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My “better late than never” PASS Summit blog

October 24, 2011

Lots of people have already posted about their experiences at the 2011 PASS Summit, so it’s going to be hard to stay original, but I’ll do my best.

First, this was my first Summit since 2004 and my first in Seattle since 2002. I had all but forgotten about those long escalators. The Sheraton hasn’t changed much, although last time there I faced north, with a view of the Space Needle. This time I had a southwest view of other (much taller but otherwise fairly boring) buildings and a little bit of water if I looked hard enough. Felt like I was in a fish bowl but I guess that’s typical of big-city life.

My Summit started Tuesday with an early-morning walk to WSCTC to register, back to the hotel for my laptop and sort through the backpack contents, catch up with email and life back home, and finally back to WSCTC for my pre-con. The session was well worth it (can’t wait for the DVD set to review the day) and the SQLServerCentral casino party that night was tons of fun – for one reason because it wasn’t real money I was losing Smile

My first shock was the Day One keynote, when the overflow room was called out. I was sitting roughly in front of the stage that morning, and we all looked to the left down the row of people .. and down, and down, and … well I thought I was in a house of mirrors. I remembered back to the 2004 keynotes running in one (relatively) small room of people, and being overwhelmed by the 2011 crowd.

The rest of the week is a blur … and then I flew home.

Seriously though … I knew we were for a fun week when the very first session was standing room only, as in people-standing-in-the doorway-behind-the-projection-screen room only. Back in 2004 you could (mostly) get away with choosing your session and following a map on the fly. Not so much now – you’d better know exactly where you’re going if you want a seat to the good ones. In any case, the highlight of the PowerView session was the Kinect hookup allowing the presenter to change and filter the data view we were seeing simply by pointing at report elements on the projection screen. Not exactly a SQL Server feature, but it made for a great presentation. The end of the day was a fun “Are you smarter than an MCM” session which contained decent technical content but was off the chart on entertainment factor. I probably won’t be striving for my MCM anytime soon, if it includes studying 80+ pages of DBCC command documentation (I really hope they were joking about that).

But rather than bore you with the sessions I went to (because they probably weren’t the same ones you saw) I’ll just fast-forward to my Summit thoughts and takeaways.

  • Every single session I attended was top notch .. and so were many I missed based on the constant raves I heard from others. The caliber of content at this year’s Summit is way above what I remember (there were usually one or two sessions each year that I’d walk out on for something better – didn’t happen once this year) and of course that reflects on the caliber of the speakers. The sheer number of sessions was incredible.
  • Speaking of number of sessions, the mixup of spotlight sessions, some 3-hour sessions, and the regular sessions was new to me. I hated missing any of the 3-hour ones. Choices, choices.
  • ROI back to your company doesn’t get any better than being able to take a SQL problem on one of your production servers to the PSS team, and have them diagnose and recommend a fix for the issue before you’re even back home. My Tuesday night was marred by a server outage, and by Thursday morning I had a KB article and resolution procedure in hand. I even missed one of the 12 session timeslots to work with PSS, and it was will worth it. I can review the DVD set anytime for the missed session, but definitely can’t just drop into Redmond unannounced and find someone to help like I could at the show.
  • It doesn’t always rain in Seattle! Despite the gloomy forecast before I left for Summit, I remember more sun than rain while there. Too bad they couldn’t have scheduled any outdoor sessions Smile  The patio outside those big windows looked sooooo inviting.
  • Take an elevator. It often beats a two-story jammed-full escalator ride. When available, take the stairs. They’re often faster too.
  • Knowing that all of the sessions were being recorded made it possible to go to more of my secondary picks, knowing that I could catch up on my primary choices from the DVD set. I also caught a few sessions for the sole purpose of seeing some familiar names speak live on topics that, in the past, I’ve only heard as disembodied voices. That was fun. The only one I missed that I had really wanted to see was Steve Jones on Thursday morning, but (sorry Steve) I had to meet with the PSS team before lunch.
  • Gameworks needs to add a 3rd floor if they’re going to continue hosting the CAP.  Most of the night was spent waiting and watching others play video games better than I ever could. At one point there was some scary air hockey going on, where even being a bystander was getting dangerous.  (idea: next year maybe rent out a movie theatre or two??)
  • Loved the Birds of a Feather lunch, except that I arrived late and wasn’t able to get to the table that I wanted. It would’ve been nice to have maps of the lunch hall distributed that morning.
  • Where was all the swag?!?!? Maybe my 2004 memory is biased to sessions that had giveaways, but it seems like this year had fewer goodies.
  • Many others are blogging about networking, and there was definitely a lot of it to be had. I ran into many new people myself. Unfortunately since I haven’t been to a Summit in years, and I don’t have much of an online presence, my networking experience was limited. Truth is, I get a little star-struck around some of the “big names” I see there and turn into a mumbling idiot Smile  Gotta work on that.
  • Apparently my only WordPress bullet option is an ugly “X”. Maybe I should quit being a cheapskate and actually buy a real theme….

 

Anything I missed? Oh yeah … the technical content was good as well. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of those “off years” when we didn’t have a fresh new version of SQL Server to learn about. Sure, SQL2012 is on the horizon but I had to take with a grain of salt anything we saw at the Summit because (a) it may change before final release and (b) may only be offered in the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server (most of the systems I support are Standard). 2004 was one of those years as well, where we heard all about the new features in “Yukon” but didn’t see them for real until a year later – in fact in 2005 I attended DevCon instead of Summit because DevCon gave out (yes, for free!) copies of SQL 2005 Standard and Visual Studio 2005, hot off the presses.

So this is not Summit’s fault, but it was disappointing that Denali became SQL2012 and not SQL2011. I could only imagine how awesome it would’ve been to find shrink-wrapped copies of the next SQL release on our chairs at the keynote. Maybe next year.

Final takeaway: I need at least another solid two weeks to follow up on everything I learned from my few days of Summit. And that’s before the DVD set shows up in my mailbox! Too much SQL, not enough hours in the day.

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