The things we do for free stuff

This morning, I’ll be sitting in on a 10:00 webinar by some company called 36Software. I have no idea what the webinar is about, and since I’ll be working during the webinar, I’ll be sitting in my home office working on documentation with the webinar on in the background.

Why am I sitting in on this webinar? The title of it says it all: “36Software Wants to Send you to STC Summit 2022 in Chicago!”

I joined (or, more accurately, rejoined) STC last year. I had been a member years ago when I was working as a full-time technical writer, but I moved on to other things, and I let my membership lapse. Last year, during my unemployment and my search for technical writer positions, I decided it was worth it to rejoin. It’s an organization that can help me with my endeavors, and, I figured, it looks good on my resume.

What held me up from doing so for so long is that, unlike PASS membership, STC is not free. The lowest-tiered annual membership level is somewhere in the ballpark of around $200, and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment. Now that I am, once again, a full-time technical writer, I decided that it was. (I was also awarded a grant that allowed me to cover the cost.) Now that I’m working again (and in a field directly related to the organization), I have little trepidation about paying the $200 annual membership dues.

But, back to the webinar. I’ll admit that sitting in on this webinar isn’t really something that’s high on my priority list for the day, but as the saying goes, nothing in life is free. And so-called “free stuff” is no exception. There are all types of things that say they’re “free,” but there’s always some kind of trade-off. When they say “free,” they are usually talking about money. Usually, you end up paying in other ways, and not necessarily with money.

STC Summit is an event that I would love to attend. I’ve attended PASS Summit twice, and I found it to be a great experience. I think STC Summit would be similar. However, there are costs involved: the registration fee, airfare, and accommodations being the biggest ones. These are not cheap, and they usually preclude people, myself included, from attending.

I had said that the only way I’d be able to attend PASS Summit was if I was selected to speak at one. Lo and behold, it happened! Being selected to speak waived the registration fee, and I was able to attend! Of course, it wasn’t entirely “free” — I was put to work, after all, by serving as a speaker!

Those of you who attend SQL Saturday know about the sponsors and vendors, all of whom are integral to user groups and conferences such as SQL Saturday. They’ll have their booths set up, advertising their products and services. They’ll have door prizes — expensive electronic toys such as Xboxes, free software, gift cards, etc. — that they’ll raffle off at the end of the event. Of course, there’s a catch: in order to be eligible for prizes, you need to submit your name and email to each vendor, after which you’ll be inundated with emails from that vendor.

It’s been said that “free” isn’t “free.” Sure, you might not be paying for something with money, but money isn’t always used to pay for things. Are you willing to pay a cost in terms of your time or your email? It often depends on the product and the cost. I often am unable to pay for a product I’d like out of my bank account, but I’m sometimes willing to pay with my time or my bandwidth. Hey, for an opportunity to attend a conference whose registration fee will likely cost over a thousand dollars, sure, I’ll take an hour to sit in on a webinar.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 5/27/2021) #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday #PASSSummit

It seems like it’s been quite some time since I posted about my upcoming speaking engagements, but I do have one coming up!

Confirmed

  • On Saturday, June 12, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Los Angeles. I am scheduled to speak at 4:00 pm Eastern (1:00 pm LA local/Pacific). This is a virtual event, so I will be presenting from my home office in upstate New York; I will not be flying out to California for this conference!

    I will do my presentation titled: “Networking 101: Building professional relationships.” I will talk about business/professional networking: what it is, how to do it, ways to break the ice, and where to find networking opportunities. This is an interactive session (although I’ll admit that the “interactive” part works better when I do this session in-person rather than virtually), so you might even get a chance to practice networking during this presentation!

    Anyone is welcome to attend; however, you do need to register. Follow the instructions on the SQL Saturday LA site to register for the event!

Applied, but not confirmed

I’ve applied to speak at a couple of other events, but I don’t know whether or not I’ll be speaking at either of them. Stay tuned.

  • November 8-12: PASS Data Community Summit. This online event is the successor to PASS Summit! I also submitted three presentations (so far) to this event. We’ll see whether or not I’m chosen!

    And if you’re interested in speaking at this event, the call for speakers is now open! If you’re interested in speaking at this event, you are encouraged to apply!

As always, I’ll mention any speaking engagements that I have coming up. Hopefully, as we emerge from the pandemic, I’ll be speaking at some in-person events, rather than doing so over Zoom. Hope to see you at an event sometime soon!

#PASS is dead. Long live PASS!

Many data professionals, myself included, were saddened back in January when PASS ceased operations. As I’ve mentioned before, PASS provided me with many professional opportunities that I didn’t think were possible. It enhanced my career and provided me with countless networking opportunities. I made many friends during my association with PASS that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Believe me, #SQLFamily is a real thing!

Redgate picked up the ball that had been carried by PASS. They have been hard at work resurrecting the community that PASS had built.

I was happy to see that the PASS brand has been rebooted in a couple of ways: PASS Data Community Summit and the resurrection of SQL Saturday.

I wrote earlier that I’d been chosen to speak at Data Saturday LA. However, I did not see the link on the DataSaturdays site. It turns out that the link is listed under SQL Saturday.

The new SQL Saturday site includes links to all the previous SQL Saturday events that were hosted by PASS. I was happy to see that all the previous events appear to be listed. With that, I plan to update my old presentation links to point to the newly-listed (old-listed?) events. (I see a lot of work ahead of me!)

One question I have is what will happen between SQL Saturday and Data Saturday? Will they remain two different entities, or will they merge? I am not privy to that level of administration, so I have no idea.

The new SQL Saturday and PASS Data Community Summit links still need work, but I’m happy that Redgate has been putting in the work to restructure the brand and the community. Great work, Redgate! Bravo! I am very much looking forward to seeing how Redgate proceeds with the updated community.

Edit/correction: as it turns out, there is actually a board, of which Steve Jones is a part, that actually does the work on the new SQL Saturday initiative. While Redgate sponsors it (their branding is all over it), it’s the board that actually does the work. Nice job, board!

Archiving my talks, part 3: PASS Summit — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I spoke at PASS Summit in 2019 (in Seattle) and 2020 (virtually). Naturally, I wanted to get as much as I could from my sessions from those two events.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pages from 2019 are no more. Even the pass.org/summit/2019 URL goes to the 2020 Virtual Summit page, not 2019. So, unfortunately, it appears that many (not all — see below) references to PASS Summit 2019 are lost forever.

However, it appears that the 2020 PASS Virtual Summit page appears to still be active (until next week), so I figured I should grab whatever I could from my presentation.

Alas, getting material from the PASS Summit page is not as straightforward as from the SQL Saturday pages. Unlike the SQL Saturday pages, I did not see a “create PDF” option for the schedule. I did grab screen captures for both my speaker’s description page and my presentation session page (as seen below).

My 2020 PASS Summit speaker’s page
My 2020 PASS Summit session page

I mentioned that just about all references to 2019 PASS Summit appear to be gone. One thing I did manage to download from 2019 was my session recording. Like my virtual group recordings, I took my recording and uploaded it to my personal YouTube. You can view my 2019 PASS Summit presentation here.

I did not do the same with my 2020 presentation. As I mentioned, I ended up having technical issues with my presentation, so I elected not to download it. (Steve Jones suggested that I re-record it and upload it to the PASS Summit site, but that was before PASS announced they were shutting down. I don’t see the point of doing it now.)

At the moment, I believe that takes care of most of my speaking archive. (There’s also the links to my in-person user group talks, but those are archived on Meetup, and are controlled by individual user groups, not PASS, so they’re not as urgent.) I’ll keep poking around to make sure I haven’t missed anything,.

Archiving my talks, part 1: #SQLSaturday schedule PDFs — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

For this round, I went through all the SQL Saturday events where I spoke and downloaded the schedules. Each SQL Saturday schedule has a link to save it to PDF (there is an “Export to PDF” link at the bottom of each schedule).

I saved the PDFs to my ‘blog media and created links to them. You can download these schedules by going to my presentation schedule and clicking any link labeled “schedule PDF.”

For now, I’m only concerned with links hosted on PASS websites, such as SQL Saturday and PASS Summit (which I’ll do for the next round). I’m not as concerned (yet) with Meetup, YouTube, or podcasts I’ve done that are not hosted on PASS websites. I’ll update these links as I go along.

Requiem for #PASS — #SQLFamily

Many data professionals, myself included, are shocked and saddened by the announcement that PASS will cease operation on January 15, 2021. I’m sure that a large number of data ‘bloggers will be posting their thoughts regarding PASS’s announcement; this is only one of many such articles, I’m sure.

I know that PASS has been under a great deal of scrutiny by its members, and even I, myself, have been critical of PASS in the past. Three members of the board of directors resigned within the past few weeks, and the organization had been consulting with legal experts regarding its future.

I’ve always taken great pains to be apolitical (it’s one of my most, if not the most, hated topics to discuss). I don’t know much about any of PASS’s inner workings or governance, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I’m sure there’s a lot they could’ve done better, but I’ve never been privy to it. (Indeed, one frequent criticism I’ve heard has been their transparency — or lack of.)

As someone who has been a member of PASS for some time (since attending my very first SQL Saturday in New York City in 2010), I would prefer to talk about everything that PASS has given me. So I wanted to take some time to reflect on the things that PASS has done to enhance my professional career.

When I attended my first SQL Saturday (#39 in New York City back in 2010), I knew right away that I wanted to be involved and contribute to the community. The question was, how? I remember looking around at other attendees at the Microsoft office (back then, it was held next to Radio City, not at the Times Square location like it is now) and saying to myself, “these people probably know more about SQL Server than I do. What can I contribute to this organization?”

On that same trip, I met Dan Bowlin on the train heading down to the City. Along with Joe Barth, the three of us founded the Albany SQL user group. Through my association with that group, I also met Greg Moore and Ed Pollack; the three of us currently maintain the group’s leadership team. Since those humble beginnings, our user group has remained strong. We hold our own when compared to user groups in larger cities; indeed, we frequently say that we “punch above our weight.” And although Dan and Joe moved out of the area several years ago, I still remain friends with them to this day.

One evening, during one of our user group meetings, I had a thought: I’ve been adept at talking the language of technology to people who don’t understand it. Would that make for a good presentation? As that meeting progressed, I jotted some notes down; by the end of the meeting, I had enough fodder for an entire presentation. I ran my idea past a few people, including Greg and Ed. They all told me, that was a great idea! Run with it!

That idea became my very first presentation, which I first presented in 2015. Since then, I’ve presented that session at several SQL Saturdays and at PASS Summit.

I wrote previously about what happened after that first presentation. I discovered that I enjoyed presenting and attending events such as SQL Saturday. Additionally, I also noticed some subtle changes to my professional development. I found that I was passively getting better at what I did. I gained more confidence in my abilities, I became more assertive, and I was increasingly being recognized for the things I did. I even remember one manager telling me, “we recognize what you’re doing with all these conferences where you’re speaking; keep up the good work!”

I now have several presentations that I do. I have presented at numerous SQL Saturdays, PASS Summit, and a number of user groups, both in-person and virtual. I even did a podcast!

It wasn’t all about professional development. I made a number of friends through my involvement with PASS and SQL Saturday — people I likely wouldn’t have otherwise met, and whom I love dearly. In addition to my association with PASS, I’ve connected with these people through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. These people have become a part of my life, and I am as close to these people as I am to any of my family or circles of friends. And because of this, my professional network is stronger than ever.

I love to travel. I wish I could do more of it (usually, lack of time or money — and these days, the pandemic — keeps me from doing more of it). I’ve written before about my SQL Saturday (and other PASS) travels. These speaking opportunities gave me chances to visit places I don’t normally get to see, not to mention that they got me out of Dodge for a little while.

I attribute all of this as things that PASS has given me.

I’ve been thinking about whether or not it would be feasible to resurrect PASS. In addition to PASS, I am also a member of STC. Unlike PASS, STC charges dues to its members (using a tiered structure — the amount of dues you pay depends on your tier). Conceptually, STC is very similar to PASS; they are a professional organization that represents a specific profession (PASS represents data professionals; STC represents technical communicators). STC also does a number of things that PASS did not do; they have publications that they publish regularly, for example. If PASS is able to reorganize, I’m wondering if they’d be open to restructuring using a model such as STC. Of course, I suspect one of the reasons why PASS was popular was that they didn’t charge dues. If PASS is to be solvent, that might be something to consider.

I think it’s important for professionals in any field to have an organization such as PASS. They provide opportunities for networking, guidance, reference, and development that wouldn’t otherwise exist anywhere else. What PASS has done for my career and professional development is incalculable. The demise of PASS represents a big, big loss. I sincerely hope that PASS is able to come back in some way, shape, or form, and be stronger than ever in doing so.

#PASSSummit2020 part 5: The debrief #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

(Ed. Note: I had intended to get this out last week, but a family emergency prevented me from doing so, so this article is a week later than I’d wanted to post.)

Now that I’ve had the weekend to recover from a busy PASS Summit 2020 week, I can write about my thoughts and impressions.

Overall, I thought PASS did a good job with holding a virtual PASS Summit under trying pandemic circumstances. These are, after all, trying times, and we have to play the cards that we’re dealt. That said, there were some glitches.

I’ll start with my own presentation. I had prerecorded my session, per instructions from PASS. My initial impression was that I would do my presentation live, and the recorded session would serve as a backup in case I ran into any problems with my presentation. That turned out not to be the case. PASS used my prerecorded presentation. I was, however, required to stand by to field any questions from attendees.

So, before the appointed time, I logged in and opened a chat window. My friend Andy Levy was kind enough to join me in the video chat room, and we chatted about a variety of topics while we waited.

The appointed time arrived, so I started my video. I found that it was impossible to monitor the chat rooms to field questions and to watch the video at the same time, so I turned off the video; after all, I had no pressing need to watch my own prerecorded presentation — or so I thought. I found out, much to my chagrin, that a number of slides had no audio to go with it.

This was a big disappointment. My first instinct was to point the finger at PASS and tell them, “your technology didn’t work,” but that would’ve been disingenuous on my part. When I prerecorded my session a while back, I went back and did a quick listen of each section I recorded to make sure it was okay. When I was finished, I watched some of the presentation, but not all, and that was my mistake. I probably should’ve watched the entire presentation to make sure it was okay, but I didn’t. That was a mistake on my part to which I will own up. That said, it’s my understanding that there were a number of other presentations that also had audio problems (in fact, I tried to sit in on one that had issues, and they ended up rescheduling it — for a time that I couldn’t attend), so I’m guessing that it might not have entirely been on me.

I did post to the chat that I was available in the chat room for any questions, and a few attendees took me up on it. We ended up having a great discussion (and Andy, who also has his own ‘blog, was great with answering some questions and contributing to the conversation). In that sense, we ended up making lemonade out of the technical lemons.

That said, I haven’t yet looked at the feedback, and I don’t look forward to doing so.

A few of my friends also wrote their impressions of PASS Virtual Summit. I haven’t yet had a chance to read them, but I’m posting them here, both for you to peruse and for my own reference.

With that, here are a few of my quick thoughts regarding PASS Virtual Summit 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, these are trying times, and PASS did a decent job with Summit, given the cards they were dealt. The pandemic has affected them, as well as many of the rest of us (as of this article, I’m still looking for a job — it’s been over six months now), and PASS is dealing with those effects. As critical as I — and others — might be of PASS, I want them to survive, and I sincerely hope that they’re still around when we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.

I was not particularly fond of their decision to make use of mostly prerecorded sessions. I would have much preferred to have done my session live. PASS’s concern was with potential technical glitches with live sessions, so their thinking was that a prerecorded session would alleviate that situation. In fact, the opposite happened. The prerecorded session was the glitch, and I never had a problem with my live connection. While I understand why PASS decided to do it that way, I found the decision to be somewhat questionable.

(And if anyone reading this would like to see my presentation, I did this same presentation for the Professional Development Virtual Group back in January. You can view the recording of my January presentation here.)

Overall, I did enjoy PASS Virtual Summit, but as anyone who has attended PASS Summit or other virtual events can attest, the experience just isn’t the same. For me, a huge part of the appeal of events like these is the opportunity to network and to connect with my friends whom I don’t get to see that frequently. To their credit, PASS made accommodations with networking events and channels, but there’s only so much you can do, and only so many people you can see, with online channels. There’s something to be said about randomly bumping into one of your friends while walking down the hall.

Another big part is the travel. I love to travel, and I wish I could do more of it (pandemic aside, usually the lack of time or lack of money keeps me from traveling more). I enjoyed visiting Seattle last year, one of my favorite west coast cities to visit. This year’s Summit would’ve been in Houston, a city I’ve only visited once before.

Overall, I enjoyed PASS Virtual Summit, but it was not without its faults. Hopefully, PASS can take the feedback and lessons learned from this event, and use it to create a truly spectacular experience the next time around. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over for the next time, but these days, you can never tell.

#PASSSummit2020 part 4: The final day #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

Well, it’s Friday. Today is my third — and last — day of PASS Summit 2020.

I’ll start right off the bat with why this day is important for me, personally: today is my day to present. The funny thing is, I’m not really presenting. PASS is using my prerecorded session that I put together before PASS Summit 2020 even kicked off. So during my session, I get to kick back and watch myself present. However, I do still need to be online to answer any questions that come up during the session.

I’m actually not looking forward to the experience. One of the predominant comments I’ve seen on my Twitter feed has been that coming from other speakers about how uncomfortable they are seeing themselves speak. I am no exception; I hate listening to my own presentation; it is very awkward and surreal. Honestly, I would feel much more comfortable doing my presentation live. But, this is how PASS chose to do it (and I understand their reasons for doing so), so I’ll just have to deal.

Otherwise, looking at the schedule, it looks like it will be a quiet day. I don’t see a lot of networking sessions on the schedule; although I will try to drop in on any that catch my interest. My networking room moderation commitments are all finished, so I’m not obligated to sit in on any more rooms. I do see a session on the schedule by Peter Shore that interests me, so I might try to attend that. I did see a few others that interest me as well, but unfortunately, they either conflict with or run too close to my own, so I’ll likely skip those today and catch the recordings of them some other time.

I will likely try to catch today’s keynote, which is about diversity and inclusion. That is an important topic these days, so I’ll make it a point to tune in at noon.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about anything that happened since my last article from yesterday. I sat in on Christine Assaf’s presentation. Christine and I met earlier this year at a SQL Saturday, and we struck up a good rapport, so I made where that I attended he presentation. I was also assigned a Birds of a Feather networking room last night, so I made sure that I monitored it. Only one person showed up, but we struck up a good conversation. One thing that came out of it was that he hooked me up with his employer’s HR person, to whom I sent a message (I received a response from her, but haven’t yet read it). I’ll admit that I’m not expecting a lot from it, because they are located in Iowa, and looking at the website, it doesn’t look like there are a lot of remote opportunities, but I figure, you never know. It’s worth a shot.

So, we’ll see how the final day goes. It’s been a fun experience, but I still vastly prefer attending in-person. I miss being able to share a handshake or a hug with my #SQLFamily friends. I’ll likely wind this series up with a final debrief article, once PASS Summit 2020 is over. Stay tuned.

#PASSSummit2020 part 3: My second full day #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

As I write this, I have the Day 2 Keynote about SQL Ecosystem and Innovation on in the background, but I’m not paying a lot of attention to it. There’s a lot of technical information that goes beyond my scope of knowledge and interest. And that’s okay. I might not be paying a lot of attention, but I have no doubt that there are others who are hanging on to every word.

I slept late this morning (which, unfortunately, with my current state of unemployment, is a bad habit I’ve fallen into, and is one I need to address). Unfortunately, I missed some sessions because of it (indicated by the activity on my Twitter feed). The good thing about PASS Virtual Summit is that many of these sessions are recorded, and I’ll be able to access any sessions that interest me but am unable to attend. (Even when I am present for sessions, a number of interesting sessions often run concurrently, so this phenomena is not uncommon.)

I sat in on a panel discussion this morning about building your brand. I figured it would be a good one for me, with trying to do things with my LLC while looking for new employment. It was more a Q&A session than a presentation, but there were many good questions asked, the panelists had some good answers, and I ended up getting a lot out of it.

As I mentioned yesterday, I moderated the Introverts Birds Of a Feather session. There were a few people on the session, and we had some really good discussion.

I think one thing that is worth emphasizing is that one of the biggest reasons why I attend events such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday is the networking. Professional networking is important for building relationships with colleagues (for those of you who are not regular readers, I even have an entire presentation I do about professional networking, and I’ve written literally hundreds of ‘blog articles about networking.) However, I’ve also made lots of friends through my involvement with PASS, and these events represent opportunities for #SQLFamily to get together. I miss these people dearly, and I relish any opportunity I can get to get together with these people.

For the second year in a row, I will be monitoring the Storytelling & Visualization Birds Of A Feather table!

PASS Virtual Summit offers plenty of opportunities to network virtually. Tonight at 6:00 pm (EST), I will be monitoring another Birds of a Feather networking room; this time, it will be the Storytelling & Visualization room. (Note: this is the same table I monitored at last year’s PASS Summit!) If you’re around and online, feel free to stop by and chat me up!

There are some other sessions this afternoon that interest me, including some lightning talks that I might try to attend (hi, Steve Jones!). And of course, tomorrow (the last day of PASS Summit), it will be my turn to present!

See you around Summit!

#PASSSummit2020 part 2: My first full day #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

I’m writing this midday during my first full day of PASS Summit. I want to note that this is my first full day, since I didn’t participate in the pre-cons (which are an extra fee) on Monday and Tuesday.

As I write this article, I’m sitting in on Kevin Kline‘s presentation on data governance. In my previous job, I worked on documentation related to data governance (I had never written one before), and I figured that this would be a good session for me to attend. As I sit through this session, I’m learning things that I wish I’d known when I worked on that document. Of course, learning tidbits like that is a big part of what events such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday are about. I’m picking up some good information about data governance, and this might be fodder for a future ‘blog article.

I spent some time talking to Kevin after his session (which was, by the way, a great session!). I got a lot out of it, including an idea for a new presentation: “Development life cycles: it isn’t just for software anymore.” I’ll see what I can do with that… and you might see a ‘blog article with that title coming out at some point!

I’ve switched rooms since Kevin’s session; now, as I write this, I’m sitting in a networking room for Eastern US/Canada. Right now, I’m alone in the room, which gives me a good opportunity to work on this ‘blog article. I’ll be here until 4:00 pm EST. I’m hoping to join a session about storytelling and design after that.

Earlier this morning, I sat in on Angela Tidwell’s “Introduction to PASS Virtual Summit” and the keynote about the end-to-end Azure Data Platform.

And later tonight, I’ll be moderating a Birds of a Feather networking session. I’ll be in the Introverts chat room (please no jokes about whether anyone will be speaking in that room!).

If anyone comes around to any of these rooms, feel free to drop in and say hi!