This was the first year in 16 years for me that there has been a fall season without the PASS Summit to go to. Every year, during the fall, it has been a soul sustaining practice to pack up and head to the summit (typically, Seattle) and spend a week with friends – learning, sharing one another’s stories and just enjoying the warmth and comfort of being with people who care. This year, thanks to Covid, that was not to be. We had a virtual summit instead and most of us were skeptical on how this was going to work out.
For me personally, this year has been THE most challenging of my adult life. Health issues, losses in my immediate family due to covid and just the emotional stress of the hermit like existence with no relief in sight was beginning to get to me. The virtual summit came as a welcome relief. Below is my experience.
I signed up for two precons – Day 1 on Powershell with Rob Sewell, and Day 2 on Execution Plan Deep Dive with Hugo Kornelis. Both were excellent in terms of quality and rendering. BUT, I lost 3 hours of Rob’s precon because he was on a different timezone (i knew this when i signed up but thought the recordings would make up)..and Hugo’s was packed with so much content that a re-watch (or multiple re-watches) would have helped. But the recording was limited to the Thursday of the summit. Am not sure how anyone thought people attending the summit would find time to re watch anything in this painfully short interval. I certainly could not and my learning was limited to the first attendance. I will definitely reconsider putting $$ down on a precon if this is the way it continues to be done.
SUMMIT DAY 1
It felt unusual/odd to start a day without a keynote but I got used to it and attended two great classes in the morning – Raoul Illayas on ‘Data Modernization, how to run a successful modernization project’, followed by David Klee’s class on ’10 Cloudy questions to ask before migrating your sql server’. Both classes were excellent with great Q&A and well moderated. This was followed by the afternoon keynote. It started with my friend and co chapter lead Tracy Boggiano winning the PASSion award – which was a heart warming moment. The PASSion Award had a huge, positive impact on my life and I was a bit sad she did not get to experience it in person. But she did say a few words and it was received really well by everyone in the community. This was followed by several microsoft-ies demoing cool product features – lead by Rohan Kumar. It was fun and interesting. I attended two sessions in the afternoon ‘What is new in sql server tools’ by Vicky Harp and her team at Microsoft, followed by ‘Making a real cloud transformation, not just a migration’ by Greg Low. Both were outstanding classes. In the evening I had to moderate a Birds-of-a-feather bubble on Mentoring – I had a good chat with a few friends who showed up, and made a couple of new friends as well. Overall it was a worthy day of learning and networking with few real glitches to worry about.
SUMMIT DAY 2
I started this day by attempting to reach out to a few friends – these are people I see in person and not on social media. I sent them a message via messaging option, but did not hear back. I was disappointed with how this worked. I was able to catch up on a few friends accidentally – because they were in the same class or same network bubble, but intentionally reaching out was really hard and did not seem to work very well.
I also visited a few vendor rooms online – vendors were the reason the virtual summit is possible. Vendor visits are always a big part of my in person summit attendance so wanted to make sure they were thanked. I got good responses for my visit at Red Gate and Sentry One. Some of the other vendors did not care to respond very much (maybe they did not have anyone online).
I also attended two classes ‘Normalization beyond third normal form’ with Hugo Kornelis and ‘Azure SQL: Path to an Intelligent Database’ with Joe Sack and Pedro Lopez. Both classes were outstanding in content.
The afternoon’s keynote was again from microsoft – it seemed to have content but was a bit dry and difficult to follow along. I think given how difficult this year was in general, we can forgive Microsoft this.
The absolute highlight of Day 2 , to me, was the Diversity in Data panel discussion that I was part of – with some amazing women – Tracy Boggiano, Hope Foley, Anna Hoffman, Jess Pomfret and DeNisha Malone. I have been on a few panels but this was truly well moderated by Rebecca Ferguson from PASS HQ, well attended by a number of people in the virtual summit including several of my own colleagues. It was a true honor to do it.
SUMMIT DAY 3
The last day arrived, albeit too soon. I logged in early, attended a few sessions (‘Execution plans, where do I start’ by Hugo Kornelis, ‘Getting Started with Powershell as a DBA’ by Ben Miller). The ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ keynote by Bari Miller was amazing – planning to revisit this and make more notes/probably a separate blog post. In the afternoon attended ‘Splitting up your work in chunks’ by Erland Sommarksog, and ‘the good, bad and ugly of migrating sql server to public clouds’ by Allan Hirt. Half way through Allan’s class(which was outstanding as always) I started to feel really tired/brain fried and wanted a break. There was a networking session open for late evening – so hopped on it and had a lovely chat with many friends i could not see in person. That ended a very fun week.
Following are what worked well and what didn’t:
1 The platform was relatively easy to navigate – finding a class was really easy.
2 Chat rooms in classes were a lot of fun and good places to find friends unexpectedly as well. All the sessions I attended personally, except a few on friday were very well moderated.
3 PASS HQ and BoD members were freely available and it was really easy to find and have chats with them if one desired throughout the week.
4 Replaying sessions were a really good bonus treat – I wish the same was true for precons as well.
5 Having the recordings available on an immediate basis is absolutely great – watching a few this weekend and able to catch what I missed in the class. This would be very hard to do if we had to wait a couple of months for the recordings.
1 I am not sure how any vendor would make any gains out of this. Traffic in vendor rooms, when i visited, seemed low and in some cases vendor reps did not even bother answering chat messages. (I don’t blame them if the traffic was not much).
2 Transcribing/sub titling was a total mess. Granted, it made for a lot of very fun moments in many classes but the purpose of it is to help hearing impaired, don’t think it lived up to that cause at all.
3 Pre cons – esp the ones given by experts – are – to me not worth it with replay option gone in such a short time. I would have appreciated if i had the weekend to replay both my precons but I didn’t.
4 Finding individuals to chat up was insanely hard. This is especially true of people not on social media. I was very disappointed that I never heard back from many people to whom i sent messages via the platform. I don’t think they knew where to check this, I certainly didn’t. I had to largely depend on people to be there on social media or to show up in group chats (many did).
Overall, it was a worthy experience to me and especially uplifting in a time like this. I am hoping that for the next year PASS could do a blend of live and online classes and we can all make the best of both worlds. Thanks to everyone for attending and supporting the organization.