots of statistics about the growth of analytics and so on – I can continue to share these, if you are interested. Personally, I think it’s fascinating and it’s a great time to be in data. So, for example, we hear a lot about big data and medicine – however, storing and protecting data doesn’t help cure diseases by itself – analysing, and doing ‘stuff’ with the data, is where the answers lie, in tandem with the data guardian role. The activities are interdependent and both are as important as each other.

    I can’t answer all of your questions here, but I have my own thoughts about the data on the data landscape, and I will post those thoughts in the future. Basically I have a lot to thoughts to put down properly in a post that reads well and clearly. I realise that there are a lot of questions here and I’m sorry that I can’t answer them immediately here: I am doing my best to serve the community, and I need to do these things in my own time so that I’m as clear as possible, and explain context as well as data. Comments in a blog post aren’t the best way to do that properly and give the issues/questions/topics the justice that it deserves, and I need to take time to do it properly. That said, I can try to cover points that I see people raise, including your good self. I guess what I’m trying to say (in a very long-winded and coffee fuelled fashion) is that I’ve read your post, and I’d like to thank you for it, and I hope I will be able to answer it as well as I can, and as far as I’m able to do so, in future blogs.

    I haven’t shared the VC data because these community superheroes, who deliver thousands and thousands of hours every year to the community worldwide, should hear it first because they make the magic happen. They are awesome and I can’t wait until Summit so I can thank them personally. I will be travelling thousands of miles to attend Summit, and this is one of the things I will be looking forward to. I guess things will be clearer then, and I apologise if this makes you ‘wait’ but I am doing this for the best of reasons – I want to thank people properly, and I’d like to thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter.

    Kind Regards,
    Jen

  4. stuart - October 21, 2014

    Jen,

    Thanks for your reply, and for your willingness to speak for yourself; there’s not enough of us in this conversation. I look forward to discussing this further with you. The point that I made not have made well is that I agree that the industry is changing, and that there’s an opportunity for the Association to help guide its membership down the path of moving from a technology focus to a general data focus; what I was trying to say is that there is a general lack of knowledge about our membership, including our readiness for that journey. We have data to suggest that the industry is changing, but we are missing key information about our members, and as far as I know, there’s no effort being made to collect that information.

  5. Tim Mitchell - October 21, 2014

    Stu, good post. Coincidentally, there’s a brief but similar post on Seth Godin’s blog this morning. tl;dr: “Big is a choice. So is best.” http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/10/biggest-vs-best.html

  6. Andy Warren - October 21, 2014

    Stu, thanks for continuing to share. On being opaque, do you have more thoughts on how to tell the Board the level/kind of transparency you want? I think that would be interesting to have PASS publish, it would set a visible and achievable goal.

    I’d like to see the numbers too, but I think more than that it requires the conversations – what do the members want, and why does the BoD want to go in direction x? Much of my frustration is over the failure to communicate the changes ala Our Iceberg Is Melting. If I heard the reasons and saw the road map, maybe I wouldn’t be No-No!

    Jen – kudos for joining the discussion and agree that your blog is best way to share your thoughts. I look forward to that.

  7. Karla Landrum - October 21, 2014

    To be clear, my comment was purely just me speaking from my own experience. I was in no way commenting on behalf of PASS.

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