Most of my blog is filled with posts related to PASS in some way. Events, various volunteering opportunities, keynote blogging, this or that…With the demise of the organization, I wanted to write one final post but wondered what it could be..I could write about what I think caused it go down, but that horse has been flogged to death and continues to be. I could write about my opinion on how the last stages were handled, but that again is similar. I finally decided I would write about the lessons I’ve learned in my 22 year association with them. This is necessary for me to move on and may be worth reading for those who think similar.
There is the common line that PASS is not the #sqlfamily, and that line is currently true. But back in those days, it was. Atleast it was our introduction to the community commonly known as #sqlfamily. So many lessons here are in fact lessons in dealing with and living with community issues.
Lesson #1: Networking is important. Seems odd and obvious to say it..but needs to be said. When I was new to PASS I stuck to tech sessions and heading right back to my room when I was done. I was, and I am, every bit the introverted geek who liked her company better than anyone else’s, and kept to it. That didn’t get me very far. I used to frequent the Barnes and Noble behind the Washington convention center in the evenings, to get the ‘people buzz’ out of me – it was here that I met Andy Warren, one of my earliest mentors in the community. Andy explained to me the gains of networking and also introduced a new term ‘functional extrovert’ to me. That is, grow an aspect of my personality that may not be natural but is needed for functional reasons. I worked harder on networking after that, learned to introduce myself to new people and hang out at as many parties and gatherings as I could. It paid off a lot more than tech learning did.
Lesson #2: Stay out of crowds and people you don’t belong with. This comes closely on the lines of #1 and may even be a bit of a paradox. But this is true, especially for minorities and sensitive people. There are people we belong with and people we don’t. Networking and attempting to be an extrovert does not mean you sell your self respect and try to fit in everywhere. If people pointedly exclude you in conversations, are disrespectful or stand offish – you don’t belong there. Generally immigrants have to try harder than others to explain themselves and fit in – so this is something that needs to be said for us. Give it a shot and if your gut tells you you don’t belong, leave.
Lesson #3: You will be judged and labelled, no matter what. I was one of those people who wanted to stay out of any kind of labelling – just be thought of as a good person who was fair and helpful. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Over time factions and groups started to develop in the community. Part of it was fed by politics created by decisions PASS made – quite a lot of it was personal rivalry and jealousy between highly successful people. I formed some opinions based on the information I had (which I would learn later was incomplete and inaccurate), but my opinions cost me some relationships and gave me some labelling. Although this happened about a decade ago, the labels and sourness in some of those relationships persist. Minorities get judged a labelled a lot quicker than others in general, and I was no exception to that.Looking back- I realize that it is not possible to be a friend to everyone, no matter how hard we try. Whatever has happened has happened, we have to learn to move on.
Lesson #4: Few people have the full story – so try to hold opinions when there is a controversy. There are backdoor conversations everywhere – but this community has a very high volume of that going on. Very few people have the complete story in face of a controversy. But we are all human, when everyone is sharing opinions we feel pushed to share ours too. A lot of times these can be costly in terms of relationships.I have been shocked, many times, on how poor informed I was when I formed my opinion and later learned the truth of the whole story. I think some of this was fuelled by the highly NDA ridden PASS culture, but I don’t think PASS going away is going to change it. Cliques and back door conversations are going to continue to exist. It is best for us to avoid sharing any opinions unless we are completely sure we know the entire story behind anything.
Lesson #5: Volunteering comes with power struggles. I was among the naive who always thought of every fellow volunteer as just a volunteer. It is not that simple. There are hierarchies and people wanting to control each other everywhere. There are many people willing to do the grunt work and expect nothing more, but many others who want to constantly be right, push others around and have it their way. Recognizing such people exist and if possible, staying out of their way is a good idea. Some people also function better if given high level roles than grunt work – so recognizing a person’s skills while assigning volunteer tasks is also a good idea.
Lesson #6: Pay attention to burnouts. There is a line of thought that volunteers have no right to expect anything , including thank you or gratitude. As someone who did this a long time and burned out seriously, I disagree. I am not advocating selfishness or manipulative ways of volunteering , but it is important to pay attention to what we are getting out of what we are doing. Feeling thankless and going on for a long time with empty, meaningless feeling in our hearts – can add up to health issues, physical and mental. I believe PASS did not do enough to thank volunteers and I have spoken up many times in this regard. I personally am not a victim of that, especially after the PASSion award. But I have felt that way before it, and I know a lot of people felt that way too. Avoid getting too deep into a potential burnout, it is hard to get out of . And express gratitude and thanks wherever and whenever possible to fellow volunteers. They deserve it and need it.
Lesson #7: There is more to it than speaking and organizing events. These are the two most known avenues for volunteering, but there are many more. Blogging on other people’s events, doing podcasts, promoting diversity, contributing to open source efforts like DataSaturdays.com – all of these are volunteering efforts. Make a list and contribute wherever and whenever possible. PASS gave people like me who are not big name speakers many of those opportunites..with it gone it may be harder, but we have to work at it.
Lesson #8: Give it time..I think some of the misunderstandings and controversies around PASS come from younger people who didn’t get the gains out of it that folks like me who are older did. Part of it has to do with how dysfunctional and political the organization as well as the community got over time – but some of it has to do with the fact that building a network and a respectable name really takes time. It takes time for people to get to know you as a person of integrity and good values, and as someone worth depending on. Give it time, don’t push the river.
Last, but not the least – be a person of integrity. Be someone people can depend on when they need you. Even if we are labelled or end up having wrong opinions in a controversy , our integrity can go a long way in saving our skin. Mine certainly did. Be a person of integrity, and help people. It is , quite literally all there is.
Thank you for reading and Happy Holidays.