#SQLPASS – Fluffy Bunnies

File:Fluffy white bunny rabbit.jpgI didn’t really have a good name for this post, so I thought I’d just try to pick something as non-offensive as possible.  Everybody likes bunnies, right?  Anyway, the last series of posts that I’ve made regarding the Professional Association for SQL Server has raised a number of questions that I thought I’d strive to answer; since I’m still mulling over my next post, I figured this was as good a time as any. 

What’s your motivation in writing this series?

Believe it or not, I’m trying to help.  For several years, it seems like there’s been one controversy after the other within the Professional Association of SQL Server, and those controversies dissipate and re-emerge.  My goal is to document what I perceive to be the root causes for some of these issues so that we can work toward a solution.

 

Why are you bashing PASS?

I’m trying very hard to NOT “bash” the Professional Association for SQL Server; I’ve been a member for several years now, and I’ve seen controversies get personal.  I really don’t feel like I’m doing that; I still believe that the Board of Directors are a great bunch of people that are making decisions based on their circumstance at the time.  I’m trying to wrap a schema around those circumstances, so I can understand those decisions. 

I’m trying to articulate my own perspective on what I think is wrong, so that I can be better prepared to have an honest discussion about those perceptions.  Relationships aren’t about ignoring issues; the first step in addressing an issue is to identify the issue.

You mentioned “transparency” as an issue with the BoD before; what do you mean by that?

That’s more complicated to answer than I thought it would be.  At first, I thought it was more information; as an active community member, I felt like I needed to be more involved in the decision-making process.  However, I can’t really name a specific reform that I would make for the BoD to be more transparent.  I don’t want to read meeting minutes, and most of the form letter emails I get from the Association go straight to the trash; I’m too busy for them to be transparent.

On further consideration, what I’ve been calling transparency is more about leadership and up-front communication than it is about revealing information.   As an example, I help run one of the largest SQL Server chapters in the world; if I had realized that the Professional Association for SQL Server was planning a major re-branding exercise, I feel like I could have contributed some “notes from the field” on what that would mean, and how to best prepare our membership for it.  Instead of appearing defensive about a controversy, the Board would appear to be very proactive.

It’s that feeling of being left out of the conversation that bothers me, I think.  I realize that there’s some details that can’t be shared, but I feel like the onus is on the BoD to find better ways to communicate with members (and to me, chapters are an underused resources).  The information flow is very unidirectional; Summit keynotes and email blasts are not an effective way to discuss an issue.   Maybe those conversations are happening with other people, but if so, few people have stepped forward discussing them.

It’s also an issue of taking action when an issue is raised; for example, the recent passwordsecurity controversy was documented by Brent Ozar.  He states that he and several other security-oriented members had several private conversation with board members, and yet no comprehensive action was taken until it became a public issue.  The perception is that the only way to get the BoD to act is to publically shame them.   That’s not healthy in the long run.

What’s your vision for the Association?

That’s the subject of my next post, so I’m going to hold off on that one.  I do think that the unidirectional flow of communication is not just an issue with the organization, but that it’s a tone set by our relationship with Microsoft.  As I pointed out in my last post, if the Association knew more about the needs and desires of the membership, that knowledge becomes a very valuable resource.   Instead of being a fan club for a product, we could become strong partners in the development of features for that product.

How do you feel about the name change?

Frankly, I feel a little sad about the change in direction, but I understand it.  I predict that SQL Server as on premise-platform is going to become a niche product, regardless of the number of installations.  It just makes sense for Microsoft to broaden their data platform offerings.  I do think that we (the Association) need to do a better job of preparing membership for this new frontier, and it’s going to take efforts to transform administration skills into analytic skills. Without providing that guidance, it seems like we’re abandoning the people who helped build this organization.

Where is this series headed?  What’s the final destination?

To be honest, I don’t know.  When I first started writing these posts, I was sure that I could describe exactly what was wrong, and suggest a few fixes.  The more I write, the easier it is to articulate my observations; I’m surprised to find that my observations are not what I thought they would be.  Thanks for joining me for the ride; hopefully, it leads to some interesting conversations at Summit.

October 23, 2014 · stuart · 8 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQL Server, SQLServerPedia Syndication

8 Responses

  1. Brent Ozar - October 23, 2014

    You’re provoking a lot of thoughts.

    I’ve been reading the series and just thinking. I was rather amused that you wrote that you run “help run one of the largest SQL Server chapters in the world” – interesting how you worded that without using the term PASS.

    I’ve wondered how closely tied chapter leaders feel to PASS. These days, with the hubbub around the changing mission, I wonder if there’s not room for a different association, and whether local chapters would change their association.

  2. stuart - October 23, 2014

    Brent, I’m trying very hard to use the full legal name of the organization as a reminder of the origins. There’s branding issues with just using the four letter (former) acronym without some form of modifier (like SQL).

    As for different affiliations, there’s nothing that prohibits us from being affiliated with other orgs (for example, we’re also an INETA chapter). Our group was around before the association, in fact.

  3. Andy Leonard - October 23, 2014

    Brent, for no particular reason, I asked PASS a few years ago how they felt about SQL Server User Groups have multiple affiliations. A representative of the organization legally able to communicate for the organization replied that PASS would have no issue with PASS Chapters affiliating with other organizations. I’m not sure if the recent chapter agreement speaks to this, though.

  4. Tim Mitchell - October 23, 2014

    First, I demand to know if this bunny was harmed or in any way exploited during the composition of this blog post.

    Seriously, though, thanks for sharing your thoughts. And I agree with your sentiment that, even if the organization were entirely transparent, few if any of us would have the bandwidth to consume that much information. Transparency can go hand-in-hand with engagement, and if I had to pick one, I’d choose for the association to stay engaged with the community (especially on big decisions like changing the name) even if there was still some opacity to the process.

  5. stuart - October 23, 2014

    Tim, no bunnies were harmed. However, I did run across some rather disturbing fetishes while looking for pictures… I believe the term is “furry-lover”?

    Andy Warren was the one that made me think most about the issue of transparency; unfiltered information can make the whole process burdensome, but there’s definitely major decisions that should be vetted beyond the BoD BEFORE they’re implemented.

  6. Andy Warren - October 23, 2014

    Stu, I appreciate the lighter touch you’re using in the discussion. You wascal.

    Transparency is one of the ways an org stays honest and true. Even if few read minutes of the Board or various committees, writing it down reminds everyone to play by the rules. It doesn’t fix everything, but it at least give those with time and interest a place to start.

    Keep thinking.

  7. K. Brian Kelley - October 23, 2014

    There are other issues with transparency that are obvious when one ponders business arrangements, etc. However, I think you hit upon something when you talked about more proactive communications from HQ.

    This one, though, I think is hard for the same reason: we’re all so busy. I know that the chapter leader phone calls aren’t so well attended and I’ve had to miss a few myself. That’s even with HQ scheduling multiple call options.

    As a result, I don’t know what a good solution is. If HQ is going to engage us more, we must do the same. Are we willing to do that?

  8. Jen Stirrup - November 2, 2014

    Stuart,
    Thank you for your post. I don’t know if my efforts have been visible enough to you, but here goes:

    I have held a couple of Twitter ‘surgery hours’ which have had varying degrees of success.

    I have held a series of Virtual Chapter Pathways, which took place every Wednesday at 9PM (My Time, 1PM PST) in October. These were open to everyone. Brent Ozar very kindly posted it up on his blog, and it went up on the PASS websites, and PASS sent out emails to the CLs and VCLs to let them know about the sessions. Andy Warren also very kindly posted it on his PASSWATCH site. I don’t think that I missed out any route of communication but please let me know any other possibilities for getting the word out. I do my best, but I am not ‘down with the kids’ and I am well aware that there will be social media / sites where I haven’t thought about looking.

    That took out my every Wednesday evening for a whole month, but I thought it was worth the effort to try and make myself available to people.

    During the VC ‘open mike’ pathways, the highest attendance was only 16 people; the lowest was a core of 8 people, who had attended throughout the whole series. I’m really glad that they did, because I wanted people to know that they could contact me and chat.

    The format was this: I would issue some information about CLs and VCLs, such as managing a website. Then, I had an open mike Q & A where people could send me emails, or a chat message via GTW, and they could ask me pretty much anything.

    The first part was reasonably successful, but I didn’t really get many questions in the second part at all. However, I don’t really regard this as a failure. I tried to engage ‘virtually’ by doing this, and at least people knew that I was there.

    I will probably do the same again in the future. I am trying, but I think that it has to work two ways and I am open to ideas how to drive people to engage more. I am not sure whether they didn’t want to engage, simply didn’t understand what I was doing, or simply didn’t want to engage with *me* particularly. I guess you all have better things to do on a Wednesday night 🙂

    The takeaway point is that engagement and communication is a lot harder than you think, and I’m trying different things to see what works. As always, my email is jen.stirrup@sqlpass.org if folks want to shoot me a mail. I’m open to ideas, and humble enough to admit that I don’t always get things right first, second, third or nth time. But I’m happy to keep trying.

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